Stories tagged environment


I think these are ghost beavers: But are they sad ghost beavers, or vengeful ghost beavers?
I think these are ghost beavers: But are they sad ghost beavers, or vengeful ghost beavers?Courtesy Lawrence Whittemore
There’s another story in the news about reintroducing wildlife to Scotland.

Unlike that last story, however, this one has heart and a moral. The heart, to be clear, is a beaver, and the moral is this: don’t just go tossing your beavers around, because they might get full of salt water and die. Take that to heart (actually to heart this time, not to beaver).

The story goes thusly:

First, the mystery. Beavers were believed to be on the loose in Scotland in April. Now, here in Minnesota that’s not such a big deal—out of control beavers are pretty much the norm. But in the British Isles, where beavers were hunted into extinction 400 years ago, it’s apparently a horrifying prospect. You see, the punishment for loosing a beaver is two years in prison or a 40,000 pound fine. Fortunately for the Brits, there seemed to be only a couple of beavers to deal with. “They are by themselves,” said the BBC’s beaver expert of the situation, “spring is in the air, [and] they might be looking for mates which they're never going to find.”

Remember, in Britain, “mates” means “friends.” Why couldn’t these beavers ever find friends? What were they running from? Therein lies the real mystery, but the Scottish police became distracted by more superficial elements of the case: “We must capture the beaver to find out if it’s clean and got no diseases,” said constable Douglas Ogilvie.

No doubt everyone just wanted to forget about the case, but that became impossible in May, when a dead beaver was found on a Scottish beach. Despite suggestions that its remaining there might improve the beach, the corpse was removed for the purpose of investigation.

Beaver autopsies being what they are (complicated and time-consuming, apparently), it was only this week (one month later) that the results finally came in: the beaver drank itself to death—possibly because of loneliness—on seawater.

An official program to reintroduce beavers to Scotland was announced last month, but this poor, salty rodent was probably intentionally released by a numbskull working on his own.

“Beavers need freshwater,” points out a local wildlife crime officer, “ and the only open water this one found was the sea. Its stomach was found to be full of water, otherwise it was found to be a healthy animal.”

And so we’ve come to the tragedy portion of our little tragimystery. A little beaver, far from home, set loose like White Fang, only to accidentally poison itself. What a bummer.

Let this be a lesson to you: just because you think something is a good idea doesn’t mean you’re not an idiot. And also be kind to beavers, because they’ve had a rough spring. And, um, don’t put them in salt water.


OMG! Cute kitten! LOL!: I r poisnin ur brain!
OMG! Cute kitten! LOL!: I r poisnin ur brain!Courtesy manitoon
I was wrong!

You know, I spend so much time being right, that the occasional (very, very occasional) situation in which I’m slightly…not right, is actually pretty refreshing. It’s like, oh, I don’t know, getting halfway to work and realizing that you forgot to put on pants, and then linking, “Hey, who cares? And it’s a warm day!” It’s liberating.

Some days I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by cat feces. I don’t even live with a cat at the moment, but I’m aware that there are millions of cats out there, and they’re all addicted to pooping (just try forcing a cat to go cold turkey—total junkies for the litter box). There’s just so much cat poop in the world, and none of it smells very good, and I don’t want to touch any of it, and its very existence drives me to distraction.

Nobody else seems to care very much. Here I am, dreaming of cats that emit water vapor and rose-scented hydrogen gas as their only waste products, and the rest of the world seems content to live with a planet suffocating under the weight and odor of cat effluvia. I imagine that Leonardo felt the same way. It’s a lonely existence.

Perhaps no longer.

Toxoplasmosis gondii is an interesting little gooball (gooball is a term of my own, so don’t use it in class, or you’ll get an F and I’ll sue you). It’s a protozoan parasite, capable of living in nearly any warm-blooded mammal (it’s estimated that over 20% of the U.S. population carries the parasite), although its infectious form—responsible for about a third of all deaths from food borne illnesses—is only carried by cats.

The parasite has some interesting tricks up its sleeves too. It seems that when a rodent is infected with T. gondii, it loses its fear of cats. And a little mousey with no fear of cats is a little mousey that gets eaten, successfully passing the parasite back to its favorite host. Weird.

I also have very little fear of cats, which led me initially to believe that I was a carrier of the disease. But a study covered in this article details a whole different set of symptoms in infected humans (of which, again, there are many). Men who are infected “have lower IQs, achieve a lower level of education and have shorter attention spans. They are also more likely to break rules and take risks, be more independent, more anti-social, suspicious, jealous and morose, and are deemed less attractive to women” An unsettling portion of this description applies to me, and so it’s possible that I may still be infected.

Infected women, on the other hand, are generally “more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous, and are considered more attractive to men compared with non-infected controls.” So, you know, it turns out that kittens are a good gift item after all.

And if that isn’t enough to get people thinking about cat feces, it turns out that some of human’s favorite animals, aquatic mammals, are just swimming in toxoplasmosis. How do you like that? The appearance of the parasite in marine mammal populations (including whales, dolphins, otters, sea lions, and seals) seems to be relatively recent, but it is estimated that up to 17% of sea otter deaths alone could be attributed to toxoplasma.

So how are sea creatures across the world becoming “infected by a parasite that is spread primarily through the consumption of infectious cat feces and infected meat”?

(That quote, by the way, comes from a microbiology researcher from Boston, and, if you remove “and infected meat,” is the winner of the best quote of the day award.)

Anchovies. Probably anchovies. The little fish are filter feeders, and could pick up the parasite before beginning extensive migrations, spreading the disease to the many anchovy eaters of the oceans (people who eat anchovies are safe, because heat kills the protozoa). Just how the organism is getting to the anchovies remains unclear, but it has been proposed that the problem has to do with cat feces-contaminated runoff.

So there. Like sea otters and dolphins? Then start thinking about cat feces. I don’t propose that you do anything about it, but I do want you to obsess over it. You won’t be alone.

Also, especially if you’re a guy, keep that stuff out of your mouth.

Eat a bug

by Gene on Jun. 05th, 2008

Forget all that noise about eating dirt. The UN Food and Agriculture Association is apparently encouraging people to eat insects. They are a good source of protein, and, since they grow naturally, do not require large farms changing the environment. All together now: ewwwww!


Just a crazed wolf man: Looking a little more crazed than usual, it should be said. He had a long night.
Just a crazed wolf man: Looking a little more crazed than usual, it should be said. He had a long night.Courtesy Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin
I’m trying a little bit of a new format out here for Buzz posts, so bear with me. If it’s successful, my soft fingers will be saved much harmful typing, and science news can be enjoyed like a blockbuster preview, or maybe a musical montage. And so…


“Multi-millionaire Paul Lister…the son of the founder of a UK furniture retailer…”

“‘I am not just some crazed wolf man.’”

Hulda and Hercules…a $31,630 pair of moose…now roam alongside newly released wild boar.”

“‘It’s not about conservation…it’s about restoration.’”

If bears and wolves were introduced, business…would increase tenfold.”

“‘I am not just some crazed wolf man.’”

“Farmers, ramblers and neighboring landowners remain skeptical…of wolves.”

“‘It’s almost like a scientific experiment.’”

Control the deer populationexpensive cullingtrampling of saplings.”

“A historical character called the Wolf of Badenoch…a highland clan chieftain…a raider…a rampager.”

“‘I am not just some crazed wolf man.’”

“Proposed reintroduction of the beaver.”

“‘It would probably run away if you came upon it.’”

“Wolves…complicated and costly…killed livestock…wolf population can multiply and spread rapidly.”

Have them neutered.”

“‘Biodiversity has lead people astray…’”

“‘I am not just some crazed wolf man.’”


"Paper towel" can clean up oil spills

Researchers at MIT have combined a nanowire mesh with a water-repellant coating that can absorb up to 20 times its weight in oil. The oil absorbed can be recovered and the "paper towel" can be reused many times.

"Made of potassium manganese oxide, the nanowires are stable at high temperatures. As a result, oil within a loaded membrane can be removed by heating above the boiling point of oil. The oil evaporates, and can be condensed back into a liquid. The membrane--and oil--can be used again." MIT News

Happy Earth Day

by Liza on Apr. 22nd, 2008

Today's the 38th national celebration of Earth Day. Step outside, Buzzers, and appreciate this blue planet of ours, and then make a pledge to yourself to do more reducing, reusing, and recycling.


Palau reef: where the party gets started
Palau reef: where the party gets startedCourtesy zolas box
Over the next few days, the Palau reef in the West Pacific will experience a frenzy of activities as the reefs' coral denizens partake in their annual mating ritual. Although there won't be any of the usual Spring Break antics such as wet t-shirt or bikini contests, excessive drinking, or stupid male shenanigans, one thing there will be is lots and lots of rampant reproduction.

Just after sunset tonight, or perhaps tomorrow or maybe even the next night, billions upon billions of the coral colonies' eggs and sperm will be unleashed in cute little orange and pink packages that will rise to the surface where they'll lose their inhibitions, burst open, dance and intermingle under the moonlight, and develop into billions of coral larvae. If conditions are right the sheer number of the event's participants can sometimes form huge slicks on the surface that can be seen from space. In the end most of the spawn or larvae gets eaten before it develops fully, but since there's so many of them in the first place, it doesn't really matter.

Anyway, a few days later, any surviving coral larvae will float exhausted to the sea bottom in hopes of attaching themselves to some good solid structure where they develop into baby coral polyps, thus adding more coral to the reef, and living happily ever after. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?

The 300 island archipelago making up the republic of Palau is located 155 miles above the equator about 550 miles east of the Philippines. The reefs in the vicinity are in good condition ecologically, but the annual spawning has attracted scientists from Great Britain, Australia, and the Philippines, who are in Palau to gather "seeding" material for other less fortunate coral reefs.

The research team won't be using spawning material from the open reefs but instead will harvest it from pieces of coral they've collected and keep in a controlled laboratory environment at the Palau International Coral Reef Center. The larvae from the experiment are then transplanted into a suitable environment conducive to reef-building.

With many of the world's coral reef environments suffering from the effects of pollution, over-fishing, and other factors, the researchers hope seeding damaged reefs with the harvested spawn from healthier ones will help restore the fragile ecosystems.

BBC website

New research published in Science reported bacteria can survive by eating antibiotics as a food source. This finding goes a step further than resistance. For a good summary read a blog on The Scientist website.


Preble's meadow jumping mouse: Preble's meadow jumping mouse.  Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Preble's meadow jumping mouse: Preble's meadow jumping mouse. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In what I personally consider to be a sweet move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed rulings that denied seven endangered species increased protection, after an investigation found the actions were influenced by political pressure.

Once such species that is now given increased protection is one of my personal favorite rodents (I like so few rodents) – the Preble's meadow jumping mouse.

The person responsible for limiting the protection for these animals, Former Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald (who was at the time responsible for overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service) was pressuring Fish and Wildlife scientists to alter their findings regarding the endangered animals. What other actions have been done – what other damage has been done – that we don’t know about? MacDonald was influential in delisting the Sacramento splittail, a fish found only in California's Central Valley where she owns a farm on which the fish live - come on!

The Center for Biological Diversity reports that the current administration has listed only 52 species under the endangered species act, the fewest of any administration since the law was passed in 1973. I hope this decrease is because of politics and not because we’re running out of species.

I know this sort of thing happens on both sides of the aisle, but I guess I would way rather that there be too many species listed as endangered, and that we were being overly cautious, rather than being to strict about what species deserves protection and then finding out later that we acted too late to preserve them. I would rather err on the side of caution, rather than crossing my fingers and hoping the problem fixes itself.

And there are very real trade offs here too. Set aside a habitat for a spotted owl you’re removing a source of income for families that have limited options. It’s not an easy choice.

What do you think?


A computer in a cube land: Image courtesy tigerplish via Flickr.
Working in an office cube-land as I do, I often go home for the night and walk by coworkers cubes and see computers or monitors that are left on overnight. Now, I know why this is in a lot of cases – convenience – but I have also heard the explanation that it takes more power to turn on the computer in the morning than it does to power it overnight, so leaving it on is the “greener” thing to do. I’ve wondered if that is true, and so today I did some digging around on the subject.

According to Evan Mills in the Energy Analysis Department of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Environmental Energy Technologies Division,

The small surge of power created when some devices are turned on is vastly smaller than the energy used by running the device when it is not needed. While it used to be the case that cycling appliances and lighting on and off drastically reduced their useful lifetimes, these problems have been largely overcome through better design.

And, turning your computer and monitor on and off is not bad for it. That may have been the case in the past, but today computers are designed to handle 40,000 power cycles before a failure. That’s 100+ years of turning your computer on and off once a year every day. It’ll be an object in a museum long before turning it on and off has any effect on it.

So, it is better to turn your monitor and computer off at night, but that does not address the primary reason why most folks don’t – convenience. Many find it bothersome to wait for the computer to start up after being turned off. (Oh the crosses computer-users must bear!) Well, there’s an energy efficient way around that as well.

If you are a Mac user you can put your computer to “sleep”, while PC users can tell their computers to “hibernate”. The hibernate feature significantly lowers your computer’s energy consumption overnight while at the same time allows for quick restarts in the morning. Monitors should still be turned completely off - and running a screen-saver does not save any energy – in fact it consumes significantly more power than if the computer is turned off or placed in hibernation.

And remember, like many other appliances such as your Playstation, DVR or TV, even when off your computer still uses some power running to either an AC adaptor, to maintain local-area network connectivity or other things. The only time many of our modern electronic devices consume no power is when they are turned off.

Do you turn your computer off at night? Why or why not?

Relevant articles here and here.