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John Byrne
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 5:51am | IP Logged | 1  

My pool has evidently become the place to meet and greet for the local raccoon population.

This has been the second summer since I moved into this house that I decided not to uncover the pool. Not enough use out of it, versus the expense of the upkeep. Since the middle off July, tho, I had been noticing a wet patch, about four feet square, in the middle of the cover each morning, and also that this patch was often strewn with small stones.

At first I was putting this down to separate events. Perhaps the wind had rolled the stones to the edge of the cover, and, since it saggs slightly toward the middle, gravity had taken care of the rest. And perhaps that sag somehow accounted for the wet patch. (Can a pool experience tides?)

Then, about two weeks ago, I noticed the footprints. Handprints more like. That distinctive, almost human shape is what finally clued me in to what was going on. Raccoons, as anyone who has ever watched a Nature show probably knows, like to wash their food. And the locals have obviously figured out that if they carry their food into the center of my pool cover, their weight will push the cover down to the level of the water in the pool, and they will have a small, private pond to do their washing.

And that's where my thread title comes in -- cuz, ya know, it seems to me like that's not something a raccoon would have discovered accidentally. Oh, sure, I can see where a coon family might have come waddling across the yard and, without realizing what it was or what would happen, across the pool cover. But once the water appeared and then disappeared as they moved on, it would have demanded at least a degree of reason for the raccoons to not only figure out what was happening, but that they could repeat the process deliberately. And make use of it.

Small digression. Just yesterday I was reading about the reason moths fly into lightbulbs and, more fatally, candle flames. Simply stated, it has to do with the way they use fixed, distant light sources, like the Sun and Moon, to navigate. Since those light sources are at what is called "optical infinity", their light rays, reaching the moth's compound eyes are, for all intents and purposes, parallel. So the moth can fix on that light coming in at a particular angle and travel in a straight line from point to point. But candles and lightbulbs and all other such form of artificial light are much, much closer than the Sun and Moon, and so the light from them radiates, like the spokes from a wheel. A moth that tries to follow the light from a candle will, in fact, spiral in and immolate itself. The problem is that artificial light is too new, and moths have not had the chance to adapt to it, on an evolutionary basis. And moths, unlike raccoons, don't do much in the way of thinking, at least so far as we know.

But here, with the Coon Crew's use of my pool cover, we see animals adapting to something for which their evolutionary track can in no way have prepared them. There is no natural equivalent to a pool cover stretched out just far enough above the water that the weight of the animal will push it down into that water. This is something the raccoons (at least one of them) have to have figured out. And then remembered, from night to night. Smart!

And then one of them learns to say "No". . . .

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Bill Collins
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 5:54am | IP Logged | 2  

That`s one for the Creationists!
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John Byrne
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 5:54am | IP Logged | 3  

Come again?
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Ted Pugliese
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 7:06am | IP Logged | 4  

Wait until they start asking you to open up the pool for them :-)

I am amazed by how they get into my trash cans, even eating through the lids when they have to.
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Tom French
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 7:11am | IP Logged | 5  

My dog figured out that to open the trash can, all he has to do is put his paw on the floor pedal and push.  That cracks me up. 

Not as stunning as the raccoon story -- which is pretty damn amazing -- but still... 

Why is it so hard for some folks to assign intelligence to animals?  Is it simply ego? 

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Paulo Pereira
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 7:15am | IP Logged | 6  

Great story, but I'm honestly surprised raccoons aren't even smarter than they are, considering those clever paws of theirs.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 7:25am | IP Logged | 7  

Why is it so hard for some folks to assign intelligence to animals? Is it
simply ego?



Of course! A not-so-healthy mixture of hubris and religion. Virtually every
faith teaches that Man is the top of the ladder -- already a fatuous image --
and that all creatures (including women!) are inferior. This despite the vast
amounts of evidence that they are not.

One of the things I find most frustrating is the idea that animals are not
"conscious". That "consciousness" is unique to humans. This despite
studies in which animals have demonstrated amazing amounts of self
awareness (including male chimps masturbating at pictures of female
chimps!). This little incident with the raccoons in my yard seems to indicate
a high level of consciousness. An awareness of and ability to adapt to their
environment on a moment to moment basis. As we do. "Hey, look what just
happened! Go see if it will happen again."
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Paulo Pereira
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 7:28am | IP Logged | 8  


 QUOTE:
(including male chimps masturbating at pictures of female chimps!)


Wow...
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Matthew Chartrand
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 8:25am | IP Logged | 9  

Great business opportunity, Porn for chimps. Of course you would have to accept payment in bananas.

 

 

 

 

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Martin Arlt
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 9:06am | IP Logged | 10  

"Of course! A not-so-healthy mixture of hubris and religion. Virtually every
faith teaches that Man is the top of the ladder -- already a fatuous image --
and that all creatures (including women!) are inferior."\

===

Heck, I'd go a step (or rung!) further.  Many still seem to think that man is not at the top of the ladder, but rather above or separate from it.  We are not part of a continuum with animals, because man isn't an animal. 

And for those that accept evolution, many still hold onto the outdated notion of one organism being "more evolved" than another, which is a completely meaningless statement without an environmental context.  Is man more evolved than a fish?  Well, what happens when you put a person at the bottom of a lake for ten minutes (or a fish out of it, for that matter).

Anyway, of course animals have varying levels of reason and intelligence.  Evolution is a continuum, and man's reason and self-awareness didn't just manifest out of thin air (although I know many people think it did...).

Martin Arlt...............................

 

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Lars Johansson
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 9:15am | IP Logged | 11  

including male chimps masturbating at pictures of female
chimps!).

"Next time we'll keep the pictures of female chimps out of the c*m radius, boys!"



Edited by Lars Johansson on 21 September 2008 at 9:16am
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John Byrne
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 9:23am | IP Logged | 12  

Many still seem to think that man is not at the top of the ladder, but rather
above or separate from it. We are not part of a continuum with animals,
because man isn't an animal.



Even amongst my most intelligent and enlightened friends, I can still raise
an eyebrow here and there when I use the phrase "other members of
the Animal Kingdom" when describing critters who are not us.
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Jeff Fettes
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 9:30am | IP Logged | 13  

Funny raccoon story thread drift:

Late one night I was coming out of the local 24-hour convenience store, and as I rounded the corner back into the dark parking lot, I spotted a raccoon comfortably laying on the hood of my car. I was driving a convertible and had left the top down, and so I didn't want the 'coon to jump in and make a mess. I thought it best to scare him away, so I raised my hands up and started making (what I thought) were loud scary noises. My monster act clicked on a motion-detector flood light, and the dark area lit up. From above me on the dumpsters that I was parked right next to, about 12 raccoons all glared and hissed at me along with their friend on my car. Yikes!

Smart, yes. But nobody told me they traveled in packs!

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Paulo Pereira
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 10:02am | IP Logged | 14  

That would have been quite a scene to capture on video, Jeff.
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Steve Horn
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 11:54am | IP Logged | 15  

Speaking of animals, I'm in the market for another Manx cat.  Sorry, but my favorite pet is a cat, especially a Manx.

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Mike O'Brien
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 12:52pm | IP Logged | 16  

I figured that ego plays a part in man not thinking animals smarter, but also the fact that we like to think of them as dumb so we don't feel so bad eating them.

Then again, David Cross had a good joke about that - he noted "We don't eat dolphin because it's smart...?  So... does that mean we can eat retarded people?"

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Marcio Ferreira
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 2:17pm | IP Logged | 17  

I remember my classes at University and how we discussed that the only thing that makes us different from the other animals is our capacity to elaborate "signs" and think of abstract concepts. Some creatures are able to do so, like the chimps using a stick to catch bananas, but for them a stick is something that will be always some sort of "banana catcher", while for us the same stick can become a "imaginary" sword, something to scratch our back or a thousand other things. That associated with our incredible memory, and our communication skills are the formula to makes us humans and the raccoons, very smart animals, but far away from us in the evolutionary journey.
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Simon Bucher-Jones
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 2:40pm | IP Logged | 18  

Its not wrong for us to consider ourselves smarter. We have a larger brain to body ratio. That's our specialism.

What we shouldn't be too quick to do is to think that, evolutionary speaking, that adaption is a long term 'winner'. It could well not be.

Clearly in the short term. The last 50,000 years - we've used our differences to dominate the larger animals. But whether we'll last as long or spread as far as beetles......

Now if we ever get to another world, that 'doubles' our chances - and would prove a win for intelligence. On one world it may not matter in the long term.

Simon BJ

 

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Wayne Osborne
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 3:28pm | IP Logged | 19  

A related story - my parent's pool has a similar cover. They had a cocker
spaniel and my sister had a collie (both have since gone to that big field in
the sky) but the cocker wasn't heavy enough to push the cover down to get
water from the pool to drink. The collie would go out and stand, drink what
water he wanted and wait for the cocker to come and drink too.
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F. Ron Miller
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 3:35pm | IP Logged | 20  

The raccoons certainly have it going on. The day I was convinced of this was
the day that I observed a family of four approach a curbside trash can the
night before garbage collection. What followed was like a circus act. The first
creature walks up the to the can and grabs hold. The second clambers up on
the back and shoulders of the first and so on until the stack, four raccoons
high reached the top of the can. The topmost raccoon flipped off the lid and
proceeded to raid the contents. The can, finally, was knocked over and each
of them was rewarded for their efforts.

Edited by F. Ron Miller on 21 September 2008 at 3:37pm
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Ted Pugliese
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 4:47pm | IP Logged | 21  

So after posting this morning, I went out and there was a dead raccoon on the side of the rode not even a mile from my house.  Of all the rode kill, Raccoons get to me the most.  I love the little bastards.
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Kevin Hagerman
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 4:56pm | IP Logged | 22  

My favorite animal study: researchers in the savannahs went out and picked a random representative herd animal (such as a wildebeest).  They tranquilized it and basically painted a big bullseye on its sides.  Then they observed.  With a convincing reproducibility, the marked animals were the ones culled from the herd the next time a hunting pack came a-calling.

Conclusions: the old saw about hunters culling the weak isn't true.  Hunters cull the OBVIOUS.  The ability of the hunters to agree upon a target was the most important factor in the success of the hunt.  This is supported by the uniformity of herd animal markings as well as such behaviors as stotting.  Fascinating.  But I did feel sorry for the poor saps who got painted.

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Matthew Chartrand
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 7:08pm | IP Logged | 23  

  related story-  my cocker spaniel is smart enough to stay off my pool cover but my 14 year old daughter apparently is not.

 

I think 90%(could be 99%) of whats on t.v. proves man is not as smart as he thinks.

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Warren Leonhardt
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Posted: 21 September 2008 at 10:46pm | IP Logged | 24  

But here, with the Coon Crew's use of my pool cover, we see animals adapting to something for which their evolutionary track can in no way have prepared them. There is no natural equivalent to a pool cover stretched out just far enough above the water that the weight of the animal will push it down into that water.
++

I've seen them do this with ice on a pond, early spring, while we were out camping. Still, these animals are smart little rascals. That robber-like mask suits them.
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Jonathan Stover
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Posted: 22 September 2008 at 4:11am | IP Logged | 25  

A couple of years back, I threw in the towel and started feeding the local raccoons dry dog food to cut down on their large-scale digging projects in the bird-feeding area, along with their periodic attempts to take the bird feeders down before I had a chance to. One of the positive effects of this (beyond saving the lawn) is the entertainment value of having raccoons around, including an albino one born this year who looks a lot like a possum but is indeed a raccoon.

The bolder ones know to walk up to me when I'm outside having a cigarette if there's no food on the ground and some of them have figured out what it means when I point and say 'Food!' if they've neglected to check a portion of the lawn.

I feel bad when I see one hit on the road as well, though around here they don't really have any natural predators other than the occasional large dog, so their population is pretty big -- leaving cars as about the only population control they have.

Cheers, Jon

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