Tag Archives: wildlife

Why This Beetle Is Whiter Than Anything Human Technology Can Produce

If you ever visit Southeast Asia, you might come across the whitest thing you’ve ever seen.

And it’s not this guy:

“Double dream hands!”

It’s the Cyphochilus beetle, a beetle whose shell is whiter than even the whitest paper, the whitest snow, even the whitest paint.

In fact, it’s brighter than anything that human technology could create using a material as thin as the beetle does.

So what is this material? Well, it’s called chitin.

Chitin is similar to the cellulose, the main material in a plant’s cell wall. It forms complex, tightly-knit networks of filaments that build the shells of crustaceans and the exoskeletons of many insects.

A close-up of the chitin filament network on the Cyphochilus beetle’s shell. Click to enlarge (Image: Lorenzo Cortese)

But on it’s own, chitin is not a very good reflector of light at all, so researchers at the University of Cambridge and the European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy in Italy came together to try to uncover the secret behind the Cyphocilus beetle’s extraordinary brilliance.

What they found was that it was not the material itself that made the beetles look so white, but the geometric pattern in which the chitin filaments had arranged themselves.

A close-up of the beetle. Click to enlarge (Photo: P. Vukusic)

The colors we perceive come from the ways in which different colors of light reflect off of different materials.

However, the structure of the beetle’s shell reflects light anisotropically. This means that all the different colors of light get reflected in the same direction, which is why the shell appears to be such a brilliant white (mixing all of the colors of light gives you white light).

But unlike man-made reflectors, which tend to be fairly thick, the beetle’s individual scales are only thousandths of a millimeter thick. This keeps them light, minimizing the amount of energy the beetle has to expend while flying.

Read more from the New Scientist here.

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Koko, the Gorilla Who Uses Sign-Language, Mourns the Death of Her Friend Robin Williams

In 2001, Robin Williams traveled to the headquarters of the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California after taking a personal interest in ape conservation.

While there, he met the famous gorilla Koko, who was taught American sign-language at a young age.

The two were made for each other. Koko quickly took a liking to Williams’ kind heart, and almost immediately he was one of the ape’s closest friends.

Koko kisses Williams’ hand during their first meeting. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of the Gorilla Foundation)

When she met Williams, Koko had been going through a bout of depression following the death of another gorilla that had been her good friend.

At the same time, Williams was battling the issues of depression and addiction that plagued him throughout his life.

Williams made Koko laugh for the first time in six months, granting her requests to be tickled and letting her try on his glasses as the two unlikely friends bonded. It was obvious to anyone watching that Williams enjoyed the experience just as much as Koko did.

You can watch some video of the pair becoming friends below:

The meeting changed the lives of both man and ape alike:

“Not only did Robin cheer up Koko, the effect was mutual, and Robin seemed transformed,”

Koko’s caretaker Dr. Penny Patterson said while reflecting on the meeting.

So when staff at the Gorilla Foundation used sign language to tell Koko of Williams’ passing, it was no surprise that she was visibly upset.

She sat hunched over, her bottom lip quivering as she mourned the passing of her friend.

Koko was visibly upset by the news of Williams' passing. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of the Gorilla Foundation)
Koko was visibly upset by the news of Williams’ passing. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of the Gorilla Foundation)

Koko’s bond with Williams and her grief at his passing serve as a powerful reminder that a truly kind heart can transcend all differences. Even the differences between man and animal.

Read the original story from the Daily Mail here.

Celebrating World Elephant Day Through Pictures

Today we celebrate the third annual World Elephant Day.

The holiday was created in 2012 by Canadian filmmaker and elephant advocate Patricia Sims, along with the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand.

Elephant activist and filmmaker Patricia Sims with an older female elephant. Click to enlarge

The holiday was started to draw awareness to the plight of elephants around the world.

Asian elephants are an endangered species, with only about 40,000 left in the wild.

A 6-day old newborn Asian elephant meets some of the other elephants in its herd at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park in England. Click to enlarge (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe)

In their traditional home of Thailand, only about 4,000 Asian elephants remain today, down from over 100,000 at the beginning of the 1900s.

In the past 50 years alone, their range has shrunk by nearly 70%:

Asian elephant range. Click to enlarge

African elephants are considered threatened, with a little under 400,000 remaining.

Other than habitat loss, one of the main threats facing African elephants is the extremely lucrative worldwide ivory trade.

July, 2011: Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki lights a bonfire of confiscated illegal ivory at the Tsavo East National Park in southeast Nairobi. Kibaki destroyed some 335 tusks and 42,553 pieces of ivory carvings. Click to enlarge (Tony Karumba / AFP – Getty Images)

Ivory is extremely valuable, meaning that modern day poachers are often very well-funded by wealthy ivory traders.

This high level of sophistication allows them to target even some of the most famous and well-protected elephants in the world.

Satao, one of the world’s last great tuskers (elephants with tusks weighing 100+ pounds each), was killed by poachers in Tsavo East National Park early in June of this year.

Satao had a reputation for being highly intelligent, and was even known to hide his massive tusks in bushes, seemingly aware of the danger that they brought upon him. Click to enlarge

But the news isn’t all bad.

In February of this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service banned all imports and exports of elephant ivory within the U.S. (with extremely narrow exceptions).

The U.S. actually has one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world, second only to China.

Most ivory passes through Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the Philippines before ultimately ending up in China. Click to enlarge

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.

Raju the elephant wept when he realized he was being rescued. Click to enlarge

They delivered Raju to an elephant sanctuary in India, where he is already making new friends.

Raju is clearly enjoying his new home, friends and life. Click to enlarge

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.

In New Jersey, The Local Neighborhood Bear Walks Upright (Video)

New Jersey resident Ian Bohman was heading out for a Monday morning workout when he noticed a local bear walking upright. The spectacle was too perfect to not capture a viral worthy video. Check out the video below to see just how human-like bears can be…

At first it’s not totally clear if this video is a hoax or just a man dressed up as a bear or something, but I can assure you that the video is actually of a real bear.

According to Bohman, the bear is actually “kind of famous” in his hometown.

Kelsey Burgess, who works with the New Jersey Department of Fish, Game and Wildlife, saw the video herself. She thinks that the bear was most likely injured in a car accident.

“Bears can walk on their hind legs very well. It’s just they don’t choose to do so unless they’re forced to,”

she told ABC News.

Brown bear cubs standing up (Photo: Cheryl A. Ertelt)

Locals have seen the bear walking on its hind legs and prowling through garbage on a number of occasions, but this was the first quality video captured of the bear’s strange behavior.

Bears are reasonably common in this area of New Jersey and this one hasn’t showed any aggression towards the locals, so little has been done about relocating the bear or bringing it into captivity.

Check out the full story from YahooNews here.

These Guys Were Just Enjoying a Day of Surfing When a Playful Seal Pup Decided to Join (Video)

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.

(h/t IFL Science)

BONUS: If you’re a fan of seals, you’ll probably love this video of a sea lion jamming out to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” at various different tempos.

The sea lion, whose name is Ronin, was the first non-human mammal proven to keep a beat.

These “Hero Rats” Are Saving Countless Lives By Detecting Land-mines and Tuberculosis (Video)

As a boy, Bart Weetjens loved to play with his pet rats. One thing that always stuck in his memory was the rat’s strong sense of smell and the ease at which they could be trained.

Bart recalled these skills years later as a student at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, where he was working on an analysis of the global land-mine detection problem (ie. how to find all of the unexploded mines left over from countless wars around the world).

Bart felt that rats could provide a cheaper, more efficient and more locally available solution to the land-mine problem, so he began to do early research on this concept in 1997.

Bart Weetjen, founder of APOPO, with one of his HeroRATs. Click to enlarge (Photo: Getty Images)

Bart called his project APOPO, which stands for  Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling (English translation: Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development).

The organization moved to Mozambique in 2000, where they partnered with the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force to help mine-clearing operations in that  country.

A HeroRAT sniffs out a a land-mine. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

By 2006, APOPO’s HeroRATS were also fully integrated into land-mine detection programs in Tanzania. In 2010, APOPO began operations in Thailand as well.

Check out below to learn more about the HeroRAT’s mine-detection skills:

The reason that these rats are so good at detecting land-mines is that they have an extremely acute sense of smell, which allows them to easily identify the scent of TNT (after being trained to recognize it).

Early on, Bart realized that the HeroRATS’ amazing sense of smell wasn’t being fully utilized. In 2003, he entered APOPO in the Development Marketplace Global Competition sponsored by the World Bank.

His idea: using the rats to help detect tuberculosis as well as land-mines. APOPO won the competition, and in doing so received the necessary funding for their research into training TB-detecting HeroRATS.

A HeroRAT checks samples for tuberculosis. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

TB is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. About 9 million new cases are reported annually, and the disease kills nearly 2 million people each year.

The HeroRATS give health workers a huge advantage over humans when it comes to detection of the disease.

A human lab tech can only process about 40 samples in a day; the HeroRATS can do that same amount of work in only seven minutes, and they often find TB-positive samples that the human technicians missed.

Check out the video below to learn more about he HeroRATS’ work in tuberculosis detection:

To learn more about the APOPO organization’s land-mine and tuberculosis detection programs, you can visit their website here.

If These Photos of Dogs Underwater Don’t Make You Smile, Nothing Will (Photo Gallery)

Seth Casteel is a photographer based out of Chicago and Los Angeles who specializes in taking pictures of animals.

Though he photographs all types of animals, dogs are one of his favorite subjects. A few years back, he shot a series of photos of dogs playing underwater. Check out the pictures below (click an image to enlarge):

The success of the photos landed him a book deal, and the photo-book “Underwater Dogs” was released in October of 2012.

Casteel’s photography company, Little Friend’s Photography, specializes in lifestyle pet photography. Casteel describes this art form as,

“embracing the at-ease mentality of pets on location in the natural surroundings.”

You can check out more of Casteel’s work on Little Friend’s Photography’s website here.

(h/t CBS News)