7 species with moms weirder than yours

Greater blue-ringed octopus with eggs

This greater blue-ringed octopus, featured here with her eggs, may end up eating her own tentacle while protecting them. (© Rickard Zerpe/Flickr Creative Commons)

Maybe you had a very protective mother. Or a strict mother. (Or a neurotic one.)

You’d have nothing on the animal world, where mothers in the wild are known to nurse their young for several years, or sacrifice their own limbs to protect them — or drink their babies’ blood. (It’s true.)

This Mother’s Day, we’re taking a look at a few of the more unusual mothering habits in the animal kingdom.

1. Giving an arm and a leg (or a tentacle) for your children.

Ever the overachiever, the female octopus can lay up to hundreds of thousands of eggs in one go. Over the eggs’ development period — anywhere from 40 days to 53 months in the case of one record-breaking species, Graneledone boreopacifica — these maternal cephalopods gently blow water currents over the eggs to provide them with oxygen and keep them clean. Unwilling to leave her brood to hunt for food, the mother octopus often resorts to eating one or two of her own tentacles for sustenance while waiting for them to hatch.

2. And you thought triplets were a handful.

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Stopping overfishing? There’s an app for that

fisherman, sunset, Thailand

Fisherman at sunset in Thailand. (© Polsin Junpangpen)

Smartphone apps have revolutionized how we bank, how we take the bus, even how we date.

Add “how we fish” to the list.

As overfishing continues to push global fish populations to the brink of collapse, app developers are seeking to apply a similar efficiency to one of the world’s most urgent problems.

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What we’re reading: Blackouts in Venezuela, ‘green Oscars’ in Indonesia

Orangutan in Borneo.

An orangutan hangs from a tree while having a snack on the island of Borneo. The island’s orangutans are benefiting from a program devised by a dental surgeon, wherein health care incentives are used to discourage logging. The program earned the surgeon a “green Oscar.” (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world. 

1. Venezuela declares a 2-day workweek because of dire energy shortages

The story: Public-sector employees in this South American country had an unscheduled five-day weekend due to electricity rationing, the Washington Post reported. An El Niño-induced drought is drying up the water supply to Venezuela’s dams, including the massive Guri Dam, one of the largest in the world (and one that supplies 60% of the country’s electricity). Things got so bad that the embattled government decided to furlough public employees — a third of the country’s labor force — for the majority of the workweek.

With El Niño likely to worsen in the coming years, the situation is not likely to get any rosier for the country, already racked by everything from political and economic instability to a shortage of beer.

What’s next: If significant precipitation does not fall within a few weeks, the Post reported, much of the country will be at risk of near-total blackout.

Read more here. 

2. Tanzania’s forest conservation at risk as funds run out

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Cambodia makes bold move to protect its vanishing forests

forest at Prey Lang, Stung Treng, Cambodia

Prey Lang is one of five forest areas in Cambodia that will see expanded protection based on the government’s recent announcement. Prey Lang contains the most carbon-rich forest in Cambodia, making it a critical landscape for mitigating climate change. (© Jeremy Holden)

One of the most threatened tropical forest areas in the world just got some good news.

The Cambodian government on Friday announced the creation of five new protected forests totaling almost 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres). The Southeast Asian country’s protected lands now stand at 5.5 million hectares (13.6 million acres) — more than one-fourth of its total land area — a signal that Cambodia is getting serious about clamping down on one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.

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Halt in construction of Brazilian dam sign of progress on indigenous rights

river, Xingu National Park, Brazil

Aerial view of Xingu National Park in the Brazilian Amazon. Hydropower is a major source of electricity for Brazilian cities; dam construction is also a frequent source of conflict with local communities. (© Luana Luna)

Last week the Brazilian government suspended the licensing process for the São Luiz do Tapajós dam, halting construction on the country’s second-largest hydroelectric facility over concerns that the dam may violate the rights of several Munduruku indigenous communities.

The Munduruku have spent years fighting to have the boundaries of their traditional lands in the Amazon Basin recognized by the government. As that process wore on, they took to demarcating the borders of their territories themselves and protesting the presence of dam technicians around the Tapajós River.

The new dam would flood almost 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) and require the relocation of several Munduruku communities without their consent — a violation of existing Brazilian legislation. A new report from Brazil’s agency on indigenous affairs defines around 1,700 square kilometers (656 square miles) as indigenous land belonging to the Munduruku, a move that could permanently suspend the dam’s construction.

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Wildlife loss in tropical forests is bad news — and not just for animals

Western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) from TEAM's site in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo.

A camera-trap image of a western gorilla in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo. (Photo courtesy of the TEAM Network and Wildlife Conservation Society)

I had drinks with an old college friend last week. As we reminisced and I caught him up on my job leading the Tropical Ecology Assessment & Monitoring (TEAM) Network, he stopped me mid-sentence.

“Don’t get me wrong — I love animals, and camera trapping is cool,” he said. “But why spend so much time and energy keeping track of species halfway around the world? Why does it matter if tapirs in Ecuador or chimps in Uganda are declining? Why should I care?”

This wasn’t the first time I’d been asked these kinds of questions while working with TEAM, which uses camera-trap data to calculate trends in mammal and bird populations in tropical forests on three continents.

In the past, I would respond somewhat vaguely, saying “Wildlife provides key ecosystem services,” or “Animals are a good way to measure the health of a forest.” Though true, these answers were unsatisfying, even to me. It is like answering “Why do you need your liver?” with “Because it keeps your body going.” True, but not compelling or especially useful.

This time I had a better answer, backed by science.

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DNA test confirms presence of cave giants in Europe

olm in cave, Balkans

Aquatic salamanders called olms are the largest exclusively cave-dwelling animal in the world. Because they are highly sensitive to changes in their environment, their presence in the caves of the Balkan Peninsula indicates that the groundwater running through these caves — the only reliable source of drinking water for local people — remains unpolluted. (© Gregor Aljančič)

In the flooded caves of the Balkan Peninsula, aquatic giants can survive in near-darkness for up to a century — if they’re not taken out by one of their own kind.

Though they sound like mythical creatures out of a folktale, these salamanders — called olms — are real. Reaching up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) long, they dwarf their closest competitors in this unique ecosystem. However, the inaccessibility of their habitat to scientists has made studying them difficult. Until now.

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3 things no one is talking about this Earth Day

Mussels are just one of the stories no one is discussing this Earth Day.

So few people are talking about the Texas fatmucket (a species of mussel) that we couldn’t find a photo of one. This photo shows mussels in Cornwall, U.K. (© Ant & Carrie Coleman)

Every year on Earth Day, inboxes and social media feeds abound with photos of cute and furry animals, stirring national park scenes and pleas to take Earth-friendly actions like carrying reusable bags.

But you’ve probably heard enough about all those things already. For a change of pace, here are three things almost no one is talking about this Earth Day.

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For critical climate change action, Paris Agreement just the beginning

mangroves, Bahamas

Red mangroves in the Bahamas. Protecting and restoring ecosystems is an important part of the solution to climate change; not only do mangroves, tropical forests and other ecosystems absorb carbon from the atmosphere, they also can help communities adapt to climate change impacts. (© Jeff Yonover)

Editor’s note: In December, the world’s nations made the biggest commitment to climate change action to date with the Paris Agreement. The global agreement is set to go into effect in 2020 — but with escalating climate impacts like massive coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and mounting sea-level rise, there’s no time to waste.

As the U.N. prepares to host a signing ceremony for the agreement on April 22, Conservation International Climate Policy Director Shyla Raghav outlines the next steps countries need to take.

Question: Countries already adopted the Paris Agreement in December. How is this week’s event different?

Answer: In December, the countries adopted the agreement within the framework of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); with Friday’s signing, they will signal their intention to ratify it. We’re expecting 155 countries to sign, which will likely be record-shattering in terms of the number of countries signed onto an international accord so soon after adoption.

I think this will be an important point for countries to renew their commitment to the agreement, as well as to propel momentum for climate change action forward. We don’t want to send the signal that the climate problem is solved, or that we’ve already put in place everything that’s required to achieve the agreement. This is an opportunity for us to leverage existing awareness to ensure that countries are working to fulfill the commitments they have made.

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5 things you might not know about the sky

A herd of wildebeest at sunset in Botswana.

Sky is the air we breathe, the atmosphere that makes Earth livable and the weather that makes it possible to grow food — and it’s under threat from humanity. (© Rod Mast)

If you could drive your car straight up at highway speed, you’d leave the Earth’s atmosphere and enter space in just over an hour.

This thin, delicate band surrounding our planet makes life on Earth possible, yet the health of the atmosphere is being upended by fossil-fuel emissions — with increasingly perilous results. Earth’s atmosphere has more carbon in it now than it has had for 300 million years — with major implications for global climate.

Conservation International (CI) is giving voice to our beleaguered atmosphere with “Sky,” the latest film in the “Nature Is Speaking” series. Voiced by actress Joan Chen, the video calls attention to the state of our skies.

Here are a few things you might not know about the sky.

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