TIME Research

Those Pesky House Flies May Actually Improve Our Health

House Fly
Getty Images

According to new research in 'Genome Biology'

The house fly is a rarely celebrated insect, but new research published Tuesday finally provides the pest with some positive recognition.

The house fly (Musca domestica) has a genome that could actually give scientists insight into pathogen immunity, helping humans live healthier lives, researchers write in the journal Genome Biology. And it’s all because of their, well, gross-factor. Since the house fly lives on animal and human waste, according to Science Daily, “[t]hey are an important species for scientific study because of their roles as waste decomposers and as carriers of over 100 human diseases, including typhoid, tuberculosis and worms.”

Their immunity system genes can be studied to help humans be healthier in toxic and disease causing environments, the researchers add, and detoxification genes could help scientists find better ways to manage toxic environments.

TIME health

Why Euthanizing Ebola Animals Is a Dangerous Road to Go Down

Spanish Nurse Tests Positive For Ebola
Candles and a message reading 'Excalibur. You are free now. Rest in peace' lay on the ground in memory of dog named 'Excalibur' outside the apartment building, the private residence for Spanish nurse Teresa Romero who has tested positive for the Ebola virus on October 9, 2014 in Alcorcon, near Madrid, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

Lori Gruen is a professor and chair of Philosophy at Wesleyan University.

If authorities can kill your family members because it's expedient, then we're heading down a path more frightening than the virus itself

Last week public health officials in Spain euthanized a dog named Excalibur. The same day that the first person diagnosed in the U.S. with Ebola died in a Dallas hospital, a seemingly healthy dog that lived in Madrid with a nurse exposed to the virus, was killed.

What? A dog? Do dogs even get Ebola?

There is certainly reason for fear. My friends in the medical community report waking up with nightmares. And there is growing reproach about failures to act quickly enough. We in wealthy countries did not help, either financially or diplomatically, to ensure that public health infrastructures were in place in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where more than 4,000 people have already died from the Ebola virus. Perhaps the lack of attention is because the outbreak has been most threatening to black bodies. But when the threat becomes real for white people in the U.S. and Europe, our attention and energy are mobilized.

The CDC is now changing screening protocols at airports and in hospital emergency rooms. That will help.

But why kill Excalibur? Teresa Romero Ramos, the Spanish nurse, contracted the virus after treating infected patients from Sierra Leone. She then went home and spent time with her husband and dog. Later, she was admitted to the hospital and tested positive for Ebola. Her husband, Javier Limon Romero, and several health workers have been placed under quarantine. Meanwhile, despite a petition signed by 400,000 people and protests from animal rights groups to spare their dog, Excalibur was euthanized.

Neither Javier nor Excalibur showed signs of being infected. And it isn’t clear that dogs can get or spread Ebola. There has been only one study done, and that was inconclusive. Dr. David Moore, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told TIME, “there is absolutely no evidence to support a role for dogs in transmission” of the Ebola virus.

But surely caution is warranted.

The right thing to do would have been to isolate Excalibur and observe him, as was done to others who had been in contact with Teresa. But Spanish authorities weren’t thinking of Excalibur’s life as valuable or of how devastating his death would be to his family. They were thinking about what was expedient.

Many consider dogs, like most animals, disposable. Animal lives are thought to be worth less than those of humans. Rather than spend money or energy isolating a dog, it was easier, Spanish authorities decided, to kill him. And given how long it took the hospital to admit Teresa, it was unlikely they were simply acting with the utmost caution when it came to Excalibur. In the U.S., more than one million dogs are euthanized each year dogs that are inconvenient or unwanted are routinely disposed of.

The routine killing of animals diminishes not only their lives, but the toll that choosing euthanasia takes on people who live with and love animals. Ending the life of one’s animal companion because he is suffering is one of the most difficult decisions we as animal caretakers are asked to make. In addition to mourning the loss of a loved one, the decision often has painful reverberations: Was it the right time? Did I wait too long?

Taking someone’s life because it is expedient, because it is convenient, or because they are not the sorts of bodies that matter ultimately can serve to devalue all of our lives and relationships.

That Teresa and Javier’s relationship with Excalibur was not valued by public health authorities, and that their plea to save his life was not heeded, should be a cautionary tale. If authorities can come and kill your family members because it is expedient, then we may be heading down a path that is more frightening than the virus itself.

Fortunately, some authorities are choosing a more cautious route. In Texas, another nurse has just been infected. The people sent to decontaminate her home found her dog there. But rather than more killing, authorities have opted for compassion. This dog will be monitored.

It’s likely that the virus will cause much more damage before it’s contained. Rather than being driven by fear, I hope, collectively, we can refuse expedience and seek compassionate solutions across differences of race, geography and species.

Lori Gruen is a professor and chair of Philosophy at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Ethics and Animals and is currently teaching her course “Humans-Animals-Nature.”

Read next: Can Dogs (And Other Animals) Get Ebola?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME animals

Newly Discovered Snail Species Named in Honor of Marriage Equality

The Aegista diversifamilia has both male and female sex organs

A newly discovered species of snail has been named in honor of marriage equality.

The snail, Aegista diversifamilia, which has both male and female sex organs, “represents the diversity of sex orientation in the animal kingdom,” the BBC reports. The snail is common in eastern Taiwan, where same-sex marriage is illegal, according to research published in the journal ZooKeys.

“When we were preparing the manuscript, it was a period when Taiwan and many other countries and states were struggling for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights,” said Dr. Yen-Chang Lee, the first person to suggest the snail might be its own species and not another, similar species of snail previously mistaken for it.”We decided that maybe this is a good occasion to name the snail to remember the struggle for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights.”

Lee, from Taipei’s Academia Sinica, first noticed that snails of the Aegista subchinensis species were very different in the eastern part of the country in 2003 before taking part in a detailed study of the “new” snail with researchers from National Taiwan Normal University.




TIME animals

Robot Snakes Teach Scientists How Sidewinders Move

Elizabeth the robot snake gave scientists insight into sand dune travel

Scientists have finally figured out how sidewinder snakes work their way up sand dunes — thanks to the help of a robot snake (yes, a robot snake) named Elizabeth.

For a study published recently in Science, researchers observed that sidewinding rattlesnakes flattened themselves on steep dunes to maximize body contact with sand, rather than dig their bodies deeper into the dune, the BBC reports.

Researchers took their observations and contacted a lab that develops robot sidewinders to further explore the movement. After a robot snake named Elizabeth was unable to scale a desert dune in Egypt, they brought Elizabeth to a fake dune in Atlanta, where “she” ultimately found more success after researchers applied the flattening technique to her movements.

Following that breakthrough, playing with Elizabeth’s settings gave the scientists insight into how sidewinders move so effortlessly. As it turns out, an out-of-sync combination of left-and-right motions and up-and-down movements working their way down the body helps keep the sand stable underneath the snake, to avoid slipping. The flattening motion helps keep the snake’s contact with the sand at the ideal, moderate amount. Too much contact and the snake can slip; too little, and it can’t successfully scale.


TIME animals

The Recent Loss of My Cat Led Me To Explore the Weird, Wild World of Pet Memorials

Courtesy of Trista Crass

How will you remember your pet once they’ve been sent to the afterlife?


This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

For some reason, when I took this photo, I had a creeping feeling that it was special. It turned out to be the last photo I ever took of my dear friend, and cat, Darwin.

That day, he took off on a walkabout, as he generally does. The cabin we live in is right up against a big nature preserve, and it’s not unusual for him to be gone for four or five days at a time. About the time I get worried, he waltzes in nonchalantly, and promptly voms up some mouse bits for me.

But this time was different. I started checking the DOA (dead on arrival) report. I walked around at night calling for him. It had gotten cold fast, and I was obviously worried about my boy being out in the elements. Then late one night, 5 days later, he was at the door, but he looked different — haggard, sunken and awful. I swept him up, and it was immediately apparent something serious was wrong. He was a bag of bones.

He checked into the vet first thing in the morning, and was given a good prognosis, with clean bloodwork. The phone call I was expecting was that I should come and pick up a weakened Darwin; I imagined tucking him into a basket and feeding him broth with a dropper. The call I got was from a grave and sorry sounding vet: Darwin didn’t make it through the night. I’ll never really know what happened to him.

After 10 years of knowing a cat, dealing with their death is hard; I skipped to the bargaining stage of grief immediately. If only I hadn’t threatened him with the squirt bottle when he ate butter on the counter, or kicked him out of the bed when he insisted sleeping on top of my face at night. I would trade all the butter in the world to have him back, even put up with him nibbling on my face while I sleep, I promise! I even thought about burying him at the severely horrific pet cemetery near my parents’ house just in case.

Upon paying the $600 vet bill, I was given a plastic bag with my dead, frozen cat in it, thoughtfully wrapped in a blanket. “Don’t worry about returning it, we have plenty,” the vet tech said, handing him over.

I couldn’t really justify the $150 cremation, so naturally, I drove around town with my dead cat in my car for the day, deciding what I should do. It was weirdly comforting, having him there, instead of seeing him taken away in the arms of the vet, thinking he’d be okay, and never seeing him again.

I wanted to memorialize him somehow; I’ve spent a lot of nights trying to find the bottom of the Internet, and I’ve come across a lot of weird shit that people do to their pets’ remains. From having their ashes pressed into diamonds or records to having them wrapped as mummies, I’d be lying if I didn’t consider a few.

Freeze-drying your friends

The folks over at Perpetual Pet can freeze-dry your beloved pet in a familiar pose. Pretty much the ultimate for people who can’t let go, I love the idea of explaining the dead cat lounging on top of the bookshelf to unsuspecting strangers. For the surprisingly low price of $700, I could have my cat’s dead body chilling in my house forever. What I don’t relish is the thought of possible insect infestation or cleaning him. I feel like a quick once-over with a vacuum would be sufficient, but do I really want to be the person that has to vacuum her dead cat? People already think I’m a witch.

Nose-Print Necklace

People say a lot of things; they also say that no two animal noses are alike, which seems believable enough. Enough to get custom nose-print jewelry? Rock My World Inc on Etsy offers just that—for about $200 you send in an impression of your pet’s snout, and they send you a silver pendant of it. I loved Darwin’s pointy little weasel nose, but disembodied, I don’t think it would be very cute. What does one pair this Dead Pet Nose Necklace with?

Pet Hair Knits

The highest echelon of Cat Ladyness has to be knitting things with your dead cat’s fur. When I was a kid, as a way of coping with insomnia, I felted a little ball of cat yarn; when one of my sisters found it stashed in a doorframe, she of course didn’t understand my art.

Using dog fur for knits has been pretty popular in Alaska for awhile—sheep don’t do great up here, and anyone with sled dogs at home runneth over with soft, fluffy fur. It’s common to find dog-fur knits at local farmer’s markets, and lots of people have bags of dog fur stashed away to spin. But if you aren’t a skilled spinner, you can have your pets hair spun for a mere $8-15 an ounce. Chiengora Fibers will even knit up a cozy hat or pair of cozy mittens for you. I loved this idea — Darwin had such amazing fur, a knitted muffler would even smell like him! Then I learned the disgusting way that it’s rather difficult to shear a dead cat.

Tooth Necklace

I love teeth; they are beautiful and personal tokens, and can be worked into wearable jewelry fairly easily. Etsy store Bonetrail offers precious and affordable teeth and bone jewelry; it has a creepy Victorian look, and they offer custom pieces as well. The flower ring especially caught my eye—it’s both macabre and pretty, and unless you were really looking, you wouldn’t really even see the animal part. The only problem? Harvesting a tooth from a dead animal is a bit of an undertaking, to say the least. I went as far as bringing pliers with me, lost my nerve almost immediately after unwrapping Darwin. He did look peaceful — how could I jack open his face and yank out a tooth?

In the end, I found a nice spot on our property, and dug a hole. My dog sat with me and watched, seemingly wise to the situation. I wrapped Darwin in the gross green towel he loved to nap on, said some weird things about what a good cat he was, and carved his name and dates into the aspen tree next to the grave. I sprinkled some iris seeds too, just for good measure. It felt good, being in control, and being able to say goodbye. I thought I’d be traumatized to see his corpse, but really, it helped make it seem more real and natural. This is okay. This is death.

When I’m struck with pangs of grief, I usually turn to The Good Book — and I do mean J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Gandalf has some really good things to say about hard times and death. Also baby animal pictures. Those help too.

How will you remember your pet once they’ve been sent to the afterlife? Are we insane to put so much time and effort into pets? I’m happy that I have so many photos of Darwin, but I’m still eyeing that tooth and flower ring — maybe I can just pretend it has my cat’s tooth in it.

Trista Crass is a blogger living in Alaska.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME animals

Watch a Tiny Chipmunk Try Really Hard to Finish a Slice of Pizza

Watching it might make you hungry

What’s cuter than a tiny hamster eating a tiny slice of pizza or for that matter, a tiny hamster eating a tiny burrito? A chipmunk eating a honking huge piece of pizza, of course.

In some adorable footage captured by YouTube user Gary Johnson, the wild beastie manages to best a slice of pizza that’s at least twice as big as he is. One thing that is clear about the chipmunk: He is committed to the task, and common sense, stomach capacity and just being full, won’t stop him from downing that whole slice. We’ve all been there, furry friend.

“I think this little fella gained about 6 pounds in the 3 days we were in Vermont,” Johnson said in the description of the YouTube video. Looks like at least one chipmunk will be ready for winter.


TIME viral

Watch a French Bulldog Frolic With a Wild Deer for Two Glorious Minutes

What a beautiful, unlikely friendship

Meet Ellie-Mae, a 3-year-old French bulldog who is really great at fostering interspecies friendships. Watch here as she romps around with a very large buck who she encountered in her human’s backyard in Nova Scotia. Apparently they were already playing for a half hour before this video even began.

Eventually, the pup chases the buck back into the woods.

MORE: Argumentative French Bulldog Will Stop at Nothing to Extend Bedtime

MORE: A Corgi Dressed as French Fries and Other Adorable Dog Costumes

TIME animals

Here’s a Giant Dead Whale That Just Washed Up on a New York Beach

It was about 58 feet long, and the cause of death is unknown

On Thursday, things took a strange turn for early morning beach-goers at Smith Point County Park on Long Island, New York. A massive finback whale washed up dead on the beach, NBC New York reports. The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Prevention estimates that the creature was around 58 feet long, and though it showed no visible signs of injury, it did show signs of advanced decomposition. That means it had probably been dead for some time before washing ashore.

The foundation is now working with park officials to investigate — and to figure out how to get rid of it.

Clearly, this incident proves why you shouldn’t go to the beach when it’s obviously autumn. Just embrace the changing seasons — why not grab a pumpkin spice latte and head to an apple orchard instead?

TIME animals

Food Festival Hosts Squirrel Burger Challenge

Hey, they're protein

Squirrel burgers might be the next big trend for foodies.

This year, the annual Forest Showcase Food and Drink Festival in southern England hosted ‘The Extraordinary Squirrel Burger Challenge” on Oct. 4.

Participants were given a quarter of a pound of minced grey squirrel and additional ingredients and spices, according to AFP. The winner was a “Cajun Melt” followed by “Chicken of the Tree Surprise.”

“We have been told that grey squirrel tastes like the dark meat on a chicken and that a pair of mature squirrels provide about the same amount of meat as a medium sized chicken” said an event coordinator in a statement. “It is the ‘free range chicken of the tree.”

According to the coordinators, squirrels may be a sustainable food source.

TIME animals

Is a Chimpanzee a ‘Legal Person’? Court Set to Decide

Tarongas Animals Receive Christmas Treats
Lisa Maree Williams—Getty Images

Could determine if a chimpanzee has a legal status akin to personhood, thereby making its captivity unlawful

A New York appeals court will begin hearing a landmark case on Wednesday that could determine if a chimpanzee has a legal status akin to personhood, thereby making its captivity unlawful.

Animal rights lawyer Steven Wise filed the lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of Tommy, a 26-year-old chimpanzee kept by a private owner in upstate New York. The lawsuit alleged that keeping the chimpanzee in captivity was unlawful, because a chimpanzee was not merely a possession of the owner, but rather “a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned.”

As such, the case called upon the court to grant Tommy the status of “legal personhood,” thereby extending the fundamental human right of habeas corpus, or the right to not be unlawfully imprisoned, to a primate.

The case grabbed headlines, including TIME’s, for its ambitious attempt to blur a longstanding legal distinction between humans and animals. The organization pressing the case, the Nonhuman Rights Project, has stated that the case will not end with Tommy: “Our goal is, very simply, to breach the legal wall that separates all humans from all nonhuman animals.”

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