The “TomTato” is a veggie lover’s dream: above ground, it’s a tomato plant; below ground, it’s a potato plant.
The idea was the brainchild of the horticultural firm Thompson and Morgan, based in Ipswich, England.
Although the concept sounds crazy, the plants are not genetically modified; rather, they are created using grafting. This process involves making matching incisions into two different plants which allows you to connect them.
The U.S. actually has one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world, second only to China.
And just last month, we got to hear the touching story of Raju.
This asian elephant spent 50 years being tortured and mistreated, all while sharp chains and spiked shackles cut painfully into his legs.
But in early July, a group of animal charity workers pulled off a daring rescue, freeing Raju from his nightmare. He was visibly emotional during the rescue, and even wept.
They delivered Raju to an elephant sanctuary in India, where he is already making new friends.
There are plenty of things to be optimistic about, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that the illegal ivory trade is still a big problem, and one that is actually getting worse.
More ivory was confiscated last year than in any of the previous 25 years. The problem is that poachers can get anywhere between $100-000 to $200,000 for a single tusk, which is a massive incentive to any would-be poacher.
The graphic below shows the relationship between elephant poaching in Africa and ivory seizures in Asia. Click to enlarge:
The problems facing elephants are serious indeed, but today is a celebration of the majestic creatures.
In light of that, I think it’s only fair that I finish this post off with three of the cutest baby elephants ever.
On the Brazilian coast, a couple hundred miles south of São Paulo, lies the small town of Laguna.
Laguna is very much like most other small coastal towns in Brazil, with many people relying heavily on fishing to provide both food and income.
However, the fishermen of Laguna have a truly remarkable secret weapon: a pod of about 20 bottlenose dolphins. Check it out in this awesome video from the BBC series Human Planet:
This interaction is a beautiful example of a symbiotic relationship, one in which both species benefit from cooperation.
The dolphins help the fishermen by herding fish into shallower waters along the shore. Once the fish are bunched, the dolphins use specialized head or tail slaps to show the fishermen where to cast their nets.
Not only does it make fishing much easier and more effective, it also saves the fishermen the trouble of having to go out into deeper waters to find fish.
When the fishermen cast their nets, it startles the schools of fish, causing them to split up and swim in random directions. This makes it much easier for the dolphins to pick them off as they try to escape.
The dolphins help provide fish to over 200 families in Laguna who have no other source of income.
Over the years, the fishermen have become intimately familiar with many of the dolphins, even naming them. Some of the most skilled dolphins, like “Scooby” and “Caroba”, have been working with the fishermen for more than 15 years.
Recently, a group of researchers decided to study the unique interactions.
Fábio Daura-Jorge, who works at the University of Santa Catarina in Brazil, was one of the leading researchers.
He pointed out that although this relationship is very unique, it’s not altogether surprising when you consider how social dolphins are as a species:
“Dolphin societies are very complex, and social interaction seems to drive foraging behavior…
It might be that the development of specialized foraging behavior occurs in small tight-knit resident coastal communities because there is a high degree of social interaction between the animals.”
He also stressed just how important the dolphins are to the way of life for the fishing families of Laguna:
“The fish provided from the cooperation with dolphins has an important economic and social value that has to be considered…
Essentially, if we lose the cooperative dolphins, we lose this unique traditional way of life and vice versa.”
If a monkey takes your camera from you and snaps a selfie of itself, who owns the picture?
That is the question being argued right now after Wikipedia refused to remove a monkey selfie from its website. Nature photographer David Slater (who’s camera captured the image) requested it be taken down due to copyright infringement.
In 2011, David was in Indonesia trying to capture a perfect shot of the crested black macaque. He set up his camera on a tripod in the hopes that he could get a better shot of the monkeys if he was further away.
But then something unexpected happened: one of the more curious macaques went right up to his camera equipment to investigate. Then, it took the camera off the tripod and started snapping pictures. It ended up taking hundreds of selfies.
Though most of the pictures were blurry and out of focus, a few them were seriously incredible, including the now viral image of the smiling macaque below:
The problems began after Wikipedia uploaded the image to its Wikimedia Commons database. Wikimedia Commons is a collection of 23 million royalty-free images and videos that are free for public use online.
Earlier this year, Slater asked Wikipedia to remove the image, saying that he owned the copyright to the monkey selfie and that the image’s availability on Wikipedia was jeopardizing his opportunity to make money off of it.
But Wikipedia denied his request, saying that since the monkey was the one who actually took the picture, Slater can’t own the image. In their denial letter, Wikipedia said,
“To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they’d only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image. This means that there was no one on whom to bestow copyright, so the image falls into the public domain.”
They also said that “non-human authors” don’t have the right to automatically claim the copyrights to a photo just because it was taken using their equipment.
Slater disagrees with Wikipedia’s take on copyrights, but he also appealed to them as a photographer, pointing out that his work is extremely expensive and only produces an iconic shot (one which he can actually make money off of) every once in a while:
“That trip cost me about £2,000 [~$3,355] for that monkey shot. Not to mention the £5,000 [~$8,387] of equipment I carried, the insurance, the computer stuff I used to process the images. Photography is an expensive profession that’s being encroached upon. They’re taking our livelihoods away…
For every 10,000 images I take, one makes money that keeps me going. And that was one of those images. It was like a year of work, really.”
Wikimedia’s editors are still divided on the issue. It’s most likely that the copyright debate will be solved in court.
Matthew and his friend Andrew like to shred a couple waves every now and then.
Recently, they were enjoying the waves off the coast of England when they had an unsuspected visitor. Matt describes the event:
“Me and my friend Andrew were out enjoying some summer waves when this little guy came along and scared the hell out of Andy because we didn’t know what it was! It nudged his foot from underneath.”
The next hour was filled with fun for both the surfers and the seal. Check out some of the footage below:
When the pair finally decided to call it a day, the seal pup followed them to the beach, and even tried following them up the beach.
As a precaution, Andy called the local wildlife authority to inform them of the strange behavior when they got home, in case there was something wrong with the pup. But he did however add that,
“He didn’t seem unwell when he was surfing in like a pro!”
Although a representative from a local sanctuary said that they had never heard of seals jumping on surfboards before, it’s most likely that the young pup was just enjoying a new play experience with its new friends.
Villagers from a village in the Sichuan province of China just collected the largest ever aquatic insect specimen.
The bug, a massive dobsonfly, has a wingspan of more than 8 inches. The previous record-holder for the world’s largest aquatic insect was a South American helicopter damselfly, which had a wingspan of 7.5 inches.
Though dobsonflies are relatively common (there are over 200 species across Asia, Africa and South America), one of this size had been unheard of until now.
Looking at a dobsonfly can actually be very misleading. For one, those massive, grisly-looking mandibles protruding from its head are actually only used for mating. Males flaunt them to impress the females and hold them in place during the actual mating process.
Also, those massive wings are pretty much all for show. The insect almost never flies, preferring to spend the bulk of its time in the water (both underwater and on the surface), or sheltering underneath rocks.
Dobsonflies are also a biological indicator of water quality. They prefer clean water with very low levels of pollution and a relatively neutral pH. If water quality falls below their standards, they will leave and find a new body of water to call home.
The villagers gave the record-setting specimen to the Insect Museum of West China.
I’m no saint. Just like everyone else, I get frustrated with people from time to time. If you catch me after a particularly maddening encounter, you may hear the words “ignorant”, “bigoted”, “close-minded”, and maybe even “asshole”.
But one word you will never hear me use to describe a person is “dumb”. The increasingly popular idea that the world is full of stupid people is a basic misunderstanding of what it means to be “smart”.
Real intelligence is simply the measure of a person’s curiosity.
As a child, I was deprived of video games and cable television (in hindsight, I’m eternally grateful for it). So, I explored outside, dug things up, made messes, did questionable “experiments” in the kitchen, and burned stuff every chance I got (what little boy isn’t a pyromaniac?).
I also asked a lot of questions. I mean a lot. Why is the sky blue? Why is rain wet? Why does grandma keep an extra set of teeth in a glass in her bathroom?
One day I guess my mom just got tired of trying to answer them all, so she took me on my first trip to the library. I’ll never forget what she said as we entered that temple of learning:
“The answer to every question you could ever have is in here.”
I was immediately hooked. From then on, when I wanted to know how something worked or why something was the way it was, I went to the library and found a book I could read about it.
I wasn’t critiquing the authors’ literary styles, or analyzing their sentence structure, or looking for deeper meanings. I was just enjoying the reading and relishing in my newly found power to find answers to every question.
That’s why today I have a wealth of relatively random facts that I can recall whenever necessary. It’s not because I was any smarter than any other kid my age, it’s just that I had parents who showed me a place where I could ask as many questions as I wanted and actually find the answers on my own.
Calling someone stupid also means you don’t understand how the brain works.
The average brain is made up of about 100 billion brain cells called neurons. Each of these neurons has the potential to connect to any of the others.
If you can remember your combinations and permutations unit in 7th grade math, you’ll know that the total number of possible connections that can be formed between 100 billion neurons is equal to 100 billion factorial:
100,000,000 factorial = 100,000,000,000 x 99,999,999,999 x 99,999,998 etc. all the way down to 1.
So what’s the total number of possible connections? Well, I tried to do 100 billion factorial on five different online scientific calculators and they all gave me the same answer: infinity (the real answer is obviously not actually infinity, but it’s a number with about 25 billion zeroes).
That’s right. There are virtually infinite ways in which our brain’s neurons can potentially connect to one another, and it’s the combination of these neural pathways that allows our brains to function.
When we are born, there are very few connections in our brain. This basically means that our potential is limitless.
As we begin to get older, our brain realizes that certain abilities, like being able distinguish monkey faces as well as we distinguish human faces, aren’t really very useful. Consequently, those pathways erode away-the typical adult only maintains a few trillion pathways throughout their life.
I know the monkey example seemed a bit random, but it’s actually from a real study. In 2005, researchers demonstrated that six-month old infants could distinguish between the faces of different monkeys just as easily as they could between different human faces.
However, by the age of nine months old the toddlers’ brains had realized that the skill wasn’t useful, and most of them lost the ability. Only the babies who continued having to differentiate between the monkeys (ie. for whom the skill was still useful) retained the ability.
There is the potential for some extremely powerful, some would even say magical abilities within our brains. However, the brain’s number one priority is survival, so it limits things like creativity and imaginativeness to ensure that we can function well in society and provide for ourselves.
But sometimes, the part of the brain which holds back that dam of possibilities gets damaged, allowing glimmers of our superhuman potential to shine through.
That is the case with people suffering from savant syndrome. Savant syndrome occurs when a mental disability like autism damages the part of the brain that controls our basic functions.
Although those suffering from the condition usually lack the basic motor skills to tie their own shoes or dress themselves, the condition also liberates other parts of their brain, giving them some mind-blowing abilities:
A man who can read a book two pages at a time (one page with each eye) and remembers every detail about the 12,000+ books he’s read so far:
A man who flawlessly played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 after hearing it once. He was 16, never had any classical training, and had just learned to walk on his own a year earlier:
A man they call the human camera, who can recreate entire cityscapes, down to the number of windows in every building, after viewing it once:
When we are born, we all have the potential to be as smart as Stephen Hawking, or as funny as Richard Pryor, or as musical as Jimi Hendrix. But from that point on, who we become depends on the neural connections that are created by the environment we live in.
And not only does everyone have amazing potential, but everyone has something to teach you. Knowledge can be obtained from books or computers, but wisdom can only be obtained through experience.
Every person in this world has a life experience unlike anyone else’s. We all gain perspective about the world from the lessons we learn throughout our lives, so there’s a nearly infinite amount of wisdom we can obtain from those around us, if we’re willing to look for it.
Our brains are naturally curious, but this curiosity must be protected and fed for it to achieve its potential. Remember, Einstein was dyslexic and mildly autistic as a child, and he ended up becoming arguably the greatest scientific mind of our times.
Calling someone dumb makes them scared to ask questions- it stunts their curiosity, thereby inhibiting their ability to find out the truth on their own.
So, every time you call someone dumb, you are actually the one making society less intelligent.