ChrisRonzoni, Editorials Editor
The Wonderful World of Animals
Elephants are some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet. With cognitive capabilities rivaling that of other highly intelligent animals, such as dolphins and apes, elephants are incredibly fascinating. They are extremely social and altruistic, meaning that they are greatly concerned with the well-being of others. Nothing makes this more evident than the almost human-like grief and sorrow they display at the death of a herd member — going so far as to cover the deceased with branches, leaves and dirt while remaining by their side for several days. This empathetic behavior even extends beyond their own species as there are countless documented incidents of elephants attempting to aid wounded people or even mourning deceased humans as one of their own.
However, this respectful and intelligent behavior may soon be reduced to a memory. For many decades now, illegal poaching and extensive habitat loss has created an increasingly turbulent environment for all elephant society. So much so that reports of unprovoked and lethal elephant attacks are now commonplace and rapidly increasing all over Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Biologists and other experts believe this abnormal level of aggression to be an unforeseen side-effect caused by humanity’s continued mistreatment of the species. Much like humans, young elephants need guidance and time to learn from their elders. Calves need to learn how to behave, how to communicate, what to eat and what not to eat, what’s dangerous and what’s safe. It should go without saying, but children need their parents. However, due to illegal poaching, a lot of calves become orphans at an early age and, thus, their natural development is interrupted. Not only that but, because of their intelligence and strong familial bonds, seeing their loved ones being brutally massacred and mutilated right in front of their eyes is about as traumatic as it would be for a human. These events can significantly impair normal brain development and cause hyper-aggression and unpredictable behavior similar to that of people suffering from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Not only is humanity slowly driving the species towards extinction, but due to our ruthless means of doing so, we may also be responsible for their mental, social and intellectual decline in the process.
Let’s forget about humanity’s failures for a second; it’s just too depressing. Let’s focus on one of nature’s failures like that of the platypus, an animal that would honestly make a lot more sense if it were inspired by “Pulp Fiction” rather than the other way around. The platypus is one of the only five remaining species of monotremes. Monotremes are mammals that lay eggs, as opposed to giving live-birth. The Platypus was discovered by European explorers in 1798, and a specimen was later examined by zoologist George Shaw. Its strange features made Shaw question whether or not this was a hoax. Again, how can one not. It looks like a reversed beaver. He writes in a scientific journal from 1799 that “Of all the Mammalia yet known it seems the most extraordinary in its conformation; exhibiting the perfect resemblance of the beak of a Duck engrafted on the head of a quadruped.” He also writes, “…it naturally excites the idea of some deceptive preparation by artificial means.” In more modern terms, was this just another social experiment by some 18th century YouTube prankster or could the specimen truly be that of a real creature? Evidence for its existence and its supposed egg-laying capabilities remained highly debated topics for almost a century. Of course, we now know this Scrooge-McDuck-looking thing of an animal is more real than it first seemed.
Owls are one of the many creatures of the night that few get to truly behold. What is even more rare of a sight would be a fully functional parliament. As strange as it may seem, a parliament is a collective noun for a group of owls. Besides having a permanent “How the hell did I get here?” facial expression, owls also have a knack for necks. All 200+ owl species can rotate their necks and heads up to 270 degrees, which makes humans and owls the only two species capable of doing this. The only difference is that when humans do it, we die. Owls are able to survive such extreme neck twisting as they have 14 vertebrae while many other vertebrates have a lot fewer. For example, we humans only have a laughable seven. Like many other nocturnal species, owls do not have eyeballs; rather, they have eye-tubes. This peculiar shape allows for exceptional night vision. However, as the eyes are non-spherical they are completely fixed in their sockets which is why owls need such flexible necks.
If you live to be 90 years old you will be older than people who have yet to reach or surpass that age; you will also have spent 32 of those years asleep. Instead of dreaming about your dreams, that’s 32 years you could’ve spent awake going out to achieve those dreams. But if you’re a dolphin or a duck, sleep isn’t half as wasteful. A few select aquatic and avian species have developed what’s known as unihemispheric sleep, which is the ability to sleep with one half of the brain while the other half remains awake. This ability can be quite beneficial for different reasons. In the case of birds capable of unihemispheric sleep, such as chickens and ducks, they literally sleep with one eye open. This allows them to constantly keep an eye out for potential predators. On the other hand, various aquatic animals, such as dolphins, Aquaman and whales use this ability to surface for air even when they are half-asleep. It’s been widely scientifically unproven that if humans had this ability, we would spend this extra time speculating over what we would do if we had more time.
On the softer side of things, male humpback whales can spend more than 24 hours continuously repeating the same 10-20 minute song. So, what you hear when swimming with whales may be one of the hottest mixtapes to hit the blue market. Either that or Chewbacca is in dire need for help. The purpose behind these extensive musical performances largely remains a mystery to scientists. Researchers believe it could be to attract females, to challenge other males or a form of echolocation. What we do know is that these songs often spread amongst humpback whale society much the same way the latest pop-music can spread across the globe in our human society. It begins with a localized population of whales producing a unique string of melodies and after roughly two years’ time, the song has moved between numerous whale populations across the pacific. And the songs are often heavily remixed along the way. Each year, a new viral hit takes form and the underwater music industry continues to thrive.
Overall, our world’s animals are truly one of a kind. Why we decide to drive them to extinction through pollution, poaching or simply over-hunting is beyond the ken of many scientists and researchers. We continue to learn new things every day about our world’s animals; one can only hope they will all still be around for our future generations.