Newsletter August 2017

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 August 2017

What's New?

This Fall we will be offering a new training class for the first time: Carnivore Training & Behavior. This course is ideal for students that would like to work with wolves and wild canids, big cats, bears, or other carnivores. The class can be used as an elective in either the Zoo & Aquarium Science or Exotic Animal Training programs; however, enrollment is open to all students at the Animal Behavior Institute. The course will be taught by Andrea Bogle. Professor Bogle has over 15 years of experience working with carnivores at zoos around the world. Her experience also includes training animals for television and movie production. She is currently a senior trainer at the Texas State Aquarium.


Disney Underwater: Dumbo Octopus

This adorable sea creature looks like it popped out of a Disney movie. About the size of a basketball, the Dumbo octopus was named after Walt Disney’s Dumbo because of the tiny ear-like fins that protrude from the top of its mantle. However, you won’t see a Dumbo octopus at your day at the beach. Dumbos are some of the deepest living octopi, hovering just above the sea floor at depths of 9,800 to 13,000 feet. Pretty impressive for such a cute little animal!

There are 17 different species of Dumbo octopus. They all belong to a group called “umbrella octopus” because their mantles look like umbrellas when they float. Umbrella octopi swallow their prey whole, unlike other species of octopus that tear and grind their prey before eating it. Dumbo octopi mainly feed on copepods, isopods, bristle worms, and amphipods. They have been found in New Zealand, Australia, Monterey Bay, the Philippines, and New Guinea.

Dumbo octopi have a semi-translucent body. Some are short and squat, while others resemble a sea jelly with one giant, brown walking shoe. Some have suckers as well as spines. Others look more like a traditional octopus with “ears.” The Dumbo octopus has an extremely unusual breeding pattern; there is no breeding season and females can lay eggs continuously throughout their adult lives. In fact, females can utilize sperm for fertilization at almost any time once it has been received from a male. This strategy is thought to increase the likelihood of reproduction and survival of the species. Once the young are born, they are able to defend themselves, so the female does not invest any further time with them after birth.

Like the Disney character, Dumbo octopi can move gracefully by flapping their Dumbo ear-like fins. They can also move by expanding and contracting the webs between their tentacles, or by shooting water through their funnel to cause a sudden thrust. This latter strategy is often used for escaping a predator quickly. Dumbo octopi can also crawl on their tentacles, or use any of these strategies in conjunction with each other.

This video shows the Dumbo octopus swimming through the water.

The average lifespan of a Dumbo octopus is three to five years. They are well adapted to the extremely cold temperatures, complete lack of sunlight, and high pressures at which they live. Their predators include sharks, killer whales, tuna, and predatory cephalopods. Not much is known about their conservation status due to a lack of data. However, due to the extreme depths at which they live, they are rarely captured by fishing nets and most likely not directly threatened by human activity.

Aside from their ears, Dumbo octopi are also known for their extremely large eyes. The diameter of their eye is about one third of the width of their head. In comparison, the diameter of human eyes is about 1/7 the width of their skull. Ironically, despite these huge eyes, the Dumbo octopus has extremely poor vision. They observe their surroundings primarily by feeling using suckers or sensing the water current using cirri, the strand-like structures around the suckers. If you lived in the bottom of the ocean with no sunlight, you’d probably find your way by feeling around too.

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Top 5 Reasons to Use Wee-wee Pads (And Top 5 Reasons Not to)

Cats have litter boxes, and now, dogs have all the convenience of going inside too, with the help of wee-wee pads. Wee-wee pads are small square pads that owners can put down on the floor in their homes for their dogs to relieve themselves. They’re a great alternative if your dog can’t get outside when she wants to, but there are also drawbacks of having your dog go to the bathroom in your home. What are the pros and cons of wee-wee pads?


1. Wee-wee pads are great options for dogs who can’t go outside for health reasons. Older, sick, or disabled dogs often have a hard time getting outside and need to remain sedentary. Wee-wee pads allow them to stay comfortably inside their homes.

2. They’re a lifesaver for owners who work long hours. Many dogs, especially smaller breeds, simply can’t hold it that long, even if they are potty trained. If you’re at work for long hours during the day, wee-wee pads can save your carpet, and your dog’s bladder. 

3. If you live in a high rise apartment, or in a climate that has freezing weather, it may be more difficult to take your dog outside on a regular basis. If the weather is extreme, it may not be healthy for your dog to be outside every day. Wee-wee pads allow your dog to stay warm and happy.

4. Wee-wee pads can be great for potty training. When you’re first training your puppy to go outside, wee-wee pads can help protect your floor. They are often used as a crutch or an in-between step as dogs learn not to go inside. 

5. They make cleanup easy. If your dog is going to go to the bathroom inside, it’s a lot less of a hassle to simply pick up a pad and throw it out. Cleaning a carpet or hardwood floor can be expensive and time consuming. If it’s going to happen inside, wee-wee pads are definitely preferable.


1. Dogs can get used to wee-wee pads. They’re not just convenient for you; wee-wee pads are less of a hassle for dogs. Instead of getting you to take them outside, they can just go whenever they feel like it. Make sure your dog doesn’t start refusing to go outside, or worse, going on the floor.

2. If you use it as a tool while potty training your dog, she may never become fully housetrained. When dogs are learning, they might interpret a wee-wee pad as a sign that it’s sometimes okay to go inside the house. This can make it much harder to later teach them to only go outside.

3. Dogs may interpret wee-wee pads to mean that any square pad in the house is an acceptable bathroom. For example, some dogs may start going on bathmats, or board games. They may not realize the distinction between where it’s okay to go in the house and where it’s not.

4. It can make you a lazier owner. If you’re not taking your dog outside to go to the bathroom, you still need to make sure she gets exercise regularly and goes on daily walks. For those that work long hours, getting a dog walker may be a good idea.

5. If you don’t dispose of them properly, they can leave an unpleasant odor in your home. Be sure to clean them up as quickly as possible, and throw in a garbage can outside.

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Why Are Dogs so Friendly?

Have you ever wondered why dogs are so friendly? Recent studies have shown there may be a genetic basis for social behavior in dogs and wolves. Research has consistently shown that dogs are more sociable than wolves raised in similar circumstances. Specifically, dogs pay more attention to humans and follow directions and commands more effectively. Dogs are sweeter and more attentive to humans. And the reason is in their genes.

Hypersocial dogs carry variants of two genes called GTF2I and GTF2IRD1. These cause them to behave in the outgoing manner and to be more sociable and more concerned with human interaction. For many dogs, social behaviors are natural. Ever since evolving from a shared ancestor with wolves, domestic dogs have helped humans find food, protected us, and greeted us with excited eyes and a wagging tail. Research suggests genetic changes are what caused the social distinction in dogs.

Studies have also found that one difference between dog and wolf genomes is the WBSCR17 gene, which occurred during dog domestication. This also predisposes dogs to be social, friendly, and concerned with their human companions. It is likely that the friendly nature of dogs is a result of survival of the friendliest, rather than survival of the fittest, at the time that wolves were domesticated into dogs. Wolves that approached humans and were aggressive were more likely to be killed, whereas wolves that approached humans in a friendly manner were more likely to be tolerated.

As friendly wolves began to be domesticated, they gained traits such as floppy ears and wagging tails that their aggressive relatives did not. At this stage, their psychology and genes began to change as well. As a result, dogs have a remarkable ability to read human gestures. Even chimpanzees and some of our other close relatives can’t read humans as well as dogs can. In fact, dogs read humans similarly to the way that human babies read human adults.

In the early stages of human-dog interaction, dogs were extremely useful for hunting. The communication between dogs and humans was a huge advantage. In many countries today, dogs are still used to hunt because of this ability. Domestic dogs immediately know that if you throw a ball, you want them to chase it. And this is due in part to the communication and connection between dogs and humans as it evolved centuries ago. 

In 2014, a study tested 18 dogs of various breeds including dachshunds, Jack Russell terriers, and Bernese mountain dogs, as well as ten wolves habituated to humans. Experimenters trained all of the animals to open a box containing a piece of sausage. Next, the animals were asked to open the box in three different situations: with a familiar human present; with an unfamiliar human; and alone, without a person at all.

In all three of the situations, wolves outperformed dogs by far. The scenario that showed the most difference was when the dogs had to open the box in the presence of people. This caused the dogs to become distracted and interested in the human, whereas wolves stayed more focused on the task at hand. The results showed that dogs love humans more than their cousins, and that their devotion and companionship is in their genes.

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Coati Playgrounds

Imagine an animal that looks like a dog with a long nose and behaves like a kitten throughout its entire life. You’re probably thinking of a Coati! Coatis are adorable cat-like mammals that belong to the raccoon family. They love to play and are very curious and active, making them extremely popular in zoos. Many zoos have set up creative enrichment activities for their Coatis. For example, one zoo has bubbles facing into the Coati enclosure where children can climb into and see the animals up close. These creatures have enormous amounts of energy and creativity, and creating enrichment for them can be extremely rewarding.

Unlike any other member of the raccoon family, Coatis are diurnal. This means that they are active during the day, and go to sleep at night. As a result, they are a favorite at the zoo because they are more active during the time that visitors are there. This makes their enrichment beneficial to both the animal and the visitors who get to enjoy seeing the animals playing.

Coatis live in forests across large areas of South America. They are omnivores, eating a wide variety of plant and animal matter. They also have an excellent sense of smell, and large noses, which help them locate food. In order to do this, they forage on the ground and in the trees. These behaviors are reflected in the types of enrichment that Coati receive in captivity.

Most coatis love digging and shredding, so they often have a place to dig as part of their enrichment. Layers of bark chips added to the enclosure can be a great opportunity for the Coati to forage and find all the invertebrates. They also benefit from items hanging from the roof including hammocks, ropes, fire hoses, hanging tubes, and rope ladders. More creative additions can also benefit the animals, including puzzles that allow them to search and solve to get to food.

Some Coatis enjoy similar enrichment items to other mammals. One popular idea is to create a wooden box with holes just big enough for Coati fingers to fit through and fill it with bugs and fruit. Coatis will spend hours trying to get the tasty treats out. Because they won’t be able to see inside, they’ll have to feel around for the treats and work to get them out.

Watch Coatis playing with enrichment objects in their enclosure.

Hammocks are great for Coatis as well. They can sleep in them, or jump on and off while running around their enclosure during play. Some enjoy noise making dog toys as well. If they can’t have the whole floor of their enclosure covered in bark chips to forage through, they can benefit from a large box filled with dirt. This allows them to forage for grubs, using the behaviors they would employ to do this in the wild.

Coatis are like kittens: they love playing, and they also love destroying things. Objects for Coatis to destroy can be great sources of enrichment. Some have rotten logs from the woods, which they can root through for food and destroy in the process. Ultimately, anything that gives the Coati something fun to do that simulates what they would do in the wild can provide fun and entertainment for both the animal and the visitors to its enclosure. These animals are extremely fun to watch and interact with, and providing them with creative enrichment is rewarding for both animals and humans. 

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