Friday, November 30, 2012

Wants and wishes

...My argument is [that] because we don't understand animal consciousness, we ought to be opening our eyes to the possibility that a great range of animals, not just mammals, not just birds, maybe invertebrates are conscious as well. It seems to me that by saying we don't understand consciousness, you're not closing off animals' consciousness. You're not denying animal consciousness altogether. You're just simply saying we don't know and therefore it might exist in a much wider range of animals...

That's Marian Stamp Dawkins speaking. She is Professor of Animal Behaviour at Oxford U., and the author of Why Animals Matter. This conversation is titled, What Do Animals Want?

A couple of excerpts:
What we really need is a much more scientific basis for animal welfare than just an anthropomorphic argument. I began to think, how can you define animal welfare in a way that's scientific, that actually leads to proper evidence so the decisions we make are based on good evidence? I came up with a really very simple definition of animal welfare. Which is that the animals are healthy, and that they have what they want.... 
... there's something more to animal welfare than just not dying of a disease. That more is, in my view, what the animals, themselves, want. Do they want access to water; do they want access to cover? Do they want to be with each other? Obviously we can't necessarily give them everything they want. But we can at least find out what it is. If somebody's going to argue such-and-such improves animal welfare, I would say well, what's the evidence that it either improves their health or it gives the animals what they want? If you can't show that, then however much you think you might want it, it doesn't seem to me that it actually improves animal welfare at all.

Read the entire article (or watch the video: 35 minutes.)

And what does a dragonfly want? Supper! And it takes less than a second to catch it. Watch the Science Nation video. And don't miss the frustrated frog (about 49 seconds in); hilarious, if not so much for the frog.

How does a baby bird make his wants known? Well, sometimes, his mother gives him a password. Even before he's hatched out of the egg!
Colombelli-NĂ©grel et al. show that superb fairy wrens go one step further by singing a specific incubation song to their in-egg embryos, which helps them to oust parasitizing cuckoo chicks that have not learned the brood's “password.” To ensure that both parents are in the know, females also incorporated their incubation song into begging calls given to their male partners, resulting in males also being more parental to chicks singing the right song.
 The entire (brief) article is at I think registration is required, but it's free and fast, and gives you access to years of interesting science news.

And on to the wishes pretty pictures! First up; a whole passel of brilliant sea spiders. They're not really spiders, but Pycnogonids, but they sure look spidery. And yes, we have them in BC, too, but sadly (for me) not in the intertidal zone. These, for example, live at a depth of 2200 metres (1.4 miles).

Vent sea spider. Photo from Wikipedia.
Pycnogonids are so small that each of their tiny muscles consists of only one single cell, surrounded by connective tissue.
 More pics: I am always impressed by PSYL's photography; from insects to birds to scenery, he brings it all to life. He was recently working in the extreme north of the Yukon (about 1500 miles north of here, in the Vancouver area), and posted photos of a hike around Ivvavik. Beautiful country, a must-see!

My son-in-law motorcycled up to Inuvik, just a few miles east of there, this summer; did I mention that here? I followed him on Google maps. They had sent one of their trucks up the highway, and I could "stand" on the road and see the country he was driving through. I so wish I could make the trip myself!. All that wide-open space; all that brilliant colour, and the northern lights overhead!

Back to the topic at hand; PSYL's final photos are of tors. I had never heard of these; they're like huge rock walls marching across the landscape. Wikipedia explains how minerals deposited in granite cracks have persisted over millenia, while the granite eroded away to gravel, leaving the huge mineral walls behind.

One final link: someone is missing a large tub of scallop guts. Have you seen it?

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