Science has found that monkeys will pay to watch monkey porn, as we mentioned in another article. But upon reading about those experiments (which involved filming monkey porn, training monkeys to watch it and then working out a complex system of compensation), some of you immediately had a rather important question: "What scientist was even wondering about that in the first place?"
This is when you realize that a huge amount of the scientific research done in the world seems to be based entirely on shits and giggles. For instance, there have been studies on ...
#6. "Will a Male Turkey Fuck a Severed Head on a Stick?"
Back in the '60s, poultry specialists observed that male turkeys seemed to only be attracted to the faces of females. (When have you ever seen a turkey stare at another turkey's ass? Never.) So clearly it was time to find out just how far into Crazytown they could take the idea. "Oh, you like faces, Mr. Turkey? Well let's see you mate with this!"
Via Carbaugh, B., Schein, M., & Hale, E. (1962). Animal Behavior
"Well, I'm not really in the mood for mating, but I could use a little head."
Yes, that would be a real, severed female turkey head. On a stick.
In 1965, Pennsylvania State University researchers Martin Schein and Edgar Hale started the experiment reasonably enough by presenting male turkeys with a model of a female turkey. The living turkeys got their sex on, because they're just turkeys, and at the sight of a turkey-shaped object they were like "Close enough for my feathered boner!" The researchers then severed the feet, tail and wings from the model, and the oblivious turkeys kept on doing their thing.
Is anyone else imagining a deep Barry White voice making turkey sounds? "Blblblblblblblb!"
The researchers kept removing sections of the turkey until all they were left with was the head of the model. That didn't discourage the males one bit -- just the fake head was enough. That was all probably good data, and helpful to farmers and such who are looking for the best way to breed turkeys. And then the scientists were like "Well, we've come this far. Let's go put a real turkey head on a stick and see if we can get a male turkey to fuck it."
They did, and then they watched as the males frantically humped the severed heads of their lovers. All while at least one scientist in the room tried desperately to hide his erection.
"Fifty bucks says he fucks this, too."
#5. "Can You Make a Tortoise Yawn by Yawning in Front of It?"
Try something for us: yawn. Now watch how every friend or stranger nearby will also yawn. This baffling phenomenon isn't unique to humans (go try it on your dog), and scientists have long wondered why it happens. And at some point, scientists looked at a tortoise and said, "We must find out if it yawns when other tortoises do, for the good of mankind."
The problem was that they first needed to train a tortoise to yawn on command so they could see if the others around it followed suit. So Dr. Anna Wilkinson from the University of Lincoln in the U.K. spent six months teaching a red-footed tortoise to yawn, and at no point in that span did any of her friends stage some kind of an intervention.
She later taught a fish to swim and a giraffe to eat leaves.
We know you're wondering how in the possible hell she was able to teach the tortoise to do anything, but the process is basic behavioral conditioning. If you're looking to do this yourself, like say you just lost your job or whatever, just place a red piece of cardboard in front of your tortoise and continuously watch him or her. Every time your tortoise opens its mouth or does something resembling a yawn, feed it a piece of lettuce. Over the months and months you've spent staring at your tortoise, in dead silence, waiting for him to yawn as the clock behind you quietly ticks away the seconds of your life, the tortoise will eventually learn to yawn in response to the cardboard, without the lettuce. You have won.
And at the end of it, they put their yawning reptile in with the others and not a goddamned thing happened. It turns out that no, tortoises don't yawn just because another tortoise is doing it.
The field of Tortoise Psychology was rocked to its very core.
The study suggests that contagious yawning isn't the result of a pre-wired neural ("fixed action") pattern that fires whenever higher animals see other members of their group yawn, but rather requires a social cognition that lower-order creatures (like tortoises) lack. If true, it could provide a small but compelling new insight into the way we understand animal (including human) cognition.
Wilkinson also notes that any new understanding about reptile social behavior makes it easier to conserve endangered species. But you'd have to back up this claim with some solid evidence, most likely the kind that involves putting funny hats on animals while you shove them in neural imaging machines.
"Shhh. I'm doing cancer research."
#4. "What Does a Monkey's Voice Sound Like on Helium?"
There are two types of people in the world: people who would, given the chance, make monkeys swallow helium to hear what funny sounds they make, and people who lack any sense of wonder and joy. Put us in the same room with a helium balloon, and we're going to suck on that thing to hear ourselves talk like Donald Duck. The only thing stopping us from making our pets do it is that it's incredibly difficult to get a Rottweiler to suck on a balloon. This is why we have scientists.
"Note to self: The red one goes in its butthole."
In other words, when primatologist Takeshi Nishimura of Kyoto University in Japan placed a gibbon in a helium-filled chamber in order to study the sounds she produced, he did the most comprehensible thing any Japanese person has ever done. The result? The helium changed the gibbon's voice from the generic whine of a ghost puppy you've beaten one too many times to the generic whine of a baby you haven't quite beaten enough:
OK, maybe this wasn't just for the hell of it. Nishimura and his associates were trying to figure out the mechanism by which gibbons make their noises (it appears that gibbons consciously control their vocal system, much like humans do, except that they specialize in singing rather than speech). Great. Now stick a lion in there to see if it makes it sound like a house cat. Do it! Do it now!