WTF Fun Fact 13462 – Air Dropped Wolves

It’s a bird; it’s a plane – wait, it’s a helicopyer designed to accommodate air dropped wolves?!

In the vast wilderness of Isle Royale National Park, located on an island in the US Great Lakes, an unusual air-drop operation unfolded. Four Canadian wolves, transported via helicopter from their native Ontario, found themselves in new, unfamiliar territory, their mission as unique as their journey: to tackle the park’s burgeoning moose population and aid the dwindling local wolf count.

A Unique Environmental Challenge

Covering 894 square miles, Isle Royale has been grappling with an ecological imbalance. Historically, the park’s wolf population naturally kept the moose numbers in check. But the wolf count has been dwindling, leading to a surge in the moose population. This growth has put increased pressure on the island’s vegetation, threatening to destabilize the park’s ecosystem.

Adding to the challenge, in the past two decades, the formation of ice bridges – which once connected Isle Royale to the mainland – has become less frequent and less stable due to climate change. These bridges provided a pathway for new wolves to migrate to the island. Their absence left Isle Royale’s two remaining wolves effectively marooned, and prevented fresh wolf blood from bolstering the population.

The Air Dropped Wolves Solution

To rectify the situation, park authorities took an unprecedented step. Four Canadian wolves, adept at hunting moose in cold climates, were trapped in Ontario and transported via helicopter to Isle Royale. It is hoped these new additions, along with two wolves introduced in 2018, will reduce the moose population and replenish the local wolf count. Over the next five years, the National Park Service plans to bring a total of 20 to 30 wolves to the park.

The task was not without its complexities. The chosen wolves had to be neither too young nor too old, with good dental health to ensure their hunting prowess. “You don’t get to choose the wolf you trap. It could be old, young, or injured when captured,” explains John Vucetich, an ecologist leading the Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale project. This project is the longest-running study of any predator-prey system globally.

The Aftermath of Air Dropping Wolves

Once on Isle Royale, the newly-arrived wolves faced a disorienting situation. Accustomed to family packs, they found themselves in unfamiliar territory, with strangers instead of pack-mates. The initial period was likely filled with tension and uncertainty as the wolves adapted to their new surroundings and learned to find food.

But the efforts are not without risks. Relocation can be perilous for these creatures, as seen when a female wolf died last fall due to sedation complications during transport.

The Road Ahead

Despite these challenges, the ongoing project underscores a significant shift in human attitudes towards wolves. Once widely distributed, wolf populations declined significantly due to human activity. Today, attitudes have changed. “Our attitudes have changed enough to decide definitively that we want to live with wolves. But we haven’t decided how to live with wolves,” says Vucetich.

Through initiatives like the Isle Royale wolf reintroduction, we’re taking steps towards that co-existence. It’s a journey that mirrors the wolves’ own: fraught with challenges but driven by a clear, necessary goal.

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Source: “‘We want to live with them’: wolves airdropped into US to tackle moose problem” — The Guardian

WTF Fun Fact 13206 – The Bombardier Beetle

You may have heard of the Bombardier beetle since they have a rather interesting ability. Or as National Geographic (cited below) puts it, “the infamous ability to synthesize and release rapid bursts of stinky, burning-hot liquid from their rear ends.”

Tell me more about the bombardier beetle!

There are actually over 500 species of bombardier beetle (and about 40 in the US alone). These creatures live in many different types of ecosystems. The boiling hot chemicals they can shoot out of their rears as a defense mechanism can reach temperatures up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. And the beetle can shoot the spray multiple times in quick succession. The spray can also produce a loud popping noise as it is released, adding an extra deterrent.

The details are even more fascinating.

In the bombardier beetle, special cells produce hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide which then collect in a reservoir. In order to spray, the beetle has to open a valve controlled by a muscle in order to release the chemicals into a separate “reaction chamber.” This chamber is lined with cells that catalyze the chemical reaction that makes the compounds hazardous to the beetle’s predators.

The catalases and peroxidases lining the chamber also aid in the reaction that generates enough heat to bring the mixture to the boiling point (though some of it becomes vapor). The pressure created by the gases closes the valve and expels the chemicals at high speed. Amazing, right?!

Should I be afraid of this creature?

People don’t need to be afraid of the bombardier beetle. They’re too small to hurt humans (about the size of a fingernail), and they don’t go around indiscriminately spraying. They use that function only as a defense mechanism against predators.

Bombardier beetles usually keep to wooded areas and fields and don’t roam around places with lots of humans. They typically have dark abdomens and reddish legs, antennae, and heads, in case you want to keep an eye out.

How on Earth did this beetle feature evolve?

Funny you should ask. Some creationists like to use the bombardier beetle’s two-chamber system as an example of their theory of irreducible complexity. They insist that since the beetle’s defense mechanism wouldn’t operate without two complex parts, they could not have evolved via small modifications and are therefore a product of “intelligent design.”

Most of the creationist rhetoric masquerading as science gives an incomplete or sloppy description of the beetle’s inner workings.

In fact, a step-by-step evolution of the beetle is pretty straightforward (even if it does seem weird to us). The beetle likely developed its ability to secrete chemicals as a defense mechanism that was released via the epidermis to make it distasteful to predators. While the steps in between are all hypothetical since we didn’t see the creature evolve, the development of the beetle we know now is easily broken down into tiny evolutionary steps we’ve seen in other species.

You’ve got to wonder why a creationist would assume God created this beetle specifically to shoot chemicals out its rear end.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Bombardier beetles” — National Geographic