Weekend Reads: Condors at the Carnival, Persnickety Pupfish, and the Poison Cure
Five greenreads to chase down with Bud Lite (and nachos, and chili dogs, and perhaps, some jalapeño poppers?) this Super Bowl weekend.
Alan Burdick in the New Yorker on dung movements by starlight: Until recently, the lowly dung beetle seemed to have been dealt a tough, mundane life, filled with nothing but crawling on the ground and eating poo. But scientists have shown that the nocturnal insects are the first known animals to navigate by the Milky Way. That’s right, these miniature, crap-eating Copernicuses consult the heavens on which direction to roll their balls of dung for safekeeping. With the use of a planetarium and tiny cardboard hats (adorable!) to block the beetles’ view, scientists concluded that the insects need to see the galaxy, and not just a star or two, to find their way. “The cosmos is nothing if not egalitarian; we are all equally small," writes Burdick. "It seems fair that Earth’s sanitation workers should benefit from the Milky Way, as the rest of us do.”
Jennifer S. Holland in National Geographic on picking your poisons: Getting bit by a venomous animal is usually a bad thing. But after a bark scorpion stung "Michael," who had suffered from a painful autoimmune condition for years, Michael suddenly started to feel better. More and more researchers are looking into the world's various venoms to discover how these biological toxins that evolved into “nature’s most efficient killer[s]" might actually help keep us alive. A green mamba's venom, for instance, might be the key to new heart medicines, and the Gila monster's poisonous saliva has already yielded a remarkable diabetes medication. Even though Michael, who is a doctor, is cautious about crediting an insect with his recovery, he says, "if my pain came back, I’d let that scorpion sting me again."
Eric Wagner for Slate on sketchy seafood: Excuse me, waiter? I thought I ordered the snapper ... Mislabeled seafood has been a pervasive problem for years, but marine biologist Steve Palumbi is fighting back, testing seafood in ritzy restaurants, high-end grocery stores, and neighborhood fish markets. Palumbi began using molecular forensics to test whale meat in Japan, where it’s legal to sell Minke whale taken for "research purposes." He discovered that more than half of the meat sold as Minke wasn't Minke at all. Sounds like good news, right? It's not. The faux minke meat actually came from other protected species. So if you’re hitting a sushi bar this weekend, follow Palumbi’s hard-and-fast rules: “If something is labeled tuna, then it probably is, but stay away from the salmon, because it probably isn’t. …Shrimp is shrimp and crab is crab, unless it’s pollock. And don’t trust the white fish.”
Hillary Rosner for Wired Magazine on saving the persnickety pupfish: Devils Hole pupfish are an endangered species that lives in a desert aquifer in Nevada's Mojave Desert -- and nowhere else on earth. This does not bode well for the pupfish. Neither does the fact that it requires 90-degree, low-oxygen water and a shallow ledge for spawning. Even so, "in the past 50 years it has survived real-estate speculators, death threats, congressional battles, and human screwups." Now, the biggest threat to the pinky-toe-sized fish is itself, or rather, its DNA. Last year, only 75 pupfish remained in their watering hole, swimming in an increasingly shallow gene pool. Should scientists save the species by altering it with genes taken from pupfish cousins? Or allow the species to descend into a genetic death spiral? “It’s no longer just a biological question,” says one evolutionary biologist. “It’s an ethical, philosophical question. Because the fish won’t care.”
George Black at OnEarth on finding great environmental journalism in unlikely places: Executive Editor George Black isn’t kidding when he writes, “our best hope for coverage of science, of the environment -- and of climate change -- may lie with a network from a Gulf oil state.” Declining newsrooms across the country are resulting in an insular American media landscape and a disinterested public. “I’d call it perpetuating the cycle of ignorance,” writes Black. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera, a network largely funded by fossil fuel money, is rising to the occasion, opening 42 bureaus around the world and launching a new series of environmental documentaries called "earthrise." And the crowning irony? Al Jazeera just bought Current TV, founded by climate-change activist Al Gore.
Tired of reading yet? Watch this.
Jonathan Watts, Guy Grandjean, Dan Collyns and Ronald Reategui for the Guardian on carnage at the carnival: There are bizarre festivals in the Peruvian Andes that involve a matadore killing a bull to celebrate the triumph of the indigenous over colonial rule. Ok, a bull fight ... so what's so bizarre about that? In this ritual, there's an Andean condor strapped to the back of the bull, flapping around as the bull bucks and charges the matadore. So much for condor conservation (not to mention animal cruelty)!
Tips: @OnEarthMag (tag it #greenreads)
Image: Luis Argerich