By Katie Gill, @CaffeinatedKid
You never know what information a person is going to divulge when you start a conversation with him or her.
On Sunday, June 18, we attended the Brighton Eco-Fair. Fun fact: this was the first official event Animal School participated in after we began working as a mom-and-pop operation last year. To celebrate our paper anniversary, I crafted up 50 origami animals, packed them in a shoebox and gave one to each person at the event who told us a fun animal fact. We later extended our offer to those who performed one of the wolf calls Howler was teaching.
One of my favorite things about working with Animal School has been meeting so many interesting people. You all have such an amazing breadth of knowledge, experience and creativity. The cute kids and dogs who run up to our mascots, greet them with great big smiles and start playing are high on the list, too. Having fun while learning is what Animal School is all about. We are constantly learning new things from the people we meet, and we strive to share our knowledge with you.
This year’s Eco-Fair focused on the theme of conservation, so we had Howler Wolf talking about why conserving wolf populations is vital. As anyone who has seen our Lupinology presentation knows, wolves are a keystone species, crucial to an ecosystem. Pluck them out of their environment, and all other living things are drastically affected. Everyone’s favorite example of this is the gray wolf’s reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, which allowed several animal species to thrive. It also kept coyote populations in check – ’yotes tend to become invasive species that throw off the balance of an ecosystem when their numbers get too high. Even some tree species that had long been absent started to grow again once the wolves were brought back into the ecosystem.
The results of this reintroduction teach us two things. One: wolves are imperative to their ecosystems. Two: we can never be entirely certain how a plant or animal affects its surroundings. Therefore, we should never assume that adding infrastructure, plants or animals to an ecosystem will be perfectly safe. Even when scientists and environmentalists perform studies to project what will happen when we build architecture in an ecosystem, there can still be unanticipated consequences. Nature exists in a delicate balance, and we must be mindful of that so that we can conserve it and flourish for generations to come.
Wolves used to live all around North America. However, when hunters started becoming overzealous, particularly as myths about wolves attacking livestock and people without provocation rose, the lupines’ numbers plummeted. Today, there are only a handful of areas in the U.S. where wolves live. Here in upstate New York, there are no known wolves roaming around, though there have been some unconfirmed sightings in the Adirondacks and extreme upstate region. The good news is that wolves are slowly being reintroduced to various states across the U.S., so there is still hope of reviving their grand ecosystems of centuries past.
Now, moving on to fun animal facts, we got a good number of responses from people at the event. Some of our favorites are:
- Owls’ wings are structured in a way that prevents other animals from hearing the birds coming. There are a couple of mechanisms at work here. First, the broadness of owls’ wings keeps them from flapping too much, which reduces noise. Furthermore, as How Stuff Works states, “When most birds fly, turbulence – created when air gushes over the surface of their wings – causes noise. Owls’ wings, however, are unique because they reduce noise caused by turbulence. An owl’s primary feathers are serrated like a comb. This design breaks down turbulence into smaller currents called micro-turbulences.”
- We learned from Braddock Bay Raptor Research that you can tell the age of a broad-winged hawk by its tail feathers. Juveniles’ tails have narrow bands of color, whereas adults have broad black and white bands on their tails. At about one year of age, a hawk reaches adulthood and will molt its feathers, allowing its new plumage to come in. This is similar to how humans lose their baby teeth and have adult ones grow in their places!
- As we mentioned above, in 1995, humans reintroduced gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park, which changed the park’s entire ecosystem. Someone informed us about a documentary she saw regarding Yellowstone, which showed how even the bends and path of a river changed as a result of the wolves’ presence. Remember: wolves are important to an ecosystem because they bring vitality. Ask Howler Wolf if you would like to learn more.
- There is widespread misconception about how two species crossbreeding is a symptom of climate change, global warming and habitat loss. However, as one woman mentioned to us, creatures have been mating with other species for centuries, so these hybrids are not necessarily a result of negative effects on our environment. I will have to do additional research before I say anything conclusively, but it is probable that the convergence of certain traits between species could produce evolutionary advantages and be examples of adaptation. On the other hand, there are animals that breed with other species due to loss of habitat and human interference. Pugs, for example, which humans have and continue to selectively breed, have severe respiratory distress throughout their lives due to the shapes of their skulls. (Yet another reason it’s always better to #AdoptDontShop, because some animal breeders inbreed cats and dogs for their purebred status, which can cause severe and lifelong health problems for the animals.) Other possible concerns for interspecies offspring are health problems, infertility and shorter lifespans. A few common examples of hybrids species are wolfdogs, coywolves, coydogs and grizzly-polar bear hybrids.
The best response of the day, however, came from a young man with a vivid imagination and knack for storytelling. He said that snails and ants are two of the strongest creatures in existence, and that a snail-ant hybrid could take over the planet by invading power plants. These snail ant assailants would be the ultimate destroyers and overtake the earth!
This kid captivated me. I just stood there, eager to hear more, engrossed in the yarn he spun. So many questions came to mind, including: where would these hybrids come from? Why is this not already an amazing splatstick B-Movie horror flick? Where did this elementary-school-aged kid come up with this dystopian future filled with Godzilla-like super bugs? (Thinking back, I don’t know if he ever said they were giant monsters, but I was definitely getting a Mothra vibe from what he described.) Which parts of the snails and ants would be the strongest? How do the two fuse into one species? Genetic engineering? Would they be able to naturally reproduce, or be infertile like mules, the horse-donkey hybrids? Would these creatures stay their original sizes, or adapt to support their larger and smaller sections? Which sections of each animal would make the evolutionary cut? Would they be giga-snail ants, or under-the-radar mini assailants? Would it be a gradual takeover or a snowballing situation? Where would the takeover start? Would the world end up like the “true” ending of Little Shop of Horrors, with these devious creatures we unknowingly nurtured taking over humanity? How intelligent would they be? Are these snails intentionally seeking out power plants, or just looking for shelter and sustenance? What draws them in? How do they get in? Does their slime make machines and electricity malfunction, or does this massive wave of them get into nuclear reactors, which turn them into Hulk-like beasts? Where do the ants fit into this equation? Do they become snail ants before or after taking over the power plants? Can this be avoided if we switch to greener energy? Do the snails feel malice towards humanity? Do they have an agenda? This scenario prompts a lot of thought-provoking questions, and I want to know more about the world this little guy created with his words. Most importantly, where did he come up with this idea?
I am going to have to do some research into snails and ants to see if they are like cockroaches and can allegedly survive a nuclear blast. I also want to see if I can find media that may have inspired this kid, because I am now invested in finding answers to this hypothetical scenario, and maybe making some concept art.
The funny thing was, after this kid told us all about the snail ant takeover, he didn’t even want an origami animal! So we ended up giving one to his brother instead.
It is amazing what you can uncover when you have an inquisitive mind, a thirst for knowledge, natural curiosity and the ability to problem solve creatively.
Speaking of …
Stay tuned, Wild Things.