Animals

Above, R.C. Murphy Junior High students Gregory Garra and Gianna Raftery with Catherine Markham in Dawn Nachtigall’s seventh-grade science class last year. Photo from Three Village school district

By Daniel Dunaief

A recent study of 57 species around the world, published in the journal Science, showed that mammals moved distances two to three times shorter in human-modified landscapes.

Catherine Markham, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University, contributed to this research, adding information about the ranges for baboons in the Amboseli Baboon Research Project in Kenya.

Marlee Tucker, an ecologist at the Senckenberg Nature Research Society based in Frankfurt, Germany, led the effort, which involved working with 114 other scientists who are studying mammals around the world. Tucker “brought together all these research groups on a scale and scope that had not been undertaken before,” Markham said. “She evaluated in an unprecedented way what the implications of human expansion and development are for wildlife movement.”

According to Tucker, a reduction in animal movement could have ecological implications. “It is likely that ecosystem functions such as nutrients and seed dispersal will be altered,” she explained in an email. “However, whether these impacts are negative, positive or neutral requires further research.”

Tucker suggested that it is “important to maintain landscape connectivity so that animals can move freely,” which could include the creation of corridors that link natural landscapes.

While the study made it clear in a comprehensive way that mammals tend to move less when humans interact with them, it didn’t offer specific indications about the causes of that reduction. Some of that, scientists say, could come from fear, as mammals may avoid humans. Alternatively, some mammals might find a new and concentrated food source at garbage dumps and elsewhere that would reduce the need to travel.

Susan Alberts, a professor of biology at Duke University and a collaborator with Markham on baboon research, said that the “take home message” is that “this is a pervasive phenomenon and occurs on a large scale in the mammalian world.”

Markham has been studying baboons in Kenya at the Amboseli site since 2004. When Tucker reached out to her to see if she could contribute to this work, Markham saw an opportunity to collaborate using information she was already gathering.

Above, baboons with a radio collar in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Photo by Catherine Markham

As it turns out, baboons in the research project in Kenya live in what Markham describes as a “relatively pristine area” so they did not see “over the time period an increase in the human footprint index.”

Markham shared information about 22 baboons for about 900 days as a part of this research. Tucker’s overarching conclusion included areas where people weren’t encroaching on a mammal’s range. “When she compared the movement of animals living in relatively pristine environments — like the baboons in Amboseli — to the movement of animals living in areas of higher human encroachment, that lead to exciting conclusions,” Markham said. Tucker indicated that future research should focus on exploring the underlying mechanism of the reduction in movement.

In the meantime, Markham is continuing her studies on baboons, exploring the energetic consequences of group size. Larger groups tend to beat out smaller groups when they are competing for food and water in a particular habitat. At the same time, however, those larger groups have stress levels caused by group competition, as one baboon might find the constant proximity and rivalry with another baboon stressful. Baboon group sizes range from a low of around 20 to a high of about 100. Markham is exploring the tension within and between groups.

Over the past few years, Markham, who has been studying this competitive dynamic extensively, has used noninvasive techniques, such as gathering fecal samples, to look for levels of thyroid hormones, which can indicate an animal’s energetic condition.

Alberts explained that Markham was an important contributor to the work at Amboseli, adding that Markham “asks questions at the group level that the rest of us don’t.”

Within the community, Markham has been involved in recent efforts to inspire middle school students at R.C. Murphy Junior High school in Stony Brook to enjoy and appreciate science, working closely with science teacher Dawn Nachtigall, who has been at Murphy for 20 years.

In her second year at Murphy, Markham visits seventh-grade classes several times, discussing her work and explaining how to analyze images from camera traps set up in Kenya and at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown.

The students receive about 30 photos per pair, Nachtigall explained. Based on the pictures, the students have had to generate questions, which have included whether young deer spend more time with male or female parents, or whether hyenas come out more on full or new moons.

According to Nachtigall, Markham “has such a friendly veneer and an approachable affect” that she readily engages with the students. “She has this wonderful demeanor. She’s soft-spoken, but strong.”

Students in her class appreciate the opportunity to interact with a Stony Brook researcher. “By the end of the period, they are glad to have met her,” Nachtigall added. “Some of them want to become her.”

At the same time, Nachtigall and the other science teachers appreciate the opportunity to hear more from local scientists.

“We live vicariously through her,” Nachtigall said. “It really ignites our own passion for science. Seeing the real-world science for science teachers is just as exciting as it is for students.” Markham is working to post materials online so that teachers and parents can access the information.

A native of Rockville, Maryland, Markham, who joined Stony Brook in 2014, resides in St. James. When she was young, Markham enjoyed the opportunity to join class events in kayaks along the Potomac River. She occasionally saw beaver and bald eagles. Indeed, along the way toward working with baboons, she has also conducted research on bald eagles, monitoring their nests with remote cameras.

As for her work on the Science article, Markham said she is pleased that this kind of collaborative research can provide broad ranging insight to address questions that extend beyond the realm of any one lab or species.

Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

MEET SASHA!

Sasha

Eagerly waiting for you at Kent Animal Shelter is Sasha, a 3½-year-old shepherd/husky mix who is full of life and energy. On her short wish list is a great big fenced-in yard to play in and to have all of your attention, so she would prefer to be the only pet in the home. This sweet girl walks nicely on a leash and would do best in an active, adult home where she can get lots of exercise and lots of love. Sasha comes spayed, microchipped and up to date on all her vaccines.

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. For more information on Sasha and other adoptable pets at Kent, visit www.kentanimalshelter.com or call 631-727-5731.

A haven for Long Island’s injured wildlife

By Kevin Redding

Three weeks ago at a construction site in Elwood, a young red-tailed hawk was lying on the ground with its eyes closed. It had been hit by a car and its skull was fractured.

But today, that same bird of prey can be found perched inside a spacious flight aviary at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, gliding from one branch to another and darting its head in every direction in search of its next meal. Dan’s Bird, as it’s known on the property after it was rescued by Daniel DeFeo, a Sweetbriar volunteer since 2015, will eventually be released back into the wild as one of more than 1,000 injured animals the nonprofit will rehabilitate this year. 

“As a wildlife rehabilitation center, we are about 50 percent successful with what goes back into the wild, where most other centers are at about 30 percent,” said Janine Bendicksen, Sweetbriar’s curator and wildlife rehabilitation director. “We can do everything a vet hospital can do except surgeries, as far as medications and setting bones. We’re also the only center where people can just walk in and drop animals off. It’s a real service to the public.” Whatever the site can’t do on its own, she added, is handled by the staff at Best Friends Veterinary Care in Nesconset.

All in a day’s work

On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, Bendicksen — who has been at Sweetbriar for 18 years, is at the site five days a week and is in charge of teaching educational programs, fundraising for big events and running the summer camp and wildlife rehabilitation camps — made her rounds throughout the property, making sure to greet every critter along the way, including permanent wildlife patients like Einstein the screech owl, who has suffered a broken wing and leg and takes shelter among piles of towels and blankets inside a laundry room; Jack, a kestrel with a missing eye and a crossed beak due to exposure to the pesticide DDT; an old turkey vulture that was hit by a car in Pennsylvania, broke its hock and sustained a wing fracture; and an opossum that was found starving to death and is expected to be released in the spring.

There are also box turtles, mallard ducks, rabbits and chipmunks. A groundhog and a deer too. The site is licensed to take in almost any animal, Bendicksen said, except rabies vector species like raccoons and skunks.

Squeezed into a tiny wooden habitat, Bendicksen summoned two flying squirrels from inside a nesting box. Although they are nocturnal, she said these animals only slip into semihibernation during the day and can be woken up to eat and play. “These guys came from somebody’s attic,” she said. “Every couple of weeks we get another one because somebody uses a Havahart trap to catch them.”

Even though the nonprofit, which officially opened in 1986, has been rehabilitating wildlife for more than 30 years, Bendicksen said the program has grown in “leaps and bounds” over the last decade and each year the site takes in more and more. This is due to both Sweetbriar’s growing popularity in the community and people and developments “encroaching on animal’s habitats,” Bendicksen said.

The goal of Sweetbriar, of course, is to bring every animal back into the wild, and specifically back to exactly where they were found, but in many cases, the outcome depends on the specific animal and its situation. For instance, some injured animals can’t live in captivity and these — as well as animals that don’t recover from their severe traumas — must be euthanized.

“It’s the humane thing to do,” Bendicksen said. “Seagulls come in all the time and they don’t do well in captivity. While in cages, they get what’s called bumblefoot [inflammation on the soles of the feet], which they eventually die from.”

Not long after she explained this, William and Mary Krumholz of Smithtown brought in a box containing a seagull they found hobbling in the Costco parking lot.

“It looks like the wing is broken,” William Krumholz said. “It could hardly run away from me. It was only a matter of time before it got run over.”

After wrapping the seagull in a towel and doing some quick detective work in the rehabilitation room, Bendicksen deduced more than likely it was struck by a car, and found that the last digit of its wing was separated and hanging on by a part of the bone. She assured the Krumholzs that it would be taken to the veterinarian to be checked out further and told them about the inflammation concern with seagulls.

“But, if that’s the case, what you did do was save him from starving to death or being eaten or run over,” she said to them. “We’ll do our best.”

Mary Krumholz nodded her head. “I mean, that’s nice, but … It was only a car ride over here and I already feel bad.”

Bendicksen later said one of the most challenging parts of the job was to resist the urge to become attached to the animals that come in.

“It’s why we try not to give names to any injured animals we release, just the permanent ones,” she said, “because you become too close to the animals and it makes it very, very hard if you have to make a difficult decision. We wish we could release everything back where we found them.”

The human touch

People have been bringing animals to Bendicksen to be patched up since she was a young girl growing up in Hauppauge.

“There are little kids here who just stick their hands into cages and that would’ve been me — I was always told to be a veterinarian,” Bendicksen said. “My mom’s friends would call and say, ‘The cat just grabbed a baby bunny and it survived.’ I would always build little habitats for them and make sure they had a comfortable bed, even if it was just, like, a frog.”

Bendicksen grew up to be the owner of a children’s clothing business called Janine, which employed stay-at-home moms. In the late 1990s, however, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, which forced her to give up everything for a while.

“I went through two years of hell and then had to kind of start my life over again,” she said. When she became cancer free, she came to Sweetbriar with her children for one of its volunteer picnics. She struck up a conversation with the site’s director, who, after finding out more about her, asked if she’d be interested in helping them curate the site.

After some extensive training, a licensing process and testing from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bendicksen was a teacher on the site. It didn’t take long before she became director of wildlife rehabilitation. “This place saved my life,” she said. “What makes you happy as a child should be what you do as an adult. I’m extremely lucky.”

Val Timmerman, a Stony Brook University student and one of Sweetbriar’s 14 volunteers, said everything she knows she learned from Bendicksen.

“She’s so awesome and knows everything,” said Timmerman, who stumbled across Sweetbriar almost two years ago while searching for animal rescue facilities close by. “Being able to make even a small difference in the patient’s lives, making things a little bit better for them, is what I love. And, of course, releasing them, finding out that a possum or something we didn’t think was going to make it is doing so well now. It’s great.”

Bendicksen said without her volunteers, the site wouldn’t survive. “These people are near and dear to my heart,” she said.

DeFeo, who studies biology at Suffolk County Community College and hopes to be a zookeeper one day, is at Sweetbriar every Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. taking care of all the birds of prey on the property, preparing all their food, changing their water bowls and cleaning out their dirty cages.

“I’ve always loved animals,” DeFeo said. “Just going out there and saving an animal’s life — it’s such a beautiful feeling. And I always feel a sense that I will do anything to save that life.”

Before pursuing the animal field, DeFeo said he was an electrician. But he knew he had to call it quits after nearly suffering a severe injury.

“If I fell off a ladder and broke my back, I’d be miserable for the rest of my life,” he said. “But if I got my arm bitten off by an animal, I’d probably still be happy and go to work the next day. This is what I’m meant to do.”

How you can help

“The public needs to be better educated on what they need to be afraid of, what they shouldn’t be afraid of and what they should do when they find an animal,” Bendicksen said, adding that any and all residents who do come across an injured animal should call Sweetbriar before handling it or bringing it in.

Here are some helpful tips Sweetbriar staff members have assembled:

• Baby birds are often seen fully feathered but trying to fly, with the parents nearby. These are fledglings. If they look bright and alert, it is best to leave them alone. If possible, keep cats and dogs away from the area for a few days in which time the birds will learn to fly. The parents will continue to care for them even though they are on the ground. If you are not sure the parents are nearby and you are concerned, you may put the bird in a nearby bush or on a tree branch and observe from inside the house for a few hours. If the mother sees you in the yard she will not come near.

• If an adult bird can be caught, probably something is wrong and it needs help.

If you encounter any kind of turtle crossing the road, it is okay to help it along. However, please carry it to the side of the road in the direction it is heading. By putting it back on the side it is crossing from, it will start crossing the road all over again.

If an opossum is found smaller than 8 to 10 inches, it probably needs attention. Orphaned babies are often found looking for food near a dead mother, especially alongside roads. These animals rarely contract rabies because of their low body temperature.

• DO: Place the animal in a secure cardboard box with small holes placed on the side or lid. The box should be just big enough for the animal to stand and turn around, to prevent the animal from thrashing around and hurting itself. Place paper towels or a T-shirt on the bottom of the box.

• DON’T: Keep peeking at the animal or handling the animal. The more you look at an animal or handle it, the more you stress the animal and reduce its chance of survival. Resist the temptation to put an animal inside your shirt. Cute little squirrels are notorious for being covered with fleas.

Sweetbriar Nature Center is located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive in Smithtown. The center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-979-6344 or visit www.sweetbriarnc.org.

Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

MEET AMBER!

Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

This week’s shelter pet is Amber, a 4-year-old Shepherd mix who came to Kent Animal Shelter from Texas with two of her pups. Her pups have since found their forever homes — now it’s Amber’s turn!  Amber is a super sweet girl and loves all the attention she can get. She’s great with kids and loves belly rubs too! Amber also loves to eat, so pick up a bag of treats and come on down to visit her. She comes spayed, microchipped and is up to date on all her vaccines.

Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. For more information on Amber and other adoptable pets at Kent, visit www.kentanimalshelter.com or call 631-727-5731.

Stock photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I recently caught a cold from my son, Matty, and it really knocked me on my butt. Fever followed by a terrible cough that has lasted at least two weeks. The ironic part  of the story is that about a week and a half into my cold, each one of my three cats developed a cough and started sneezing. My cats do not go outside and I wondered if I could give a cold to my cats.

After some investigation I couldn’t believe what I found. There are documented cases of cats with upper respiratory syndromes, and these same cats tested positive for the human H1N1 influenza virus.

I graduated veterinary school about 20 years ago, and all of the focus was on zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and not the other way around) or diseases that could affect herd health (say a cow that develops a respiratory disease that is either fatal or affects productivity). Through the years since I graduated, there have been smaller studies evaluating what infections we humans can give our pets. Now, there is definitive evidence that the human H1N1 influenza virus can be passed to cats. 

Sneezing, the sniffles, lethargy and coughing may be signs that your cat has the flu. Stock photo

The human-to-cat transmission of the flu is not the first time that examples of cross-species contamination has taken place. I also found examples of experimental infection of pigs with the H1N2 human influenza virus. Not only did these pigs show symptoms of the flu about four days after infection, but they also passed the disease along to uninfected pigs. More recently, the canine influenza virus outbreaks that keep making the news appear to be a mutation of an H3N8 equine influenza virus. What in the name of Sam Hill is going on?

It seems that the problem with these influenza viruses is their ability to mutate, or change their genetic sequencing. One of the better examples recently (2009) was a human outbreak in the United States where the influenza virus responsible included genetic material from North American swine influenza, North American avian influenza, human influenza and a swine influenza typically found in Asia. That means this particular strain of flu virus was able to incorporate genetic material from three different species. UGH!!!!!

The most important question is this: How do we prevent this infection in our feline family members? The unfortunate dilemma with this constant mutation is there is no effective influenza virus vaccine for cats at this time. Therefore, it is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid contact with your cat until at least the fever breaks. I can tell you from personal experience this is easier said than done.

My cats sleep with me, follow me around and (they’re a bit naughty) even jump on the kitchen table to see what I’m eating. The good news is that if your cat does break out with symptoms it is restricted to an upper respiratory infection.

Symptoms include lethargy, coughing, sneezing and a purulent (snotty green) discharge. If you do see a greenish discharge from the eyes or nose, antibiotics may be indicated due to a secondary bacterial infection. A much lower percentage of cats progress to a lower respiratory infection (even pneumonia). This can be quite serious and possibly fatal because it is viral and antibiotics are ineffective unless there is a secondary bacterial component.

Until a feline influenza vaccine is developed, my advice is that when you break out with the flu, good general hygiene is best even at home. If you cough or sneeze, cough or sneeze into your arm rather than cover you mouth with your hands. Make sure to regularly wash your hands or carry around the waterless hand sanitizer.

Lastly, if your cat develops signs, contact your veterinarian for advice or possibly an appointment. Good luck my fellow pet lovers.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

Rapunzel. Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

MEET RAPUNZEL!

Just look at those beautiful brown eyes! This is Rapunzel, an adorable 2½-month-old Catahoula/hound mix from South Carolina, now waiting for a furever home at Kent Animal Shelter. How is it that this gorgeous gal couldn’t find herself a home down south? No worries, Rapunzel — New Yorkers are going to be fighting over you! Rapunzel has already spent some time with cats and would do well sharing a home with them. She is also spayed, microchipped and up to date on all her vaccines. Will you be her Valentine?

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. For more information on Rapunzel and other adoptable pets at Kent, visit www.kentanimalshelter.com or call 631-727-5731.

Update: Rapunzel has been adopted!

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Giada. Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

MEET GIADA!

Just look at those cute ears! Sweet little Giada came to Kent all the way from the Bahamas where these dogs, known as potcakes, don’t have it so great. This mixed-breed sweetie is only 7 months old and can’t wait to grow up with a loving family of her own. She is keeping her paws crossed that you will come see her right away! Giada comes spayed, microchipped and up to date on all her vaccines. Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. For more information on Giada and other adoptable pets at Kent, visit www.kentanimalshelter.com or call 631-727-5731.

Update: Giada has been adopted!

By Ernestine Franco

Why does a generally rational society drag a sleeping groundhog out of his hibernation burrow to learn how much more winter is to come? Don’t we have calendars? Don’t we have memories of what has happened in previous years? Don’t we have the Weather Channel?  Let’s consider how all this happened.

Sound Beach Susie enjoying a carrot. Photo by Ernestine Franco

According to Charles Panati’s “Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things,” the groundhog (also called a woodchuck or whistle pig) is not really interested in how long winter is. Looking for a mate or a good meal are the actual reasons that determine a groundhog’s behavior when it emerges in winter from months of hibernation.

Quite simply, if on awakening a groundhog wants some company or is famished, he will stay aboveground and search for a mate and a meal. If, on the other hand, these appetites are still dulled from his winter slumber, the groundhog will return to the burrow for a six-week doze. Weather has nothing to do with it.

Folklore about the animal’s shadow originated with 16th-century German farmers. However, the German legend did not rely on a groundhog. Rather, the farmers relied on a badger. (Happy Badger Day?) The switch from badger to groundhog did not result from mistaken identity. German immigrants who settled in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, in the 19th century found that the area had no badgers. It did, however, have hordes of groundhogs, which the immigrants conveniently fitted to their folklore.

Weather did play one key role in the legend. At Punxsutawney’s latitude, a groundhog emerges from its hibernating burrow in February, again looking for company or food. Had the immigrants settled a few states south, where it’s warmer, they would have found the groundhog waking and coming aboveground in January. In the upper Great Lakes region, the cold delays its appearance until March. Thus, it was the latitude where the German immigrants settled that set Groundhog Day as Feb. 2.

German folklore dictated that if the day was sunny and the groundhog (badger) was frightened back into hibernation by its shadow, then farmers should refrain from planting crops, since there would be another six weeks of winter weather. Scientific studies have squashed that lore. The groundhog’s accuracy in forecasting the onset of spring, observed over a 60-year period, is a disappointing 28 percent —   although, in fairness to the groundhog, the estimate is no worse than that of a modern weather forecast.

So Groundhog Day has become part of American culture. The official groundhog that gets yanked out of its burrow is Punxsutawney Phil, named for the town where the German immigrants settled. Thousands of people and the national media cover poor Phil’s treatment. And let us not forget there is the film, “Goundhog Day,” which is enjoyed by many people year after year after year.

Many other states celebrate their own groundhog. In New York we have Staten Island Chuck, Dunkirk Dave, Malverne Mel and Holtsville Hal, whose sleep is interrupted at the Town of Brookhaven’s Wildlife and Ecology Center in Holtsville.

For me, I recently had my own groundhog, whom I called Sound Beach Susie (shown in the accompanying  photo eating a carrot), take up residence in my backyard. But I did not bother her in February. I waited until late spring when she brought her five babies out in the open. I had very interesting encounters with them when she allowed me to feed them all for a few weeks. They particularly liked carrots, broccoli and romaine lettuce. They did not like celery, asparagus or zucchini.

So Happy Groundhog Day, no matter how or when you celebrate it!

Gray mouse lemur

By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Axel Carlson

In 2016 a 54.5-million-year-old set of some 25 bones were unearthed in Gujarat, India. They belonged to the closest ancestor of all primates that lived about 56 million years ago. One branch of that ancestor produced the lemurs, lorises and an extinct group of adapoids. A longer branch produced the tarsiers and an extinct group of omomyids. Even more recently from that tarsier branch came the New World monkeys, followed by the Old World monkeys and most recently the apes and humans. The Gujarat primate has bones that are like a mixture of the lemurlike and monkeylike lineages.

The primates arose from an earlier line of dermopterans, and they in turn came from a line of tree shrews. The dermopterans are represented by a nearly extinct line of flying mammals that superficially look like bats but that differ in their mode of flight. They have a flap of skin that serves as a gliding organ, and they can glide about 200 feet from tree to tree in a forest. They are not good climbers, lack opposable thumbs and are nocturnal. Their diet consists of fruits, leaves and sap. 

One species lives in the Philippines. They are called by their popular name, colugos. Colugos are unusual in the trade-offs they have made in adapting to the rain forests in which they live. They gave up the marsupial pouch as they shifted to the placental pregnancies of mammals, but like marsupials, the colugo babies are born immature and are shielded by their mothers for about six months in the skin flaps that serve as both gliders and a pseudopouch.

We humans (Homo sapiens) can decide which of our ancestors to call human. The Neanderthals and Denisovans are our closest ancestors, and we acknowledge that they shaped tools, lived in communities and even bred with us, leaving behind as much as 3 percent of their genes in our genomes in many parts of the world.

The 54.5 million-year-old animal would have most closely resembled the gray mouse lemur.

Less human in appearance are Homo erectus and Homo habilis. All of these walked upright, unlike apes. Their skeletons are more humanlike than apelike. The very fact that they could reach reproductive age and survive tells us they knew how to shape the environments in which they lived or extract from them the protection, food and materials needed for their survival. 

Humans are remarkable in their plasticity of opportunities. They can migrate to frigid arctic or antarctic climates or live in deserts, in high altitude or sea level, in four seasons or one.   

As a geneticist I am aware that the contribution of any one of my Homo sapiens ancestor’s genes some 200,000 years ago had a low probability of remaining in contact with its neighboring genes, and in all likelihood those genes in me are from virtually all of the individuals alive then. 

When we do genealogy, assuming four generations per century, it only takes 2,000 years for any one of those ancestors in our family history to have less than 1 percent of our genes. If we are lucky (like royalty) to have records of our ancestors going back to the Middle Ages, we would likely find ourselves related to everyone in an ancestral region (a person like me whose father was from Sweden would be related to virtually every Swede in the age of the Vikings a little over 1,000 years ago).

In many ways our past genetic heritage is like the history of my Montblanc fountain pen, which was given to me by my students at UCLA in 1968. In the 40 years I wrote with it, I sent it to be repaired dozens of times either because I dropped it or a part wore out. Each time my pen came back looking new. I still think of it as the 1968 gift, but I doubt if there is any part that is still of the original pen given to me then.

This makes it unlikely that there is a genetic basis for behavior traits in a family that can go through more than 10 generations. The processes of shuffling genes every time we make eggs or sperm breaks up whatever cluster of genes we wish to assign to a human behavior. This is good because the genes of conquerors were spread widely while they held power, but having one of Ivan the Terrible’s genes or Genghis Khan’s genes would not make us a predatory monster in our relations with others. We inherit genes, not essences. If there is a mark of Cain, it is not engraved in our genes.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

Holtsville Hal did not see his shadow this year, forecasts winter to come to an end soon

Brookhaven's famous groundhog, Holtsville Hal, predicted an early spring on Groundhogs Day. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

The snowflakes stopped falling moments before Brookhaven’s famous groundhog offered this year’s prediction — it was a good omen of what is to come.

More than 100 residents cheered as the famed Brookhaven Town groundhog Holtsville Hal did not see his shadow, an indicator that spring would come early this year.

“I’m happy,” said Dan Losquadro (R), Brookhaven superintendent of highways. “We love winter
here on Long Island. We love the kids to be able to play in the snow, but we don’t want winter
to last any longer than it has to.”

Hal made his 22nd annual Groundhog Day prediction at Holtsville Wildlife and Ecology Center Animal Preserve at 7:25 a.m., as per tradition, according to the master of ceremonies Wayne Carrington.

Tradition says that if Hal — or, as he’s known in the Town of Brookhaven as a throwback to
the classic Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day,” the Great Prognosticator of Prognosticators
— sees his shadow when he wakes from hibernation, the community is in for six more weeks of winter.

“So he exited the ground, not a creature was stirring and not a shadow was found,” read
Losquadro from a large scroll to the cheers of onlookers. “I cannot tell a lie, my prediction so
accurate does not come from the sky. I saw what I saw in a blink of an eye.”

Those who attended were treated to free hot cocoa to warm up and celebrate the good
news. Both Losquadro and Carrington asked residents to make donations to the ecology
center to help support care for its animals and programs.

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