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No. 133: JAN-FEB 2001

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Animal Miscellany

Animals interact with humans in many curious ways. Here are a few tidbits that we have recently added to our files.

The dark side of black cats. Folklore assures us that black cats are bad luck. There may be something to this notion---at least for some people.

Shahzad Hussain and his colleagues at the Long Island College Hospital in New York gave a questionnaire to 321 allergy sufferers asking them to describe their cats and assess the severity of their symptoms. Those with dark cats were four times as likely to have severe symptoms as people with light-coloured cats. "We were surprised," says Hussain. "So many questions need to be answered."

(Anonymous; "The Dark Side of Black Cats," New Scientist, p. 27, November 4, 2000)

Tales of toppling penguins.

British scientists are heading for the South Atlantic in an attempt to disprove claims that penguins fall over backwards when aircraft fly overhead.

Royal Navy and RAF pilots have been bringing back reports of toppling penguins since the Falklands War in 1982. The flightless birds are said to be so mesmerized by helicopters and jets that they lose their balance as they attempt to keep track of them.

(Tweedie, Neil; "Scientists to Check on Toppling Penguins," The Age, November 2, 2000. As downloaded from the web: www.theage.com.au/frontpage/20001102/A22021-2000Nov2.html. Cr. P. Huyghe)

But a missive from the British Antarctic Survey insists:

...there is no scientific evidence for penguins falling over backwards when helicopters overfly.

(Holden, Constance, ed.; "Prostrate Penguins?" Science, 290:1495, 2000.)

Comment. Some birds are easily mesmerized. For example, one can hypnotize a chicken simply by holding it down on a flat surface for a minute or two. This will sometimes immobilize it for over an hour! (See BBX3-X1 in Biological Anomalies: Birds.)

Magpies pay for their meals.

One day last July, Gill Waring noticed a magpie by the birdbath in her garden in Rosefield Avenue, Bebington, Wirral, Merseyside, after she had put some bread out for the birds. After that the magpie kept returning and she started finding coins around the birdbath. One day she saw it leaving money. After a month, the bird had left 1.70 pounds in denominations including 5p and 2p. Magpies, of course, are attracted to bright objects and have a reputation as thieves.
(Anonymous; "Magpie Leaves Tip," Fortean Times, p. 23, no. 141, December 2000. Source cited: Daily Mail, August 3, 2000)

Comment. The magpie's behavior was exactly opposite that of the pack rats or trade rats of the American Southwest. Pack rats are noted for stealing bright objects from camps and leaving less attractive items in trade.

From Science Frontiers #133, JAN-FEB 2001. � 2001 William R. Corliss

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