The War of the Ants.
Mostly unseen by human observers, a global war is taking place beneath our feet. Invasive colonies of Argentine ants have spread to every continent except Antarctica. They have overwhelmed local ant colonies and are gaining territory at a spectacular rate. The Argentine ant is just one of over 12,000 ant species, but it forms massive interconnected colonies and uses savage battle tactics to kill off competing ant species. The good news is that the Argentine ant might have met its match. The bad news is that the new contender is another invasive species: the Asian needle ant. The Asian needle ant can deliver a venomous sting. That along with its ability to withstand colder climates and begin its Spring life cycle earlier than the Argentine ant has contributed to its relative success. North Carolina State University is using citizen science volunteers who collect and send in ant samples from their areas to determine if the Asian needle ant will be the next invasive ant threat.
Ancient Crocodile Predator Fed on Baby Dinos.
Millions of years ago, baby plant eating dinosaurs had plenty to worry about. Not only were they gobbled up by meat eating dinosaurs such as T. Rex and velociraptors, but they were also a quick meal for ancient crocodiles, called crocodilians. Recently, the fossils of a heretofore unknown small plant eating dinosaur were recovered from Utah. A crocodilian tooth was found buried in one thigh bone along with other marks known to be consistent with crocodile-type attacks. One paleontologist noted that our modern notion of dinosaurs being the dominant species of their day could probably use some revision.
Bee Colony Collapse Continues to Perplex.
In the several years that scientists have been desperately trying to solve the riddle of bee colony collapse many theories have emerged. Most recently, a disease called idiopathic brood disease syndrome or “IBDS” has been postulated. North Carolina State University researchers believe that something goes awry in a bee colony when the worker bees incorrectly suspect that the queen is compromised. When that happens, the workers are genetically programmed to kill the queen by swarming her and raising her temperature to a lethal level—the same technique the workers employ to kill a hive invader. The researchers believe that understanding why a queen bee is rejected may be key to solving the riddle.
The Case for Native Pollinators.
Imported and even rented honeybees are often used by farmers to pollinate their crops. In this article from Science News, Lucas Garibaldi of the National University of Rio Negro and Argentina’s CONICET research network argues that we should encourage native pollinators and not rely so heavily on the honeybee. Data shows that when native pollinating insects were encouraged in an area, on any continent, crop yields were higher with or without the help of the honeybee. However, we have lost many native pollinating insects and what species remain may be insufficient to reach optimal crop yields. For example, using 19th-century records from an area in Illinois reveals that over half of the native insects that pollinated in that era are now gone.
Scotland’s “Lost World.”
Fans of Downton Abbey might relate to the grandeur of the 18th-century Glenmoriston Estate, which is now known as Dundreggan, in Scotland. Located not far from Loch Ness, the former estate includes 10,000 acres and a sporting “Lodge” of 23 bedrooms. In recent times the property has fallen into neglect, but that has proved to be a boon for nature. In this “lost world,” researchers have found 3,000 plant species and many animal species that were thought disappeared. In short, the grounds are a treasure trove of Scotland’s biodiversity. Now owned by a volunteer group, Trees for Life, one half million trees are being planted to restore what was formerly a Caledonian forest.
Londoners Map Their Cats.
Perhaps it’s a British thing, but the Zoological Society of London has introduced a computer program called “Cat Map.” It’s an application with which residents can input the “names, types, location, and even color of London’s feline residents.” The real purpose of Cat Map is to draw attention to endangered big cats. Two of the London’s Zoo’s tigers are listed on cat map, as well as the remaining 300 Sumatran tigers. It is hoped that it will eventually grow to list many of the world’s endangered cat species.
Camel Precursor Linked to Canada.
Camels are forever associated with Middle Eastern deserts, but archeological discoveries are shedding new light on their actual origins. Dr. Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature has uncovered 3.5 million-year-old fossil fragments of a camel ancestor in northern Canada. The animal was larger than modern camels, eleven feet high, and had a single large hump and a thick coat of fur. It was adapted to the cold temperatures of northern Canada and its hump was used to store fat to help it survive lean times. Ironically, these adaptations have been modified and passed down to modern camels who now inhabit hot desert climates.
The Return of the Gray Whale.
By the late 1800’s, whalers had so depleted the population of Pacific gray whales that their extinction seemed inevitable. However, international conventions regulating whaling and the whale’s inclusion on the United States endangered species list added needed protection in the 1960’s and 70’s. Today, conservationists can claim a success. The eastern Pacific gray whale population is around 22,000 individuals—a sustainable and in fact growing population. Gray whales have also become a tourist attraction and thousands of tourists “whale watch” in Southern California’s Baja area.
The Eighth Plague of the Bible Attacks Israel and Egypt.
In the bible, locusts, the eighth plague, were sent to attack the Ancient Egyptians. In a testament to their tenacity, locusts remain a scourge even today. A swarm of 30,000,000 insects has been ravaging crops in Egypt. A smaller contingent of about 1,000,000 has now spread into Israel, where it has triggered the Agriculture Ministry to send out pesticide spraying aircraft.
Where Have the Elephants Gone?
NPR reports on a recent scientific estimate that between 2002 and 2011 African forest elephants had their numbers reduced by around 62% due to ivory poaching. That shocking statistic reflects a slaughter that is going on every day in the Central African forests. The human actors who are contributing to this catastrophe include heavily armed poachers, the criminal gangs that finance them, and corrupt African officials and employees who overlook or participate in the illegal ivory trade. But what is really driving the demand for ivory and the poachers who shoot elephants to get it is the burgeoning Chinese middle class who clamor for more ivory. Elephants are highly intelligent, sentient animals and there is evidence that they are aware, on some level, of the genocide that is exterminating them.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.
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