Posts filed under ‘Animals’

Seabirds Eat Plastic Because it Looks and Smells Like Food

Marine pollution is a well-known, continuous problem in our world’s oceans. Of the types of anthropogenic debris (waste originating from human activity), plastic is perhaps the most dangerous. Few plastics are biodegradable, which means they stick around for a very long time without breaking down. According to NOAA and the Mote Laboratory in Florida, it can take hundreds of years for plastics to degrade. The length of time varies based on the type of plastic, product, and environmental conditions—but that doesn’t change the fact that it takes an average of 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down! A fishing line can take 600 years. Even when they do break down, they release tiny pieces of plastic that seem to persist indefinitely. Even worse, they’re regularly consumed by marine animals—often by accident. This can cause serious health problems, resulting in mortality for a large number of birds and other sea critters.

bird with plastic

Recently, a dead sperm whale was found with 64 pounds of plastic and other human waste in its stomach. It’s believed that the large amount of plastic was a major contributor to the animal’s untimely death. Plastics are even polluting the deep ocean, with many deep-sea creatures consuming microplastics (pieces of plastic about the size of a sesame seed or smaller) on a regular basis—including lobsters, crabs, and sea cucumbers. Of all the animals being affected, the worst off are probably the seabirds.

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July 7, 2018 at 3:01 am 1 comment

Lone Baby Animals are Rarely Abandoned

The wealth of available resources and mild weather make spring the perfect season for most animals to raise offspring. When these helpless (and often adorable) babies are in danger, it’s natural for people to want to provide aid. Unfortunately, these altruistic actions tend to do more harm than good. Most seemingly abandoned or vulnerable young animals aren’t actually in trouble—in most cases, their parents are nearby and keeping a close eye on them. Although people have good intentions, “helping” these animals generally leads to more problems, especially for the wildlife rehabbers left to pick up the pieces.

bunny

Bunnies

Wildlife rehabilitators tend to cringe whenever someone brings in a litter of “abandoned” rabbit kits. The truth is that it’s very rare that the bunnies have actually been abandoned. Rabbits are prey animals and babies are easy pickings for nearly any predator. Mother rabbits don’t want to draw attention to their nest so they actually stay far away, returning to feed their litter just twice a day for a few minutes. After nursing their young, they go back to foraging far from the nest.

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June 16, 2018 at 4:01 am Leave a comment

Bread Can Stop Ducks From Flying

duck family

Many people have fond childhood memories of feeding ducks at the park. Feeding some stale bread to the birds seems like it’d benefit them, too. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In reality, bread is one of the worst foods you could feed to ducks, especially if it’s cheap white bread.

Nutrition

The biggest issue with feeding bread to ducks is that it has very little nutritional value. This is especially true of white bread, which mainly consists of sugary carbohydrates and not much else. Bread is a high-calorie food that fills ducks up but lacks important vitamins and minerals. A poor diet can lead to a serious medical condition called angel wing. Ducks with this syndrome lose control over their wings, which begin to point outwards (hence the name). This eventually leaves the duck sick and incapable of flight. Unless treated right away, most ducks will succumb to the disease—there is no real cure. The risk of angel wing syndrome should be reason enough not to feed bread to ducks. (more…)

January 14, 2017 at 11:07 am 2 comments

Some Nature Documentaries are Filmed in Studios

Nature documentaries can provide insights into the natural world and behavior of wildlife. Although often educational, they are still a form of entertainment. Reality TV shows are known for being staged but few people realize just how often nature documentaries are faked.

green screen camera studio

Stories Are Compiled Using Footage from Different Animals

Footage from different shoots can be weaved together to create a cohesive story. It’s difficult to track the same animals, especially over great distances. Instead, multiple animals play the roles of the various “characters”.

Chris Palmer, an ex-producer of nature documentaries, writes in his book that this tactic was used in the film Whales. Throughout the film, two whales named Misty and Echo are followed as they migrate over 3,000 miles. In reality, the story was told using footage from different whales. The whales seen at the end of the documentary are not the original whales filmed in the beginning.

Rented Animals Are Common

In many cases, the animals seen in documentaries aren’t even wild. This saves the crew time and money but can also be better for the animals in question. Rented animals and premade sets can spare wildlife from extra stress, which is especially important when filming endangered species. Some shots are impossible to get without captive animals. The problem is that nature documentaries never give any indication that they’re using rented animals.

The BBC used captive polar bears from a Dutch zoo in an episode of Frozen Planet. The scene, supposedly of a polar bear giving birth in the Arctic, was actually shot on a premade set. The den was built by humans, not the bear. The BBC said it was “standard practice” in nature documentaries. They defended their actions by pointing out the impossibility of trying to film a wild polar bear giving birth. The show never mentions any of this, however, and many watchers felt misled.

The IMAX Documentary Wolves had a similar birthing scene and also relied on rented animals. The den was artificial and the wolves used in the documentary were all captive animals. An episode of Life used captive-bred clownfish in an aquarium for one of their scenes. In Blue Planet, a lobster spawning scene was shot using lobsters in a tank. No matter the type of nature documentary, rental animals tend to be used whenever possible.

Feeding Scenes Are Nearly Always Staged

For scenes that involve animals feeding on carcasses, the film crew employs a few different strategies. The carcasses are normally planted; a nature documentary producer admitted to using road kill to lure wild animals. This isn’t always enough to entice the local wildlife, however, since most animals prefer fresher meat. Filmmakers get around this by adding treats, including M&M candies, to the planted carcasses. This can cause a feeding frenzy, encouraging animals to dig in as they look for the treats.

In some cases, the animals used for feeding scenes were captive-bred. In one documentary, tame bears were directed to carcasses by their trainer. The bears were further encouraged with treats. This is much safer than filming wild bears, which could become aggressive while feeding.

Lemmings Don’t Commit Suicide

Unfortunately, past nature documentary fakery wasn’t always harmless. The one fact most people know about lemmings is that they hurl themselves off cliffs in an act of “mass suicide”. Lemmings do migrate and they might occasionally fall off cliff sides, drowning in the process. They certainly don’t kill themselves in droves, however.

White Wilderness, a Disney nature documentary released in 1958, is responsible for this myth. The documentary shows footage of a group of lemmings jumping to their deaths. The narrator states, “A kind of compulsion seizes each tiny rodent and, carried along by an unreasoning hysteria, each falls into step for a march that will take them to a strange destiny.”

In reality, the lemmings were captive animals that had been rented by the crew. The scene was filmed in Canada, not the lemmings’ native habitat of the Arctic. As for the suicidal behavior, the film crew used turntables that pushed the lemmings, causing them to rush and eventually fall off the cliff.

Thankfully, today’s documentary fakery is usually done out of convenience or respect for wildlife.

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Photo: Eelke (cropped)

Sources: CMSI, NPR, BBC, BBC, BBC, Alaska.gov

August 31, 2016 at 6:00 am 1 comment

Survival of the Fittest is Not Related to Physical Fitness

Almost everyone has heard of evolution and most of us have a vague idea of what it means. Animals with useful traits survive and pass on their genes. Over time, these positive traits become more common and a species evolves. Most of us aren’t scientists, though, and a number of evolution myths have popped up over time.

Myth #1: Evolution is “just” a theory

We usually think of theories as being possibilities, not facts. A “theory” in science, though, takes on a different meaning. I personally like this definition from the National Academy of Sciences:

“a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses”

In other words, a scientific theory is an explanation that has been backed up by many studies and a substantial amount of evidence. We don’t call it a “fact” because science can always change as we learn new information. We’re all pretty sure the Earth rotates around the Sun yet that concept is called the heliocentric theory. It’s pretty unlikely we’ll find any evidence that goes against this “theory” but scientists still don’t call it a fact.

Evolution

Myth #2: Humans evolved from monkeys

This is a common one and often used in an attempt to discredit evolutionary theories. It’s also not true; humans did not evolve from monkeys. We did share an ancestor with African apes (note that “apes” aren’t monkeys) about 8 million years ago but that doesn’t mean we evolved from them. Instead, there was a great ancestor that eventually gave rise to humans and apes. We’re most closely related to chimpanzees because of this ancestor but there were two distinct evolutionary paths.

When the human species began to evolve, the chimpanzee species was evolving separately. We’re related, we didn’t directly evolve from any modern primate species. We do share over 90% of our DNA with non-human primates, including gorillas and other great apes. On the other hand, humans also share 90% of their DNA with mice! That doesn’t mean humans evolved from mice, it’s just a result of most mammals sharing genes.

Myth #3: Survival of the fittest means the strongest will survive

Sometimes people will use the term “survival of the fittest” to excuse a behavior. I’ve unfortunately overheard someone say that we shouldn’t help those weaker than us because “it’s survival of the fittest!” The average person interprets this idea, originally thought up by Charles Darwin, as meaning that the very strongest will survive. The problem is that “fitness” has an entirely different meaning in biology. It doesn’t refer to strength, health, or physical fitness at all. Instead, biological “fitness” refers to the ability to pass on your genes, generally by having offspring.

In evolution, the end goal is to pass on your genes to the next generation. That doesn’t necessarily require being the strongest, however. In fact, animals that get into too many fights might become injured or killed. Even if they won most of those fights and were the strongest in their group, death means they won’t be passing on their genes. Those animals would therefore be considered to have low fitness. On the other hand, a somewhat weaker animal that stays out of danger might be able to successfully raise several offspring. That animal would be said to have high fitness. In primates, including humans, being a good parent will often raise fitness more than being strong. From an evolutionary standpoint, being able to lift heavy weights means nothing if you never settle down and raise children.

If you want to learn more about how evolution works, the University of California in Berkeley (among others) have put together great evolution resources: click here.

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Sources: Science and Creationism, National Human Genome Research Institute, Smithsonian, Natural History

Photo: Wellcome Images UK

July 17, 2016 at 12:18 pm Leave a comment

Dogs Poop in Alignment with Earth’s Magnetic Field

By Chad Upton | Editor

In case you don’t know, the Earth is basically one giant magnet. That’s why a compass always points to magnetic North. This is extremely useful for navigation and other location based activities.

Apparently, dogs also find it useful for pooping.

Dog Hydrant

Photo: Scott Spaeth (cc)

Scientists recently published a paper describing their observations and analysis of the direction that dogs poop. For two years they monitored 70 dogs and recorded the axis upon which they defecate. (more…)

March 27, 2014 at 11:00 am 9 comments

Koala Fingerprints are Nearly Indistinguishable from Human’s

By Chad Upton | Editor

Dermatoplyphes or “fingerprints” are common among higher primates, but are present in only some other mammals.

Take whales for example. They’re mammals and they don’t have fingers (although the bones inside their flippers looks like fingers on an x-ray) but the pattern on the underside of their tail is still unique like a fingerprint.

Koala’s on the other hand do have fingers and they do have fingerprints. Koala fingerprints are so similar to human prints that even under an electron microscope they’re nearly indistinguishable from each other.

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Photo: michael fontenot (cc)

Sources: naturalscience.com, whalewatchmaui.com

February 26, 2013 at 2:00 am 1 comment

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