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The Key to Tasmanian Devil Survival? Being Less Aggressive

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Though they're delightfully adorable, Tasmanian devils don't have a reputation for being sweet and cuddly (just look at that Taz on Looney Tunes!). But according to a new study, evolving to be less ferocious might be the only thing that could keep them from going extinct.

Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) causes tumors to grow around an infected animal's mouth and face, eventually leading to starvation. The disease has been wiping out the species since the first official case was described in 1996. DFTD is spread primarily by biting, and researchers have discovered that the more often one of the creatures is bitten, the less likely he is to have contracted the virus.

It's precisely the opposite of what they expected to find. It means that the alpha males, who get bitten the least, are most likely to catch DFTD, and those at the bottom of the pack, the least aggressive creatures that get bitten the most often, are the least likely to contract the disease. "In most infectious diseases there are so-called super-spreaders, a few individuals responsible for most of the transmission," said Dr. Rodrigo Hamede of the University of Tasmania, the lead author of the study. "But we found the more aggressive devils, rather than being super-spreaders, are super-receivers." This is because, Hamede says, "they bite the tumours of the less aggressive devils and become infected."

The key to saving the species may be identifying less aggressive members of packs and introducing them into selective breeding programs, with the ultimate goal of making a less ferocious Tasmanian devil that will consequently be less likely to contract DFTD.

Of course, the question remains: If you breed out one of the most defining characteristics of a species, are the resulting creatures still part of that species, or are they something new?

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All the Plastic Ever Produced, Visualized
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iStock

Humanity has a plastic problem. The cheap, durable material has become a vital part of our vehicles, food packaging, and even the inner structures of our homes. We’ve already produced 8.3 billion metric tons of the stuff, and most of it is sitting in landfills where it could take centuries to break down.

In early 2017, a study published in the journal Science Advances highlighted the literal weight of this growing issue. Researchers calculated that the bulk of all the plastic that’s been made by humans is equivalent to that of 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. Of that, only 9 percent has been recycled. The amount of plastic waste currently trashing our planet adds up to 6.3 billion metric tons, and the researchers don’t see our plastic addiction getting any less severe in the near future. By 2050, the plastic in our landfills is expected to hit 12 billion metric tons. You can see more alarming statistics from the study in the infographic below.

Infographic showing plastic production statistics.
University of Georgia, Janet A Beckley

Of all the trash we produce, plastic is some of the toughest to get rid of [PDF]. Scientists are looking into solutions, such as plastic-chomping caterpillars and germs, but for now consumers can do the planet a favor by investing in more reusable goods.

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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Art
Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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