Barbara J. King

Barbara J. King is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is a Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. With a long-standing research interest in primate behavior and human evolution, King has studied baboon foraging in Kenya and gorilla and bonobo communication at captive facilities in the United States.

Recently, she has taken up writing about animal emotion and cognition more broadly, including in bison, farm animals, elephants and domestic pets, as well as primates.

King's most recent book is How Animals Grieve (University of Chicago Press, 2013). Her article "When Animals Mourn" in the July 2013 Scientific American has been chosen for inclusion in the 2014 anthology The Best American Science and Nature Writing. King reviews non-fiction for the Times Literary Supplement (London) and is at work on a new book about the choices we make in eating other animals. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in 2002.

You know that voice we tend to use when speaking to babies?

It's a sing-song voice, one with higher pitch, shorter phrases with simpler grammar, slower speech rate, more repetitions, and greater contrast in our vowels. It's called "motherese" or, more accurately, IDS (for infant-directed speech).

Three stories beneath the streets of Washington, DC, I stood on the bottom level of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture — for just a moment alone — as people flowed in all around me.

In front of me stood a stone block. Dating from the 19th century, the block, made of marble, once could be found in Hagerstown, Md. On it, enslaved people brought to the U.S. from Africa were sold at auction.

During a 10-year span, a team of primatologists witnessed 15 daytime births in wild gelada monkeys residing in the grasslands of high-altitude Ethiopia.

Testosterone Rex is extinct.

That's the central conclusion of a fascinating new book by University of Melbourne psychologist Cordelia Fine. Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society hit the bookstores Tuesday.

Many in the science community have expressed concern about the lack of science literacy demonstrated by the new Trump administration.

A look at the administration's statements and actions related to five key issues that are informed by science — anthropogenic climate change, vaccines, evolution taught in public schools, environmental science and protection of public lands, and human rights — bolsters that concern.

Dogs are celebrated everywhere these days for the clever things they and their brains can do, and the science of dog cognition continues to soar in popularity.

As a cat person, I can't help but add that cats, too, show off their savviness for science.

Murmuration refers to the phenomenon that results when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of starlings fly in swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky.

Maybe you've seen a murmuration video before. But this one is especially beautiful. It was shot earlier this month in Wales, at Cosmeston Lakes in the Vale of Glamorgan, and posted on Facebook by the BBC Cymru Wales.

Why do I love this short video so much?

Ever lived overseas or traveled internationally? If so, you might being feeling empathy for the panda sisters Mei Lun and Mei Huan.

In November, these 3-year-old twins were sent from their birthplace at Zoo Atlanta to China. And they have been dealing with culture shock ever since. They especially miss their favorite foods — and they don't respond to the unfamiliar language as they did to sentences directed to them in English.

For 13 minutes last Friday, I was entranced listening to the Moth Radio Hour when attorney, husband and father Chris Gilbert spoke about his son Brody. (Gilbert's segment starts at about 36:30.)

Imagine this scene: Inside a cave in Spain, a group of people gather around the grave of a toddler. Hearths with lit fires, marked by 30 horns of animals including bison and red deer, surround the grave. A rhinoceros skull is nearby.

At a conference this fall, archaeologist Enrique Baquedano and his colleagues described this scene as a probable funeral ritual held 40,000 years ago by Neanderthals.

Birdsong is music to human ears.

It has inspired famous composers. For the rest of us, it may uplift the spirit and improve attention or simply be a source of delight, fun and learning.

But have you ever wondered what birds themselves hear when they sing?

On this day of giving thanks, I've put together a list of animal-related things for which I'm grateful. Here they are in no particular order:

10. This half-minute duck-chases-dog video. It brings a smile every time I watch. Don't miss the moment when the chase reverses direction!

When I give public talks about animal intelligence and emotion around the U.S., I'm struck by one thing: a big audience response to the behavior of octopuses.

A friend posted a query on Facebook: "Please name some movies/TV shows that make you feel more optimistic/positive about life."

Immediate resonance! I've never been one for dark, broody and violent visual arts. During my husband's avid watching of TV shows like Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead, I flee the room.

Last month, Australian surfer Jade Fitzpatrick sustained three bite wounds to his thigh from a great white shark as he waited for a wave on his surfboard off the north coast of New South Wales.

As the Guardian newspaper reported, he was helped out of the water by a friend, received medical treatment and planned to surf again in the same waters within 10 days.

When you're trapped in an airport, relax and have some fun.

That's one possible takeaway from this small bird filmed earlier this year, riding the handrails of an airport's moving walkway.

The bird swoops in the air, lands on the handrail and repeats the whole sequence. Doesn't that look playful? Play isn't an outlandish explanation, in fact, because animal-behavior scientists agree that different species of birds do play in a variety of ways.

Some 56 years after Jane Goodall began long-term research on wild chimpanzees at Gombe, Tanzania, primatologists are still uncovering fascinating new facts about these closest living relatives of ours.

What lurks beneath?

Beneath the water, we find luminescent vampire squid and weighty blue whales. We find super-heated hydrothermal chimneys, sonar-pinging submarines and scientists who roam the watery terrain in submersibles.

Beneath the ground, we find a realm of geysers, volcanoes and tectonic plates. Here also dwell giant earthworms, warthogs and deep roots of wild fig and camel thorn trees. In the subsurface world, humans mine and tunnel and excavate to unleash bones and fossils.

Are free-ranging cats pint-size murderers who need to be removed from the landscape because they critically decrease bird and small-mammal populations?

Or is the estimation of free-ranging cats' impact on birds exaggerated, so that we'd do better to rein in the anti-cat hype and to focus on our own actions toward wildlife?

Are these the only two possible positions? Or is this dichotomy itself a kind of hype?

Last week, The New York Times described "a new category of Digital Detox trips in which participants pledge, in writing, to swear off all digital devices including cellphones and cameras" for 8 to 10 days of travel.

If you sign up, you get a notebook to record memories. Travel leaders will even send email updates to your family, if you'd like.

Sounds virtuous, doesn't it? Shouldn't we all be disconnecting more, especially on vacation?

In England's Northumberland area, at the Alnwick Castle, you can tour a locked patch of ground where killers reside.

This is the section of Alnwick Gardens dedicated to poisonous or narcotic plants. Once you find a garden keeper to let you through the locked gates, plants — some so toxic they are caged — come into view. They range from strychnine to poppies and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe is book situated at the intersection of inflammatory and ignorant.

Best known for his novels — perhaps especially for The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities, both made into major films — Wolfe offers his readers a non-fiction account of the evolution of speech in his latest book — or rather, its non-evolution, because Wolfe denies that speech has evolved.

Eight yellow garden spiders, also called writing spiders or Argiope aurantia, set up shop at various locations around the exterior of my house this summer.

A dog video popped up in my Facebook feed this week that I'd never before seen, though it was originally posted late last year. It's clearly a home video, not always perfectly in focus, but in just two minutes tells an intriguing story.

A young girl, engrossed in an art project, dips the family dog's tail into shallow little cups of paint, then brushstrokes across her paper with the tail tip.

Sure, it's a cute video.

People, I have noticed, get very excited about eating pigs and pig products. Bacon mania has been going for a while now, and the well-established cult of barbecue continues as strong as ever.

Overwhelming hard data from biology, geology and anthropology — gathered with a firm grasp of the workings of evolution — prove false the claims made by creationists.

The Earth is not 6,000 years old and it wasn't shaped by a great flood 4,500 years ago. (The Earth is 4.5 billion years old.) Humans and dinosaurs did not coexist. (These life forms missed each other by many millions of years.)

When creationist claims are put forth as science in museums or taught as science in schools, our children lose out because their science literacy is diminished.

Wednesday night, the BBC documentary Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks premiered on U.S. TV.

The program tells the story of how Koko, age 44, one of two gorillas living at The Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, Calif., began to learn as an infant to communicate with humans through use of American Sign Language (ASL). She went on to become the most famous gorilla in the world.

Watching the NBC Nightly News broadcast on a Friday earlier this month, I gaped as the last segment aired.

Smack in the middle of this summer of American political and societal turmoil, I'm hearing a lot about how important it is to seek out and listen to people whose ideas diverge from one's own.

None of us should want to dwell in an echo chamber. Taking up this philosophy, today I embark on a series of conversations (to appear about once a month) with people whose ideas diverge significantly from my own.

The goal? To get past hard-and-fast assumptions, to open up a space for dialogue, and see what happens.

First up: hunting.

Last week, The Pokémon Co., Nintendo and Niantic Inc. jointly released the augmented reality game Pokémon Go.

Pages