Clever crows

first_img A study of YouTube star Snowball the cockatoo suggests humans may not be the only ones who can groove to a beat Study suggests they both understood the phenomenon and had uses for it It’s no secret crows are smart. They’re notorious for frustrating attempts to keep them from tearing into garbage cans; more telling, however, is that they are one of the few animals known to make tools.But would you believe doing it actually makes them happy?That’s the finding of a recent paper, co-authored by Dakota McCoy, a graduate student working in the lab of David Haig, George Putnam Professor of Biology, who found that crows behaved more optimistically after using tools. The study is described in an Aug. 19 paper in Current Biology.“What this suggests is that, just the same way we enjoy something like solving a crossword, they actually enjoyed simply using a tool,” McCoy said. “I think it suggests there’s a lot more going on in that little head than we think. They get satisfaction out of doing things they’re good at, have trained for their whole lives, and that they use frequently.”While tool use in the animal kingdom is not unheard of — chimps use sticks to “fish” for termites and other animals use rocks to smash open nuts or shells — New Caledonian crows stand out for manufacturing multiple complex tools and regularly refining their designs.But how can making and using tools make an animal feel good? A clue, McCoy said, lies in looking at how complex actions make humans feel.“I think we tend to under-anthropomorphize animals, especially really intelligent animals,” she said. “It’s not that they are machines, and we are feeling beings. Clearly, animals also have emotional reactions and moods.”,And, one of those emotions is the pleasure of accomplishment.“One potential answer for why tool use evolved is because crows are used to picking up objects and caching them,” she said. “They actually love, when you’re experimenting with them, to pick up your equipment and cache it way up high where you can’t get it.”Once crows started using tools, she said, the fact that it made them feel good encouraged them to keep at it, refining and developing the behavior further.“Maybe crows are just like humans and other primates in that, when they’re doing these complicated actions, they’re reinforced not just by getting a prize out of it, but because they actually enjoy the process itself,” she said.To understand how crows felt about using tools, McCoy and colleagues devised an experiment to test how optimistic the birds were feeling.“We do have subtle ways to test mood, and the classic paradigm is a glass half filled with water,” she said. “Someone who is feeling pessimistic will interpret it as half empty, while an optimistic person will see it as half full.”For the crows, researchers conceived a similar test.In the lab, crows were trained using a small box. When placed on the left side of a table, the box always contained a large reward — three pieces of meat. On the right side, it contained just a scrap of meat, a far smaller reward.Once the crows understood the difference, researchers placed the box in the middle of the table. If the birds quickly came to investigate that ambiguous box, it suggested they were optimistic that they would find a large reward. If they waited or didn’t visit the box at all, it suggested they were more pessimistic.,To test how they felt about tool use, the crows were then put through a series of tests over a number of days — one in which they had to use a tool to extract a piece of meat from a box and another in which the meat was readily available.“But we thought that it might not be that tool use puts them in a good mood, it could be just that they had to work harder,” McCoy said. “So we [added] two more conditions. In one the meat was right on the table so there was no effort involved, and in another “effortful” condition, they had to fly around to the four corners of the room to retrieve each piece of meat.”The results, she said, showed that, following tool use, the birds were much quicker to approach the ambiguous box, and much less enthusiastic after the effortful test compared to the easy test.“They enjoyed the easy condition, that was no surprise,” McCoy said. “But the surprise was that, clearly, they don’t just like tool use because it’s difficult. We controlled for difficulty and that wasn’t what was motivating their interest — there is something specific about tool use they’re enjoying.” So you think he can dance? Brainy birds Probiotic hydrogels heal gut wounds that other treatments can’t reach The parrot knows shapes Related Mercury levels in fish are on the rise Tree in Harvard Forest outfitted with sensors, cameras, and other digital equipment sends out on-the-ground coverage The Mesoamerican attraction to magnetism The Daily Gazette Sign up for daily emails to get the latest Harvard news. A red oak live tweets climate change Could open the door to new bioactive healing strategies As water temperatures increase, so does risk of exposure to toxic methylmercury While it’s impossible to say for certain exactly what the birds were feeling, McCoy said her study is far from the first to attempt to gauge what effects animals’ moods.“Many people have done studies about what kind of mood animals are in … but the research to date has almost exclusively been on captive animals, and what kind of circumstantial changes can improve their mood,” she said. “Many people have shown that animals’ mood improves if you do something like give them a larger cage, but this study shows that animals also have a better mood if you give them complex, fun tasks to do.”McCoy, who is a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said that she hopes to see the findings of the study applied to improving the lives of animals in captivity.“Our findings suggest that one way to improve the welfare of captive animals is to give them complex, species-specific enrichment where they’re using skills they have … to achieve goals instead of just receiving passive enrichment,” she said. “We’re far from a world where we don’t have animals in captivity … but they could live a much more enriching life if they’re housed socially and given fun tasks to solve.”This research was supported with funding from the Department of Defense, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, a Theodore H. Ashford Graduate Fellowship, a Royal Society of New Zealand Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, a Prime Minister’s McDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize, and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Related Bird’s mastery of feat may hold insights for machine learning, study suggests Study shows parrots can pass classic test of intelligence last_img read more

Still getting drier

first_imgBy David Emory StooksburyUniversity of Georgia Athens, Ga. — With record to near-record high temperatures and little to no rain, northwest and south Georgia enter May in extreme drought conditions.In northwest Georgia, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Polk and Walker counties are now in extreme drought.Extreme drought conditions have developed now in Bryan, Chatham, Grady, Liberty, Long and McIntosh counties. And they remain in the south Georgia counties of Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Camden, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Cook, Echols, Glynn, Jeff Davis, Lanier, Lowndes, Pierce, Thomas, Ware and Wayne.The drought has become severe across the north Georgia counties of Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, Dawson, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Harris, Heard, Lumpkin, Meriwether, Troup and White.Bartow, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Towns, Union, and Whitfield counties remain in severe drought in north Georgia.Severe drought conditions continue to expand into the south Georgia counties of Bulloch, Candler, Decatur, Effingham, Mitchell, Seminole, Turner and Worth. Conditions remain severe in Ben Hill, Colquitt, Evans, Irwin, Montgomery, Tattnall, Telfair, Tift, Toombs and Wheeler counties.The remainder of the state is classified as being in moderate drought.Across south Georgia, the drought conditions change from moderate to extreme over short distances. Conditions in counties now classified as being in moderate drought are deteriorating very quickly.What it meansExtreme drought conditions are defined as those expected once in 50 years, based on many indicators. Severe drought conditions are those we expect once in 20 years. Of the state’s 159 counties, 33 are in extreme drought and 46 in severe drought.Based on preliminary data, rainfall since the first of the year has been at or near record low levels in many places.This has been the driest first 4 months (out of 109 years) for Rome, which has had only 8.40 inches of rain. Normal rainfall for the period is 21.73 inches.The same period was the second-driest for Alma with 7.02 inches (58 years of records), Atlanta with 9.63 (78) and Jesup with 6.56 (49). It was the third-driest for Ball Ground with 10.61 inches (60) and Carrollton with 10.63 (73).The period was the fourth-driest for Ashburn with 7.67 inches (50 years of records), Cairo with 8.91 (64), Quitman with 5.64 (112) and Thomasville with 5.42 (112). It was the fifth-driest for Blairsville with 12.59 inches (76 years), Cordele with 8.24 (79) and Folkston with 8.15 (61).Other rainfall rankings since the first of the year include Athens, seventh-driest (in 63 years); Savannah, seventh (60); Columbus, seventh (59); Macon, eighth (57); Augusta, 12th (66); Elberton, 18th (80); Milledgeville, 22nd (104); Hawkinsville, 27th (112); Albany, 32nd (111); and Blakely, 32nd (106).Rainfall deficits for Jan. 1 through May 1 include Augusta at 5.64 inches, Athens 5.71, Columbus 6.60, Savannah 7.10, Macon 7.51, Plains 8.07, Brunswick 8.17, Atlanta 9.62, Tiger 9.71, Alma 9.86, Tifton 10.61, Blairsville 11.68 and LaFayette 12.20.Rivers, streams lowThe U.S. Geological Survey reports daily record to near-record low stream flows for May 3 across all of Georgia except the extreme northeast. Even in the northeast, stream flows are extremely low for early May and are falling.River and stream flows help to put droughts in historical perspective. In the Coosawattee and Oostanaula basins of northwest Georgia and the Oconee, Ocmulgee and Altamaha basins of east Georgia stream flows are near or breaking low-flow records set on May 3 in 1986.In the northern and middle Flint River basin, the current flows are breaking records set in 2000. The May 3 flow on the Flint at Newton broke the record low for that day, set in 1981.Rivers draining the Okefenokee Swamp are near or at record low flows set in the early 1930s and middle 1950s. In extreme southwest Georgia, stream flows in the smaller basins are breaking records set last year.Little if any widespread, sustained relief from the drought is anticipated. The long-term outlook is for the drought to continue to intensify.The entire state remains under the level-2 outdoor water-use schedule. Outdoor watering is allowed only from midnight to 10 a.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at odd-number street addresses and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at even-number addresses. It’s banned all day on Fridays.Local water authorities may further restrict outdoor watering.Get updated drought information at The state drought Web site includes information on how to deal with the drought.Updated weather information is at This University of Georgia network has 71 automated weather stations statewide.(David Stooksbury is the state climatologist and a professor of engineering and atmospheric sciences in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)last_img read more

Crew Member Dies in Explosion on Bulker off Indonesia

first_imgA crew member of a Singapore-flagged Capesize bulker was fatally injured in a gas explosion aboard the ship on October 28.The 2014-built Cape India was transiting Makassar Strait at the time of the explosion, according to local reports.The injured seafarer, reported to be of Chinese nationality, was transferred by a rescue boat to a hospital in Indonesia’s Balikpapan but was subsequently declared dead.The 187,900 dwt ship is said to have resumed its voyage to Australia on October 29. Available AIS data shows that the Cape India is underway using its own engine with an estimated time of arrival on November 1.The cause of the explosion and eventual damage it caused on the ship remain unknown.World Maritime News Stafflast_img

Gillian beats par to set the senior pace

first_img Cheshire’s Gillian Mellor set the pace in the English Senior Women’s Amateur with a first round score of one-under 71 at Enville Golf Club, Staffordshire.Mellor, from Prestbury (pictured), finished her round with three consecutive birdies to lead by four from Carol Houghton of The Nottinghamshire.Norfolk’s Tracey Williamson hit the shot of the day with a hole-in-one on the 16th which, coupled with a birdie on 18, helped her into a share of third place on four-over.“I’d three-putted three greens on the trot before I got to that hole,” said Williamson (Royal Cromer). “It took the putting element out!”She took a five-iron for her shot to the 171-yard hole but, as with her two previous aces, didn’t see the ball go in the hole. “The green was all in shadow. I knew I’d hit a good shot, but when I got up there I thought it might have gone through the back.”Williamson is tied with Debbie Warren (Kings Norton) and Julie Wheeldon (Wakefield).After tomorrow’s second round the leading 32 players will qualify for the championship match play for the Wendy Taylor Salver. Defending champion Aileen Greenfield is comfortably in the hunt in a group on eight-over.Host county Staffordshire boasts two senior internationals in the field, with former champion Julie Brown (Trentham) scoring nine-over today, while Sue Spencer (Whittington Heath) is two shots further back.In the over-60s Ann Howard Trophy, the first day lead was taken by Angela Jones (Canterbury) on seven over. She’s a shot ahead of Jayne Fletcher (Whittington Heath) and Sheree Dove-Wilde (Camberley Heath). Defending champion Carol Wild (Notts Ladies) is a stroke further back.Click here for full scoresImage copyright Leaderboard Photography 13 May 2019 Gillian beats par to set the senior pace Tags: elite golf, Enville, Senior Women’s Amateurlast_img read more

M’town Volunteers Sought for Two New Committees

first_imgMIDDLETOWN –The township committee is seeking volunteers to help them preserve Middletown’s rich history and chart a course for a vibrant economic future. Volunteers would be appointed to one of two new advisory bodies – the historic preservation commission or the economic development committee.“It’s necessary to preserve the remnants of our storied past for future generations. It’s equally as important that we take steps to ensure future generations have the opportunity to enjoy the high quality of life we enjoy in Middletown today,” Mayor Anthony P. Fiore said.The Middletown Historic Preservation Commission is charged with fostering awareness and appreciation of the community’s history, advancing public knowledge through outreach programs and education, and encouraging the growth of heritage tourism in the township. Members also will be dedicated to collecting, exhibiting and archiving documents and artifacts that tell a tale about the founding of Middletown as one of the state’s earliest colonial settlements as well as its continuing evolution.The historic preservation commission will consist of seven volunteer members – the mayor’s designee, a landmark commission member and five public members appointed by the township committee. The commission is expected to meet six times a year.The Middletown Economic Development Committee will focus on fostering new economic growth and the retention of existing businesses and industries. Members will be charged with uniting business leaders and local elected officials so that they may pool resources and ideas that benefit all residents and businesses. The committee’s goal is to facilitate the creation of a desirable business climate that promotes economic growth, job development and the expansion of the commercial tax base.The economic development committee will consist of seven volunteer members – the mayor’s designee and six public members, including three from the business community. The committee is expected to meet monthly.“There’s an incredible wealth of talented residents and business leaders here in Middletown,” the mayor said. “I’m looking forward to meeting people who can donate some time to help us preserve the past and protect the future.”Residents interested in volunteering their time and experience are encouraged to submit an application on the Middletown Citizen Leadership Form. Applications should be sent to Middletown Citizen Leadership Act, c/o Township Clerk, Town Hall, 1 Kings Highway, Middletown, NJ 07748.Additional information is available by calling 732-615-2015. The application can be downloaded from Look under the “Boards and Commissions” section of the website.last_img read more