Sunday 30 April 2017

Are you as fit as a barnacle goose?

Hi folks! Bouncing Bertie Boffin here. It's been too long since I posted about an important scientific matter, hasn't it?

Apropos my recent paw-related infirmities (and nothing whatsoever to do with last week's diet of whisky-laced buttermilk ice cream) I have lately had cause to ponder the relationship between fitness and exercise, in both humans and other animals. For example, my human Gail has been complaining about her being unfit due to my intermittent lameness (yes I know, so selfish, but what can you do?) But as soon as my paws stop hurting, I feel as bouncy as ever, even when I have been doing little but lounging on the sofa for the preceding few weeks.

Well I am delighted to report that scientists have not neglected the puzzling question of how some animals stay super fit despite distinctly couch potato-ish habits. You can read all about recent work on this topic here, or, for those of you who are 'time poor', I have summarised the main points below:

Have you ever thought about how the barnacle goose prepares for its 3000 km migration? No need for tiresome marathon-style training sessions for them, apparently. Rather, according to environmental physiologist Lewis Halsey, "they just basically sit on the water and eat a lot".

Likewise, how fortunate the black or brown bear. Unlike your typical human, whose muscles tend to dissolve into unsightly flab over the months of darkness (in Aberdeen at least), lucky Bruin emerges from hibernation with muscles as ripped as when he stepped into his winter hidey hole.

It seems that migratory birds and hibernating animals have genes which respond to cues like daylight or temperature and these genes act to preserve or enhance their muscle mass. Humans do not possess this useful evolutionary adaptation, due to their different lifestyle, and so have been forced to invent the gym and the exercise bike.

It is not yet clear where dogs and cats sit on this evolutionary 'no pain, no gain' spectrum, although based on my own personal observations, I hypothesise that we pups would be somewhere between the barnacle goose and the human.

I wonder if my friends can contribute any useful data about whether the human or non-human species in their household find it easier to  maintain themselves in tip top condition? If so, do please leave a comment. No detail, however trivial, need be omitted. Who knows, I may even publish a scientific paper on the findings...

[PS On the subject of evolution, Gail has reminded me to tell you about an article she has written on Darwin, recently published in online journal 'Assay' (edited by Tootsie's Mom). Personally, I don't really approve of her writing activities other than helping me with my blog, but you may click here should you actually want to read her piece... ]


  1. I'm to only one in my crib who is as fit as a running shoe :O)
    I like what your mom wrote about the voyage of the beagle... and we grinned as we read the quote by Mr. Darwin about NZ.... think the bestest Maremmas of all the land will not agree with Mr. D LOL

  2. My kitty brother Hazuzu is in the best condition out of everybuddy in our house. He keeps in such good shape by hunting outside fur mousies.
    Your Furend
    Louis Dog Armstrong

  3. Lovely work by Dr Gail. You must be very proud Bertie. You have taught her so much.

  4. Hari OM
    Bertie lad, your Gail has presented an excellent summary of the article... though a little mention of the wild mice learning to run a hamster's wheel might have been warranted! I recall always being astounded how ready the J's would be to move at pace and energy after many hours of lying around, whilst it has always taken the YAMster an effort to move beyond the pace of grass growing. From the hyooman pawspective, I's very aware that, due to the bones not complying, it is ultra impawtant that I keep the muscles at least remembering they have a part to play, so chair exercises are employed... pawhaps an exercise wheel is called for at the YAMster's hutch??? hugs and wags, YAM-aunty xxx

  5. My peeps are in the 'couch potato' mould, all creaking joints and aching limbs, which is pawfect fur me to run rings around hehe!
    Loves and licky kisses
    Princess Leah xxx
    PeeS Just sending Dad over to read Gail's article I nose he'll be very interested

  6. Bertie:

    Awesome post! As you know, the long and short of us have a terrible time staying fit without exercise. We tub out.

    And thank you so much for sharing Gail's Darwin article. My mom is grateful and thrilled to have it.

    Wag on,
    Toots (& Renee)

  7. Dearest Boffin Bertie,
    Of course, I'm a Diva, with no formal scientific training;however, when has that ever stopped me from stepping on my kitty box? MOL
    In my humble, (not a word often used in a sentence as feline) feline experience I have discovered the humans sleep too little, don't know how to stretch and most often fail to meditate. I feel all of these are major factors to be considered in fitness.
    Madi(son) D Cat your bfff

  8. Whiskey-laced buttermilk ice cream . . . yummm.

    On a unrelated note, but about relayshuns, momma has been playin round wif dis app called We're Related from and has found out she are related to Charles Darwin. Given some of her extended family, she thought a monkey wuz more likely to turn up instead.

  9. Hmmmmmmm, we've never really thought about it before. We know we're ALWAYS ready to go--though we do tire quickly after a run in hot weather. SHE, on the other hand, seems to have excuses: No time, too hot/cold/wet/rainy, clean house... We know SHE's not as fit as we are though.

  10. Lady book marked that article for a work at home day. In our house Lady does a lot to stay in top shape (she is finally in shape). She eats 'clean' and exercises (she has a trainer she kind of hates and swears about). I Hailey eat what I want and just going about my normal day (which does include a good 2-3 km walk every day) stay trim. Phod needs to play a bit more to stay in top shape. Man, well he likes sugar and junk and works out but is not in a healthy shape. When he said something about being in shape, the trainer said "what shape is that" (in comparison he now calls Lady and athlete).

  11. Wow that is super educational. On wet days I can now use the excuse that I'm playing the part of a barnacle goose to get out of going for a walk. I'm currently working on Mama J's training regime, she is as far from a barnacle as is possible! Hope your paw gets better soon.

  12. Wow, that's fascinating! Momma wants to know if she can get a transplant of that gene.

    1. We are thinking the more unscrupulous elements in the world of sport might be interested too!

  13. We're too scared to look in the mirror, 'cos we're not exactly in tip top shape (not by a long way if the truth were known !). Everything has sort of slipped downwards over the winter - not a pretty sight. Mom says we'll be better when the weather is warmer and she can swim again. We've kept up with our walks all winter, but it's the cold weather "comfort" food that's done for us!

    Inca xx

  14. Bertie, I'm sure you must agree that Gail's Darwin piece is excellent writing. Surely no professional jealousy on your part? Regarding your study, Millie must be part barnacle goose (as well as greyhound and black lab). She has both the ability to eat a lot and jump to her feet at a moment's notice and race at top speed. And she'll be celebrating her 11th birthday this week.

  15. Depressing ~ Why Oh Why even here must we be talking about fitness. I'm going back and reading about the ice cream. Now if that was a crank ice cream maker like they had years ago maybe Gail's Brachialis Muscle might be in great shape. We are in good shape for the shape we are in.
    Sweet William The Scot

  16. Howdy Bertie. Interesting post. Mum and Dad walk every day (about 5km and it's up and down hills) so they puff a lot. Me, I run up and down and never get tired but of course, they are getting kinda oldish now bwahahaha. Mum wishes she could eat and never exercise but that ain't gonna happen if I have anything to do with it. So good to see you again. Give your Gail a smooch from me. No worries, and LOVE, Stella x

  17. Bertie,

    Thinking of you today and telling a friend about your regular train travel and the comments about the Hens Party capital of the UK. My friend asked what makes it so popular for Hens Parties. When you have a moment could you elucidate for someone from the other side of the globe.

    1. Gail says: this link might answer your question -

    2. Thanks Bertie. Knew I could count on you for the information. It may interest you to know that in Australia these days if you are a dog you can only go on a train if you are a guide dog. I remember as a little girl ( a very long time ago) that you could buy any dog a ticket.

    3. Dear Bertie,
      Mum nearly spat her coffee out reading Darwin’s quote about our country! Tell Gail we enjoyed reading her review of Mr Darwin’s book.

      To answer your question, “Fit as a barnacle goose?”… well I think of myself as being “as supple as a hare” as every morning I stretch and do doggie yoga. Several downward dogs, a big stretch and lie on my mat and get extend my back legs (for a tummy rub) before I go head outside to visit the garden. That said I do follow the example of the barnacle goose… I enjoy eating as much as I can and then travelling long distances, except in my senior years I travel in the back of our car.
      As for “The relationship between fitness and exercise, in both humans and other animals” (which you queried) my human recently bought herself a Fitbit, so it seems I now have to take her for longer walks. How is that fair? I wasn’t consulted about her plan to increase my level of activity BEFORE she bought it, so I’ve strongly suggested she attach the thing to Enzo’s collar (he goes for long fast walks with the male biped) so there will be no effort required for either of us logging “her daily exercise” and we can be couch potatoes, by the heater, over winter where we are both happiest.

      Love and woofs,