Saturday, February 9, 2008

Multi-Tasking in the Animal Kingdom

This morning, while my humans were eating, I heard one of them make an odd comment........ He said, "Look how only one of Ginny's ears turned toward you when you went into the kitchen, while the other one stayed turned toward the television." What did he expect?--There was a 2-hour special interview with Eddie Murphy on Bravo--You know, Dr. Doolittle?! (A dog hero, if I ever met one!). Of course I'm going to keep listening. Even so, that wasn't what he was surprised about. He seemed surprised that I could listen to two things at once. That's like being surprised that a human can use his hands and his feet when driving a car. I have two ears--It seems mighty obvious to me that I could use them for two different things. This, my friend, is just simple multi-tasking. Not that I want to sound negative, but humans are always thinking that they are the only species with any real talent. Well, let me give you a few more examples: (1) Dogs can separate out individual odors, when they are mixed, whereas humans smell only one conglomerate; (2) Crabs use their large claws for both tools and weapons; (3) Elephants use their trunks not only for smelling (obviously), but also for scratching, bathing, drinking, moving objects, and play-wrestling; and (4) (This one's my favorite!) Dolphins and whales sleep with one-half of their brain at a time!--Take a look at this web page to read about this:

"On land, human beings and other mammals breathe involuntarily: If we don't make a decision to breathe or not to breathe, our body will take in air automatically. Because of their undersea environment, whales and dolphins must be conscious breathers: They have to actively decide when to breathe. Consequently, in order to breathe, they have to be conscious. This presents a problem, since mammalian brains need to enter an unconscious state from time to time in order to function correctly (see How Sleep Works to find out why this might be).

"There's plenty of time for a dolphin to catch a catnap between trips to the ocean surface, of course, but this isn't a viable option. When you're a conscious breather, it's just not feasible to be completely unconscious -- what if you don't wake up in time? The solution for whales and dolphins is to let one half of the brain sleep at a time. In this way, the animal is never completely unconscious, but it still gets the rest it needs.

"Scientists have studied this phenomenon in dolphins, using electroencephalography. In this process, electrodes hooked up to the head measure electricity levels in the brain. The resulting electroencephalograms (EEGs) of dolphin brains demonstrate that in the sleep cycle, half of the dolphin's brain does indeed "shut down" while the other half is still active. Researchers have observed that dolphins are in this state for approximately eight hours a day."

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