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Pigeon with German miniature camera, probably taken during the First World War

Pigeon photography was an aerial photography technique invented in 1907 by Julius Neubronner, court apothecary of Empress Frederick, who also used pigeons for film special effects and to deliver medications. A homing pigeon was fitted with an aluminum breast harness to which a lightweight time-delayed miniature camera could be attached. The technique was publicized at the 1909 Dresden International Photographic Exhibition. It was successfully demonstrated at the first German Aviation Show and at the 1910 and 1911 Paris Air Shows. The lack of military or commercial interest in the technology after the First World War led Neubronner to abandon his experiments, but his idea was briefly resurrected in the 1930s by a Swiss clockmaker, and reportedly also by the German and French militaries. There was interest in the concept even during the Cold War, by the American Central Intelligence Agency. The construction of sufficiently small and light cameras with a timer mechanism, and the training and handling of the birds to carry the necessary loads, presented major challenges, as did the limited control over the pigeons' position, orientation and speed when the photographs were being taken. Today some researchers, enthusiasts, and artists similarly employ small digital photo or video cameras with various species of wild or domestic animals. (more...)

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Today's featured picture

Vegetable Lamb of Tartary

A drawing of the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (Agnus scythicus), a zoophyte of Central Asia. Botanist Henry Lee described it as both a true animal and a living plant, although he did allow for the possibility that the lamb was the fruit of the plant. The lamb was believed to have blood, bones, and flesh like that of a normal lamb. It was connected to the earth by a stem similar to an umbilical cord that propped the lamb up above ground. The cord could flex downward allowing the lamb to feed on the grass and plants surrounding it. Once the plants within reach were eaten, the lamb died, at which point its cotton-like wool would be harvested and used to make textiles.

Artist: Unknown, after Johann Zahn

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