Pet Scoop: Penguins Move in Wave to Stay Warm, Hugh Jackman Meets D.C. Panda Cub

Dec. 17, 2013: We've scoured the Web to find the best and most compelling animal stories, videos and photos. And it's all right here.

Just one individual in an Emperor penguin huddle can cause thousands to shift.
Just one individual in an Emperor penguin huddle can cause thousands to shift.

Emperor Penguins Do the Wave

If you’re living in the Antarctic during the winter, you need all the body heat you can get to keep warm and protect yourself from the wind. A new study looks at the dynamics of massive huddles of Emperor penguins. By analyzing video of the groups of thousands of birds, scientists learned that just one individual taking a small step can trigger a wave through the group. Any penguin has to move only 2 centimeters for the one next to it to react and move a step, creating a movement throughout the huddle. The small stop and go movements make the birds look like a group of cars in a traffic jam. Colonies of Emperor penguins make these formations when temperatures drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit, helping, in part, to incubate the eggs that the males keep at their feet. The study was published in the journal New Journal of Physics. — Read it at NBC News and watch it on YouTube

Cat Domestication Traced Back 5,000 Years

Fossils found in an ancient Chinese village reveal the first clear evidence of felines living with humans some 5,300 years ago. Researchers believe cats were semi-domesticated, and used by farmers to chase off rats and mice. "This was a very unexpected find," said study coauthor Fiona Marshall, a zooarchaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis. Previous research has shown that all of today’s domesticated cats descend from one subspecies of Middle Eastern wildcat. But scientists aren’t yet sure how the cats got to China — whether they were somehow imported from the Middle East, or whether they could have descended from an Asian wildcat species. They are hoping further DNA analysis will help clarify that. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. — Read it at the Los Angeles Times

“Dog Dust” May Help Kids Fight Allergies

The flakes of skin that fall from dogs might protect kids from developing allergies and asthma later in life by altering the bacteria in the intestines, a new study finds. While previous research has shown that exposure to dogs during infancy can stop the development of allergies and that bacteria in the intestines can affect allergies and asthma, this is the first study to link those two ideas. The researchers in this study found that mice who were exposed to dog dust had fewer immune cells in the airway that respond to allergens than mice who were not exposed to the dog dust. "Perhaps early life dog exposure introduces microbes into the home that somehow influence the gut microbiome, and change the immune response in the airways," said study researcher Susan Lynch of the University of California, San Francisco. The findings from this study were also published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. — Read it at Live Science

Hugh Jackman visits panda cub Bao Bao at the National Zoo in Washington.
Hugh Jackman visits panda cub Bao Bao at the National Zoo in Washington.

Bao Bao Gets Celebrity Visit

There are lots of perks to being a famous actor — and one of them is getting to be among the first to get to see a panda cub! X-Men star Hugh Jackman stopped by the National Zoo while he was in Washington, D.C., to host a TNT Christmas concert. He shared a photo on Instagram of himself visiting with nearly 4-month-old panda cub Bao Bao and her mom, Mei Xiang, behind the scenes. “Bao Bao. Absolutely awesome experience at The Smithsonian Zoo, Washington DC. #thankyou #pandababy #baobao,” Jackman wrote with the photo. The cub, who now weighs in at about 13 pounds, recently spent the day in one of her mom’s large indoor enclosures. It was the first time she’d spent a whole day outside of her den. But Bao Bao hasn’t yet made her public debut. Zoo officials say she could be on display as soon as early January. — Read it at NBC Washington

New York Zoo Hand-Raises Sloth

A 4-1/2-month-old female Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth is making history at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in New York. Officials believe little Araña is the first of her kind to be hand-reared at a zoo in the U.S. “It is extremely rare for sloths to be hand-reared, especially from such a very early age,” said the zoo’s director, Ted Fox. “The dynamic of our sloth group led us to make the decision to hand-raise her, and we could not be more pleased with the remarkable success we have had.” Araña was born on August 1 to first-time mom Basil and dad Quinto. — See photos at Zooborns

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