Gone But Not Forgotten: Travel Posters Highlight Extinct Animals

Scientists estimate that we’re currently losing vital parts of our ecosystem to extinction at a rate that’s some 1000 to 10,000 times greater than what would naturally occur. This loss of biodiversity may seem abstract, and there are plenty of plants and animals we’ve lost that you might never have encountered in your life. Others you could have bragged about seeing on vacation.

As reported by Popular Science, a poster series created by Expedia UK highlights some of the world’s tragic extinctions by advertising the unique animals associated with certain travel destinations. The dodo, the poster child for human-driven extinction (despite its smarts), would have been reason enough to visit the island of Mauritius, if the species hadn’t been eradicated by the 17th century.

Take a look at these beautiful, vintage-inspired poster designs below.

Once found in great numbers in the North Pacific, the Stellar's sea cow was hunted to extinction by 1768, less than 30 years after its discovery by Europeans. The sea cows could grow up to 30 feet long.

The last recorded sighting of the giant galliwasp was in 1840. Its demise has been blamed on introduced predators like mongooses.

The golden toad was last sighted in 1989, and its disappearance may be linked to climate change, though the data isn't precise enough to make a clear judgment.

The flightless moa was once New Zealand's dominant species of herbivore. It was first described in scientific literature in 1839, and was extinct by 1907.

The thylacine, a marsupial known as the Tasmanian tiger, was intentionally exterminated to protect Australian sheep in the 19th and 20th centuries. The last thylacine known to science died in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936. This sole remaining thylacine was famously caught on film in 1933, by a cameraman who got bit on the butt by the creature’s impressive gaping jaws for his efforts.

While these animals may be some of the most charismatic of extinct species, there are plenty more plant and animal species that have gone extinct—or are on the verge of extinction—that aren't quite photogenic enough to get their own travel posters. Just remember: the ecosystem needs ugly animals too.

[h/t Popular Science]

All images courtesy Expedia UK

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero

The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]


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