Deadly Lightning Strikes! What Does Mother Nature Have Against Santa?

Reindeer killed by Lightning in Norway

Hundreds of reindeer killed by lightning in Norway

Lightning Kills Reindeer

On August 26th, in a tremendous storm, mother nature threw a series of lightning bolts on the Hardangervidda mountain plateau in Norway. Disturbingly, the electrical bolts struck a herd of reindeer and killed 323 of them including 70 calves. Reindeer often huddle together in bad weather either for protection or for solace — a strategy that backfired this time. The strikes dropped the herd where they stood sadly producing a field of dead animals. Unfortunately, authorities did not say whether any other wildlife was affected

Field of Corpses

A representative of Norwegian Environment Agency, Kjartan Knutsen, informed the press that wild animals are commonly hit by lightning but what makes this event unusual is the large number of big animals that were killed at once. While the agency normally leaves dead wild animals lay and allows nature to take it’s course, the sheer mass of dead animals makes this questionable. They are still debating what to do with the carcasses.

I don’t know what the roads up to this area are like, but I’d suggest sending refrigerated trucks up there and giving as many carcasses as possible to zoos. Zoos spend a large portion of their budgets feeding carnivores. The agency could help animal parks and zoos greatly with such a donation. If the agency doesn’t remove many of the carcasses, scavengers including insects and bacteria will eventually consume them. It will be a scentsational experience… if you know what I mean!

So if Santa is late next year – we’ll all know why… (froak-joke!)

Froggie Factoids:

2 reindeer foraging

Reindeer aka caribou in happier times

Reindeer

  • Scientific Name of Reindeer: Rangifer tarandus
  • Status: Vulnerable due to recent 40% declines in population from about 4,800,000 to 2,890,410
  • Location: Circumpolar or surrounding the Arctic, Subarctic, tundra, boreal and mountains
  • Called Caribou in the Americas
  • Food strategy: herbivore
  • Lifespan: 14 years
mutiple forks of lightning

Multiple lightning strikes like the ones depicted here may have killed the reindeer herd

Lightning:

  • Lightning happens when charged particles in atoms get separated with positive ions going higher in the sky and negative ions closer to the ground. Eventually, the less-negative neutral charge on the ground attracts the negative ions producing a strike
  • A lightning strike releases 630 million ergs of energy
  • Lightning can flash within a cloud or from ground to earth
  • An average of 75 electrical discharges hit the earth per second worldwide
  • A bolt from the blue describes a lightning strike, comprised of positive ions, from the top of the cloud to the earth up to 20 miles away from the storm. These strikes carry more energy than normal

Sources: National Weather Service, SWO Fire Data, Blue Planet Biomes, IUCN Redlist, CBS News

Bureaucratic Wait Times Threaten Endangered Species

pictures of the long-eared bat and the parachute penstemon both threatened on the Endangered Species List

Is the long-eared bat cuter than the parachute penstemon?

Endangered Species List Wait Times

Researchers at the University of Missouri released a report detailing the unequal wait times to get at-risk species on the Endangered Species List. The wait-times for listing appear to be biased based on scientific divisions. The process, which congress intended to have a 2-year timeline, takes over 12 years to complete on average, but there’s a lot of variation in the range. Vertebrate animals such as mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians and birds can be listed in under 2 years – some as short as 6 months. Plants and invertebrates, on the other hand, can take much longer with some flowering plants taking almost 38 years to list!

“While the Service can account for species groups in its prioritization system, it’s not supposed to be mammals versus insects versus ferns but, rather, how unique is this species within all of the ecological system,” Puckett said. “However, our findings suggest some bias that skews the process toward vertebrates.”

The Effects of Listing Times

These long wait times can have catastrophic effects on the species survival. Some species go extinct before they get listed. Some swiftly-listed species recover and are delisted before other species get listed at all. Swift listing of a species as endangered affects successful species recovery and even later delisting.

Often, biologists lament the ‘cute’ factor when trying to save a species — IE it’s easier to get an eagle listed than a worm. Zoos, bastions of captive breeding, often focus on attractive animals that visitors enjoy watching. The Arabian oryx exemplifies this phenomena. This oryx went extinct in the wild, but zoos managed to breed sufficient quantities to release them back into their natural environment. The re-introduced oryx survived and bred – establishing several stable populations. So cuteness influences how much money, time and effort people put into saving a species. But according to the new review from UofM of the Endangered Species listing, cuteness seems less important than being perceived as a higher life-form.

Herd of Arabian oryx an Endangered Species

Zoo breeding programs saved the Arabian oryx.

Politics

Nothing is without political influence in America. A local natural resource affects the difficulty of listing a plant or animal on the Endangered Species List. Sometimes, lumber companies, mining companies and developers pressure Fish and Wildlife Services to delist a species early. The Fish and Wildlife Services must determine if delisting a particular plant or animal will lead to the recently recovered species from becoming endangered again.

It’s not difficult to see the prejudice of the Fish and Wildlife Service. On their website, they list the endangered species in the exact order that the authors from UofM cite. Low-wait-time species appear on the left moving category by category to longer-wait-time species to the right. Many factors affect whether a species category moves from Threatened to Endangered. Influential factors include whether their habitat is threatened, speed of population drop, long reproduction times, diseases, and man-caused pressure etc. – but is cuteness also a factor? Do you think the long-eared bat is cuter than the parachute penstemon and should that affect our conservation efforts?

Froggie Factoids:

  • Scientific name of the long-eared bat – Myotis septentrionalis
  • Scientific name of the parachute penstemon – Penstemon debilis
  • Scientific name of the Arabian oryx – Oryx leucoryx
  • There are still six times more Arabian oryx in zoos (6000-7000) than in the wild (1000+)
  • Long-eared bats are insectivores eating flying insects such as moths, flies, leafhoppers, caddisflies, and beetles.

Read More on Endangered Species legislation

Sources: Fish and Wildlife Services, University of Missouri, Scientific American

Photo Sources: Discover Life ,Colorado Canyon Wilderness, Biosphere Expeditions,

120 Million Acres of Polar Bear Habitat Protected!

Recently there was great news for the polar bear and other arctic species! Previously, the areas were protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department but a lower court had put that at risk. According to BiologicalDiversity.Org

A federal appeals court today upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s designation of more than 120 million acres as critical habitat in Arctic Alaska for imperiled polar bears. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling reverses a 2013 lower court decision that shot down the habitat designation.Polar bears Photo courtesy USFWS. Today’s decision offers polar bears the full protection of critical habit they truly need, according to three environmental groups (the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Greenpeace) that intervened in the case to defend the habitat designation against challenges from oil companies and the state of Alaska.

 

Polar bear swimming under the water

Polar Bears can swim underwater for short periods of time.

Climate Change Impact

Polar bears are often considered the poster child for how climate change is affecting vulnerable species. Their natural habitat consists of ice flows, ocean and coastal edges. As temperatures increase, polar ice cover shrinks reducing the polar bear’s habitat. There are 25 thousand individuals left in 19 groups distributed around the arctic circle. When the female is four or five years old, she usually has two cubs and raises them without the help of the male. The cubs stay with the mother for two and a half years being taught how to hunt and getting heavy enough to break through the ice by themselves before venturing out on their own.

Froggie Factoids:

  • Scientific Name: Ursus maritimus
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Population: 20,000-25,000
  • Lifespan: 20 – 25 years
  • Size: M 8-9 feet long, 1300 lbs F 6-7 feet long, 600 lbs
  • Food Strategy: Mandatory Carnivore – Seals

Polar Bear Factoid: Spends so much time at sea that it’s considered a marine mammal.

Cute Factor: 10

Source: Federal Appeals Court Reinstates 120 Million Acres of Critical Habitat for Polar Bears

Image Source: R.I.T.