Quirks & Quarks

July 09: Best of Quirks & Quarks - Our favourite animal stories

From potty training cows to monkeys getting drunk, here are a few of our favourite animal stories from the past year.

Cane toad cannibalism, drunk monkeys, protecting cattle without killing wolves, and more.

Cane toads are causing a lot of problems in Australian ecosystems because the invasive species has no predator to keep their numbers in check and they're poisonous. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

On this week's episode of The Best of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald:

Researchers potty-train cows to help solve the problem of cattle pee pollution
Originally broadcast September 18, 2021

Nitrogen in cow urine can pollute surface and groundwater and create a potent greenhouse gas, so teaching them to use a "toilet" could be an environmental win. A team of researchers including Lindsay Matthews, an animal behavioural scientist at the University of Auckland, trained 16 cows to urinate in a specially designed enclosure, and were surprised by how quickly the cows caught on. The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

Read more: Potty-trained cows can help solve pee pollution problem, study finds

Scientists from New Zealand and Germany created this cow "potty" to train calves how to urinate in there. (Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology)

Monkeys consume fermenting fruit, likely for the extra calories from alcohol
Originally broadcast April 9, 2022

A study of wild spider monkeys in Panama has determined that they will seek out and consume fermenting fruit, with a roughly one per cent alcohol content. By collecting leftovers and wild monkey urine, the researchers found the monkeys were eating fermented fruit and digesting the calorie rich alcohol. Christina Campbell, an anthropologist at California State University, led the research, which was published in the Royal Society Open Science.

A new study of spider monkeys in Panama shows that they eat fermented fruit containing as much as 2% ethanol. The results shed light on the theory that the human inclination to drink alcohol may have its roots in our ancient ancestors’ affinity to consume fermenting but nutritious fruit. (Victoria Weaver/CSUN)

Invasive cane toads in Australia have eaten everything else, so they're eating each other
Originally broadcast November 13, 2021

Invasive cane toads have become so abundant in Australia that the tadpoles are getting rid of their competition by cannibalizing hatchlings, which in turn is driving evolution of new behaviours to avoid being eaten. Jayna DeVore studied this unusual cannibalistic behaviour as a post-doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney, and found the Australian cane toads had a much keener appetite for hatchlings than non-invasive cane toads.

Read more: Cane toad tadpoles in Australia are cannibalizing smaller cane toad hatchlings


This Alberta rancher protects his cattle without killing wolves
Originally broadcast January 8, 2022

Alberta ranch manager Joe Englehart's cattle-protection strategies are the focus of a University of Wisconsin study on how to manage wolves without killing them, and preliminary results suggest his ways are effective. But, in a profession where culling wildlife to protect livestock is common practice, and where cattle kills cost ranchers time and profits, Engelhart's methods have been met with skepticism. 

Read more: This Alberta rancher has been called a 'wolf lover' for using no-kill methods to protect cattle

Alberta ranch manager Joe Englehart stopped shooting wolves years ago and has found methods to avoid killing predators and still protect the cattle he oversees. (Molly Segal/CBC)

Quirks Question - What do underwater volcanoes and tsunamis do to marine life?
Originally broadcast April 30, 2022

Jamie Kinsman of Pointe-Claire, Quebec asks about what happens to marine life when an underwater volcano erupts and produces a tsunami. The answer comes from Mark Jellinek, professor of geophysics at the University of British Columbia.

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