WTF Fun Fact 13336 – Oceans with More Plastic Than Fish

Imagine a world where the oceans have more plastic in them than fish (by weight). Well, if you’re still around in 15 years, you might not have to imagine it.

Do our oceans have more plastic than fish?

According to the WWF (cited below):

“Whilst plastic has revolutionized our way of life since it was invented in the 1950s, the problem is that most of the plastic ever made still exists. The amount of plastic in the ocean is expected to double in the next 15 years, and by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the sea (by weight).

There are giant plastic islands floating on the ocean surface, and beaches around the world are increasingly littered with plastic rubbish even in the Arctic. It may come as a shock to know that most of the plastic in the ocean is out of sight, either underwater or on the ocean floor….90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs and half of marine turtles have eaten plastic. Sea life chokes on plastic rubbish or gets tangled in it, often causing a painful slow death. And plastic pollution is contributing to the breakdown of coral reefs.”

Wow, that’s depressing.

What’s the problem with plastics?

The problem with plastic is that it doesn’t biodegrade like other materials. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics, which stick around for centuries. Microplastics enter the food chain and accumulate in the bodies of land animals and marine life. This obviously effects humans eventually too.

Our plastics end up affecting over 700 species of marine animals, including sea turtles, dolphins, and whales. These animals can become entangled in plastic debris or mistake plastic for food, leading to starvation or blockages in their digestive systems.

Plastic disrupts the entire ecosystem. For example, plastic debris can alter the flow of water, which can affect the movement and distribution of plankton, the base of the marine food chain. This can have ripple effects throughout the ecosystem, ultimately impacting human populations that rely on the ocean for food and income.

How did we get to this point?

Plastic is cheap and convenient and people don’t like to be inconvenienced or have their minds changed. The use of plastic has become ubiquitous and we show no signs of giving it up (soggy paper straws aren’t going to solve the whole problem).

Another problem is that we don’t properly dispose of or recycle plastic. Researchers estimate that we’ve only recycled around 9% of all plastic ever produced, and we send the majority to landfills. So now it’s accumulating.

Addressing industries will be a big step. For example, the clothing manufacturing, carpet, and soft drink industries use huge amounts of plastic. Of course we can reduce our use of single-use plastics, but curtailing the use of plastics in manufacturing is going to have a much bigger effect than banishing your plastic baggies. You can help by supporting policies and regulations that promote sustainable practices and reduce plastic waste.

Another important step is to properly dispose of plastic waste can prevent it from entering the environment and ultimately ending up in our oceans. That’s another job primarily for industries, but we can do our part as individuals as well.

Want to do something immediately to support conservation efforts to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean? You can participate in beach cleanup if you live nearby a body of water. Otherwise, an email or phone call to the politicians you vote for is a good start.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Will there be more plastic than fish in the sea?” — WWF

WTF Fun Fact 13149 – Spiders Recycle Their Webs

Not all spider webs are destroyed with a broom. In fact, spiders can recycle their webs by eating them!

How and why do spiders recycle their webs?

Some spider webs are built to last years while others only last a day or so. Of course, while those beautifully spun webs in the corner of your attic may have been built as a long-term home for the spider, in that case, their duration is influenced by how long humans allow them to stick around.

But for some neglected spider webs, they can be so enduring that a new generation of spiders might come to reside there.

More fragile webs may only last a day because spiders build them simply to catch food. Rain and pollen may affect their stickiness. In these cases, spiders will pack up a web for the day and build again the next. When this happens, spiders often eat their webs to recycle the amino acids that made up the silk protein used in web construction.

It’s an impressive feat since webs can consist of 65 feet of silk!

Not all spiders ingest their silk though. And some use it to wrap their eggs sacs. But considering how much energy it takes to weave a web, it’s not all that surprising that spiders recycle webs by eating them in some cases.

Spider web building

Spider web silk is made out of protein chains. And some of it is as strong as kevlar (though obviously it’s not as tightly woven, so we hardly notice when batting them away). In fact, scientists are studying it in the hopes of making future body armor!

Spiders typically start building webs by pulling silk from a gland in their fourth leg. The fourth leg on the opposite side contains even more silk glands. Then, in order to begin, the spider (depending on the species) can shoot it out to attach to an object or wait for a breeze to carry it to the base from which it will start building.

From there, the spider will typically create a number of attachment lines. Then they decide which are the strongest and begin weaving from there. Different spiders have different web patterns. In fact, they’re so distinct that experts can look at the structure of a web and tell you precisely which type of spider built it.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Why do spiders eat their own webs?” — Discover Wildlife

WTF Fun Fact 13017 – The Dementor Wasp

The dementor wasp sounds like a character from Harry Potter. But somehow it’s much worse (mostly because it’s real). These wasps can turn their prey into “zombies” before eating them alive. Isn’t nature wonderful?

Dementor wasp tactics

The Ampulex dementor is actually named after the soul-sucking Harry Potter characters, so you know they must have made a big impression.

The wasps have a pretty unconventional and gruesome way of preparing their prey for mealtime. First, they inject venom into their favorite snacks, cockroaches. And while you might not have a lot of sympathy for roaches, they do die in a pretty awful way.

The venom from the dementor wasp leaves them without control over their own bodies. That usually has the effect of forcing them to run right into their tormentor’s nest so that they can be eaten alive. The World Wildlife Fund said it rendered the roaches “passive zombies” in the process.

How do roaches turn into zombies?

According to the Washington Post (cited below), the WWF report states:

“Cockroach wasp venom blocks receptors of the neurotransmitter octopamine, which is involved in the initiation of spontaneous movement. With this blocked, the cockroach is still capable of movement, but is unable to direct its own body. Once the cockroach has lost control, the wasp drags its stupefied prey by the antennae to a safe shelter to devour it.”

Sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

Luckily, the wasps seem confined to just one place in the world – Thailand – and are pretty recognizable with their red and black bodies (not that the venom is enough to turn any of us into a zombie).

What’s in a name?

The Post also described the dementor wasp naming process:

“The Museum für Naturkunde, a natural history museum in Berlin, asked 300 visitors to pick the wasp’s name from among four options: ‘Bicolor,’ after its red-black pattern; ‘Mon,’ after a local ethnic group where the wasp lives; ‘Plagiator,’ since it mimics, or ‘plagiarizes,’ ants; and ‘Dementor,’ described to visitors as ‘magical beings, which can consume a person’s soul, leaving their victims as an empty but functional body without personality and emotions.'”

Frankly, the other options were pretty lame, and we doubt anyone was surprised people chose the Harry Potter-themed name.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Say hello to the dementor wasp. It turns cockroaches into zombies” — Washington Post

WTF Fun Fact 12991 – Squirrel Front Teeth Never Stop Growing

Squirrel front teeth never stop growing. Once their teeth grow in, the front four can grow up to five inches a year to keep up with all that gnawing they do on nuts and seeds.

The ever-growing teeth of squirrels

Rodents, including squirrels, have elodents – aka teeth that don’t develop roots and continue to grow long. These teeth can also appear dark yellow or orange because of the extremely thick enamel that covers them.

To be more precise, squirrel incisors have an enamel coating that starts below the gumline. This is what grows constantly up and over the teeth. This enables squirrels to wear down their incisors for their whole lives without losing their teeth.

Squirrels also have molars and premolars with roots, similar to human teeth.

If a squirrel does not have the right diet, it’s teeth will grow too large for its mouth and it can die from starvation. That’s why it’s never a good idea to feed squirrels other types of food.

The development of squirrel teeth

Baby squirrels are born without teeth, and their first teeth don’t erupt until they’re a few weeks old.

Adult squirrels develop 22 teeth (except the Eastern gray squirrel, which has 24) – 4 incisors, 4 premolars, and 12 molars.

The long incisors at the front of their mouths are used for gnawing at food, shredding material to make their nests, and for self-defense. While squirrels are not aggressive creatures, they can bite humans if they feel threatened (and they do carry disease).

In some unfortunate cases, baby squirrels may fall out of trees (this happens because their heads are quite large compared to their bodies). If they fall and break an incisor, it can grow back crooked. When this happens, the teeth rub up against each other and grow into one another. This can lead to life-threatening issues.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Teeth issues in squirrels” — Squirrel Refuge

WTF Fun Fact 12755 – The Caño Cristales, Colombia

The Caño Cristales is a river in Colombia that some call the “Liquid Rainbow.”

But before you start planning a trip to the Colombian National Park of La Macarena, you should know that it’s rare to see all of these colors together. For the most part, the river looks red.

What causes the colors of the Caño Cristales?

The water of the river is actually crystal clear. It’s what lies beneath that brings the river to life – quite literally.

The Caño Cristales lies at the center of three distinct ecosystems, so it’s hard for flora or fauna to thrive there. But one organism has managed to get the hang of it –

is quite clear due to a lack of biodiversity. The colors are caused by red algae called Macarenia clavigera that cling to the rocks beneath and reflect different hues depending on the depth of the water and time of year.

Care for a visit to Caño Cristales?

If you do want to visit the Caño Cristales, it’s most colorful during the algal bloom and will turn red from late May and late November, but the peak time to see the colors is between July and October.

But you cannot visit alone – it’s just too hard to get to. You’ll need a guide for the park. You also cannot swim or be anywhere near the river if you’re wearing sunscreen or any body cream, since it may kill the algae.

But according to Culture Trip, “In spite of that, there is a lot more to see and do on a tour to Caño Cristales than just seeing the red river. The river itself is located alongside the huge La Macarena National Park, which is a vast area home to savannahs, incredible rock formations, jungles, and bird and mammal watching. Most tours last three to four days and take in a variety of sights.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “10 Things to Know Before Visiting Caño Cristales, Colombia” — The Culture Trip

WTF Fun Fact 12622 – Air Conditioning Trees

There’s no arguing with the fact that trees keep the planet alive. And we all know they help keep the Earth cool, though we may not know the exact mechanism by which they do it.

But the amount of influence trees can have over the climates in their immediate areas is still pretty stunning.

Even when trees grow in cities (relatively far apart and under conditions that are probably less ideal than, say, a forest), they can have a large cooling impact.

According to the EPA, cities sometimes create “heat islands”:

“An urban heat island (UHI) is an urban area or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. The temperature difference is usually larger at night than during the day, and is most apparent when winds are weak.”

Tl; dr – Cities are hotter because of all the stuff we do there.

But what’s cool about trees (see what we did there?) is that they can lower both surface and air temperatures. We all know it’s cooler in the shade (sometimes by as much as 20-45 degrees F!), so that’s part of it. But there’s also something called evapotranspiration that plays a role. That’s the method by which water moves from the earth’s surface (the soil) up into the atmosphere. So, later, when we get precipitation, it can cool off our buildings and sidewalks.

Evapotranspiration (along with shading, in most cases) can reduce peak temperatures on a summer day by 2-9 degrees F.

And chances are that if you have a thoughtful city planning department, the trees planted around your nearest city are planted in very strategic locations to take advantage of this process. (For example, you may find more trees planted to the west of buildings to take advantage of maximum shade.)

There’s a very long list of the benefits of trees, but we’ll add a few that are less obvious about city trees:

  • They reduce energy usage by lowering the demand for air conditioning
  • They help with stormwater management after big storms by absorbing and filtering rainwater
  • They can reduce the need for constant pavement maintenance by keeping sidewalks, roads, and parking lots cool
  • They improve our quality of life, in part, by reducing noise pollution in cities.

Sometimes trees get in the way, but it’s critical to have them around (or replant them when we need to remove them). – WTF fun facts

Source: “Using Trees and Vegetation to Reduce Heat Islands” — US EPA