Dana and I make everyone’s day at the US-Canada border

19 04 2012

Over the last three days Dana (….) and I have been wrapping up our project at MSU. Dana has been replicating (we hope!) an effect that Maria (…..) found a couple of year ago — that male mink raised with super-enrichment (large complex cages with tunnels, toys, hammocks and running water to wade and splash in) are hotter with the ladies: in a set-up where females can choose who to mate with, they gain more copulations. Dana has been testing the hypotheses that elevated perseveration makes non-enriched males less good at courting (perhaps because their vocalisations are more monotonous or less well modulated by females’ reactions), and that their lowered testosterone reduces their libido. Wrapping up the project involved giving all our females a tonne of enrichments to keep them going a good few weeks, but euthanasing all the males because we need their brains, testes and penis bones. This is always a very sobering process, but I think we do it well. Everyone gets a last supper of their favourite food (mink especially like hot-dogs, perhaps because of their resemblance to human fingers), and animals to be killed are first anaesthetised in their own nestboxes with isoflurane which makes them unconscious in less than a minute. There is no hissing, screaming or scent-spraying — the mink perhaps look puzzled at the strong odour but that’s about it: they just fall asleep on what’s left of their hot dogs. 

Getting our samples back to Guelph was the next challenge. The regular customs folks first of all demanded to know if we were joking; then had a patrol car, lights flashing, escort us to commercial customs where all the truckers check in. UoG had pre-arranged with Fedex to clear us, and when we entered the Fedex office there was an immediate chorus of “Are YOU Dr. Dana?!” and “We have been just dying to meet you all day!”. Our cargo is definitely the wierdest they have had for a long, long while. We told them we were doing research to see if male mink think with their brains or their testicles: a bit unfair on our lovely animals, but it pretty much made their day in that office.