Nature News Roundup, March 17th, 2021

Tales, tails, activism & news from valley of the cool sunshine

Cuttle control: Some researchers at Cambridge just proved that cuttlefish show self-control at a level of intelligence comparable to primates. You might have heard of the classic marshmallow experiment, where kids are left alone with a gooey sugar blob and told that if they can resist eating it for a few minutes, they’ll end up with two of the tasty treats. Some human kids didn’t pass this delayed gratification test, but cuttlefish did. When presented with their second-favorite food, king prawn, they learned that waiting patiently eventually paid off with their favorite food, grass shrimp.

Cuttlefish are molluscs, related to snails and clams. They’re also cephalopods, a larger group that includes octopus, nautilus, and squid. Photo, Pixabay.com.

Another sea champion: Copepods, microscopic shrimp-like creatures, are true climate heroes. They graze on phytoplankton, then dispose of it with torpedo-shaped poo that falls deep into the sea, locking carbon from the atmosphere. Copepods are some of the most abundant creatures on Earth, and it turns out some of the most important for sequestering carbon. These mini herbivores are sometimes called the wildebeest of the seas, since they also make one of the worlds greatest migrations every night when they come to the surface to feed, and also every winter, when they hibernate more than a mile deep.

Park Ranger Kristie Killam first showed me copepods at the Nature Center on Big Pine Key, Florida. Of course you can’t really see them in this photo, but they were swimming around the algae leaf, in a blob of green goo that came out of the fish tank. Photo, Karuna Eberl.

Fat-cat tantrum: Unlike cuttlefish’s self-control or copepods selflessness, some wealthy folks in the Hamptons are throwing a temper tantrum because of a proposed wind farm. The turbines will be out of sight, 35 miles offshore, but apparently the sacrifice of having a buried cable run through their hood (which will bring renewable energy to 70,000 homes) is asking a little too much of the posh community. To put this into perspective, because of their lifestyles, these cats are presumably super-emitters of greenhouse gasses, who are not only refusing to be part of the solution, they’re actually spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers to show just how little they care about anyone but themselves. Lesson of the day: ick. A little sacrifice is needed on all of our parts. Plus. there’s nothing less classy than a 24-carat hissy fit.

Just plain awful news: If you’re in a good mood today, skip this one. Last month Wisconsin opened wolf-hunting season early. So early, that these family oriented animals were still in breeding season. Hunters ended up killing at least 216 gray wolves in 60 hours — 100 more than the state quota, and about 20 percent of the state’s overall population. The deaths also broke a preservation agreement the state had with the Ojibwe tribes. The state acknowledged their mistakes, and ended the season early, but the long-term damage to the population is yet to be known. I’d like to use this story to introduce a thought: there is a fledgling movement to change our approach to managing wild animals by thinking about the importance of individual animals (as opposed to just making sure there’s enough of any given species to keep breeding). This is important, because there is a lot we don’t know about individuals’ roles in a population. For example, biologists have witnessed the downfall of crow social structures over a large area when just one key bird dies. For elephants, trophy hunting of older bulls harm a herds, because when there is no one around to keep the younger, testosterone-frenzied ones in check, they injure and kill cows and calves. Similarly, we don’t know what generational knowledge is lost when wolf pack leaders are killed. I like this new thinking because it takes into consideration animal culture, and acknowledges that, like us, we have a social structure and relationships that are important for quality of life, beyond merely surviving.

Bird love songs: here’s an example of knowledge that’s lost when populations become too thin. Regent honeyeaters, an Australian songbird, are in decline. Without enough males around showing off their ballads, the youth aren’t learning the traditional love songs, which means females can’t find them, and mating is on the outs.

But there’s good news for another rare bird: in the California condor breeding program at the Oregon Zoo, condors laid nine eggs in a month. That’s a record in the center’s 18-year history. In 1982 there were only 22 of the birds alive in the world, all of which were in captivity. Today they are still critically endangered, but there are around 500 in the wild. Their greatest threats are lead poisoning, which they get from scavenging animal carcasses that have been shot, and habitat destruction from wildfires.

A deeper water dive: the Guardian came out with this cool, graphic-rich tool to help people better understand the state of the oceans and how we can help.

A happy pause: Just 50 of the world’s most gorgeous photos of animals. That’s all.

A remarkable horse: This story isn’t about wild nature, but it’s an immensely touching tale about the healing powers of animals. All I can say without spoiling it is that there’s this horse in France that seeks out people in hospitals. My mom summed it up by saying, “Bodhisattvas can be reborn as anything, and this horse really does feel like that. It’s also another reason, if one was needed, why you should treat every creature and person with compassion.”


Activism Highlight — Extinction Rebellion

I’m going to start showcasing activist groups, since joining one really is one of the best ways to make the kind of change we need to make, in the time frame that we have. This group is particularly energetic, and is beloved by people of all ages.

Extinction Rebellion is a British-based group that is gaining steam in the U.S. They are a real boots-to-pavement climate action protest group, whose protests really jump-started climate awareness and policy in Britain. For those of us in the U.S., they are holding an online action event on March 25th about local energy solutions.

This month in Britain, they are encouraging a new tactic which will surely come to the U.S. as well: Rebellions of One. They also recently started the whistle-blowing project truthteller.life.

Check out their U.S. action page for how to join and find a group near you. They are easy to get involved with, as they focus on trainings as well as events.

Steve and I met another activist while on a walk recently. He runs xoearth.org, and shares his passion with everyone he meets. His one-on-one approach is contagious, and a great example of how one person can change a lot of hearts and minds. He explained that every bit of carbon emissions we are able to prevent equals a little bit longer that we have to enjoy this beautiful planet (so it’s not an all-or-nothing way of seeing our current dilemma). His website also talks about “how to use songs, poetry, art, dance, and science to save our dying biosphere,” and it’s worth a look.


News from the Valley of the Cool Sunshine

(a.k.a. the house build)

We had to make a trip to Indiana a couple of weeks ago. Driving back, I was mostly lamenting at the miles of exposed, deteriorating farmland soils, broken up here and there by cookie-cutter development sprawl, and the occasional uplifting sight of an abandoned, crumbling billboard. Then suddenly, snow geese filled the sky. They were swirling like a tornado above a small lake. Overhead, their masses make it look like the sky was alive. It was almost dizzying, and overwhelmingly beautiful.

We pulled off an exit to try to get a better view. First, we were just standing on this dirt road, with no sign of birds… until a flock of sandhill cranes came, and then geese, and then more cranes, and more geese. There were honks, and caws, and flutters. What a spectacle. If you’re anywhere near Nebraska in March, it’s worth the drive. Just head to I-80 between Grand Island and Kearny.

A rather embarrassingly poor photo. They’re all mixed up, but generally speaking, the cranes are near the bottom and the snow geese and some Canada geese near the top. Photo, Karuna Eberl.

In other bird news, back in the San Luis Valley, smaller birds finally found our feeder, and are now eating it dry on the daily. It’s quite loud around the yard now, and we’re starting to wonder if they’ll get so fat that a new species of ground birds will evolve.

As far as the abandoned house we’re fixing up, we had a major triumph when Steve connected the water well, and it worked. We’ve gotten the bacteria test back, and it’s negative, so we can start using the water to wash dishes and make our lives a bit easier. We’ve also dry-walled the upstairs, in anticipation of two sets of visitors — my dad arrives later today, and Steve’s dad early next month. So, I’ll be focusing more on making the most of having extra hands to help, and may not post as many newsletters as I normally would during the next few weeks. But I’m sure I’ll sneak a few in.


A parting thought

We spent last weekend in Boulder with my mom, to enjoy the snowstorm. Two feet of peaceful white. It was so bright at night, we didn’t need flashlights to hike the trails.


That’s all for now. Have a great week and keep up the good. And if you like what you just read, one way to speak up for nature is to share it!

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