Hot mink boobs

28 06 2012

Just said that to get attention really. Here is a thermal image of a mink we think has mastitis : (
Luckily it seems as though giving the dams a shelf or bunk to rest in away from their kits reduces the risks of them getting this (= work by Lauren Dawson in her coursework MSc with me last year, currently being built on by Misha Buob, who’s doing a coursework MSc with me now, this year). Hot mink boobs

Megan Jones gets her PhD!

28 06 2012

Many congratulations to Megan, who graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand this week (see older post below for what her examiners thought of her excellent thesis). Very nice dog too! Megan Jones gets her PhD!

Caption competition

25 06 2012

This is the logo for the ‘Mink Research Library’: We have been trying to work out what’s going on in the rather creepy picture. Is the mink…? Is it…? Is the mink operating a puppet made of human skin?? Caption competition

If this makes you yawn, are you empathic?

25 06 2012

Our journal club on Thursday focussed on the paper “Auditory contagious yawning in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): first evidence for social modulation” by Silva et al. (Anim Cogn DOI 10.1007/s10071-012-0473-2). They played dogs recordings of their owner yawning or a stranger, and found that the former tended to make dogs yawn. Allegedly this reveals empathy (we weren’t convinced; it just seems unfashionable to talk about social facilitation these days!). Unfortunately this paper only used the yawns of ONE stranger as the unfamiliar yawn (they had 29 dogs and 29 owners, but didn’t think to use the 28 owners who’d be unfamiliar to any one dog as sources of the unfamiliar yawns; instead they just used yawns from “one female researcher” throughout — in a very nasty case of pseudoreplication). Shouldn’t really have gotten past the referees….. 

ABS meeting in Albuqueque

19 06 2012

I spoke at the ABS meeting last week (, in a symposium on behavioural (make that ‘behavioral’) plasticity and how animals cope with anthropogenic disturbance (e.g. translocation, pollution, urbanisation…). It’s not quite what I do, yet what I do is relevant, so it was a very thought-provoking few days. I argued that plasticity is one of the species traits that should adapt animals to captivity, with the exception of being highly innovative (which might predispose them to stress and frustration); that placing an animal in captivity and building a city around it have enough similarities that we might wonder whether some species do well in all such circumstances, while others always do badly; that developmental plasticity can help ensure that the first generation to mature in the new environment is better adapted than the founders (yet developmental processes can also set animals up to be impaired: growing up in captivity is sometimes surprisingly counter-productive); and lastly that captivity can impair behavioural plasticity, thanks to compromised learning abilities, executive function and so on (e.g. effects manifest as stereotypic behaviour).

Most fun was meeting new people – collaborators who I’ve only emailed with but never talked to in real life (Tim Wright and Anna Young:; Albrecht Shulte-Hostedde: http://www.oldwebsite., and researchers who’s work I’ve admired, but who I’d never met or even seen speak (e.g. the wonderful Dani Sol:

Albuquerque itself is quite something: some very nice bits, but overall a sense of poverty and crime: many bikers, junkies and pan handlers; much obesity; and ground floor windows being barred = the norm. God bless America.

Too busy for blogging

19 06 2012

It’s been a busy few weeks, with all the mink people (Becky, Jamie, and Misha, helped by Kaitlin and Sarah ) and  mice people (Carole and Mike) in the middle of intense data collection. Dana and Maria are working on MSs, and Cleo and Tara are away. So not much to report but lots of ongoing activity. We did have a journal club, but the paper was just too bad to report on here (the authors might referee something of ours one day!)