Making the headlines: giant toads, driving dogs, rhythmic rats and demented dolphins
Several vehicles had been rammed by a recklessly driven SUV
DOG AT THE WHEEL!
Responding to reports of mayhem in a Walmart parking lot in Kilgore, Texas, police found several vehicles had been rammed by a recklessly driven SUV. When they approached the vehicle to apprehend the driver, they found that it was a dog. It seemed that the animal had been left in the vehicle while his owners shopped, and, having got bored, started jumping around the car. “He apparently got a little antsy and bounced around the cab setting this truck in motion,” the police said. “The steering column had some prior damage and this pooch must have placed the vehicle in drive.” He was also wearing a lead, and this appears to have snagged on the parking brake and released it, allowing the car to pinball around the car park. “It doesn’t sound feasible, but an eyewitness saw the pooch behind the wheel just before the crash. He certainly has a guilty look on his face,” police commented. fox5nyc.com, 2 Dec 2022.
RATS GOT RHYTHM
Humans were once thought to be the only organism that could recognise the beat of a song and synchronise the movements of their body to it, a behaviour known as beat synchronisation, but a few years ago it was confirmed that parrots do it too. Now, Hirokazu Takahashi, from the University of Tokyo, has found that rats bob their heads in time to music as well and respond to the same tempos that humans do. They made their discovery by tracking the motions of animals with wireless accelerometers while playing them various pieces of music, including Mozart, Lady Gaga and Queen at different speeds. They expected that body size would affect the tempos to which the rats would respond, with the smaller creatures reacting to higher speeds, but they found that all rats preferred the 120 to 140 beats per minute that humans like. sciencenews.org, 23 Nov 2022.
Since it was introduced in 1935, the cane toad has become one of Australia’s most resilient and destructive pests. Brought in to combat the cane beetle that was plaguing sugar cane crops, the toads showed scant interest in eating the insects and instead took to massacring the local wildlife, partly by eating them and partly by poisoning anything that tried to eat them with toxic secretions. Now numbering in their hundreds of millions, all attempts at eradication have utterly failed to stem the march of the cane toads. Recently, park ranger Kylee Gray found a monster cane toad so massive she at first thought it was a fake.
She discovered the giant female, six times the size of an average toad, in a Queensland rainforest. “I’ve never seen anything so big,” she said. “[It looked] almost like a football with legs. We dubbed it Toadzilla.” Her team grabbed the huge toad and took it back to base for weighing, where they found it came in at a humungous 2.7kg (6lb), which makes it a likely world record breaker. The current Guinness World Record for the largest toad is 2.65kg (5.8lb), set by a pet toad named Prinsen in Sweden in 1991. Grey said that Toadzilla, who could have been up to 15 years old, would have reached her record weight on a diet of insects, reptiles and small mammals: “A cane toad that size will eat anything it can fit into its mouth.” The giant toad has since been euthanised and donated to Queensland Museum. BBC News, 20 Jan 2023.
Phil and Jane Carter of Ilkeston, Derbyshire, were surprised to find a two-legged fox on their lawn. “We had about five minutes of it going around the lawn smelling and picking up some meat and then off it went like a rocket,” said Mr Carter. They contacted the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust who looked at their phone footage of the animal and said, “We’ve never seen anything like this in the wild before, but the animal looks relatively healthy and appears to have adapted to life on two legs.” Initially it was thought that the fox might have lost the other legs in an accident, but on seeing the video, TV Wildlife expert Mike Dilger said, “I think it’s probably a genetic abnormality or disorder, so it’s probably happened from birth rather than as a result of an injury.” He explained: “The reason I think that is because it’s so adept. Its poise, balance and control is astonishing – the way it can go up on those two forelimbs and actually still eat.” BBC News, 4+5 Jan 2023.
Scientists investigating cetacean strandings are potentially a step closer to understanding why the animals beach themselves. Scientists from a consortium of Scottish universities examined the brains of 22 cetaceans from five species – Risso’s dolphins, long-finned pilot whales, whitebeaked dolphins, harbour porpoises and bottlenose dolphins – that had stranded themselves on Scottish beaches. They found that four of the animals had brains showing damage similar to that caused by Alzheimer’s disease in humans. As a result, they believe it is possible that some mass strandings could be caused by a sick leader, suffering from the cetacean equivalent of dementia, becoming confused and leading their pods to their deaths on beaches or in shallow water. Professor Tara Spires-Jones, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “We were fascinated to see brain changes in aged dolphins similar to those in human ageing and Alzheimer’s disease. Whether these pathological changes contribute to these animals stranding is an interesting and important question for future work.” telegraph.co.uk, 19 Dec 2022.