The Animals of Chernobyl

YouTube / The New York Times
YouTube / The New York Times

In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster devastated a region of what is now Ukraine. Around the nuclear plant, a ~1,000-square-mile "Exclusion Zone" was created, marking the area contaminated by dangerous levels of radiation. One estimate suggests that the Exclusion Zone may be safely habitable by humans in 20,000 years, though it is currently possible to make short visits without receiving lethal doses of radiation. In the meantime, a few hundred people, mainly elderly, do live there in villages. Cancer is a major problem.

So for decades, the Exclusion Zone has been bathed in radiation, causing changes in plant and animal life, while areas just 10-15 miles away are almost entirely clean (and unpopulated), allowing scientists to study the differences between plants and animals in these areas. For years, Dr. Timothy Mousseau has been studying those changes, and gives us a peek at them in the video below. Radioactive mushrooms? Check. Radioactive spiderwebs? Oh, you betcha. Dr. Mousseau has also begun visiting Fukushima, Japan, the only other site of a level 7 nuclear event in the world. Have a look at a trip to Chernobyl to study animals, plants, and insects:

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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

Intense Staring Contest Between a Squirrel and a Bald Eagle Caught on Camera

iStock.com/StefanoVenturi
iStock.com/StefanoVenturi

Wildlife photographers have an eye for the majestic beauty of life on planet Earth, but they also know that nature has a silly side. This picture, captured by Maine photographer Roger Stevens Jr., shows a bald eagle and a gray squirrel locked in an epic staring match.

As WMTW Portland reports, the image has been shared more than 8000 times since Stevens posted it on his Facebook page. According to the post, the photo was taken behind a Rite Aid store in Lincoln, Maine. "I couldn't have made this up!!" Stevens wrote.

Bald eagles eat small rodents like squirrels, which is likely why the creatures were so interested in one another. But the staring contest didn't end with the bird getting his meal; after the photo was snapped, the squirrel escaped down a hole in the tree to safety.

What was a life-or-death moment for the animals made for an entertaining picture. The photograph has over 400 comments, with Facebook users praising the photographer's timing and the squirrel's apparent bravery.

Funny nature photos are common enough that there's an entire contest devoted to them. Here are some of past winners of the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

[h/t WMTW]

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