Accidental hen enrichment

21 11 2017

I did some more work on the chicken house yesterday, since Winter is Coming. I lowered the heat lamp, stuck bubble wrap over the windows, and taped a perfectly-sized insulating polystyrene box lid onto their door which — although very clever and automatic — is thin and metal.

But by lunchtime today the hens had eaten great chunks out of this, thrilled by the little white beebles it spawned. Ooops – now hoping they don’t wake up dead (though they do seem pretty bullet-proof).


Pumpkins galore

2 11 2017


Hallowe’en saw what could become a tradition: our department’s second annual pumpkin carving competition. Here are Aimee, Miranda and fellow-student Abbie with their strange and complex ‘Lips as red as blood’ featuring a shrunken head made of an apple. Sometimes I think I don’t keep them busy enough…

But it is great that a few years ago, the department suddenly became fun (in part due to a new Graduate Student Council , and a Social Committee led by new prof Eduardo).   So at the start of term – when it still felt blissfully like summer – we had a football match again (Aimee and Miranda are in this photo somewhere I think) and a nice BBQ (here’s me, Alex, and genetics prof Andy Robinson).  Today it sleeted, so this now feels like a distant dream.

New Text of the Week

28 10 2017

From Maria today, after a loooong day for her and Andy (newly arrived in the UK, just hours ahead of cat Luna) yesterday:img_5703.pngAfter 8 hours on a plane on Wednesday night (this after being driven from Lansing to Chicago ), poor Luna was then held up at Heathrow for another 8 hours (grim for Andy as well, since he too had been on an overnight flight). Maria also reports that this shrivelled her own telomeres to little stubs.

Luna was then taken to a brand new house in which initially only the very highest cupboards were deemed OK:


But it sounds like today she’s settling in. And crucially, now all three are reunited at last!

Which is Text of the Week?

26 10 2017

It’s a tough call: Emma showing what a great student she is AND how cute our mixed strain trios are? Or me asking a mink farmer about his balls? (I can explain though: he’s ordered a container-load of 50,000 table tennis and wiffle balls as mink enrichments, which is now en route from Asia).Slide1




25 10 2017

I am five conferences behind, blog-wise, but will start with the latest and hope that has me then working backwards to May.

Last week, me, Andrea, Miranda and new student Sam rented a ridiculous giant black SUV and drove to Chicago and back for Brookfield’s 3rd International Symposium on Zoo Animal Welfare.  There we met up with “Big Emma” (her and Miranda were presenting complementary posters), and Maria, and Ros, who’d all come over from the UK.

It was just lovely to see everyone (and the Monday night, we all snuck out together for fabulous tapas). Ros being there was particularly special, as her work some 15 years ago was the starting point for what Miranda and Emma are doing now.  Those three meeting up was a really nice complement to Emma and Miranda meeting Jeanette last year (and now I just have to get Ros and Jeanette to meet!).

My talk went OK (though the conference opened with an announcement that all talks had to be shortened by 3 minutes … which I missed because I was literally about to go on stage and so having a nervous wee; my presentation’s timing was therefore like being in a bad dream). The strange panel discussion I was on (with Jill Mellen and Joy Mench) went OK too; Andrea’s talk went well; and, that aside, the highlights (cast into stark relief by truly spectacular pseudoreplication in the worst talks) were from Austin Leeds on assessing salivary oxytocin in gorillas, Ashley Edes on trying to validate allostatic load indices in the same species, and a multi-zoo study from Jilian Fazio on the exquisite Fishing Cat (which benefits from more human contact apparently; can I volunteer?)

Below, top to bottom, the “Carnivore Three” (Emma, Miranda and Ros); the closest we got to downtown (whizzing by as we drove from the wrong zoo, oops, to Brookfield); Miranda and Emma at their poster; Jill, me and Joy being a “panel”, and Emma and Miranda’s great (Ok so I’m biased) posters.



Screenshot 2017-10-24 21.51.05

Chicago poster_1

Chicago poster_M_E GJM_EM - 2


The Curse of the Play Paper: fading … but not yet over

25 10 2017

Today, Jamie at last submitted what we hope are final revisions to our ‘play as a welfare indicator’ paper!

Screenshot 2017-10-24 20.37.11

This was definitely a case where the referees’ comments, which chimed with our own misgivings about our original submission, helped us make the paper way better. So, we’re cautiously optimistic.

But it wasn’t laziness had us first submitting something we weren’t wild about: this MS has been more dogged by disaster than any paper I’ve ever worked on, and with a “special edition” deadline to meet (Mollie Bloomsmith and Terry Maple were putting together a volume on ‘optimal welfare’), we couldn’t just wait ’til all was well.  First I had terrible tendinitis, and was awash with inflammatory molecules that made me low and slow-witted; then Julia hurt her wrist, while Jamie broke his finger; and then Julia also cut a finger badly with a kitchen knife (see below, with added hurty faces).

Then when it came to revising the MS once we’d heard back from the journal, poor Julia now had serious concussion from a bicycle accident (you can tell she’s kind of the weakest link here, though it’s her sections on human children that most make this paper original).

Finally, now pretty much the last authors to get their acts together, we were ready to submit!  But this time it was the Elsevier site that was broken and out-of-action. After two days of technical trouble, it grudgingly let Jamie submit, but still Mollie can’t actually see the MS: for some reason it’s now invisible.  Before she does eventually get her hands on it, I really think I should warn her to be careful…

Sylvie features in class today …

3 10 2017

… in a section on behaviour and the senses that looks at eye widening. Here are two photos, taken within a second. In which one am I holding up a pipecleaner?