Becky wins major prize!!!

30 06 2018

Many congratulations to Becky, who was this year’s UFAW Young Animal Welfare Scientist of the Year Award. I’ve known about this since about February, and having to keep it a secret’s been been killing me; so, great to see it finally become public at this summer’s UFAW conference!  Thanks to Carole for the photo, and there’s also a lovely write-up from UFAW here too.


1600 mink enrichments…

29 06 2018

… look like this, in case you ever wondered:

1600 mink enrichments

Assiduously collected and created by Sam (with invaluable help from Misha), they will launch his MSc research into the factors that affect habituation, and whether habituation is actually the problem everyone assumes (for example, if a mink takes an enrichment into the nestbox and then apparently ignores it, has the enrichment the stopped working?). Sam’s interested in the zoo profession as a career, so was looking for a project that would have broader relevance beyond mink alone. This definitely hits the spot.

Honey bees understand zero

29 06 2018

A new-(ish) paper in Science adds to ever-growing evidence of bee intelligence.

I do get that it’s whether they can suffer, not whether they can reason, that relevant to welfare, but I find myself increasingly unnerved that the individual well-being of bees is not protected by any code, guideline or law anywhere in the world (while that of Cephalopods rather arbitrarily is).

Good coverage here by Science Daily and here from the Smithsonian.

GTA Animal Cognition meeting – June 12th

29 06 2018

The last GTA animal cognition meeting was so flukily unenjoyable I didn’t write it up: I arrived in a foul mood, having taken 3 hours to get to UoT; Kristin wasn’t there, and I missed her; and the speaker couldn’t really develop her ideas because she kept getting interrupted. But all was back on track this time: collegial, fun, and everyone thinking as hard as they could about the knotty problems raised by this week’s insanely hard paper: “Do infants and non-human animals attribute mental states?” by UCLA philosopher Tyler Burge. The author raised alternative explanations for tests like the Sally-Anne task, questioning whether assessing another organism’s point of view says anything about attributions of belief. I can’t say I took a whole load from the text itself: Burge is a dense, dense writer, prone to defining his own terms which you then have to labour hard to remember (e.g. “a conative state is a state that not only provides energy to cause an action but functions to do so”; something which after a long delay I realized just meant “motivation”), and so I only got half way through the paper. But I relished the great discussion and banter, and also catching up with Julia over strong coffee later. Below, Jacob Beck decodes some of Burge’s terminology for us:


SONA 2018

29 06 2018

IMG_6634May 4th brought the annual day-long SONA meeting, this time in Guelph, and I really enjoyed it (far more than last time). Iris Balodis gave a great plenary on the role of the nucleus accumbens in gambling disorder, blowing me away with accounts of sub-normal responses to reward in affected people (as if only through gambling can they get type of kick most of us get elsewhere; note to self — read meta-analysis by Luijten et al.). And later over coffee she was equally fascinating on sex addiction (not as funny or fun as one might think. Imagine the lesions you get if you just never, ever stop masturbating ….).

Then amongst the posters, two from Janet Menard’s lab at Queen’s showed that even simple scatter-feeds can reduce anxiety in rats, while two from Western’s Tim Bussey & Lisa Saksida fired me up with the desire to teach our mice touchscreen tasks. And one lovely surprise was bumping into Kathryn Reynolds, clearly thriving, and now wrapping up her PhD at McMaster. She proudly talked me through her poster, including one unassuming little graph (the bar chart on the left) based on an assay that took her 18 months of pain to develop (what doesn’t kill us surely does make us stronger).



12 06 2018

“You can handle the truth”: listen to this  great radio show on teaching children to distinguish real from false health information in Uganda!

Why I wear glasses

12 06 2018

Screenshot 2018-06-11 21.46.31

and see the BMJ article here.


Thanks to UFAW…

12 06 2018

… for some nice publicity for Andrea (below, except unlike the press release they don’t actually mention her, grrr), and a fabulous summer scholarship for Aileen!


Screenshot 2018-06-11 21.40.08



And text of the week

10 06 2018

Exchange between me and Michelle on Thursday:


She has to design and build a way to keep zebra fish in a series of overflowing tanks of warm water (think infinity pools for tropical fish) without them getting swept away.

But what with some materials leaching into water, others bending when they get warm, and her not being allowed to use the Hagen Lab‘s saws herself, the process was starting to drive her insane. Luckily Misha came to the rescue with his own ideas and equipment (he is basically the main reason we would cope with a zombie apocalypse).

Email of the week: “Teasing Georgia” is thriving!

10 06 2018

Lovely photo sent by Joe from his mum in the UK:


She found a rose variety called “Teasing Georgia” when he was doing his PhD with me … and it’s been thriving ever since (that’s for around 20 years!).