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Weekly News Roundup 12/11 to 12/17

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Honeybees found using tools, in a first—to repel giant hornet attacks

In East Asia, honeybees must contend with never-ending attacks by a formidable foe: giant hornets. These predators pick off individual bees but also stage group invasions of hives. In brutal onslaughts, the hornets first decapitate every bee they encounter, then occupy the hive and take their time devouring the bees’ larvae. To defend themselves against hornets, Asian honeybees have evolved various creative tactics, such as swarming invaders with hot “bee balls,” roasting them to death. But in new research from Vietnam, scientists have discovered an even stranger bee trick: Coating the hive entrance in animal dung. . . . more

Invoking Tiger King, House passes bill banning big cat ownership

The US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill last week that would ban private ownership of big cats like lions and tigers, after the wildly popular Netflix docuseries Tiger King helped renew attention on the issue. The Big Cat Public Safety Act passed the House Thursday night on a 272–114 vote, with 48 Republicans voting with Democrats to approve the measure. Democratic Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, the bill’s main author, said the legislation’s passage is “one step closer to ensuring these animals are treated humanely and to keeping the public safe from dangerous big cats.” He added, “Big cats are wild animals [who] simply do not belong in private homes, backyards, or shoddy roadside zoos.”. . . more

Dogs in Brazil are being trained to sniff out COVID-19 in humans

Sinatra is restless. He circles a sample of cotton while barking, digging, and sniffing. He didn’t end up there by chance, and it’s not the first time he has behaved like this, either. Strong and sharp-eyed, the spotted mixed breed is trained to sniff out traces of the novel coronavirus. Sinatra is an advanced student at what’s effectively a school for “coronavirus sommeliers” in the Brazilian city of Campo Limpo Paulista, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from São Paulo. He is part of a pair already trained to identify people infected with the virus; another 11 dogs are also being trained. Several studies have proved their talent. . . . more

Robots could replace real therapy dogs

Robotic animals could be the perfect replacement for real-life ones, a new study published by the University of Portsmouth (UP) has found. Animals, especially dogs, can have therapeutic benefits for children and young people. A new paper found that the robotic animal, “MiRo-E,” can be just as effective and may even be a better alternative. Leanne Proops, PhD, MSc, a professor in the UP Department of Psychology, who supervised the study, said: “We know that real dogs can provide calming and enjoyable interactions for children—increasing their feelings of wellbeing, improving motivation, and reducing stress. This preliminary study has found that biomimetic robots—robots that mimic animal behaviors—may be a suitable replacement in certain situations and there are some benefits to using them over a real dog.” . . . more

Cats can help kids with autism, study shows

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may experience increases in empathy and decreases in problem behaviors after adopting a shelter cat, according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing. “Our study found that children with ASD experienced significant increases in the social skill of empathy, significant decreases in problem behaviors including bullying and hyperactivity/inattention, and also less separation anxiety after the introduction of a shelter cat,” said Gretchen Carlisle, PhD, MEd, RN, research scientist at the University of Missouri Research Center for Human Animal Interaction. “Previous research has focused on interactions of dogs with children who have ASD, but dogs may not provide the best fit for all children and their families, especially given the hypersensitivities to sound that are common among children with ASD,” Carlisle said. . . . more

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