Magazine article Natural History

Word Exchange

Magazine article Natural History

Word Exchange

Article excerpt

The Unkindness of Milk

In "Follow the Drinking Gourd" [5/11], Rob Dunn writes that "it appears that in no mammals other than humans can adults digest milk," yet domestic cats and dogs enjoy drinking milk. Can those pets digest lactose? If they cannot, then perhaps pet owners should avoid offering them milk. If they can, then lactase persistence may be another example of a juvenile trait, like floppy ears, that is retained in adulthood by domestic animals. Such neoteny would be the result of artificial selection for other traits, such as tame behavior and "cute" physical features.

Brian Palest i s

Wagner College

Staren Island, New York

Rod Dunn repues: I know of no solid research on lactase persistence in pets. Loose stool is apparently a common consequence of milk drinking by cats, despite that animal's iconic association with milk. That some adult cats may have the ability to drink milk deserves investigation and an explanation. Brian Palestis's hypothesis that lactase persistence has been favored because youthful traits tend to be chosen in domestication is an intriguing one.

Maori Menu

I was fascinated to read Simon D. Pollard's observations concerning the significance of rhizomes of the bracken fern Pteridium esculentum to the diet of the Maori people of New Zealand ["Land of the Long White Cloud," 5/ H]. In Australia this species is now considered an undesirable weed in pastures because it is poisonous to livestock. Prolonged ingestion induces vitamin B ? deficiency in horses and pigs, and hemorrhaging in cattle. Prompted to do some further reading, I learned that Aboriginal people in southeastern Australia (where I live) also used this plant. …

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