I grew up on a farm, and it was not uncommon for male horses, male goats and even male deer to let out a snort whenever anxiety surfaced in them — whether it be from a predator in the area, the removal of food from their eating area or the wandering off of a female that the male had his eyes on. Maybe the topi antelope in “Deceptive cads of the savanna” (SN: 6/19/10, p. 14) is the same. Maybe he is not trying to trick the female into thinking a lion is near, but simply expressing the anxiety that surfaces when a potential imminent loss is sensed — in this case copulation. I could be wrong, but that’s how I always read it.
John M.R. Kuhn, Weston, Wis.
Lying requires a brain complex enough for abstract thinking. Very few species demonstrate this ability, and I find it hard to believe a grazing herd animal like the topi would. Without this capability, you’re left with instinct and/or learning to explain this behavior. Maybe these males fear lions and lost love.
Gretchen Dean, Bloomington, Minn.
Cell phones and cancer risk
From “Cell phone–cancer study an enigma” (SN: 6/19/10, p. 13), it appears that the epidemiologists cited desperately want to show that cell phone use increases the risk of cancer. One statement deserves to be challenged: “None of today’s established carcinogens, including tobacco, could have been firmly identified as increasing risk in the first 10 years or so since first exposure.” Many of tobacco’s physiological effects have been known for centuries. Were it not for some of these effects, it would not be smoked. Smoking leads to “smoker’s cough,” suppresses appetite and causes an almost immediate increase in heart rate. No epidemiological studies are necessary to establish that smoking affects living organisms in many different ways, some deleterious. It is biologically potent. In contrast, exposure to microwave radiation at levels sufficiently low to not result in a temperature increase has not been shown unambiguously to have biological effects.
Craig Bohren, Centre County, Pa.
My initial reaction to “Fat chance” (SN: 7/3/10, p. 18), about using the body’s own brown fat to combat obesity, was hope and excitement. But upon further consideration, it seems to me there is a downside to finding ways to more quickly burn off energy from food. In a world with limited resources for producing food, it would not be an unalloyed good to find ways of making it easier to consume more.