Wildlife is Thriving at the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Site

The University of Georgia
The University of Georgia

Stray puppies aren’t the only signs of life in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (CEZ). Aside from the employees who continue to clean up the aftermath of the 1986 nuclear power plant accident, the area is teeming with wildlife—and not three-headed mutant animals, as one might expect.

A new study published in the journal Food Webs paints a very different picture of the Chernobyl exclusion zone. By placing motion-activated cameras on site, researchers from the University of Georgia had the chance to see white-tailed eagles, wolves, raccoon dogs, mink, and the elusive Eurasian otter. They confined their research to the Polesie State Radiation Ecological Reserve (PSRER), a 2600-square-kilometer area surrounding the Pripyat River in present-day Belarus. The area is highly restricted, and the lack of people in the area helped contribute to the boom in wildlife, researchers wrote in their paper.

Earlier research from 2015 revealed that wolves and other animals were abundant in the region. In this latest study, researchers placed fish carcasses along the banks of rivers and canals to see what types of scavengers would take the bait. Fifteen different vertebrate species, including a variety of mammals and birds, were spotted over the course of the month-long study. Some of the animals had never been spotted there before.

“We’ve seen evidence of a diversity of wildlife in the CEZ through our previous research, but this is the first time that we’ve seen white-tailed eagles, American mink, and river otter on our cameras,” James Beasley, associate professor at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, said in a statement released by the University of Georgia.

This study helps researchers better understand the ecology of scavengers in the area, which is still contaminated with radioactive isotopes. The materials can pose health threats like cancer, cataracts, and digestive issues to humans. People are prohibited from staying in Chernobyl for longer than three weeks at a time.

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Massive Swarms of Migrating Dragonflies Are So Large They’re Popping Up on Weather Radar

emprised/iStock via Getty Images
emprised/iStock via Getty Images

What do Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio all have in common? Epic swarms of dragonflies, among other things.

WSLS-TV reports that this week, weather radar registered what might first appear to be late summer rain showers. Instead, the green blotches turned out to be swarms of dragonflies—possibly green darners, a type of dragonfly that migrates south during the fall.

Norman Johnson, a professor of entomology at The Ohio State University, told CNN that although these swarms happen occasionally, they’re definitely not a regular occurrence. He thinks the dragonflies, which usually prefer to travel alone, may form packs based on certain weather conditions. If that sounds vague, it’s because it is: Johnson said that entomologists haven’t worked out all the details when it comes to dragonfly migration. They do know that the airborne insects cover an average of eight miles per day, while some overachievers can fly as far as 86.

Based on the radar footage shared by the National Weather Service’s Cleveland Office, the dragonfly clouds seem almost menacing. But, while swarms of any insect species aren’t exactly delightful, these creatures are both harmless and surprisingly beautiful, at least up close. Anna Barnett, a resident of Jeromesville, Ohio, even told CNN that witnessing the natural phenomenon was “amazing!”

Amazing as it may be to see, it’s hard to hear news about unpredictable animal behavior without wondering if it’s related in some way to Earth’s rising temperatures. After all, climate change has already affected wasps in Alabama, polar bears in Russia, and no doubt countless other animal species around the world.

[h/t WSLW-TV]

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