Wildlife

Ant Kingdoms

German and Chinese researchers say they know the approximate number of ants currently crawling across the planet. Based on data from 489 ant studies, they determined there are 20 quadrillion individual ants, with a dry weight far heavier than that of all the wild birds and mammals on the planet combined. The number 20 quadrillion is 20 followed by 15 zeros.

For every human, there are nearly 2.5 million ants scurrying, eating and breeding across the landscape. “They are very important for nutrient cycling, decomposition processes, plant seed dispersal and the perturbation of soil,” said entomologist Patrick Schultheiss of Germany’s University of Würzburg.

Wildlife

More than 200 whales have died on a beach in Tasmania

Around 230 pilot whales were found stranded on the west coast of Tasmania in Australia on Wednesday. Despite the rescue efforts of marine conservation experts, more than 200 of the stranded whales have died.

The incident comes two years after Australia experienced its worst whale stranding in history. In 2020, some 470 pilot whales were stranded in the same location on the west coast of Tasmania, and over 350 of these whales died. Some 111 whales were rescued.

In another stranding, Australian wildlife investigators have been trying to piece together why more than a dozen young male sperm whales died in a mass stranding on a remote beach in the state of Tasmania. The 14 whales were discovered beached on King Island earlier this week, off Tasmania’s north coast.

It’s not been officially determined why mass strandings occur on Tasmania’s west coast, but wildlife scientist Vanessa Pirotta believes the reason might be ecological in nature.

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Wildlife

Ospreys Return to Britain

British wildlife experts say they are “over the moon” happy with the successful return of ospreys to a nation where they had been extinct for more than 100 years. They were once hunted out of existence for sport and taxidermy, and their eggs were prized by collectors. But the reintroduction project has now led to about 1,500 of the powerful raptors soaring across England, Wales and Scotland.

Chicks recently hatched in England for the first time in two centuries at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. “There are only around 30 breeding pairs of ospreys in England, so to have a pair on our land breeding and raising (two) chicks is so exciting,” environmental project manager Beth Dunstan told The Guardian.

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Wildlife

Tree Extinction

An international group of scientists issued a “warning to humanity” over the prospect of losing about a third of the world’s tree species. Writing in the State of the World’s Trees report, it says that more than 100 known tree species have already become extinct, with billions of individual trees being lost each year to pests, disease, invasive species, drought, climate change and industrial-scale deforestation.

It adds that further losses will lead to major biodiversity disruptions in a world where forests provide homes to about 75% of all bird species, 68% of mammal species and as many as 10 million species of invertebrates. “If we don’t look after trees, there’s no way we can look after all the other life there,” said lead author Malin Rivers.

Wildlife

Cicada Silence

This summer’s extreme European heat that has melted glaciers, caused rivers to dry up and destroyed crops has also silenced the singing cicadas of southern France. “We have observed that the cicadas don’t sing almost ever in the afternoon when the temperature exceeds 36 degrees Celsius in the shade. It’s too hot for them,” said agro-climate specialist Serge Zaka.

The cigale, or cicada, has been mentioned in literature for centuries and represented death and rebirth to the ancient Greeks. But Zaka warned that if Europe continues to get hotter in summer, the Provençal cicadas will be forced to migrate northward or toward the higher elevations of the Pyrenees and southern Alps.

Duller Birds

A European study finds that at least one species of bird is becoming less colourful under the influence of global heating.

Basque and French researchers recorded the colors of Europe’s blue tits between 2005 and 2019 at sites near Montpellier and in Corsica and found that year after year, both sexes of the birds lost some of their distinctive blue and yellow colourations. “The change in plumage colour seems to be the result of a combination of a rise in temperature (1.23 C) and a fall in rainfall (0.64 mm), said lead researcher David López-Idiáquez of the University of the Basque Country.

Wildlife

Rewilding the USA West

A new study suggests that increasing the numbers of wolves and beavers in federal lands across the western United States could help reestablish habitats lost during the past two centuries. The proposed Western Rewilding Network would cover nearly 190,000 square miles in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Only a small fraction of the former wolf and beaver populations still exists across the region, with no beavers left in many waterways. Lead author William Ripple of the Oregon State University College of Forestry says that by felling trees and shrubs to construct dams, beavers enrich fish habitats, increase water and sediment retention and maintain water flows during drought.

Cyclone Victims

A subtropical cyclone swirling off the coast of southern Brazil washed ashore hundreds of Magellan penguins that were migrating northward to breed. Most of the 620 penguins driven onto the sandy beaches along the Santos Basin were found dead.

“Penguins can’t fly and ended up drowning since the wind and waves were too strong,” said Andre Barreto, head of the cleanup operation. “We underwent a cyclone with gales of over 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) along the Santa Catarina coast.” The cyclone also caused flooding and wind damage.

Wildfires

Wildfires – Spain

Spanish firefighters on Saturday struggled to contain wildfires that have ravaged large tracts in the northwest, as a third summer heat wave grips the country. Firefighters were battling six blazes in Galicia that have scorched nearly 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres). Some 700 people have been evacuated from the area around Boiro, where a blaze broke out on Thursday, according to regional officials. But no casualties have been reported so far.

Wildfires – Idaho, USA

The Moose Fire has burned an estimated 68,166 acres — or about 106 square miles — since July 17. The fire was 14% contained as of the morning of Saturday, Aug. 6.

California Wildfire Causes Fish Deaths

A wildfire burning in a remote area just south of the Oregon border appears to have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Klamath River fish, the Karuk Tribe said Saturday. The dead fish of all species were found Friday near Happy Camp, California, along the main stem of the Klamath River.

Tribal fisheries biologists believe a flash flood caused by heavy rains over the burn area caused a massive debris flow that entered the river at or near Humbug Creek and McKinney Creek. The debris entering the river led to oxygen levels in the Klamath River dropping to zero on Wednesday and Thursday nights, according to readings from tribal monitors at a nearby water quality station.

Wildlife

Whaling “Collapse”

Japan’s whaling industry appears to be struggling to stay in business due to cutbacks in government subsidies and younger Japanese turning their backs on what was once a staple food. The industry has faced condemnation for using a loophole in International Whaling Commission rules that allowed it to hunt the marine mammals under the guise of scientific research.

But without subsidies, Kyodo Senpaku Co., the only offshore whaling company in Japan, has recently been selling whale meat below the break-even cost. “Even the Japan Fisheries Agency has now abandoned any pretense that commercial whaling can be profitable,” said Patrick Ramage, head of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Bird Flu Victims

The avian influenza outbreak that has ravaged poultry and wild birds around the world this year now seems to be killing seals along Canada’s St. Lawrence River. At least 15 of the 100 marine mammals found dead along the waterway since January have tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus.

Stéphane Lair of the University of Montreal says the seals most likely contracted the virus from infected eider ducks, with which they share the same islands to give birth at the beginning of summer. A spokesman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada says these are the first cases of the virus being passed from wild birds to marine mammals ever reported in Quebec.

Wildlife

Violent Marauders

Nearly 50 people have been attacked and injured in the western city of Yamaguchi by a gang of Japanese macaques that initially waged assaults on children and adults before going on to target the elderly. Residents have resorted to carrying umbrellas and sharp garden tools to fend off the simians.

Authorities managed to capture and eventually put down one member of the gang that was identified as an attacker. But eyewitnesses say monkeys involved in the assaults are of different sizes, meaning more of the suspects are still at large. Macaques are commonly seen across Japan, sometimes eating crops and invading homes.

Wildlife

Australia Classifies Koala as Endangered after Bushfires

Koalas – or ‘Phascolarctos cinereus’ – are a downward marsupial settlement that sleeps most of the day perched in trees and feeding exclusively on eucalyptus leaves. This is possible because the digestive system is able to neutralize toxic chemicals in plants. According to the Australian Koala Foundation, there are no more than 100,000 koalas left in the wild, “but probably no more than 43,000 koalas,” the foundation said.

The koala population in tropical Queensland has declined by at least 50 percent since 2001 and that NSW koalas are critically endangered. The Australian government had failed to take early action to protect koalas. It is now imperative to secure key koala habitats, reconnect wildlife corridors and reduce major threats to the animals.

Wildlife

Cheetahs Return to India

Cheetahs will soon roam the forests of central India for the first time in 70 years. The country’s indigenous cats were declared extinct in 1952 after decades of hunting, habitat loss and food shortages led to their disappearance.

But a long-anticipated agreement with Namibia will see the world’s fastest land animals transported from Africa to “cheetah- friendly” areas of Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh state. Asiatic cheetahs once roamed from Afghanistan to the Arabian Peninsula, but only about a dozen still survive in Iran.

Winged Tragedy

The worldwide bird flu epidemic that has resulted in the deaths of untold millions of poultry in recent months is also decimating the planet’s wild bird populations. The Guardian reports the UK has suffered its worst-ever infections, with more than 300 outbreaks in the nation’s seabird colonies.

Birds are also dying in many other areas of the world. More than 2,000 of the world’s approximately 8,000 Dalmatian pelicans have already perished. “We are facing an event of mass extinction of animals. Entire populations are affected by this virus,” says Uri Naveh, a senior scientist at the Israel Parks and Nature Authority. The international poultry trade, farming and sale of birds, as well as wild migrations, are the leading causes.

Rare Humpback Whale Washes up on Australian Beach

A dead white humpback whale was recently found on a remote beach in Australia. However, experts say the animal is not an albino.

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Monarch Butterflies Teetering on Edge of Collapse

The migratory monarch butterfly has joined the endangered species list.

On Thursday (July 21), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the butterfly, a subspecies of monarch (Danaus plexippus) as endangered, indicating that the subspecies is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. The main threats to the migratory monarch are habitat loss, pesticide and herbicide use, and climate change.

Wildlife

Squirrel Birth Control

Scientists say they have developed contraceptives to control Britain’s invasive gray squirrels, which are driving the native and beloved red squirrels to extinction. The birth control could help eradicate the gray squirrels without killing them.

The massive scheme will lure gray squirrels into feeding boxes that only they can fit into. There, they will find a mixture of hazelnut spread, irresistible to them, spiked with the contraceptives. The grays first arrived from North America in the late 19th century and have since also damaged Britain’s woodlands by stripping bark from trees for nutrition.

Wildlife

Global Warming Affects Births of Wild Dogs

Global heating is causing endangered African wild dogs in Botswana to give birth 23 days later than just three decades ago, according to researchers from the University of Washington.

Briana Abrahms and colleagues analyzed observations of when the canines had pups from 1989 to 2020, comparing them with temperature data from a nearby weather station. The dogs seem to prefer breeding when the weather is the coolest, which is coming later and later each year. The team says it found an almost parallel link between the shift in birthing dates and the warming climate.

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Wildlife

Heat Wave Victims

Spain’s earliest intense heat wave in 40 years killed hundreds of baby swifts after the hatchlings fled their sweltering nests too soon.

The threatened birds were seen littering the streets around the southern cities of Córdoba and Seville. Residents of both communities gathered all of the dehydrated and starving birds they could find so they could be nursed back to health. “You would walk down the street and there would be 100 chicks, lying at the foot of a building … some barely alive,” said biologist Elena Moreno Portillo of the urban conservation group Ecourbe.

New Zealand sea sponge populations ‘dying by the millions’ due to climate change

Shocking images have emerged from New Zealand showing millions of once-velvety brown sea sponges bleached bone white, the worst mass bleaching event of its type ever recorded, marine scientists say.

The alarming discovery comes amid a continued rise in ocean temperatures, a trend that scientists say is overwhelmingly due to planet-warming fossil fuel emissions. New Zealand scientists discovered thousands of bleached sea sponges in May of this year, in cold waters off the country’s southwestern coast. Further findings showed the damage was far worse, with millions — possibly tens of millions — of sea sponges affected throughout the Fiordland region.

Wildlife

Climate change is causing “mass die-offs” of animals

Rising temperatures lower many species survival rates due to changes that lead to less food, less successful reproduction, and interfering with the environment for native wildlife. Increased precipitation from climate change is contributing to more frequent and extreme weather events such as flooding. The higher frequency of flooding has detrimental effects on wildlife because they can destroy key pieces of ecosystems and habitats.

Recent “mass die-offs” of the flightless little blue penguin, which is native to New Zealand have been reported. Hundreds of the birds have washed up dead on New Zealand beaches since May. All the birds were at least half the normal weight, they had no fat on them at all and their muscle tissue had wasted away. Tests were performed on the birds to rule out disease and biotoxins, and it was determined that the birds died from starvation.

While it’s not unusual for animals like the little blue penguin to die from severe weather, the fact that they’re now dying this frequently, and in this high of number, is what’s alarming. Taylor points out that mass deaths of this size usually happen around once a decade, not three times in six years.

The U.S. has witnessed similar “mass die-offs” in recent months. Earlier this week it was reported that thousands of cattle died from extreme heat stress in feedlots in southwestern Kansas.