Mermaid Sex, Evil Spirit Birds and More Weird Ecology Search Terms

Image Credit: Ray Bilcliff, Pexels licence, Image Cropped

We get a lot of fun and strange search terms which lead people to Ecology for the Masses. So inspired by Captain Awkward’s segment ‘It Came From the Search Terms‘, let’s have a look at some of the weirder questions that led people to this site and see if we can provide some answers. Spelling mistakes have been corrected.

1. Are koalas mean?

Koalas have actually been known to attack dogs and people when threatened. Whilst they’re normally incredibly apathetic towards humans, there have been a couple of incidents where they’ve left people with severe lacerations from scratches or bites, including an incident where a South Australian woman required 12 stitches after she tried to get between a koala and her dogs.

Be fair though, if your habitat was getting decimated and you were riddled with chlamydia, you’d be pissed off too.

2. What happens when reptiles and birds come together?

At dinner parties? Someone probably gets eaten. Ever seen a kookaburra go after a snake? It can get violent.

Then there’s the example of the Egyptian plover bird, which is said to pick clean the teeth of the Nile crocodiles, which will leave it largely alone. However while this story dates back to 459 BC, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to back it up.

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Don’t get us started on drop bears (Image Credit: Eric Kilby, CC BY-SA 2.0)

3. I don’t like outdoor cats?

Yes.

4. How do mermaid have sex?

If you Google ‘whale penis’ you will find shots of a nightmarish looking white organ extruding from a whale’s body. They normally retract into the body during swimming to reduce drag, and if mermaids were free swimming individuals they’d probably have a similar setup. Yet I reckon that if mermaids existed, they’d probably utilise the intertidal zone a lot for foraging and escaping predators. However, that zone is just full of all sorts of nasty sharp things, so they would probably still need some form of protection for any external genitalia. They’d probably mate the same way cetaceans do though, which is while swimming.

If you want a more graphic description (you perv), go and watch The Shape of Water.

Yes, I deleted my browser history after researching this.

5. Why does the ecosystem change in the lion king?

Mufasa is all about sustainable resource management, and as such doesn’t take more herbivores than his pride requires. When Scar and the hyenas take over, they start taking more and more herbivores, which leads to a trophic cascade. There are less herbivores to eat the plants, so plant life flourishes. Insect and bird biodiversity probably booms as a result too. Which is why when Simba returns to Pride Rock, he sees an incredibly diverse array of plant life. Because anything else would be stupid.

6. Does a hardy doe bird lift up reptiles from the ground?

How hardy a doe bird are we talking? And how big a reptile? Obviously small reptiles aren’t a problem (see the earlier kookaburra/snake example). But large reptiles? The extinct family Phorusrhacidae (the terror birds) could probably throw most reptiles around, seeing as many were about three metres tall and could pummel their prey to death with their heads, courtesy of the fact that the bones in their head were fused together.

There are still some pretty dangerous large birds around today though. Cassowaries can reputedly kill humans with a single kick, although there seems to have only been one confirmed death, and cassowary attacks are certainly the exception and not the rule. But seeing as the kicks exert force downwards rather than up, I’m not sure they’d send a reptile flying.

And I looked him in the eye, and I saw death staring back at me (Image Credit: Rennett Stowe, CC BY 2.0)

And I looked him in the eye, and I saw death staring back at me (Image Credit: Rennett Stowe, CC BY 2.0)

7. Why we have to keep our eyes open to war issues?

Because, surprise surprise, the military-industrial complex is incredibly bad for biodiversity. As Benjamin Neimark writes in the article linked below, it’s hard to get exact figures on how much the US Army contributes in terms of carbon emissions, as among other things, the US demanded an exemption from reporting military emissions when signing the Kyoto Protocol, and are soon withdrawing from the Paris agreement.

But Neimark’s team nevertheless managed to get some estimates, and they are predictably enormous. Since the start of the global war on terror, the US Military has been responsible for 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas – equivalent to the annual emissions of 257 million cars.

US military is a bigger polluter than as many as 140 countries – shrinking this war machine is a must

Plus, when it comes down to it, bombs are probably highly capable of fragmenting ecosystems.

8. How do I get rid of monitoring spirits in form of reptiles, hens and other birds or even fellow human beings?

The good news here is that we’ve got two of your three categories on the ropes. With reptile and bird biodiversity plummeting worldwide, just keep eating lots of meat, taking flights whenever possible and pumping out kids, and reptiles and non-poultry birds will keep suffering.

Of course that doesn’t really work for the hens, seeing as 70% of bird life today is poultry. I guess you could eat as many as possible to get back at them, but that’s not how supply-and-demand works.

Lastly, if you’re worrying about monitoring spirits in the form of birds, you should definitely check out the Birds Aren’t Real movement.

If you have any questions, genuine or otherwise, that you’d like to ask our teams at Ecology for the Masses, feel free to get in touch.

Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist currently completing his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who has had way too much coffee today to make up for a lack of sleep. You can read more about his research on his Ecology for the Masses profile here, and follow him on Twitter here.

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