How The Supreme Court Could Decide the Fate of the Endangered Dusky Gopher Frog

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The dusky gopher frog might not be much to look at. The species, which lives in a handful of Mississippi ponds, is covered in dark spots and warts. But it's one of the world’s most endangered frogs—and its fate is currently being debated in the country's highest court.

As Nature News and Comment reports, the Supreme Court started its new term on October 1, and one of the first cases on its docket involved the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has a plan to save the frog by restoring ponds 50 miles west in Louisiana, where the frogs once lived, and move the remaining populations there. The dusky gopher frog, otherwise known as the Mississippi gopher frog or Lithobates sevosus, is threatened by development projects in Mississippi that have destroyed much of the amphibians' habitat. In 2012, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature named the frog one of the world's 100 most endangered species. Now, fewer than 100 of the frogs remain.

Conditions are more suitable in Louisiana's ephemeral ponds because they dry out at certain times of the year and can't support fish, which eat frogs' eggs, The Washington Post reports. The problem? The Louisiana ponds' other characteristics are not quite as agreeable as those in Mississippi, and the 1500-plus acres of land in question are owned by a family that leases them to the Weyerhaeuser timber company. Weyerhaeuser is arguing that it isn't required to alter the land to accommodate the frogs, and that doing so would result in the property being devalued by millions of dollars.

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the government can designate privately owned land as a "critical habitat" even when the conditions are less than ideal for supporting an endangered species. Right now, the Endangered Species Act lets the government designate critical habitat only where the species can live and thrive in the present, not at some point in the future. The eight Supreme Court justices appeared evenly divided after hearing arguments this week, but they could wait to decide the case until a ninth justice is confirmed.

This case is only the fifth challenge to the Endangered Species Act to be heard before the Supreme Court, but the FWS and other government agencies are trying to weaken the act's protections in other ways. The court's decision in the dusky gopher frog case could determine how the government manages endangered species in the future.

[h/t Nature News and Comment]

The Isle of Sark Needs a New Dairy Farmer, But You'll Have to Bring Your Own Cows

Philipp Guelland/Getty Images
Philipp Guelland/Getty Images

If you've ever dreamed of moving to a secluded island to become a farmer, the Isle of Sark is giving you the opportunity. Sark, located in England's Channel Islands, is seeking a dairy farmer to supply milk to the island's population of 500. The only catch is that job candidates must be ready to move there with their own herd of 25 to 35 cows, Atlas Obscura reports.

Sark is a 3-mile long, mile-and-a-half wide island with green pastures, rocky cliffs, and no cars or street lamps. The only way to get there is by boat or one of the ferries that leaves from the nearby Jersey and Guernsey islands.

The last time the island had a dairy farmer was 2017. That year, farmer Christopher Nightingale shut down his business due to issues with costs and land instability. The Isle of Sark held onto feudalism long after the rest of Europe abandoned it, and though the practice technically ended in 2008, it hasn't died completely. Sometimes this works to the community's advantage, like when Nazis invaded in 1940, but it also means that farmers must lease their land for short periods rather than own it.

If you're willing to trade your right to own property for idyllic island living, Sark's dairy farmer gig maybe the perfect fit for you. The island is looking for someone, or a couple, with lots of dairy farming experience, and a herd of Jersey or Guernsey cows, which are native to the Channel Islands. You can reach out to Caragh Couldridge at info@caraghchocolates.com for information on how to apply.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

7 Myths About Bats

iStock.com/Faultier
iStock.com/Faultier

Though in China bats are said to bring good luck, and ancient Egyptians believed they could cure an array of diseases, our feelings about bats are often negative. Perhaps these rumors started because bats are so mysterious—with their nocturnal flying and dank, dark habitats, they’re hard to study. But the world's only flying mammal isn't nearly as bad as our fears make it out to be. Keep reading for seven misconceptions, as well as explanations of what really goes on in the batcave.

1. Bats are totally blind.

A Grey-Headed Flying Fox hangs from its roost at the Royal Botanic Gardens March 20, 2008 in Sydney, Australia
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Though we love to talk about things being "blind as a bat," bigger bats can see up to three times better than humans, according to Rob Mies, executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation. Bat vision varies across species, but none are actually blind. In addition to working peepers, bats also use echolocation (emitting sound to navigate)—which means they probably have a better idea of where they're going than many of us.

2. Bats are flying rats.

A swarm of fruit bats flying in Indonesia
ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

Bats belong to the order Chiroptera, not Rodentia; they're actually more closely related to primates than they are to rodents. They also don't share behavior with rodents. For example, bats don't chew on wood, metal, or plastic, and usually aren't nuisances. In fact, bats eat pests, which brings us to …

3. Bats are annoying pests.

Bat flying in a forest at night
iStock.com/Ivan Kuzmin

Quite the opposite! According to National Geographic, bats can eat up to a thousand insects in an evening. Their bug-eating prowess is so notable it carries economic importance. A recent study showed that bats provide "nontoxic pest-control services totaling $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year." Bats also pollinate plants and distribute seeds, and their droppings—called guano—are used as fertilizer.

4. Bats want to drink your blood.

Various bats of the order Chiroptera in a circa-1800 engraving by J. Shury
Various bats of the order Chiroptera in a circa-1800 engraving by J. Shury
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Only three of the roughly 1200 existing bat species are vampire bats, and none of them live in the United States or Canada. Vampire bats don't even really drink blood—Mies says the feeding process is more like that of a mosquito. While mosquitos will take blood from humans, though, vampire bats primarily feed on cattle. Fun fact: a medication called draculin is currently being developed from bats' saliva, which has unique anti-blood-clotting properties.

5. Bats will fly into your hair and build a nest.

Bats flying on blue sky
iStock.com/BirdHunter591

An old myth claims that bats fly into hair, get stuck, and build nests. While it's possible this rumor started to deter young women from going out at night, bats do sometimes swoop around people’s heads. The reason isn't because they're shopping for a new home, however: our bodies attract insects, and bats are after their next snack. So don't worry—your spectacular updo is safe. In fact, bats don't build nests at all: Instead, they find shelter inside existing structures. Caves, trees, walls, and ceilings are favorites, as are rafters of buildings

6. Bats always hang upside down.

Three bats hanging upside down on a branch
iStock.com/CraigRJD

Contrary to the popular image, bats don't don't necessarily dangle pointing downward. According to Dr. Thomas Kunz from Boston University, bats are frequently horizontal when roosting in small crevices, not vertical.

7. Bats will attack you and give you rabies.

Horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum)
iStock.com/mauribo

Nope. Shari Clark, president of the Florida Bat Conservancy, says that statistically bats contract rabies much less frequently than other mammals. And if they do get rabies, it manifests differently than in raccoons or foxes. Rabies-infected bats become paralyzed and can't fly or roost. This means that as long as you stay away from bats on the ground that are behaving weirdly, you're pretty much in the clear. Phew.

This list was updated in 2019.

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