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Nicotine is one of nature's bug zappers. Seriously. Lots of plants have evolved to produce bug-repelling chemicals as part of their defense mechanisms and tobacco happens to be one of those plants.
So when city-dwelling birds use the fluffy, nicotine-soaked material from discarded cigarette butts to build their nests it might not be the unmitigated ecological disaster that most of us imagine when we hear that "birds are building nests out of discarded cigarette butts". Researchers at Mexico’s Autonomous University of Tlaxcala think the nicotine in the cigarettes might help keep chicks healthy — essentially serving as an urban substitute for the parasite-repelling plants the birds would have used in the wild.
At Culturing Science, Hannah Waters explains the idea...
But birds are actually quite fond of the chemicals found in some smelly plants, otherwise known as aromatics, from which “essential oils” are derived. Aromatic plants produce these chemicals to defend themselves against insects and other animals that would take them for food—but birds have their own use for them. Some nest-building species, including starlings and blue tits, regularly replenish their nests with fresh aromatics, and scientists hypothesize that the birds use these chemicals as parenting tools.
How would plant-derived chemicals help birds raise their chicks? It’s possible that the chemicals boost the immune systems or development of the chicks so that they survive better after they leave the nest; this is known as the “drug hypothesis.” Alternatively, the “nest protection” hypothesis suggests that the plant chemicals act as insecticides, driving parasites and other harmful insects from the nest.
Nicotine is an insecticide, although we don’t often think of it that way. Tobacco plants generate nicotine because it defends against herbivorous beetles that would otherwise devour the plants–which means a smoker’s buzz is caused by a plant’s chemical defense mechanism. Some remnants of that insecticide remains in cigarette butts left in city streets, which are then transported into bird nests.
A house sparrow stands near a cigarette butt in Mexico City. Photo Credit: © Víctor Argaez
A monkey sculpture is pictured on a pick-up truck before it is placed in an exhibition at Hiriya recycling park, built on the site of a former garbage dump near Tel Aviv. The Coca-Cola Recycled Safari featuring animals made of recycled Coca Cola packages will be open to the public during the Passover holiday.
More images of other critter creations from the recycling project, below. (REUTERS/Nir Elia)
Mr. "Rishi" Sowa lives on an floating island. That he made. From empty plastic bottles and a few mangrove plants. In Mexico.
From the blog:
From 1998 to 2005, Rishi Sowa hand-built and lived on the first Spiral Island, which floated on over 300,000 recycled bottles! It was destroyed by Hurricane Emily in 2005. Rishi has now built an even better island at Isla Mujeres, Mexico, in a lagoon which offers shelter from bad weather! Rishi will continue to make improvements to the Island, so it will always be a eco-work-of-art in progress!
There's an online community of "Spiral Islanders" here.
(via BB Submitterator, thanks EeyoreX)
Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.I do a "useless lectures" series in Brooklyn, Adult Education, and one of my favorite talks last year was by the delightfully peculiar artist Gertrude Berg. Here are a couple of short films of her doing her thing: In "Waste Carrier," she stores the trash that she uses during the day in a specially designed dress that she wears all over town. In "Pick Up Artist," well, you just have to watch...