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Why Do Seagulls Hang Out in Parking Lots?

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I live in Philadelphia, which is a quick enough drive to the Jersey Shore when traffic is good, but still pretty far from the ocean. Yet, the parking lot of my local grocery store is almost always full of seagulls. What gives?

Well, ornithologists will point out, “seagulls” are more accurately called gulls and while they do like to be near water, they don’t strictly live by the sea. The Ring-billed gull prefers the interior of the country, and some never even get near the ocean. The grey gull is usually found on the western coast of South America, but heads away from the shore and into Chile’s Atacama Desert to breed. Even the Herring gull, which the Cornell University ornithology lab calls the quintessential “seagull,” can be found pretty far inland during both the summer breeding season and the winter. 

Pennsylvania is attractive to gulls, according to the state’s game commission, because it sits between two major gull population centers: the Atlantic Coast and the Great Lakes. It’s a good spot to make a temporary home (or even a permanent one—both Ring-billed and Herring gulls are year-round residents in some areas), and there’s plenty to eat.

“Gulls come to Pennsylvania because it’s convenient,” writes Joe Kosack, a Wildlife Conservation Education Specialist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, “and because it has rivers that are loaded with small aquatic critters they eat readily, hundreds of restaurants that serve fast food indirectly to gulls, and plenty of parking lots to loaf in.”

The gulls are drawn to parking lots mainly for two reasons. The first is food. Gulls are opportunistic feeders and will eat most things that are available to them, rather than specializing in one kind of prey or food. They’ll feed on fish, insects, small rodents, fruits and a lot of things discarded by humans. Parking lots offer plenty of trash and scraps, especially if there’s a supermarket or restaurant there, by way of dumpsters, garbage cans, and people who can’t be bothered to use either of those. Plus, manicured grass and other landscaped patches around the pavement can be good places to look for bugs. 

The second thing that parking lots have going for them is that they’re spacious, open and flat. This allows the gulls to congregate en masse near food sources and gives them clear views in all directions so they can keep an eye out for danger. 

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Animals
The Mules That Help Fight California's Wildfires
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Forget dalmatians—in remote parts of Northern California, mules are the fire department's four-legged helpers of choice.

When a blaze roars to life in a residential area, firefighters can use trucks to transport the tools needed to battle it. But in the California wilderness, where vehicles—and sometimes thanks to environmental restrictions, helicopters—can’t venture, mules bear the burden. According to Business Insider, the donkey-horse hybrids can carry 120 pounds of supplies apiece while walking 4 mph up rugged terrain. Llamas are also capable of making the trek, but mules are preferred for their resilience and intelligence.

You can see them at work in the video below.

These animals do extraordinary work for the country, but they’re not the only mules assisting the U.S. government. The Havasupai village of Supai is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and the mail is delivered there each day by parcel-toting mules.

[h/t Business Insider]

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Animals
Scientists Catch Tiny Jumping Spiders Eating Frogs and Lizards
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Tom Houslay, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0

Small, but mighty: Some jumping spiders can overpower and devour their larger, cold-blooded, would-be predators, according to scientists writing in the Journal of Arachnology.

Biologist Martin Nyffeler at the University of Basel in Switzerland spends his days studying arachnid and insect eating habits. Over the last few years, he and his colleagues have made some astounding discoveries. For one, not only do spiders consume millions of tons of bugs each year, but they also eat fish, and bats, and plants. With a palate this broad, a hunger this big, and a ferocity to match, why wouldn't little spiders occasionally order off the reptile and amphibian menu? The researchers decided to search the scientific literature for reports of spider-on-frog-or-lizard action.

They found plenty. Their search unearthed one sighting in Costa Rica and eight separate instances in seven different Florida counties, all initiated by a single species. The regal jumping spider may weigh less than one-tenth of an ounce, but that apparently doesn't stop it from going after frogs and small lizards called anoles.

One report came from local nature blogger Loret Setters, who watched a Cuban tree frog disappear into a regal jumping spider's mouth.

"He was staring me down, like, 'You're next!'" Setters told National Geographic. "I was completely shocked."

A small jumping spider eats a dead frog.
A female regal jumping spider goes to town on a Cuban frog.

This remarkable reversal of the predator-prey relationship is made possible by jumping spiders' specialized hunting skills. Unlike most spiders, which spin webs and then lie in wait, jumping spiders stalk their prey like tigers. They have incredibly good vision and decent hearing, and they're all venomous.

Behavioral ecologist Thomas C. Jones of East Tennessee State University was not involved with the study but says spiders likely only go after frogs and lizards when easier meals are scarce.

"They do tend to get bolder as they get hungrier," he said.

[h/t National Geographic News]

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