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Great News! This Year’s Monarch Butterfly Migration Shows A Rebounding Population

The beloved monarch butterfly is arriving in greater numbers than ever expected.

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Photo Credit: Truth Theory

Elias Marat, The Mind Unleashed

Every fall the monarch butterfly population makes its epic migratory journey across the United States, covering trees like leaves as they make their way to the forests of the Mexican state of Michoacán and the eucalyptus- and pine-rich Californian Central Coast.

The majestic black-and-gold pollinator is unique because it’s one of the only butterfly species that travels as far as 3,000 miles, traveling in vast droves from October to mid-November in a dazzling display that fill skies with the iconic colours, blanketing landscapes as they overwinter and rest before continuing on.

But over the past two decades, the iconic North American monarch has faced sharp population declines. In 1997, an estimated 682 million monarchs travelled through the air, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. But by 2014, the number fell to a staggering 25 million before bouncing back to 150 million in 2016. However, according to a survey released in January by conservation group the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the Monarch butterfly “declined to dangerously low levels”—roughly 80% —in central Mexico, and 99% along California’s coast.

However, this year there have been several reports that the beloved butterfly may actually be making a strong comeback and is arriving in greater numbers than ever expected, according to Better Home and Gardens.

Observers along their eastern migration route in Colorado saw massive amounts of the creatures as they headed south for winter, with video footage captured in October by Colorado Parks & Wildlife depicting dramatic numbers of butterflies resting on trees and bushes at a park near the town of Lamar.

On October 16, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center reported that monarchs had landed in Austin, Texas in numbers far larger than usual, as they fed on the milkweed which grows in abundance throughout Central Texas and fuels their journeys.

The anecdotal evidence from conservationists could also be supported by hard data collected in January of this year by the Center for Biological Diversity, which found that the population resting for winter in Mexico had leaped by 144% since the last survey was made in 2018. The population count had even surpassed previous years since 2006, and this year’s weather could be a boon for the monarchs’ egg and larvae survival rate.

Yet while this good news should be welcomed, experts are urging caution. Matthew Shepard, the communications and outreach director at the Xerces Center, noted that researchers can only take accurate population counts while they are clustered at their overwintering sites in Mexico and California.

Shepard explained:

“At this point in the year, we won’t know how monarchs are doing in either the eastern states or the west.

While monarchs are spread across the landscape, it isn’t possible to get an overall count, only a sense of how things are based on the number passing through a few scattered locations.”

In general, the species is still in danger of extinction with previous estimates saying that the monarch faces a 50-75% risk of extinction within 20 years and 65-85% risk of extinction within 50 years should remain on our minds.

Yet we should also derive hope from the news that monarch populations are modestly rebounding, and a good portion of the credit is due to conservation groups like Xerces Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, Monarch Watch, the Monarch Joint Venture and others who have spared no effort to prevent the collapse of the monarch population across North America.

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Animal World

Millions Of Dead Birds Fall From The Sky Across New Mexico And The Southwest

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Photo Credit: Unilad

Paul SeaburnGuest Writer

It is rarely, if ever, a good thing when something falls from the sky that isn’t precipitation-related. It’s worse when those things are living or sick – tragic and frightening when they’re already dead. The recent news out of New Mexico of dead birds falling from the sky across the state, and now across the entire Southwest, goes beyond tragic and frightening simply because of the sheer numbers.

“It’s just terrible. The number is in the six figures. Just by looking at the scope of what we’re seeing, we know this is a very large event, hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions of dead birds, and we’re looking at the higher end of that.”

Martha Desmond, a professor at the University of New Mexico in the fish, wildlife and conservation ecology department with expertise in ornithology, told CNN she was contacted in mid-August 2020 when a large number of dead birds were discovered at the US Army White Sands Missile Range and White Sands National Monument. Dead birds at White Sands immediately raises suspicions of radiation poisoning (it was a primary location for the Manhattan Project) or military testing. However, before that could be confirmed, more dead birds appeared in Doña Ana County, Jemez Pueblo, Roswell, Socorro and other areas of New Mexico. (Sad photos here.)

We have been collecting dead birds (with appropriate permits) off the streets, on campus, at local golf courses, literally EVERYWHERE. (3/9) 

We have noticed that the majority of species collected are insectivores and long-distance migrants, such as swallows, wood-pewees, empidonax flycatchers, and warblers. (4/9) 

Another interesting note is that resident species, such as Curve-billed Thrashers, White-winged Doves, and Great-tailed Grackles do not seem to be impacted at all. (6/9)

Allison Salas, a graduate student at New Mexico State, joined Desmond in collecting and cataloguing the dead birds, which by the beginning of September were also being reported Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Mexico. She tweeted alerts on the dead birds, noting that they were all migrating insectivore species, not local species. Before you suggest smoke inhalation from the West Coast fires, Salas has already concluded that the fires may be the cause, but not necessarily the smoke.

“We have very little data, but suspect that the west coast fires, in combination with the local cold front we experienced last week, has altered the migration patterns of many migrants. On top of that, there is little food and water available here in the Chihuahuan Desert. (7/9)”

Desmond told CNN that the birds appear to have migrated early, before they had enough fat reserves built up. Weak and finding cold weather and a lack of insects on their stops in New Mexico to feed, they probably starved or died because they were too weak to keep flying – many of the bodies were extremely thin. However, the deaths started before the fires, so Desmond suspects there may be other causes that are not readily apparent. Not surprisingly, she thinks those causes will also be related to climate change. The study now has a name – the Southwest Avian Mortality Project – and, as of this writing, birds are still dying and being sent to the school.

Is there any good news? Anything?

That’s the sound of no birds chirping.

Recommended Articles by Paul Seaburn
About the Author

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as “The Tonight Show”, “Politically Incorrect” and an award-winning children’s program. He’s been published in “The New York Times” and “Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humour. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humour to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn’t always have to be serious.

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Animal World

Endangered Orcas Have Begun Surrounding And Attacking Boats This Sümter

Numerous cases of Orcas ramming boats have been reported, and some experts suggest that the orcas could be fighting back against perceived threats.

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Endangered Orcas Have Begun Surrounding And Attacking Boats This Sümter
Photo Credit: Getty

(TMU) – Numerous cases of Orcas ramming boats in the Gibraltar Strait near Spain and Portugal have been reported this summer, and some experts suggest that the orcas could be fighting back against perceived threats posed by fishing boats and other vessels. This type of behavior is very unusual for the species, which is typically known to be friendly and playful.

On July 29th, biology graduate Victoria Morris was on a sailboat off the coast of Spain when her crew was surrounded by a pod of about nine orcas. At first, the crew was interested to see such a strange natural phenomenon, but then the mood suddenly changed. The orcas began to aggressively ram into the boat in what seemed to be a coordinated attack.

In the deep: a pod of highly intelligent killer whales, or orcas. Constant harassment by boats affects their ability to hunt, and has a negative impact on their behaviour. Photograph: Rand McMeins/Getty Images

“They just started surrounding us in a circle, coming for the rudder and the keel. They really just were going for us, and there was definitely no playing,” Morris said during a CBC interview.

The orcas kept up their assault for about an hour until they caused some serious damage to the boat. According to the Guardian, this incident is just one of four similar cases that took place this summer.

Morris believes that the orcas were communicating to coordinate their attack, or in her words, they “orca-strated” it. She says that she heard whistling sounds during the attack, which she believed to be the orcas communicating.

“It was like a whistle, like a very, very loud whistle, and there was lots of them, maybe about four or five of them were doing it at the same time. And it was just so loud,” she said. “It was actually quite amazing to hear,” Morris explained.

She said that when her crew called for help, “it was almost like they didn’t believe us at first.”

“They asked us to repeat a quite a few times. Like, ‘Can you confirm that you are actually under attack by orcas?” she said.

The crew was eventually rescued and towed into the nearby town Barbate, where shocked onlookers observed a boat covered in bite marks.

Marine biologist Jörn Selling has suggested that possibly the orcas became comfortable with the quieter waters during the pandemic restrictions, and are now disturbed by the increase in traffic now that businesses are slowly going back to normal.

Morris believes the orcas seemed to be fighting back against something, and she hopes that these encounters could raise some awareness about what this species is facing.

“They do have the capacity to be angry and they’re very, very intelligent creatures and so it is very possible. But if that is true, then, you know, something needs to be done. I think as bad as it is that all these attacks have been happening, especially to us, but I think in a way it’s also a good thing because it’s turned the spotlight on the fact that there is a problem. Something has changed that’s causing them to do this,” Morris said.

The Gibraltar orcas are endangered, and it is estimated that there are fewer than 50 of them remaining in the wild.

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Animal World

World’s Rarest Great Ape, Discovered 3 Years Ago, Is Fast Being Wiped Out By British Firm’s Goldmine

It is feared that the rarest great ape species on the planet could soon be made extinct by transnational mining operations.

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World’s rarest great ape, discovered 3 years ago, is fast being wiped out by British firm’s goldmine
Photo Credit: TMU

(TMU) When scientists discovered the Tapanuli Orangutan in 2017, they were ecstatic. After all, these rare primates were the first great ape species to be discovered in almost a century. But now, with only about 800 of the newly-identified animals remaining, it is feared that the rarest great ape species on the planet could soon be made extinct by transnational mining operations.

The Tapanuli orangutan can be found only in a single high-elevation forest in the Batang Toru Ecosystem, which lies in North Sumatra, Indonesia. The area is rich in biodiversity, with other highly endangered species like the Pangolin and Sumatran tiger calling it home.

However, the lush rainforest of Batang Toru is also the site of a major gold-mining project by Jardine Matheson, an Anglo multinational conglomerate whose dealings in Asia date back nearly 200 years, when it trafficked opium to China from colonial India to the Pearl River Delta and directly helped deliver Hong Kong to the British imperialists.

The Hong Kong-based transnational corporation now has extensive holdings across Southeast Asia and the world, including automobile companies, dairy farms, and ownership of the Mandarin Oriental hotel chain.

But ever since 2018, when Jardine Matheson bought the Martabe goldmine on Sumatra Island, the company has been expanding its operations deeper and deeper into the Tapanuli orangutans’ environment. This has entailed the destruction of the irreplaceable Tapanuli orangutan forest habitat with projects to expand mining infrastructure including the huge massive Batang Toru hydroelectric dam project, which is meant to power the smelters of the Martabe mine.

Scientists are now warning that the damage is so great that if only eight of the Tapanuli orangutans are killed each year, the genetic diversity of the isolated great ape species would decline to the point of no return over the next decade.

Conservationist group Mighty Earth has been organizing and advocating for an end to the destruction of the Tapanuli orangutan habitat by the Martabe gold-mining project and is demanding that Jardine Matheson halt the deliberate damage being done to the forest ecosystem.

“I think this is an issue of corporate responsibility,” campaign director Amanta Hurotwitz told The Telegraph. “You have a mine in the habitat of the most endangered species of great ape… If you are going to profit off this species you have a responsibility to take action to protect the species.

However, spokespeople for the transnational conglomerate strongly reject the claims, explaining that they strictly abide by the guidelines of local authorities, including any environmental regulations that are in place.

“The mine has not encroached on areas categorized as protected forest and has been clear on its commitment to protecting biodiversity,” a spokesperson said.

However, conservationists fear that the Tapanuli orangutan, whose unique genetic make-up and behavior delighted scientists and primatologists, could be forever lost due to the devastating carelessness and corruption that comes with corporate greed – especially in the case of such large-scale mining operations.

Hurotwitz urged the company to rethink its practices, noting that it is crucial that Jardine Matheson resolves to “work with scientists to mitigate the damage that has been done.”

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Environment

Majestic And Haunting Red Jellyfish Lightning Over Texas Captured In Brilliant Photos

These haunting spurts of lightning have been dubbed “sprites.”

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Majestic And Haunting Red Jellyfish Lightning Over Texas Captured In Brilliant Photos
Photo Credit: Stephen Hummel

Scientists have been documenting rare phenomenon in recent years: streaks of red lightning that resemble the tentacles of a glowing crimson jellyfish hanging high from the sky.

These haunting spurts of lightning have been dubbed “sprites,” and are the product of super-fast electrical bursts that occur high up in the atmosphere some 37 to 50 miles in the sky, reaching toward space, according to the European Space Agency.

While sprites have been sighted over every continent besides Antarctica since their discovery in 1989, the phenomenon still isn’t very well known – they last mere tenths of a second, and generally are hidden from those of us on the ground by heavy storm clouds.

Stephen Hummel, an expert on dark skies at the Austin McDonald Observatory, managed to capture a perfect photo of these sprites on July 2 from his vantage point on a ridge on Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.

Hummel snapped the photo while he was recording dozens of hours of footage throughout the year. On that July night, he had already recorded four and a half hours of footage before capturing the sprite – and he had also recorded some 70 hours of footage and stills including 70 sprites this year, he told Business Insider.

“Sprites usually appear to the eye as very brief, dim, grey structures. You need to be looking for them to spot them, and oftentimes I am not certain I actually saw one until I check the camera footage to confirm,” Hummel said.

Sprites often resemble alien like jellyfish-style creatures dangling from the ionosphere, or the layer that lies just above the dense lower atmosphere. In other cases, they look like vertical red pillars with thin, curling tendrils – and these are called carrot curls due to their resemblance to the root vegetable.

Sprites are difficult to see from the ground during massive thunderstorms because of the clouds, but also because they happen so far from the Earth’s surface – however, they are far easier to observe from the International Space Station.

Sprites were given their magical name by late University of Alaska physics professor Davis Sentman, who devised the name for this weather phenomenon due to it being “well suited to describe their appearance” and fleeting, fairy-like nature.

In some cases, the jellyfish sprites can be absolutely massive, with Hummel’s recent photograph depicting ones that tower “probably around 30 miles long and 30 miles tall,” he said. In some cases, the massive glowing tentacles are seen upwards of 300 miles away.

However, no all thunderstorms produce sprites – instead, they occur when lightning strikes the ground, releasing positive electrical energy that requires balancing by an equal and oppositely charged electrical discharge into the sky. The sprites also occur much higher into the sky than regular lightning, which strikes in between electrically charged air, clouds, and our planet’s surface.

“The more powerful the storm and the more lightning it produces, the more likely it is to produce a sprite,” Hummel noted.

The red glow of the sprite is a result of nitrogen gas high in the atmosphere getting excited by the bursts of electricity resulting from lightning strikes.

As a sprite sparks, it turns red because of nitrogen floating high in Earth’s atmosphere. The gas gets excited by the burst of electricity and emits a red glow.

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