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#1
Old 05-31-2003, 08:42 AM
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Cattle Guards - how/why do they work?

I have seen cattle guards several times - a series of pipes or steel strips laid in the road - and have been told their function, that cattle will not cross them. But I have never received an explanation of why this would be the case.

Some have proposed that cattle fear getting their hooves stuck, others say that the cows are afraid of the hollow space beneath the bars, but I'm not convinced.

Any bovine psychologists or animal behaviourists among the Teeming Millions who have an answer?
#2
Old 05-31-2003, 08:53 AM
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Well, I'm a human psychologist....But I've seen many cattle guards in my day and every rancher I've asked from Texas to Arizona say that cows actually have depth perception and they can not negotiate the thin bars with their hoved feet. Ever seen a cow jump? Me neither! So the rancher's aren't worried about that. Plain and simple a cow just won't venture out on the guard... Unless of course it's one of those Badger Cow's those little buggers git into anything!!
#3
Old 05-31-2003, 09:45 AM
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Yeah, I don't think the answer is any more complicated than the cows can't walk on the rounded bars with their hooves, and they can't jump over them.

What has always amazed me is that you can paint the things on the road, and they still work. Cows is stoopid.
#4
Old 05-31-2003, 10:24 AM
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I've personally seen a calf jump a cattleguard when the human it apparently felt imprinted with was driving away. I don't know if a full grown cow could do it though, though I don't see why not.

Anyway, it looks like cows are simply never quite motivated enough to get past these devices that look to have poor purchase for hooves.

From checking around, they apparently trouble bicyclists as well, but the bicyclists are less easily fooled by the painted-line faux guards.
#5
Old 05-31-2003, 02:32 PM
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I recently moved out into the country and I see these things all over the place now. I've been wondering how they work too.

My guess is that it's partly psychological. A human equivalent would be a pit about 4 feet deep with sharp spikes sticking up out of it. If you had steel soled boots (analagous to cow or horse hooves) you could probably get across the pit by very carefully stepping on top of the spikes. But you'd rather not if at all possible. And since there's a McDonalds (pasture) just back the other way, you'd be more likely to go grab a bite to eat than try some crazy stunt.

Maybe if you were really scared or really bored you'd try it, but most of the time... why bother?



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#6
Old 05-31-2003, 03:05 PM
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Do they step on it first and learn not to do that again or do they just not try? Have the careless ones been eliminated from the gene pool?
Do these things work at night? (Do cows walk around in the dark?)
Will horses cross them?
Anyone ever heard of an animal getting caught?
Where does one go to learn more about this? Is there a cattle guard factory? a cattle guard magazine? Who thought of it?
Now you have me really curious
#7
Old 05-31-2003, 03:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by dec
Is there a cattle guard factory?
Not really. Most people go to their local freelance welder and have him make 'em. My brother-in-law is a welder, and sells quite a few.
#8
Old 05-31-2003, 03:57 PM
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thanks gunslinger...
.Some one has to dig a big pit...and sometimes they're on a highway and I guess they have to dig up the highway?

I dont suppose you know the answrs to my other (silly) questions?
#9
Old 05-31-2003, 08:15 PM
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A little left turn here, but along the same lines. Covered bridges because horses and cattle won't cross if they see the water?
#10
Old 05-31-2003, 09:23 PM
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I didn't know painting one worked! Does this only work if the cow has been exposed to a real one, or do cows just avoid parallel lines across a road?
#11
Old 05-31-2003, 11:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by dec:
Do these things work at night?
I guess they do, because it's not necessary to close gates at night. The cattle guard is presumably still doing its job. Cattle have big eyes with very large pupils, so I think their night vision is pretty good.



Quote:
Originally posted by Shade:
I didn't know painting one worked! Does this only work if the cow has been exposed to a real one, or do cows just avoid parallel lines across a road?
I guess I shouldn't have definitively said it works - It's not like I've seen a cow go up to a painted cattle guard and say, "Whoa! Painted lines! Better not step on them!" But If you travel I-70 and I-25 in Wyoming, many, if not most, of the on- and off-ramps will have a painted cattle guard. And you don't see many cows on the freeway. So it must work, or they wouldn't keep painting them.

I was told many years ago, by someone who worked with cattle all his life, that the trick worked because cows don't have depth perception - they can't tell the difference between painted lines and bars with a pit beneath them. (I realize this is in contradiction to Philosophr's post, and I claim no expert knowledge here. Bovine biologist, anyone?)

But you raise an interesting point about whether this works only on cows that have been exposed to cattle guards before (and does a cow know not to step on a real one before she actually puts hoof to it?) I have had similar questions about <hijack>people around here who assert that grizzly bears have lost their fear of humans because we've stopped hunting them, and that instituting a hunting season would teach 'em some respect again. But the only grizzly that fears a hunter is one that's already been shot - they can't pass this lore along to one another ("Watch out for the two-legs with the fire-sticks! I saw Yogi get zapped by one of those!")</hijack>
#12
Old 06-01-2003, 02:36 AM
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Will horses cross them?

Don't know about horses, but I found that a donkey wouldn't step on grates on a sidewalk, even though it was a grillwork thing with gaps less than an inch apart. I figured its hooves would easily walk across it, but the donkey wouldn't even try.
#13
Old 06-01-2003, 03:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by ltfire
Covered bridges because horses and cattle won't cross if they see the water?
The reason covered bridges are built that way is because the roof protects the support timbers, which once upon a time were expensive and difficult to get in place. I don't think horses have anything to do with it; I grew up in an area with a large Amish population and saw many horses trotting across uncovered bridges with no hesitation.
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#14
Old 06-01-2003, 09:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by dono
I have had similar questions about <hijack>people around here who assert that grizzly bears have lost their fear of humans because we've stopped hunting them, and that instituting a hunting season would teach 'em some respect again. But the only grizzly that fears a hunter is one that's already been shot - they can't pass this lore along to one another ("Watch out for the two-legs with the fire-sticks! I saw Yogi get zapped by one of those!")</hijack>
Sorry, but almost any species which is hunted, is more elusive.

Those geese that you see in the cemetary where hunting is not permitted, will not let you get close to them out in the marshes where you can shoot them.

All those types of animals in Yellowstone, will not let you get close to them just a few miles outside of the park where they are hunted. Your chances of having elk, deer, and moose come up to you in the wild while you are hunting are slim and none.

I have seen deer in a state park where hunting is not permitted, come up to you and eat out of your hand, but just a few miles away, you wont even "see" deer.

Very few current day people even see a bear naturally in the wild - most bears that are seen by todays americans are either in a zoo, a park, or in a garbage dump where shooting is not permitted.

Admittedly, grizzleys are a little bit different, because a wild grizzley will "sometimes" come up to people, but not for a photo or a social visit, he will approach you to eat you.

Obviously, you have never hunted anything.
#15
Old 06-01-2003, 03:03 PM
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My mom grew up on a cattle ranch, and she told me when I was a kid that if a cow wandered onto a guard, their leg would get stuck in the gaps and it would break. Modern cows are presumably already aware of this, either through a process of unnatural selection or some sort of cowish educational system that they've managed to keep hidden from us.

Someone mentioned depth perception. It's true that cows, like many herbivores, have poor depth perception, because their eyes are located on the sides of their heads. The overlap, or the area that's visible to both eyes at once, is very small. This allows them to keep an eye (well, two of them) on a very large area at once, so predators can't sneak up on them.
#16
Old 06-01-2003, 06:56 PM
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SMEGHEAD quote;

Someone mentioned depth perception. It's true that cows, like many herbivores, have poor depth perception, because their eyes are located on the sides of their heads. The overlap, or the area that's visible to both eyes at once, is very small. This allows them to keep an eye (well, two of them) on a very large area at once, so predators can't sneak up on them.

..So, if we need to punch a cow (heh heh, cowpunching) we should come at them head on?
#17
Old 06-01-2003, 07:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by dec
Will horses cross them?
Horses could easily jump them. Cattle guards are usually only 3-4 feet wide, and almost any fat, old, out of shape horse could still jump twice that distance.

(Watch the horse jumping in the Olympics some time -- they are incredible. The world record height is approaching 9 feet (about 3 meters) and the distance jumpers in cross country courses often seem to be a dozen or 2 feet (4-8 meters) and doing it over and over again thru the course!)

Walking across a cattle guard would be more intimidating to a horse. Their hooves are wider and not cloven like cattle, so they probably could cross it, but it would still seem a rather unstable footing to a horse, and most would likely avoid crossing it.

Furthermore, most horses in America are rather pampered animals. Why would they want to wander away from their home, where someone comes by twice a day with hay & grain for them? And as herd animals, leaving the others is always a stressful thing.
#18
Old 06-01-2003, 07:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by dec
Will horses cross them? Anyone ever heard of an animal getting caught?
In general, they will deter any livestock and many timid humans. Goats have the dexterity to get across them, but most other animals do not and won't try. Some horses could jump them, but they'd have to be pretty motivated.

I have heard of many animals getting stuck in them. This often happens to sheep which are dumb enough to walk off cliffs and can easily get trapped in a cattleguard if they're herded carelessly. A horse recently got caught in one near a friend's ranch, and it took several men to free her and a lot of vet time to mend her. I don't know how she ended up in it, but she was on a road where she shouldn't have been and it's likely she got spooked by a car rather than actually making a calm and intentional attempt to cross it.

Quote:
Originally posted by ltfire
..So, if we need to punch a cow (heh heh, cowpunching) we should come at them head on?
If you come at them head-on, they're likely to punch you. I don't deal with cattle much, but when dealing with horses it's important to approach from the side (where they can see you) and talk to them gently all the time so they know you're there. If you walk quietly straight into their blind spot, you're likely to take a head butt or a hoof when you startle them. I'm pretty good at blocking anything a human can throw, but a front kick from a horse is something to be avoided. Of course, if you're aiming to tip them, you're on your own...
#19
Old 06-01-2003, 09:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Susanann
Obviously, you have never hunted anything.
Ah, Susanann, I have hunted many things. I have also observed the fact that the antelope are much spookier in the fall than in the summer. My question is more how this occurs, not whether it does. How do they pass this knowledge along to one another? Like Smeghead said,

Quote:
a process of unnatural selection or some sort of cowish educational system that they've managed to keep hidden from us
.

Because the only animal that has first-hand knowledge of the detrimental effects (of hunters, not cattle guards) is already dead. So, are they afraid of the booms of the rifles, and this suffices to keep the rest of the species at bay?

And would this work as well for a species that is seldom hunted, like a grizzly, as it does for an antelope ( where opening day sounds like D-Day, Omaha Beach?)

But this is getting to be a major hijack, and perhaps fodder for another thread.
#20
Old 06-02-2003, 12:15 PM
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I don't think the roundness of the pipes is an issue. I have seen guards with square profile pipes. In addition, the shape of the painted on ones being definitely non-round.
#21
Old 06-02-2003, 02:15 PM
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I can verify firsthand that cattle can be persuaded to cross a cattleguard. My neighborss herd broke through a fence and out into the road and I had to chase them back up his driveway, over a cattleguard.
#22
Old 06-02-2003, 04:25 PM
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As for animals learning fear of humans: You need two assumptions. First, assume that animals of any given species have differing degrees of fear of humans. Second, you must assume that this level of fear is somehow (by "education" or genes) passed on to young.

So, we've got two deer. One deer tells his fawns that humans have gotten a bad rap, and they're not really all that bad. The other tells his fawns that humans are scarry, and you should stay away from them. Hunting season comes. The frightened deer stays well away from humans, and the non-frightened deer decides to go up to the nice friendly two-legs and socialize with them. Guess which deer doesn't have any more fawns?

So the next season, there are proportionately more deer which fear humans, and proportionately less which don't, even though no deer which was shot ever returned.
#23
Old 10-23-2012, 08:57 AM
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Quote:
Do they step on it first and learn not to do that again or do they just not try? Have the careless ones been eliminated from the gene pool?
Do these things work at night? (Do cows walk around in the dark?)
Will horses cross them?
Anyone ever heard of an animal getting caught?
Where does one go to learn more about this? Is there a cattle guard factory? a cattle guard magazine? Who thought of it?
I have about 50 head of cattle and about 6 cattle guards across my farm land...I'm 58 and just got tired of opening and closing gates. My regret is I didn't do it years ago. They're a huge time saver.

Anyway, to help answer questions above, cows will typically not even step on a cattle guard. They just sniff it and leave it alone. Cows are often active late into the night grazing but still won't cross a cattle guard in the dark.

Cattle guards are a horse deterrent (10'+ front to back) but not recommended as horses are unpredictable. I used to live in Ocala, FL (horse country) and I got mixed reviews from horse owners about cattle guards ..but because of their value most wont take that risk. I would especially avoid most steel cattle guards as livestock hoofs seem to get trapped in the void below the pipe. I've seen pictures of cow and heard of horses strewn across a cattle guard after getting it's hoof caught in steel piping.

For that reason I highly recommend concrete cattle guards as the beams are solid from top to bottom.

You can learn more about cattle guards on wikipedia but I've found an intelligent resource about cattle guards here:

Last edited by samclem; 10-24-2012 at 07:47 AM. Reason: removed link
#24
Old 10-23-2012, 09:04 AM
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Reported as spam.
#25
Old 10-23-2012, 09:05 AM
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Welcome, James and thanks for the info. Hope you stick around. I'm in your age group and always like to encourage the more (ahem) mature visitors! Where do you farm?

ETA: Dewey, what makes that spam?

Last edited by kayT; 10-23-2012 at 09:07 AM.
#26
Old 10-23-2012, 09:10 AM
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Sorry to offend, Dewey? I have 100 acres in Monticello, FL
#27
Old 10-23-2012, 09:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by James H View Post
Sorry to offend, Dewey? I have 100 acres in Monticello, FL
I think the spam alert is just because your link is to a commercial site, and first posts from a new user that contain links to commercial sites tend to be spam around here.

Also, it is traditional to respond to new posters who bump near decade-old threads with references to zombies, so, in your opinion, how large a cattle guard would be required to successfully stymie the advance of the legions of the undead?
#28
Old 10-23-2012, 09:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leahcim View Post
I think the spam alert is just because your link is to a commercial site, and first posts from a new user that contain links to commercial sites tend to be spam around here.

Also, it is traditional to respond to new posters who bump near decade-old threads with references to zombies, so, in your opinion, how large a cattle guard would be required to successfully stymie the advance of the legions of the undead?
People zombies or cow zombies?
#29
Old 10-23-2012, 09:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leahcim View Post
I think the spam alert is just because your link is to a commercial site, and first posts from a new user that contain links to commercial sites tend to be spam around here.
Of course it's spam. He claims to have "found an intelligent resource about cattle guards" but then lists the same site as his homepage in his profile. In other words, this isn't some site he's found on the web and has no association with; it's his own website.
#30
Old 10-23-2012, 09:32 AM
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James, welcome.

Dewey, the link is informative, just because it's commercial doesn't make it spam.
#31
Old 10-23-2012, 09:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gorsnak View Post
People zombies or cow zombies?
Cow zombies.

GRRRAAAAIINNNS!
#32
Old 10-23-2012, 09:37 AM
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That's an interesting tradition... What size does a 'zombie guard' need to be? Wide enough you can drive across. Since zombies seem to easily die by fire (at least in the movies) I guess I would now suggest steel piping that is pumped with propane - then lit as needed .

Last edited by James H; 10-23-2012 at 09:37 AM. Reason: error
#33
Old 10-23-2012, 09:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dewey Finn View Post
Of course it's spam. He claims to have "found an intelligent resource about cattle guards" but then lists the same site as his homepage in his profile. In other words, this isn't some site he's found on the web and has no association with; it's his own website.
Uh, good catch. That does make it spam. I am more informed than I was before though, so there's that.

Now, on the important topic of zombies, I really don't think the cattle guard idea has any application here. Only a head shot kills a zombie, so getting a rotting appendage stuck in a cattle guard just means the zombie will continue on, leaving that dead appendage stuck in the guard.

Net result is no zombie stopped, plus now the guard is going to get clogged up with rotting zombie parts. Never a good thing.
#34
Old 10-23-2012, 09:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leahcim View Post
Also, it is traditional to respond to new posters who bump near decade-old threads with references to zombies, so, in your opinion, how large a cattle guard would be required to successfully stymie the advance of the legions of the undead?
I don't think a cattle guard would work on zombies. Since they're even stupider and clumsier than cattle, the zombies are just going to stumble in. This means that instead of deterring an arbitrarily large number of cattle, it will become jammed with zombies and then stop working.
#35
Old 10-23-2012, 10:15 AM
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Cows must be born with a sense about cattle guards. Just put one in. My cows have never been exposed to one before and won't come near it. Very expensive.
#36
Old 10-23-2012, 02:37 PM
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I agree Cold Dish. Steel cattle guards are expensive, but I think you'll find concrete a lot less.
#37
Old 10-23-2012, 02:43 PM
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Cattle guards work because they shoot first and ask questions later. Don't know about zombie guards though.
#38
Old 10-23-2012, 05:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by flodnak View Post
The reason covered bridges are built that way is because the roof protects the support timbers...
This is correct - a covered bridge is the answer to the question "How do we make a long-lasting bridge out of wood?" Wooden structures have an extremely long life (examples in Japan are well over 1000 years old) if you can keep water and fire away from them.


Quote:
... which once upon a time were expensive and difficult to get in place.
Still are.
#39
Old 10-23-2012, 05:56 PM
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Originally Posted by ltfire View Post
A little left turn here, but along the same lines. Covered bridges because horses and cattle won't cross if they see the water?
The roof protects the bridge.

Cattle and horses cross water. They even swim. Like the university, Oxford. Which swims.
#40
Old 10-23-2012, 07:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ltfire View Post
A little left turn here, but along the same lines. Covered bridges because horses and cattle won't cross if they see the water?
Horses like to walk on solid ground, a bridge sounds hollow. Ever see a trail class? There will be a little bridge probably no more than 6 or 8 inches off the ground, no water in sight and horses still won't want to walk across it.
#41
Old 10-23-2012, 07:37 PM
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Our dogs wouldn't walk across a cattle guard. I trained our Lab to jump over it. But she typically wouldn't jump unless I had a treat in my hand.

We had to get our cattle guard replaced. The heavy feed trucks had made it sink into the ground. It had to be pulled up and redone.

Last edited by aceplace57; 10-23-2012 at 07:39 PM.
#42
Old 10-23-2012, 08:22 PM
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
I trained our Lab to jump over it. But she typically wouldn't jump unless I had a treat in my hand.
So who trained whom?
#43
Old 10-23-2012, 08:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Machine Elf View Post
Cow zombies.

GRRRAAAAIINNNS!
Best laugh of the day, thanks.
#44
Old 10-23-2012, 10:28 PM
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I think it was Jerry Pournelle's discussion on horse cavalry vs pikemen that mentioned horses will typically shy away rather than trample a writhing mass on the ground because they are very afraid of broken legs. Presumably cows, eveb zombie ones, are the same.

Both cows and horses will run away from predators, or (for cows) circle to defend. A crippled cow or horse is a dead duck; it can't run, it can't keep up with the herd for protection. A crippled cougar or wolf can limp 3-legged and maybe feed off abandoned kills until the bone knits. A herbivore with a fracture is basically dead. This is (I have heard) why they shoot horses, don't they. The horse has no instinct to get by without using their bad leg and will simply make it worse. I assume cows are the same way.

So cows will avoid what appears to be uncertain ground. They will avoid gates that feel too uneven and potentially risky. The painted lines work because there is no such thing in nature generally - so cows have never needed the smarts or depth perception to figure out if a ground pattern is danger or decoration. In nature, 99% of the time, it's danger. Horses, at least, can jump a 4-foot gap. Horses are head-up, watch for danger and run from it, jumping whatever gets in their way; cows are head-down, horns-forward defence or attack. They are not designed to jump because their defence method does not need them to.

Darwin and other visitors mentioned the birds at the Galapagos. Originally, they were so unafraid that one episode, they landed on a sailor's arm to drink from the pitcher while he was pouring a glass of water. A visitor about 2 decades later, when people had been there for a while, mentioned the boy sitting by the pond whacking birds for dinner needed a 3-foot stick because the birds would not come any closer.

It seems there's a "skittishness" gene, and it's prominence comes and goes; a too skittish animal will not eat as well and lose out, a not skittish enough one becomes dinner. so the level of skittishness or wariness adjusts through selection...
#45
Old 10-23-2012, 11:37 PM
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Zombie thread closed.


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