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Scientists can now teach birds to sing new songs by implanting false memories Scientists can now teach birds to sing new songs by implanting false memories


Scientists can now teach birds to sing new songs by implanting false memories

It’s fascinating – if not a little scary.



Everybody loves the sound of birdsong. It’s a reminder that a new day has dawned and brought new opportunities with it.

Having said that, it’s OK to admit – hearing the same tunes chirped over and over can become wearisome. You’re not alone if you have ever wished for a little variety in your morning wake-up call.

Perhaps this what inspired scientists to implant false memories of new songs into the brains of birds. The science behind the concept sounds like the blockbuster movie Inception brought to life. It’s fascinating – if not a little scary.

How did scientists implant memories of new songs in the minds of birds?

The technique used is called optogenetics. In a nutshell, optogenetics is the process of using light to stimulate brain neurons. Particular neurons are activated as long as a light is shone directly on them. This can enhance memory and understanding.

The scientists applied this to birdsong by playing tunes to young birds. Ordinarily, baby birds learn songs from their parents and other adults. Just like it takes a human 10,000 hours to become an expert musician, baby birds repeat what they hear time and again until they perfect it.

In this case of this study, young birds were played songs they had never heard before. While the optogenetic light was shone upon these birds, they memorized and imitated the melodies.

These two steps – remembering and copying – are critical to any learning behavior. These birds are breaking away from millennia of ingrained behavior by imitating songs that were unique to them.

The birds were only taught basic song structures and lengths. Also, it should be noted that the subjects were played existing birdsongs that were unfamiliar to them personally. It’s not as though a laboratory engineer booted up Spotify and taught a whole new pop culture songbook. All the same, it’s a step forward in our understanding of memory and learning.

Could this research apply to humans?


We’re a long way from this research changing the lives of humans. Our brains are considerably larger and more complex than that of a common garden bird. That leaves optogenetics with a significantly tougher task to make a difference.

However, there is potential for advances in human learning based on these experiments. The mind of a human child works in a similar way to that of a baby bird. We learn through listening and imitation.

If our parents speak with a strong regional accent, we will too. If an adult around us uses a particular phrase or word frequently, it will seep into our own vocabulary. Even physical attributes, such as the way that we walk and our body posture, are often learned.

The big breakthrough of this research is confirmation that particular parts of the brain can be reached to forge new memories. With more time and research, this could be transferred to humans.

Don’t panic – intentions behind this are benevolent. We are not talking about mind control or anything like it. The techniques may help speech development, though. Individuals that struggle to articulate themselves may be able to discover new words rapidly.

This research could also change the way that new languages are learned. It’s commonly stated that adults find it trickier to learn a new language than children. By activating brain neurons, we may all be able to tap into a child-like sponge brain that absorbs new information.

If optogenetics can help us learn, can they also make us forget?

No. The technique of optogenetics is essentially bolstering and boosting human memory. Firing up and activating neurons makes it easier to retain information at a faster rate. It is not impacting the make-up of our brain or memory in any way.

This could be a blow to combat veterans with PTSD or anybody else with traumatic memories they would be happy to part with. This study may open the door to new coping techniques, however.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is hugely popular with many therapists. It’s used to aid anybody with a mental health concern, whether that’s the PTSD as mentioned above, OCD, or anything else on the DSM spectrum.

Using optogenetics, CBT can be learned and ingrained into a daily routine much faster. This could aid recovery times, and lead to a brighter future for anybody struggling with a daily routine.

As discussed, we’re a long way from mastering this technique in humans. The first step has been taken, though, and it’s an important one. Listen carefully to the birds in the sky tomorrow morning. If you’re unfamiliar with their ditty of choice, you are gaining a glimpse into the future.

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How animals experience pain could relate to personality, just as in humans

It’s important to understand how an animal is feeling – especially if it’s in pain.



How animals experience pain could relate to personality, just as in humans

Physical pain is a complicated thing. Pain thresholds differ from person to person. Some women can go through childbirth, barely making a peep. Somebody else may shout and curse the house down when they bang their elbow on a doorframe.

The reason for this is comparatively simple. Physical pain is linked to emotion. This is how we learn to avoid it again in the future. This means that our personality type dictates how we will respond to pain.

Ultimately, we are all slaves to our instincts. The same goes for our pets. This is where the link between humans and animals comes in. By understanding your pet’s personality, you’ll know whether your beloved companion is hiding pain and suffering from you.

Personality, pain, and pleasure

Dr. Carrie Ijichi is a Senior Lecturer in Animal Behavior and Welfare at Britain’s Nottingham Trent University. Dr. Ijichi was provided with funding by the UK’s Department of Education and Learning to conduct a study into the links between personality types and pain.


Dr. Ijichi found that a more extroverted personality type will always be significantly more vocal about any pain they experience. In many respects, this is similar to how such an individual denotes any pleasure.

At the upper echelon of personality types, we have somebody that is extroverted and a little neurotic. If you follow the Myers-Briggs personality type model, this could be an ENTJ or an ESFP. If these individuals were to stub their toe on a coffee table, they will likely shout, scream, hop around the room and tell everybody in the vicinity to be careful – that table is a deathtrap.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have reflective and thoughtful types. Again, to follow the Myers-Briggs model, these might fall under the INFJ or INTP banner. These individuals are likely to retain a sense of stoicism in the face of physical adversity. They’ll take a deep breath, swallow down any expletives that would otherwise escape their lips, and give the coffee table a wide berth for a while.

Dr. Ijichi devised this diagram, which makes the distinction even easier to understand.

Photo by Dr. Carrie Ijichi


The emotional response to pain is primarily for our own benefit. We forge a strong connection in our minds between the physical and emotional reactions to stimuli. If something hurts, we’ll try to avoid doing it again.

How does this relate to pets, though?

Just like humans, pets develop their personalities and reactions to adversity over time. Sometimes, this is connected to the person that a pet shares their life with. You will surely have noticed that a nervous owner tends to be accompanied by a fretful animal companion.

Sometimes, though, it’s just nature and instinct. Take the domesticated cat as an example. Cats are hardwired to hide and disguise any physical pain. Unlike a dog, who will often race to a human for comfort and reassurance when hurt, cats maintain a poker face and hide until the sensation passes. In the mind of a cat, revealing pain is a sign of weakness.

As animal wellbeing is Dr. Ijichi’s core area of interest, she devised two studies. The first, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, investigated the impact of lameness in horses. The second, published by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, looked into how dogs behaved in the aftermath of castration surgery.

Why horses and dogs? Because unlike cats, who are predominantly introverted by nature, both of these species encompass a wide range of personality types. The studies proved that the reaction of animals to pain mirrors that of humans. More extroverted pets will make it evident that they are in pain. Introverted and anxious pets, meanwhile, are more likely to mask their discomfort.

What is the take-home message?

Ultimately, we need to remember these different reactions when assessing the behavior of our pets. This means that we’ll be able to take better care of our companions and know when – and what – they are trying to communicate with us.

The sad truth is that pain can prove seriously detrimental to an animal’s quality of life. It’s not a subject that anybody likes to think about, but this sometimes means that euthanasia is the most humane approach. By understanding how our pets communicate chronic and constant pain, we’ll be forewarned about when this may become a reality.

Overall, however, understanding the relationship between animal behavior and pain means that we may never reach this stage. We can, at least, hope to minimize the likelihood.

By understanding how an animal responds to pain, we’ll know if earlier intervention is necessary. In some cases, this may prolong the life of our pets. These critters rely on us for everything, after all. It’s our responsibility to ensure that we understand what they are going through and to react accordingly.

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Inside St. Tiggywinkles, Europe’s largest wildlife hospital

St. Tiggywinkles is the largest animal hospital in Europe.



Inside St. Tiggywinkles, Europe’s largest wildlife hospital

Hospitals can often be upsetting places. Cold, sterile, and packed with bad memories for many, you’d hardly be alone if you prefer to steer clear of such a building.

The exception to this rule is St. Tiggywinkles, a wildlife hospital in England. St. Tiggywinkles, named after the titular hedgehog of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, is the largest establishment of its kind in Europe.

The patients of this hospital are among the most vulnerable in the world, and it’s an undeniably charming place to spend some time. Take a tour yourself by watching this video.

Is an animal hospital a veterinary surgery?

You’d be forgiven for thinking so, but there are some very clear and distinctive differences between the two. Unlike a conventional vet, St. Tiggywinkles doesn’t treat domesticated cats and dogs.

Instead, the surgeons and nurses of his hospital specializes in helping and rehabbing injured and sick wild animals. This is a vastly different skill set, requiring a unique and bespoke knowledge base.


The hospital is located in Haddenham, a sleepy village located some fifty miles from London. Haddenham, like many rural English locations, is home to a variety of wildlife. The village hosts many ponds, in which Aylesbury ducks are bred, while wild deer, frogs, and toads and countless wild rodents also live within the greenlands.

It all sounds idyllic, but unfortunately, it’s not always this way for the local animals. Haddenham is still home to humans, which leads to traffic accidents and the destruction of habitats. Concerned by the impact that humans were having on the animal population of his town, Les Stocker was inspired to create St. Tiggywinkles.

Who was Les Stocker?

Stocker was a wildlife campaigner that felt strongly about saving the lives of animals harmed by humans, regardless of whether this was by accident or design.

Along with his wife and son, Stocker formed the Wildlife Hospital Trust in his garden shed in 1983. The focus of the family was rehabilitating small animals that were injured crossing the road in Haddenham.

In 1984, Haddenham suffered a drought. This had a significant impact on the local hedgehog population. As the Stocker’s had amassed quite a reputation by his point, sick and thirsty hedgehogs were frequently brought to their door.

Stocker set up a special wing of his hospital, dubbed St. Tiggywinkles, especially for treating the stricken hedgehogs. The name stuck, even when the hospital was relocated to vastly larger premises.

Les Stocker continued to campaign for animal welfare until his death in 2016, earning numerous awards for his efforts. In 1989 he published a book entitled Something in a Cardboard Box, which taught people how to care for wildlife. The St. Tiggywinkles hospital also remains a lasting tribute to his legacy.

How does St. Tiggywinkles operate?

The majority of patients treated at St. Tiggywinkles are brought in by the general public. Hedgehogs continue to make up the bulk of animals that require treatment at the facility. These small critters are joined by birds, deer, frogs, field mice, snakes, and rabbits, however. The staff of the hospital are trained to treat all manner of wildlife.

St. Tiggywinkles operates a straightforward policy. Every animal they treat is rehabilitated, then released back into the wild as soon as it’s safe. No matter how adorable the animal may be, and how much the surgeons and nurses bond with them, the intention is to save lives and boost conservation. Anything else would be deemed inappropriate.

Impact injuries are the most common ailment. As a rural community, animals, and humans live side-by-side in Haddenham. Animals and cars have a more acrimonious relationship, though. The wildlife can be struck by a car, leading to broken limbs or wings. Due to the reputation of St. Tiggywinks, any impact in the area usually results in the admission of a new patient.

Who pays for all this?

As a registered charity, the financial implications of St. Tiggywinks are taken care of by donations. The establishment returns this generosity in spades. Not only are essential animals kept alive, but the hospital doubles up as an educational facility.

Offering expert advice, the team at St. Tiggywinkles ensures that anybody knows how to react when encountering a sick wild animal. Armed with this information, we can all make a difference in our own small way.

The spirit of this hospital is mirrored in wildlife rehabilitation centers all over the world. By caring for small animals that can’t care for themselves, we can take small steps to make up for the damage that we do to the planet.

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A lost continent has been discovered, buried beneath Europe

The globe is made up of seven continents. At least, that’s what we’ve always known.



A lost continent has been discovered, buried beneath Europe

In a world of opinions, it’s always reassuring to rely on cold, hard facts. Some matters are beyond dispute, such as the fact that the world is divided into seven continents.

This was not always the case, however. An eighth continent, measuring around 840,000 square miles, has been discovered beneath Europe.

It’s claimed that this landmass was pushed into this location over a hundred million years ago. For comparison, that was long before the dinosaurs were wiped out.

How could an entire continent go unnoticed for so long? 

That’s a fair question. To answer it, we need to delve into history.

Around 200 million years ago, there was just one ‘supercontinent’ in the world. This was known as Pangea.

Over time, Pangea began to break apart thanks to pressure and movement from tectonic plates beneath the Earth’s surface. This created two new territories. Laurasia, which we now know as the Northern Hemisphere, and Gondwana, aka the southern hemisphere.

Gondwana was comprised of what would become Australasia, Africa, Antarctica, and South America. At the time, however, there was a fifth continent amid the landmass. This has been dubbed Greater Adria by the scientists that discovered it.

Greater Adria is believed to have been roughly the size of Greenland. This is not actually as big as Greenland looks on a map. Due to design complexities, this island is typically represented as the same size as Africa when, in reality, it’s around fourteen times smaller. All the same, it’s large enough to be worthy of noting.

The fate of Greater Adria has been revealed in a recent study. It appears that the continent was half-submerged in water from its genesis. This allowed the continent to move with the oceans.

Over time, the continent began to collide with the land of southern Europe, and the top layer was peeled away. It didn’t take long for Greater Adria to begin sinking thousands of kilometers under sea level. It disappeared beneath Europe, and thus never made it onto a map or globe until now.

However, remnants of this lost eighth continent still remains. It’s believed that mountain ranges such as the Swiss Alps, the Himalayas, the Zagros mountains, and the Apennines were once part of Greater Adria. Even major overground European territories, including Venice and the Istrian peninsula, started out as part of this lost continent.


How was Greater Adria discovered?

The discovery of Greater Adria was no overnight coincidence. It was a result of research that lasted over ten years. Geologists are constantly undertaking such work in the hope of discovering new mineral deposits.

A team of scientists spent this period of time researching the movement of underground tectonic plates across Western Asia, Northern Africa, and Europe. With sufficient skill, knowledge, and determination, geologists can use this data to track movements in the Earth’s magnetic field over millions of years.

Punching this data into a computer and creating a simulation, researchers learned that Greater Adria started out as an extension of Africa. Over the course of around 100 million years, it edged its way toward Europe. Eventually, the continent broke away from the Iberian Peninsula and met its final fate.

Could this happen again? Will other continents break away?

What goes around, comes around. Eventually, as tectonic plates continue to collide, continents will break apart once again. It’s believed that the continents of the world will eventually unite again, forging a supercontinent has been dubbed Pangaea Proxima.

The good/bad news, depending on your perspective, is that none of us will be around to see this. The drastic shift is currently expected to happen some 250 million years from now.

The explanation is an anticipated shrinking of the Atlantic Ocean. Right now, this ocean widens around an inch per year. This is due to the undersea tectonic plates spreading.

Over time, however, it’s assumed that the Atlantic will shrink. This will force continents to collide and eventually merge. It’s believed that Africa, Asia, and Australasia will become one within the next 100 million years. As the lands clash, new mountain ranges will form.

Eventually, the last vestiges of the Atlantic will disappear. This will merge Europe, Antarctica, and the Americas with the existing amalgamation of Africa, Asia, and Australasia. Pangaea Proxima will be born.

Of course, these beliefs are all based around science as we know it. Climate change, and the impact that has on our oceans may yet change everything. As the discovery of Greater Adria confirms, everything we know about the natural world can change without warning.

All we can do is watch and observe with fascination, as yet more secrets of the world around us reveal themselves.

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This underwater creature has hidden mouthful of razor-sharp teeth

There are creatures under the sea that pack more teeth into their mouth that we ever thought possible.



This underwater creature has hidden mouthful of razor-sharp teeth

Anybody with an ounce of sense has a healthy respect for the sea. Humans live on land, marine wildlife dwells underwater, and our worlds were never designed to cross. Exploration of the depths of the ocean is best left to marine biologists and similar professionals.

The main reason for this safety. There are creatures under the sea that pack more teeth into their mouth that we ever thought possible. You’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re referring to sharks here. We’re not.

The fact is, there is an animal with a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth living on every seabed in the world. To add to the fun, this creature doesn’t even bare those teeth until necessary, ensuring they could sneak up on you. We’re referring to the humble sea urchin.

Do I need to add sea urchins to my list of animal phobias?

In fairness, you should probably give them a wide berth anyway. Sea urchins are spiky and can cause a painful puncture to the skin if they attack a human. What’s more, a handful of sea urchins breeds are venomous.

One thing that you won’t need to worry about is being bitten, however. Although sea urchins pack a whole bunch of sharp teeth into their tiny bodies, the creatures will not bite a human. In fact, the teeth are not designed for defense at all.

Sea urchins dwell at the very bottom of the ocean, sustaining themselves on sea cucumbers and common algae. Why would they need sharp teeth if they’re dedicated vegetarians?

The fact is, despite their prickly exterior, sea urchins are a prey species. Numerous aquatic animals, including lobsters, otters, and eels, will feast upon sea urchins. To avoid this, the sea urchins bite down on rocks to hold steady at the bottom of the sea.

A sea urchin’s mouth is located at the bottom of the animal’s body. With five strong, sharp, and interlocking teeth in the mouth, they can gain a firm grip at the base of the ocean by biting onto rocks. From there, the urchins can eventually slip into holes and cavities and hide from predators.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, sea urchins release waste from the top of their head. They basically do everything in reverse.


These must be strong teeth to survive biting into rocks?

Yes, they are. A new study has revealed that a sea urchin’s teeth are not just tough, though. They also constantly sharpen themselves. When a sea urchin bites a solid rock, it’s akin to pushing a kitchen knife blade against a sharpening block.

This is because, unlike human teeth, those of a sea urchin constantly regenerate. As we know, when the enamel coating of a human tooth wears away, it’s gone for good. This causes discoloration and the likelihood of tooth decay and disease. Sea urchins do not have this problem.

The outer coating of a sea urchin’s teeth continually grows. Think of it as being similar to a human fingernail – unless clipped or broken, these teeth just get longer and longer. The lengthier these teeth grow, the more brittle they become. This means that they’ll chip away while the urchin bites on rocks, always leaving new, sharp edges.

This repeats throughout a sea urchin’s lifespan, which is typically as long as 100 years. Many sea urchins live twice as long as this. They’re among the oldest animals on the planet.

This constant replenishing of the animal’s teeth has captured the imagination of scientists. It’s believed that, in studying sea urchins, new advances can be made into the fields of dentistry and artificial teeth.

Sounds good. What else do sea urchins do?

If we’re being honest, not a great deal. One of the reasons that these animals live so long is that they do not over-exert themselves. Most sea urchins will contentedly live out their days hanging out on the ocean floor, eating and watching the world go by.

If you don’t have any reason to handle a sea urchin, leave them be. In addition to the apparent risk of injury, they just don’t like. Handling by humans causes distress to sea urchins, as it leaves them vulnerable to predator attacks.

Despite this, non-poisonous breeds of sea urchins are edible. They are most commonly enjoyed in Japan and Iceland, though seafood restaurants all over the world will serve urchin. Certain territories also consider the eggs of a sea urchin to be a delicacy.

Maybe it’s best to leave these fascinating and beautiful creatures alone, though. It seems that we have plenty to learn from them. Besides, the last thing we need is sea urchins evolving and learning to use those sharp teeth on human infiltrators to their underwater domain.

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A retired military sergeant reunited his service dog with the prison inmate that trained him

Service dogs are a lifesaver for many former military officers.



Not everybody is suited to military life. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women that place their bodies on the line for us each and every day.

Just as a stint in the military is not for everybody, however, servicemen and women often struggle to adapt to civilian life when their tenure draws to a close. A career in the armed forces is very different from a nine-to-five. A period of adaptation is required.

Service animals are key

One way that many former military personnel confronts this is by adopting service animals. Dogs are a common choice, which is hardly surprising. A well-trained dog is loyal to a fault, protective by nature, and makes for a great company.

What’s more, dogs live for routine and structure. In this respect, they’re similar to former military personnel. It’s an unfortunate irony that soldiers often struggle to cope with the freedoms afforded by a lifestyle that they fight so hard to protect.

It’s also been proven by science that dog owners experience fewer health complaints and lower risk of stress and heart-related illness. Anybody that returns from a tour of duty with PTSD will find a service dog to be a blessing. This was certainly the case for Sergeant Bill Campbell.

A man and his dog

Sgt. Campbell retired from active service at the age of 49 following a brain injury. He was also diagnosed with PTSD. Several years in the battlefields of the Middle East will do that to you. Sgt. Campbell was so traumatized that he was afraid even to leave his house.

Sgt. Campbell /

The former soldier was assigned a yellow Labrador by the name of Pax as his service dog, and the two quickly became inseparable. There are few bonds stronger than that of owner and canine, after all.

Pax turned Sgt. Campbell’s life around. It’s a universal truth that dogs need to be walked – and Labradors have plenty of energy to burn. As a result, the former soldier found himself venturing out of the house more and more.


What’s more, Pax understood the situation. He picked up on nervous energy, and always warned his owner of somebody was approaching from behind. Slowly but surely, he began to recover from his traumatic experiences in combat.

Sgt. Campbell’s was determined to thank whoever had trained Pax, and by extentions, changed his entire life. The upbringing and treatment that the dog received ensured that he was in a position to aid somebody that needed him most. When Sgt. Campbell began his search, he was surprised to learn the origins of Pax.

Photo by

You see, just like Sgt. Campbell, Pax had a previous life before entering the civilian world. Before finding his new home, Pax had lived and worked at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

This wasn’t a pooch prison, with Pax being punished for helping himself to one too many treats when his owner’s backs were turned. Bedford Hills is the only maximum-security women’s prison in New York State. Sgt. Campbell took Pax for a visit to meet the inmates that trained him for an emotional reunion.

Photo by

A heartwarming meeting

Pax recognized Laurie Kellog, the inmate that trained and raised him immediately. He was delighted to see her and expressed this way in the only way that dogs know-how. Licks and nuzzles were bestowed with abandon.

Ms. Kellog opened up to Sgt. Campbell and explained how she and Pax had forged such a bond. She was serving a life sentence for murder, but she was also a PTSD sufferer. In Ms. Kellog’s case, this was sparked by years of domestic abuse.

Photo by

Pax joined the prison as part of the Puppies Behind Bars program. Along with 26 other inmates, Ms. Kellog trained Pax and turned him into the loving, attentive, and essential companion that he is today.

Pax taught the inmates how to love and trust again. The inmates, meanwhile, trained Pax in how to care for people with complex emotional needs. Ms. Kellog loved Pax so much that she kept his water bowl in her cell as a memento of their cherished time together.

Photo by

You can watch a video of the reunion below. Just be warned, you’ll need a hanky nearby. This story is the embodiment of the magic of animals. Pax brought together two people with vastly different life experiences that never would have ordinarily crossed paths through a common bond.

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