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]

Great White Sharks May Have Led to Megalodons' Extinction

iStock.com/cdascher
iStock.com/cdascher

The megalodon has been extinct for millions of years, but the huge prehistoric shark still fascinates people today. Reaching 50 feet long, it's thought to be the largest shark to ever stalk the ocean, but according to a new study, the predator may have been brought down by familiar creature: the great white shark.

As Smithsonian reports, the analysis, published in the journal PeerJ, finds that the megalodon may have vanished from seas much earlier that previously believed. Past research showed that the last megalodons died roughly 2.6 million years ago, a time when other marine life was dying off in large numbers, possibly due to a supernova blasting Earth with radiation at the end of the Pliocene epoch.

A team of paleontologists and geologists revisited the fossils that this conclusion was originally based on for their new study. They found that many of the megalodon remains had been mislabeled, marked with imprecise dates, or dated using old techniques. After reassessing the specimens, they concluded that the species had likely gone extinct at least 1 million years earlier than past research indicates.

If the megalodon vanished 3.6 million years ago rather than 2.6 million years ago, it wasn't the victim of supernova radiation. One known factor that could explain the loss of the 13 million-year-old apex predator at this time is the rise of a new competitor: the great white shark. This predator came on the scene around the same time as the megalodon's decline, and though a full-grown great white shark is less than half the size of a mature megalodon, the species still would have been a stressor. Adult great whites likely competed with juvenile megalodons, and with the megalodon's favorite prey—small whales—becoming scarce at this time, this may have been enough to wipe the megalodons from existence.

Even if great white sharks eventually beat megalodons for dominance in the oceans, the megalodon's status as one of the most fearsome predators of all time shouldn't be contested. The giant sharks had 7-inch teeth and a bite stronger than that of a T. rex.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Choupette, Karl Lagerfeld’s Beloved Cat, Will Inherit Part of the Late Designer’s Fortune

Vittorio Zunino Celotto, Getty Images
Vittorio Zunino Celotto, Getty Images

As the longtime creative director of Chanel and Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld made his fortune in high fashion. After the news broke yesterday that Lagerfeld had died in Paris at the age of roughly 85 (his exact birth year is disputed), some wondered who would inherit his estate. The fashion designer’s net worth is estimated to be between $200 and $240 million, according to different sources, but he never married or had children.

Lagerfeld didn’t live alone, though. The iconic designer shared his home with Choupette, a 7-year-old Birman cat whose name seems to be a play on ma choupette, a cutesy French term of endearment that translates to, literally, "my cabbage," but is used more like "my pumpkin." According to Marie Claire, the fluffy white feline will inherit a chunk of Lagerfeld’s fortune. This is on top of the amenities the cat has already been afforded: She reportedly has two maids, a personal chef, a bodyguard, and an iPad. She also gets weekly manicures and has her own Wikipedia page, Twitter account, and Instagram, with more than 200,000 followers on the photo platform.

Comment survivre dans un monde qui ronronne 😻 @technikart_mag

A post shared by Choupette Lagerfeld (@choupettesdiary) on

All this pampering hasn’t made her lazy, though. Choupette has somehow found time to model, create a makeup collection and fashion line, and “write” a book titled The Private Life of a High-Flying Fashion Cat. However, Lagerfeld forbade her from doing cat food commercials, because she is “too sophisticated” for that, obviously.

The designer had adopted her from a friend, model Baptiste Giabiconi, in 2011. In a 2018 interview with Numéro, Lagerfeld said he had named Choupette, among others, as an heir to his fortune (the others are presumably human).

However, even if Choupette does inherit a sizable portion of his wealth, she still won’t be the world’s wealthiest cat. Grumpy Cat (a.k.a. Tardar Sauce) is also a millionaire, even if she doesn't seem too pleased about it.

[h/t Marie Claire]

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