November 3 – Alive and Kicking

Today’s factismal: Kangaroos are more dangerous than sharks.

If you ever go to Australia, people will warn you. “Don’t go swimming!” they’ll say, “the water is full of box jellyfish!” And “don’t go surfing!” they’ll say, “the coasts are home to great white sharks!” And “don’t play in the woods!” they’ll say, “there are deadly Australian snakes and funnel-web spiders!” But if you ask them about kangaroos, they’ll tell you how cute and cuddly they are. As usual, people have it wrong. In Australia, the kangaroo kills about 18 people each year which makes it deadlier than the shark (16 kills), the crocodile (9 deaths), or the funnel-web spider (1 kill)!

This helpless little creature is a killer! (My camera)

This helpless little creature is a killer!
(My camera)

So why is the kangaroo such a terrifying critter? You might think that it is because of the kangaroo’s strong front paws with razor sharp claws but those claws are reserved for digging up roots to eat and not for disemboweling tourists. And you might think that it is because of the kangaroo’s strong tail with its whip-like tip but the tail is reserved for maintaining the roo’s balance as it hops across the outback and not for thwaping tourists. And you might think that it is because of the kanga’s strong feet with their powerful kick but the feet are reserved for bounding through the sky and not for going all medieval on tourists. No, the reason that kangaroos are so deadly is because of people.

Innocent maternal bonding? Or training the joey to kill? (My camera)

Innocent maternal bonding? Or training the joey to kill?
(My camera)

You see, people like to drive and we like to drive fast. Unfortunately, our roads often cross the places where roos have been bounding for millennia. That splits where a roo might find shelter from where it might find food. As a result, the roos will have to cross the road and sometimes they’ll do it just when a person is driving by in their car. And when you add a 500 lb kangaroo to a car speeding down the road at 70 mph, nothing good can come of it. The roo usually dies and people often do as well. You end up with another example of roadkill.

Fresh from another attack (My camera)

Fresh from another attack
(My camera)

And roadkill is more common than most people think. Every day, more than a million animals (not counting insects) and 200 people are killed on US roads when the animal meets the car. But roadkill is also an opportunity for scientific research. At its most basic level, roadkill tells us what types of animals live in an area and gives us an estimate of the relative populations. And it can tell us how those populations are changing in response to roads and the people that drive on them. If you’d like to help the scientists learn more about roadkill and the animals it comes from, then why not download the RoadkillGarneau App:
http://epicollectserver.appspot.com/project.html?name=RoadkillGarneau

October 25 – Never Bet the Devil Your Head

Today’s factismal: Baby koalas must eat a special “pap” made from their mother’s poop before they can digest eucalyptus leaves.

It’s not easy being a koala bear. They live a solitary life in the eucalyptus trees that are simultaneously their refuge and their dinner; a baby koala only stays with its mother until it is about a year old, and then it heads off to its own tree. Their solitude is broken once a year during the spring rutting season, when the males will rub their chests (where the scent gland is located) over every tree they can find, hoping to attract a mate. And if that doesn’t work, they call through the forest with a loud, low-pitched bellow (very similar to the human “Hey, baby!”). If all goes well for the male, about a month later, a baby joey is born.

Sydney the koala is looking for love in all the wrong places (My camera)

Sydney the koala is looking for love in all the wrong places
(My camera)

The first thing that the joey has to do is make its way into the mother’s marsupial pouch. Thanks to her thick, sharp claws and short, clumsy arms, the mother koala can’t help the joey on its journey without hurting it; it doesn’t help that the joey is just an inch long and weighs about half a gram. Once the joey is safely ensconced in the pouch, it attaches to one of the mother’s milk glands and stays there for the next six months. And that’s when things get a little gross…

Bruce was on a pap diet just six months ago (My camera)

Bruce was on a pap diet just six months ago
(My camera)

At six months old, the joey is big enough to start eating eucalyptus leaves. But those leaves have very little nutrition value and lots of poison value. So the koala needs a special suite of microbes in order to digest them properly. And for a joey, the best place to get those microbes is from dear old mom’s poop. The mother creates a special type of poop that is only partially digested and rich in microbes; called “pap”, the poop will give the joey the digestive wherewithal to grow into a big and strong koala. But first the joey has to eat it and you know where it comes from (hint: kolas aren’t birds).

Sydney snacking down on eucalyptus leaves (My camera)

Sydney snacking down on eucalyptus leaves
(My camera)

Once the joey has turned into an adult, it leaves mom and her tree and heads off into the forest to make his or her own way in the world. But koalas don’t compete well with things like people and dogs; as a result, the koala population in the wild has been declining. In order to help protect them, scientists need your help. If you see a koala, please report it on Koala Tracker:
http://www.koalatracker.com.au/

May 31 – Call Me Honey

The yellow tinted honey eater lives on the nectar from plants in Northern Australia

The yellow tinted honey eater lives on the nectar from plants in Northern Australia

The yellow tinted honeyeater is one of the more common birds in the Northern Territories of Australia. This small, noisy bird flits from bush to bush, drinking their nectar and eating small insects. Particular favorites are the Umbrella Brush, the Scarlett Bottlebrush, and “the wattle, the wattle, the symbol of our land”. This one is winging its way from one Grevilla to another.

November 18 – Dingoes Ate My Post

Today’s factismal: The dingo was introduced to Australia 4,000 years ago by Polynesian traders.

Invasive animals and plants are a problem everywhere, but they are particularly pernicious in Australia. That’s because the “island continent” has been isolated from the rest of the world for so long that most of its species lack defenses against the invaders. To make a bad situation worse, many of the invaders come from regions with more intense evolutionary competition and so have learned to do more with less; as a result, they simply out-compete the native species.

That’s why rabbits have run rampant across southern Australia and why camels clomp through the western deserts. (Amusing side note: the camels in Australia are such pure breeds that they are imported into Arabia where the camels suffer from in-breeding.) That’s why cane toads are wrecking the rain forest and why feral cats have become public health menace number one in the cities. And it is especially why dingoes have wiped out so many native species.

The dingo is a feral dog that has evolved over the 4,000 years since it was accidentally introduced to Australia by passing Polynesians. It has adapted well to Australia’s drier regions, developing fluffier ears to screen out the sand and a sandy brown coat to blend in with the background. And, over the years since it first appeared on Australia’s shores, it has adapted very well to hunting the local wildlife. Though it will attack sheep and cattle (two more introduced species that verge on being invasive), it really likes to munch on rabbits (yeah) and kangaroos (boo) making both a boon and a bane. Indeed, there are actually a few programs devoted to preserving the dingo which is in danger of being driven out of some parts of Australia.

Of course, Australia isn’t the only place with invasive species. If you’d like to find out if that new weed is an invasive or would like to report an invasive species, then head on over to My Invasive:
http://www.myinvasive.com/

November 23 – The seagrass is always greener

Today’s factismal: Seagrass absorbs more CO2 per square foot than rain forests do.

If you’ve never heard of seagrass, don’t worry – you aren’t alone! It is one of those unsung heroes of the ecosystem that nobody (except marine biologists) notices until it is gone. And yet, seagrass is one of the most important things on Earth!

That’s because of what seagrass does. Seagras grows on shallow muddy and sandy bottoms, changing them from places filled with muck to havens filled with life. Seagrass slows down the water that washes over it which causes the sediment to fall to the bottom where it is anchored by the seagrass roots. That sediment is mostly mud and fine sand that would choke the gills of small fish and cut off the light from small plants if it weren’t turned into useful sea bottom. And that isn’t all that seagrass does; it also shelters small sea life of all types. It provides a hiding place and food for mollusks, small fish, crabs, and even huge dugongs and manatees!

And the root of that bounty is the photosynthesis that seagrass does. By living in the shallow water, it is able to take advantage of the abundant sunlight and nutrients to grow rapidly. And that rapid growth means that it also stores CO2 rapidly; some biologists estimate that seagrass absorbs more than twice as much CO2 per square foot than a rainforest would. All told, seagrass absorbs about 1/8th of the CO2 that goes into the ocean, making it one of the world’s greatest tools for fighting climate change and species loss.

Unfortunately, we are losing seagrass. Overuse of fertilizers, soil loss from farming, and shoreline development have reduced the amount of seagrass by more than 12,000 square miles – that’s about the size of Maryland! Fortunately, there is a citizen science opportunity to help. Seagras Watch is looking for people to report on the state of the seagrass that they see. To take part, head on over to:
http://www.seagrasswatch.org/home.html

November 22 – Koala Nut

Today’s factismal: Baby koalas must eat a special “pap” made from their mother’s poop before they can digest eucalyptus leaves.

It’s not easy being a koala bear. They live a solitary life in the eucalyptus trees that are simultaneously their refuge and their dinner; a baby koala only stays with its mother until it is about a year old, and then it heads off to its own tree. Their solitude is broken once a year during the spring rutting season, when the males will rub their chests (where the scent gland is located) over every tree they can find, hoping to attract a mate. And if that doesn’t work, they call through the forest with a loud, low-pitched bellow (very similar to the human “Hey, baby!”). If all goes well for the male, about a month later, a baby joey is born.

Sydney the koala is looking for love in all the wrong places (My camera)

Sydney the koala is looking for love in all the wrong places
(My camera)

The first thing that the joey has to do is make its way into the mother’s marsupial pouch. Thanks to her thick, sharp claws and short, clumsy arms, the mother koala can’t help the joey on its journey without hurting it; it doesn’t help that the joey is just an inch long and weighs about half a gram. Once the joey is safely ensconced in the pouch, it attaches to one of the mother’s milk glands and stays there for the next six months. And that’s when things get a little gross…

Bruce was on a pap diet just six months ago (My camera)

Bruce was on a pap diet just six months ago
(My camera)

At six months old, the joey is big enough to start eating eucalyptus leaves. But those leaves have very little nutrition value and lots of poison value. So the koala needs a special suite of microbes in order to digest them properly. And for a joey, the best place to get those microbes is from dear old mom’s poop. The mother creates a special type of poop that is only partially digested and rich in microbes; called “pap”, the poop will give the joey the digestive wherewithal to grow into a big and strong koala. But first the joey has to eat it and you know where it comes from (hint: kolas aren’t birds).

Sydney snacking down on eucalyptus leaves (My camera)

Sydney snacking down on eucalyptus leaves
(My camera)

Once the joey has turned into an adult, it leaves mom and her tree and heads off into the forest to make his or her own way in the world. But koalas don’t compete well with things like people and dogs; as a result, the koala population in the wild has been declining. In order to help protect them, scientists need your help. If you see a koala, please report it on Koala Tracker:
http://www.koalatracker.com.au/