September 2015 Newsletter

 September 2015

What's New

Registration is now open for our Fall semester! The deadline is September 14; register soon to ensure your space in the classes of your choice.

Additional courses are now available for CEU credits through the IAABC. For more information, visit our Learning Partners page.

Double Vision: See the World Through Their Eyes

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could put on a pair of glasses and see what an animal sees? Lucky for you, that’s exactly what this article has in store! Check out the three species in this article that picked up a little human fashion sense and tried on some sweet shades. They weren’t just trying to look good for the ladies – the lenses of these glasses reveal how a human would see a particular image in one eye, and how the animal wearing the glasses would see it in the other eye. Read on to see the world through an animal’s eyes and learn about the mechanisms that allow them to detect things beyond the human field of vision.


First of all, what’s going on behind the scenes in our own human eyes? Humans have three cones that allow us to perceive red, green, and blue. Because of our densely packed cones, we have some of the sharpest vision of all animals. In addition, we have rods that allow us to detect dark and light. Some animals see fewer colors than us, rendering them partially colorblind, while other see colors and lights that humans cannot. For example, many animals can see ultraviolet light or detect polarized light (meaning light waves that are oscillating in the same plane).


Dogs see very similarly to humans, except that they have only two rather than three cone cells, or photoreceptors. Therefore, they see the same way as a human with red-green colorblindness. Scientists speculate that dogs’ vision isn’t as developed because their olfaction is so advanced. Dogs still might be able to distinguish between a red and green ball if the shade was different, but they would not be able to tell that it was a different color. To them, red, yellow, and green are the same color and blue and purple are the same color. Cyan or magenta would appear to be shades of gray. The left eye of this pup’s frames show how a human would see this picture, while the right shows how it would appear to dogs. Thus, if you’re playing fetch with an orange bone it might be difficult for Fido to see against the grass. Rather than getting frustrated, try a blue toy and see how much easier he can find it!


Sea creatures evolved their eyes independently from many terrestrial vertebrates; thus, their vision is very different from our own. Many fish eyes have no blind spots. However, fish have blurrier vision than humans. Ironically, although the cuttlefish can change colors, it is colorblind itself. Cuttlefish have one photoreceptor that allows them to see shades of gray. Another one allows them to perceive polarization, something humans can’t do. Interestingly, cuttlefish produce polarization patterns on their skin to communicate to other cuttlefish. These mollusks see this polarization layered over their regular vision because their brains merge the two. Cuttlefish can communicate in a “secret” visual code that we can’t detect at all!


Insects have some visual tricks unique to themselves. Scarab beetles, for example, are one of the only species that can see and reflect circular polarized light. The humble honeybee is a trichromat like humans, but instead of red, green, and blue, they see yellow, blue, and ultraviolet light. The ability to see ultraviolet light allows them to detect pollen on flowers. In fact, they see so much ultraviolet light, it is possible that they see multiple shades of ultraviolet. Because bees have thousands of lenses on their eyes, their vision is extremely blurry. This is a very ineffective eye design in comparison to the one lens per eye that humans have. However, this form of structure does give many insects a huge range of vision and great sensitivity to movement. Pretty handy characteristics if you spend a lot of time dodging a flyswatter.


Cats, like dogs, are dichromats. Because they only have two cones, they are also partially colorblind. Cats see red and green as one color. They see everything about six times as blurry as humans do. However, because they have about six to eight more rods than us, they can see much better at night or in the dark. The elliptical shape of their eye brings in more light and shifts the wavelengths, making prey stand out even better against a night sky. Cats also have a unique edge: their exceptional peripheral vision. They can see about 200 degrees compared to humans’ 180 degrees. However, during the day, cats can’t see things clearly as close as humans can. They have to be further away because they lack the muscles necessary to change the shape of their eye lenses, rendering them near-sighted. In addition, during the day, a slow-moving object may appear stationary to a cat, which perceives motion better at night. The left lens of this cat’s frames depicts how a human would see this scene, while the right lens reveals how cats would perceive it.


Rattlesnakes have low color resolution during the day but excellent night vision due to their many rod cells. Their main strength, however, is the ability to see infrared light. Like vipers, pythons, and boas, rattlesnakes have pit organs, sensory tools found on either side of the snout between the eye and the nostril. These pit organs detect heat and transform infrared light into nerve signals. This is how they detect nearby prey: they can perceive the heat of the prey’s body. In humans, the same receptor triggers our pain response to certain spicy foods such as wasabi and mustard. The snake’s brain merges this infrared signal with their vision, layering them on top of each other. Humans can experience the visual world of a rattlesnake by looking through the lens of an infrared camera.


Birds see many more colors than us. They have four types of cone cells or photoreceptors as opposed to our measly three. They can see red, green, blue, and ultraviolet light. With a few exceptions, such as owls, many birds are more sensitive to ultraviolet light than the light in our visual spectrum. Some species even have special feathers that reflect ultraviolet light, used to communicate with other birds. They also see very clearly, with some eagles having a resolution about 2.5 times greater than our own. The Australian wedge-tailed eagle has the greatest visual acuity of any known animal, due to its extremely large eyes, that are able to let in more light and therefore produce a clearer image. Some birds use their left and right eyes independently. Interestingly, it has been shown that birds that do this are better at solving complex problems. Birds’ eyes are relatively immobile in their sockets, which is why many birds pivot their heads much more than humans do in order to see their surroundings. Here, the left lens shows what a human would see and the right shows what a bird would see.

Experience the visual world of animals

Seeing the world through an animal’s eyes isn’t always as simple as putting on a pair of glasses. However, we can determine what animals see through other methods. Studying the vision of other animals allows us to discover what life for them is like and learn more about their behaviors. It also gives us insight into different aspects of the world that we may not have even been aware of, such as polarized or infrared light. Though we can only really know what the world is like from a human’s perspective, we can use these discoveries to learn about the incredible and diverse nature of the animal kingdom.

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Enriching Their Lives - DIY Fun for Birds

(This article is the fourth in a series on DIY Enrichment Devices. Be sure to check out our first article on Enrichment Devices for Dogs, our second article on Enrichment Devices for Cats, and our third article on Enrichment Devices for Small Animals.)

One parrot sanctuary called Parrot Garden decided to get a little creative with enrichment by fully embracing the title of garden. They planted bird-safe plants at the bottoms of enclosures for birds to eat and hide in. However, one extremely intelligent bird named Peaches took his gardening to the next level. Because birds like Peaches learn by observing and copying other flock members, Peaches was eager to copy the actions of his caretakers. When they began coming into his cage to weed the garden, Peaches got the clever idea to do some weeding too. However, Peaches could not tell the difference between flowers and weeds! He promptly pulled up everything green in his garden until there was nothing left. To satisfy him, his keepers removed the garden and gave him a foliage-covered branch to play with. Peaches proceeded to clip and groom each branch, as if he was creating a sculpted bonsai masterpiece.


The incredible minds of birds require regular stimulation. The birds at Parrot Garden, Congo African greys, have the intelligence level of a two- to five-year-old human child. They have impressive vocabulary and the ability to use words in context. Because of their remarkable intelligence, many birds require more enrichment than other pets. Conversely, they are more prone to suffering if they are left in isolation and boredom. They need to be challenged and to be able to exhibit the behaviors they would do in the wild. Some of their natural behaviors include social interaction, foraging and feather care. Some species spend eight hours a day foraging in the wild, but captive birds spend only 30-72 minutes per day eating without the simulation they need from traveling and manipulating food items.


To recreate a bird’s natural behaviors, link an object or toy with food. This keeps the bird interested and allows them to go through the processes associated with eating in the wild. It is important to provide enrichment every day that allows your bird to chew and manipulate their food. Birds can use their foraging skills within their cages at home. One way to do this is to offer your bird treats such as Nutri-Berries and Avi-Cakes (Labeber Company) in a feeding dish with large, smooth stones or crumpled paper while keeping pellets in a separate and accessible feed dish. This allows your bird to sift through and search for his treats as he would in the wild. Another easy way to improve your bird’s life is to wrap their food bowl with newspaper or heavy paper with a piece of twine or rawhide. Now, your bird must work a little harder for his food by getting through the paper first. See below for more easy enrichment ideas.


Bird Enrichment Ideas


Our recommended DIY bird enrichment device for this issue is the stacking paper cup toy. This toy is relatively simple to make. You will need six unwaxed paper cups, a pair of scissors, a roll of raffia, bird treats, paper, and twelve wooden beads. Always use paper cups that are unwaxed to ensure your bird’s safety. Also be certain that your bird can’t accidentally wrap a foot or wing in the toy, cutting off circulation. Start by taking six pieces of paper, putting a little bit of bird food in each, and wrapping the paper into balls full of food. Next, poke a hole in the bottom of each of your six paper cups, using your scissors. Run the raffia through each cup, adding a wooden bead to the bottom so the cups will stay on. Then, put each of your six food balls into the six cups. Add beads to the top so that the cups can’t come apart. This will make it so that your bird has to tear through the cups to get the food. When you are finished, hang the cups in your bird’s cage by the raffia and enjoy watching your bird rip it apart!


You can also take two cups and string raffia through them facing each other with food balls inside each for a slightly different take on this toy. Be creative and see what other enrichment devices you can come up with using paper cups and other recyclable materials around your house. Your bird will thank you!


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My Coworkers are a Bunch of Monkeys: Animals with Unusual Jobs

Freddie was not your average ferret. In fact, Freddie, a native of Auckland, New Zealand, was one of the only ferrets anywhere that enjoyed fame, security, and a steady job as an electrician’s assistant. In the 1940s, Freddie used his natural ability to squeeze into tight spots to perform a job in one morning that would take a human a month. He would drag a wire through the wall, encouraged by a dead rabbit at the other end. This technique allowed electricians to wire a house without taking it apart and complete their job much more quickly than if they did not have the ferret’s assistance. Though this feat seems astounding, Freddie was not alone in his ability to help humans do something they could not do without him.



Although we may be at the top of the food chain, we humans often enlist animals to help us in a variety of ways. When we think of animal helpers, we almost always think of dogs; we use dogs for hunting, police work, search and rescue, therapy, and assistance to the disabled. However, there are many other animals that help us in vital ways that you may not even be aware of. From the seals that wear cameras to explore the depths of the ocean to rats that sniff out leftover landmines, our animal companions have continuously advanced science, or our own welfare, by doing jobs that humans could never do on their own. Check out the following animals with important jobs. You may be surprised to see the usefulness of these four-legged creatures.


Monkey Waiters


One Japan restaurant has monkeys that dress up in human clothes and serve drinks and hot towels to customers. Don’t believe it? Watch the video here. Monkeys have been known to do a variety of tricks such as walking on stilts and jumping through hoops. However, this is truly remarkable. The monkeys willingly wear uniforms and began serving customers of their own accord after watching the owner do it. This does not violate animal rights or labor laws, the animals only participate if they choose to. Monkeys can only work two hours a day and the tavern is regularly inspected to ensure the monkeys have a safe work environment. Can simian sushi chefs be far behind?


Guard Geese


Police in China's Xinjiang Province have decided to trade in their guard dogs for something else: geese. You may be thinking that this trade doesn’t exactly make sense. Can geese be better guard dogs than…actual guard dogs? Yes, in fact they have already proven themselves. The geese recently sounded the alarm and woke up officers to successfully stop a recent attempt at a break-in. Why do geese make good guards? A variety of reasons. Geese have excellent sight and hearing. They see better at a distance and up close than humans do, and certainly better than dogs. They can pick out smaller details and movement, and even have an extra color sensor in their brain that allows them to see ultraviolet light. In addition, because they are naturally territorial and extremely loud, the geese are perfect guards.


Bomb Rats

Decades of civil war dotted the countryside of Cambodia with deadly landmines. In order to detect the position of the landmines and prevent casualties, the Colombian police have come up with a pretty crazy technique. They have trained rats to sniff out the explosives and tell their human companions where to find them! Rats’ small weight allows them to step on landmines without triggering them. And believe it or not, they are cheaper and faster to train than dogs!



Goat Gardeners


The southern United States has been struggling with invasive kudzu vines, which choke out native plants and even envelop entire buildings. These plants are detrimental to the environment and have become an expensive ecological nightmare. However, to goats, this nightmare doesn’t seem scary at all. In fact, it looks like an all-you-can-eat buffet! As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s (or goat’s) treasure! The deadly kudzu vines are actually very nutritious for goats. These goats will trim the vines all the way to the root, effectively getting rid of them for good. Goats are much cheaper than lawnmowers or pesticides and don’t even need to be trained to perform this task!


The sheep, a close relative, performs a similar duty in the Napa Valley. There, humans rely on sheep to do all of their pruning for them. The animals will remove excess grape leaves to prevent mildew from forming on the fruit itself. Sheep outperform humans and are far cheaper. They are also better than machines because they can prune without damaging the vines. Not only this, but sheep leave behind their own organic, all natural fertilizer! Five hundred sheep can prune about 20 acres per day and even remove weeds as they go.


Camera Seals


A new technology is allowing us to explore the oceans as never before, giving us new insight into global warming, ice cover, and weather forecasting. What is this great innovation that allows us to study the oceans as never before? The decidedly low tech animal knows as the seal. Special sensors attached to the foreheads of seals allow scientists to monitor the most remote corners of the ocean and showing us what seals can see (and humans can’t). Seals can travel 2,100 meters (6,890 feet) below the ocean’s surface. They are collecting information on areas that were previously unknown. Check out this study for more information on the improvements these seals have contributed to science.


Tuberculosis-Detecting Rats

The Gambian pouch rat (Cricetomys gambianus) has one of the most sophisticated occupations in the animal kingdom, that of a laboratory technician. Sokoine University for Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania has been training rats to identify samples of human spit infected with tuberculosis. The lab has trained 54 rats that can screen thousands of patients per month. These animals have enormous potential as they can detect the disease and potentially save hundreds of lives.


How have scientists accomplished such a feat? Rats begin training at four weeks old, completing it by six to twelve months. They start with clicker training and scent detection, learning the difference between samples that have tuberculosis and samples that do not. Then, they go through a more complicated process to become certified. You can see the details of their training here.

As you can see, the benefits of animal training extend far beyond what we normally think of. Our animal helpers allow humans to accomplish feats they would never be able to do alone. These animals teach us that we truly have to work together to advance science and save our planet. While we often think of how animals might be helpless without us, we rarely stop to reflect on how helpless we would be without them.

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The Jewel of Guam


Have you ever seen a Micronesian Kingfisher in the wild? It’s not likely as these are one of the most endangered species in the world, existing only in captivity. Fortunately, these gorgeous birds have some friends at the Philadelphia Zoo. Intent on saving these beautiful Guam natives, ABI’s own Professor Kristen Lewis-Waldron traveled to the birds’ homeland. She worked with children there through the zoo’s conservation education program in Guam. Since then, Kristen has been using her position at the Philadelphia Zoo to contribute to the protection of the Micronesian Kingfisher.


As the Director of Education at the Philadelphia Zoo, Kristen Lewis-Waldron oversees all of the zoo’s environmental education programs, including outreach, school & family programs, public programs and exhibits - reaching over a million visitors a year. In addition, she serves as the Education Liaison for both the Association of Zoos & Aquarium's Bear TAG (Taxon Advisory Group) and the Association of Zoos & Aquarium's Micronesian Kingfisher SSP (Species Survival Plan Program).


Micronesian Kingfishers are about eight inches long and weigh only two to three ounces. They mainly feed on small lizards and insects. Of course, they are native to Guam although none currently exist in the wild. Between U.S. zoos and the facility in Guam, there are about 150 Micronesian Kingfishers alive today. Though habitat destruction and other predators have taken their toll on Micronesian Kingfishers, their main threat is the Brown Tree Snake. Kingfishers are not alone in their rarity; today, about 1,227 species, or one in every eight birds, is globally threatened. Of the 18 native species to Guam, seven are extinct. These kingfishers are facing tough odds. Despite this, however, their numbers have more than doubled since 2007, when there were only 70 worldwide.


Philadelphia Zoo’s Kingfisher


The Philadelphia Zoo has been making efforts to save the Micronesian Kingfisher since 1983, when they partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to form the Guam Bird Rescue Project. By 1984, Kingfishers had been listed as endangered. Later that year, zoo staff found and rescued 29 kingfishers through the Guam Bird Rescue Project. Those birds were transferred to the Philadelphia Zoo for quarantine and then distributed to other zoos in the US. In addition to sending Kristen to Guam, the zoo has also opened the McNeil Avian Center, a $17.5 million reinvention of the original bird facility. This is where the Micronesian Kingfishers live. The center focuses on conservation and encouraging zoo visitors to do their part in saving endangered birds.


Philadelphia Zoo is also participating in a captive-breeding program to bolster the population and pursue their ultimate goal of reintroducing some of the birds into their native habitat. Between 2003 and 2008, nine Micronesian Kingfishers bred in U.S. zoos were returned to a captive breeding center in Guam established with the help of the Philadelphia Zoo. The first breeding occurred two years later. If successful breeding continues, the zoo will soon be able to reintroduce kingfishers to snake-free portions of the Guam forest.


During her trip to Guam, Kristen spent an entire month teaching an environmental education program to fourth graders at all 26 schools on the island. This was the first time the zoo had invested in an environmental education program. They designed an environmental education kit used to deliver presentations to schoolchildren, Teachers use the kit to continue cultivating an appreciation for local wildlife, including birds, bats and other threatened species.


Because of people like Kristen, Micronesian Kingfishers are being given a second chance. Her dedication brought her overseas where she is able to contribute to the conservation of these exquisite birds - by educating the people of Guam. When the outlook was bleak, Kristen and the Philadelphia Zoo turned the situation around and doubled their population. Environmental education, coupled with other conservation efforts, can truly make a difference to species on the brink of extinction.


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