John: Hi, Hurst.
Hurst: Wait, what happened to Carol?
John: I am standing in for her this week. She is inspecting a shipment of Peeps. As the founder of Fanimal, she was considered qualified.
Hurst: Well, hey, nice to have you on board. Happy Easter to you!
John: Same to you, Hurst! Hey, now speaking of Easter, and I hate to start out on a down note, but, it is a bad time for bunnies this time of the year. A lot of people adopt them for kids and put them in their Easter baskets. But, they are not great pets for kids and are often abandoned or die from neglect. Bunnies require a serious commitment and can live 10-14 years.
Hurst: I hear you, John. I will be sticking with the chocolate bunnies this year.
John: And Peeps. You can make Peeps s’mores–I heard Carol mention that.
Hurst: Well, John, you know what else is coming up just around the corner?
John: April Fool’s Day?
Hurst: Well, yeah. I was going to bring up that taxes are due on April 17. There are a few pet-related deductions you should be thinking about. Of course, the donations that you might make to an animal-rescue non-profit are deductible. But, hey, if you foster a dog, you can deduct those expenses.
John: My dog is not really welcoming to other dogs.
Hurst: That’s OK. Well, if your dog was a working or service dog, you could deduct those expenses.
John: He only works to get me to feed him delicious food.
Hurst: OK, well, speaking of food, I recently heard that if Americans went to a completely plant-based diet, there would be enough food for everyone.
John: How so?
Hurst: The National Academy of Sciences just released a report that shows that, if you took all the land we use to grow hogs, cattle, sheep, and other animals and convert it to grow food from plants, the land could sustain twice as many people. Plus, you get the added benefits of a healthier diet and less carbon emission.
John: Sounds like a no-brainer. Hey, you know what is like a brain?
John: A hive of bees.
Hurst: You’ll have to explain that one.
John: Researchers have found that a hive of bees behaves like a super-organism. The hive as a whole can make decisions like an animal brain, with each bee acting like a single neuron.
Hurst: You are blowing my mind.
John: Wait, was that a brain joke? Carol warned me about your sense of humor. Anyway, the hive can make choices based on only subtle changes, just like animal brains. And the bees communicate with one another in the same way neurons do.
Hurst: John, do you consider yourself to be a cat person?
John: I am a cat person, yes. In fact, I was recently duped by an internet cat video that was supposed to show a cat being frightened by the movie Psycho. I am told it is fake. I wonder if the bees could have seen through that.
Hurst: Well, I have an interesting story that provides some insight into how we have come to cohabitate with these felines. To start, humans never purposefully domesticated cats as much as cats domesticated themselves. Early cats would hang out around humans and scavenge for food. Natural selection favored those that ventured closer to humans and got more food. But here is where it gets a little weird– cats pass on a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii to one out of every three humans. This parasite also gets passed to mice and causes them to lose their innate fear of cats.
John: So cats are conditioning us to not fear them? Are they planning something? Should I be scared?
Hurst: It doesn’t seem to an issue yet, so hold off on cat-related emergency procedures. However, some scientists believe that there may be a connection between this and schizophrenia, so that could be a cause for concern. What is interesting is that research suggests T. gondii may be part of what causes humans to love cats so much.
John: I’m not saying I always suspected that cats were brainwashing us with parasites, but I will say I’m not surprised.
Hurst: In other cat related news, residents of a Southern California neighborhood got quite the surprise when they looked in their backyard to see a pony-sized mountain lion.
John: I usually just see squirrels and the occasional possum in my backyard. I feel like I’m being cheated out of some charismatic megafauna.
Hurst: One resident found herself in a stare-off with the big cat until officials arrived, tranquilized it, and relocated it to the nearby mountains. This is the first time in about a year that the area has dealt with mountain lions and bears wandering into residential areas.
John: Well, I guess this is to be expected since humans seem to encroach on historically wild areas. This reminds me of a few weeks ago when you and Carol discussed the urban leopards.
Hurst: Moving from cats to coral, did you see the piece about the 500 year-old red coral?
John: I couldn’t miss it, it seemed to be a pretty polyp-ular article.
Hurst: What a bad pun, it’s almost like Carol is here! Anyway, Mediterranean red coral is one of a few marine species that can live hundreds of years, according to a new study. This longevity is attributed to the stability of the deep ocean environments these organisms inhabit as well as a sessile lifestyle.
John: Who knew sitting around all day in an unchanging environment was the secret to a long life?
Hurst: I had a suspicion. Other marine organisms examined in this study have extensive life expectancies, but none like Monorhaphis chuni, a sponge that can live approximately 11,000 years! This longevity is more common in deep sea environments because the environment favors clonal species. This means that organisms that create colonies of genetically identical units can use these clones to repair themselves and live longer….this is as opposed to shallow water environments in which organisms are more likely to die due to predators or severe storms.
John: Speaking of marine evolution, scientists may have found out why whales evolved to be so massive.The two main factors in determining their body size are dietary needs and body heat. When it comes to maintaining body temperature, the bigger the whale, the better. However, this greater size means that whales must consume greater amounts of food to fuel their metabolism, so it is always a balance between these two factors.
Hurst: Gravity also plays a role in marine body size. Land animals are restricted by gravity because they must have large bones and blood vessels to support a larger body. This study says that the minimum size of aquatic mammals is a thousand times greater than the smallest land mammals.
John: Yeah, but despite their size, they are still under threat. With only 450 North Atlantic right whales are left in the world, Canada is taking dramatic measures to try to save them by restricting crab fishing, reducing the speed of boats, and increasing aerial drone surveillance in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Officials are hopeful that this will reduce the risk of getting entangled by fishing lines or being hit by ships.
Hurst: I hope so.
John: These stories have been interesting and everything, but I really want to talk about dog-cat hybrid that everyone has been buzzing about.
Hurst: Wait the what now?
John: Hurst, it’s April 1st, don’t be so gullible.
Hurst: I wish the readers could see how hard I just rolled my eyes. But all jokes aside, thank you for being our very first Creature Feature guest writer! I value your input and your puns.
John: Thanks for allowing me to participate Hurst and Carol!