Newsletter Winter 2020
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Winter 2020

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The Animal Behavior Institute is proud to announce our latest addition to our Canine programs: a new certificate in Service & Therapy Dog Training. The program is for professional dog trainers that would like to train dogs for assistance work, with an emphasis on service training and animal assisted therapy. Learn More



Hibernation Myths Debunked!


Wintertime can be rough on your body and your mind. With less daylight, we tend to feel tired earlier in the day. And with colder temperatures outside, our natural tendency is to spend less time being active and more time on the couch with Netflix and a comfy blanket. Wouldn't it be great if we could just hibernate for the winter?

We tend to think of hibernation as a nice long nap. But in fact, that's not what hibernation is at all. Here are 4 myths about hibernation we'd like to debunk.

Myth #1: Hibernation is the same as sleeping.

bearWhen animals hibernate, their heart rate can slow down to just a few beats per minute, and some may only breathe every few minutes. Brain activity in some hibernating animals is nearly undetectable. Their body temperature also decreases, and they can be difficult to arouse (and it requires a great deal of energy for them to get moving). This helps the animals conserve energy and survive periods when food is scarce. Sleep, on the other hand, is mostly a mental state. It's characterized primarily by changes in brain activity. Although breathing rates and body temperature may drop, the change is not as drastic as it is during hibernation. Sleep is also much easier to break out of. You can come out of a deep sleep and be fully awake in a few minutes.

Myth #2: Only animals in cold weather climates hibernate.

Animals in warm weather climates can undergo something called aestivation, which can protect animals that are trying to escape extreme heat or drought when food may be scarce. Many terrestrial and aquatic animals, including lungfish, earthworms, snails, amphibians and reptiles, aestivate. Most animals bury themselves in the ground, which protects them from the heat. Here, they wait for the wet season or cooler temperatures. Some land snails climb trees to escape the heat of the ground, sealing themselves into their shells using dried mucus.

The lungfish is capable of aestivating and surviving without water for up to three years. Unlike other types of fish with gills, the lungfish carry lungs for breathing air as well. These fish can bury themselves into the mud, and when the mud of the lake starts getting dry, the fish secrets lots of mucus to cover the entire body. The mucus work like a sac and provides moisture and shelter through the dry season.

Myth #3: Only furry animals hibernate.

While quite a few furry animals, such as ground squirrels and hedgehogs, do hibernate, it's something all types of animals do. While most birds don't hibernate, the common poorwill is one that does. Rather than migrate to a warmer climate, when the temperature drops and its insect food supply becomes scarce, the common poorwills choose to hibernate inside hollow logs or trees. Wood frogs are another fur-less animal that hibernates. Most animals need to protect themselves from freezing during the winter, but not these guys. They can actually spend the entire winter frozen (at least on the outside). Their liver produces large amounts of glucose that flushes into every cell in their bodies, and this syrupy sugar solution prevents the cells from freezing and binds the water molecules inside the cells to prevent dehydration.

Myth # 4 Hibernation lasts all winter.

Some animals can go into a state known as torpor. Torpor is a brief period of suspended animation in which breathing, heart rate, body temperature and metabolism are reduced. Torpor can be used by animals such as humming birds or bats to get through a short period of poor conditions, such as a cold evening (it can also go on for extended periods). Animals can enter a state of torpor on a daily basis. The animals have a normal body temperature when they are active during the day, but during periods of inactivity, their bodies enter into the torpor state to conserve energy. Unlike hibernation, torpor is an involuntary state that animals enter into as the conditions dictate.

At this point, we humans don't have the ability to enter into any state of hibernation. Although it would be nice to head to bed when the snow starts falling and wake up again when the leaves turn green, our bodies weren't designed for that. So bundle up- springtime is a few months away!

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The Effects of Winter Solstice on Animals

The winter solstice is coming up on December 21, 2019. It's the shortest day and the longest night of the year, and is traditionally considered the kick-off of winter. It has been celebrated in many cultures across the globe for thousands of years, from the Roman to the Inca empires, and from the Scandinavians to the Chinese, with celebrations taking many different forms that include everything from feasts to bonfires.

But what causes the winter solstice to occur? Since the Earth is tilted on its axis, the arc the Sun moves through during the day will rise and fall across the year as the Earth’s pole points either towards or away from the Sun. The winter solstice occurs at the minimum point for the northern hemisphere, when the Sun is lowest in the sky. At this time, the Earth's North Pole is pointing away from the Sun (which is why it is so much colder in the northern hemisphere).

The word 'solstice' comes from the Latin solstitium meaning 'Sun stands still', because the apparent movement of the Sun's path north or south stops before changing direction. At the winter solstice, the apparent position of the Sun reaches its most southerly point against the background stars.

The conditions that winter brings can have a profound impact both on the physical and mental state of humans and animals. It's been shown that the decreased sunlight and shorter days can cause some people to suffer from seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Those sufferers hang on to melatonin, the sleep hormone that clues your body in on when to head to bed, for longer amounts of time throughout the winter. Our bodies normally produce more of it at night, so you can blame the longest night of the year for why you'll be feeling a little sleepier on December 22nd. Depression can also coincide with SAD.

If you have SAD, your pet can actually suffer from it as well. According to Psychology Today, The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals conducted a survey that discovered about 40 percent of dog parents noticed their pets were a little sadder in the wintertime. As dogs are highly intuitive creatures, they often match their moods to the humans they spend the most time with.

Until recently, there hasn’t been an official diagnosis of SAD in animals, but newer studies on hamsters and grass rats may prove that the seasonal change can negatively affect animals as well. When exposed to less sunlight, the hamsters and grass rats acted depressed. The study discovered that there was an alteration in the chemistry of the rodents’ brains. The hippocampus (the part of the brain that controls emotions) shrank, which is thought to be a cause of depression.

coyote pupsBut on the positive side, the winter solstice is also a time for many animals to begin mating. The Great Horned Owl typically mates in December or early January. Eggs laid in February hatch in a month or so, and young owls will stay in the nest for the next 3 months. Coyotes start their breeding season in December as well, with 4 to 6 pups being born sometime in the spring. For many species, it's important to time the birth of their offspring with the start of warmer weather. In wintertime, food sources are often scarce, and parents may have a difficult time keeping their young alive if they are born too soon.

The change of season can also be a cue for migrating animals to begin their journey to more hospitable winter climates. Environmental cues, such as temperature changes, less daylight, and scarcity of food, and internal cues, such as the amount of energy it takes to keep warm, are thought to be triggers for migrating species. While we typically think of migration as birds flying south for the winter, the process might involve travel east and west or even changes in altitudes up or down a mountain. And of course hibernation, which can run the gamut from long-term dormancy to short-term inactivity, can also be initiated by some of the same environmental cues as migration.

So with the winter solstice on the way, get ready to celebrate all the joys, along with the challenges, that winter brings. And our friends in the animal world will be doing the same (hopefully without the celebratory bonfires!).

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Winter Health and Wellness Resources for Your Dog

Wintertime can be full of lots of fun activities, such as skiing, sledding, ice-skating and snowperson making. It can also be a great time to hunker down and cozy up on your couch with a good book and your favorite canine friend.

But while winter can be fun, it also means the needs of your dog can change. Shorter days, harsher weather, and holiday travel can be tough on your dog. So now that the temperature is dipping, here are a few strategies and resources to help you make sure your pet stays happy and healthy all winter long.

Do your best to maintain physical activity, even when it gets cold. Exercise is important for you and your dog's physical and mental well being, so create a plan to make sure you keep up a routine. When possible, take your dog out for walks as you normally would. You can also create exercise routines indoors, such racing your dog up and down the stairs, and indoor game of fetch, or perhaps an obstacle course in your basement with a kit such as the one from AKA Agility Training. Find the obstacle course kit at AKA Agility Training Set/Weave Pole and Hurdle.

If you do go outside for walks, take extra care of your dog's paws. Cracked pads are common in pets during the winter months, and salt and the chemicals used to de-ice sidewalks can also cause issues. Be sure to wipe down or wash your dog's feet after a walk. Try keeping a bucket next to the door to rinse your dog’s feet as soon as you come in from the cold. Use warm water and make sure to reach spots between the toes and pads. Some dogs will also need a moisturizer for dry skin like this one: Paw Rescue.

bootiesIf you notice discomfort, consider using dog booties as well. Ruffwear makes durable ones that are great for active dogs, Winter Dog Boots.

And since we're talking about dog footwear, let's not forget the coats, too. Dogs that are on the smaller side have less body mass and therefore don’t generate as much heat. Dogs with short coats or no coat often require additional insulation in winter weather. Be sure to get a coat that fits well. Consider purchasing 2 coats once you find one that you and your dog like. That way, you'll always have a dry one on hand. ChillyDogs.ca has a wide variety of coats. And if you have a small dog, perhaps a cute sweater will do the trick. You can read a great review of the Best Small Dog Sweaters of 2019 here: Small Dog Sweaters.

Along with exercising, preventing winter weight gain is important for your dog's health. Just like humans, pets can be prone to living a more sedentary life during the winter months. Keep your dog’s winter activity level in mind when considering how many calories he needs. Additionally, avoid giving your dog holiday table scraps or letting him indulge in too many treats. If you'd like to make your own holiday treats that are tailored to your dog, here's a great list of recipes.: Dog Treat Recipes. Don't have time to bake? Grab a box of holiday treats here (they also make a great gift for other dog parents in the neighborhood) at Holiday Canine Treats

Pay extra attention to your dog's skin during the winter months. Just like your skin, your dog’s skin gets drier, itchier, and flakier in weather. Don’t bathe him as often as you do in the summer, as it will strip away his coat’s natural oils. When you do get him into the tub, use a moisturizing shampoo. A colloidal oatmeal shampoo that contains ingredients such as Vitamin E, tea tree oil, aloe, or jojoba oil are good choices. Earthbath makes a nice all-natural one, which you can grab here at Chewy.

So take care of your dog and yourself this winter, and don't forget to enjoy all the season has to offer.

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Animals Discovered in 2019

Lithoredo Abatanica

Shipworms are a group of predominantly marine, wood-boring and wood-feeding saltwater clams. Appearing in literature as far back as the 4th Century BC, they are notorious for destroying wood structures such as piers, docks, and ships.

But unlike other shipworms, the Lithoredo abatanica, which was recently discovered in the Philippines, has no interest in wood at all. They prefer something a little more challenging - stone! In the Abatan River on the Island of Bohol, these creatures burrow their way through the bedrock. They ingest limestone and expel it as finely grained particles. The burrows from rocks abandoned by these shipworms have created a whole new neighborhood for small fish and assorted crustaceans, reshaping the ecosystem in the Abatan.

I don't think they'll be in competition for food with other animals anytime soon. And talk about a mineral-rich diet!

Myzomela Prawiradilagae

birdA new species with a much more gentle diet is the honeyeater Myzomela prawiradilagae, or as it's more commonly called, the Alor myzomela. It lives in the highlands of the Indonesian island of Alor, and is easily distinguished from other known members of the Myzomela genus of honeyeater birds thanks to its unique call and paler upper wings. It’s closely related to the crimson-hooded myzomela from the nearby island of Wetar. The Alor myzomela inhabits only the eucalyptus woodland at elevations about 3,300 feet, making it's preferred habitat quite different from other related honeyeaters.

The bird was discovered by National University of Singapore ornithologist Frank Rheindt and his colleagues from Indonesia, Australia, Belgium, and Singapore. Myzomela prawiradilagae was named by the team after Dr. Dewi Malia Prawiradilaga (Myzomela prawiradilagae), one of the first leading female Indonesian ornithologists, and head of the bird division at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, Research Center for Biology, Indonesian Institute of Science.

Aenigmachanna Gollum

Snakehead fish are members of the freshwater perciform fish family Channidae. They are typically found in Africa and Asia. With long bodies and large mouths, they are able to breath out of the water for extended periods because of a pair of vascular cavities located near the gills (known as a suprabranchial organ).

The Aenigmachanna gollum was found in Kerala, South India, and is the first snakehead fish that has been described as living underground. Scientists say that this snakehead fish does not exhibit characteristics of a species that should actually be living underground. They wonder if this subterranean lifestyle is newly acquired or if the species might still be in transition. The species name, gollum, is in recognition of The Lord of The Rings character, who himself took to a life underground and in turn developed various physical adaptations.

viperTrimeresurus Arunachalensis

In the category of things that could scare the living daylights out of you, we now have a new species of venomous pit vipers! Welcome to the world the Trimeresurus arunachalensis, or Arunachal pit viper. It was discovered in forests near the village of West Kameng, Arunachal Pradesh in India (hence the name Arunachal viper).

Vipers are venomous snakes with long, hinged fangs that can penetrate deep into their prey, delivering a lethal dose of venom. Pit vipers belong to the viper subfamily Crotalinae, and have heat-sensing pits on either sides of their head, between the eye and the nostril. These pits allow the snake to locate warm-blooded prey easily.

Researchers found differences in comparison to other pit vipers in the areas of the viper's pared reproductive organs, scale count, and coloring. When viewed from above, the Arunachal pit viper appears drab and can blend in with a forest floor. The sides and the belly, however, are a bright orangish color.

Podocerus Jinbe

From discovery on the forest floor to the depths of a whale's mouth, we find a new shrimp-like creature called Podoceus jinbe. It was discovered on the gill rakers of a female whale shark, living in a fish preserve off the island of Okinawa. It is named after the Japanese word jinbe for whale sharks.

These little guys are a variety of gammaridea, a species known for their hardy ability to live in environments ranging from high mountains to the deep sea. They run about 3-5 centimeters long and have a brown-colored body and long and hairy legs, which help them catch food.

It's not unusual for crustaceans to be associated with one particular animal. Other species have been found living on the surface of fish, sea turtles and some marine mammals. They are also known to live on other invertebrates. But a whale shark's mouth may be the ultimate home. Not only does it provide a safe place without predators, but there is also an influx of fresh seawater and food.

From beautiful to dangerous, some amazing discoveries were made this year. What's next? We'll just have to wait and see.

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