Posts about nature

Mountain Lions Returning to the Midwest USA for the First Time in a Century

Cougars Are Returning to the U.S. Midwest after More Than 100 Years by John Platt

Cougars once lived throughout most of the U.S. and Canada but state-sponsored bounties put in place to protect livestock and humans from what were often deemed “undesirable predators” led to the cats’ extermination in the east and Midwest.

Things started to turn around for the cougar in the 1960s and 70s when, one by one, the bounties were rescinded and states made the animals a managed-game species. Today they are classified as game species in most states and a “specially protected mammal” in California. This allowed their populations first to grow and then to expand their territories.

Cougars are generalist predators, so LaRue says they can select any habitat with enough prey. They have also been shown to walk hundreds of kilometers in search of new habitat. “They have no problem traveling through cornfields or prairies for long distances if they have to,” she says. But cornfields and prairies aren’t suitable habitat for the cougars to settle in. She says they require forest cover, rugged terrain and dispersal corridors (typically rivers) that allow easy migration for both the cats and their prey.

Mountain Lions are very cool animals. So like our pets but with a size that means they can kill us, if they want. They are not much risk to us though. Occasionally their are attacks (now that the numbers of cougars are growing) but an extremely small number.

Data from the city of Boulder, Colorado:

There has been an average of 0.2 annual human deaths in all of North America from mountain lions between 1900 and 2007. This number is very low compared to annual deaths from black widow spiders (1.4 between 1950-1989), domestic dogs (16 between 1979-1998) and car crashes (45,000 between 1980-2005).

Related: Mountain Lion Foundation timelineBackyard Wildlife: Mountain LionJaguars Back in the Southwest USA
Big Cats in America (2004)Snow Leopard Playing in the Snow in Ohio

Elephant Underpass in Kenya

photo of elephant preparing to walk under a highway

Elephant Underpass Reuniting Kenya Herds

The first of its kind for elephants, the underpass will ideally provide a safe corridor for the large mammals to move throughout the Mount Kenya region, where highways, fences, and farmlands have split elephant populations…

Without the underpass, animals that try to move between isolated areas often destroy fences and crops—leading to conflicts with people.

Since its completion in late 2010, the underpass has been a “tremendous success”—hundreds of elephants have been spotted walking through the corridor, according to the conservancy.

It is great to see such solutions put into place. Animals that come into conflict with people (whether it is farmers in Africa, ranchers in the USA or villagers in India) often lose. There is a reason humans dominate the globe. We might be easy to beat in a one on one battle when we can prepare. But when we get frustrated and decide it is time to take action, that is bad news for most mammals (bacteria are only in trouble with our scientists and manufacturers get together and even then the bacteria might not lose).

What we need to do is find ways for the animals to live without too severely impacting people. Because if we don’t eventually the people will take action.

I have been to the game parks in Kenya twice, it is amazing.

Related: Monkey Bridge in KenyaInsightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephantunderwater highway bridgeA Group of Wild Mountain Gorillas Strolling Through Camp Observing Humans Observe the Gorillas

Backyard Wildlife: Mountain Lion

Sadly this isn’t my backyard. I would love to see a mountain lion like this. So close. A real wild mountain lion. And I am safe.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: BearsBackyard Wildlife: HawkBackyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing Damselfly

Nice Interaction with a Group of Wild Mountain Gorillas Strolling Through Camp

An amazing encounter with a troop of wild mountain gorillas near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. The reality is that these many natural environments will be maintained only with economic incentives. A certain amount of wilderness can be maintained with economic support from outside (government, charity…). But reasonable accommodations to find ways to make retaining natural wonders economically viable are likely a key to saving much of these environments for the future. Unfortunately there are big incentives to destroy nature from those rich tourists who don’t follow the rules and push their guides to break the rules (guides often do this as they have seen great monetary rewards [in tips] for breaking the rules (bothering animals, going too close, going to off limits areas…). It is sad how often tourists at national parks show utter disregard for nature and preserving things for later generations.

It seems like this video wasn’t about that type of behavior though. Instead it is just an example of how cool nature can be at times. Animals are not quite as predictable as some believe. Like this group that wandered into the camp (as they do a couple times a year) animals often stray from their normal behavior.

Providing good jobs and sharing revenue from tourists with local residents (paying for schools…) is a very good way to encourage residents to support natural heritage sites. This is true in Africa and also near park in the United States, or anywhere else. Here is an example of an organization doing that: Conservation Through Public Health.

I am a huge fan of tying in economic benefits to natural parks and resources. I think this is part of making them not environmentally sustainable but economically sustainable. If the areas do not make a contribution to the economic well being of those living there, there is a danger the land will be tapped for uses that will damage their natural heritage value. We do have to be careful as often these economic interests can turn into greedy people just wanting whatever they can get now (I am saddened by how often tourists behave in this way at natural wonders).

People are going to determine how land is used. We can hope that purely altruistic motives will result in long preserved natural habitats. But I don’t think that hope is as sustainable as creating a situation where it is also in people’s economic interests to maintain the environments. A combination of altruistic, long term thinking and economic interest is more likely to preserve natural environment (in my opinion).

Related: Massive Western Lowland Gorilla Population in Northern Republic of CongoGrauer’s Gorilla (Eastern Lowlands Gorilla)African Parks (a business approach to conservation)Travel photos from National Parks

Friday Fun: Octopus Walks on Land

Just a fun video for your Friday. Octopuses are really very cool. Not quite as cool as cats but way up there in the realm of cool animals. Octopuses, octopi and octopodes are all acceptable words for plural of octopus?

A few year ago (2008) I posted about another very cool octopus, who liked to juggling fellow aquarium occupants.

I think I will devote more time to learning about octopuses and posting more about them.

Related: Hydromedusae, Siphonophora, Cnidarians, CtenophoresCritter Cam: Sea Lion versus OctopusRed octopus at a brine lake beneath the sea

Nature Uses Stem Cells from Fetus to Repair Health of Mother

Science shows us so many amazing things. Scientists have learned mice use stem cells from the fetus to repair damage to the mother in the event of things like heart attacks. And there is evidence people do the same thing. Very cool. Nature beat us to the idea of using stem cells to treat health problems.

Helpful Mouse Fetuses Naturally Send Stem Cells to Mom to Fix Her Damaged Heart

When the scientists examined the female mice’s heart tissue two weeks after the heart attacks, they found lots of glowing green tissue—cells that came from the fetus—in the mom’s heart. Mice who had heart attacks had eight times as many cells from the fetus in their hearts as mice who hadn’t had a heart attack did, meaning the high volume of fetal cells was a response to the heart attack.

What’s more, the embryo’s stem cells had differentiated into various types of heart tissue, including cardiomyocytes, the rhythmically contracting muscle cells that produce a heartbeat.

The hearts of two women who suffered from severe heart weakness were later found to contain cells derived from the cells of a male fetus years after they gave birth to their sons.

The same thing seems to hold true for other organs. When pregnant women have damage in other organs, including the brain, lung, and liver, earlier studies have shown, fetal cells show up there, too.

It makes sense for a fetus to try and aid the mother but it is amazing the evolution found such solutions. Given how many challenges the fetus creates for the mother giving some benefits can help increase the odds of a health birth.

Related: Researchers Explain How Rotifers Thrive Despite Forgoing SexMaking Embryonic Stem CellsStructure and Function of RibosomeWhy People Often Get Sicker When They’re Stressed

Backyard Wildlife: Bears

Here is a video of some bears wandering around in a backyard. This was the first time the owner saw bears in their backyard. The bears found a great source of food in the apple tree. It is exciting to see nature in our own backyards. Though admittedly most people could would rather have nature be limited to animals that cannot harm them or their family.

photo of a black bear in an apple tree

Black bear in an apple tree in a Ashville, North Carolina yard.

Related: The Cat and a Black BearFriday Fun: Mother Bear Rescues Cub From a TreeBackyard Wildlife: FoxBear Defeats Combination Bear Lock

Large Crabs Invading Antarctic as Waters Warm

photo of giant red king crab

Giant red king crabs

Large crabs are invading the Antarctic environment and due to their numbers and practices could cause havoc. They look yummy though. And eating them would be doing nature a favor unlike the overfishing of the oceans. Abstract of the open access article, A large population of king crabs in Palmer Deep on the west Antarctic Peninsula shelf and potential invasive impacts:

Lithodid crabs (and other skeleton-crushing predators) may have been excluded from cold Antarctic continental shelf waters for more than 14 Myr [million years]. The west Antarctic Peninsula shelf is warming rapidly and has been hypothesized to be soon invaded by lithodids. A remotely operated vehicle survey in Palmer Deep, a basin 120 km onto the Antarctic shelf, revealed a large, reproductive population of lithodids, providing the first evidence that king crabs have crossed the Antarctic shelf. DNA sequencing and morphology indicate the lithodid is Neolithodes yaldwyni Ahyong & Dawson, previously reported only from Ross Sea waters. We estimate a N. yaldwyni population density of 10 600 km−2 and a population size of 1.55 × 106 in Palmer Deep, a density similar to lithodid populations of commercial interest around Alaska and South Georgia. The lithodid occurred at depths of more than 850 m and temperatures of more than 1.4°C in Palmer Deep, and was not found in extensive surveys of the colder shelf at depths of 430–725 m. Where N. yaldwyni occurred, crab traces were abundant, megafaunal diversity reduced and echinoderms absent, suggesting that the crabs have major ecological impacts. Antarctic Peninsula shelf waters are warming at approximately 0.01°C yr−1; if N. yaldwyni is currently limited by cold temperatures, it could spread up onto the shelf (400–600 m depths) within 1–2 decades. The Palmer Deep N. yaldwyni population provides an important model for the potential invasive impacts of crushing predators on vulnerable Antarctic shelf ecosystems.

Related: Giant Star Fish and More in Antarctica2,000 Species New to Science (600 of them crabs) from One IslandAntarctic Fish “Hibernate” in Winter

Fun Webcast from WWF: Astonish Me

Made in celebration of the World Wildlife Fund‘s 50th anniversary.

Related: Macropinna Microstoma: Fish with a Transparent Head1,000 Species Discovered in Greater Mekong in Last Decade2,000 Species New to Science from One Remote IslandWorld’s Smallest Snake Found in Barbados

Evolution in New York City Wildlife

Evolution Right Under Our Noses by Carl Zimmer

White-footed mice, stranded on isolated urban islands, are evolving to adapt to urban stress. Fish in the Hudson have evolved to cope with poisons in the water. Native ants find refuge in the median strips on Broadway. And more familiar urban organisms, like bedbugs, rats and bacteria, also mutate and change in response to the pressures of the metropolis. In short, the process of evolution is responding to New York and other cities the way it has responded to countless environmental changes over the past few billion years. Life adapts.

Dr. Wirgin and his colleagues were intrigued to discover that the Hudson’s population of tomcod, a bottom-dwelling fish, turned out to be resistant to PCBs. “There was no effect on them at all,” Dr. Wirgin said, “and we wanted to know why.”

In March, he and his colleagues reported that almost all the tomcod in the Hudson share the same mutation in a gene called AHR2. PCBs must first bind to the protein encoded by AHR2 to cause damage. The Hudson River mutation makes it difficult for PCBs to grab onto the receptor, shielding the fish from the chemical’s harm.

The AHR2 mutation is entirely missing from tomcod that live in northern New England and Canada. A small percentage of tomcod in Long Island and Connecticut carry the mutation. Dr. Wirgin and his colleagues concluded that once PCBs entered the Hudson, the mutant gene spread quickly.

Carl Zimmer again does a good job of explaining science in an engaging way. It is interesting to learn about science and evolution in urban environments. Lots of life manages to survive the challenges of urban life and it is interesting to learn what scientists are finding about that life.

Related: Trying to Find Pest Solutions While Hoping Evolution Doesn’t Exist Doesn’t WorkMicrocosm by Carl ZimmerNew Yorkers Help Robot Find Its Way in the Big CityParasite RexBackyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing Damselfly

Hydromedusae, Siphonophora, Cnidarians, Ctenophores

Jellyfish is a common name for gelatinous water dwelling animals. The diversity of these invertebrates is amazing. And what actually counts as a jellyfish is not easy to determine. Watch this great video to learn about Cnidarians, Urochordata, Polychaetes and Ctenophores.

Related: Darwin’s JellyfishesOcean LifeCritter Cam: Sea Lion versus OctopusImage of Map Showing Concentration of Life in Oceans

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