Posts made in January 2021

Owl be seeing you: Snowy owl visits Central Park for first time since 1890

February 1, 2021

In the winter of 1890, a snowy owl was spotted in New York City’s Central Park—part of what a contemporary account called an “unusual abundance” along the East Coast of the large, strikingly beautiful predators that make their home in the Arctic tundra.

Unusual” is right. A snowy owl, according to birding records, did not show its fluffy self in Central Park for another 130 years, The New York Times reports.

Then came Wednesday morning, January 27.

.A birder who runs the Twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert read about an owl sighting on a tracking site and spread the news. “A SNOWY OWL, a mega-rarity for Central Park,” he wrote, “is now in the middle of the North Meadow ball fields.”

The cluster of baseball and softball diamonds might have reminded the owl of its native hunting grounds or the sandy beaches of Queens and Long Island where owls often stop by in the winter.

,In response, the Times says, the hordes came running, cameras and spotting scopes in hand, and, just like that, the snow-white raptor with the thick black bars that mark a young female was the latest instant-celebrity bird of Manhattan.

The episode provided Manhattan bird lovers with a sequel to both Rocky the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree owl from last year and the superstar Mandarin duck that ruled the park and the world’s social-media feeds in 2018.

“Thrilled to share the excitement with fellow birders!!” the user boysenberry45 wrote on Twitter. The crowd itself began to draw a crowd: Supporters of Andrew Yang’s mayoral candidacy showed up with campaign signs.

The owl also got the attention of the park’s avian residents. A flock of crows flew down to harass her and try to drive her out (owls sometimes eat crows). A red-tailed hawk buzzed over her head (hawks are fiercely territorial and do not abide trespassers).

The baseball fields are fenced off in winter to let the grass regrow, so the crush of onlookers was kept a couple of hundred feet away from the owl, but that did not stop at least one person from cheating.

“We had to correct one drone condition,” said Dan Tainow, a Parks Department ranger. “Someone was trying to get that overhead photo,” from about 50 feet in the air, he said. “The owl was aware of it. It was stressing it out.”

Some enthusiasts took Manhattan Bird Alert to task for revealing the bird’s exact whereabouts to 38,000 followers. “Tweeting the locations of a snowy owl to a follower base with a long history of harassing owls is a great look, man,” a user named Aidan Place wrote.

But the birder behind Manhattan Bird Alert, David Barrett, a retired hedge-fund manager who started the account in 2013, said he was performing a public service and building support for conservation efforts.

“If you want people to care about nature,” he said, “you should show them that it’s there and let them appreciate it for themselves.”

By Thursday morning, tired of all of the avian and human attention, the Central Park snowy was nowhere to be found.

Research contact: @nytimes

J&J vaccine provides strong shield against acute COVID-19, prevents hospitalizations

February 1, 2021

Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine has generated strong protection against acute COVID-19 in a large, late-stage trial—raising hopes that it can rapidly reshape a stumbling immunization campaign, Bloomberg reports.

In a study of more than 43,000 people, the vaccine prevented 66% of moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, according to a company statement released on Friday, January 29.

And it was particularly effective at stopping severe disease—preventing 85% of severe infections and 100% of hospitalizations and deaths.

“If you can prevent severe disease in a high percentage of individuals, that will alleviate so much of the stress and human suffering” of the pandemic, said Anthony Faucidirector of the National Institute of Allelrgy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the top U.S. infectious-disease official—at a briefing on the results with company and government officials.

Based on the result, J&J plans to file with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an emergency-use authorization next week. The drug giant’s top scientist said this month he expects a clearance in March, and that it would have product ready to ship then.

The company didn’t specify how much of the vaccine would be available immediately, although it reaffirmed that the United States will receive 100 million doses by the end of June, Bloomberg said.

J&J’s vaccine is different from the messenger RNA-based shots made by Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech SE. It is based on an adenovirus, or cold germ that has been modified to make copies of the coronavirus spike protein—which the pathogen uses to force its way into cells. The altered virus can’t replicate in humans, but it triggers an immune response that prepares the body to defend itself against the coronavirus. J&J uses the same technology in a vaccine to fight Ebola.

J&J’s R&D head said the company’s trial, conducted at the height of the pandemic, had to deal with resistant variants that arose mainly after Moderna’s and Pfizer’s trials were finished. When counting cases, it also focused on somewhat sicker patients, Mammen said.

“If those vaccine programs accrued cases at the same time as us, when viral infections were so much higher, incidents were higher, and variants were all around us, they would have gotten different numbers,” he said. “The fact that we could do this level of efficacy with a single shot—people don’t have to come back for another, and it’s conveniently stored— well that makes this the vaccine of choice.”

At the outset of the pandemic, U.S. government officials said any vaccine showing greater than 50% efficacy would be considered a success.

Research contact: @Bloomberg

Persona non grata: Jimmy Gomez drafts resolution to oust Marjorie Taylor Greene from House

February 1, 2021

California Representative Jimmy Gomez (D-34th District) has announced that he plans to introduce a resolution calling for the expulsion of Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14th District) from the House of Representatives, The Boston Globe reports.

On grounds of “repeated endorsements of sedition, domestic terrorism, and political violence,” Gomez called Greene “a clear and present danger to Congress and our democracy.”

In a tweet announcing the resolution, Gomez said Greene “did it to herself, and she must go.”

“As if it weren’t enough to amplify conspiracy theories that the September 11 attacks were an inside job and the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was staged, a string of recent media reports has now confirmed that Congresswoman [Greene] had previously supported social media posts calling for political violence against the Speaker of the House, members of Congress, and former President Barack Obama,” Congressman Gomez said in a statement.

Gomez was referencing a flurry of alarming moments involving the Georgia Republican that came into light this week.

CNN KFile review released on Tuesday, January 26, for example, unveiled a series of Green’s past social media posts from as recently as 2019, including one that pushed a baseless QAnon conspiracy which casts Donald Trump “in an imagined battle against a sinister cabal of Democrats and celebrities who abuse children.” The FBI has called QAnon a domestic terrorism threat and the Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism bulletin on Wednesday, January 27—warning of the potential for lingering violence from extremists enraged by President Joe Biden’s election and emboldened by the attack on the Capitol.

In another post from January 2019, Greene “liked” a comment that “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove Speaker Nancy Pelosi from the House, The Boston Globe said.

What’s more, CNN reports Greene “liked” comments about executing FBI agents who were part of the “deep state” working against Trump.

Greene released a statement in response to the CNN review, in which she claimed many people have run her Facebook page.

In another post that surfaced last week, Greene pushed a claim that the February 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was a “false flag” event — an incident that was faked or planned by someone other than the perpetrator to take away people’s guns. In May 2018, Greene posted a story about a disgraced sheiff’s deputy based near Parkland receiving a retirement pension. A commenter wrote: “It’s called pay off to keep his mouth shut since it was a false flag planned shooting,” to which Greene replied:

Indeed, Congressman Gomez, a Harvard Kennedy School grad, wasn’t alone in calling for Greene’s removal.

Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern (District 02)) tweeted “this is sick” and said both Greene and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy should resign.

Massachusetts Representative Jake Auchincloss (D-District 04) echoed his colleagues’ sentiments: “Words have consequences. [Greene] should resign. If she doesn’t, Congress needs to expel her. If you don’t understand that calling for the murder of political rivals is a threat to democracy, you shouldn’t be allowed to represent one.”

Research contact: @BostonGlobe

Moonstruck: Lunar cycle has a marked effect on sleep

January 29, 2021

Scientists have long understood that human activity is affected by light—be it sunlight, moonlight, or artificial light. So it should be no surprise that  a new international study suggests that our ability to sleep is significantly affected by the lunar cycle, even when taking into account artificial sources of light.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Washington-Seattle, the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes-Bernal, Argentina, and Yale University-New Haven; and was published on January 27 in Science Advances.

Using wrist monitors, the researchers tracked sleep patterns in 98 individuals living in three indigenous communities in Argentina over the course of one to two months, The Guardian reports.

One rural community had no electricity access; a second rural community had limited access to electricity, while a third community was located in an urban setting and had full access to electricity.

Participants in all three communities showed the same pattern of sleep oscillations as the moon progressed through its 29.5-day cycle, with sleep duration changing by between 20 minutes and 90-plus minutes, and bedtimes varying by 30 minutes to 80 minutes.

In each community, the peak of participants sleeping less and staying up later occurred in the three-to-five-day period leading up to full moon nights; and the opposite occurred on the nights that preceded the new moon, the authors found.

The data were somewhat unexpected, because the researchers thought there would be less sleep and more activity on the full moon nights, said the study’s author Horacio de la Iglesia, a professor of biology at the University of Washington. “But it turns out that the nights before the full moon are the ones that have most of the moonlight during the first half of the night.”

The data that showed the “lunar phase effect” on sleep appeared to be stronger the more limited access to electricity was.

In an attempt to corroborate their findings, the researchers compared their results to similarly collected data from 464 Seattle-based students studying at the University of Washington. They found the same oscillations in sleep patterns, The Guardian says.

“Together, these results strongly suggest that human sleep is synchronised with lunar phases regardless of ethnic and socio-cultural background and of the level of urbanization,” the researchers wrote in the journal Science Advances.

Research contact: @GuardianUS

Helmets, yes—but airbag jeans and high-tech vests could make motorbikes even safer

January 29, 2021

Balanced on two wheels without a protective shell, riding a motorbike is far more dangerous than driving a car. In the United States, for example, motorcyclists are about 28 times more likely as car occupants to die in a crash. But innovations in airbags could help keep motorcyclists safe, CNN reports.

Moses Shahrivar designed his first pair of motorcycle jeans in collaboration with Harley-Davidson Sweden back in 2005—featuring a protective leather lining. Now he is taking the idea one step further. His company Airbag Inside Sweden AB has designed a prototype pair of super-strong jeans that have concealed airbags inside the legs.

The wearer tethers the jeans to his or her motorcycle—and if he or she falls off the bike, the airbags are triggered; filling with compressed air and reducing any impact on the lower body. The airbag can then be deflated, refilled with gas, and reassembled into the jeans to use again, Shahrivar tells CNN.

Airbag Inside Sweden AB is in the process of getting the jeans certified to European health and safety standards and is putting them through a series of crash tests.

The company has raised €150,000 (US$180,000) from the European Union to develop the idea and is hoping to bring the jeans to market in 2022. Shahrivar says it’s the first time this kind of protection will be available for the lower body.

However, equivalent technology for the upper body has been around for more than 20 years, CNN notes. Motorcycle airbag vests can be fitted under a jacket, and protect the chest, neck and sometimes the back.

Early versions were tethered to the bike, like Shahrivar’s jeans, but more recently, autonomous electronic airbags have been developed, which instead use high-tech sensors to detect when the rider is about to fall.

Among the autonomous airbags on the market is a system created by French firm In&motion. The company started designing wearable airbags for professional skiers in 2011 and has since adapted the technology for motorcyclists. Rather than using a tether to trigger airbags, it has created a “brain” consisting of a GPS, gyroscope and accelerometer. A bit bigger than a smartphone, this box is placed in the back of any compatible vest.

“The sensors measure movements in real time and the algorithm is able to detect a fall or an accident to inflate the airbag just before a crash,” In&motion communication manager Anne-Laure Hoegeli tells CNN Business.

The box measures the position of the rider 1,000 times per second. As soon as an “unrecoverable imbalance” is detected the airbag triggers and fully inflates to protect the user’s thorax, abdomen, neck and spine, explains Hoegeli. This takes just 60 milliseconds.

In&motion recently raised €10 million (US$12 million) in funding to expand in Europe and the United States.

While the basic operation is similar to other electronic airbags on the market, In&motion has an affordable subscription service, explains Emma Franklin, deputy editor of Motorcycle News. “Their system has in many ways made airbags more attainable for everyday people,” Franklin tells CNN Business.

Riders can either buy the box outright for $400 or rent it from In&motion for about $120 a year. Users in France also have access to a setting that calls emergency services in the event of a crash.

Research contact: @CNN

Tens of thousands of voters drop registered membership in GOP after Capitol riot

January 29, 2021

More than 30,000 voters who had been registered members of the Republican Party have changed their voter affiliation in in the weeks since January 6, when a mob of pro-Trump supporters attacked the Capitol — an issue that led the House to impeach the former president for inciting the violence, The Hill reports.

The massive wave of defections is a virtually unprecedented exodus that could spell trouble for a party that is trying to find its way after losing the presidential race and the Senate majority.

It could also represent the tip of a much larger iceberg: The 30,000 who have left the Republican Party reside in just a few states that report voter registration data, and information about voters switching between parties, on a weekly basis.

Voters switching parties is not unheard of, but the data show that in the first weeks of the year, far more Republicans have changed their voter registrations than Democrats. Many voters are changing their affiliation in key swing states that were at the heart of the battle for the White House and control of Congress.

Nearly 10,000 Pennsylvania voters dropped out of the Republican Party in the first 25 days of the year, according to the secretary of state’s office. About one-third of them, 3,476, have registered as Democrats; the remaining two-thirds opted to register with another party or without any party affiliation.

By contrast, about one-third as many Pennsylvania Democrats opted to either join the Republican Party (2,093 through Monday); or to register with no party, or a minor party (1,184).

Almost 6,000 North Carolina voters have dropped their affiliation with the GOP. Nearly 5,000 Arizona voters are no longer registered Republicans. The number of defectors in Colorado stands north of 4,500 in the last few weeks. And 2,300 Maryland Republicans are now either unaffiliated or registered with the Democratic Party.

In all of those areas, the number of Democrats who left their party is a fraction of the number of Republican defectors, The Hill notes.

Several local elections offices in Florida reported a surge in registration changes in the days after the assault on the Capitol. Two counties in the Miami area reported a combined 1,000 Republicans registering under other labels in just the two days after the January 6 attack. In those same two days, only 96 Democrats switched parties.

Three counties in the Tampa Bay area reported more than 2,000 Republican voters registering under some other party’s banner. In those same three counties—Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas—just 306 Democrats switched their affiliations.

So many voters switching parties absent a pending deadline has piqued the interest of elections experts. Most people tend to stick with the party with which they initially register, and those who do change are usually motivated by a looming primary election.

“Usually, absent a primary election that would induce people to switch parties so that they could participate in that primary, you don’t see much activity in party registration,” said Michael McDonald, a voting and elections expert at the University of Florida.

McDonald told The Hill that id those who would take the proactive step to change their registration are likely to be well-informed voters who both follow the news and are aware of the process by which they would change their actual registration.

“These people who are doing this activity, they are likely very sophisticated voters. They’re highly participatory, most likely,” he said. “If you’re sophisticated enough to change your party registration, you’re somebody who’s likely to vote.”

Research contact: @thehill

Study: Pachyderms tend to pack on relatively fewer pounds than people

January  28, 2021

How are those New Year’s weight loss resolutions going so far? For those of us who could use some more motivation to diet, a new study conducted at Indiana University has found that your average elephant is probably in better shape than most humans.

In fact, the research team says, despite their massive size, zoo elephants actually carry less body fat than the average person, reports Study Finds.

The team, led by Daniella Chusyd of Indiana University, wanted to understand why Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) living in zoos had lower birth rates than their peers in the wild. Researchers say it was thought these captive elephants were overweight and this was leading to a fertility crisis among the zoo population. Such a connection is similar to what health experts see happening in overweight people.

“I was interested in discovering whether methods predominantly used in human health research could help us learn more about elephants,” says Chusyd, formerly from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), in a media release. “Obesity is not clearly defined in humans, let alone elephants.”

Until now, study authors say, no one had ever checked how much fat Asian elephants carry in captivity. X

Chusyd, Janine Brown from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and Tim Nagy of UAB measured the amount of water in the elephants’ bodies. They then subtracted that from their body mass to calculate each animal’s level of fat.

It may sound simple, but measuring body water in an elephant is no small task. The best method is by giving each animal a dose of heavy water, however, the team had to be creative in their approach so the elephants wouldn’t spill the liquid.

“We came up with the idea of using bread soaked with heavy water to deliver it to the elephants,” Chusyd explains. The researcher adds that elephants particularly enjoy this treat.

“I quickly became their best friend.”

Zookeepers also collected blood samples prior to the heavy water treatments and up to 20 days after the experiment. Researchers examined elephants from zoos throughout the United States and Canada for this study. With help from scientists at the University of Aberdeen, researchers successfully calculated the water and fat content of these creatures.

According to Study Finds, the results reveal that obesity is not to blame for lower birth rates among Asian elephants in captivity. In fact, the average male elephant carries slightly less fat (8.5%) than females (around 10%). In comparison, researchers find the average human carries between 6% and 31% body fat.

Overall, fat in female elephants ranged from 2% to 25%. Males in the study were larger and carried more total fat. However, does this mean zoo elephants aren’t fit?

To test their fitness, the team attached an elephant-sized fitness tracker to their legs. The gigantic wearable device measured how much walking each animal did each day. The results reveal, even in a zoo, elephants walk about the same distance daily distance as free-ranging elephants—between 0.01 and 1.7 miles every hour. The youngest elephants in the group walked the farthest.

When it comes to the potential fertility crisis at zoos, researchers say they were surprised to find infertile females carried the least fat. The results appear to be more similar to disrupted fertility cycles in underweight women. When looking at elephant insulin levels, fatter elephants tend to have the highest amounts of insulin.

“It is possible that elephants could develop a diabetic-like state,” Chusyd suggests.

In conclusion, the team says it’s still unclear if elephants even experience obesity. When it comes to the ones living in zoos across North America however, staying fit is not an issue.

“They are doing a great job… they know their individual elephants best,” Chusyd says of the zoo keepers.

The study appears in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

A breakthrough face mask detects COVID

January 28, 2021

The greatest challenge of containing COVID-19 continues to be that a carrier can be contagious for two days before developing symptoms. It’s impossible to know whether you or those around you are sick at any given moment. By the time it’s become apparent, one infection could have spread to dozens of people.

But what if there were a way to monitor for the presence of COVID-19 where people go, all day, every day? And not by contact tracing in some smartphone app, but through an actual mechanism that can detect the presence of the coronavirus?

That’s just what Jesse Jokerst, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Diego, is developing, according to a report by Fast Company. Working under a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, his lab is testing what he calls a “smoke detector” for COVID-19.

The mechanism is a small blister pack—yes, like the disposable casing that holds pills—that attaches to any mask. It features a bit of tubing that collects the tiny droplets in your breath all day.

“Think about breathing on a cold windowpane,” Jokerst says. “Amplify that for eight hours, scrape it off, and put it in a tube. You’d be surprised how much liquid there is.”

After a day of collection, you squeeze the blister pack to crack it. The droplets mix with a pool of solution. That solution can detect a biomarker from COVID-19 (not the virus itself, but a protein that’s known to be present alongside it in saliva). If the biomarker is detected, the clear solution turns blue instantly. If it’s not, it turns scarlet. There’s nothing vague about the notification at all, and there is no wait time for your results.

The blister packs can be produced for a few cents apiece, meaning that they could literally be disposed of and worn anew every single day. But Jokerst doesn’t imagine the blister pack being used as a personal test so much as a tool for area surveillance.

“The value of the wearable is it’s also monitoring your environment,” Jokerst explains. “If you spit in a tube, you’re only testing yourself. If you’re breathing in and out . . . you sample not only your own saliva but your environment, too.”

In other words, Jokerst wants to turn people into walking COVID-19 detectors who, yes, could activate the strip if they are sick, but could activate the strip simply if they are breathing and walking through an infected environment. That means you wouldn’t use this strip at home. Instead, it could be worn by groups stuck together in confined places, like people in prison and essential workers in grocery stores. Hence the smoke alarm analogy.

“In a prison, every [guard] shift could do surveillance,” Jokerst says, noting they might spot COVID-19’s presence in various wards to isolate spread. “At the end of every shift they test . . . that sets the stage to stop an outbreak before it gets going.”

Unfortunately, the promising research is still being validated. By the time the paper is published later this year, Jokerst believes that the U.S. may have vaccinations under control, rendering his product (which he imagines would be produced by some yet-to-be-determined commercial partner) a bit less useful for our nation, notes Fast Company.

However, he notes that in the developing world, some projections have shown that COVID-19 may linger into 2023. And on top of that, Jokerst says that the biomarker he’s detecting has been part of the original SARS and MERS viruses as well. So while this mask-worn blister pack might not do much to quell the spread of SARS-CoV-2, Jokerst believes it is likely to work for “the next coronavirus.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

Reuters: Proud Boys leader was ‘prolific’ informer for law enforcement

January 28, 2021

Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, has a past as an informer for federal and local law enforcement—repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012, according to a former prosecutor and a transcript of a 2014 federal court proceeding obtained by Reuters.

Founded in 2016, the Proud Boys is known as a far-right, neo-fascist, and male-only political organization that promotes and engages in violence in the United States and Canada. Miami-based Tarrio, 36, is a high-profile figure who has organized the right-wing Proud Boys since 2018 in their confrontations with those they believe to be Antifa, short for “anti-fascism,” an amorphous and often violent leftist movement.

The records uncovered by Reuters are startling because they show that a leader of a far-right group now under intense scrutiny by law enforcement was previously an active collaborator with criminal investigators.

In the 2014 Miami hearing, a federal prosecutor, an FBI agent, and Tarrio’s own lawyer described his undercover work and said he had helped authorities prosecute more than a dozen people in various cases involving drugs, gambling and human smuggling.

Tarrio, in an interview with Reuters Tuesday, denied working undercover or cooperating in cases against others. “I don’t know any of this,” he said, when asked about the transcript. “I don’t recall any of this.”

Law-enforcement officials and the court transcript contradict Tarrio’s denial. In a statement to Reuters, the former federal prosecutor in Tarrio’s case, Vanessa Singh Johannes, confirmed that “he cooperated with local and federal law enforcement, to aid in the prosecution of those running other, separate criminal enterprises, ranging from running marijuana grow houses in Miami to operating pharmaceutical fraud schemes.”

That didn’t stop police from arresting Tarrio when he arrived in Washington, D.C., in early January, two days before the Capitol Hill riot—in which, Reuters says, the Proud Boys were involved on January 6. He was charged with possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines, and burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a December demonstration by supporters of former President Donald Trump. The D.C. Superior Court ordered him to leave the city pending a court date in June.

Indeed, although Tarrio did not take part in the Capitol insurrection, at least five Proud Boys members have been charged in the riot. The FBI previously said Tarrio’s earlier arrest was an effort to preempt the events of January 6.

What’s  more, the news outlet says, in  November and December, Tarrio led the Proud Boys through the streets of D.C. after Trump’s loss. Video shows him on December 11 with a bullhorn in front of a large crowd. “To the parasites both in Congress, and in that stolen White House,” he said. “You want a war, you got one!” The crowd roared. The next day Tarrio burned the BLM banner.

Former prosecutor Johannes said she was surprised that the defendant she prosecuted for fraud is now a key player in the violent movement that sought to halt the certification of President Joe Biden.

“I knew that he was a fraudster— but had no reason to know that he was also a domestic terrorist,” she said.

Research contact: @Reuters

Casper and Romeo are the ‘reigning’ cats and dogs on Instagram

January 27, 2021

They think they are twins, but there are some obvious differences. People Magazine reports that Instagram’s newest odd couple is Casper and Romeo—a white and fluffy Samoyed dog and Peke-faced cat that have found love, despite their distinctive personalities.

The pet pair belongs to Rinsa Li from Christchurch, New Zealand. And despite what you would assume, the Casper of the pair is the smiley dog; Romeo is a gruff-looking two-yea-old feline with a heart of gold.

“Romeo looks grumpy but he is the sweetest cat I have ever met; he allows everyone to hold him and gives great cuddles,” Li first told Daily Mail about her kitty.

The animal lover always wanted a cat, but was worried about how Casper would react. After the six-year-old dog spent an enjoyable play date with a kitty belonging to Li’s friend, Li decided to take the plunge.

Casper and Romeo kept their distance at first, but soon curiosity got the best of both of them. It only took a few weeks of adjustment for the duo to become inseparable, People reports. Now, the pair spends two hours of each day outside exploring New Zealand with their owner, who also happens to be a professional photographer.

Li posts her shots of the pets to their Instagram #CasperAndRomeo, where they have over 43,000 followers.

When Casper and Romeo aren’t on road trips, they can often be found cuddling together on the couch at home.

“It warms my heart so much to see them as siblings and I enjoy waking up to the both of them every day; I can’t imagine a life without them,” Li said of her adorable Instagram celebrities.

Research contact: @people