Livin' on the MDedge

Dancing parrots, flying spiders, and ER fish tales


Cockatoo cha-cha-cha

White cockatoo with a yellow crest GlobalP/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Humans love to dance. Whether it’s just a little bobbing back and forth or a full-on tango, spontaneous dancing is a universal expression of feeling and joy. However, feeling the rhythm is nearly unique to the human species. Not even our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, primates, have been observed busting a move to music.

So who are our ballroom brethren? Parrots, strangely enough. Parrots are nature’s great imitators, so how can we be sure they aren’t just mimicking (or mocking) their human owners’ movements?

Several studies have been conducted on a particularly funky cockatoo named Snowball. He’s a viral Internet sensation, and researchers have been watching him for the past decade as he stomps his feet and bangs his head to all kinds of music – he jams to everything from classic rock to modern pop. Snowball’s owner also assured scientists that her bird does not get his dance moves from her; Snowball is a unique choreographer.

A follow-up study about Snowball was recently published, in which the authors suggested the reason for spontaneous parrot dancing could be the strong auditory-motor connections that exist in parrot brains. They’re similar to humans, but not primates. They also detailed Snowball’s 14 distinct dance moves. Someone get that parrot on America’s Got Talent, ASAP.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane – oh no, it’s a spider

Spider in web Torsdatter/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Arachnophobes, just skip this one. If you’re not unsettled by spiders yet, you’re about to be!

In case you didn’t know, spiders can fly. Or rather, they float (spiders with wings would just be straight-up horrifying).

Scientists (and fans of Charlotte’s Web) have known for centuries that spiders can turn into their own personal airships, but it wasn’t always clear how they do it. It was commonly believed that spider-flying, aka “ballooning,” was caused by the spider using its silk as a kind of kite, with the wind catching on the silk and bringing the spider along with it. That explanation, however, doesn’t account for the fact that spiders only balloon during light winds, which are rarely strong enough to carry a spider.

Two intrepid spider fans from the University of Bristol (England) think they have solved the mystery of the flying arachnids.

It turns out that spiders are able to sense the earth’s electric field and use that to soar around. They let loose some silk, which picks up a negative charge. This charge repels the negative charge of whatever they are standing on and can create enough force to launch them into the air. Spiders, those smart little buggers, can increase these charges by climbing onto twigs or grass. Plants rooted in the earth have a strong negative charge but stick up into the positively charged air.

All this fancy science-babble to say: Spiders can fly, and we know how! Stay indoors, folks.

Hospital lures fishermen to ED

Bait fish hook juliedeshaies/iStock/Getty Images Plus

There are some things you expect to see when you walk into a hospital: an admitting desk, waiting areas full of people, security guards, bad art work, maybe a friendly greeter at the door (sorry, that’s the Walmart).

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