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Throw Wildflower Seed Bombs to Bring Back the Bees

The bees could really use some help. In the last 10 years, a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has killed off huge numbers of honeybees around the world. It's normal for beekeepers to lose 10–15 percent of their hives each winter, but beginning in 2006, beekeepers started reporting losses of 30–90 percent. Scientists believe CCD may be caused by a combination of pesticides, parasites, and a decline in wildflowers as more and more land is developed. 

This is where Seedles come in. Each "bomb" contains wildflower seeds packed in compost and brightly colored clay. "Planting" them is easy: You just throw them on the ground and wait for the rain, sun, and soil to do their work. The candy-colored seed bombs "practically grow themselves," says the company's website

There are six varieties, one for each region of the country, so bee lovers can be sure to plant native flowers that will thrive in their area.

Seedles are the brainchild of San Francisco's Ei Ei Khin and Chris Burley, a couple who initially hoped they could get people to plant a million flowers. They surpassed that number in 2014. In an email to mental_floss, Burley (now the company's "pollinator-in-chief") said they've since set their sights higher: a billion flowers for the bees. 

Khin and Burley are especially concerned about the interdependence between honeybees and our food supply. Of 100 major American crops, 70 are pollinated by bees; without them, we might not have apples, almonds, carrots, or avocados. To encourage interest and awareness in the plight of the bees, Seedles partners with local food companies to give out free seed bombs.

Because they're pretty, simple, nontoxic, and foolproof, the seed bombs make great educational tools. Kids like Khin and Burley's two-year-old son, Orion, love chucking the little clay balls. 

All images courtesy of Seedles

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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