Category Archives: Elology for the Masses

Deer in the LED-Lights

A recent photo showcasing the reflective reindeers in Finland has been making the rounds on the interweb. Although that specific photo turned out to be photoshopped (the reindeer looked particularly menacing/terrifying as its horns gave off a red glow similar to that of a neon sign outside the bar) the act of spraying reindeers with reflective paint is very much real.

Reindeer are an important part of animal husbandry in Finland – which means that these reindeer have monetary value and a loss of life is a loss of income for someone. These reindeer are also free roaming (unlike livestock in many countries which are kept in fenced pasture) which means that they are more likely to potentially run into hazards. Cars – more specifically collisions with cars – account for around 4,000 reindeer deaths every year. In 2014 the Finnish Reindeer Herders Association started experimenting with ways to make reindeer more visible to motorists – especially in the darker winter months.

Turns out the antlers are a pretty handy place to spray said reflective tape since it provides 360º visibility to motorists (as opposed to painting only the sides of the reindeer). And although the paint might not give off a creepy red aura reminiscent of demonic Rudolph its still pretty cool and will probably catch your attention while driving.


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

Crossings4Ewe

Okay so maybe the wolves aren’t literally helping deers to cross roads in Wisconsin, but they are helping to keep them away from the motorways and (by extension) preventing them from becoming another roadkill statistic.

With the return of wolves to Wisconsin, their prey species have had to change their behaviour to minimise the risk of becoming the next item on the menu. One of these changes has been to avoid roadways and other human structures, since these cleared areas make ideal wolf hunting grounds. They do of course also catch the odd deer, but it is the added ability to scare the deer away from roadways which makes wolves a more efficient prevention technique for deer collisions than the traditional approach of keeping deer population down through hunting.

Wolves are a polarising topic – with divided opinions as to if they should be re-introduced to the wild or not. This landscape of fear that the wolves create is clearly a tick in the win column for having wolves around. As twitter user @edyong209 points out; the wolves could actually be helping us solve a human engineered problem by keeping the deers at bay.

The original article discussing the economic benefits can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2023251118

Street Urchins

Sometimes dinner turns into a mob and bites back.

Well at least that’s what it looks like…

In a shocking turn of events a common sun star (starfish species) was gobbled up by a group of sea urchins (their natural prey species) at a research station in Sweden. Which is just a little bit out of character for the vegetarian lawnmowers that are sea urchins – although make no mistake they can vacuum up a kelp forest if given half the chance.

Although the ‘why’ as to what drove the sea urchins to turn on the starfish (a case of hunger perhaps, or an attempt to remove the threat of predation) remains unclear, the interesting thing is that although the sea urchins have a comparatively simple nervous system (they don’t even have a true brain), they are still able to execute an organised form of attack. This attack strategy has been termed ‘urchin pinning’ by the research team and is usually instigated by one individual that starts the ‘attack’ and is then joined by the other sea urchins who begin munching away at the starfish. They start at the tips and moving inwards, leaving the starfish unable to get away…

The original research article can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1111/eth.13147

A note for sensitive readers: Although many starfish were harmed in the making of this comic they are expected to make a full recovery (physically at least).

Ass-ets

Non-native species are often portrayed as villains – although not without reason as they can often cause more harm than good. The wild horses and donkeys in America’s west are no exception – both having a bad rep amongst landowners for trampling vegetation and competing with livestock and native species. But they do do some good as well – and I say this after putting my love for ponies aside.

Research has shown that these equids are actually very good diggers – specifically digging wells to tap into underground water sources. These wells create artificial oases across the arid landscape – meaning that other (native) species don’t have to travel as far to water sources, competition at water points is rdduced (no Lion King-esque waterhole dance numbers ’round here) as well as providing water to plant species.

While the fact that equids are providing water sources doesn’t erase the more detrimental effects that invasive species can have on the environment, it does show that they can help promote biodiversity in some cases. Maybe its a case of giving credit to the good that comes with the bad.

The original article can be found here:  https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abd6775

T-Party

Although I’m big enough of a person to admit that in Jurassic Park (1993) the scene with Dr Malcom or the whole ‘they DO move in herds‘ moment are probably way more iconic. Yet I’m still going to have to give a shout out to the T-rex dramatically roaring as the tattered “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” comes falling down behind her as one of the best moments of the film. And any other moment featuring the T-Rex throughout the film series if I’m being honest – the ending of Jurassic World (2015) anyone???

Jurassic Park (for its time) was surprisingly accurate based on our knowledge of dinos at that time – such as not being afraid to challenge the idea of some dinosaurs actually being birds. However, new knowledge has come to light that the solitary (and fearsome) T-Rex that they portrayed may actually have hunted as in packs – much like her co-stars the velociraptors or modern day wolves – and a big part of me hopes the directors would’ve at least considered a T-Rex pack…

AN ECOLOGIST’S RETROSPECTIVE ON JURASSIC PARK

A recent discovery of similarly aged Tyrannosaurus fossils at a dig site in Utah adds to an emerging pattern of mass burial sites of Tyrannosaurus and could be reflective of a much more social and gregarious species than what typically comes to mind when we thing of these once mighty beasts. One T-Rex must have been a terrifying encounter – let alone a whole pack of them!

The full article can de found here: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.11013

I feel it is important to mention that I wrote this while sharing my desk with a (gorgeous) LEGO model of the T-rex from Jurassic Park – she approves of this article and demands that I get her some friends… Oh and that it is very important to mention that recent research shows that T-Rex do in fact have feathers but the artistic rendering skills need some time to get with the times – next time though!

Drop That Body

Image being able to ‘just’ get rid of your body (and regrow a replacement one of course) when it’s giving you a hard time. That would be amazing when the aches and pains become, well, a pain. Researchers have just discovered two species of sea slug that do exactly that! The two species have been shown to shed their entire body (including major organs with the exception of the brain) and grow a new one when their parasite load becomes too high. Iinstead of trying to fight off the parasites, they simply let them go.

While they are busy growing their new body they ‘steal’ energy by incorporating the chloroplasts from their algal meals – which is then used for photosynthesis (known as kleptoplasy). This is a big step up from the usual instances of species being able to regrow something after willingly shedding them (autotomy) – which usually involves shedding a limb/appendage…

The shedded bodies never regrow a head – which begs the question if the headless horseman features in any of the sea slugs horror story lore – or, you know, if there are just a whole host of bodies floating around…

The full research article can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.01.014

MMM FINAL: Harp-ooned

March is over and a new king of the mammals has been crowned – and thankfully it is a mammal and not a feathered dinosaur. Having found himself with the (randomly selected) home-turf advantage the red kangaroo delivered the final blow (literally) of this years MMM and sending the harpy eagle flying to the hills. Proving once again that species from the Red, in fur group are not afraid to resort to violence in order to come out on top

A big nod of congratulations to all of this year’s participants (as well as commentators) – we’ve certainly learnt some cool things! I for one am still recovering from the fact that vampire squid are 1) in fact a thing and 2) are neither squid nor vampire. Looking forward to seeing what MMM2022 has to bring

For a full play by play of the round 1 action check out the summaries (and associated links) see here.

Not sure what MMM is and want to join in and the madness? Have a look at http://mammalssuck.blogspot.com

Whack-A-Squirrel

The results are in for round 1. We had two major upsets, with the 14th seeded Solenodon outwitting the 4th seeded Malagasy Striped Civet in the ‘Tricksy Taxonomy‘ group, and the Crypt-keeper wasp (15th seed) outlasting the Masrasector nanubis (2nd seed) in the ‘Of Myths and Monsters‘ group. Yet the most shocking result comes from the ‘Red, in Fur‘ group.

In a gut-wrenching series of events the Red Hartebeest absolutely flattened the woefully out contested and outsized Red Squirrel. Turning this game from one of winner-takes-it-all to a game of whack-a-squirrel. We’re hoping the head of mammal safety will be looking into these events and that the appropriate actions are taken…

For a full play by play of the round 1 action check out the summaries (and associated links) see here.

Not sure what MMM is and want to join in and the madness? Have a look at http://mammalssuck.blogspot.com

MMM1: Vole-in-One

March Mammal Madness 2021 is finally upon us. We eased into things with a wildcard match-up between the home-field advantaged (and eventual winner) Southern red-backed vole and the Hopi chipmunk. These two ginger critters fought it out for the chance to take on the top seeded red kangaroo in round one.

For a full play by play check out the summaries (and associated links) see here.

Not sure what MMM is and want to join in and the madness? Have a look at http://mammalssuck.blogspot.com

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