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Mnolf, via Wikimedia Commons: wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Strigops_habroptilus,_face.jpg
Mnolf, via Wikimedia Commons: wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Strigops_habroptilus,_face.jpg

Tape, Glue, and New Kakapo

Mnolf, via Wikimedia Commons: wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Strigops_habroptilus,_face.jpg
Mnolf, via Wikimedia Commons: wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Strigops_habroptilus,_face.jpg

When I wrote about the kakapo—a chubby, flightless parrot that looks like a parakeet crossed with an owl crossed with a Muppet—last year, a group of the birds had recently arrived at their new home on New Zealand’s Little Barrier Island. The island had been cleared of accidentally-introduced rats and other predators, and conservationists hoped that Little Barrier would be a safe place to establish a population of the critically endangered birds (at the time, there were only 125 left) that wouldn’t need constant human babysitting (in some of the populations, conservation personnel have to provide the kakapo with food).

The birds didn’t breed in 2012, and no one was really expecting them to so soon after the transfer. As I finished working on my story in the fall of 2013, breeding season was still a few months off, and Deidre Vercoe Scott, who is the manager of the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s Kakapo Recovery Program, told me that from December through February, her team would be closely watching the birds to see “whether or not they are keen” to mate. 

Good news came early last month when the team announced that one of the island’s three female kakapo, named Heather, was found nesting with three fertile eggs, and several females from the group of birds living on Codfish Island, at the other end of the country, were also discovered nesting. It was the first time that any of the birds had laid an egg since 2011. 

A few weeks later, the first kakapo born in three years hatched from her egg, but not without incident. The egg, which belonged to a kakapo named Lisa, was found in the nest partially crushed. Fortunately, the egg’s inner membrane was still intact and senior kakapo ranger Jo Ledington was able to piece the outer shell back together with some tape and glue. The chick, dubbed Lisa One, hatched on February 28, happy and healthy. Isn’t she cute?

Four other eggs from Codfish Island also hatched, and just last week, one of Heather’s eggs hatched on Little Barrier Island. Some of the chicks are being kept in incubators and hand-fed until they can return to their groups, and two others have been fostered out to kakapo moms who didn’t lay viable eggs. It’s great news all around for the birds.

If you want to see more of these cute little guys in action, here’s one of the finest moments in nature filmmaking, wherein a kakapo attempts to mate with a zoologist’s head while Stephen Fry looks on laughing. 

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
Google
Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
Google

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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