Saturday, June 30, 2012

Invasive Species: Apple Snail

An apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata), also known as a miracle snail
Apple snails are native to the Amazon basin on down to parts of Argentina and are quite large-bodied, growing up to ten centimeters. They have become invasive in a large swath of South and Eastern Asia, as well as Guam, the Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, and parts of the continental United States. Introduction has been through the aquarium trade, the nursery trade as eggs attached to plants,and through attempts to use them as a food source. They are also known to escape captivity.

The first transports of this species out of its native range began in the 1980's. After attempts to sell the snails as food, they escaped and began becoming crop pests. The species is known to feed on such plants as rice and taro, causing major damage to important food sources, but they also feed on water chestnut, lotus, and other plants. Since they are aquatic, the species spreads quickly and easily in watery environments. They pose a threat to native plant species in and have been linked to the decline of several species of native snail. Mainly due to crop damage, the economic losses these snails have caused in some countries are huge.

Egg mass, scale 5cm
The most important management method thus far is prevention. Spread of the snails must be prevented, particularly to potentially vulnerable areas such as wetlands in India and Australia. Simple things such as copper barriers have proven effective at preventing spread of infestations. Eradication of the pest is done where possible, but cannot be done when there are too many snails. As much as possible, egg masses and hatched snails are removed from effected areas. So far this has been the most viable form of control. Other methods, such as pesticides and biological controls via predators, have not worked out so well. One big concern for any of these methods involves concerns over the environment. Hand removal, on the other hand, as minimal effect if any.

This species is currently on the list of 100 World's Worst Invasives at #73

Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are under a Creative Commons license or are copyright free: one, two.

Dog Food Review: Evo

This is the seventh of the dog food review series I'm doing.

Evo Turkey & Chicken Formula
Dog Food Advisor rating: ★★★★★
This food is AAFCO approved for adult maintenance.

The bag
Ingredients: Turkey, Chicken, Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Potatoes, Herring Meal, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols, a Natural Source of Vitamin E), Natural Flavors, Eggs, Apples, Tomatoes, Potassium Chloride, Carrots, Vitamins (Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E Supplement, Betaine Hydrochloride, Vitamin A Supplement, Niacin Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Beta Carotene, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Biotin, Folic Acid), Cottage Cheese, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Calcium Iodate), Alfalfa Sprouts, Dried Chicory Root, Direct-Fed Microbials (Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product)

Items in italics will be discussed later. 

Bag's recommended daily feeding for a dog 80 lbs: 2 7/8 cups
Crude Protein: minimum of 42.0%
Crude Fat: minimum of 22.0%
Crude Fiber: maximum of 2.5%
Moisture: maximum of 10.0%
Calorie content: 537 kcal/cup, 4,243 kcal/kg
Calculated amount to maintain Ebon's ideal weight (82.5 lbs): 3.10 cups or 0.39 kg (0.858 lbs)
Price per pound when buying the largest bag (28.6 lbs at $61.99): $2.1674
Estimated cost of feeding Ebon per year on this food: $678.79 (10.95 of the 28.6 lb bags)
Ebon receives slightly less than the calculated feeding amount to allow for his daily treats
Ebon's overall health on this food: Very good. Shiny coat, poop small and compact, energy level rather high.

The kibble
I started transitioning from Ebon's old food on June 10th, and I started transitioning him off of this food yesterday. The kibble itself is nice and big and smells incredibly meaty. Since the food is so heavy on the meat content, this only makes sense. Some nice things to see in this food: chelated minerals and probiotics. Chelated minerals are believed to be more easily absorbed and used by the body than non-chelated minerals, and probiotics/microorganisms help maintain good gut flora to provide for better digestion.

I'm extremely happy with this food. Once I stopped over-feeding him (partly due to transitioning him from a larger quantity of food) he did wonderfully. During the first few days when he was getting up to a half cup more than he should have, he had an odd combination of very firm, compact stools followed by some soft stuff. I suspect this was due to him only digesting what he needed as the softness was almost the same amount as the extra food. Once I worked him down to the approximately three cups he needed (allowing for his daily treats) he did really great and had no more softness. The transition to the smaller amount did take him a little time, though. I had to time my treat giving to about halfway between meals or he would do some "my stomach is very empty" hurk-ing. After about a week, though, this went away as well.

I know that I talk about poop a lot when doing these reviews, but it's a good way of telling how someone is digesting their food. On this food, Ebon's stool has been the most compact that it's ever been. This is thanks mostly to the components of the food. For one, there aren't any protein- or fat-boosting plant ingredients and so these components of the food are almost completely coming from animal sources. This means that the protein is more complete, unlike most vegetable proteins which are missing some essential amino acids. Also, since dogs have short digestive tracts (as carnivores will), they aren't made to digest vegetable matter. Animal-based ingredients are more easily digestible and they can use more of what they take in than in foods that are heavy on plant products (including fruits, vegetables, and grains). This food is the highest in protein of any kibble I have ever seen. It's high in fat too and the dry matter content is actually less than 25% carbs. This is amazingly low for a kibble.

Ebon's energy level was a bit higher on this food. He had a lot more spazzy moments than he usually does and I was reminded of how he was at about three. He still has soft stools when he's stressed, but that's pretty normal. However, it is softer than what I usually see. Despite this, as long as I manage his stress his issues are few and far between (and less and less as I continue to work on desensitizing him to situations that stress him out). The only major downside on this food? The gas! Ebon had more gas than usual and my goodness did his farts ever stink. From what I've seen, this is a common concern.

Will I change foods? We'll see. Next up: Innova, because the cat once again got to a bag of food.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: Fruitables

Ebon doing his Paws Up for some Apple Bacon Fruitables
I mentioned after my disgust at dog treats made in China that I would be going out and buying some new treats as replacements. I did some searching and found the Fruitables brand, which is made in the U.S. Though I had been looking for sweet potato chips, the brand intrigued me. After opening up and trying out the first bag, I went a bit overboard then next time I was at the pet store and saw they had discounted some Fruitables treats. I now have four of their products and two other kinds of treats, which I'll be discussing when I empty out some of my storage containers and can open the packages. On to the treats!

Sweet Potato Pecan (Crunchy Oven Baked)

Crude Protein: minimum of 8.0%
Crude Fat: minimum of 6.0%
Crude Fiber: maximum of 8.0%
Moisture: maximum of 10.0%

Ingredients: Sweet Potato, Organic Oatmeal, Pearled Barley, Oat Fiber, Canola Oil, Brown Sugar, Pecans, Cinnamon, Natural Flavor, Vanilla, Mixed Tocopherols

Pumpkin Mango (Chewy Skinny Minis)

Crude Protein: minimum of 8.0%
Crude Fat: minimum of 5.0%
Crude Fiber: maximum of 5.0%
Moisture: maximum of 28.0%

Ingredients: Pumpkin, Oatmeal, Ground Brown Rice, Tapioca Starch, Vegetable Glycerin, Ground Potatoes, Brown Sugar, Canola Oil, Ground Oats, Mangos, Gelatin, Cinnamon, Salt, Natural Mango Flavor, Phosphoric Acid, Sorbic Acid (a preservative), Mixed Tocopherols (a preservative), Rosemary Extract.

Apple Bacon (Chewy Skinny Minis)

Crude Protein: minimum of 8.8%
Crude Fat: minimum of 5.5%
Crude Fiber: maximum of 5.0%
Moisture: maximum of 28.0%

Ingredients: Sweet Potatoes, Oatmeal, Ground Brown Rice, Tapioca Starch, Vegetable Glycerin, Ground Potatoes, Brown Sugar, Canola Oil, Bacon, Ground Oats, Apples, Gelatin, Cinnamon, Salt, Natural Bacon Flavor, Phosphoric Acid, Sorbic Acid (a preservative), Mixed Tocopherols (a preservative), Rosemary Extract

YamBerry (Chewy Skinny Minis)

Crude Protein: minimum of 8.0%
Crude Fat: minimum of 5.0%
Crude Fiber: maximum of 5.0%
Moisture: maximum of 28.0%

Ingredients: Sweet Potatoes, Oatmeal, Ground Brown Rice, Tapioca Starch, Vegetable Glycerin, Ground Potatoes, Brown Sugar, Canola Oil, Ground Oats, Blueberries, Gelatin, Cinnamon, Salt, Natural Blueberry Flavor, Phosphoric Acid, Sorbic Acid (a preservative), Mixed Tocopherols (a preservative), Rosemary Extract

So, why do I love these treats so much? For one, these are the best smelling dog treats I have ever found. I bought the Sweet Potato Pecan and Pumpkin Mango treats first, and with both of them I opened the bags and went "mmmmm." The Sweet Potato Pecan ones smell wonderfully buttery with a hint of cinnamon and the Pumpkin Mango ones smell strongly of cinnamon and mango. Most often, treats have a fairly faint smell so these were almost startlingly strong. I had the same reaction with the Apple Bacon, which smell of bacon with a touch of sweetness, and the YamBerry, which smell of blueberries and a hint of cinnamon.

These treats are also the perfect size for training (if the crunchy ones are broken in half) and, due to their low caloric content (3.5 calories per chewy, 9 calories per crunchy so 4.5 when broken), I don't feel bad about giving Ebon a fair number during training sessions (an average session is about fifteen tiny treats). I've found myself buying a lot of treats meant for small dogs due to these reasons. Also, Ebon absolutely adores them. The smell definitely excited him and every time I open one of the containers I keep them in his nose starts sniffing and his tails starts wagging. These were the treats I used while training Ebon to retrieve his leash and I suspect part of the reason he learned so quickly is thanks to him being highly motivated by the treats. The treat on Ebon's nose on that post is actually an Apple Bacon chewy.

The Fruitables chewy treats may end up being a permanent fixture in my dog treat collection. If nothing else, they satisfy my want for a sweet rather than savory treat to give on occasion. Right now the treats I'm feeding are almost exclusively from these four, but I don't plan to get this crazy again. It wasn't my intention to completely switch to treats with so much sugar, but that's what ended up happening. Both of the unopened treat bags I have are savory, so we'll have to see how Ebon likes those.

Unusual Breed: Jämthund

The Jämthund is also known as the Swedish Elkhound
Today's unusual breed is actually quite popular in its native Sweden: the Jämthund. Currently, it's really unusual to find the breed in such countries as the United States. This breed and the Norwegian Elkhound were apparently once considered to be one and the same and were shown together. The FCI has considered them to be separate breeds since 1941, with the standards calling for the Jämthund to be significantly larger. Hunting needs required a larger, more powerful dog as Jämthunds were expected to not just hunt elk, but to do such things as take on a bear.

Standards for the Jämthund seem to emphasize a strong, sturdy, capable dog. Interestingly enough, there are a number of marked points that now differentiate this breed from the Norwegian Elkhound, including such things as tail curl and some notes on facial structure. Temperament calls for an energetic dog that is courageous and capable, but also very calm. There is a strict color standard, allowing only one color with specifics to where the pale markings on the dog must be, and also what they look like. Some of the traits deemed unfavorable are also interesting, such as not fitting the aforementioned color standard and having anything other than a loosely curled tail with fur that's rather profuse. The really is a lot of mention of coat markings and the tail.

As for health in this breed, I have found evidence of hip dysplasia, thyroid issues, renal issues, cysts, and progressive retinal atrophy.

Sources are Fédération Cynologique Internationale, United Kennel Club, PubMed, MyPets, and Svenska Jämthundklubben. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Crazy Plants: Blue Agave

A blue agave plant (Agave tequilana) in Mexico
L. nivalis
Blue agave is a succulent plant native to Mexico whose common name comes from the blueish tint that can been seen in the leaves. The plant's reproduction is the same as other members of the Agave genus, after maturing at five to eight years. the plant sends up a long stalk that sprouts flowers at the top. These flowers are pollinated by the native Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis). A single plant is capable to producing thousands of seeds.

Despite some other interesting aspects to the plant, what is perhaps its best-known characteristics is the aguamiel (aka "honey water") found in the plant's core. This liquid substance is very sweet and has been used for years in the plant's native range for folk remedies. When processed, the aguamiel is turned into agave nectar, which has lately been touted for its supposed health benefits. Despite claims that the syrupy sweetener is healthier than other forms of sugar and friendlier to diabetics, there isn't much evidence that agave nectar has any health advantages. Though blue agave appears to be one of the main sources of agave nectar, other agave species are also used.

A core harvested for tequila making
Though agave nectar has received much press lately, it is far better known in its fermented form: tequila. That's right: blue agave is also known as the tequila agave or tequila plant as its aguamiel is used to produce the distilled beverage. Though other agave species can be used for production of agave nectar, only blue agave can legally be used for tequila making. Production is very labor intensive, requiring many steps to get from the plant to a bottle of alcohol. Those who choose to imbibe in tequila either in straight or mixed form shouldn't be left unaware of how much effort goes into that drink.

It's also true that without pollination by the long-nosed bat, there would be no new generations of blue agave to make into tequila. So, thank bats and thank the workers the next time you drink a little tequila. I, personally, cannot stand the stuff.

Sources are the University of Connecticut, Dave's Garden, Botanical Journeys Plant Guides, WebMD, USDA, and ITIS. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are under Creative Commons licenses or copyright free: one, two, three.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Goodbye, Lonesome George

A photograph of Lonesome George taken in 2006
Today there has been another animal extinction. Lonesome George, the last remaining member of the Pinta Island giant tortoise subspecies (Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni) was found dead in his enclosure this morning. He was estimated to be one hundred years old, still a young adult.

George in 2007
George's story has been rather a sad one. Pinta Island tortoises were believed to be lost to the world when a survey in the 1960's was done to see what could be done to protect the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. Much to the surprise of scientists, a single tortoise was found on Pinta Island in 1971. They named him George and he was removed to a research station and much effort was put into finding him a mate to keep the subspecies alive. Despite a hefty reward, no female was ever found. Attempts to have him mate with other subspecies produced only infertile eggs.

Lonesome George has become a symbol of failing species in the years that he has lived as the last remaining member of his own species. There are many species that are in serious trouble and not far away from having a fate identical to that of George and the rest of the Pinta Island tortoises. All species play and important role in their environment and there's no way to know what impact their extinction will have until they are gone. Like Jenga, there is no way of telling how many blocks can be taken out before the entire system collapses. This is why every species is precious and vital to the welfare of ecosystems. We have had success stories in the past, and hopefully conservation will keep many species from suffering the same fate as Lonesome George.

George's cause of death has yet to be determined, and a necropsy will be performed. There are plans to have his body embalmed. The demise of his species can be attributed to hunting for food and the eating of eggs by introduced species such as rats and wild pigs.

Sources are the BBC, Huffington Post, The Independent, and Tortoise Trust. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Too Hot

Ebon during a water break
I took Ebon back to the state park today, taking my mother and significant other with me. I was hoping to go when it was fairly cool, but as it turned out we ended up at the park during the hottest part of the day. The high today was 89, but with 56% humidity and a UV index of 10 the heat index got up to 94. We took plenty of water, but the day had to be cut short with an expected five to eight mile walk shortened to just three. Why? Poor Ebon couldn't take it.

After he stopped
It's been cool lately and he hasn't carried a weighted pack in at least a month. I thought he would be fine carrying the eight or so pounds he had (~10% of his body weight) as long as we drank plenty of water. However, he didn't seem to want to drink much water when we stopped. So, we kept on. After we had gone about two miles, he did a little hitch in his step, then stopped and flopped down in the middle of a shaded part of the trail, panting heavily. I stripped his pack off and offered him more water. I would have taken off his collar too if it weren't for the park leash rules. We stayed there for some time while he drank and I splashed water on him to try and cool him down. It wouldn't have been so bad if we were at home, but we were in the middle of a forest. He spent a good twenty minutes alternating between laying down and drinking. By that time, he was acting more perky so we began taking the short way back, us carrying his pack. I took a little diversion along the way to let him splash in the shallows of the river that runs parallel to parts of the trail. On the way back, he even did his happy little prance-wag at the sight of a pair of Jack Russells what were coming down the trail.

Ebon now, contently sleeping with cats
At the car I put him in some shade and offered him more water. I also took an icepack (my mom happened to bring a cooler) and alternated applying it to under his front legs and under his ears, where he felt the warmest. When he was panting more gently, we hopped in the car to leave, AC on full. It wasn't until we were back at the condo and he had time to lay on a nice, cool floor that he finally stopped panting. He's been normal even since.

I've learned a valuable lesson about this. Usually, Ebon's up for just about anything, but there are a number of things that were likely contributes to his overheating. First, since he's black his coat absorbs heat like crazy. I know this and normally he's able to regulate his temperature just fine, but it was hot and the UV index probably made him heat up faster than normal. Second, the weight of the pack and it's addition of a layer of padding over his fur probably made things worse thanks to his exertions and the insulating and restrictive nature of the harness. It also didn't help that he wasn't wanting to drink the water I offered him. Next time, he won't be carrying weight if the index is over 90. We also won't we going such a long distance during the hottest part of the day.

I feel like an idiot for pushing to the point he got to today. My mother actually thought he might have been having a seizure when he hitched before he flopped, but it was clear that wasn't what was going on. For now, he hasn't had a seizure since October.

Interesting Animals: Pseudoscorpion

A pseudoscorpion (aka "false scorpion"), showing the pincher-like pedipalps that give the group its name
Pseudoscorpions are arachnids, placing them in the same group as spiders, scorpions, and ticks, mites, daddy-long-legs, many other eight-legged creatures. They are small with a maximum body length of eight millimeters. Like spiders, these arthropods have silk glands, though their glands are near their mouth rather than at the end of their abdomen. Though they are harmless and lack stingers, the "scorpion" part of their name comes from their large, pinching pedipalps much like those seen in scoprions. Pedipalps, or are basically an extra pair of legs used for various purposes in arachnids, including feeding, defense, and reproduction.

The majority of pseudoscoprion species are found in the tropics, but there are also those found in colder climes. Rarely, they can turn up inside of homes. They are most often found in humid areas, so if found in a house they will usually be seen in bathrooms or basements. Since these animals are harmless, if you find one in your home it's recommended you leave them be. However, the best way to get rid of them is to dry out the area they are found.

Pseudoscorpion phoresy on a fly
These creatures are one of several groups known to practice phoresy, which would be more commonly referred to as hitchhiking. Some species of pseudoscorpion will attach themselves to the bodies of other insects so that they can be transported from place to place. One of the few times I've actually seen a pseudoscorpion was when one fell out from under the wing of a captured beetle that it had been riding on. Phoresy is an interaction where one species gains benefit and the other is unharmed and thus is a form of commensalism.

Though there are about two thousand species of pseudoscorpion, they are apparently difficult to identify.

Sources are Penn State, University of Minnesota, Texas A&M, and Michigan State University. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Guess the Genotype #77

Here's a few images sent to me by a reader. Can you guess this dog's genotype? Her breed(s)?

Images provided to me by Susan Vaitekunas

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Invasive Species: Burmese Python

A Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus)
Burmese pythons are good swimmers
Pythons are popular pets among reptile enthusiasts and can grow to be quite large. As is common with pets, captive individuals can vary greatly in color and come in a number of different "morphs." Due to their size, they have the potential to be quite dangerous and owners of these snakes have been attacked in the past. Since these pythons are capable of killing and eating such things as full grown pigs and the small crocodilians known as caimen, they definitely present a risk to people. This is especially true of children due to their small size. They are excellent swimmers and climbers, which allows them to prey on just about anything.

Burmese pythons are native to much of Asia including such countries as Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, and parts of China and India. It's capable of living an a variety of habitats, including in areas that are colder than you might expect. They have become invasive in parts of Florida and Puerto Rico. Though their invasive range is currently not that far-reaching, they have the potential to spread across the entirety of the southern United States from California to Georgia, north to Virginia and Washington. Introduction has been exclusively through the pet trade, with individuals either escaping or being released by owners who no longer want them, often because they have grown too large to handle.

An alligator fighting with a python
The threats this species presents have the potential to affect a vast amount of native species. Some species compete with the python for food, while others will be eaten. There is also a risk of disease transmission. In Puerto Rico, there is concern about their native constrictors, which are smaller in size and likely not able to compete for resources. They are few species capable of preying on these pythons, however, they are at least sometimes eaten by native alligators.

Attempts to manage the python invasion appear to be mainly focused on education of the public. Permits are required for ownership in Florida, and ownership is heavily regulated in general. Importation is quite difficult. There are also steep fines for releasing a Bermese python throughout the United States, which is in part an attempt to prevent the species from becoming established anywhere else. There is also suggestion that removing canals will help prevent spread of these animals within the Everglades. There is also much being done to remove the snakes that already live in Florida. Snakes are lured, trapped, tracked, and caught in all sorts of ways. There's even a hotline for locals to call in sightings. Overall, people who manage the areas where these invasive snakes occur basically have a kill every python they can capture policy. As with any invasive, they shouldn't be there, so this is a good sort of policy to have.

Source is the Global Invasive Species Database. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are under Creative Commons licenses or are copyright free: one, two, three.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ruffwear Gourdo

As I mentioned recently, I picked up a new toy for Ebon at a favorite store of mine. It's a Ruffwear Gourdo, a toy which currently only comes in a bright shade of orange.I mentioned I would give my impression of it as a fetch toy, so here it is.

The look he gave me as soon as we went out the door. If you can't tell, this is his "throw it pretty please" face.

I love this toy. That's the short version. The long version? Ebon had a Ruffwear Lunker years ago and he loved it...a bit too much. My father had picked up the toy for the dog on sale. Also thanks to my father's tendency to let Ebon do anything and everything he wants, including chewing on things he shouldn't, it ended up shredded. Pieces ended up all over the yard and we're still finding them. I liked the concept of the toy and Ebon absolutely adored playing with it while it was whole. When I spotted the Gourdo in the store, I thought back to the similar shape and style of the two toys and decided it was finally time to get a replacement of sorts.

This toy is super durable. Though it's not meant to be a chew toy, the rubber feels a lot like what's used to make the red Kong toys. It should handle a lot of rough play and even some chewing without any ill effects. The rope part feels almost like climbing rope. It's nice and thick and strong, but not likely to hold up to chewing, unlike the rubber side. I didn't realize this until now, but there is a hole in one end that can be stuffed with treats, making the toy just that bit more special. Since the rope isn't chew-proof I don't think this would be an ideal kennel toy, though. So, supervised treat-giving only. For Ebon's size, the large Gourdo is absolutely perfect. It's a good weight and he doesn't have any difficulty with catching or carrying it. One down side? I think it would sink like a stone in water.

Thanks to the weight of the toy and the length of rope, it's really easy to throw this toy quite far. With little effort, I could do this:

Ebon and I are both happy, so this is a great addition to the toy collection. However, this can't quite beat Ebon's absolutely most favoritest thing ever: the tennis ball. It's definitely on par with Frisbee-type toys for how excited it makes him, though (which is pretty darn excited).

A tired Ebon and his Gourdo after a nice play session

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Downtown and New Toys

Ebon in a square, watching a man make palmetto roses. Many people make them and sell them to tourists
We went downtown today. It's been quite some times since I took Ebon down there, so after some discussion my mother, my significant other, Ebon, and myself all hopped into a car and headed down. I live in a far quieter part of the city, so it's always an interesting experience. We spent hours there, walking around and eating dinner at our favorite downtown pizza place and ice cream at our favorite downtown ice cream place, which I've mentioned before. I feel really rather awkward trying to take pictures of the dog while surrounded by people, so I only snagged the one above while we were sitting in a square, enjoying some fresh squeezed lemonade and waiting for a table so that we could eat dinner.

Today was mostly an experiment in patience with Ebon. He was really good, but didn't want to settle down while we ate. He mostly wanted to sit or stand and either watch the passing people or stare at the people who were eating. Even worse was the fact that he wanted to chase ever sparrow he saw. There were a lot of them. I took the chance to try and keep him in a comfortable down, giving him lots of encouragement and cookies for doing so. He's learning. The pizza place is wonderfully dog friendly, bringing Ebon a big bucket of ice water to enjoy. He also got a lot of attention from other people, including at least one woman who took his picture. I'm wondering if she was a tourist.

Bad picture, happy dog
We ducked into just about every dog-friendly place we saw while down there. I keep forgetting how many stores allow dogs inside and how many keep bowls full of water outside for thirsty pups. We even stopped by the place where I bought Ebon's pack. After some looking through their wonderful supply of outdoor things, I went to where they keep their dog products. I spotted a Ruffwear Gourdo. I couldn't help myself. Next time I have a chance to have him off leash I'll be trying it out for real.

Mismark Case Study: Boston Terrier

Boston terriers come in three acceptable colors: black, brindle, and seal, all with white.

This dog would have too little white
The Boston terrier is a breed that came from crossing a number of different breeds together. In its ancestry are such breeds as the French bulldog and bull and terriers types, crosses between bulldogs and terriers that are the ancestors of such modern breeds as the bull terrier and pit bull. The reason why modern Bostons are so small is that they have since been bred down in size from the original stock. This ancestry also explains all of the colors that pop up on occasion in the breed. What are these mismarks?

  • Too little white
    • Lacking the required white chest, muzzle and blaze between its eyes
  • Too much white
    • Excessive facial white or "splash white"
  • Any base color other than black, brindle, or seal 
    • Liver, blue, lilac, fawn, gold, or tan point
  • Not enough skin pigment
    • The nose must be completely black
  • Blue eyes
    • Even a touch of blue disqualifies

Too much white and a blue eye
To begin, let's look at variations in the amount of white on the dog. Facial white is forever a conundrum in the canine world. In every breed that had facial white, there is a great amount of variation. This variation is controlled by as-of-yet unknown modifiers and is likely polygenic and inherited mostly independent of the Spotting locus that controls body white. This is the issue with having a rather strict requirement for facial white: there is no real guarantee that your breed will always have the same exact amount. This is why in breeds like the Boston terrier, too much white on the face happens so often. Too little white also happens, but in the Boston this appears to be a more unusual occurrence.

A splash rescue
The "splash" white is completely different. Piebald and extreme white can both be sources of the splash pattern, and both are recessive alleles on the Spotting locus. Most Bostons express the Irish white phenotype, which can vary from the minimal markings required by the breed standard up to what's often called collared Irish, which has white extending all the way around the neck and prominent white on the legs. Irish white is dominant to both piebald and extreme white, and as such it's very possible for dogs who conform to the standard to carry these alleles. Though not always the case, it's possible that some of the heavily marked collared Irish dogs have as much white as they do thanks to the recessives they carry. Extreme white especially can cause a dog to have more white than it would otherwise have. Minimal piebald can also mimic collared Irish markings, and so it's possible the occasional minimal piebald may slip into the show ring.

As for the dogs with off-standard base colors, there are really quite a number of possibilities. Here's the full list of possible colors, what they're called in the breed and the genes that cause them. Wherever I say black, this is basically interchangeable with brindle and seal. All three colors are caused by the K-black locus, with brindle (kbr) being recessive to black (K) or seal (K, bad black, possibly recessive to regular black).

Masked fawn puppy
  • Sable/fawn 
    • Recessive to black on the K-black locus, allows the Agouti locus to show through: Ay- kk results in sable/fawn
    • Dog may or may not have a black mask and may be liver, blue, or lilac instead of black
  • Tricolor/tan points
    • Also on the Agouti locus: atat kk results in tan point; may be liver, blue, or lilac instead of black
Liver pigment

  • Non-black pigment that would otherwise be black
    • Liver/brown, recessive to black on the Brown locus: bb results in liver pigment
    • Blue/gray, recessive to black on the Dilution locus: dd results in blue pigment
    • Lilac/champagne, combination of the blue and liver genes: bb dd results in lilac
Recessive red

  • Gold/honey/cream/blonde
    • Caused by recessive red on the Extension locus: ee results in recessive red/clear red
    • This gene hides all black body pigment, so any of the above, including blue/liver/fawn, but skin and eyes can still be effected by the liver and blue genes

Liver pigment and too much white
The major thing to note about all of the above is that they're all recessive. Due to this fact, you won't know your dog is a carrier until it throws a mismark puppy. Even if you remove those mismark puppies from your breeding program, its siblings have a two-in-three chance of being carriers. Why is that? It comes down to basic genetics: mismark puppies can only show up in litters bred from carrier parents or those expressing the gene. If breeding from two carriers, the expected ratio in the puppies is 1:2:1. That is, about one-forth will be non-carriers, half of the litter will be carriers, and the last forth will express the recessive mismark. If you remove the mismarks, you're left with a ratio of 1:2, or one-third non-carriers, two-thirds carriers. This means there's a rather high chance of the gene persisting, particularly if a breeder then chooses to linebreed or do other forms of inbreeding. Inbreeding only increases the likelihood that the recessive mismark will appear. This is why so many breeds have persistent mismarks.

Two dogs, three blue eyes
The two mismarks that I haven't yet mentioned are blue eyes and noses lacking in pigment ("Dudley nose"). Both are disqualifications according to the standard, and both are natural consequences of breeding for dogs with lots of white. White around the nose makes it quite possible that a dog will end up with a pink spot on its nose, or even a completely pink nose. So, expecting all dogs to have a fully pigmented nose when you are breeding for prominent white markings is a bit silly. It's basically the same with blue eyes. Though they can be independently inherited, the more white a dog has, the more likely it is to have one or more blue eyes. If the white touches a corner of the eyes, this also increases the chances. This is why so many dogs with a lot of white on their face have one or more blue eyes. Since the Boston standard desires very prominent white, blue eyes shouldn't be a surprise.

Liver pigment
As with every dog, color should be the last thing a breeder should worry about. There are so many more important things that a breeder should be striving to produce, like dogs with even temperaments and ones that are healthy. By disallowing certain colors, especially ones that were perfectly acceptable at one point in the breed's history (like splash in Bostons), there's a very high likelihood that perfectly good, healthy dogs are being dropped from the breeding population for extremely superficial reasons. This does nothing but narrow the gene pool and damage the breed as a whole. However, this doesn't mean that one should purposefully breed for mismarks. On the contrary, breeding for recessive is always bad because it usually means inbreeding, and potentially very heavy inbreeding at that. Inbreeding in any form and by any name (such as linebreeding) is very bad as it narrows gene pools and makes it more likely that deleterious recessives pop up. This is why so many purebred dogs have inherited health problems. Color should not matter. Purebred dogs have enough problems.

Apparently, there are some people out there selling merle Bostons. This color has been introduced through mixing with another breed. Since merle has so many negatives, there is absolutely no good reason to out-cross to purposefully introduce merle into a breed. 

Images are from Wikimedia Commons or under Creative Commons licenses: one, two, three, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Image four is copyright to Rescue Furdaddy on

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ebon's Training History

My patient, good old Ebon

When I first brought Ebon home, it was an interesting time in my life. He had come to me rather unexpectedly. As I mentioned in the first ever post on this blog, he was given to me by his breeder, free of charge. When his litter was born, I visited and ooh'd and aww'd over them, dreaming of taking one home. I had wanted to get a dog of my own for a long time, but I never thought that I actually would call one of those puppies my own. It hadn't been long since my family had gone through the loss of my grandmother, a mere year after the loss of her husband, and we were still working through it. Though I asked, my mother didn't like the idea of bringing another animal into our, at that time, off-kilter, three-pet home. When the offer came to take the five-month old puppy free of charge, my mother agreed as long as I was the one to take care of him.

When Ebon came home that first day, still responding to the name Calvin, I made a promise to myself that I would be a good dog owner. I didn't want to have a "bad dog" or to be one of "those people" that, due to their own mistakes produced a problematic pet. I wanted him to be well trained. I was only sixteen at the time, so I did some stumbling before I hit a groove and began figuring out how to deal with a young, hyper Ebon. Did I make mistakes? Yes, of course I did. He's the first dog that has been purely my responsibility, and as any first time dog owner will tell you, mistakes will be made. Sure, I did a lot of research into dog care and training before he ever came home with me, but that doesn't mean that I knew how to implement it.

I've had him for over seven years, and it's taken that much time for him to become the dog he is today. He had a number of insecurities as a pup. He didn't bark in front of me until he was two and a half and didn't lift his leg to pee until he was three, for example. He was afraid of small dogs and liked to chase cats and other small non-dogs a bit too much. He freaked out at the smell of dead animals. He even developed a fear of stairs that started after his first encounter with anything more than a couple of steps. He also was rather hyper and had the attention span of a gnat. If he got distracted, it was basically impossible to redirect him since he would zero in on something and basically ignore everything else around him. He's never had problems with loud noises, so at least there's that.

I can't even tell you how many hours I spent working with him, encouraging him to work through his fears and praising him with every step forward. I also worked on correcting his over-excitement around cats, desensitizing him by getting him to do things like focus on my rather than the cat. Or whatever other distraction caught his attention, for that matter. He still gets excited, but it's far easier to control it now. I even trust him off leash, something I definitely couldn't do for the first few years of his life. The stereotype is that Labradors are puppies until they are three, and it really did seem like his third birthday coincided with a marked drop in how easy it was to distract him.

Even last year when I moved into the condo I am currently living in, he was still struggling with some issues that an urban setting has really helped with. One of the biggest of these was his timidness and insecurity. I did so much work with him, but he still would become very reserved in a large crowd. The noise seemed to cause his brain to be a step behind his body. Simple things like walks down busy sidewalks with countless cars driving by combined with a ton of encouragement and praise did wonders. He now seems confident, ready to explore every new area that we go to.

Anyway, when Ebon first came to me he knew a very small number of commands. He had a good Sit and knew how to Shake. He had been taught a Down, but it was rather inconsistent and he would often try to fake me out by only crouching, his elbows not touching the ground. His recall was rough. Though he had been house trained, he had a strict two hour limit before he would wet on the carpet. He had gone through preliminary retrieval training at the age of four months since that was what he was bred to do. So, he knew how to retrieve but it wasn't very refined. I've always thought a dog should know a few basic things, so almost immediately I set to work improving his Down, getting him to recall more consistently, and also teaching commands such as Leave It and Drop It. I also taught him to balance a treat on his nose so that I could work on his self-control.

I got frustrated with him, really quite a bit. I sometimes thought I would never be able to work past some of his issues, particularly how over-excited or distracted he could get when I was trying to train him. I developed ways of relieving my frustration, which mainly involve me sighing and insulting the dog (I don't know how many time I've said, "Come on, Ebon, stop being an idiot" before getting him to re-focus). I also began to learn what training methods he responds best to. This is why he's never learned to sit up and beg. What I would have to do to teach it to him never really worked out.

After Ebon reached a certain age, I began to see him calming down, focusing better, and sometimes impressing me greatly. He now has quite a list of commands that he knows, a significant portion of which are tricks. Many of them took a fair amount of time to train (it took embarrassingly long to teach him to Roll Over). Others took basically no time at all. I was amazed how quickly he picked up things like wiping his paws on command (two twenty minute training sessions), or this:

I came up with the idea to teach him to retrieve his leash about two weeks ago. After one training session, he had picked up the word "Leash," and the next session he figured out how to get it when I hung it up somewhere. I also want to teach him to carry his own leash, but this is proving to be far more difficult to teach than I thought it would be. The problem? He wants to drop it whenever he stops or if I ask him to change position. I want him to carry it until I ask him to sit and give it to me, but if I ask him to sit, he spits it out.

He can still impress me, even though I've been working with him for over seven years now. I blame myself for why he doesn't know more. I've taken some rather long breaks from training, mostly due to school, and if it weren't for that I'm sure he would know far more than he already does. I've also never trained him for any sort of regimented doggie sport. He has no titles, even though with a little work I bet he could earn a number of them. I've just never bothered. It's not been my goal. I consider what I have done and continue to do with him to be recreational. A hobby that both he and I enjoy.

It's also somewhat amusing, and also depressing to me how often other people are impressed by how well behaved he is. Even when he was still a rather crazy young dog and he was doing what I knew to be behaviors he used while dealing with his crowds-of-people stress, like walking in circles around me. I've had people ask me if I'm a professional dog trainer, and when I said no, one woman even said, "Oh, so you're just a good owner." Sometimes the pet-owning public confuses me so much.

Ebon still has issues, and the major ones still involve him stressing out. The move we made last year did a number on him. I think he was worried he would lose me because his last move had been when he had been taken from his mother and his breeder's family rather suddenly and placed in a completely new, different place. He's bonded to me perhaps a bit too much since then. I've tried to work on his issues with separation and he does fine while at home. If we go somewhere new, however, and I leave him he gets beside himself with worry. This may be one of the next things I work to get him through. I just need to find some people who are willing to help me out, which is, honestly, the biggest obstacle.

This was a far longer post than I intended it to be, but it's about a journey, and journeys are often long and winding. Ebon has come a long way, but there is still so far to go.

For those who are curious, I've been keeping a running list of Ebon's tricks and other commands over on the page dedicated to him.

One Year

Ebon after his most recent bath

One year ago today, I posted my first post on this blog. I really can't believe it's been an entire year. In the past year, I've published 375 posts and have received over 60,542 views. Views have come from all over the world and I have received more comments than I could ever imagine. I most enjoy seeing comments from those who have learned something new by reading what I have to say. I hope to continue to share things with my wonderful readers for as long as I may. My love of animals makes every post I do a lot of fun to research and compose, and hopefully I can come up with some ideas to bring some more regular topics to the blog.

In celebration, I've decided to change the blog's main color from blue to green. The current layout may or may not stay for long and I will probably give it some tweaking before the day is over. However, I do plan to keep it green, perhaps for the next year. I'll also be posting a few other things today, including another look at my history with Ebon.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Guess the Genotype #76

Can you guess this dog's genotype? Its breed?

Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license

Invasive Species: Fishhook Waterflea

The fishhook waterflea (Cercopagis pengoi) is pictured at top. The other species is also an invasive
I have been featuring a lot of large-bodied invasive species lately, so this time around I've decided to talk about a far smaller species that still causes a lot of issues. This small crustacean is native to Southern Europe, coming from some small lakes in the area as well as the Black, Azov, and Caspian Seas. Through mainly ballast water, the species has spread to the Baltic Sea waterways all over Easter Europe, along with the Great Lakes and Finger lakes in North America.

Though small, this waterflea is rather formidable. A predatory species, it eats all sorts of native zooplankton and has been linked to large drops in the numbers of many known prey species in its introduced range. It also competes with native species that also eat zooplankton and fouls fishing equipment, nets especially. Fishhook waterfleas also will eat very young fish, particularly those that normally feed on phytoplankton. This can lead to major ecological changes, including changes in upper-level predation and increases in the intensity of algal blooms that occur. It's believed that the trophic changes that these small creatures cause will prove problematic for fish stocks, which, combined with equipment fouling, does not bode well for fisheries. Apparently, there have also been allergic reactions reported in fishermen that handle materials that have become fouled by these animals.

There is currently no known way to kill off these crustaceans, and the only management methods that are being done are really to prevent further spread of the animal. This includes better control of ballast water and regulations on the proper disposal and cleaning of equipment that has been in water known to house populations of the fishhook waterflea.

This species is currently on the list of 100 World's Worst Invasives at #21.  

Image is from Wikimedia Commons and is copyright free.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


A shrimping boat photographed in 1970
Bycatch is a term that many people are probably not aware of. It's used to describe all of the things that are not being targeted by fisheries, but are caught anyway. Every form of fishing can produce bycatch, which may or may not be fatal to the unintended catch.

Bycatch caught off the coast of Florida
As you can imagine, bycatch is quite controversial, especially when creatures such as dolphins and turtles are unintentionally killed. Unlike sea life, if an air-breathing creature such as a turtle becomes tangled in a net, it can easily suffocate from being denied access to the surface. Water-breathers are far more likely to survive, but that doesn't mean that their lives will be spared. Crowding in the net could still cause oxygen deprivation. The hauling in of the net can also be quite traumatic, especially if sensitive areas such as the gills are damaged. Then, there is time spent away from the water while the desirable catch is sorted out from the bycatch. The vast majority of bycatch is then thrown back as it was not intended to be caught in the first place. Anytime during this process, the bycatch may be eaten by predators, who often take advantage of fishing operations and whatever they throw overboard.

However, this doesn't mean that fishing operations are necessarily bad. Regulations have greatly reduced overall bycatch and provided protection for a number of endangered or threatened species. Also, food that is caught via fisheries can be a significantly better option than farmed alternatives, depending on the species and methods being used. A good example of this is shrimp. Though some farmed shrimp is not so bad, other shrimp farms seriously damage their environment. The farms are more productive if the shrimp are raised in fresh water, so a large number of farms are set up in mangrove forests and flooded with fresh water. This fresh water contamination will easily kill species in the surrounding area since mangroves are naturally saltwater systems and the species living there are adapted to salt water. Fresh water completely messes with their chemistry, especially their ability to retain essential dissolved minerals. Depending on how and where the shrimp are caught, it's far less damaging to the environment to catch them in the wild.

A turtle escaping a net thanks to a TED
Bycatch is still a concern, though. When looking at net design, a mesh meant to catch a certain species will allow smaller species through, but will catch basically anything that is larger than the target species. This is what causes most bycatch. As I mentioned before, regulations require the use of devices that help reduce or eliminate bycatch numbers. Two very important devices that are used in trawling are Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) and Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs). Both have numerous different variations, but what they accomplish is always essentially the same. A TED is specifically meant to protect sea turtles by giving them a route to escape through before they become trapped in the net. It will also provide an escape point for any large animal. In the case of the one pictured, the bar size is what determines the size of the animal that is allowed past into the codend, or the part of the net where the catch gathers. BRDs are usually placed past the TED, closer the codend. BRDs are often little more than holes in the net that are meant to allow bycatch an escape route. However, fishers are often not fond of them as it can lead to loss of some of the target species. Another interesting aspect of both TEDs and BRDs is that at least one animal, dolphins, have begun exploiting the holes in the net. There has been footage taken of these intelligent mammals poking their heads into the net holes and catching passing fish.

I feel lucky to have observed first-hand some of the research that is being done to try and reduce bycatch, specifically in shrimping. Through the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service, I was part of a group to take a trip on the R/V Sea Dawg, a shrimp boat turned research vessel. Some of the research that is being done on the vessel is the use of a different sort of TED that could also act as a more effective BRD. Results were looking promising with very large reductions in bycatch, so hopefully the modified TED will help reduce what can sometimes be absurdly copious amounts of unintentionally caught species. This setup would also be favored by fishers as it reduces the modifications that have to be made to their nets.

The fact remains that certain fishing methods produce far more bycatch than others. Poll fishing is usually more species-specific and less traumatic for what unintended animals that are caught. Purse seining, in contrast, can produce terribly excessive amounts of bycatch. For those who want to be environmentally conscious about their seafood choices, many organizations provide information on which methods are most damaging and what species should be avoided altogether.

Sources are the Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, World Wildlife Fund Smartgear Competition, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Sea Grant Rhode Island. Images are from Wikipedia or Wikimedia Commons and are copyright free: one, two, three.