Should You Fear the Pizzly Bear? by Moises Velasquez-Manoff
As climate change alters habitats, once-disparate animals are shacking up, creating hybrids that challenge our notion of what it means to be a species.
What a cool name. I wish I could have a name as cool as the GoldenPalace.com Monkey. Even its more serious name, the Madidi titi is pretty great. One of just a handful of new primate species discovered over the past decade, this little monkey was found in 2004, deep in the tropical forests of the Madidi National Park of western Bolivia.
Located at the foot of the Andes, the Madidi National Park is a little-explored area of Bolivia that scientists are calling the most biologically diverse piece of protected land in the world. Some 900 species of birds have been registered here, despite entire areas having never been explored by biologists. Between 1999 and 2004, six sites in the Madidi were surveyed by a team of biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bolivia, and their search turned up two unidentified adult monkey specimens – a male and a female. The team also captured video footage of a number of these monkeys interacting in family groups, and through physical, genetic and molecular analyses, was able to classify them as a brand new species.
The most recognizable feature of these monkeys is their dense, gorgeous pelt. They wear a crown of yellow-gold fur, and the grey that covers much of their bodies gives way to a lovely rusty brown colour along their backs. Their beards, chests and bellies are an unmistakable bright orange, and their long, grey tails taper out to a white tip. Their arms, legs, feet and hands are a dark burgundy, and they have little black naked faces with round amber eyes.
Faced with a new species that needed immediate attention from conservation groups, the research team auctioned off the naming rights in 2004. And who’s got more money than anyone to burn on a killer PR campaign? Internet casinos. Specifically, the GoldenPalace.com Internet casino. They paid $650,000 to win the naming rights, and the GoldenPalace.com Monkey was born. And because they paid the big bucks, they got the scientific name too – Callicebus aureipalatii. “Aureipalatii” means “of the Golden Palace”.
While it needs to be said that this is the same Internet casino that paid $28,000 for a 10-year-old partly eaten grilled cheese sandwich with the face of the Virgin Mary on it – that same year, no less – their monkey bid wasn’t as gross as it sounds. One hundred percent of the funds were put towards protecting the Madidi National Park, including the specific areas that these monkeys were known to live and breed.
Like other titi monkeys, GoldenPalace.com Monkeys are monogamous, mating for life and setting themselves up in a territory that they’ll fiercely defend from other titis through loud and constant threatening calls. Once an infant is born, it’s the male’s job to carry it around on his back, teaching it the rules of survival as he patrols and gathers food.
While individuals are sometimes killed by local hunters and used as fishing bait, the GoldenPalace.com Monkey has done pretty well for itself, and so far there are no major threats to any of its populations. Which is just as well, because the CEO of GoldenPalace.com, Richard Rowe, is counting on their longevity – “This species will bear our name for as long as it exist. Hundreds, even thousands of years from now, the GoldenPalace.com Monkey will live to carry our name through the ages.”
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
Danish Architect Bjarke Ingels is redesigning the zoo experience to create an integrated space where there are no cages, and wildlife and humans are able to co-exist peacefully. Building upon an existing zoological park originally founded in the 1960s in southern Denmark, ZOOTOPIA will feature three continents—Asia, Africa, and America—connected by loops that begin in one central location. The key to this experience and design is in the camouflage of the structures, which will not be buildings so much as bunkers. Utilizing pods and paths, visitors will be able to fly, sail, bike, or hike through the park, all the while not disrupting the inhabitants. But the real question is, what if the inhabitants start disrupting the visitors? Cages or not, Zoo animals are only as free as their confines allow.
Patrice O’Neal, Animal Lover
“It has been a long battle but we can safely say that they are now reintegrated into elephant society and in some cases even have families of their own.”
Four heroin addicted elephants used for smuggling drugs across the border between China and Myanmar are clean after undergoing a year-long rehab program involving megadoses of methadone. By feeding the elephants opium-laced bananas, gangsters were able to control the large pachyderms, forcing them to do anything they wished in order to get “the next fix.”
Is anyone else feeling really uncomfortable right now? That moth looks like something you’d see hovering in the distance, and then you’d blink and it’s right there in front of your face, ready to crawl through your eye sockets to devour your soul.
Fortunately though, this is just a simple plume moth, and it doesn’t even know what souls are. Called the White Plume Moth (Pterophorus pentadactyl), this particular species hails from Europe and Central Asia, but members of the plume moth family Pterophoroidea are found all over the world. They all have those large shredded fairy wings, and when they’re not flying, they hold them high and perpendicular to the rest of their long, thin bodies. Sometimes they’ll fold them right up to create a perfect ’T’.
While the White Plume Moth only has a wingspan of up to 35 mm, it’s considered the largest plume moth in the world. They spend the winter months as caterpillars and transform into moths around May or June, and fly around gardens and grasslands in search of morning glory vines. They only come out at night, fluttering around with their feathery wing plumes, looking like tiny white ghosts. The ghosts of children perhaps?
In Romanian folklore, it’s believed that when someone dies, the soul lingers on Earth for at least 40 days before passing over to paradise. One version of the lore stipulates that the elderly remain for seven years, the young for five years, and children remain for three years. It’s thought that if you see a moth flying towards a lamp during the night, it’s carrying the soul of dead child, trying to return to the home it had when it was alive. To injure a moth means messing with a dead kid’s soul, so um, just don’t.
Unless of course it’s a Death’s-head Hawkmoth, which refers to all three species in the genus Acherontia – Acherontia atropos, Acherontia styx and Acherontia lachesis. Found in Europe and Asia, these moths are at the centre of another aspect of Romanian folklore that says they contain the soul of a vampire, who is trying to bring disease into your house. But the Romanians must be a forgiving people, and so advise that rather than killing a Deaths-head Hawkmoth, you should just gently put it outside to spread disease elsewhere, because no one deserves to die twice.
In a particular county in Romania, called Vâlcea, if a child has contracted some kind of “Deaths-head disease”, their parents will have to catch a moth, burn it, and make the child drink the gross moth ashes in water.
Moths have also found themselves at the centre of a more recent, and much less creepy mythology, surrounding the origins of that “bug” in your computer that needs to be “debugged”. Harvard computer programmer Grace Hopper once had to extract a moth from one of her team’s computer circuits, and 40 years later, was credited for coining the phrase. But neither moths nor Harvard scientists can match the greatness of “bug’s” true origin – it was none other than Thomas Edison, who complained of “bugs” holding up the progress of his great inventions.
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew
A film by Aaron Rose
Sad truths about purebred dogs
Also, the story of how Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing became the first Pandas in America.
Jim Gaffigan on the sad lives of Whales
Odd Creatures is a recurring column about the World’s Weirdest Animals written by award-winning science writer and author Bec Crew, and illustrated by the super-talented Aiyana Udesen
Cartoons aren’t just for television. Sometimes they infiltrate the deep sea and turn serious sea creatures into bulgy-eyed, spiky-haired goofs. Meet Taonius borealis, a species of transparent glass squid that lives up to a kilometre below the surface of the North Pacific Ocean.
With a pair of soulful blue eyes and a cigar-shaped digestive gland visibly suspended in its bloated, sac-like body, the glass squid has got a real look going on. The species is often found with its mass of stumpy tentacles, or arms, floating above its head like a crest, so scientists have given it another great nickname – the cockatoo squid. There are many species of glass squid found all over the world; some have orange polka dots, others have iridescent moustaches, and many have googly eyes, but none look quite as weary and in desperate need of a vacation as T. borealis.
Don’t let those under-eye bags fool you though; T. borealis is as spry as the next guy. Those dark red eye bands are actually special light-emitting organs called oracular photophores, which help the squid to disguise itself from its predators. By projecting a steady beam of light beneath it as it moves through the ocean, T. borealis can conceal its shadow from anything lurking below. And for extra control over how and where this light is projected, T. borealis can shift its eyes and its photophores from the front of its face all the way around to sit on either side of it. Known as ‘counter-illumination’, this is one of the most popular camouflaging strategies in the deep sea.
Another camouflaging strategy T. borealis takes full advantage of is bright red pigmentation. The further you plunge into the depths of the ocean, the less sunlight you’ll encounter, and this affects how visible different colors become. The color blue is great at penetrating the deep sea, and so is green, so when sea creatures want to be seen, they’ll produce these colors. Exhibit A. Red, on the other hand, needs a lot of sunlight to be seen, so in the deep sea, if you’re red, you might as well be black. Like a ninja.
Glass squids range from tiny – some of the polka-dotted adults are just 10 cm long – to colossal. The aptly named colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) can grow to three metres long, and that’s not including its arms. Add the arms on, and you’re looking at a length of around 14 m. With a body that’s around 60 cm long, T. borealis is pretty reasonably sized. It feeds on just about anything that it can catch using the hook-like teeth that run along its arms, including small crustaceans and fish.
Here’s a video of T. borealis’s close relative, T. pavo:
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew