What Do You Really Know About Octopuses?
Although they have fascinated us and captured our imaginations for eons, there is much about the octopus that we still don’t know. In a new book, Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea, by Katherine Harmon Courage, the author attempts to fill the gaps in our knowledge. Some interesting facts, as outlined by the Smithsonian review, are that an octopus has three hearts, its tentacles are so heavily neurally wired that they practically act as a separate mind, and its blood is blue.
Stabilization of Air Temperatures Not Necessarily Good News.
Skeptics of climate change have long pointed to the apparent stabilization of global air temperatures as proof that global warming is decreasing. However, a new study has tracked down the missing energy and where it has gone is not good news. Published in an article in Science, the authors demonstrate that the ocean “is now absorbing heat 15 times faster than it had over the previous 10,000 years.” Scientists are not sure what effect warming oceans will have. The immediate problem, however, is that it is masking the evidence of global warming, which indirectly encourages the continued production of unlimited greenhouse gasses.
The Economics of Wildlife Sanctuaries.
In a recent report from the Fish and Wildlife Service, it was revealed that wildlife refuges provide more than shelter for endangered species: they are also good business. In fact, the 561 wildlife refuges around the country generated revenues of around $2 billion a year, a good portion of which benefits local businesses and communities. The report leaves no doubt that wildlife refuges prove that the nation can do well while doing good. About 46.5 million visits to national wildlife refuges were registered for 2011, and the number keeps increasing.
From the coast of Alaska to the shores of Santa Barbara California, several different species of starfish are being exterminated by a heretofore unknown killer. In some areas, 95% of the starfish have already been lost. The disease causes the animals’ arms to fall off and then their bodies liquefy. While scientists suspect that some bacterium is to blame, so far no definitive cause has been isolated. The outbreak is not exactly new: two decades ago a similar but less severe disease devastated starfish in California.
An Even Weirder Ancient Platypus.
A tooth from an ancient platypus, estimated at between 5 and 15 million years old, has been discovered in Australia. Today’s odd egg-laying mammal is small, but this ancestor was much larger and appears to have had powerful jaws and teeth. The problem paleontologists now face is that this specimen creates a discontinuity between even older specimens and the present-day animals. It would appear that even though platypuses had been losing their teeth over time, the new specimen suggests that some evolutionary development changed the scenario and that for at least some time period large teeth and jaws had evolved for a while only to disappear again.
What if All the Ice Melted?
Ever wondered what the world would look like if all of the polar caps melted? National Geographic has an interactive map that explores this doomsday scenario for each continent.
Alaska’s “Rat Island” Reclaimed and Renamed.
At 9 miles long and 3 miles wide, Rat Island was a poster child for what can go wrong when imported species get out of control. The rats were accidentally introduced to the island by a Japanese shipwreck in 1780. They devoured or forced out almost all of the island’s native animal species. A concerted effort to poison the rats and reclaim the island was undertaken beginning in 2007. Today, the island is rat free and has been renamed Hawadax Island. Eventually, scientists hope to restore the native animal species to the island and undo the damage that occurred so long ago.
Climate Change and the Tropics.
In an article in the Verge, the effects of climate change in the world’s already hot tropics is examined. While polar bears and other cold weather animals have gotten most of the attention, the perhaps bigger story is what is happening in the lush green of the world’s important tropical regions. In one word, what is happening is extinction. Many species accustomed to the heat of tropical regions are failing due to increased droughts and heatwaves. Why can’t they stand the heat? “These species are ill suited to spiking temperatures or fluctuations, as they’ve evolved in canopy-shaded forests where the temperature and humidity were stable year-round. These animals also have a low optimum temperature — where they function most comfortably — which they’re already close to, so small changes affect them intensely.”
If you thought slavery was merely a human depredation, think again. Five new species of “slave maker” or “kidnapper” ants were recently discovered. These ants exhibit a behavior that is the essence of slavery — kidnapping individual ants from other colonies and forcing them to care for the kidnappers’ nest and queen. Sometimes the kidnappers’ nests are composed of slave ants from several other species, so that there is a multi-colored population of various kidnapped ants doing the bidding of the kidnappers. Although the existence of this behavior has long been studied, the recent discovery of additional kidnapping species in North America has restarted the controversy over whether “kidnapper” or “slave maker” is the more politically correct moniker.
A New Cafe that Gives a Hoot.
If you’re looking for a truly original cafe, the “fukurou cafes” in Tokyo feature owls as a theme. Food and drinks and decor are all geared toward owls. Most importantly, you can interact with live owls that live at the cafe. There are strict rules, such as disinfecting hands before and after touching the animals, but overall the idea has been catching on and is certainly turning a few heads.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.