Introduction to Chiroptera


I don’t know if you guys have noticed this, but I’m a pretty big fan of bats. I’ve been meaning to do a grand ole post on them for a while, and this seems to be the perfect season to do it. So I’d like to talk briefly about the incredible diversity within order Chiroptera.

QUICK BAT FACTS! Did you know….

  • Bats comprise about one-fifth of known mammal species?
  • The smallest known mammal is a bat? (Well, there’s also a shrew contender, but we’re going with the bat today.)
  • The largest bats have five-foot wingspans?
  • Tequila wouldn’t exist without bats? (One species pollinates the agave plant it’s made from.)
  • Some bats have nipples in their armpits?
  • NO bat species is blind?
  • Bats can live over 20 years?
  • Bats are highly intelligent, social animals?

Okay, let’s learn about bats.

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Can Animals Have Pets?

This is definitely a really interesting topic to me, and I’ll try to answer to the best of my ability. Keep in mind that I’m coming at this from a psychology/biology background, not an anthropological one- I’d love to hear people from that field weigh in on the topic.

I’d also like to note that some of the things in this article aren’t based on scientific research but my own observations and opinion.

Here’s what I go over:

  • Why people keep animals, and the types of relationships people have with animals
  • Domestic vs tamed animals
  • Conditions that allow humans to keep pets
  • Animal-animal relationships that resemble human pet keeping

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Chase-Away Sexual Selection

What is chase-away selection?

In preparation for answering this question I dipped my toes back into the cesspool of sexual selection theories and MAN is it just a hot sweaty mess. Utterly fascinating, of course, but just a mess.

Ok, so chase-away selection theory. To understand where it comes from, you’ve got to understand a few basic things about sexual selection itself.

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Why Do Small Dogs Live Longer Than Large Dogs?

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?

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Three Ethical Considerations For Exotic Pets

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?

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Mental Disorders in Animals

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.

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The Cowbird’s Guide to Practical Brood Parasitism


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.

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