Sunday, September 21, 2008

If your mouse is getting flabby...

Agility training for hamsters (and rats, gerbils, mice and rabbits)

From the Milwaukee Examiner...

POSTED September 20, 6:46 PM
Teri Webster - Pet Examiner

Running Bear likes to spin his wheels.

Every day, he runs for miles on his hamster wheel and rides a motorcycle.

Well, he runs inside the large front wheel of his toy motorcycle, and that propels it around a small track.

But Running Bear is up for a new challenge, so he plans to start agility training.

His owner, Marna Kazmaier of Belle Fourche, SD, says that hamsters, rats, gerbils, mice and rabbits can learn to run -- or at least meander --over an agility course.

Many people may not know that hamsters can be trained just like other pets. At least that's what some proud "hammie" owners say.

The good news is that you don't have to teach them to bite. They do that on their own. Agility training takes a little more work.

Running Bear runs in the front wheel of his motorcycle.

"It's a lot of fun and easier than most people might think to train the little animals to run a course," said Kazmaier.

If you put a treat in your hand, most hamsters will follow it, Kazmaier explains.

"Hamsters, as a whole, are not agility course runners," said Kazmaier. "They kind of meander over the course, but they're cute all the same."

Hamsters do not jump over obstacles but climb over them so the pieces need to be stable, especially for bigger males, said Kazmaier.

More information on hamster agility training is available here.

Kazmaier also has Web sites for training gerbils, mice, rabbits and rats; "Bible Donkeys," and working goats and llamas.

Apparently, there isn't much to do in South Dakota...

"I had a chicken I taught to do a few tricks," Kazmaier said. "Training animals is kinda my thing."

According to the Web site, you can teach your hamster to stand on its hind legs. Take a sunflower and hold it over the hamster's head and say the word "stand."

Eventually, you can just tell the hamster to stand without a treat, the Web site claims.

Right. And I can teach a "hammie" to fly.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More about finger length

Let's take a closer look at that last post. The person who wrote the UPI piece didn't interpret the original paper the same way I did. The finger measurement they were using was the ratio between the length of the index finger (2D) and the ring finger (4D).

Since as early as the 19th century(1), people have noticed that men tend to have a lower 2D:4D ratio than women. Since then the ratio has been linked to a variety of sexual, psychological, and behavioral traits. The number tends to be lower for men, for people with greater athletic prowess, assertive women, engineers, mathematicians, and lesbians. So they call a lower number a "masculinized" 2D:4D ratio.

But it's different in mice. Mice with a HIGHER ratio are more aggressive, more likely to bite when handled, and have a higher daily level of activity.

In the study cited here, the investigators selectively bred mice to be more active; they selected the mice that liked to run in their wheels more and bred them to each other. Then they measured their fingers. Voila. They had a HIGHER 2D:4D ratio.

So does this mean that finger length has any biological implication for behavior, physical prowess, or sexuality? Here's what the authors said:

"Given the many factors that have the ability to affect digit ratio, it is clearly more complicated than a simple testosterone-driven manliness metric."

I couldn't have said it better. Yeah, there might be some hormonal thing going on, but as it stands, it's no more scientific than trying to guess what's going on in a person's head by mapping the bumps on the skull.

(1) Anthropological Notes on the Human Hand Frank Baker
American Anthropologist Jan 1888, Vol. 1, No. 1: 51–76.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How long are your fingers?


Finger length linked to

desire to exercise

EDMONTON, Alberta, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Canadian and U.S. researchers say there is a direct correlation between the length of fingers and being motivated to hit the gym.

Researchers at the University of Alberta and University of California-Riverside, who conducted a study using 1,000 white mice, said the findings seem to support a stronger connection between digit length, voluntary exercise and high levels of prenatal stress hormones -- indicated by the difference in activity level between the control mice and the selectively bred, active mice.

The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, suggests prenatal stress, rather than prenatal testosterone levels in the womb, forms a component of the inherent desire for physical activity.

"The research shows a link, or relationship, between the brain, behavior and personality traits and the shape of the hand," lead researcher Peter Hurd of the University of Alberta said in a statement. "It opens the door to the notion that aspects of one's personality, in this case the desire to exercise, are fixed very early in life.

Here's the actual paper
, from which the above photo was lifted.