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A few of our favorite trees

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There are plenty of notable trees out there -- both real and fictional, historic and living -- and in honor of Arbor Day (just five weeks away!) we wanted to share a few of our favorites. Drum roll ...

Sri Maha Bodhi
Said to be a sapling from the original Bodhi Tree (under which the historical Buddha became enlightened), it was planted in 288 BC, making it the oldest living tree with a known planting date. It was moved from India to Sri Lanka in the third century, where today it stands as one of the world's most sacred, fig-producing holy sites. A fence was installed around the tree in the 18th century to prevent it from being snacked upon by hungry elephants.

Arbre du Ténéré
200px-Tree_of_Tenere.jpgAlso known as the Lone Tree of Ténéré, this solitary acacia was long considered the most isolated tree on Earth. Located deep in the Nigerian Sahara, it was the only tree within 400km of 17°45'00" N, 10°04'00"³E. In 1939 a French military officer marveled "One must see the Tree to believe its existence. What is its secret? How can it still be living in spite of the multitudes of camels which trample at its sides. How at each azalai does not a lost camel eat its leaves and thorns? Why don't the numerous Touareg leading the salt caravans cut its branches to make fires to brew their tea? The only answer it that the tree is taboo and considered as such by the caravaniers." In 1973, however, a drunken truck driver slammed into it (what are the chances?), knocking over one of the region's only landmarks. It has since been replaced by a considerably less poetic-looking metal pole.

Methuselah
long_frombelow.jpgNamed after a man reputed to have lived more than 900 years, this bristlecone pine has the Biblical Methuselah beat by a longshot. Dated at 4,838 years of age, this hardy tree is thought to be the oldest living organism on Earth. It's located high in California's White Mountains, in a grove of similarly ancient bristlecones (which, until it was cut down in 1964, included a more than 5,000-year-old specimen named Prometheus). How do they survive for so long? For starters, not much else grows at 11,000 feet, so their roots have plenty of room to spread and grow to find water. Sparse ground cover means the threat of fire is significantly reduced. What's more, their incredibly dense, resinous wood is fantastically disease-resistant. To protect Methuselah against vandalism and heavy foot traffic, its exact location is a Parks Service secret; pictured is a mighty bristlecone which may or may not be the tree in question.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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