Get to Know the Malayan Tapir (Before It’s Too Late)

One of the things that makes Earth so great is its astonishing diversity of life forms. Our planet boasts stunning sea dragons, powerful viruses, and majestic sequoias, but it’s also home to humbler animals like Kruze, the Malayan tapir shown above—at least for now. 

Kruze and his kin, shy as they are, once threw a substantial wrench in scientific theory. The year was 1812, and zoologist Georges Cuvier had just declared that Earth was out of new large mammal species. If other species existed, he insisted, scientists would already know about them. Lo and behold, just a few years later, the Malayan tapir, Tapirus indicus, entered the official scientific record. Chinese people living near rainforests had long spoken of a white-backed, tapir-like creature, but bigoted Cuvier figured that since they weren’t Western scientists, their reports didn’t count, and the species didn’t really exist.

T. indicus is very, very real. These days, Malayan tapirs live in the rainforests of Thailand, Myanmar, and Sumatra, spending their days snarfing leaves off low trees and shrubs. For the most part, they’re quite peaceful creatures, preferring to run rather than fight, but scientists have noted their “vicious bite.” 

Like their cousins the rhinoceroses, Malayan tapirs love the water and will flee into the depths when threatened, using their mini-trunks as snorkels. And if you think Kruze is cute, you should see the babies. Tapir baby-making equipment is certainly effective, if alarming: males have prehensile penises that can grow longer than their legs. 

By now you could probably guess that these gentle weirdos are in danger. As rainforests decline, their habitats shrink, pushing them closer to human settlements. The tapirs’ bad-tasting flesh used to keep them relatively safe from hunters, but people are getting desperate as tastier species begin to vanish. 

Want to help? You can support T. indicus in style by picking up one of these tapir sweater knitting patterns, the proceeds of which go to conservation efforts.

Header image from YouTube // Great Big Story

Watch How a Bioluminescence Expert Catches a Giant Squid

Giant squid have been the object of fascination for millennia; they may have even provided the origin for the legendary Nordic sea monsters known as the Kraken. But no one had captured them in their natural environment on video until 2012, when marine biologist and bioluminescence expert Edith Widder snagged the first-ever images off Japan's Ogasawara Islands [PDF]. Widder figured out that previous dives—which tended to bring down a ton of gear and bright lights—were scaring all the creatures away. (Slate compares it to "the equivalent of coming into a darkened theater and shining a spotlight at the audience.")

In this clip from BBC Earth Unplugged, Widder explains how the innovative camera-and-lure combo she devised, known as the Eye-in-the-Sea, finally accomplished the job by using red lights (which most deep-sea creatures can't see) and an electronic jellyfish (called the e-jelly) with a flashy light show just right to lure in predators like Architeuthis dux. "I've tried a bunch of different things over the years to try to be able to talk to the animals," Widder says in the video, "and with the e-jelly, I feel like I'm finally making some progress."

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

Big Questions
Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

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.

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