CLOSE
Original image
Dori

Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Original image
Dori

Frank Page, the cartoonist behind Bob the Squirrel, brought an important subject to my attention.

January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day, a "holiday" founded in 2001 by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator at the the Western North Carolina Nature Center. How can we celebrate this auspicious occasion? There are many ways!

Learn About Squirrels

Photograph by Yathin S Krishnappa.

There are over 200 species of squirrel over six of our seven continents. The Indian Giant Squirrel is typically about 14 inches long, not counting its two-foot-long tail! There are 44 species of flying squirrels, which actually glide instead of fly, but can scare the crap out of you if you're not expecting them. It's not hard to find fun facts about squirrels.

Learn the History of Squirrels

The history of squirrels is more interesting than you might have thought. Squirrels are not naturally an urban animal, but every city park in America seems to have them. They were put there deliberately for our amusement. Those Eastern Grey Squirrels aren't so charming in Europe. They were introduced to the continent in 1948, and immediately began displacing the native red squirrels. The American squirrels have since been considered an invasive species.

See a Squirrel Grow Up

You don't see baby squirrels in your backyard, because they are kept hidden in the nest until they quite resemble adult squirrels. But thanks to the internet, we can see what one looks like. Redditor Nadtacular cut open a bag of mulch and found this. Alive. He decided to raise the baby squirrel as a pet, and named it Zip. You can see the rest of the pictures in an album following Zip's first five weeks. 

Meet Famous Squirrels

You can read about famous squirrels in pop culture and in real life. I posted a list of them a few years ago. Pictured here is Scrat, a prehistoric squirrel from the Ice Age movies.

There are more squirrels becoming famous all the time. Jill Harness told us about Winkelhimer The Painting Squirrel

Watch Squirrel Videos

See some cute and funny videos of squirrels in a post from Chris Higgins. Oh, look, here's another one

Make Them Into Memes

DeviantART member Santiago-Perez took one picture of a squirrel in a heroic-looking position and gave him the super hero treatment. See this squirrel in twenty different costumes at his gallery.

Enjoy the Horror

Timur Bekmambetov, who directed Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, is working on a horror film involving squirrels that seems a bit reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds. It's called simply Squirrels. No release date yet, but you can unleash the terror by watching the pre-production trailer.

Mourn Them

Not everyone likes squirrels -in fact, many people consider them a nuisance varmint (while some consider them dinner). This undated item found at Bad Newspaper may make you laugh, but then you'll feel guilty about laughing.

Celebrate Another Squirrel

Photograph by Aaron Silvers.

Now that you know more about squirrels, you'll be ready for the next holiday coming up February second. No, not Super Bowl Sunday, although this year it happens to fall on Groundhog Day. See, groundhogs are a species of the family Sciuridae, which makes them squirrels, too!

Seriously, there are ways to appreciate squirrels in real life as well as on the internet. You can feed the poor things, because they may have forgotten where they hid those nuts by now. And you can make a donation to your favorite wildlife conservation organization. Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Original image
Oakley Originals, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0
arrow
Animals
Could Imported Sperm Help Save America’s Bees?
Original image
Oakley Originals, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

It might be time to call in some sexual backup for male American bees. Scientists have started impregnating domestic honeybees with foreign sperm in the hopes that enlarging the gene pool will give our bees a fighting chance.

These days, the bees need all the help they can get. Colonies across the globe are disappearing and dying off, partly due to the increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides and partly from a parasite called the varroa mite. The invasive mite first landed on American shores in 1987, and it's been spreading and sickening and devouring our bees ever since.

Part of the problem, researchers say, is that the American bee gene pool has gone stagnant. We stopped importing live honeybees in 1922, which means that all the bees we've got are inbred and, therefore, all alike. They lack the genetic diversity that allows species to adapt to changing conditions or new threats. So when the mites come, they all get hit.

Many apiarists now rely on anti-mite pesticides to keep their charges safe. While these treatments may help keep the mites away, they aren't great for the bees, either—and the mites have begun to develop a resistance. But beekeepers feel like their hands are tied.

"I lost 40 percent of my colonies to varroa last fall," Matthew Shakespear of Olson's Honeybees told NPR. "I'm not taking any more chances. We've already done five treatments, compared with the two treatments we applied this time last year."

But there might be another way. Experts at the University of Washington have started to—how can we put this delicately?—manually encourage drones (male bees) in Europe and Asia to give up their sperm. All it takes is a little belly rub, and the drone, er, donates 1 microliter of fluid, or one-tenth of the amount needed to inseminate a queen bee.

Fortunately, the bees don't mind at all. "They're really accommodating," bee breeder and researcher Susan Cobey told NPR.

So far, the scientists' attempts to crossbreed foreign and domestic bees have been successful. Within their test colonies, genetic diversity is up.

"This doesn't mean they are superior in performance to the other bees," researcher Brandon Hopkins said. "It means we have a better chance of finding rare and unique traits." Traits, Hopkins says, like genetic resistance to the varroa mites—a quality shared by donor bees in Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Georgia.

Other beekeepers are opting for a more hands-off approach, introducing imported queens to their domestic hives. Shakespear bought his from Cobey, who reared them from bees she collected in Slovenia.

"Maybe these new genetics can deal with the varroa mites naturally," Shakespear said, "rather than having to rely on chemicals. It's time to start widening our gene pool."

[h/t The Salt]

Original image
Natural History Museum
arrow
Animals
London's Natural History Museum Has a New Star Attraction: An Amazing Blue Whale Skeleton
Original image
Natural History Museum

In January 2017, London’s Natural History Museum said goodbye to Dippy, the Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton cast that had presided over the institution’s grand entrance hall since 1979. Dippy is scheduled to tour the UK from early 2018 to late 2020—and taking his place in Hintze Hall, The Guardian reports, is a majestic 82-foot blue whale skeleton named Hope.

Hope was officially unveiled to the public on July 14. The massive skeleton hangs suspended from the hall’s ceiling, providing visitors with a 360-degree view of the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth.

Technically, Hope isn’t a new addition to the Natural History Museum, which was first established in 1881. The skeleton is from a whale that beached itself at the mouth of Ireland's Wexford Harbor in 1891 after being injured by a whaler. A town merchant sold the skeleton to the museum for just a couple of hundred pounds, and in 1934, the bones were displayed in the Mammal Hall, where they hung over a life-size blue whale model.

The whale skeleton remained in the Mammal Hall until 2015, when museum workers began preparing the skeleton for its grand debut in Hintze Hall. "Whilst working on the 221 bones we uncovered past conservation treatments, such as the use of newspaper in the 1930s to fill the gaps between the vertebrae," Lorraine Cornish, the museum's head of conservation, said in a statement. "And we were able to use new methods for the first time, including 3D printing a small number of bones missing from the right flipper."

Once restoration was complete, Hope was suspended above Hintze Hall in a diving position. There she hangs as one of the museum’s new major attractions—and as a reminder of humanity’s power to conserve endangered species.

"The Blue Whale as a centerpiece tells a hopeful story about our ability to create a sustainable future for ourselves and other species," according to a museum press release. "Humans were responsible for both pushing the Blue Whale to the brink of extinction but also responsible for its protection and recovery. We hope that this remarkable story about the Blue Whale will be told by parents and grandparents to their children for many years to come, inspiring people to think differently about the natural world."

Check out some pictures of Hope below.

 “Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

“Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

“Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

“Hope,” a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

[h/t Design Boom]

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios