Research Shows Good-Looking Birds Are Terrible Singers

iStock.com/CraigRJD
iStock.com/CraigRJD

Humans sometimes fall prey to a stereotype in which the objectively attractive appear to need to do less in order to be successful, while the genetically less fortunate may have to work harder in order to present themselves as viable mates.

It turns out the Brad Pitts of the bird world may demonstrate a similar dynamic. In new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, male birds with bright, pleasing feathers tended to be terrible singers, while birds who had comparatively plain features could make it at Carnegie Hall. Put another way: Ugly birds need to have a musical back-up plan.

The study, which was conducted at the University of Oxford, looked at 518 different bird species and logged their distinctive songs used to attract mates. They compared the bird’s warbling to their feathers and whether their plumage differed from the opposite sex, which shows that natural selection played a role in their appearance. Birds that had flashy looks tended to sing rather dull songs that were monotonous in tone. Birds whose feathers mirrored those of the opposite sex, and therefore needed to stand out in other ways, had songs that lasted longer and featured more musical notes.

Researchers can’t state definitively why birds evolved one appealing feature at the expense of the other. In dense forests, it might be more advantageous to sound pleasing than to rely on one’s obscured good looks, though the study found no direct evidence of that. But it does appear that birds who can’t rely solely on their appearance have evolved to make themselves stand out in other ways. Likewise, pretty birds have little incentive to develop a second strategy for pairing up. These cocky avian suitors are so good-looking they don’t need to make the effort. The rest need to sing their little hearts out.

[h/t New Scientist]

Pet Obesity is Causing Big Health Problems, According to a New Report

iStock/dennisvdw
iStock/dennisvdw

If you’ve recently picked up your cat and felt your back give out, your furry friend may be among the 60 percent of the feline population that’s overweight. Dogs are also getting chubbier: about 56 percent of pet pooches are obese.

According to Banfield Pet Hospital, America's largest general veterinary practice with more than 1000 hospitals nationwide, those fat cats and chunky puppies are at risk for chronic health issues. In a new report, the hospital finds that osteoarthritis (OA) in pets is on the rise, with a 66 percent increase in dogs and a 150 percent increase in cats over the past 10 years.

Osteoarthritis is a kind of arthritis caused by inflammation or damage in joint tissue. Genetics, injury, or bone abnormalities can all be factors. The disease is chronic and degenerative and can make it difficult for pets to move around as they get older.

Excess weight can both precede OA and make it worse. When a pet is overweight, they can develop chronic pain that leads to stress on joints. If they already have OA, that joint discomfort can prevent them from being active, leading to weight gain. That worsens the condition, and the cycle continues.

A dog is 2.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with OA if it's obese, while cats are 1.2 times more likely. Dogs suffering from the condition tend to display symptoms like putting their weight off to one side when sitting, avoiding stairs, or appearing uninterested in playing. Cats might have loose or matted hair because they can't maneuver to groom certain parts of their body.

Although OA can be seen at any age, it’s often mistaken for old age and a pet slowing down naturally. If you notice your pet is either soft around the middle or moving more slowly, it’s best to see a veterinarian. Pets who are overweight or suffering from OA—or both—can benefit from treatments like special diets.

There Are 2373 Squirrels in New York's Central Park, Census Finds

iStock/maximkabb
iStock/maximkabb

Central Park in New York City is home to starlings, raccoons, and exotic zoo animals, but perhaps the most visible fauna in the area are the eastern gray squirrels. Thanks to a team of citizen scientists, we now know exactly how many of the rodents occupy the space—approximately 2373 of them, according to a census reported by Smithsonian.

In October 2018, a group called the Squirrel Census—with help from the Explorers Club, the NYU Department of Environmental Studies, Macaulay Honors College, the Central Park Conservancy, and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation—organized a squirrel survey across all 840 acres of Central Park. For 11 days, more than 300 volunteers staked out their sections of the park twice a day—at dawn and dusk when the crepuscular animals are most active—and noted each squirrel they spotted. They also recorded how the squirrels looked, vocalized, behaved, and reacted to humans.

The research was analyzed and presented at an Explorers Club event in New York City on June 20. All the non-peer-reviewed findings—which includes a printed report, an audio report on a vinyl 45, 37 pages of data, collectible squirrel cards, and large maps of the park and the squirrel locations—are available to purchase for $75 from the Squirrel Census website.

This isn't the first time a massive census has been conducted of a public park's squirrel population. In 2011, the Squirrel Census launched with its first survey of Atlanta's Inman Park. They've conducted satellite squirrel counts at other parks, but Central Park is just the second park the organization has investigated in person.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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