Grossmann: What is Biorobotics?

3 April 2014


We move faster and faster into the future. Every day, we meet an endless stream of terms and phrases that have suddenly appeared to describe the new, the amazing and, sometimes, the almost indescribable.

Biorobotics is a word with a problem. No one has decided exactly what it is or what it isn’t. For sure, it’s used to describe three things.

First, biorobotics is the study and practice of making robots that imitate biological organisms. Robots like Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog, UMD Robotics’ Robo-Raven, or ROBOTNOR’s Wheeko the robotic snake are all examples of biorobotics.

But some biorobotic devices imitate things as small as, or smaller than, living cells. Imagine being able to build small robotic devices, or “nano” robots, that could be injected into a person’s bloodstream. These tiny robots would be designed to work like super antibiotics.   Once inside the body, these nano robots could cure infections almost instantly. Other nano robots of the same kind could clear clogged blood veins or even repair damaged blood vessels. These tiny ‘bots could allow a person to live years longer.

Second, biorobotics includes what is sometimes called “bionics.”   The word bionics is now used to describe the study of how to integrate mechanical robotics into human beings — like TV’s Six Million Dollar Man.   When mechanical devices are actually used to replace or improve the function of human organs, the result is a “cyborg.” Technically, something as simple as a heart patient’s pacemaker makes the user and device, together, into a cyborg.

WIKIPEDIA: Six Million Dollar Man

            Third, biorobotics also is used to describe to the study of genetic engineering. This has little to do with machines, mechanics or devices. Instead, genetic engineering is the actual design and development of new and unique living organisms. This requires an understanding of genetic material, DNA.   This, also, requires a very precise technology for arranging DNA “parts” it into new patterns or designs to produce new life forms or old life forms with new and different characteristics.  No one is able to genetically engineer even small life forms at this time.   But researchers are working toward that goal.  As a gardener, I would look forward to a really, really blue rose. (The roses on the market now that are called “blue” are actually sort of purple).

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri & Belleville, Illinois

About the Author


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Grossmann: Over the Rainbow . . . on Venus?

27 March 2014

Venus in the News Image

How do you remember those strange formulas for science class? One trick for remembering one formula was this poem:

Little Timmy took a drink,

but he will drink no more.

For what he thought was H2O

was H2SO4.

The rhyme helps you remember the formula, but the poem makes a point.  There’s a big difference between water ( H2O) and sulfuric acid ( H2SO4).  Who would have guessed that rainbows appear not only in an atmosphere filled with water (H2O) vapor but, also, in an atmosphere filled with sulfuric acid (H2SO4) vapor?  Yes, the vapor of this highly caustic acid works as well, or better, than water vapor for producing rainbows.  But it doesn’t work half so well for producing a pleasant atmosphere. On earth, we’re happy enough with our water vapor. And the planet Venus gets by with its sulfuric acid vapor.


But this left a mystery. Researchers have known for some time that sulfuric acid vapor is great for producing rainbows. And they’ve also known that the atmosphere of Venus is full of sulfuric acid.  So, when we looked at Venus, we should have seen some rainbows.  But we didn’t.

So, why would the atmosphere of the planet Venus, an atmosphere filled with sulfuric acid vapor, never produce a rainbow? Most suspected that there was something else in the air. Something that absorbed the light before it could be reflected out of the vapor as a rainbow. No one could figure out what this (ultraviolet) “uv absorber” was.

But we need a word about words. A rainbow isn’t just white light passing through water vapor to create a half circle of colors in the sky. Whether something is a rainbow or not depends on where you are when you see it. If you’re standing on the ground looking up after a light rain, it’s a rainbow. If you’re looking down, at the same thing, from above – let’s say you’re an aviator flying high in the air, an astronaut orbiting the earth, or a satellite sending back pictures – you’ll see a full circle of colors.   And, instead of a rainbow, it’s called a “glory.”

No one has every stood on the surface of Venus. No probe has successfully landed on the planet’s surface and, then, aimed its camera up into the sky.   So, there’s really no chance of seeing “a rainbow” on Venus. But, whether through the lens of an earth telescope or a camera on a probe orbiting the second planet, the view from above should have revealed a glory.

In 2011, as reported in the Journal, Icarus, Wojciech Markiewicz, of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, and his colleagues maneuvered the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft in an effort to find a glory. And maneuvering was needed.  To see a glory, you not only have to be watching from above, but the sun must be directly behind you.  So, if you’re not looking down with the sun to your back, there’s no chance you’ll see a glory..

On July 24, 2011, after more than a little maneuvering, the group found and photographed the first rainbow (glory) ever seen on Venus. Still, no one is sure why they are so hard to find. With the sulfuric acid in the atmosphere, they should be a relatively common thing. Again, it may be that other elements in the atmosphere affect the reflectivity and refraction of the vapor.

Venus, our nearest neighbor in the solar system, seems to get little attention in comparison to the red planet Mars.  Maybe, this is because its solid surface is a less than friendly place to visit with a fairly constant temperature between 400 and 500 degrees. Venus is about the size of the earth and actually passes closer to the earth than Mars.   While Venus rotates around the sun is the same direction as the earth and all the other planets, it’s rotation on its axis is reversed.   So, to someone standing on the planet’s surface, the sun appears to rise in the west and set in the east.

Viewed from the earth, Venus appears to have a bluish cast. But the second planet from the sun is actually white, or at least, white is the color of this planet’s constant, thick cloud-cover.   Like all the planets, but particularly the moon, Venus reflects the light of the sun.   So, with a telescope, or just binoculars, Venus is seen in a crescent phase. This bright point of light in sky is easy to mistake for an aircraft. Venus enjoyed something of a notorious reputation during the 50’s and 60’s as an official or “stock” explanation for reports of UFO sightings.

This apparently bluish star is so large that, even with the naked eye, you can almost make out the spherical shape of the planet.   Night or day, Venus is the third brightest thing in the sky – only the sun and moon are brighter. Never too far from the sun, Venus appears sometimes above the eastern horizon before the sunrise and sometimes above the western horizon shortly after sunset.

M Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

& Belleville, Illinois

About the Author




Grossmann: The Earth’s Umbrella – A Shield against Solar Storms

27 March 2014

Solar flares regularly burst out of the sun shooting out in all directions. The earth is a small target, so we don’t get hit that often. Usually, when the earth does take a hit, most of us don’t even notice. Solar flares are a real danger to astronauts. But, here on earth, not only does our atmosphere protect us, but we’re finding out that it’s been proactive in its protection of the earth from these solar lightning bolts.

In 1859, the earth was struck by a really big solar flare of a particularly powerful type: a CME – coronal mass ejection. We know from the study of ancient ice cores, that a CME that big only hits the earth about once every 500 years. Still, if this particular CME had hit the earth a hundred years earlier, most people would have hardly noticed.

But there’s always one effect that’s hard to miss. When a CME hits the earth, it creates a big, bright, and spectacular event – the aurora borealis — better known in the northern hemisphere as the Northern Lights. When that 1859 solar flare hit the earth, there was an amazing light show. Usually the northern lights are not visible too far south of the arctic and are rarely seen in the 48 United States. But on September 1, 1859, the Lights could be seen in all the 48 states, Mexico, Central America and, even, on the northern coast of South America. People in New York could read newspapers in the middle of the night because the Northern Lights were so bright.

If the Carrington Event had happened a hundred years earlier, that’s all anyone would have noticed. But in 1859, we had telegraphs. And telegraphs used electricity. And electrical power was the problem. A CME this strong supercharges the earth’s atmosphere with electrical energy. When you charge anything with that much energy, it becomes “conductive” – in other words, electricity leaves wires and passes right through the air and into the ground.

Some telegraph operators found their equipment lost power. Stranger still, when that much electricity flows through the air, it can jump into electrical systems, even if they aren’t plugged in. So one telegraph operator disconnected his equipment from its power source only to have it throw sparks and shock him. Another operator disconnected his equipment and found that it didn’t make any difference. Even turned off, the telegraph continued to receive messages. And he found that he could respond by telegraphing outgoing messages without any power source at all.

We’ve never had a solar flare that strong since. But, even if later flares weren’t that strong, they caused more trouble. Why? Because we were, and are, using more and more electrical equipment. Solar flares, of the CME variety, don’t get along with electrical equipment at all.   In November of 1882, a telegraph office caught fire. In May of 1921, all telegraph traffic was brought to a complete stop.  Power grids throughout the Northeast failed with resulting blackouts.  In 1989, a CME caused a massive black out in Canada.

Solution? There actually is a simple solution to most of the problems caused by CME’s — turn everything off before the flare gets here.  Since solar flares are easy to detect, and the sun is a long way off, we generally know “when one is coming.”  And when it does, we can power down almost everything. Almost everything?

Yes.   You can power down almost, but not quite, everything.

Hospitals, emergency services, and aircraft in flight can’t power-down all of their equipment. Some believe we should install really expensive shielding equipment to protect everything. Honestly, it would be too expensive to protect everything.

Powering down is actually a good and economical solution. But that expensive shielding equipment is a really good idea for equipment used in emergency services, critical communications, and air travel to name just three examples.

We’ve always thought that, when a solar flare strikes, the earth just sits in space and “takes it.” But, now, we find out that the earth has been protecting us all along. We really would have got something a lot worse if the earth hadn’t been raising its umbrella with each approaching storm.

The earth withstands a vast and constant flow of energetic particles from the sun — the solar wind.  But earth isn’t just a rock floating in space — protected only by a thin layer of gas – our atmosphere.   Energy constantly flows out and away from the sun. But the earth has its own energy envelope — as anyone knows who’s ever used a compass. The consistent pointing of the compass needle to the north demonstrates the constant flow of a sea of energetic particles around our planet.

You might say that the earth has its own “aura” – a fairly constant electromagnetic envelope that withstands the energetic force of the relentless solar wind.   And holding its own against the solar wind isn’t always easy. If you could see the earth’s energy envelope, you’d be surprised to find that the earth has an ever-present “tail” – sort of like a comet. The tail always extends from the earth and out in space in the direction opposite the sun. Why? Because the solar wind is blowing the earth’s energy envelop behind our planet like a loose garment flapping behind a person walking in a strong wind.

To realize what the earth is doing, you have to remember that the earth has a bunch of “spheres.” The atmosphere is composed of layers of gas. But there are other “spheres” like the ionosphere and magnetosphere. These “spheres” are purely energetic – composed entirely of charged particles – and have nothing to do with gas.   The magnetosphere is a flow of charged particles that forms a layer of energy around the earth. That layer, in turn, forms a boundary between the earth’s own magnetic envelope and the ever-rushing solar wind.

Researchers have long known that it was just these layers — fields of charged particles — that minimize the harmful effects of major solar outbursts like solar flares.  Solar flares can, and do, cause a lot of electrical problems on earth, but were it not for our own energy envelope, all life on earth would be on the receiving end of deadly blasts of solar radiation.

But what came as a surprise was the discovery that the earth engages in what seems like an active defense — raising a special umbrella in response to the impact of particularly powerful solar flares.

The earth is surrounded by a magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere — sort of like a donut. But this donut is so fat with covers pretty much the entire planet. The donut is formed by the swirl of the earth’s own charged particles flowing out into space until they lose momentum and fall together to form the outside wall of that giant donut.  As more changed particles flow out from the earth, they are caught by this layer and thrown back – swirling toward the earth’s surface.

But the magnetosphere isn’t alone. A bit closer to the earth, and just “under” the magnetosphere, is another “sphere.” The plasmasphere is formed when the ultraviolent light from the sun charges the earth’s upper atmosphere. Plasma is actually something between a gas and a liquid.  And that “something” is always highly charged with energy.  The earth’s plasma forms another donut just inside the magnetosphere.

Even alone, magnetosphere does a pretty good job of holding back the worst of what the solar wind throws at us. But the solar wind is only one thing.   Solar flares are something else.  The energy of these flares is so powerful that it tears small holes in the earth’s magnetic envelop – the donut-shaped magnetosphere.   Then, a flood of highly charged particles seep through these holes to reach the earth’s surface and disrupt “all things electrical.”

But not always.  Sometimes, the earth fights back.

In January of 2013, Brian Walsh and his colleagues at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland witnessed something amazing. Ground sensors mapped a “tendril” of highly charged particles moving from the North Pole out toward the sun. What did it mean? Well, it meant that a plume of plasma was leaving the earth and heading toward the sun. But why? Most charged particles are blown back, in the direction opposite the sun, by the powerful solar wind. Why was a plume of highly charged plasma moving in toward the sun?

The explanation was even more amazing. A strong blast of solar energy had hit the earth so hard that it tore a hole in the magnetosphere. Passing through the earth’s outer energy barrier of protection, the energy from the solar flare, then, hit the plasmasphere — which reacted by . . . hitting back!

Although torn by the first contact, the plasmasphere not only resisted the blast of solar energy, but formed a plume of plasma.  The plume flowed toward the opening, the area of damage, in the magnetosphere to “plug the hole.”  The plasma “plug” can slow or stop the seeping flow of the flare’s charged particles toward the earth.

A researcher, Joe Borovsky, at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, commented, “[The] Earth doesn’t just sit there and take whatever the solar wind gives it, it can actually fight back.”

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri & Belleville, Illinois

About the Author

Grossmann: The Ostrich – the Biggest and the Fastest

20 March 2014

Australia has its emu, and America has its rhea. You only have to look at an emu or rhea to recognize these large birds as the cousins of the familiar ostrich.  And Africa’s ostrich is the biggest and the fastest.

[Ostrich image]

The common ostrich is the biggest bird on earth growing as tall as 9 feet and weighing up to 240 pounds.  Faster than either of its cousins, ostriches have been clocked at 43 mph.  At that speed, the ostrich isn’t just the fastest bird on earth; it’s the fastest of any land animal on the planet.  Perhaps, speed compensates for flight.  Like the other members of its intercontinental family, the ostrich is a flightless bird.

[Ostrich video]

The ostrich has flashier feathers than either of its cousins.  Adult male ostriches are black with a white wing tips and white tail feathers.  Females and young males have grayish-brown feathers – similar to those of their American cousin, the rhea.  The head and neck of the ostrich . . . well, . . . it looks like the bird is going bald — with only a sparse cover of “down.”   But, instead of a comb-over, the ostrich’s thin hair stands straight up.  It looks like it had a crew cut and, then, let it grow out.

Nature has given the ostrich all it needs to keep an eye on things.   The bird’s head rises 9-feet into the air.  Its eyes are 2 inches wide — the largest eyes of any land vertebrate (land animal with a back-bone).

Ostriches spend most of their time roaming in pairs.   Sometimes, during dry spells, these large birds form flocks.  Ostriches eat plants, but will also chow-down on some insects.  You’d expect the ostrich to be a daytime-animal like most birds.   But, if you’re wandering around in the wilds of Africa, on a moonlit night, you might meet an ostrich.  The moon gives enough light to make the ostrich comfortable enough for a nocturnal prowl.

When threatened, the ostrich will lie flat on the ground to fool passers-by into thinking it is nothing more than a bump on the ground.  But there’s one old story about the ostrich that isn’t true: this bird never hides its head in the sand.  When threatened, ostriches seem to prefer to just hide – as a first line of defense.  But, when push comes to shove, these birds are more than able to defend themselves.  Ostriches use their powerful legs to kick.  And they have quite a kick.  It can be fatal.

Speaking of legs, no discussion of the ostrich would be complete without a discussion of this bird’s toes.  Yes, toes.  The ostrich’s relatives, the emu and the rhea, are both unusual birds because they have only three toes.  Most birds have four toes – three forward and one “opposing” toe.  The opposing toe is used to help the bird hang on to branches and other perches in the wild.    Of course, if you’re a bird, and you don’t fly, you don’t perch.  Flightless birds like the emu and rhea use their feet to walk and run.  To a running bird, a fourth toe would be nothing but an irritation.

It seems only logical that the ostrich should also have three toes, but it’s hard to count the number of ways in which this particular family of birds is unusual.  And, if you count the toes, you’ll find that the ostrich has only two.  Also, you’d think if you had toes, they’d be a bit alike.   Again, this family is unusual.  One toe has an enormous nail that resembles a hoof.   The other toe has no nail at all.  The best guess is that this “reduced number of toes” helps the ostrich run even faster.

[Ostrich feet]

But before we leave the subject of the ostrich’s legs, we need to say a few words about predators.  Africa is no place for any animal that can’t defend itself.  Aside from the famous “king of the jungle,” the lion, the rest of the list includes cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas as just a few of the most ferocious predators from which the ostrich has to defend itself.  Surprisingly, this bird does an amazingly good job of defending itself and can more than hold its own in the jungle.  How, does it manage?  With its legs.  The ostrich uses its legs to defend itself in two very different ways.

First, “he who fights and runs away will live to fight another day.”  The ostrich often runs away from predators.  As the fastest land animal on earth, it’s got a built-in advantage in this department.   Unfortunately, young ostriches, which haven’t grown up to their full speed, are particularly vulnerable to predators that the adult birds can easily outrun.  Sometimes, predators succeed by ambushing the ostrich – hiding and pouncing on an unsuspecting bird.  The cheetah is not as fast as an ostrich but, sometimes, is fast enough to catch an ostrich before the bird can build-up to full speed.

Second, the ostrich can use its legs to fight.  When an ostrich can’t retreat, especially when defending its nest, it will use its legs against an attacker.  With all of its running, you might get the impression that the ostrich isn’t an effective fighter.  It almost seems inaccurate to say the ostrich uses its legs to defend itself, because its legs are so often fatal to its adversary.  Maybe it’s enough to say that ostriches can, and do, kill lions with their legs.

In the wild, ostriches avoid humans as potential predators.  Maybe it’s a good thing for humans that the ostrich prefers to run away.  Ostriches in the wild, and sometime in captivity, can attack humans if these birds feel threatened.  Human deaths occur each year from massive injuries from a single kick of a leg and a single swipe of a claw.  These birds are big and tough.

Of the members of this family, the ostrich, emu, and rhea, the mating behavior of the ostrich is “about in the middle” in terms of strangeness.  Like the rhea, during mating season, a single ostrich male will mate with as few as 2 or as many as 7 females.  Although the male mates with several females, it will form a couple – a bond – with only one of the females in the group.

The strangeness of ostrich mating involves its rituals.  The male will repeat a loud, booming call while doing a kind of dance in which it flaps one wing a few times and, then, the other a few times.  The female will run in a circle around the male, while the male winds his head in a spiral motion. Disturbingly, ostriches raised entirely by humans will direct these same rituals toward their human keepers.

Females lay their eggs in a shared nest.  Ostriches lay the largest eggs of any bird at about 6 inches in length and 3 pounds in weight.  The males sit on the eggs at night and, then, the females sit on the eggs during the day.   The eggs hatch in about 40 days.  The male principally defends the hatchlings and teaches them to feed, but both the male and female raise their young together.

[Ostrich family on a walk]

The young ostriches will not reach full maturity in less than 2 years and, if they survive predators until they reach adulthood, a large number can expect to live for many more years.  Ostriches have been known to live past 60 years of age.

Ostriches have always been a focus of human fascination.  Use of their feathers for ornamentation extends back almost to the beginning of recorded history.  However, only in the 19th century did commercial ostrich farming for feathers develop.   These giant birds where tamed by capturing baby ostriches and raising them in captivity.  Ostriches, by the way, aren’t plucked, but sort of sheared.  A new crop of feathers re-grows about every 8 months.  The ostrich industry was only about feathers until the 1970’s when ostrich skin/leather and ostrich meat became profitable products.

Also, ostrich racing is catching on.  In Africa, people race ostriches while riding on the birds’ backs.  The “riding-birds” are specially fitted with saddles, reins, and bits for the purpose.  In the United States, ostrich racing began in Jacksonville, Florida, with the ostriches pulling draw-carts with human occupants.  Now, races are not only held in Florida, but also in Arizona, Nevada, and Minnesota.

[Ostrich racing]

M Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

& Belleville, Illinois

About the Author


Grossmann: The Emu – Green Eggs, But No Ham

20 March  2014


Africa has its ostrich, and America has its, lesser known, rhea.  But Australia has its emu.  On first sight, this large, grey-brown bird is unmistakably the close relative of both the ostrich and rhea.  However, the emu is the “character” of the family — the odd one in this not so typical family of birds.


Like its cousins, the emu is a flightless bird.  And, also, like it cousins, it’s fast.  So, even if it can’t fly, it can run faster than any other animal in Australia.  At 31 miles per hour, the emu ranks as the second fasted bird on earth — second only to its African cousin, the ostrich.  At a height reaching up to a bit over six-and-a-half feet and weighing as much as 130 pounds, the emu enjoys the distinction of being the largest bird in Australia.  But, again, in terms of size, the emu is only the second largest bird in the world.  The largest?  You guessed it.  Cousin Ostrich.

Although sharing the ostrich’s unmistakable form and profile, in terms of appearance, the emu is not only smaller than its African cousin, but has brown colored plumage –  just a touch drabber than the grey-brown feathers of its other cousin, the Rhea.  Maybe to make up for its drab feathers, nature has favored the emu with a blue neck.   This relatively bright “collar” give the bird a bit of color while allowing it to conceal itself by lowering its head and neck for purposes of camouflage.

Camouflage?  This bird is over 6 feet tall.  Who’s going to mess with it?  Actually, the emu has predators in the wild, unpopulated “Outback” of Australia.   Both eagles and hawks attack emus from the air.   But there’s a catch.  The emus that are grabbed and carried off by eagles and hawks are young birds that have not yet reached their adult height and weight.

Could a flying bird carry off a full grown emu?  Well, even in the Out-est of the Outback, there are no birds that big.  The young victims have few defenses beyond their speed and a peculiar swerving run they share with Cousin Rhea.  At times, Emus extend their relatively small wings to keep their balance as the run in an evasive swerving pattern.

Dingos, a member of the grey wolf family, are the only predator of the full grown bird.  Even if emu’s lose some fights for survival with this free ranging dog of the Outback, the emu brings a serious weapon to the fight – its feet.

Like Cousin Rhea, the emu has 3 toes on its clawed feet.  This is unusual for birds, which often have a fourth “opposing” toe used to grip branches and other natural perches.   Three toe, tridactyl, clawed feet are found in birds that, like the emu, walk and run on flat ground instead of flying.  And the emu has really big, mean clawed feet.  Mean?  Yes, mean.  Emus have been known to use their feet to rip through wire fences.  You really don’t want to get these birds angry or get in their way when they’re going somewhere.


And emus like to get where they’re going.  Not favoring flocks, these birds often travel in pairs.  They run at high speed and are unruffled by water.  When a body of water comes between an emu and where it wants to go, it just jumps in and swims.

When these birds aren’t running or swimming, they pause to feed on a variety of insects and plants.  They have excellent eye-sight.  When they’re not eating, they like to groom or “preen” their “plumage” or look around and “investigate.”

Noted for their curiosity, emus will approach humans – especially if they see movement or a colorful piece of clothing.  These birds have been known to follow and watch humans in the wild.  And, once you attract an emu’s attention, it might not be so easy to give an interested bird “the slip.”   Hoping that an emu will go away if you “just ignore it” doesn’t always work.   And, be warned: emus seem to have a sense of humor.  They have been known to approach humans and other animals and poke them with their beak and, then, run away.  Observers have the impression that this is a kind of “game” for the large bird.

The emu’s “call” is not like a bird’s call at all.  The emu makes a loud drumming or thumping sound.  That’s all.  And . . .  did I say it was loud?  It can be heard a little over a mile away.  The emu’s call enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame on the animated television series, King of the Hill .   In one episode, (Season 6, Episode 17, “Fun with Jane and Jane”), the emus “sing” the theme song with the closing credits.  Of course, there’s no music involved.  The animated birds simply intone a series of loud thumps in lieu of the regular theme.

Although there is no recognizable difference in appearance that distinguishes the male from the female.   But emus generally roam in pairs.  The pair consists of one male and one female.  But this pairing ends, more or less, with mating season.  Wait . . . the male-female pairing ends with mating season?  Yes.  It’s strange.  But that’s only the beginning of the strangeness.

Emus don’t abandon the male-female stereotypes in mating.  They reverse them.

During mating season, the females become aggressive and begin to court the relatively passive males.  A female will circle around the potential male mate drawing closer and closer.  If another passing female develops an attraction for the same male, it may, and often does, start a fight.  During mating season, fights among females are common with a single fight sometimes lasting for hours.

After mating, the male builds its nest.  And it is the male’s nest.  The female will lay eggs in the nest, but not sit on the eggs.  The male cares completely for eggs, and will lose about a third of his body-weight because of its inability to leave the nest and obtain food.   After laying her eggs, the mating female will often seek out another male, mating with as many males as possible during the mating season.

The emu’s eggs are . . . interesting . . . because they are large: over 5 inches long and weighing as much as 2 pounds.  Also, they are green.  When freshly laid, the emu’s eggs are a light green.  You might ask, “Then, they turn white, right?”  No, they don’t.  They get greener and greener until they reach the shade of an avocado.


The eggs hatch about 56 days after they are laid.  The newly hatched chicks weigh a little over a pound and are about 5 inches tall.  They can leave the nest within days, but will stay with their defending father for about 6 or 7 months learning how to find food and reaching their full adult size.  However, the young can spend as long as a year in this family circle before taking off on their own.  An emu can live as long as 20 years.


Emus are raised for meat in Australia, the United States, Peru, and China. The USDA classifies emu as red, poultry meat.  Emu skin is used to produce a distinctive type of leather.  Oil from emu fat is used for cosmetics and dietary supplements.  Although emu oil has a long history of use as an anti-inflammatory, therapeutic product, the US FDA has classified emu oil as an “unapproved drug.”

The emu is prized as a cultural icon in Australia appearing with the red kangaroo on the Coat of arms of Australia and the Australian 50 cent coin.   The bird has been featured on a number of Australian postage stamps and is the namesake of mountains, lakes, towns and even a brand of beer.

M Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

& Belleville, Illinois

About the Author



Grossmann: How do the Bees Feel?

13 March 2014

Researchers are asking a lot of questions about animals lately.  Are animals self-aware?  Do they think?  And these questions are reaching beyond animals to insects as well.  Do bees have personalities?  And, now, do bees have feelings?

It’s no surprise that this type of research tends to raise more questions than it answers.  Tests seem to show that bumblebees have no individual personality.  But even if bumblebees are conformists to a fault, could honeybees be non-conformists?  And, even if honeybees don’t have individual personalities, could hives or even swarms of bees have distinct personalities?   The idea of a group of bees having a personality seems “way out there” until you find out that beekeepers have always reported that, as a group, the bees of different hives, in many ways, behave quite differently from the bees of neighboring hives.

But the question of bees having feelings seems like a tough one to test.  However, finding out whether or not bees become moody may not be as tough as we thought.  It turns out that when human beings and animals are in bad moods, they tend to make negative judgments.  In other words, we’re all a bit pessimistic when we’re in a bad mood.

But let’s begin at the beginning.  One characteristic of feelings is that they change.  If a person or animal always feels exactly the same way, they can’t really be said to have feelings.  Now, let’s substitute the word “mood” for feeling.  Why?  Moods, by definition, change.  So, the word “mood” is a little more precise than the word “feeling.”

Now, how can you tell if an insect has moods?  Maybe, by using the same test that is used with animals.

The trick of the test involves negative judgments.  Human beings and animals evaluate and react to situations differently when we’re in a good mood than when we’re in a bad mood.  A good example is a decision based even odds – a coin toss.  Would you bet on a toss of a coin?  Your odds are exactly as good as they are bad.

I’ll guess that if you’re asked to bet money, but trying to be frugal, going through hard times, and are a bit short of cash, you’ll pass on the bet.  On the other hand, if you’ve got plenty of money and have just had a few really good breaks, you might just take the bet.  Why?  Your mood.  You’re feeling lucky.

So, for our test, we need four things.  First, we need to find the equivalent of a coin toss for bees.  Second, we have to offer the bet to the bees and see how many take the bet and how many refuse the bet.   Third, we have to find a way to change the bees’ moods.  And fourth, we have to offer those same bees the same bet, again, and see if their changed moods affects their willingness to take a chance..

As tough as all this sounds, Geraldine Wright and her colleagues at Newcastle University in the UK found a way.

Bees have an excellent sense of smell and are quickly and easily trained to associate particular smells with particular things.  Wright’s team, headed by Melissa Bateson, first, found something honeybees love, surcose (sugar), and something bees hate, quinine.  Then, they found two substances with very different smells, octanone and hexanol.  The octanone was paired with the much loved sugar and the hexanol with the hated quinine.  The bees were trained to associate the smells with the substances that they loved and hated.

Then, the researchers combined the chemical smells.  When the well-trained bees were exposed to a combination of half octnone (lovable sugar) and half hexanol (hated quinine) half the bees “took a chance” and tasted what they hoped was sugar.  The other half passed, not willing to risk licking the hated quinine.

The researchers had their “coin toss” – a choice with even odds.  Now, that the bees’ reaction to the half and half solution was known, the next trick was to put the same bees in a bad mood.  This isn’t as hard as it sounds because there are different types of bad moods.  It wasn’t necessary to depress the bees by having them watch a sad movie.  Substantial stress will produce a bad mood more surely than anything else.

Labs have chemical mixers mounted to benches.  These mixers are machines that violently vibrate/shake containers to mix their contents.  With the menacing name, vortexer, I get the impression that these machines are a bit like paint mixing machines at the local hardware store.  Few could disagree that shaking a group of bees in a container in one of those mixers would leave the insects quite “stressed” – a very bad mood.

After a stay in the mixer, the bees were presented with the half and half solution again.  Many more bees passed on the “chance” for sugar than had before.  So, changing the bee’s mood, changed their “feelings” about taking a 50/50 chance to get some food.   After the “mixing,” the bee’s weren’t so anxious to take the risk.  This seems to indicate that bees have moods – feelings.

Of course, there are a lot of questions about the reliability of the results.  Could the apparent “mood” be an automatic response based on hormonal changes or hard-wired neurological reactions?  These researchers, however, expressed cautious confidence in their results.   Also, the researchers made a surprisingly compelling argument that much of the doubt about the “feelings” of bees may be the result of a subtle prejudice.

The researchers pointed out that if, instead of bees, the subjects of the experiment had been dogs, cats, horses, parrots, cows, or pigs, the conclusion that the experimental subjects had feelings would have gone unquestioned.   Why?    Well, when testing animals with which human beings have had a close historical relationship, not only are results indicating emotion and intelligence readily accepted, but researchers are willing to make far reaching assumptions based on little more than their personal instincts about particular behaviors.

Jason Castro in his excellent article, Do Bees Have Feelings, refers to this argument as a plea for consistency.  We often ascribe emotions to dogs, such as happiness, fear, or anxiety with little, or only intuitive, “evidence.”  However, even strong evidence indicating that an insect has feelings is met with hairsplitting reservations.

The conventional wisdom has always been expressed as follows:  Unless we discover a way to speak directly with animals, we can never be sure if animals experience emotions in the way that human beings do.   However, whether I am in a good mood or a bad mood, I’m less pessimistic about finding the answer to the question of animal and, even, insect emotion.  I think that there is a preponderance of evidence sufficient to accept the hypothesis that certain animals experience certain emotions.  And, although more research is needed, these first tests, alone, strongly argue that insects, honeybees, experience moods.


Grossmann: The Bee Rescue – Some Old Solutions to Some New Problems

13 March 2014

In an effort to maintain the population of bees and other pollinators, the United States Department of Agriculture has budgeted $3 million.  Most of the money will go to ranchers, farmers and beekeepers in a conservation effort to preserve and expand pollinator habitat.


Bee populations have been declining for over 7 years now. First, termed a “disappearance,” then, a “die-off.” the continuing depopulation is, now, formally referred to as “Colony Collapse Disorder.” The continuing decline has been both rapid and widespread affecting perhaps the entire world.

Bees get a lot of scientific attention because they are vital to American agriculture, which is vital to the American economy. Without bees, production of some of our most profitable crops would be impossible. Every few weeks, a news article announces the discovery of “the cause” of the threatened bee “extinction.”  In fact, there probably isn’t a single cause. The current die-off seems to be the result of several factors working together.

The puzzle goes like this. A bee (1) has a parasite like varroa mites; (2) is exhausted by transport over long distances; and (3) is exposed to a particular pesticide. Alone, none of these factors would kill a bee. Even all of these put together wouldn’t kill a bee. However, all of these put together might weaken the bee’s immune system. Then, with a compromised immune system, the bee contracts, and dies from, a completely unrelated disease. That disease is the final cause the bee’s death. However, the underlying cause is an immune system compromised, not by one factor, but by a particular combination of several factors. For now, that combination remains a mystery.


Modern agriculture has come to be dominated by a particular style called monoculture.  The modern farm is a study in intensive land use with about every square foot of available soil used for the continuous cultivation of crops – or more precisely a signal crop.  This modern style has little in common with the traditional agriculture of even a generation ago.

In the past, the typical farm included a fair number of fallow (unplanted) tracts of land in which wild brush and unmown grass were allowed to grow.  These tracts served several purposes.  They provided “breaks,” uncultivated buffer areas between cultivated fields of crops.  First, breaks slowed or prevented the spread of disease from field to field.  And, second, breaks prevented the seeds of one kind of crop from creeping into fields planted with another.  The third purpose of keeping some land fallow (unused) was to prevent soil depletion.  The practice of letting some fields “rest” for an a season was called crop rotation, which helped prevent a loss of, or restore,  fertility to tracts of land.

Traditional agriculture had always avoided modern monoculture’s practice of planting only one kind of crop.  The traditional reason for planting several different kinds of crops was, again, a sort of insurance against the spread of disease.  While one kind of crop might fall victim to disease, another would be less susceptible and survive to produce a much-needed yield at harvest.

What happened to traditional agriculture?  Advances in chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have dramatically reduced the need for crop rotation and fallow tracks of land as buffers.  But this created another problem.  The modern farm needs bees just as much as the traditional farm it replaced.  And bees need habitat.


When we think of bees, we tend to think of the hive-dwelling honeybee.  The honeybee seemed to fit in perfectly with modern monoculture.  Like everything else needed by the modern industrial farm, when you need bees, you just order them “brought in.”  Beekeepers truck bees, sometimes hundreds of miles, to various locations during pollination season.  Then, the bees are trucked out when pollination is over.  At least, that was the plan before CCD and honeybee depopulation became a reality.

But, with or without depopulation, what’s with “habitat?”  The only thing honeybees need is a hive, a beekeeper, and the beekeeper’s truck.  Right?  Well, not quite.  Honeybees aren’t the only pollinators.  Worse, honeybees can’t pollinate some cash crops including certain varieties of tomatoes, cranberries, almonds, apples, zucchinis, avocados, and plums.  For these crops you need bumblebees.

So, why not truck-in some bumblebee hives?  And there’s the problem. Bumblebees don’t live in hives.  The plump bumblebee is the nearest thing to a loner within its social species.  Bumblebees don’t build permanent hives.  They build nests that are deserted for a new location on a yearly basis.  The bumblebees don’t forage (search for and find food) in swarms, but wander alone from flower to flower in open grasslands.

On the traditional farm, these wild bees made their nests in fallow tracks of grass lands or break areas between cultivated fields.  Because the bumblebee’s service as a pollinator is only needed seasonally, these bees survived during the rest of the year by foraging in the same wild grasslands in which they built their nests.


Monoculture changed all that.  Fallow tracts, breaks, and buffers vanished with every yard of available soil planted with a crop.  Even the small islands of wild grass along the farms paths and roadways were pressed into service.  And the bumblebees left.

What did we lose?  A lot.  The bumble’s unique style of pollination is required, and accounts, for about 3 billion dollars in produce each year.

Fresh off the farm, the bumblebee made its way to the city or, at least, to more populated areas to find the welcome mat missing.  Modern urban and highway landscaping favors a neatly manicured look that requires the elimination of the wild grasslands required by the bumblebee’s lifestyle.  In parks and even around highway overpasses, that great enemy of bumblebee habitat, the lawn mower, doesn’t destroy the grass, but prevents the appearance the blooms and blossoms on which the bumblebees depend for food.  And worse, the lawn mower is the arch-enemy of bumblebee nests.

When the habitat vanished, so did the bumblebee.  Beginning in the late 1990’s, these bees all but disappeared from a vast area of their range extending from the Pacific Coast of California north into British Columbia.  Only recently have there been sightings of even a single bumblebee in several states that once supported an enormous population.


It is said that those who felt uncomfortable in “civilization” used to become trappers and wander into the mountains — earning the name “mountain men.”  Well, maybe bumblebees did the same.  As these bees almost completely disappeared from their lowland range, their numbers were, and are, unaffected in the North American Rockies where they continue to live and thrive.  Mountains are not favored for agriculture and the rough beauty of mountainous areas is only enhanced by wild growing grasslands.  The mountain habitat is well within the bumblebees comfort zone.


With all the developments in the efficiency of modern agriculture, it is a little surprising to read of a USDA spokesman discussing the use of cover crops, rangeland, pasture management and other practices that dropped out of modern agriculture decades ago.  But the purpose behind the reintroduction of crop rotation, breaks, and buffers makes sense if the purpose is to preserve native pollinators, most prominently the often forgotten bumblebee.

Without effective pollinators, there will be no harvest in spite of the most intensive and efficient use of the available land.  The USDA spokesman explained that these “new” practices “are expected to provide quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife.”







Grossmann: Toy Robot Spiders — As If the Real Things Weren’t Enough 

6 March 2014

“The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.”

Oscar Wilde

Before we go, we have to get some definitions out of the way.

A robotic purist will explain that there’s no such thing as a toy robot.  The words “toy” and “robot,” used together, form an oxymoron.  In other words, by definition, a toy isn’t a robot, and a robot isn’t a toy. A robot is a machine that “does work.”  A toy is a machine, but not a machine that does work.

An animatronic device is a machine that moves like a living creature.  Animatronic devices are used for entertainment.

But these aren’t robots. Right?

Is entertainment work?

Well, uh . . . .   Let’s get back to robots.

No one can play with a robot. Right?

Well, I have to admit that children can play with anything including (and especially) the cardboard box their “toy” came in.

So, if a child plays with a robot, does it become a toy? Well, if a tree falls in the forest . . .

Let’s forget the purist definitions.

There are toy robot spiders. They are really cool.

Inside Adam Savage’s Cave: Awesome Robot Spider!


In addition to the animatronic spider, the Robugtix line includes a hexapod (6-legged) robot for those who are not “spider purists” demanding the full 8-legs of the “octopodal” arachnid.

[video] iitsii the Hexapod Robot

These animatronic devices are produced by Amoeba Robotics Ltd., a research, engineering, and design company.  Founded in 2010, this Hong Kong based concern focuses on “providing innovative robotics systems for professional and educational use.”  I can’t resist including another video of the “T8.” [video]

Watching these animatronic devices, you might pause to wonder what their working counterparts, the “robots,” must look like.  And there you might get a surprise.  Working robots, like their animatronic/entertainment counterparts, are being designed to resemble animals and even people.


As soon as engineers began developing sophisticated robotics, they ran into some problems.  You may have seen those sleek glass and metal robots from those 1950’s sci-fi movies.  In those days, there was an idea that robots would have to be, somehow, completely different from organic life forms.  And this idea carried over into early, “real-world” technology.  But there were problems.  These “unlife-like” robots didn’t work so well.

The reason was obvious.  Most often, we don’t need robots to do weird, strange, or superhuman tasks.  We really need robots that do exactly what human beings (and a variety of common animals and even insects) do. What’s more, the tasks we want robots to do aren’t necessarily complicated. Often we need robots that do common, everyday tasks. Tasks that are simple, but time consuming and repetitive,

So, for about the past decade, most robots have been developed to imitate animals and human beings.  And, not surprisingly, these robots are becoming more animatronic – life-like — in their movements and, even, appearance.

Sometimes, this is intended as in the Army Research Laboratory’s Robo-Raven. This aerial drone is designed to fly and maneuver with movements so much like a bird that it actually fools real birds. [image] [video]

The “animatronic” appearance and movement aren’t the result of idle tinkering.   Instead, it’s part of this aerial drone’s camouflage.  This particular “application” of camouflage is called mimesis or “masquerade.”  The goal is to create an aerial drone that the observer mistakes for — just a bird flying by.  But the bird is a flying drone relaying sound and video back to another, concealed observer. [video]. So, the “bird-watcher” is the one being watched.


Grossmann: Robo-Spider to the Rescue

6 March 2014

About the creepiest of all the land-roaming creatures is the spider.  But it only makes sense that, with 8 legs, the spider would be among the most sure-footed animals on earth.  And sure-footedness was just what researchers were looking for in a new search and rescue robot.  So, it’s no surprise that they picked the spider as their model.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, in Stuttgart, Germany, have developed a new weapon in the search and rescue arena: a robotic spider.  In stark contrast to the real eight-legged arachnid’s creepy reputation, its robotic incarnation is not just your friend, but your potential rescuer.  These spiders can, for example, creep into the smallest spaces in collapsed buildings and provide location information about trapped victims as well as damage and air quality assessments.

These ‘bots are about as friendly and helpful as real spiders are not.  But, personality aside, in terms of the mechanics of operation, these robots are really a lot like the actual spider.  Research groups throughout the world have turned to biomimicry in designing the last few generations of robots.  That is, the robots of the future are being designed not just to imitate, but to function just like, plain old biological organisms.

In old sci-fi movies, robots of the future were visualized as almost anti-human and anti-organic.  In other words, they were made to look like everything that plain old living creatures weren’t — sporting sleek metal and glass surfaces with an enormous bulk and weight carried hither and yon on wheels.  However, when it came to building the real thing, these sleek-looking innovations turned out not to be . . . innovations.

We “organics” got the last laugh, most recently, watching Mars Rovers continually getting stuck because, even on slightly rough terrain, wheels don’t work as well as feet.  In terms of design, the bulky, weighty robots have been left behind because their very bulk and weight made it difficult for them to move freely and to perform flexibly enough to accomplish a wide variety of tasks.

For most current robotic applications, biomimicry, imitation of real-life organic creatures, is the order of the day.  And it makes sense.  Every time we see a really creepy spider, we worry that one of those creepy things will find its way into our home.  And they do — in spite of considerable obstacles.  What better creature to imitate if your goal is to rescue someone in a collapsed building?  Why try to figure out a new way to do what spiders have been able to do since . . . forever.

Even better, this spider can be produced inexpensively using a 3D printer. The resulting Robo-Spider is disposable (just in case you don’t want these critters crawling around the house after they’ve done their job).  Rather disturbingly, the Robo-Spider moves just like its biological counterpart and, if it has to, it can even jump — leaving me with vaguely disturbing mental image.

Creepy Robot Spider Crawls Out of 3-D Printer

3D-printed spider robot skitters where humans can’t

Also, BAE Systems, a British defense company, is working on robotic spiders (and dragonflies and snakes) to aid soldiers in combat zones.  These robo-spiders would play the role of scouts crawling through potentially dangerous areas and relaying precise reconnaissance information in situations too dangerous for human beings.

[image] [video]
The project has been taken seriously enough to garner a $38 million contract with the U.S. Army for the development of these robotic “octopeds.”

Robot Spiders, Dragonflies, Snakes to Aid Soldiers in War Zones


Grossmann: Crows – the Organic Aerial Surveillance Vehicle

26 December 2013

A very few of us can brag that we never forget a name, but a lot of people will tell you they never forget a face.  Crows don’t forget faces either.  You won’t remember their face, but they’ll remember yours . . . if, of course, you are a “person of interest” in their eyes.

Long before we started worrying about being watched by the intelligence community and long before the intelligence community was even planning to start watching anyone, “someone else” was watching both them and us and . . . just about everything else.  They were crows.

DARPA has, and will, invest millions of dollars in aerial surveillance and reconnaissance drones, like the Maverick and the developing Robo-Raven.  The agency hopes to “add” surveillance and reconnaissance equipment to these flying drone.  And, these drones will simulate the flight, movements, and appearance of actual birds, so well,  that they will be dismissed by viewers as passing birds.  However, neither DARPA nor their contractors may suspect that they aren’t adding anything to their mechanical birds that the real things don’t already have.

A group of birds of the genus. corvid, including crows and ravens, have every surveillance and reconnaissance ability of their mechanical imitators.  But the crows can do something more.  They interpret the data “on board” as it’s received.  And their abilities to recognize, interpret and communicate what they observe would be the envy of any and every DARPA contractor.

In other words, a pervasive group of flying eyes has been systematically watching us (and the rest of the world) since before the dawn or recorded history.  Crows?  Yes, just those ever-present large black birds.  They can recognize your face in a crowd of humans and, then, remember your face, communicate what they’ve seen and recognized to each other, and even plan and conspire.  What are they planning?  What are they conspiring about?  We don’t know.  Actually, it’s all pretty weird when you think about it.

The FBI is working on a type of biometrics called facial recognition.  Biometrics, generally, is the computer recognition of human characteristics such as voice, gate and facial features.  DARPA’s Robo-Raven may, someday, relay surveillance footage back to a computer, which will, then, attempt a facial identification of any human beings in the video feed.  But this robotic bird will be doing nothing the real thing wasn’t doing when the Egyptians were building the pyramids.

The crows’ ability to recognize and remember faces remained unproven until John M. Marzluff, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington, decided to test the crows’ facial recognition abilities.  Why ?  After 20 years of working with these birds, which included capturing and tagging, it seemed that particular birds were “wary” of particular scientists and tried harder to avoid capture.  He had long wondered whether the birds could identify particular researchers.  Although the attempts to evade capture were little more than a minor annoyance, he decided it was worth a test.

Marzluff performed the test on the University’s Seattle campus.  He used Halloween-type masks, which were worn by researchers when they captured, tagged and released seven crows.  The birds certainly didn’t enjoy the capture and tagging.  The question: Would the birds remember the features of the masks worn by the taggers.

Later, two groups of volunteers strolled through the campus, one group wearing the same masks worn by the taggers and another group of wearing the same type of mask, but one with different features.  Did the crows remember?  Oh, did they.  While the volunteers wearing the different masks were ignored, those wearing the taggers’ mask were, first, yelled at.  The crows squawked and “scolded” the wearers of the offensive mask with obviously hostile calls.  However, as if to dispel all doubt about their displeasure, the crows dive-bombed a few of the volunteers but, again, only those wearing the offensive mask.

Let it be known that crows are not only vocal birds, but quite aggressive.  As David Dietle put in his excellent article on the amazing abilities of these birds, crows “hold a grudge.”  If you read Dietle’s full article you’ll realize that if you are on a crow’s bad side, . . . well . . . you may have something to worry about.

But Marzluff’s test revealed a few things no one expected.  When volunteers wore multiple types of masks and strolled through campus, in a group, the wearers of the taggers’ mask were singled out for scolding and dive-bombing by crows other than the original seven that had been captured and tagged. So, how did the other crows find out about the faces of the taggers?  Well, apparently, not by imitating or joining in the attack after the original seven began the festivities.  As amazing as it sounds, it’s likely that the attackers “heard’ about the facial features of their victims from the original seven.  Crow behavior implicates an amazing system of vocal communication that has never been well researched and is not well understood.

Apparently, crow calls are extremely diverse and demonstrate clear regional variation.  As David Dietle explains it, these birds have “dialects” – something almost inseparable from language.  Some crow calls have been interpreted to mean certain things in certain contexts, but sufficient studies have never been done to determine the extent of crow language.  Therefore, it’s impossible to estimate the degree of articulate communication between and among crows

Crows have usually large brains for their body size.  In fact, these birds have unusually large brains — period.  The size the crow brain is about the same as that of a chimpanzee.  Nathan Emery and Nicola Clayton, from the departments of animal behavior and experimental psychology at Cambridge University in England, have recently published a study in Science discussing evidence suggesting that the crow and its fellow corvids may have cognitive abilities that match those of chimpanzees and gorillas.

So, can crows not only remember your face, but describe you to other crows to the extent that these others will recognize you on sight?  Well, there’s a high probability that this amazing suggestion is true.  By the way, when the Seattle experiment was repeated with more normal-looking masks, the birds performed just as “well.”

The reader may be thinking, “If I offend a crow, maybe I can ‘lay low’ until all the crows, alive now, are dead.”  Sorry, that plan won’t work.  In the Seattle test, subsequent generations of crows, birds that had never seen the offending masks, recognized them and attacked the wearers in the complete absence of the original seven birds that had been tagged.  I don’t know about you, but this makes even me just a bit nervous . . . and I feed wild birds regularly.

In fact, certainly crows could give any elephant a run for the money when it comes to “never forgetting.”  There are numerous documented reports of whole flocks of crows avoiding homes, locations, even communities in which even a single crow has been killed.  It’s hard to believe that literally thousands of birds, for generations, would avoid a specific location on account of single death of one of their own, but they apparently do.

In evaluating these reports, David Dietle made an interesting observation.  If you mess with a crow, thousands of crows will remember your address for generations.  In other words, as many as a few hundred thousand crows will “know where you live.”

I can imagine some readers thinking, “Yes, crows do remember.”  “But if they don’t like me, they’ll just scold me and dive at me.”  “I can deal with that.”  And you’re probably right.  However, you should know some of the things crows can do – if they want to.

Consider a certain group of crows that loved nuts, but couldn’t crack the shells themselves.  These birds took the nuts to an intersection with a traffic light.  Spreading the uncracked nuts on the road, they waited until cars ran over the nuts and cracked the shells.  However, the crows didn’t fly out after each nut was cracked.  They waited and watched the traffic light.  When it displayed a signal that would stop traffic, the birds flew into the road and retrieved the nuts.  Then, took them to a safe location and ate their meal at their leisure.

Imagine what crows could do to their enemies if they really wanted to.  These birds are intelligent planners and communicators.  Also, they hold grudges and have long memories.  Oh, I forgot to add that these birds display great ingenuity and they are very, very patient.  Nervous yet?

As I said, I feed wild birds regularly.  I used to do this out of an empathic affection for wildlife.  But now, I look at these feedings as something more like payments of “protection money.”

A “must read”:

David Dietle, “6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Think”