CLOSE
Original image
ISTOCK

1868 Map Shows That Beavers Truly Are Nature’s Best Builders

Original image
ISTOCK

Humans take first place when it comes to making permanent alterations to Earth’s terrain, but we aren’t the only species to make a mark with infrastructure. A new look at an 1868 map has revealed that beaver dams in Michigan have been holding strong for at least 150 years.

The map is the work of Lewis Henry Morgan, a railroad lawyer who also worked as an independent anthropologist and biologist. According to Atlas Obscura, Morgan first traveled to Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the late 1850s for his railroad work and started studying the beavers in what is now the city of Ishpeming, about 15 miles from Lake Superior. The resulting book, 1868’s The American Beaver and His Works, had a fold-out map that included 64 beaver dams and their ponds.

The American Beaver and His Works // Archive.org

It was Carol Johnston of South Dakota State University who realized the value in Morgan’s maps to modern ecologists. She created an updated version using aerial photos and compared the two, discovering that about 72 percent of the dams and ponds still exist. Only 18 of the spots disappeared in that time (some as a result of human interference), and at least one pond was actually bigger than it was on Morgan’s map. The study was published in Wetlands last year.

While not all of the dams are still in active use, the findings illustrate the remarkable engineering capabilities of the North American beaver. The fact that so many structures are still standing after all this time—and in light of the industrialization and occupation of the area—is truly impressive; the rodent architecture is even older than many of humankind’s most beloved structures, including, as many have noted, the Eiffel Tower.

“This constancy is evidence of the beaver’s resilience and a reminder that beaver works have been altering the North American landscape for centuries,” Johnston writes in the paper.

For more, check out Morgan’s work in full on the Internet Archive, which includes lovely passages like this one, marveling at how beavers build dams even though they don’t have to:

"As the dam is not an absolute necessity to the beaver for the maintenance of his life, his normal habitation being rather natural ponds and rivers, and burrows in their banks, it is, in itself considered, a remarkable fact that he should have voluntarily transferred himself, by means of dams and ponds of his own construction, from a natural to an artificial mode of life."

On that note, don’t forget that International Beaver Day is April 7. These guys deserve some serious praise.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
Original image
iStock

Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

Original image
iStock
arrow
Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
Original image
iStock

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios