Martens Spiders Wasps Flamingos Joeys and Peter Singer’s Birthday

Carol: Hi Hurst! Let’s talk about some animal news.

Hurst: Funny you would say hi, because our first story is just that. Marijuana farms in California are bringing in plenty of jobs and revenue to local economies but to the detriment of an adorable weasel called the Humboldt marten. It is estimated that 95% of the marten’s habitat has been destroyed by humans and now marijuana farms in Oregon and Northern California are encroaching on the territory of the last two populations of about 300 individuals total. In addition to habitat loss, the marten also suffers from the rodenticides that cannabis farmers utilize. This won’t be the first time that the Humboldt marten has flirted with extinction, as the elusive mammal was declared extinct but then rediscovered in 1996. Activists are advocating for the species to be recognized as threatened instead of its current status as a “species of special concern.” A final decision on its classification will be made in August.

Carol: Only 300 individuals left and not recognized as an endangered species, that makes me cannabissed off!  Moving on, I have two new insect stories for you.

Hurst: Those always bug me.

Carol: A new species of spider has been discovered in a small cave in Indiana and has been named Islandiana lewisi. So far this spider is known to be found only in this one cave where it seems to be the only species of spider that can survive. It is known for its sheet-like webs and likely feeds on springtail arthropods in the debris that lies at the bottom of the cave.

Hurst: A spider in Indiana? That reminds me, what do you get when cross a spider and a cornfield? A cobweb!

Carol: That joke made me want to go hide in a cave myself. For the next bug story I promised, a newly discovered wasp has a fascinating alien-like life cycle. The new species has been named Xenomorph for its likeness to the Alien franchise. Adult wasps lay their eggs in caterpillars until the larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside out and dramatically burst out of the caterpillar exoskeleton. Dolichogenidea xenomorph is one of three newly documented parasitoid wasps in Australia.

Hurst: Well, I guess I’m never going to Australia because that is terrifying.

Carol: I think you’ll be fine, you are slightly larger than any caterpillar that I’ve ever seen.

Hurst: Time for what is probably my favorite story of the week, a fugitive flamingo has been spotted off the coast of Texas. The large bird, affectionately named No. 492, escaped from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas thirteen years ago and has been on the run ever since. Typically these birds have a part of their wing amputated when they are young (when that part of their body hasn’t developed sensation) in order to keep them from escaping their enclosure. However No. 492 was part of a flock of birds from Tanzania shipped to Kansas as adults, and thus they only had their feathers clipped to be more humane. But the thing about feathers is that they grow back and No. 492 flew the coop, so to speak. This flamingo has now been living in Texan wetlands for thirteen years where it is occasionally spotted. It seems to have found love with a Caribbean flamingo that was displaced by a tropical storm. Experts say that the birds could live 10 to 20 years more as they are known to live into their 40’s.

Carol: Wow I think we should make a movie out of that. Escaped fugitive finds love in a Texas swamp. It will be a hit. Well I hate to jump around to different parts of the world, but this next story is about kangaroo joeys. Get it? Jump around? Kangaroos?

Hurst: Sigh.

Carol: National Geographic did a short video piece on orphaned joeys who live at the Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs, Australia.  It’s pretty much a feel good “awwww” kind of video on cute little kangas being swaddled in homemade snuggly pouches. The pouches replicate the security that joeys would feel inside their mom’s pouch. Sanctuary workers keep the joeys with them 24/7 because that’s what a kanga mom would do.

Hurst: That does not sound like hard duty…caring for a baby kangaroo all day.

Carol: You are so right. I wonder if they do volunteer vacations at that sanctuary.  I’d sign up.

Hurst: Yeah, but all those fossil fuels you’d burn flying over there…

Carol: Fair point. Speaking of pollution…air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, noise pollution, radioactive pollution, thermal pollution, and visual pollution…which one am I missing…?

Hurst: Pun pollution?

Carol: No, light pollution!  You’ve heard me rant about light pollution before but I have an update to share.

Hurst: It’s a good rant. I don’t mind hearing it again.

Carol: Well, you know that many birds, fish, turtles, insects, mammals, and even plants are negatively affected by all the outdoor lights humans use at night. Flood lights at home, street lights, stadium and field lights, buildings, signs and billboards, vehicle headlights, and my personal dis-favorite, cell phone tower lights.  

Hurst: Is dis-favorite really a word?

Carol: Mongabay did a story on the impacts of different types of LED lights.The good news is that we can reduce the effects of these lights in places where we feel we must have them, such as for safety reasons.  A new report tested varying effects of lights and found that filtered yellow‐green and amber LEDs have lower effects on wildlife than while blue‐rich lighting. The take away from this study is that individuals, corporations, and cities should use the lowest possible color temperature for outdoor lighting, e.g. not white lights, but rather yellow and green.

And this isn’t just about lights, because types of pollution are connected. Light pollution requires energy to be created, which could mean burning more fossil fuels. The fossil fuels contribute to air pollution, which returns to the earth as acid rain and affects water quality. With lights, we can make individual changes to help minimize the effects on our lives and on ecosystems…and of course on animals.

Hurst: That story is very illuminating.

Carol: Oh brother. My next story is about medical students who are studying animals to learn more about people.

Hurst: I think you mean vet students. Wait, I’m confused.

Carol: According to the story, zoos and human medicine researchers have collaborated for decades, but zoos and medical schools are only starting to work together. Medical students from Harvard are doing medical rotations at the Franklin Park Zoo to learn more about animal illnesses and diseases, which is interesting in and of itself, but it also teaches them about human diseases at the same time.  After all, animals and people share the same environment, so treatments for one may be viable treatments for the other. Zooming out, these students are also learning about some human activities like logging, palm oil production, mining, bushmeat trade, and other man-made habitat changes that affect animal health…and subsequently, human health. They are learning about the inherent connection between humans and animals.

Hurst: Cool! Next time my doctor is busy, I could just go see a vet instead.

Carol: I saw a great bumper sticker at my vet that said “Real doctors treat more than one species.”

Hurst: Haha. Before we go, tell us what animal celebrations are coming up. Please don’t tell me it is hug a slug month, or appreciate your local ticks and fleas week.

Carol: No, that would be silly. On July 10, we have Don’t Step on a Bee Day, which is pretty self-explanatory how you celebrate, and Cow Appreciation Day on July 12.  In addition, National Farriers Week is July 8-14, and just in case you were wondering, farriers are specialists in horse hoof care. And July 6 is Peter Singer’s Birthday.  

Hurst: Right, he is the animal ethics professor at Princeton, right?

Carol: Yes, he’s written a lot about animal welfare and animal rights throughout the years, and is now doing a lot to focus our moral duty to help each other. So, if you want to celebrate his birthday, you should read his 1975 classic Animal Liberation.  Oh and Happy 4th of July!  Keep your dogs and cats inside during the fireworks.  Many animals get really freaked out by the noise and run away, even if they are leashed. Shelters have an upsurge on July 5 when animals who have been separated from their families are brought in to await being reunited.  If your dog is afraid of fireworks, try searching for some clever ideas to comfort him or her.  

Hurst: Will do! See you next week, Carol!

Carol: See you next week, Hurst!

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