Orang-utans blow raspberries too

April 25th, 2016

WildManOfTheJungleIf you thought that humans were the only animal proficient at blowing a raspberry (a.k.a. voiceless exolabio-lingual trilling*1) think again. Orang-utans, for example*2 can and do blow them, usually when nesting [for reasons as yet unclear to us]. If you would like to hear an orang-utan blowing a raspberry, you’re in luck – the authors of a 2012 PloS ONE paper provide a recording of one (of the 35 which they transcribed in Sumatra and Borneo). [.wav format].

As featured in: Call Cultures in Orang-Utans? Wich SA, Krützen M, Lameira AR, Nater A, Arora N, Bastian ML, et al. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36180


1.  Although the raspberry has been classified (Pike, Kenneth L. (1943). Phonetics: A Critical Analysis of Phonetic Theory and a Technique for the Practical Description of Sounds) as a ‘voiceless exolabio-lingual trill’, implying the use of the tongue, Improbable suggests or contends or possibly even asserts that it’s quite easy to blow one without the use of one’s tongue. Discuss.

2. Raspberry-blowing species include humans, chimpanzees and walruses – you may know of others, in which case you can keep it to yourself, or alternatively, why not let our readers know by commenting below?

Leisurely Chimpanzee Drumming Formally Considered

April 24th, 2016

Some chimpanzees drum, and some humans analyze that:

Charlotte-CureChimpanzee drumming: a spontaneous performance with characteristics of human musical drumming,” Valérie Dufour, Nicolas Poulin, Charlotte Curé [pictured here], and Elisabeth H.M. Sterck, Scientific Reports, vol. 5 2015. (Thanks to Elizabeth Oberzaucher for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the University of Strasbourg, France, at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Strasbourg, France, at Biomedical Primate Research Center, Rijswijk, the Netherlands, and at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, write:


“Here we report an episode of spontaneous drumming by a captive chimpanzee that approaches the structural and contextual characteristics usually found in musical drumming. This drumming differs from most beating episodes reported in this species by its unusual duration, the lack of any obvious context, and rhythmical properties that include long-lasting and dynamically changing rhythms, but also evenness and leisureliness.”

Here’s a recording of some of that drumming:

And here’s detail, from the study, or how it can be visualized graphically:


Scintillating new book about firefly sex (and fireflies)

April 23rd, 2016

Sara Lewis (who gave a 24/7 Lecture about firefly sex, at the recent Ig Nobel Prize ceremony) has a new book out. The book is called Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies.


The Washington Post has one of the first reviews of the book:

…Lewis, who has spent years and traveled the word studying fireflies, tells this and other fairly icky tales with glee — but to be fair, she spends even more of this intense, almost obsessive book describing the radiantly appealing aspects of the firefly world…

…There’s more — including a chapter on how Japan, with a long tradition of loving and capturing fireflies, brought them back from near extinction in part via commercial breeding houses. And how Tokyo, where no fireflies survive, stages an annual festival with the aid of 100,000 solar-powered, glowing table-tennis balls taking the place of the living creatures. It’s all pretty amazing.

BONUS: Here’s the TED Talk Sara Lewis gave about firefly sex:

Mischief and its legal logic (back when)

April 23rd, 2016

Mischief, despite the modern aura of fun that the word has acquired, can be a serious matter. A book called A penal code prepared by the Indian law commissioners, and published by command of the governor general of India in council (Bengal Military Orphan Press, 1837), explores some of the legal logical that applied then and there, and in part applies here and now (wherever here is for you) to mischief. It begins:

Of Mischief.

399. Whoever causes the destruction of any property, or any such change in any property, or in the situation of any property, as destroys or diminishes the value of such property, intending thereby to cause wrongful loss to any party, is said, except in the case hereinafter excepted, to commit “mischief.”

Explanation. A person may commit mischief on his own property.

Exception. Nothing is mischief which a person does openly, and with the intention in good faith of thereby saving any person from death or hurt, or of thereby preventing a greater loss of property than that which he occasions….

The book gives several pages of examples of what was to be considered mischief, and what was not.


Introducing the Horse Gyro (new patent)

April 22nd, 2016

Attention horse owners/riders: Does your horse sometimes have the inclination to lean the ‘wrong’ way when ridden? Have you thought about fitting it with a set of gyroscopes? Inventor Greg Collier, of Lubbock, Texas, has been granted a new US patent which might go some way towards alleviating equine equilibria insufficiencies.Patent-Horse-Gyro_02

“This disclosure relates generally to a system and method of use of gyroscopic forces on animal equilibrium. Animal training systems are well known and the mechanics and use of gyroscopic forces are also well known. However, the combination and use of these arts are as yet unexplored as herein disclosed.“

The full extent of the invention’s potential can (perhaps only) be fully appreciated by reading the patent, entitled : ‘System and method of use of gyroscopic forces on animal equilibrium’