Plastic, previously lauded for its longevity, has become a serious threat to the planet. From our kitchens to roadsides, hanging with the branches of the trees to floating in our water channels, from deep oceanic trenches to far north at the highest of the peaks--it is found everywhere! Our life is incomplete without single-use plastics like plastic bags, bottles, coffee cups, straws, grocery and trash bags, food packaging and storage containers, utensils and cutlery, just to name a few.
All of these single-use plastics are responsible for a major chunk (about 40%) of plastic pollution, particularly in the marine environment.
Being a fossil product, it takes up to 1,000 years to naturally degrade, meaning that every bit of plastic ever produced still exists, either in landfills or oceans. But this hasn’t affected its production, which has been soaring since the 1950s and became popular in the 1970s, then replaced paper by the end of the 1980s. According to a 2017 study, about 18.2 trillion pounds of plastic has been produced so far, and the number is bound to double by 2050.
There are millions and millions (~8.6 million) species of plants and animals. They have two kinds of names. The local names and the scientific names. Their local names might cause certain difficulties. For example, starfish is called so because it looks like a star. But is it a fish? A fish by definition is a limbless cold-blooded vertebrate animal with gills and fins living wholly in water.
Similarly, an ornithologist from the 'land down under' is talking to his fellow scientists from Europe, and he wants to talk about magpies. Easy right? But which magpie is he talking about? The Australian or Eurasian?
And this is how confusion is generated. Imagine the confusion when millions and millions of people with different languages talk about the same species (with different common names) and vice versa. Also, the local name provides no precise information as to which group the organism belongs to. This is where scientific names are very helpful.
The use of scientific names, Greek or Latin, for plants and animals helps reduce this confusion. And also, the organisms are divided into many categories, which help them be classified.
California is home to the Californian tiger salamander, which has a scientific name Ambystoma californiense. It is an amphibian that has large round snouts and has small eyes with black iris. They are called tigers because of the yellow bars on their skin.
The males of species can be distinguished from the females by the presence of swollen cloacae during the mating season. An adult male of the species can be up to 8 inches, and females are smaller in size, and can be about 7 inches. They eat insects and larvae of other species.
Long before the landfill and environmental regulations, anything and everything was simply dumped directly or buried under the ground at an abandoned site, typically known as dumpsites. A landfill serves the same function as a dumping site, except that the former is well-engineered and regulated by the government.
According to the U.S. EPA, 4.4 pounds of trash are produced per capita per day in the U.S., amounting to over 250 million tonnes of garbage per year. We’re generating trash more than we can deal with sustainably. Only a tiny fraction of this trash is recycled, rest (or a part of it) ends in incinerators, landfills, or oceans-where it’d be sitting centuries from now. Only 9% of the plastic ever produced is recycled!
Not many species have survived through all the catastrophic Mass Extinctions, but the horseshoe crab did! It has outlived dinosaurs; it has been around for more than 450 Million Years, which is the reason why it is dubbed as The Living Fossil.
The horseshoe crab is actually not a crab and also not a crustacean. It is an arthropod that lives in shallow water and muddy pockets. Of its four living species, three are found in Asia and only Limulus polyphemus is found on the Atlantic coast of North America.
Why is Limulus Amebocyte Lysate important to humans?
The horseshoe crab was used as bait by fishermen and as a fertilizer by farmers. But in recent years, this crab has been found to be the source of an invaluable chemical found in its blood. It is called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate also known as LAL. Limulus comes from the genus name Limulus polyphemus, Amebocyte is cells in the crab’s blood, and the lysate is the extract once Amebocyte has been “degraded.”
The ocean plays an integral role in sustaining our environment and climate, so do sharks and every other creature that lives below the surface. Life on earth depends on the delicate balance of this vast life support system. Sharks have gained an identity of the vengeful, bloodthirsty monsters of the deep, as portrayed by award-winning movies like Jaws. Ever since the movie, the box office has seen an onslaught of shark movies. The balance between the shark vs. human attacks has been shockingly disturbed by shark culling.
Every month, several alien species are introduced in new ecosystems where they threaten biodiversity. Non-native, exotic species, be it a giant Hippopotamus or an amphibian Cane Toad, can wreak havoc on the environment, ecology, and economy in their new homes.
Alien species may alter habitats, predate on or compete with native fauna or be important vectors of diseases and parasites. The hardy, fast-growing creatures with few or no natural predators in the new home bully the native flora and fauna to the point of extinction. Several carnivore species like the American mink, raccoon, and raccoon dog were brought to Europe for their valuable fur or to become pets in the black market.
Though the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) resembles North American raccoons, it is the closest relative of the Canidae family’s true foxes. The stumpy grayish-black raccoon dog, indigenous to East Asia, has established itself in sub-tropical regions of Northern and Eastern Europe.
When we think about the cacophony of noise in the environment, we rarely consider military noise pollution and often overlook its toll on humans and animals. Throughout the military service, noisy equipment and processes expose all military personnel and servicemen to hazardous noise levels that pose the risk of ear damage or permanent hearing loss. The constant noises not only wreak havoc on our auditory systems, but it also affects wildlife in their natural environment, from disrupting their communication and hunting abilities to mating.
Hibernation is a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom and occurs in over 200 species. Species that can hibernate and survive at low temperatures with only food (fat) reserves stored in their body have been fascinating scientists for years. Most species, like the female black bear, can even give birth and lactate while they're in torpor, which a form of hibernation.
Then, there is the Arctic ground squirrel (Urocitellus parryii) that has intrigued many scientists for its supercooling type of hibernation. Native to the icy tundra where temperatures dip below zero, the sun barely breaks the horizon, and trees struggle to take root in the icy soil, the arctic squirrel retreats into one meter-deep burrows.
The five major Mass Extinctions around 65 million years ago that wiped over three-quarters of the planet’s species is old news now, and we made peace with the fact that “nothing lasts forever.” Species are bound to go extinct, as proposed by Charles Darwin. It is part of the evolutionary life cycle to adapt to diverse ecological niches on the Earth. The extinction of one or more species favors the evolution of other species.
What is alarming is that we are dealing with another Mass Extinction for which we are responsible. Scientists are calling it the Anthropocene Extinction, because it is caused by anthropogenic factors.