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Instagram // timtast1c

Saving Gorgeous Butterflies, One Egg at a Time

Instagram // timtast1c
Instagram // timtast1c

Tim Wong really, really loves animals. The biologist spends his weekdays caring for, and studying, sea creatures at the California Academy of Sciences, while his days off are spent hand-rearing thousands of butterflies in his backyard. Currently, Wong is working to restore San Francisco’s pipevine swallowtail butterflies. 

With a velvety blue body and wings like swatches of night sky, the California pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta) is a breathtaking sight indeed. But that sight has become more and more rare in San Francisco as the butterflies’ preferred food (Aristolochia californica, the California pipevine) disappears from the city. 

Piece by piece, Wong is bringing it back. When the long-time lover of lepidoptera learned of the butterflies’ plight, he vowed to do whatever he could to keep them going. 

The first step was finding something for the bugs to eat. Given the pipevine’s growing scarcity, this was, unsurprisingly, something of a challenge. Wong eventually spotted a specimen growing in a botanic garden in Golden Gate Park and got permission to take a clipping.

Next, using a lifetime of accumulated knowledge about butterflies, Wong constructed a custom corral that could provide the swallowtails with their accustomed climate and conditions while keeping them safe from predators. The enclosure’s design also encourages the butterflies to mate and allows Wong to unobtrusively study the goings-on within.  

When the enclosure was finished, Wong collected 20 swallowtail caterpillars from local residences and placed them gently upon the pipevine inside. He watched, transfixed, as the hungry caterpillars munched their way en masse from plant to plant, like guests at a progressive dinner party. Eventually, they were satiated and settled down to begin the long, strange process of metamorphosis. 

The resulting butterflies were luminous and healthy. Before too long, they had laid their bright red eggs, which Wong painstakingly collected and incubated indoors, away from egg-gobbling spiders and earwigs. When the eggs hatched, Wong ferried the newborn caterpillars back to their ancestral homeland in Golden Gate Park. Each year he reintroduces more caterpillars; last year, he says, there were thousands. But there’s more to it than just dropping off the kids. By reinvigorating the park’s pipevine growth, Wong has also ensured that they have something to eat. 

While an intensive and thoroughly researched DIY species conservation program may be a bit more than most people can manage, Wong told Vox, anyone can pitch in and make a difference. "Conservation and stewardship can start in your very own backyard."  

[h/t Vox]

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
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A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

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