It is common knowledge that large dog breeds tend to have shorter lifespans (generally around 10-13 years; for the wolfhound and the great dane, as low as 7-8 years) than smaller dog breeds (some of which can go on for as long as 15-20 years). In fact, one study found that within 74 different breeds, dogs lose about one month of life expectancy per 4.4 pounds (2 kg).
So why does this happen?
What eats termites, smears its butt-juice on things, and defends itself with the power of floof?
We’ve gotta talk about the aardwolf (Proteles cristata).
(Photo by Greg Hume.)
Same-sex behavior in birds: what it looks like, why it happens, and how it might be better for the species than you think.
This is an interesting and complex question.
A fellow named Dollo says no, and in 1893 he proposed a law- Dollo’s Law, in fact- that stated that once lost, genetic traits could not be regained via evolution. We’ll discuss how well Dollo’s Law has held up a bit more further down.
It’d be tough to give an exhaustive list of which animals I feel it’s morally wrong to keep as pets and which I don’t, because it really is a species-by-species basis. And there are exceptions on both ends- both animals that have very good lives in captivity thanks to capable owners and owners who I would never want to own a cat or dog, much less an exotic pet.
It’s annoying to hear the conversation on exotic pets get sidetracked again and again by the same meaningless statements: on the one hand you have the people saying “that animal belongs in the wild!” which is nice, but adds nothing, and on the other hand you have “cats and dogs used to be wild too!” which just mind-numbingly tosses thousands of years of evolution to one side.
I mentioned before the three* criteria I use when thinking about whether or not I’m morally comfortable with certain species as pets. They are: is the animal captured and sold directly from the wild or does it breed easily in captivity? can the animal be rehomed? and of course, can the animal live a fulfilling and healthy life in captivity?
Mental Disorders in Animals
(Photo by Julie Corsi.)
Above is an image of a captive parrot that suffers from excessive feather-plucking, or pterotillomania. People who work with captive parrots or own parrots as pets have probably at least heard of this disorder, or even observed it firsthand. The parrot may have an excellent diet and be in good physical condition, yet it will continue to pluck and pluck at its own feathers, shaving itself bald in places.
If the cause is not a disorder of the body, then, can we say that this is a symptom of a disorder of the mind?
That brings up another question, though: how can we possibly know what is happening in an animal’s head? How can we separate an animal’s behavior into that of bodily needs and that of mental needs? People like to point out all the time that you can’t sit a dog on a couch and ask him what his childhood was like; we don’t even know if a dog’s memory of his childhood exists in any form that a human would recognize. While I think most people would agree that animals have minds, they function- by necessity and evolution- in ways ours do not.
I think this has to be the focal point of the following discussion: animal minds and human minds are different. Am I saying animal minds are inferior? Certainly not. But I’d like to point out that a lot of the research on mental disorders in animals focuses on finding parallels with human mental disorders. Yet the underlying reasons for disordered behavior in animals may be because they have mental needs that humans do not. For example, a popular theory behind why parrots develop pterotillomania is because they are not given ample opportunities to perform normative food-foraging behaviors.
So what forms of mental disorders are present in animals, and what are biologists, psychologists, veterinarians, and pet owners doing to better understand them?
Below the cut I’ll be discussing several things that people may find distressing/triggering: animal suffering, mental illness (including references or descriptions of the most commonly diagnosed human mental disorders), and animal research. It’s an upsetting topic, which is why I’m writing about it much more formally than I normally do, but I think it’s both interesting and important.
I don’t know how else to preface this article. Birds, man.
So I’m willing to bet that a lot of you are aware of brood parasitism à la the cuckoo, and a good number of my followers have probably even heard of the terrifying methods the intraspecific brood parasitic coot uses to weed out the fakers from its progeny.
But have you heard much about this lady?
(Photo by Thomas Quine.)
Looks kind of drab and unassuming, doesn’t she.
(She murders your children if you don’t do what she wants.)
So let’s talk about brood parasitism and why it’s good and why it’s not so good and the different strategies that different bird species use, including mafia behavior. And we’ll talk about the development of male cowbird courtship too because that’s kind of cool. But yeah, lots of bird child murdering coming up just so you’re aware.
I’ve talked a little bit before about my motivation for writing a story like Darkeye was on my tumblr, but I figure now would be a good time to do a general round-up of a lot of the interesting real-life inspiration for this sad dog story.
And mind you, not all of it is from before the story started. Before I began writing I had really only sketched out ideas for the story up to chapter 31 (it was also supposed to end around then, too, to my continuing dismay). A lot of the real stuff I can draw parallels to in Darkeye is actually the result of slightly creepy coincidences that I wasn’t aware of at the time of writing.
That said, let’s delve into a round-up of some of the real science and speculation that relates to this very odd sci-fi story.
Spoilers for up to chapter 77 ahead!