In search of ponies: Animal messages can be messy

Sometimes things are just plain misleading.

Take, for instance, a BBC video titled "Giant panda does handstand."

Oh sure, it's a film following a giant panda around the woods, and yes, he does a handstand, but there's a little more to the film than a cute bear doing acrobatics.

To be more precise, the film consists of four action-packed minutes of panda bathroom rituals, which do include the panda doing a handstand — with the sole purpose of positioning himself to "go" higher up on the trunk of a tree.

Thankfully, an accompanying story described the scientific knowledge gained from observing the potty patterns of Sir Panda, namely the fact that not only do pandas stand on their front legs to direct their stream higher, they're also surprisingly selective about the trees they choose to tag, choosing trees with rougher, "deep tread" bark, presumably so the scent markings have more longevity.

And the handstand?

Well, by positioning the scent marking higher on the tree, researchers believe it is likely to reach out further through the forest. Since pandas, whose populations are incidentally dwindling, use their scent markings to communicate personal information to one another, such as age and gender, they want those messages to get out far and wide.

Pandas, as we all know, aren't the only ones to use their naturally given "spray paint" to write each other notes or advertise within their communities. In one way or another, most animals recycle their byproducts as a messaging system, whether it's to warn an enemy away, post city limits signs, or put out a singles ad.

Of course it doesn't really impact humans (except for the ones that unknowingly click on the video) if a panda does a handstand to raise the spray, but just because an animal is "domesticated" doesn't mean they stop "communicating" and they can do it in some pretty creative ways.

Learning about the inventive rituals of the panda instantly brought some other creative critters to mind.

While the rest of the herd would traipse to the far corner where they had a designated "in box," there was the horse that would lick his food bucket clean, then return the dish full.

It didn't seem to matter where the bucket was placed, on the ground or hooked to the fence, he went to great lengths, and at some points surely had to have stretched and aimed with great effort, to make sure it was never empty.

A cat who learned open suitcases meant lonely days ahead, always made sure his opinion was known and at the same time, found devious ways to be sure he packed a surprise of his own.

Frustrated that the big white machines cleaned all the scents away, one cat made it her mission to seek out laundry baskets and another cat found a dark corner under a bed to write messages in private.

While the manners of civilized humans adhere to the latter method, to most critters, sending messages in private is just plain old illogical.

Naturally, when it comes to the house sharing communicators, there must be compromise in order to reconcile the disparity in styles and thus we have devised clever boxes filled with perfumed rocks for them to mail their letters and sometimes we even run around behind them with baggies, presumably collecting the messages to send later.

But when compromise collapses and there's an unexpected communication, it could be we're not getting the point.

Sure, it could be as simple as, "I couldn't wait," but it's also possible the paper towel swipes are eradicating the greatest love letters of all time or an exceptionally polite thank you note that reads, "Hey, thanks for all the grub. I don't have much, but please accept this token of my appreciation."

Don't be too hard on the messenger.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: insearchofponies@gmail.com or on the web at: www.insearchofponies.blogspot.com

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