PHOTOGRAPH BY EVAN FROST, MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO/AP
PHOTOGRAPH BY EVAN FROST, MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO/AP
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Why does everyone want a dog?

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

When Nick Hennen adopted his Chihuahua-dachshund mix three weeks ago, his name was Queso. Queso didn’t seem to like his name very much, so Hennen, who lives in Washington State, turned to Twitter. Now Queso’s name is Fauci. As in, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the country’s foremost infectious disease experts and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“This doggo saved my sanity really,” Hennen told my colleague David Beard.

One of the bright spots amid the coronavirus pandemic has been the spike in pet rescues. Though shelters are closed, video meet-and-greets, online profiles, and curbside adoptions have helped some shelters and rescues empty their kennels. (Above, a dog named Cori leaving the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, Minnesota, for a new home).

For many who are sheltering at home alone—heck, even those who aren’t alone—having a companion animal is a blessing. They combat loneliness and depression, can lower stress, and are just plain fun to have around. And at a time when many feel lost, they can give a sense of purpose.

A National Geographic and Morning Consult poll of 2,200 people in the U.S. found that 20 percent have considered adopting a pet during this time of social distancing and quarantining. And 17 percent have considered fostering. The overall number of adoptions appears to have decreased somewhat from last year, according to PetPoint, which tracks data from more than a thousand shelters. That could be because some shelters aren’t able to process adoptions because of the staffing safety protocols during the pandemic. Nonetheless, the number of animals in foster care has roughly tripled or quadrupled because of the coronavirus, Steve Zeidman writes.

Maybe all those fosters will turn, like Nick and Fauci (below), into forever families after all.

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Today in a minute

A mighty spine: How does a hero shrew, a smoky-gray rodent the size of a rat, have the strength in its back to withstand the weight of a person standing on it? A researcher says its vertebrae have thousands of tiny, finger-like projections that allow them to lock into each other while also providing remarkable flexibility. Imagine a mammal that can scrunch up its body like an inchworm, mammalogist Stephanie Smith tells Nat Geo.

The cull: U.S. farmers, facing closed meat plants and other supply chain issues because of the pandemic, have killed at least two million chickens, the Washington Post reports. Cattle and pig producers are considering the same, the Guardian reports. Farmers across the country have been forced to dump huge quantities of milk and vegetables because of virus concerns and lack of customers, while many Americans wait in line for food handouts, the Post’s Michael Ruane says.

A pug named Winston: A North Carolina hospital said it detected the coronavirus in a dog, apparently the first such report in the United States. The News and Observer reported that the pug and most of its human family, enrolled in a hospital study, had tested positive. Another pug in the family did not, and the family’s bearded dragon was not tested. Researchers have said the virus in domestic animals is extremely rare, caused by human-to-animal transmission.

Elephants can’t hold their alcohol: Neither can cows or horses. That’s the result of a study of 85 species, the New Scientist reports. Animals that eat fruit and nectar hold their alcohol the best, the study says. That includes chimps, bonobos, bats—and humans.

Run for the roses: Before the pandemic, this was to be the weekend of the Kentucky Derby, the first of the three big U.S. Thoroughbred horse races each year. For animal rights experts, any delay is welcome. Nat Geo’s Rachel Fobar reported last year that nearly 500 U.S. Thoroughbred racehorses died in 2018.

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The bat sign: A long-exposure image shows the wing-stroke pattern of a woolly false vampire bat. This species is one of the largest bats in the Americas, with a wingspan that can reach over two feet. It lives in small social groups and hunts birds, rodents, and other bats. Anand Varma took this image in a hotel room in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico while documenting the research of Nat Geo Explorer Rodrigo Medellín. Varma loves detecting movements that are usually too small or too swift to notice. “Capturing these details,” he says, “reminds me that there is always more to see when you pay close attention.”

Related: The bloody truth about vampires

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The big takeaway

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Making animals move: To accompany a striking Nat Geo article, our graphics team and Brian Christie Design teamed up to show exactly how a series of animals gets around. Above, gibbons can swing like pendulums below close handholds, a movement called brachiation. At high speeds they release both hands to go completely airborne between supports. Below, mudskippers can use their front fins on land in a lurching style of locomotion called crutching. Subscribers can see the full article here.

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In a few words

The last glimpse

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Friends for life: Like humans, flamingos seek out buddies they get along with and stay away from others—a strategy that may boost their survival, Virginia Morell writes for Nat Geo. “One way to reduce stress and fights,” says one researcher, “is to avoid those birds you don’t get on with."

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Jen Tse and Eslah Attar. Do you have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading.