What do sheepdogs and robots have in common? It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but actually, there’s a real connection! By studying sheepdogs and understanding the way they manipulate herds of sheep, researchers are learning how to create models that will mimic these strategies and improve the efficiency of robots.
Researchers fitted sheep and sheepdogs with GPS devices on harnesses to attempt to develop a mathematical model for herding. They found that sheepdogs use two main rules when working: 1) collect the sheep when they’re scattered and 2) move them forward when they’re all together. It’s surprisingly simple- and it’s more efficient than many current models that have been attempted! The dogs are constantly reviewing the situation in front of them to determine if the sheep are gathered together enough to drive forward, and if not, they herd them closer together. Using these two rules, a dog can herd over 100 individual animals, but current robot models can only handle groups of about 40. The understanding gained from these dogs may change that!
Learning from sheepdogs can likely make a big difference in the development of computer models and robots created for herding, cleaning the environment, and crowd control. As usual, I’m amazed at the knowledge that we’re able to gain by studying man’s best friend!
Science can surprise you. And inspiration can come from anywhere. Biomechanics researcher at Brown University, Thomas Roberts, is proof of that! While looking at records in the Guinness Book of World Records with his son, something didn’t seem quite right. Scientific studies had previously shown the maximum distance of a frog’s jump to be around 1 m, but the world record showed jumps of over 2m.
So Roberts did some creative research of his own at a local county fair. Hours of video recording and observation showed that previous research had obviously underestimated frog jumping performance. You may be asking yourself, “Why should I really care about jumping frogs?”- but trust me, there’s a good reason to care. Frogs are often studied for their relevance in muscle performance, and they can be a very accurate model for human physiology studies.
Observing frogs at the fair seems like pretty unconventional animal research, but it proved to be extremely helpful! Based on observations, it seems that leg muscle isn’t the only factor in contributing to jumping distances, and this could help us understand physiological traits of other animals- including humans. Here’s to thinking- and jumping- outside the box!
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably had several experiences where you FREAK OUT at others’ lack of caution with your (or their!) kids. From allowing your 5-year-old to ride a bike without a helmet, showing a PG-13 movie at an 8-year-old’s sleepover, tossing your infant in the air WAY too high for comfort, or letting your 2-year-old experiment with throwing random items into a toilet to see what will happen, moms everywhere have laundry lists of “NO-NO’s” that are usually not followed by dads other caregivers.
But let me introduce you to a dad who will DEFINITELY not win a father of the year award. Meet the male dyeing poison frog- after his baby tadpoles hatch, he carries the newborns to pools of water with older, cannibalistic tadpoles, drops them in, hops away, and hopes for the best.
Moms everywhere just went “WHAAAT?” But hear him out- just like your significant other caregivers you might know, they have what they think is a REALLY GOOD REASON for this. Apparently, they have a pretty good probability of surviving (although definitely not high enough to make moms happy), and since those older, cannibalistic tadpoles are growing and healthy, the pool must be a good spot.
Learning about the evolution of this strange reasoning could help researchers understand this behavior- both in frogs and in humans. And maybe now you’ll think that letting your little one experiment with toilet science isn’t quite as big of a deal…
Most people don’t have the opportunity to observe prairie dogs hanging out in groups in the wild. But if you did, you’d notice that they are playing an EPIC game- a combination of Marco/ Polo and “the wave” that was so popular at ballparks in the 90s.
Out of nowhere, prairie dogs will hop up on their back legs, stick their little hands up in the air, and yell “wee-oo!” And immediately, their buddies will all begin to answer them with a “wee-oo!” response, starting a wave of this behavior across the group. Seriously, you need to watch the videos of this below- it’s pretty cute.
So… why? It’s not just a fun way to pass the time- it’s also a way to check in on their buddies and make sure that everyone’s doing ok. It’s been described as a “test of their emergency broadcast system,” and as long as the one who called “Marco” gets a lot of “Polo” responses, they chill out. But if their friends fail to respond to the roll call, everyone is more alert for possible danger.
This Marco/Polo game shows that prairie dogs are cognizant of the mental states of individuals in their group- and understanding more about their social behavior is pretty cool!