When a conservationist discovers a new species of animal or re-discovers an elusive one, they are met with a tough choice. They can either take their findings and publish them for millions to read or choose to keep their information among other researchers. But why would they choose the latter? Sadly, animal lovers are not the only ones reading their articles.
Thousands of people use this information to stalk the specimen’s native location, steal them, and sell them in the illegal wildlife trade. The rarer the animal, the better. Unfortunately, this dwindles a small population to an even smaller one. And in 2018, it’s a dragon-esque lizard from Indonesia that many criminals are trying to get their fingers on.
Dinner And A Show
In May of 2008, a crew of researchers was exploring a jungle in Indonesian Borneo. They stopped to take a quick break for some much-needed nourishment. It was relatively silent while mouths were busy chewing until someone noticed a tiny, spiked lizard standing near them.
Then, they proceeded to do something that most of us who are not exploring a jungle in Indonesia would never do. They took turns holding and petting the lizard. The little guy, surprisingly, seemed hardly phased by their curiosity. He was gently returned to his original seat as the scientists continued about their day.
Later, after returning to their rooms, they decided to look through reptile identification books to pinpoint exactly what kind of lizard this could be. The researchers could hardly believe their luck!
The extremely rare earless monitor lizard matched their lunch break buddy. The Lanthanotus borneensis was extremely rare. It was quickly realized that they had stumbled upon a gem.
Quite The Conundrum
The earless monitor lizard had been seen less than 100 times since their discovery in 1877. A few team members compiled details of their experiences with the lizard. This information was then published in a scientific journal in 2012.
The scientists were very careful about providing as little detail as possible about the exact origin of their findings. However, even the smallest amount of information allowed for members of the illegal wildlife trade to pinpoint the location.
Immediately, there seemed to be an increase in online ads of earless monitor lizards. Researchers and conservationists alike started to feel concerned. The lizards were popping up for sale all over the world, from the Czech Republic to Japan to America.
The Double-Edged Sword
Since that time, these tiny “dragons” continue to come across the online sales pages with price tags that go for over $15,000 when the demand is at its highest. But the coverage of the lizards did not solely have negative consequences.
Researchers also brought to light the danger that the lizards are in. Responsible reptile enthusiasts will now be able to spot the illegal trade and sell and report those involved. This is the extremely tough determination that researchers, scientists, and journalists are faced with. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be outweighing the rate at which they are being cruelly collected.
Wombats are forest-dwelling marsupials native to Australia. If their cuddly cuteness wasn’t enough to interest you, their poop might. Unlike every other animal on Earth, wombats poop cubes. Biologists have been confounded for years by the creatures’ oddly-shaped scat. Now, after one of the more bizarre studies of our time, we finally have answers.
An Ecology Lesson
A quintessential part of Australian culture and wildlife, wombats are first depicted in aboriginal Dreamtime, painted on the walls of a cave. The oldest of these depictions date back around 4,000 years and describes the wombat as an animal of little worth. Mainland aboriginal stories claim that the wombat was created when a man was punished for being selfish. A Tasmanian origin story claims that wombats were favored and protected by one of the Great Spirits.
Historically, the wombats’ range was much more extensive than it is today. In the early 1900s, the tiny marsupials were declared to be vermin, and a hunting bounty was placed on them. Their meat was once used in a classic Australian stew, but since protections have been imposed on the remaining population, the delicacy has since waned in popularity. The most significant threat to their survival is human interference and encroachment on their habitat.
Unique Among Their Kind
Marsupials are set apart from other mammals most notably by their pouches. When a marsupial gives birth, the still-developing young remains inside the mother’s pouch, latched to its food source, until it is old enough to move about on its own. The pouch is situated on the front lower part of the mother’s torso, usually opening toward her head. In wombats, the pouch is inverted, opening downward.
Their preferred habitats are forestland, mountainous area, and heathland. They can adapt to different habitats as needed, which is a valuable survival trait, given their current battle for living space with humans. As burrowing creatures, their backward-facing pouch prevents the mother from knocking dirt in on her offspring while digging. Aside from this upside-down pouch, wombats differ from other marsupials, and other mammals in general, by their cube-shaped feces.
Although we still don’t know what the evolutionary purpose of wombats’ cube-shaped poop is, we at least now know how it happens. Scientists recently had the opportunity to dissect and analyze the intestines of a recently-dead wombat who had been euthanized after being hit by a car. Their study revealed that the lower portion of the large intestine was responsible for the molding of the bizarre droppings.
Differences in elasticity in the intestine walls are behind the uniquely geometric specimens. As the fecal matter passes through the lower intestine, its moisture is removed, and the masses begin to take on their signature shape as the walls of the organ stretch to accommodate the shaping of the scat. A single wombat produces between 80 and 100 pieces of poo every night, with each piece being almost an inch in size. Their droppings appear to serve as territory markers and a way to attract a mate.
In other bizarre, smelly news from the animal kingdom, tigers are uncontrollably attracted to men’s cologne, especially Obsession by Calvin Klein.