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Animal secrets: dog tail-wagging, sick flies, fish eyelids, cat whiskers, and the loss of songbirds

Matthew Alice even ponders animals' morning sickness

Leave the cat alone, Wally, okay?  - Image by Rick Geary
Leave the cat alone, Wally, okay?

The indestructability of cats' whiskers

When he’s prowling around in dark places, his whiskers help him determine whether a space is wide enough to crawl through. They’re like curb feelers on Dad’s Olds, but sensitive enough to feel a tiny puff of air. Whiskers act as an extension of a cat’s eyes. But like all hair shafts, whiskers fall out on their own periodically, and new ones begin to grow again.

By Matthew Alice, August 24, 1995 | Read full article

You’ll often see a tail wag as a threat before a fight.

Dog tail-wagging as sign of happiness

We mostly pay attention to human-dog interactions and observe tail wags when the animal is happy to see its owner but also slightly apprehensive. If you watch dog-dog interactions, you’ll often see a tail wag as a threat before a fight or in other conflict situations. The act of tail wagging squeezes those message-bearing scent glands and sends a smellogram to the other dog to let him know what’s up.

By Matthew Alice, December 16, 1993 | Read full article

Flies don’t languish and play out the last act of Camille.

Flies do get sick

Since flies aren’t particularly complex organisms, they usually go from a lively musca domestica to musca mortissimo in short order, with only a fleeting period spent as musca not feeling so hot. They don’t languish and play out the last act of Camille or exhibit the human symptoms of whatever illness they’ve acquired.

By Matthew Alice, October 21, 1993 | Read full article

Others claimed that mosquito repellant created a slick surface that the mosquitos couldn't land on.

How mosquito repellent works

Beginning in ancient times, mankind figured out that certain things (smoke, citronella, pennyroyal among them) kept the biters at bay. Then, nobody cared why; now we care but can’t figure it out. But one of the primary forces in the assault on the mosquito mystery is the Department of Defense, so rest assured that many decades and misspent billions from now, we’ll have some sort of answer.

By Matthew Alice, April 20, 1995 |Read full article

One well-fed house cat in a Michigan study killed 1600 small animals (including birds) in 18 months.

Save the songbirds!

Of 9000-plus bird species, 6000 are in decline, 1000 heading for extinction. Urban Wisconsin has 1295 free-roaming cats per square mile. Cats kill 1 to 3 million birds each day in the U.S. Every free-roaming cat kills 50 to 100 birds annually, and urban cats kill more than rural cats. Birds make up 20 percent of all the small animals killed by cats;

By Matthew Alice, September 22, 1994 | Read full article

A UCSD scientist camped out at the San Diego Zoo looking for signs of queasiness among pregnant apes.

Animals who suffer morning sickness

As UC Berkeley's Margie Profet explains it, the first trimester, when morning sickness is usually at its worst, is the time the developing embryo is most susceptible to toxins that cause serious birth defects. All body systems and structures are being established in a process of cell differentiation at this time. Morning sickness is the mother’s body sensing and rejecting potentially harmful substances.

By Matthew Alice, August 4, 1994 | Read full article

Fish don't need eyelids

We've got ’em to help keep our eyeballs moist. Fish certainly don’t have that problem. They don’t sleep the same way we do, and they don’t have problems with blowing dust or sand. In short, fish don’t need eyelids (though sharks, skates, and rays have a clear eyelid-like structure). So to achieve a streamlined contour, which fish do need, eyelids are eliminated from the basic body design.

By Matthew Alice, March 10, 1994 | Read full article

The most recent attack on flies began in 1992.

No flies in China, no birds in Disneyland

Mao was notorious for these campaigns, which included battles against rats, mice, flies, and dogs, as well as birds. Whatever population happened to be rebuilding would be the new target. And it still goes on. The most recent attack on flies began in 1992. I’m not sure that explains why your friend’s photos were bugless, but with the anti-pest consciousness in Beijing, probably just out of camera range was a Chinese patriot with a fly swatter.

By Matthew Alice, November 16, 1995 | Read full article

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Leave the cat alone, Wally, okay?  - Image by Rick Geary
Leave the cat alone, Wally, okay?

The indestructability of cats' whiskers

When he’s prowling around in dark places, his whiskers help him determine whether a space is wide enough to crawl through. They’re like curb feelers on Dad’s Olds, but sensitive enough to feel a tiny puff of air. Whiskers act as an extension of a cat’s eyes. But like all hair shafts, whiskers fall out on their own periodically, and new ones begin to grow again.

By Matthew Alice, August 24, 1995 | Read full article

You’ll often see a tail wag as a threat before a fight.

Dog tail-wagging as sign of happiness

We mostly pay attention to human-dog interactions and observe tail wags when the animal is happy to see its owner but also slightly apprehensive. If you watch dog-dog interactions, you’ll often see a tail wag as a threat before a fight or in other conflict situations. The act of tail wagging squeezes those message-bearing scent glands and sends a smellogram to the other dog to let him know what’s up.

By Matthew Alice, December 16, 1993 | Read full article

Flies don’t languish and play out the last act of Camille.

Flies do get sick

Since flies aren’t particularly complex organisms, they usually go from a lively musca domestica to musca mortissimo in short order, with only a fleeting period spent as musca not feeling so hot. They don’t languish and play out the last act of Camille or exhibit the human symptoms of whatever illness they’ve acquired.

By Matthew Alice, October 21, 1993 | Read full article

Others claimed that mosquito repellant created a slick surface that the mosquitos couldn't land on.

How mosquito repellent works

Beginning in ancient times, mankind figured out that certain things (smoke, citronella, pennyroyal among them) kept the biters at bay. Then, nobody cared why; now we care but can’t figure it out. But one of the primary forces in the assault on the mosquito mystery is the Department of Defense, so rest assured that many decades and misspent billions from now, we’ll have some sort of answer.

By Matthew Alice, April 20, 1995 |Read full article

One well-fed house cat in a Michigan study killed 1600 small animals (including birds) in 18 months.

Save the songbirds!

Of 9000-plus bird species, 6000 are in decline, 1000 heading for extinction. Urban Wisconsin has 1295 free-roaming cats per square mile. Cats kill 1 to 3 million birds each day in the U.S. Every free-roaming cat kills 50 to 100 birds annually, and urban cats kill more than rural cats. Birds make up 20 percent of all the small animals killed by cats;

By Matthew Alice, September 22, 1994 | Read full article

A UCSD scientist camped out at the San Diego Zoo looking for signs of queasiness among pregnant apes.

Animals who suffer morning sickness

As UC Berkeley's Margie Profet explains it, the first trimester, when morning sickness is usually at its worst, is the time the developing embryo is most susceptible to toxins that cause serious birth defects. All body systems and structures are being established in a process of cell differentiation at this time. Morning sickness is the mother’s body sensing and rejecting potentially harmful substances.

By Matthew Alice, August 4, 1994 | Read full article

Fish don't need eyelids

We've got ’em to help keep our eyeballs moist. Fish certainly don’t have that problem. They don’t sleep the same way we do, and they don’t have problems with blowing dust or sand. In short, fish don’t need eyelids (though sharks, skates, and rays have a clear eyelid-like structure). So to achieve a streamlined contour, which fish do need, eyelids are eliminated from the basic body design.

By Matthew Alice, March 10, 1994 | Read full article

The most recent attack on flies began in 1992.

No flies in China, no birds in Disneyland

Mao was notorious for these campaigns, which included battles against rats, mice, flies, and dogs, as well as birds. Whatever population happened to be rebuilding would be the new target. And it still goes on. The most recent attack on flies began in 1992. I’m not sure that explains why your friend’s photos were bugless, but with the anti-pest consciousness in Beijing, probably just out of camera range was a Chinese patriot with a fly swatter.

By Matthew Alice, November 16, 1995 | Read full article

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