How many ways to be depressed?

17 07 2018

That point from Kate Harkness so intrigued Aileen that she worked it out by hand: 227! (Still to be checked using Wolfram Alpha though)


Fishy dreams

16 07 2018

Zebrafish1-smallEvery big research stage triggers odd dreams, and acquiring animals is the worst. Although it marks the exciting start of an actual experiment, the new and sudden responsibility is always terrifying. (That awful rhino story this week, where translocated animals died from not being given fresh water: that’s like the type of dreams we have).

Michelle was no exception, as she and new (and fabulous) work study student Alexia settled 300 zebra fish into their new tanks. The whole venture caused a series of restless nights for poor Michelle, the most priceless nightmare being that all her research fish were somehow in her home aquarium, and both her cats were happily pulling them out with their paws….

Gratuitous mink pic

16 07 2018

Here’s another lovely picture from Sam.  Sometimes people ask me why I work with mink, and my reply is, have you met mink?

Baby mink2

Lord of the Rings

16 07 2018

Last week also saw an actual crisis too, for Sam.

After sawing drain pipes into several hundred rings, he had painfully cut an inch-wide gap into every single one so that the ring could expand if a mink squeezed into it (for safety).  But *disaster*: after he added them to the cages, they all ended up out of the cage, on the ground, and within about 10 minutes! As the mink avidly played with them, the gap meant each ring just snaked out through the mesh of the cage bottom. So, these hundreds of rings are all utterly useless (and I’m kicking myself because I thought ‘pilot study first?’ but never actual said it).


Back to the drawing board.

This time we used the Physics Shop, a new discovery for me, and the silver lining in this cloud. For free, they let Sam use a band saw (right) that sliced through the new drainpipes like putty. Then, with help from Michelle and Aileen, each replacement ring was again cut to give it ‘give’, but this time just with a single snip.

And so, here, at last, is a mink with one of his new enrichments –

– and this time it’s for keeps.


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.

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: