Posts filed under ‘Animals’
By Erica Geiger
Nature documentaries can provide insights into the natural world and behavior of wildlife. Although often educational, they are still a form of entertainment. Reality TV shows are known for being staged but few people realize just how often nature documentaries are faked.
Stories Are Compiled Using Footage from Different Animals
Footage from different shoots can be weaved together to create a cohesive story. It’s difficult to track the same animals, especially over great distances. Instead, multiple animals play the roles of the various “characters”.
Chris Palmer, an ex-producer of nature documentaries, writes in his book that this tactic was used in the film Whales. Throughout the film, two whales named Misty and Echo are followed as they migrate over 3,000 miles. In reality, the story was told using footage from different whales. The whales seen at the end of the documentary are not the original whales filmed in the beginning.
Rented Animals Are Common
In many cases, the animals seen in documentaries aren’t even wild. This saves the crew time and money but can also be better for the animals in question. Rented animals and premade sets can spare wildlife from extra stress, which is especially important when filming endangered species. Some shots are impossible to get without captive animals. The problem is that nature documentaries never give any indication that they’re using rented animals.
The BBC used captive polar bears from a Dutch zoo in an episode of Frozen Planet. The scene, supposedly of a polar bear giving birth in the Arctic, was actually shot on a premade set. The den was built by humans, not the bear. The BBC said it was “standard practice” in nature documentaries. They defended their actions by pointing out the impossibility of trying to film a wild polar bear giving birth. The show never mentions any of this, however, and many watchers felt misled.
The IMAX Documentary Wolves had a similar birthing scene and also relied on rented animals. The den was artificial and the wolves used in the documentary were all captive animals. An episode of Life used captive-bred clownfish in an aquarium for one of their scenes. In Blue Planet, a lobster spawning scene was shot using lobsters in a tank. No matter the type of nature documentary, rental animals tend to be used whenever possible.
Feeding Scenes Are Nearly Always Staged
For scenes that involve animals feeding on carcasses, the film crew employs a few different strategies. The carcasses are normally planted; a nature documentary producer admitted to using road kill to lure wild animals. This isn’t always enough to entice the local wildlife, however, since most animals prefer fresher meat. Filmmakers get around this by adding treats, including M&M candies, to the planted carcasses. This can cause a feeding frenzy, encouraging animals to dig in as they look for the treats.
In some cases, the animals used for feeding scenes were captive-bred. In one documentary, tame bears were directed to carcasses by their trainer. The bears were further encouraged with treats. This is much safer than filming wild bears, which could become aggressive while feeding.
Lemmings Don’t Commit Suicide
Unfortunately, past nature documentary fakery wasn’t always harmless. The one fact most people know about lemmings is that they hurl themselves off cliffs in an act of “mass suicide”. Lemmings do migrate and they might occasionally fall off cliff sides, drowning in the process. They certainly don’t kill themselves in droves, however.
White Wilderness, a Disney nature documentary released in 1958, is responsible for this myth. The documentary shows footage of a group of lemmings jumping to their deaths. The narrator states, “A kind of compulsion seizes each tiny rodent and, carried along by an unreasoning hysteria, each falls into step for a march that will take them to a strange destiny.”
In reality, the lemmings were captive animals that had been rented by the crew. The scene was filmed in Canada, not the lemmings’ native habitat of the Arctic. As for the suicidal behavior, the film crew used turntables that pushed the lemmings, causing them to rush and eventually fall off the cliff.
Thankfully, today’s documentary fakery is usually done out of convenience or respect for wildlife.
Photo: Eelke (cropped)
By Erica Geiger
Almost everyone has heard of evolution and most of us have a vague idea of what it means. Animals with useful traits survive and pass on their genes. Over time, these positive traits become more common and a species evolves. Most of us aren’t scientists, though, and a number of evolution myths have popped up over time.
Myth #1: Evolution is “just” a theory
We usually think of theories as being possibilities, not facts. A “theory” in science, though, takes on a different meaning. I personally like this definition from the National Academy of Sciences:
“a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses”
In other words, a scientific theory is an explanation that has been backed up by many studies and a substantial amount of evidence. We don’t call it a “fact” because science can always change as we learn new information. We’re all pretty sure the Earth rotates around the Sun yet that concept is called the heliocentric theory. It’s pretty unlikely we’ll find any evidence that goes against this “theory” but scientists still don’t call it a fact.
Myth #2: Humans evolved from monkeys
This is a common one and often used in an attempt to discredit evolutionary theories. It’s also not true; humans did not evolve from monkeys. We did share an ancestor with African apes (note that “apes” aren’t monkeys) about 8 million years ago but that doesn’t mean we evolved from them. Instead, there was a great ancestor that eventually gave rise to humans and apes. We’re most closely related to chimpanzees because of this ancestor but there were two distinct evolutionary paths.
When the human species began to evolve, the chimpanzee species was evolving separately. We’re related, we didn’t directly evolve from any modern primate species. We do share over 90% of our DNA with non-human primates, including gorillas and other great apes. On the other hand, humans also share 90% of their DNA with mice! That doesn’t mean humans evolved from mice, it’s just a result of most mammals sharing genes.
Myth #3: Survival of the fittest means the strongest will survive
Sometimes people will use the term “survival of the fittest” to excuse a behavior. I’ve unfortunately overheard someone say that we shouldn’t help those weaker than us because “it’s survival of the fittest!” The average person interprets this idea, originally thought up by Charles Darwin, as meaning that the very strongest will survive. The problem is that “fitness” has an entirely different meaning in biology. It doesn’t refer to strength, health, or physical fitness at all. Instead, biological “fitness” refers to the ability to pass on your genes, generally by having offspring.
In evolution, the end goal is to pass on your genes to the next generation. That doesn’t necessarily require being the strongest, however. In fact, animals that get into too many fights might become injured or killed. Even if they won most of those fights and were the strongest in their group, death means they won’t be passing on their genes. Those animals would therefore be considered to have low fitness. On the other hand, a somewhat weaker animal that stays out of danger might be able to successfully raise several offspring. That animal would be said to have high fitness. In primates, including humans, being a good parent will often raise fitness more than being strong. From an evolutionary standpoint, being able to lift heavy weights means nothing if you never settle down and raise children.
If you want to learn more about how evolution works, the University of California in Berkeley (among others) have put together great evolution resources: click here.
Photo: Wellcome Images UK
By Chad Upton | Editor
In case you don’t know, the Earth is basically one giant magnet. That’s why a compass always points to magnetic North. This is extremely useful for navigation and other location based activities.
Apparently, dogs also find it useful for pooping.
Photo: Scott Spaeth (cc)
Scientists recently published a paper describing their observations and analysis of the direction that dogs poop. For two years they monitored 70 dogs and recorded the axis upon which they defecate. (more…)
By Chad Upton | Editor
Dermatoplyphes or “fingerprints” are common among higher primates, but are present in only some other mammals.
Take whales for example. They’re mammals and they don’t have fingers (although the bones inside their flippers looks like fingers on an x-ray) but the pattern on the underside of their tail is still unique like a fingerprint.
Koala’s on the other hand do have fingers and they do have fingerprints. Koala fingerprints are so similar to human prints that even under an electron microscope they’re nearly indistinguishable from each other.
Photo: michael fontenot (cc)
By Chad Upton | Editor
You probably don’t think about it much, but if you did, you’d notice that it often feels like one nostril or the other is always plugged. That’s completely normal for about 70% of adults.
Assuming you’re healthy, your “plugged” nostril actually allows a tiny amount of air through and your other nostril handles the rest. After an average of 2.5 hours, the cycle will shift and use the alternate nostril as the primary source of air. The following scan shows one nasal passage mostly blocked and the other mostly open.
For a long time, Eastern medicine has had theories about the purpose of this cycle and a number of exercises that involve moving air through a specific nostril. On the other hand, Western scientists didn’t come up with a physiological purpose for this phenomena until more recently.
Research indicates that the high/low flow approach in the two nostrils optimizes your sense of smell. As you’ve probably discovered first hand, or shall we say finger, the inside of your nose is lined with mucus. This mucus continues deep inside your nasal passage and is very important; it acts as a barrier and helps protect your brain from infection. But, it also means that something you smell has to be absorbed by the mucus before you can smell it. (more…)
While they’re not exactly sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads, they are the next best thing — dolphins natural biosonar is better than anything manmade.
The US Navy Seals have about 75 dolphins and 35 sea lions that are trained to assist with search and recovery type missions. The dolphins have excellent biosonar, making it easy for them to find objects in the water: friendly people, dangerous people, mines and more. They also use sea lions, which have amazing underwater vision, allowing them to find objects on the seafloor.
Think of them as the Navy’s version of the K9 unit. These animals can be deployed by aircraft or vessel anywhere in the world in 72 hours.
The program began in the 1960s and the animals have been deployed in numerous missions, including mine clearing in Iraq and protecting various naval ports.
The sea lions can find threats in the water too and have been credited with saving the Navy millions of dollars simply by recovering dropped equipment and weapons.
Image: Bodhi Suft School (cc)
By Chad Upton | Editor
As people and most animals age, our bodies don’t work like they used to: we weaken, lose fertility and wrinkle among other things.
Research shows that lobsters do not have these same symptoms of age.
Our cells are constantly being replaced by new cells. These cells are built to the specifications in our DNA. Over time, our DNA is damaged and cells do not divide perfectly.
Lobsters have an enzyme that naturally repairs DNA. In fact, if it weren’t for disease, capture or injury scientists believe they could live indefinitely.
Sources: Wikipedia (Lobster)
Image: Stacy Lynn Baum (cc)