Which Shelter Pet Should PawZaar Sponsor Next?

We need your help! It’s time to sponsor a new shelter dog or cat because Ryder, whose kennel was being sponsored by PawZaar, has been adopted!! We’re so excited for this little fellow who…



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DogTipper

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Arctic fox walks more than 2,000 miles across the sea ice from Svalbard to Ellesmere Island

arctic fox crosses from Norway to Canada

The Guardian reports that an arctic fox has been documented walking 2,000 miles across the sea ice from Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago to Canada’s Ellesmere Island.

The vixen, a blue phase arctic fox, was collared with a tracking device on Spitsbergen. The Norwegian Polar Institute then followed her travels for the next 76 days. She wandered across the sea ice to Greenland, probably scavenging polar bear kills and catching sea birds. She then wandered across northern Greenland, eventually the sea ice again to settled on Ellesmere.

She traveled an average of 46.3 km per day, which is a little less than 29 miles day. On one day, she traveled  155 km or 96 miles across the ice sheet in Greenland.

Arctic foxes are significantly smaller than red foxes, which kill them where their ranges overlap.  The two species have hybridized in captivity, but the offspring are sterile. Arctic foxes are most closely related to the kit and swift foxes of North America, and they probably could produce fertile hybrids with them if they were ever given the opportunity.

Arctic foxes are not extremely dependent upon sea ice for survival, but the sea ice is useful for augmenting their diets in the winter, when they can follow polar bears.

Because it is unlikely that this fox’s journey is but a fluke, sea ice has been essential in retaining gene flow in the species across northern Eurasia and North America. More research must be performed on the genetics of this species, but it would surprise me if there wasn’t at least some gene flow across the arctic.

Arctic foxes are about the size of a toy dog, averaging 6-7 pounds in weight, but they are so well-adapted to long-distance travel that they can make such amazing journeys.

Natural History

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Fostering: Great for Pets, Great for Kids

In our age of digital everything, parents are often desperate for ideas for activities that will tear their kids’ attention away from their electronics. One great option may be as close as the…



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DogTipper

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Organic Pineapple Orange Vodka Refreshers

This post is sponsored by Prairie Organic Spirits, but all opinions are my own. 21+ Drink Responsibly.

As soon as the first summertime day arrives, my head is instantly filled with daydreams of sitting out on my patio with friends, sipping on cheery, tropical-vibed cocktails. I envision something tangy and subtly sweet, made with only the highest quality organic ingredients. These summertime daydreams and my friends are what inspired me to come up with this incredibly delicious, super refreshing, organic pineapple orange vodka refresher that is guaranteed to bring sunshine to the forecast no matter the time of year. They’re easy to make, will wow the guests at your next gathering, and feature my absolute favorite vodka from Prairie Organic Spirits. Scroll down for the recipe!

Organic Pineapple Orange Vodka Refreshers
Servings: 1

1.5 fluid ounces Prairie Organic Vodka
2 fluid ounces organic pineapple juice (chilled)
3 fluid ounces organic orange juice (chilled)
splash of soda
ice cubes
pineapple slice (for garnish)
orange slice (for garnish)
fresh mint sprig (for garnish)

Fill a glass about half full of ice cubes. Pour in Prairie Organic Vodka, organic pineapple juice, organic orange juice, and stir. Top with a splash or two of soda. Garnish with a pineapple slice, an orange slice, and a sprig of fresh mint. Enjoy! Make sure to take advantage and earn cash back through this awesome Ibotta offer –> http://bit.ly/2XCPAsO and get yourself some Prairie Organic Vodka right now while supplies last. (Trust me; you will love it.)

The key to making this sunshine-filled cocktail is the quality organic ingredients – especially the Prairie Organic Vodka. As a Chicagoan, I’m big on supporting Midwest brands, and when a friend told me that Prairie Organic Spirits are not only organic but made in Minnesota, I had to give them a try. Upon first sip of Prairie Organic Vodka, I could sense the true craftsmanship that goes into making their spirits. The taste is distinct, smooth, and rich, and perfect in cocktails or just over ice with a splash of soda. Also, it’s gluten free! And because it is important to me to support organic farming whenever possible, the fact that Prairie Organic Spirits are made from organic corn grown on family farms is a huge motivator in me choosing them above all else. Prairie Organic Spirits are USDA Certified and are the #1 Organic Spirit.

And if I didn’t already love this brand enough, Prairie Organic Spirits gives 1% back to help more farmers go organic! That’s pretty great.

If you make these delectable organic pineapple orange vodka refreshers, be sure to let me know what you think! And if you have any other organic cocktail recipes you love, please send them over to me. I’m also a big fan of their tasty Prairie Organic Gin and Prairie Organic Cucumber Flavored Vodka (so delicious with soda and a squeeze of fresh lemon.) Happy organic sipping!

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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A wild narluga has been identified

narwhal hybrid.png

a: beluga skull b. “narluga hybrid” c. male narwhal skull.

In the 1980s, an Inuit subsistence hunter in Greenland killed three gray whales that looked suspiciously like belugas at first. However, they were oddly gray. The fins resembled a beluga’s, while the tail looked like that of a narwhal.

The hunter kept one of the skulls, eventually donating it to science, where became the property of the Greenland Fisheries Research Institute. A scientist working for that institute, Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen,hypothesized that this skull came from a hybrid between a narwhal and a beluga.

It was only today that a study was released in the journal Nature that revealed that this whale was indeed a hybrid. The DNA analysis revealed that male beluga mated with a female narwhal to produce the creature.

The skull was quite strange. Belugas have 40 homodont teeth. Narwhals are toothless, except males. The males have one really long canine tooth that sticks out as a tusk. Sometimes, they have two, but most have only one true tooth. It is spiraled like what is expected form the mythical unicorn. They do have only a few vestigial teeth.

The hybrid had 18 teeth, many of which were pointed out horizontally and spiraled like the vestigial teeth of the narwhal.

Isotopic analysis also revealed that the hybrid had a different diet from either parent species, both of which catch fish or squid in the open water. The beluga hunts fish at depths of up to 500 meters, while the narwhal hunts fish or squid at depths exceeding 800 meters. The isotopic analysis revealed that the narluga was eating mostly benthic prey, which means it was eating mostly shellfish from the sea floor.

So this study raises so many questions. Analysis of the narwhal genome revealed that gene flow between the two species stopped between 1.25 and 1.65 million years ago. The initial split happened around 4 million years ago, and that study thought that an viable hybrids would be unable to reproduce. However, the authors of the study cautioned that a larger sample size of individual narwhal and beluga genomes from across their range might reveal more recent dates on when gene flow stopped (if it did at all).

So it is not entirely clear that this hybrid would have been sterile, but we also have no further evidence of hybrids anywhere else.  It is quite possible that these hybrids could be fertile, and if they are, climate change could cause the eventual genetic extinction of the narwhal.

The morphology and feeding behavior this odd whale might point to the origins of the narwhal. Perhaps the ancestral narwhal was a benthic feeding whale that later lost its teeth to become a whale that hunts squid and fish at great depths with an almost toothless mouth.

Having teeth like the hybrid is a great adaptation for this particular diet, because the forward pointing teeth can poke around and dislodge shellfish more easily.

If these hybrids are fertile, then one could see the eventual development of a hybrid whale species that has its own niche as a benthic feeder in the arctic.

It is an amazing find, and chances are there will be more discovered. Further, as scientists examine genomes from belugas and narwhals from a wide geographic distribution, we might see evidence of some hybridization.

Hybridization could also increase genetic diversity in narwhals, but if these hybrids must eat a fundamentally different diet than narwhals do, it might become difficult for these hybrids to add their genes to narwhal populations. They just cannot hang out for extensive periods of time, before they have to split off and engage in divergent feeding behavior.

So this discovery does generate lots of speculation and raises several important questions that need to be addressed.

Pretty cool.

Natural History

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Where Can You Shop with Your Dog?

Summer temperatures are already climbing up to 100 degrees on some days here–and that means we’re looking for cool activities for Tiki and Barli. One of our favorites: a little…



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DogTipper

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Golden Retriever Loses 100 Pounds!

I need this lady to adopt me! Seriously, though, obesity in dogs is just as serious a problem as it is in humans. The best way to treat it is to prevent it. If your dog doesn’t have a waistline, you need to step up the exercise and cut back on the treats. You want … Continue reading Golden Retriever Loses 100 Pounds!


Doggies.com Dog Blog

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Isle Royale’s wolves will have to be managed artificially

isle royale wolf

This year, several wolves were relocated from Minnesota and Ontario’s Michipicoten Island to Isle Royale.  These wolves were brought to the island to restore a moribund wolf population that had dwindled down to two individuals in the autumn 2018. These wolves had been suffering from a severe inbreeding depression, and because ice bridges almost never form in Lake Superior to connect the island to mainland Minnesota, it has become virtually impossible for wolves to walk to the island and add new genes to the population.

Climate change is, of course, to blame for this problem, but it also means that the island’s wolf and moose population dynamics that have been studied for decades are now going to be managed through occasional introductions of wolves that are not related to those living on the island.

Over the next few years, as many as 30 wolves will be released upon the island. This will create diverse founding population from which several packs can form.

But it now means that the biology of Isle Royale’s wolves will be managed by people.  People will be bringing new wolves to the island, not the ice bridges.

And we will be doing it for the rest of time.

This situation leads to certain questions about Isle Royale as a truly natural system. It is not. It is sort of a wildlife reservation in which two relatively rare species in the Upper Midwest are given a sort of illusory freedom to live in a way in which humans will mostly leave them alone.

But it’s not at all a Pre-Columbian ecosystem. Indeed, the main species that inhabited Isle Royale were Canada lynx and woodland caribou, both of which aren’t found there at all.  A population of coyotes also lived there, but the wolves made short work of them when they came over in the middle part of the twentieth century.

I do support the restoration of wolves to Isle Royale, but it is like everything else to do with wolves in this era. Some wolves in Alaska, far northern Canada, and Russia might still have lives that are true wilderness areas. Many of those wolves may never see a person in their entire lives.

But the wolves that live Western and Eastern Europe and Southern Canada and the Lower 48 live is worlds that are still dominated in by humans. Even if humans do leave behind some wild areas, the human footprint upon their lives is not inconsequential.

Humans have changed the climate, which has made ice bridges far less common in the Great Lakes.

Humans have also destroyed woodland caribou populations. Only a single herd of woodland caribou can be found in the Lower 48, and it dwindled down to a single individual, which was captured this winter.

Humans have pushed the Canada lynx into a range that essentially is just Canada and the Northern Rocky Mountain states.

Humans have made it so that wolves do very well in three Great Lakes states, but they don’t really exist anywhere else in the Midwest. They are absent from New England and Appalachians.

But they have Isle Royale and lots of moose to hunt.

We will give them that. It is the least we can do. And we will continue to learn from them in the deepest hopes that we can save some of them and the habitat they need to thrive. And if we can save a bit for them, maybe we can save ourselves, as the planet warms and politicians either do little to nothing or deny the looming threat as a hoax from some malevolent body.

So we will manage the wolf population now. This management will come from addition, while in the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest, the management will come from subtraction. In a few years, the rest of the wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin will be managed with the minus sign.

And it will have to do. Because that’s what our civilization will tolerate.

 

Natural History

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The head of a massive 40,000-year-old wolf discovered in the Yakutian permafrost

yakutian megafaunal wolf

The Siberian Times reports that the head of a massive wolf was discovered in the permafrost in Yakutia (Sakha Republic of Russia).  The head includes much of the soft tissue, as well as its golden-colored fur. The head is 40 cm (15. 7 inches long), which is pretty large when compared to modern wolf specimens.

Researchers in Russia and Japan will be examining the DNA from the soft tissue to see where it fits in modern wolf and dog phylogeny of which there are still many questions.

This wolf is a good example of what have been termed “megafaunal wolves,” very large gray wolves that lived during the Pleistocene. Robert Wayne of UCLA, a leading canid molecular geneticists, thinks that some form of Pleistocene megafaunal wolf is the progenitor of the domestic dog.  These wolves would have been expert hunters of large bison, reindeer, and horses, and they may have been semi-nomadic, following large herds of ungulates across the steppes and taiga. These semi-nomadic wolves would have been quite easily attached to humans, who were hunting and traveling in much the same way.

Also of note, this wolf has golden colored fur.  In 2015, I postulated a speculative hypothesis that the original Pleistocene wolves were more often golden in color, rather than gray.  When humans started hunting wolves extensively during the Neolithic and into modern times, wolves that were gray were selected for because they could more easily hide from human hunters. Gray color in the dead of winter in many European and Western Asian forests would have been great camouflage against the winter tree trunks and undergrowth of the forest.

Some wolves, especially tundra wolves from northern Russia and Finland, are still often golden in color, as are those in Central Asia.

Golden sable color is quite widespread in domestic dogs, but it is far less common in wolves. So it is quite possible that this coloration is so dominant in domestic dogs because the wolves that gave rise to them were this color.

This massive wolf with golden fur certainly adds some credence to my speculations, but only time will tell what this ancient, massive wolf’s head has in store for us.

But is an amazing find. No doubt about it!

Update: Researchers in Sweden, not Japan or Russia, will be examining its DNA. 

 

Natural History

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I will never learn to live in God

no god

I don’t believe in the supernatural.  The natural is fantastical enough without needing some anthropomorphic figure that controls all forces of nature and also justice.  The more I see of humanity and nature, the less I believe that such a figure is likely, and such a figure could not be contained in the ancient edicts of scripture and clergy. It is not that I am rebellious or angry. It’s that I can no longer be illusioned.

To not believe and live in Norway is a lot different than to be in the same theological position and happen to live in West Virginia.  I no longer do, of course, but when I did live there, I felt that I always had to keep my mouth shut.

I no longer feel so constrained. I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God or the Devil.  I came to this conclusion in my 20s, though by the time I was 16, my own version of Christianity had a deist divinity and the Christ figure was but a metaphor.

I never was “born again,” but when I was younger I pretended that I was. Maybe, it was all like make-believe in the literal sense of the two words. Maybe if I just made myself believe it would all work out.

I knew things were going to be strange when I was the only student in my tenth grade biology class who believed that humans resulted from evolution. Most of my classmates either believed in creationism, but the more enlightened ones had some belief that all other organisms evolved. Humans did not. Humans were still a special creation of God.

Christianity and I were never good fits. I remember getting in trouble for praising God for my new pet duck when the pastor asked for praises at the beginning of worship service. I was told that this was not something one praised, but when you’re in the first grade and crazy about animals, there couldn’t be anything to be happier about, right?

My parents were uncomfortable with me leaving my dinosaur figurines behind the rear glass of their car.  They were okay with evolution. We even went to a church that was okay with evolution in terms of doctrine, but lots of people who went to that church were not okay with it.  Some of them may have doubted whether dinosaurs existed at all  and would think that my parents were doing me a great disservice.

I tried really hard to be a Christian and remain curious and skeptical about the world. I found that I could not reconcile the things I found out about nature with the cosmos as described in the Bible.

Further, I came to resent Christians’ hateful obsession with homosexuality. Though I am hetero and cis, I realize that both these things are not of my own choosing. I don’t remember when I chose to be into girls or why I am okay with being stinky old man. I had an epiphany in the eight grade that whatever God I worshiped could not damn people for their sexuality. That would be like damning someone for the color of their skin.

I spent my adolescence trying to reconcile my values and knowledge with Christianity. I wound up discarding lots of Christian doctrine. And then I realized that I should discard the whole thing.

Finding values based in secular morality has not been tough for me. However, realizing that others could not see that their own morality was ultimately secular– they wouldn’t kill  or rape someone because God told them to– was one of the hardest things to deal with.

At one point in my life I was active in the Democratic Party. As an undergraduate I campaigned hard for John Kerry. I had been told that West Virginia was in play, and that I should be doing all I could to get people to vote Democrat.

It turned out that West Virginia had undergone a political sea change in the years in which I was maturing into a young activist. For most of my childhood, no one would admit to being a Republican for fear that you’d be cast in league with Herbert Hoover, the great villain of the 1930s.  But in those years in which I was becoming an adult, the state shifted hard to the right. Fundamentalist Christianity and a dying coal industry were working hard among the rural populace.

I attended college with many kids who were first generation college students. I was aghast at the Iraq War, and many of them were too.

However, when I asked them to vote Democrat, they would say something like “Bush is a Christian.”  I got that answer so often that I wondered if there would ever be any hope for humanity if people could use that religious identification as a justification for political choices.

I was growing more and more skeptical about the world.  And I realized at one point that I needed to let it go.

And I was a quiet atheist for several years, but one day, while perusing the new Youtube on my laptop, I came across Kent Hovind’s lecture “Dinosaurs and the Bible.” The man was an obvious huckster, a true flimflam man from the days patent medicine, who also sold his own patent medicine in the form of laetrile, a supposed cancer cure that is actually the cyanide in the seeds of fruit-bearing plants.

When I finished watching that monstrosity, I was certain that I could never be brought into believing again. I would have to hide my atheism, but at some point, I did become more public with it.

I am not ashamed that I don’t believe in God and that I never will again. As time marches on, my nation is becoming more and more secular, just like the other formerly majority protestant countries in Europe.  It has just taken the US a lot longer.

The fact that so much of Christianity is now tied up in the worship of Trump pretty much means the eventual downfall of the institution in the United States. His are the politics of the old and angry, stilling holding onto a world that will never exist again.

I will never learn to live in God. I will instead learn to live with the reality that my time is finite. In that finite existence, I must be who I want to be and nothing else. If this is offensive, then you stand to be offended. But I will not hide what I am and what I seek to be.

Someday, I will cease to exist. The same goes for the oak tree that grows tall on a distant ridge. Its acorns feed the deer, the squirrels, the turkeys, and bears. It will live through many generations of its beneficiaries then on some windy day in March, the great wooden edifice will come crashing down. It will decompose into the leaf litter, restoring its elements to the soil from whence it came.

I am no more significant in the grand scheme than an oak or the squirrels that bury its acorns. We are all biotic beings, produced through the great story of evolution.

Who could need anything else? Why invoke some supernatural thing, when the natural explanation is so wondrous and so complete?

And that’s where I fall on that great question. I wager this, because I cannot live in the unlikely wager that the Bible is correct, when it is wrong about so many fundamental things. Not just wrong about biology or cosmology but wrong about moral questions too. Slavery is not condemned in the Bible nor is genocide. Indeed, both are commanded at  various books.

So this is where I stand. A heathen but an intellectually honest one.

 

 

 

Natural History

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