See a Squirrel? These Citizen Scientists Want to Know About It

Jamie Allen
Jamie Allen

If you spot a squirrel, Jamie Allen wants to know about it. In 2011, Allen, an Atlanta-based writer, found himself wondering exactly how many squirrels there were in the world around him. And so he and another squirrel-curious friend decided to launch the Squirrel Census, an effort to count all the squirrels in his neighborhood. Several woodland-rodent tallies later, the Squirrel Census has gone national.

The first squirrel count began in Atlanta’s Inman Park, where Allen lives, in the spring of 2012, followed by another in the fall of 2015. For each, the Squirrel Census team created an elaborate visual guide to the data for the public, squirrel-obsessed and not. Now, this fall, the project is branching out. Allen and his fellow squirrel counters are organizing a Central Park Squirrel Census for October 2018 with help from local universities, the New York City Parks Department, and other groups.

A person holds up an oversized map.
Squirrel Census

According to the Squirrel Census website, the project is focused “on the Eastern gray (Sciurus carolinensis), his pals, and his mortal enemies.” With its distinctly whimsical site design, filled with animated squirrels and an unexplained pop-up image of author Tom Clancy, you’d be forgiven for thinking the wildlife census is somewhat of a lark. And it is partly a storytelling exercise—the 2016 version of the Squirrel Census report, called Land of a Thousand Squirrels, included not just infographics and a map on the Inman Park squirrel population, but fiction and “general fun,” as Allen told Mental Floss in an email. But it has real scientific methodology, too.

The Squirrel Census team includes an Emory University epidemiologist, a veterinarian, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife fire specialist, and a wildlife illustrator, as well as a small legion of designers, fundraisers, logistics specialists, and other supporters. To estimate squirrel populations, the team uses an established wildlife-counting formula that has previously been used by scientists to study events like the Great Squirrel Migration of 1968. They break the area they want to study into quadrants and send volunteers out with clipboards, maps, and specific questions to tally squirrels over a set amount of time.

A close-up of a map of squirrel sightings
Squirrel Census

Since the first census, Allen and the Squirrel Census team have thrown events to bring their results to the public, spoken at Emory University and other colleges about their methods and results, and launched an iPhone app, called Squirrel Sighter, to allow citizen scientists to contribute data from around the world. Each time a user indicates they've seen a squirrel (dead or alive) in the app, the Atlanta-based Squirrel Census team gets an update with data on the date and time, the location of the sighting, and the weather conditions there.

The app, and the census itself, is meant as a way to “attract people to the idea of sighting squirrels, which are normally so common as to be invisible,” according to Allen, as well as to encourage people to “realize the strange joy of just taking a moment to get outside of their own heads and pay attention to something else.” And of course, in the process, they’ll gather a huge chunk of data that can be used to study wildlife populations in urban areas.

“There are many reasons to do any wildlife census,” Allen tells Mental Floss. “Information is power, it's educational, and our data has been used in academic studies on squirrel populations. But for me, the simple idea of a census allows people to appreciate their surroundings in entirely different and new ways.”

2624-Year-Old Cypress Tree Discovered in North Carolina Swamp

iStock/earleliason
iStock/earleliason

National Love a Tree Day on May 16 is a day to appreciate all the world's trees, but a bald cypress recently identified in North Carolina is especially deserving of recognition. As Live Science reports, scientists date the tree to 2624 years old, making it one the oldest living non-clonal trees on Earth.

For their study, recently published in the journal Environmental Research Communications, a team of researchers studied the rings of trees in North Carolina's Black River swampland to learn more about climate history in the eastern United States. Bald cypresses are known to have impressive lifespans, but after analyzing specimens in the Black River's Three Sisters Swamp, an area that's notable for its long-lived trees, the scientists discovered that cypresses can grow to be even older than previously believed. The 2624-year-old cypress tree they found predates the Great Wall of China and the Roman Empire. Other remarkably old trees, including a 2088-year-old cypress, were also identified in the same grove.

The North Carolina cypresses are old, but there are other types of trees that can grow to be much older. Clonal tress are genetically identical plants that reproduce asexually from a single ancestor. Old Tjikko, a clonal tree in Sweden, has a root system that dates back 9550 years.

Despite all that North Carolina's bald cypress trees have endured, their lives are under threat. The swamp where the 2624-year-old tree stands is located just 6.5 feet above sea level, which means that floods driven by climate change could damage its habitat. And though the grove is in a protected area, industrial runoff and logging that's happening nearby could impact the trees' health. North Carolina is considering establishing a Black River State Park where the trees grow to further protect the ancient natural wonders.

[h/t Live Science]

This Beverage Maker Lets You Enjoy Carbonated Drinks Without Hurting the Environment

Sparkel
Sparkel

Whether you're preparing breakfast before you head off to work or looking for something to wash down lunch, procuring the perfect beverage is vital. If it's a carbonated drink, though, with that comes the carbon dioxide emissions that arise every time you hear that classic "fssst" sound from cracking one open. These emissions are actually quite harmful to the environment.

But thanks to the newly unveiled Spärkel, curating carbonated drinks can be done without using CO2 or any artificial ingredients.

"If you walk into any grocery store, the explosion in the popularity of sparkling drinks is plain to see with more choices and flavors than ever before, but why buy off-the-shelf when it is healthier, cheaper, and more fun to create your own drinks at home?" Darren Hatherell, CEO of Spärkel, said in a press release. "With Spärkel, we created a system that lets people use the freshest ingredients and convenient carbonation process to experiment and unleash their creativity in a way that is kind to their wallet and the environment."

Users can place any kind of ingredients they wish—berries, citrus, cucumbers, etc.—along with their drink of choice—water, tea, cocktails—into the 25 oz. (750 mL) bottle and choose what level, from one to five, of fizz they'd like to have added to their drink. The sealed chamber generates CO2 naturally from a sachet of Spärkel Carbonator powder, which is "made of a special granulation of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate." The CO2 bubbles are cycled through the liquid, and within a couple of minutes, you have a completely personalized sparkling drink.

On top of all that, the beverage maker is suitable for any number of usages from water and juices to cocktails. It also comes in nine different colors—black, white, gray, yellow, orange, red, blue, green, and pink—so it can match up with whatever kitchen palette you have.

To get your hands on the Spärkel, check it out on Indiegogo, where it's available for a pre-sale price of $59.

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