Pairs of animals

This is a post about pairs of animals. Not since the mythical days of Noah and his big wooden boat have so many animals been paired up – and he didn’t even do it in a blog post.

It’s two, by the way. Two pairs of animals.

The first pair is a hawk and a snake. Sadly, neither of them is with us anymore, after a disastrous electrocution incident in northern Montana, USA. It’s believed that the hawk, fancying a sssssnack, swooped down and picked up the snake in its talons, before retreating to a convenient local power line in order to eat its prey.
Ssssssadly, the snake must have been dangling beneath the hawk and touched one of the other power lines as the bird came in to land. If any hawks are reading this (and they might be, because they have eyes like a… like a haw… well look, they just have really good eyes, ok?), let it be a lesson to you to always hold your lengthy prey somewhere in the middle, to prevent excess danglage.

Both the snake (already in a great deal of peril) and the hawk (peckish (no pun intended), but otherwise largely doing fine), were electrocuted and died.


Their still smouldering carcasses then fell to the vegetation below and started a fire which consumed 40 acres of Montana.
Look, if you’re going to go, go bigly.

The hawk and the snake aren’t the only ones to have started fires. There’s a whole list of animal arsonists on that site: squirrels, dogs, pigeons, kites. They’re all at it.

Our other animal pairing is elephants and bees. They haven’t (to the best of my knowledge), been arsoning together. In fact, elephants aren’t huge fans of bees at all, and would much rather stay well away from them, like some pachyderm/apian apartheid situation.

“So what?” I hear you ask. “At least they aren’t starting fires.”
And yes, that’s great news for African farmers, but what’s even better news for African farmers is that they can use bees as a natural deterrent to keep elephants off their crops:

In more than a dozen studies, Dr. King and her colleagues have experimented with beehive fences on East African farms, finding that the region’s indigenous bee, Apis mellifera scutellata, can turn elephants away. A notable long-term trial on farms outside of the Tsavo East National Park found that hive fences deterred 80 percent of elephant raiders compared to unfenced plots used as a control group.

And then, because the farmers need to keep the bees happy to keep the bee numbers up to make the fences effective, they can tap off the honey – which is made by the happy bees – for a second income stream, while reaping more from their original, more traditional crops. Everyone’s a winner.
Apart from the elephants, obviously.

If you have any more interesting (or not) stories about pairs of animals and how they can affect our daily lives (if we’re in Montana or Chad), then don’t hesitate to get in touch and we might even share your tale on 6000 miles…

Day two, part one

A couple of very busy days coming up in the laboratory, so here’s something I prepared earlier.

It’s only… another lot of photos from our Eastern Cape trip.
[audience gasps]

We’re now about halfway through the photos and we’ve already seen lions, elephants, rhinos and a sunset. Who can even begin to guess what other delights await us if I manage to sort through another 250 images this evening?

Meanwhile, feast your eyes on these puppies*.


* not actual puppies.

Pack your trunk – we’re off to Mars

Vital space exploration news greeted me this morning in the shape of this headline from The Times:

Right. Obviously, besides the single benefit stated above, there are also drawbacks with sending elephants into space. For starters, their somewhat larger mass means that you’re going to need a lot more thrust to get you up to escape velocity and out of the Earth’s gravitational pull. They’re also pretty big in terms of volume, meaning that you’re going to need to increase the size of your spaceship to house them. They eat more, they drink more, they poo more, but perhaps our major concern here should be that we’re clearly ignoring the most important factor to consider in this whole plan: they are elephants.

Yes, elephants are ever so intelligent, but they are still elephants. We’ve all seen how clever and caring they can be on those nature documentaries, but elephants are let down by their inability to communicate in basic human language, let alone carrying out computer programming and complex scientific experimentation. In fact, aside from their alleged cancer-resisting traits (and perhaps their reputation for having really good memories), there’s not an awful lot that supports this frankly very dodgy idea to send elephants to colonise Mars.

And then, what if we were to actually follow through on this and colonise Mars with these pachyderms? It sets a worrying precedent for the future colonisation of other planets with somewhat implausible animals. So what next? Sending ornamental ducks to Jupiter? Hammerhead sharks to Saturn? An anteater to Venus? Presumably we’d have to send some ants as well for that last one. See how complicated it becomes?

No, this is a silly idea and we should stop right now. The elephants won’t mind – they’re very thick-skinned – and it might just save us from the inevitable onset of any immature Richard Gere “gerbils in Uranus” jokes.

Fuel consumption

The Saturn V rockets were the workhorses of the US Space Program [sic] in the late 60s and early 70s. And the subject of a great Inspiral Carpets song in the mid 90s. They were huge things – 111 metres in height (that’s the equivalent of a 36 storey building) and with a mass of 2.8 million kilograms (that’s the equivalent of about 470 elephants).

With great size and great escape velocity comes great fuel requirement as well:

The Saturn V rocket’s first stage carries 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of kerosene fuel and 318,000 gallons (1.2 million liters) of liquid oxygen needed for combustion.
At liftoff, the stage’s five F-1 rocket engines ignite and produce 7.5 million pounds of thrust.

But what does that actually mean? Sometimes, figures are difficult to interpret without context. That’s why I used the 36 storey building and the 470 elephants above.

In fact, it worked so well, I think I’m going to use the elephants again:

Yes. That’s a quick mock up of Saturn V fuel consumption expressed in elephants. And it’s a lot of elephants.

I trust everything is clear now.

The mystery of the other 48.7%

Ah, the pisspoor Daily Mail. We’ve been here before, haven’t we, folks? Ad nauseum.
But this time – it’s a classic.

In a nothing piece entitled: “Generation who refuse to grow up: No mortgage. No marriage. No children. No career plan.” by nothing columnist Marianne Power, there’s this stat:

Three million 20-to-34-year-olds now live with their parents. A third are men and 18 per cent are women.

Here it is in full screenshot glory:

Fullscreen capture 20130712 113802 AM

Which leaves me – and I would imagine any of you who have more than half a brain – wondering what on earth makes up the other 48.7% of 20-to-34-year-olds who now live with their parents?

Because I’ve been doing some rudimentary calculations and it’s a significant number – 1,461,000 individuals, to be exact.

But what are these individuals? Cats? Dogs? I don’t think so, because 20-34 years old is awfully old for a cat or a dog to get to. And even if we were talking cat or dog years, these are their parents we’re talking about. So, maybe some sort of larger mammal, which generally have a longer lifespan? Horses, perhaps?

Well no, because horses only really last to about 30 years on average. So we’re going to have to go bigger again.
Elephants, then. They last for ages.

Yes, as far as I can work out, the Daily Mail is reporting that there are 1,461,000 elephants between the ages of 20 and 34 years old, living with their parents in the UK.

This amazes me for two reasons. Firstly, that having lived in the UK until 2004, I never saw any of these elephants living with their parents (save maybe for the ones at London Zoo). I recognise that the article suggests that there has been a significant increase in this number, which is one reason (albeit a bit of a minor one) why it is of interest. But even so, they say that even in 1997, 2.5 million individuals (including 1,217,500 elephants) living with their parents.

That’s a lot of elephants to be hiding.

And then, secondly, what of their parents? Given that the elephant is a normal sexually reproducing mammal, it takes a total of two elephants to make a small elephant, which they then tend and nurture through until it’s 20-to-34-years-old. That’s three elephants in a house, and, with the assistance of some dodgy maths, a total of 4,383,000 elephants that I have comprehensively not noticed living in the UK.

The WWF say that there are 470,000 – 690,000 African elephants in the world, and list their status as “vulnerable”. Not any more, guys. Happy days for the elephant population as I reckon I have the Daily Mail has just found another 800% of elephant numbers, living clandestinely behind closed doors in the UK.

It’s no wonder you didn’t count them. They’re hiding.

Unless of course you’re going to go out on a limb and suggest that the Daily Mail have got this one wrong.