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Goats, Gills and Guts: Animals in the News

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Our furry and scaly fellow subjects of the animal kingdom never cease to surprise and amaze. Consider these three fascinating stories ripped from recent headlines.

Goats On the Rise

Last Wednesday we blogged about the lengths people go to (and the risks they take) to satisfy their sweet tooth by avoiding sugar and its concomitant calories. Well, that's nothing compared to the risks — and salt cravings — some goats in northern Italy take, scaling the almost vertical walls of a brick dam to, some experts think, lick some salt.

ibex
Alpine ibex climb a dam in Italy in order to, it’s believed, lick minerals and salt off the dam’s face. (Photo: LH Net/Dominique Richard)

(So, as it turns out, despite its popularity on the Internets in recent days, this story also made the rounds in 2010. Still, I’m sure it’s news to some. See more on the dam-scaling ibex here.)

Loaded to the Gills

And speaking of scales, a new paper by Trevor James Hamilton of MacEwan University and colleagues published last week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B finds that rockfish will get a healthy dose of anxiety as the ocean become increasingly acid from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. (See videos.)

rockfish
Black and yellow rockfish in California, Channel Islands NMS. New study shows that climate change will lead to stressed rockfish in the future. (Claire Fackler, CINMS, NOAA.)

It's good to know that we're not the only ones who will be stressed out over climate change, but still, I'm worried about our scaly friends. Some folks think that dumping tons and tons of iron into the ocean may help mitigate the effects greenhouse gas emissions. But that won't slow ocean acidification and so may leave a whole lot of creatures swimming around the ocean in a state of near panic. Maybe the answer is adding in a dollop of Xanax with the iron. You think?

Health Advisory: Before Eating Wash Your Hands -- With Animal Guts

Hadzabe
The Hadzabe, a group of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, know that healthy living involves getting dirty with the right kind of microbes. And so they wash their hands in animal guts to spread microbes among their community. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Leach of the Human Food Project)

As we've been writing about recently, there's growing evidence that a healthy and diverse array of biota in your gut -- your so-called microbiome -- may be the ticket to a healthy life, and there's growing concern that people in the developed world living in relatively microbe-free environments may be suffering from a microbiome deficit.

A short letter by Jeff Leach of the Human Food Project published in the journal Nature last week suggests that a small group of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania may have just the ticket for curing that ill.

Members of this community, known as the Hadza or Hadzabe, wash their hands in the partially digested and microbe-rich stomach contents of animals. Why, you might ask? To "transfer microbes among community members." They also "shar[e] water sources tainted with the urine and faeces of animals as diverse as zebras, giraffes and bush pigs… [and] often consume the uncooked stomachs and colons of killed animals." Yum. (See photo at right and read more here.)

Still, as important as healthful living is to all of us, I say we leave those "employees must wash hands" signs in the restaurant bathrooms right next to the sink with the running water and the soap dispenser.

So, what lessons to draw from these stories from the animal kingdom? How's this? A good way to spend your weekend: climb a vertical rock face carrying a rockfish for company and some Xanax for acrophobia, and when you get to the top rub your hands and the fish with the grossest stuff you can find and then (with apologies to PETA and tongue in cheek) eat the fish. Also, be sure to bike and not drive to and from the climbing spot to limit CO2 emissions and help out all the anxious fish of the world as well as all the other flora and fauna we share this surprising and amazing planet with.

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