Eager mink

9 11 2018

Congratulations to Sam, who just finished the most ambitious boredom-testing trial my lab’s ever run, testing an incredible 135 mink (exposing each to three smelly stimuli: mountain lion urine on Day 1, vanilla on Day 2 and pheasant odour on Day 3, so 405 tests in all). Gauging how long they oriented towards or even contacted the stimulus will allow Sam to test the hypothesis that mink with single unchanging enrichments are more eager for stimulation (thus more ‘bored’) than mink with diverse, relatively novel enrichments. He was helped by the tireless Basma who, even when working 14 hour days, never flags, gets grumpy or makes mistakes (she’s “a cucumber” said Aimee, assuming we’d all just mentally add “as cool as”). Below, a Pastel male avidly sniffs the enticing smell of pheasant…

Eager mink

Andrea explains pivot tables

4 11 2018

There are many important techniques I don’t actually quite (ahem) know how to do myself, but do know I should always make sure my senior students teach my junior ones (a form of horizontal transmission that cuts out the weakest link: me!). Using FDR to correct for multiple testing is one, and (slightly embarrassingly) using pivot tables is another.

So here is Andrea (some months ago now, long before her recent QE triumph) showing my group how to do this. Thanks to this neat technique, everyone can collect scanning data from great long strings of animals on Excel on their phones (100s of mink in rows in Sam’s case; complicated mixed strain mouse cages for other students [carefully dimming their phone screens with custom red filters]), and then sort the data into time budgets per subject. Magic!



Tea infusers for mink

28 10 2018

Slide1Sam’s been running some pilots for his planned boredom trials.  Carabinas proved better than paperclips for hooking the tea infusers on (because mink can’t bend and destroy carabinas by tugging on them).  And using 5 drops of odourant (mountain lion urine, pheasant smell or vanilla) on the cotton wool seemed to elicit stronger, more diverse reactions from the animals than only using 2-3.  Looks like Sam’s pretty much ready to start for real!


One more addition to the crazy month of October

25 10 2018

If you’re a slave to NSERC, everything gets submitted in October: scholarships, DG grants, and equipment grants too. (And then everything gets revealed in April. It’s clear they have nice loooooong summer holidays in Ottawa). So, I pulled together planned mouse work by my lab, Elena, Craig and new collaborator Boyer into an RTI submission that’s such a weird mix of welfare and neuroscience I can’t tell if it’s brilliant or doomed. It’s to buy three new startle boxes to replace our deeply flawed ones from Kinder (but this time from SDI). The price tag? $42,000.

Due in on Monday, there was very little sleep for me Sunday (not least as we went to an amazing Indian wedding that night … with the grant still not finished). And we then had absurd problems attaching Elena’s CV too (I had to coach her over the phone to swear like a Brit; that gave her the strength to find and fix the damn problem). But … success at last!

RTI... in!

Amazing CT scans

24 10 2018


A first incredible image from fab technicians Michelle and Erin, who are trying to assess whether any of our mice were arthritic. But they are blind to mouse ID so we won’t have any idea if there are patterns ’til the ‘grand reveal’ at the very end.

Monkey puzzle

24 10 2018

From Andrea, as we try and work out how to align her stereotypic behaviour (SB) data with her ‘life events data’:


We need a year’s worth of SB data to estimate how stereotypic each individual is. But then should our predictor measures stop just before that year (even though nasty things might still happen in that year and affect the animals); at the end of that year (even though they’d then post-date some of our SB data); or in the mid-point of that year?  Nothing’s ideal, because this vast dataset just isn’t quite as wonderful as we though it was going to be.  But we think we have a decision.

Email of the week: Sam is the winner, just

14 10 2018

I was pretty confident I’d win with this:

Screenshot 2018-10-14 16.28.43



But when Sam countered with this, I knew I had to concede:

Screenshot 2018-10-14 16.28.30

All of this is us busily planning a “boredom testing” trial Sam plans to run in a couple of weeks, on large numbers of mink (about 80) living on a commercial farm in enrichment regimes differing in the number and novelty of objects. We’re exposing the mink to three olfactory stimuli as the probes, because these seem to yield the biggest effect sizes; and using tea infusers (which I was sure I had a tonne of from another experiment …) is a probably a neat way to do it.