Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Owls ARE dinosaurs... + discussion of bonding and eyesight...

Hi Everyone!

First, I want to address a question in the last comment section, which started out with, "I know animals don't have feelings..."

Actually, scientists have proven beyond any doubt that animals DO have feelings, and, in fact, that their feelings are more "raw" than ours because they are unable to use the kinds of defense mechanisms that we use, such as repression, subjugation, denial, regression, and even dissociation. No, they feel their emotions with an intensity that is unmatched by humans.

They grieve: When elephants lose a member, they stay with the body for days, stroking their dead companion and making a unique sound that sounds like moaning or crying. They will even stop if they find a skeleton, and scientists have shown that they can recognize the skeleton of a relative, probably by some family smell, and they'll even grieve over that skeleton.

Birds are some of the most emotional creatures on earth. Owls will themselves to die if their mate dies, sometimes. I've actually seen an owl will herself to die after what we might consider a minor upset. She just literally turned her head to face the wall, would not make eye contact with anyone, would not eat, and died the next day. She didn't die of starvation or dehydration, she willed herself to die. And we've seen it enough times in the wild to know that it's a pattern. They mate for life and are very attentive to their mate! Wesley used to try to feed me mice every day, and if I didn't pretend to eat it and also hide it, he would be very upset all day long until I pretended to eat one. He wanted to SEE me eat before he would relax.

Birds and other animals seek out affection from their close ones. With owls, they're ultimately only close w/ their mate and their babies, but they are very affectionate. The bonding that McGee and Molly do is an expression of their happiness at seeing each other. Wesley used to bond with me like this - you can see it on the YouTube video of us cuddling, toward the end when he's making that parrot like squawk and kissing me all over the face.

Chimpanzees grieve to the point where they'll go into a very deep depression when a relative dies. They have been known to die of depression also. DIE of depression!

Animals can be playful and even have a sense of humor. I know of a chicken whose favorite game was to get a piece of bread and lay it out in front of herself, then make the "hey there's food!" call so that the rest of the flock came running. As soon as the flock saw the piece of bread, she'd snatch it up and gulp it down, leaving the rest to mill around looking for food. She found great humor in doing this!

Wesley and I played all kinds of fun games throughout his life and he played like a kitten with wings well into old age - until he was so old he couldn't manage it anymore. Even lizards play! I've seen lizards running all over the grass playing tag with each other (baby lizards). I used to keep all kinds of reptiles, and even reptiles are emotionally sensitive. In fact, depression among reptiles is a major problem!

If a reptile is left in a cage w/ a mouse or rat, and the reptile is too cold to be able to move fast enough to protect himself, the mouse can literally chew on him and eat him alive. I've seen reptiles who were so traumatized by something like this that they would not eat for over a year and had to be tube fed. They were terrified of live and even dead mice after that.

Animals experience fear, they get post traumatic stress disorder, depression, sadness...Koko the Gorilla wept after her pet kitten was hit by a car. My dog howls when I leave the house and is beside herself with joy when I get back.

There has been enough data and enough scientists watching carefully to see that animals do have strong emotions. After all, if we evolved from them, then they are like us and we are like them. If we did not evolve from them, but were created by the same creator, then it follows that this creator used a similar design on all of us - which you can see with how we all have eyes, stomachs, skin, blood, and similar brains, then we have the same life force running through us. This implies that we are like them and they are like us. So no matter what you believe, the conclusion is the same - that we are of similar design.

You can also look at brain structure and see that the centers of emotion are the same in animals as they are in humans, and that the neurons fire the same way when animals are emotional as they do in humans. They fire in the same parts of the brain, and other physiological indicators are the same as well.

All the current scientific research shows that animals are very emotional.

That said, I don't think Molly is sad when McGee doesn't bond with her every time, because they are both feeling very urgent about getting food to the babies. They don't really have time for their normal greetings and bonding. When they don't have babies, they will spend hours together grooming each other and snuggling, so they are very confident about their relationship. They mate for life, so they don't worry that the other one is going to leave them for another owl.

Molly's priority right now is feeding the babies. Plus, she is also hungry. She's not eating nearly as much as she would normally, so she feels the urgency of getting that food delivered. McGee feels it too! So he sometimes just drops the food off at the door and heads off to hunt some more. That's fine with Molly!

When the babies get older, they'll need more and more food and they'll get more and more aggressive so that it won't just be Molly mobbing McGee at the door, ALL the babies will mob him and start screaming and grabbing at the food! Poor McGee will barely be able to drop off the food and race back out so he doesn't get overwhelmed. I don't think they'll have time for bonding then! Just wait and see how rowdy it will get when dad comes in with food! It will be a madhouse and so loud with the screaming!

In fact, the babies will start to do a loud begging sound that's like a hiss/scream, that they'll sometimes do all night, that McGee can hear the whole time he's hunting. He'll really be feeling the pressure then, hearing all his babies begging. It's very, very loud!

There are a lot of different kinds of screams and reasons for screams. Their voices are just made that way, so not all screams are bad. There is the threat scream, which we heard the other night, then the begging scream, there's the "I'm going off hunting" scream, which is a happy scream (though to us it can sound very scary), and they even scream in their sleep sometimes and wake up looking around as if to say, "Hey, who screamed and woke me up?". So not all screams are the same.

When Molly screams at McGee when he's handing off food to her, it's not an angry scream. They're NOT fighting! She's expressing her intensity of hunger and intensity of desire for the food for the babies. McGee understands this and it doesn't bother him a bit. The females are very "screamy" anyway, and the males are much more mellow and easygoing.

If you think about it, the female's job is to guard the babies and the nest, so she's 1/3 bigger and much, much feistier. The male has to hunt to provide for the female and her babies (because she can't leave the babies to hunt. She's going to stay near and protect them). So he's smaller and more adapted for just hunting. He doesn't have to be as big, because his main job is not protection, but provision. Her extra bigness helps her be a better defender and helps her to be able to keep a large brood of babies warm. They can have up to 12 babies at a time! Imagine that!

About the dinosaur connection: Recent studies of dinosaur excavations show that many of them did have feathers, including the velocoraptor and many others. As crazy as it sounds, a T.Rex was found with SOFT TISSUE still preserved deep in a hip bone, and scientists were able to extract the DNA and run the DNA profile. Amazingly, the DNA was very close to that of a CHICKEN! So, it turns out, birds really ARE modern day dinosaurs! In fact, many scientists now reject the idea of a mass extinction of the dinosaurs and think that they evolved into these smaller versions that we call birds.

If you want to see a bird that looks just like his dinosaur ancestors, look up the cassowary! The cassowary footprint looks exactly like baby T. Rex footprints, and the cassowary even has the little arms, but they're hidden by feathers. They have a spur on the inside of their foot that is like a dagger, and they can kill a human by running that dagger down the human's body, eviscerating the human on the spot. Scary stuff!

Someone asked about Max's vision:

Even though owls use their ears to hunt, primarily, they also have great night vision. They have a layer behind the retina called the depedum (spelling?) that has what amounts to tiny mirrors that redirect the light back onto the retina, concentrating dim light to make it stronger. This gives them much much better night vision than we can even imagine!

Owls are just amazing. They never stop being amazing to me and I've been studying Barn Owls for over 35 years! And I'm still learning. That's what I LOVE about being a scientists in general and a biologist specifically - you never know everything and you will always find yourself being surprised by some new thing. The more you know, the more you know you don't know, if that makes sense. The answers you get will lead to even more questions, branching off in many different directions, and as you chase down those answers, you encounter even more questions. It's humbling and endlessly entertaining and fun! You're never bored when you're in science because all science is is the study of the world around us! How fun to do that for a living, eh?

I encourage kids to get into science and not be put off by the math. I hated math until I got to college and finally got into calculus and suddenly the world opened up to me and it became fun. It finally meant something to me and I never knew it could be FUN, like puzzles. It's worth struggling through the parts you don't understand, to get to the interesting stuff. And it IS possible to get through the math, even if it's not your strong suit - you can get a tutor and get extra help. It's sooo worth it to be able to spend the rest of your life in science!

I've had so much fun doing biology! I've been on a research boat kind of like the Jacques Cousteau boat but on a smaller scale, I've studied tide pools, spent a summer crawling in the chaparrel doing research on that, camping out under the stars and eating steak cooked over the fire, swimming in the ocean near our research area by moonlight. I've camped in the Sierras watching white crowned sparrows raising their babies, bonded with barn owls, spent countless hours watching wild barn owls, I've snuggled with a bald eagle and played w/ a bobcat, bonded with bengal tigers and many other kinds of birds of prey besides barn owls...the list goes on and on, and this is what I do for a living! If you're a kid and you're thinking about what to do with your life, at least consider science. Biology is a blast - although it doesn't pay well it can be an amazing lifestyle!

Well, enough about that. I can't help waxing enthusiastic about it. It seems to me that when I was in high school, there wasn't enough emphasis on going into science because it was FUN. There was a lot about how hard it was, but a lot of things that are very rewarding are "hard" , but so what? So you work hard at it and feel fulfilled! There are worse ways to spend your life..

I didn't mean to preach. Sorry about that!

Well, back to business. Today I am going through video footage of Wesley because some animators are using it to inform the body language of the Lorax - for an animated movie about the Lorax.

Have a great day, everyone!


gimpy said...

I'm so happy to live in an era where Westerners are FINALLY starting to acknowledge that animals have feelings.There's such a ridiculous amount of resistance to that idea, still. Thank you for the part you have played, and are playing now, in dispelling these myths.

Margo said...

I can't thank you enough for your response! I don't know if more than one person said it but I know I did and I just KNEW they did. There's someone that keeps yelling at us for "humanizing" these owls and I want to scream (no pun intended).

I have cats that are my children. I see every emotion they have and them mine. It's an amazing relationship. I have dogs that visit, raccoons that visit...and all of them, all animals are just simply amazing! I was bawling at some of your stories in your blog. What a thrill for you to do what you do.

I had this biology teacher in college that also insisted that animals did not have emotions. And he was insistent believe me. If you disagreed I believe he held it against you!

It meant the world that you took the time to address that and I feel SO good about Molly and McGee being happy now! I was worried feelings were getting hurt but now I understand :)

THANK YOU SO MUCH! I'm going to keep reading, learning and growing.

Ter-o-fla said...

Thank you, Stacey, for taking the time to write. It is very informative and also fun to read.
You have quite a gift there. :)

Charlotte said...

It's an amazing, important lesson for all of us you've written here, Stacey. Keep it coming. Your gift is a big one. Thanks again for sharing from the deep, deep well of your knowledge and passion for these incredible creatures of God.

H.E Sharp said...

Oh my GOODNESS, you've just made me want to change my art major into a biology major THAT MUCH MORE. <3 I love owls, and would LOVE to have that kind of bond with one myself---although I know you MUST MUST MUST know what you're doing, and probably have to have a special license as well, right?

I've lived with all species of animals for my whole life despite NOT growing up on a farm, and instead in suburban Michigan---and I've preached the "YES ANIMALS HAVE EMOTIONS" thing since I was in my single digits. I remember being in fifth grade and visiting the library, when perusing the books in the science section (my favorite place next to the art section) I found a book entitled "do animals dream?" And I ROLLED my eyes, remembering seeing one of my dogs CLEARLY dream and pretty vividly at that. How could people EVEN question that animals are much different than us? If at all? It is human idiocy that makes me reject the majority of them in favor of animals. That and I can relate to their strong emotions as well, I swear I too am fairly incapable of repression and other used psychology terms listed above in this entry.

I'm so watching your blog. You rock igneous! And that's pretty hard rock.