If you ever visit Southeast Asia, you might come across the whitest thing you’ve ever seen.
And it’s not this guy:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.