Newsletter March 2017
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 March 2017

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Finding Squirt: Sea Turtle Egg Detection Dogs

Dogs assist humans in immeasurable ways using their unique sense of smell. They sniff for drugs, to find missing people, to detect bombs, and for countless other purposes. However, you might not have known that dogs’ expert noses are also used to save sea turtles! Sea turtles lay eggs on the beach, where they are vulnerable to many threats including predators and other disturbances. In order to protect the eggs, people have to know where they are. This creates a problem because a sea turtle nest looks like any other pile of sand, which makes it very difficult for humans to detect. This is where dogs come in.


Sea turtle egg detection dogs are specially trained to find eggs on the beach. They sniff for the thin layer of mucus that covers the eggs. This technique cuts detection from about 30 minutes for humans to 30 seconds for dogs. Once the eggs are found, they can be marked so that we know where they are and they can remain undisturbed on the beach.

This video features Captain Ron, a two-year-old pocket beagle who saves sea turtles every day. Captain Ron is the first sea turtle detection dog and has inspired many as a pioneer in his field. Captain Ron’s trainer believes he enjoys his work; everyone else certainly enjoys watching him! In fact, by doing this job, dogs not only help protect sea turtles and their eggs, but they also serve as ambassadors for conservation work. Seeing a cute puppy working hard to save turtles inspires people to care about the cause.

After heroes like Captain Ron detect sea turtle eggs, scientists are able to collect data vital to the preservation of the species, and take steps to protect the vulnerable animals. Sea turtles lay about 100 to 120 eggs per nest, mainly between June and August. The females leave after laying eggs, which take about 60 days to hatch. Because these eggs are unguarded for those 60 days, they are extremely vulnerable to predators and human activity. As a result, their survival rate is alarmingly low: only one in 1,000 sea turtles make it to adulthood.

Even after they hatch, they must make it to the ocean, but their journey is not easy. Things as simple as sandcastles or garbage can create obstacles that the hatchlings cannot overcome. As a result, many of them die on the beach. This makes conservation efforts extremely important: they play a vital role in protecting vulnerable sea turtle eggs and hatchlings from countless threats on the beach. By being able to detect the eggs, scientists are able to locate and protect the creatures that might be lost otherwise.

Captain Ron’s trainer says that his success is measured not only by the nests he locates, but also by the number of people who want to take his picture. His ability to draw people to the effort is equally important; and it’s not hard when he’s adorable to begin with and responds to the command “find the babies.” Not only does Captain Ron draw more attention than scientists could alone, but he also gets dog lovers to care about turtles too. In his role as a rescuer and an ambassador, Captain Ron has been an incredible asset to sea turtles on the beach. 

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Creature Feature: Pangolin Love

Did you see the Google doodle this Valentine’s Day and think, this is adorable but what the heck is a pangolin? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, the aim of the doodle was to spread awareness about pangolins (see the doodle here). While they are lesser-known to many people, pangolins are actually the most-trafficked animal in the world. They are sought after for their unique scales and their use in pseudo-scientific folk medicine. As a result of poaching, at least 80 percent of pangolins in Asia have been killed. In fact, there are eight species of pangolin in Asia and Africa and all of them are under threat; two of the species are Critically Endangered.

What exactly are these creatures? Pangolins are burrowing mammals that look like scaly anteaters. They eat ants and termites using long, sticky tongues and can roll into a ball when threatened. Pangolins can vary in size and color, ranging from yellow to brown. They are covered in scales made from keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails. Like fingernails, the scales grow throughout a pangolin’s life. They are trimmed down when pangolins burrow through the soil in search of ants to eat. Asian pangolins have thick bristles between their scales, though African pangolins do not.

Pangolins have poor vision, but a strong sense of smell, which is useful when they burrow beneath the ground in pursuit of ants and termites. Astonishingly, a pangolin’s tongue is longer than its head and body when fully extended. Pangolins can run surprisingly fast, and will sometimes move about on their hind legs, though they usually walk on all fours. They are also excellent swimmers. Some pangolins live primarily on the ground, while others climb trees. Although they share similar characteristics with anteaters and armadillos, they are actually more closely related to cats, dogs and bears. 


Where do these animals live? Pangolins dig extremely large deep burrows for sleeping and nesting. Some are big enough for a human to crawl inside and stand up. It is in these burrows that mothers nurture their young. When they are born, baby pangolins are about six inches long and weigh less than a pound. Their scales are soft and pale, and begin to harden by the second day of life. When sleeping, a mother will protectively roll around her baby. By the time an infant is about three or four months old, it will begin accompanying the mother outside of the burrow and ride on her tail as she searches for food.

Pangolins are endangered by a loss of habitat in some areas, but their main threat is poaching. Part of the reason they are declining in numbers so quickly is that they are difficult to keep in captivity: they often become ill when fed foreign food. It is important that they stay safe because of their important role in the ecosystem: pest control. It is estimated that an adult pangolin can consume more than 70 million insects annually. In fact, they even have special muscles that seal their nostrils and ear shut, protecting them from attacking insects.

Google’s interactive game helped spread awareness about the conservation of the pangolin by allowing users to play as a pangolin on Valentine’s Day trying to impress its sweetheart. Google hoped the project would not only raise awareness, but also encourage the efforts of the World Wildlife Foundation. In fact, Google led by example, giving WWF a grant in 2016 that went directly to the protection of pangolins from poachers. You can learn more about WWF’s efforts to protect pangolins here

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Prescription "Dog": How Owning a Dog Benefits Your Health

When you rescue a dog, you make a huge impact on her quality of life by bringing her into a loving family. However, owning a dog can also have overwhelming impacts on you, the pet owner! Doctors may not prescribe dogs, but they can still be great for your health! Pet owners create unbreakable bonds with their animals that fulfill them for years. Pets also provide a healthy daily routine that owners might not get otherwise. Between all of the ways that owning a dog changes your life, you receive unparalleled mental and physical benefits. 


For one, it has been scientifically proven that owning a dog boosts your mood. After just 15-30 minutes with a dog, people generally feel more relaxed and calm. This also increases your brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and tranquility. Do you feel happy and calm when around your dog?

Another benefit is the exercise you get by owning a dog. Taking dogs for a walk or throwing a Frisbee in the park can be great for your pet and for you! Even if it’s not the most intense workout, owning a dog simply encourages people to get out and move more. In fact, it’s easy to see the results of this. Dog owners have been found to have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and fewer heart attacks than non-dog owners. How’s that for incentive! See this video on the health benefits of dogs. 


Dogs also help many people to be more social and overcome shyness. Having a dog with you makes you much more approachable and as a result, 40% of people reported making friends much easier as a result of owning a dog. People love dogs, and they love people that have dogs. This is yet another example of the way our furry friends are such a gift in society. In fact, dogs have been proven to lower stress in countless studies and have often been used as emotional support animals because of this calming effect.

Perhaps the most obvious example of how owning a dog boosts health is the effects on children. Studies show that children who grow up with dogs in their home have fewer allergies and are less likely to have eczema. They also have fewer sick days and have higher levels of immune system supporters as they get older. Coupled with the rest of these benefits, and the ways that owning a pet can teach responsibility, care and compassion, there is no reason not to have a dog in the house with your child.

Dogs can be helpful for older people as well. Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home. Furthermore, caregivers often feel less burdened if there is a pet. Walking a dog or caring for a pet can provide exercise and companionship for older people, both of which are invaluable. In fact, one insurance company asks clients over age 75 if they have a pet as part of their medical screening, which often works in the client’s favor.

Besides these general benefits, owning a dog has been proven to help with many specific illnesses as well. Beyond that, dogs are often used in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) for a variety of purposes. Between all of these health benefits and the promise of unconditional love, we can’t deny that owning a dog sounds pretty great. 

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The Tom Brady Roach: What's in a Name?

During Super Bowl LI, where the Atlanta Falcons played the New England Patriots, local zoos from each team made a bet. Zoo Atlanta and Roger Williams Park Zoo and Carousel Village in Rhode Island agreed that the losing side would name one of their baby animals after the winning team’s star quarterback. When the Patriots won, however, Atlanta wasn’t finished playing games. The baby animal they chose to name Tom Brady after the Patriots quarterback was a Madagascar hissing cockroach. Not only that, but Tom Brady the cockroach was reportedly the smallest baby cockroach in his family of nine, measuring about half the size of a thumbnail (see the video here). Needless to say they weren’t bitter at all…

While Tom Brady the cockroach was the result of a silly bet, naming him this way actually did a great deal for both zoos. Using the Super Bowl hype to draw attention to zoos and animals brought more people to care about conservation and wildlife efforts. Therefore, giving animals unique names can actually be a great tool for zoos to use in publicity in order to benefit those animals. In fact, many other zoo animals have unique names, and many new species have unique scientific names aimed at drawing attention to the animal and helping conserve them and other species.

One example of this is the spider species Eriovixia gryffindori, which closely resembles the sorting hat from Harry Potter. It has a triangular body that comes to a point and looks like a witch’s hat with legs sticking out from the bottom; not too far off from the Harry Potter universe. The name itself references Gryffindor, the house that Harry Potter and his friends are sorted into their first year. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, responded on twitter, saying that she was truly honored that another fantastic beast had been named in honor of her books. This effort also functions to portray spiders as more agreeable and familiar, when they are often demonized and feared.


In fact, this unique spider is not the only animal to be named in honor of Harry Potter. A recently discovered crab was named Harryplax severus, a reference to both Harry himself, and Professor Severus Snape, the potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Harryplax severus was actually discovered in Guam nearly twenty years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that scientists realized it was a new species. For this reason, its name references Severus Snape, a notorious and misunderstood character. The name draws on Snape’s ability to keep one of the most important secrets in the story, just like the Harryplax severus, which eluded discovery until twenty years after it was first collected.


Nerds seem to have a monopoly on animal names, as another new snail species was named after a character from the popular tabletop fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons. The new snail, named Gastrocopta sharae, was named after Shar, the goddess of darkness, caverns and secrets. Similarly to Shar, the snail species lives hidden in the dark recesses of a cavern. While biologists often name species after Greek and Roman deities, the goddess Shar seemed fitting for this particular snail. As a conservation effort, this name is extremely important, as snails are one of the most threatened animal groups. By naming a snail after Shar, biologists are able to draw attention to the snails and cause more people to help save the species.

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