Justin sent me an email this morning with the subject line “CRITICAL INFORMATION” that just contained a link to this story of a pipe-cleaning ferret named Felicia from Fermilab.
Back in the ’70s, the scientists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory were looking for a way to clear the tubes of their newly built particle accelerator of the bits of dust that could derail a high-energy beam of particles whipping around at the speed of light.
Some ingenious scientist remembered that ferrets were used on English estates to go down rabbit burrows and scare the critters out (hence the phrase “ferret out”) and so, Felicia the ferret was employed by Fermilab to clean out the atom smasher. They tied a piece of string with a cotton swab to her tail, set her in the tubes, and then banked on her natural curiosity to lead her around the four-mile particle collider.
Felicia is now officially my favorite animal in science history.
Here’s something for your adorable break in the day.
Behold, birds who have lost the ability to can!
Just kidding, guys. These birds are just trolling the hell out of ants. I really, really wanted to show you this clip of a Galapagos finch or something harassing the shit out of formica ants and then being all “Yes, yes, bathe me in your fury! Your chemical defenses are now my own! Mwahahahaha!”, but the closest thing I could find is this video of David Attenborough pissing off some wood ants. It was basically like that, only instead of an Englishman with a stick, it was a bird stomping around with its wings spread just being an absolute asshole about everything.
This behavior is actually called anting, and there are two types of anting that birds can engage in. One is just anting, where birds will rub ants all over themselves to get that precious, precious formic acid all up in their feathers. They’ll also do it with mothballs, cigarette butts, and certain sorts of beetles and millipedes. The other one is passive anting, where a particularly lazy bird will find an anthill and just flop down on it with all their feathers spread and puffed and annoy the ants until they hop to and try to make them leave, at which point the bird rubs its wings together and goes “Yeeeeeess.”
They do this to get rid of external parasites, because external parasites are annoying. Ant-eating birds who do this are getting a two-for deal out of it, because they get the ants to empty their acid sacs in a beneficial location (the bird’s feathers) and then get to eat them without having to deal with the acid in their crops, so it’s basically like if your bug-spray or deoderant came in a bacon bottle.
Formica ants get the brunt of this, because they’re super-common and quite frequently spray the acid instead of trying to inject it, so the bird can get itself doused and then preen it into its feathers. Considering the spraying of acid is like the ant way of saying “Oh my god go away you dickhead I hate you we all hate you why are you still here jesus christ what is wrong with you,” we can be reasonably sure that they’re not super-thrilled by this bird behavior. Since the birds keep doing it, we can be reasonably sure that they don’t care about the ants’ feelings.
Birds are the actual best thing.
Oh, amazing planet: Stunning portraits of Canadian moths by photographer Jim des Rivières. A fine addition to these extraordinary photos of animals like you’ve never seen them before.