The Monarch butterfly is headed to rapid extinction in the eastern US, reports Scott K. Johnson, because its complex ecosystem continues to collapse.
…humans are responsible. The life cycle of the monarch is tightly linked with the milkweed plant. Females lay almost all of their eggs on these plants, and the larvae happily munch on them when they hatch. Milkweed tends to pop up in areas where the soil has been disturbed, like farm fields.
As with other weeds, farmers have long tried to keep milkweed from growing amidst (and competing with) their crops. But the introduction of genetically modified corn and soybeans that could survive being sprayed by the herbicide glyphosate (better known by its original trade name “Roundup”) suddenly gave farmers a more effective way to clear plants like milkweed.
Got a yard? It's easy to plant milkweed: meet Sedgewick the Monarch Caterpillar—and find out what you can do to save his species Read the rest
Animator Jilli Rose created this lovely animated short about a group of stick insects stranded for 80 years near Lord Howe Island, on a sea stack with only one shrub for protection. It also tells the story of the scientists who discovered them and raced to save them from extinction. Read the rest
By this point in your lives, most of you are by no doubt aware of the massive slaughter of buffalo that happened in the United States in the late 19th century. Across the plains, thousands of buffalo were killed every week during a brief period where the hides of these animals could fetch upwards of $10 a pop. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator only goes back to 1913, so it's hard for me to say what that's worth today. But we know from the context that even when the value of buffalo hides dropped to $1 each, the business of killing and skinning buffalo was still considered a damned fine living.)
You might think that the business ended there, with dead, skinned buffalo left to rot on the prairie. And you're sort of right. But, in a story at Bloomberg News, Tim Heffernan explains that, a few years later, those dead buffalo created another boom and bust industry—the bone collection business.
Read the rest
Animal bones were useful things in the 19th century. Dried and charred, they produced a substance called bone black. When coarsely crushed, it could filter impurities out of sugar-cane juice, leaving a clear liquid that evaporated to produce pure white sugar -- a lucrative industry. Bone black also made a useful pigment for paints, dyes and cosmetics, and acted as a dry lubricant for iron and steel forgings.
... And so the homesteaders gathered the buffalo bones. It was easy work: Children could do it. Carted to town, a ton of bones fetched a few dollars.