Category: nature

Coral reefs have existed for over 400 million years!

Yemen has a famously isolated island, Socotra, whose separation from the mainland and varied climate features resulted in the development of many unique flora and fauna. A 1990 biodiversity study found that there are 700 species on Socotra that live nowhere else on earth. And an estimated one-third of its species are unique to the island.

But did you know that Socotra has been occupied by humans for the past 2,000 years? The result is the degradation of its famous biodiversity: the island once featured wetlands and pastures that were home to crocodiles, giant lizards, and water buffaloes. Their homelands have been replaced by sand gullies and the animals who once called the wetlands home have disappeared.

The remaining Socotra fauna are those which can survive in the drier climates. And they are greatly threatened by goats and other introduced species. Many native plants only survive where there is greater moisture or protection from livestock, meaning that continuous human effort is needed to preserve them.

When Ötzi the Iceman died around 5,300 years ago in the Italian Alps, he was surrounded by thousands of microscopic fragments of bryophytes, a plant group that includes mosses and the flowerless green plants known as liverworts. Now a team has analyzed bryophyte fragments recovered from Ötzi’s clothes, gastrointestinal tract, and pieces of ice around him.

Although only 23 bryophyte species currently live near the glacier where Ötzi was found, about 75 species were identified by the team. This included 10 liverwort species, which are rarely recovered from archaeological sites. The team also found that only 30% of the identified species were local to where Ötzi died. The rest came from lower elevations, helping to confirm the route Ötzi took as he journeyed to what became his final resting place more than 10,000 feet above sea level.

In his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote that bumblebees are the only pollinators of red clover. In 1862 he discovered that this is wrong. Honeybees also pollinate red clover well.

He wrote to his friend John Lubbock, “I hate myself, I hate clover, and I hate bees.”

In 1760, Horace Benedict de Saussure, a naturalist hoping to gain scientific information, offered a reward to anyone who could make the full climb up Mont Blanc, the highest mountain peak in Europe. It was 26 years before Dr. Michel Paccard was able to complete the climb and earn the reward.

These flightless birds were 11 feet tall and weighed nearly half a ton at an estimated 450 kilograms. For context: the ostrich is he largest bird on earth and adult ostriches weigh just 150 kilos (330 lbs).

The Pachystruthio dmanisensis was discovered using a femur bone found in 2018 on the Crimean Peninsula, in the northern Black Sea. Based on other animal remains found in the same cave this particular dmanisensis is estimated to have died between 1.5 and 2 million years ago. That puts it at the right time to have been around when the first humans migrated to the area!

The first blue-feathered prehistoric bird has been detected by science. It’s feathers are long gone, but remains of their pigment were analyzed, and fall on the spectrum of what human eyes call “blue.” The bird lived about
48 million years ago.

The deadliest recorded blizzard in history happened in 1974 in Iran. It lasted from February 3rd to February 8th, dropped 26 feet of snow, and entombed the region in temperatures as low as -13 F/-25 C.

When it was over, 4,000 people were dead, and entire villages were gone. Literally. Twenty villages were destroyed and never rebuilt.

In 1850, Phillip Henry Gosse created the first aquarium for the London Zoo, and he coined the word “aquarium.” It sparked a mini-craze for aquariums like the one above.