Saturday, August 30, 2008

lost? find a cow

Most cattle that were grazing or resting tended to align their bodies in a north-south direction, a team of German and Czech researchers reports in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(Read the rest here. Thanks, Cindy.)

I wonder if this study concerned only cows (i.e. females) or if it included bulls. The only time I've ever seen a bull is when I was chased by one many years ago in the Lake District (in England). Bastard. I've also been chased by a ram. Bastard. And dogs. Bastards.

I think most animals have a notion of direction. So it doesn't surprise me that they'd be able to tell north from south. For me the more interesting question is, why do they choose to align along a particular axis? And (because everything for me is currently related to Hild) does this have any connection with the changing mores of human burial over the centuries? ('Native' British burial alignment was often north-south. After conversion to Christianity, many Anglo-Saxons burials were East-West. I haven't the faintest idea why.)

Anyway, the article about cows caught my eye. I love to see behaviour explained via biology. I've just got Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect With Others, by Marco Iacoboni, and am looking forward to the publication of Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes: Bodies, Behavior, and Brains--The Science Behind Sex, Love, and Attraction, by Jena Pincott, in a few weeks. I just hope they're both reasonably well written. I get so very critical (picky picky picky, and irritable) when I'm working hard.

Oh, and I just saw this article in the New Scientist; it seems elephants know a lot, too:

Add elephants to the growing menagerie of animals that can count.

An Asian elephant named Ashya beat this reporter at a devilishly simple addition problem. When a trainer dropped three apples into one bucket and one apple into a second, then four more apples in the first and five more in the second, the pachyderm recognised that three plus four is greater than one plus five, and snacked on the seven apples. (In my defence, I watched the video in a noisy and crowded auditorium.)

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