Polar Bear Invasion in Arctic Russian Village Prompts State of Emergency

iStock.com/HuntedDuck
iStock.com/HuntedDuck

Residents of Novaya Zemlya, a remote arctic region in Russia, are locking themselves indoors as displaced polar bears from up north move into populated areas. The polar bear invasion has become so serious that local authorities are declaring a state of emergency until the problem is fixed, ABC News reports.

In and around Belushya Guba, the main settlement on the 3000-population archipelago, at least 52 polar bears have been reported this winter. While most remain on the outskirts of town, six to 10 are in the village at any given time, scrounging through garbage, walking into buildings, and even acting aggressively toward people who cross their path.

People in Novaya Zemlya have used sirens, car horns, and dogs to scare away the occasional polar bear in the past, but these bears have become desensitized to the tactics. Town officials have resorted to building protective barriers around schools and providing transportation for students and workers going to and from their homes. Other residents refuse to let their children go outside. Polar bears are an endangered species in Russia, so killing them is illegal, but authorities may be forced to do so if there's no other way to eradicate them from the village.

The reason the bears have invaded Novaya Zemlya makes them especially dangerous. Polar bears normally use arctic sea ice as a platform for stalking and hunting seals during the winter. This sea ice has diminished due to climate change, leaving many polar bears with two options: Move south in search of food, or starve. Wildlife experts warn that hungry, desperate polar bears will continue to be a problem for people living in arctic regions if current climate trends continue.

[h/t ABC News]

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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