Wildlife Wednesday: arty badgers, bespoke batcaves and a fantastic fossil find

It's your weekly CanGeo round-up of wildlife news!

  • Aug 04, 2021
  • 896 words
  • 4 minutes
A little brown bat hangs from the roof of a cave Expand Image

Evidence for earliest animal life found in Canadian Arctic 

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Sponge-like structures have been identified within 890 million year-old bacteria-built reefs preserved in mountains in the Canadian Arctic (pictured). (Photo: Elizabeth Turner, Laurentian University)

Some 890 million years ago, the Earth and its oceans were a fairly inhospitable place. Low on oxygen and soon to be ravaged by severe ice ages, there’s been little to suggest that the planet could sustain animal life at the time. Enter the sponge. According to a recent Laurentian University study, published in Nature, sponge-like structures have been identified within 890 million year-old bacteria-built reefs preserved in mountains in the Canadian Arctic. These fossils closely resembled modern-day horny sponges — and the discovery would build on genetic evidence present in modern sponges suggesting they first emerged in the Neoproterozoic era (1,000–541 million years ago). If verified, the supposed sponges would be the earliest known fossilized animal body, pre-dating the next-oldest undisputed sponge fossils by around 350 million years. And these guys had it tough. They would be the first sign that the evolution of early animals occurred independently of an oxygenation event that took place around 800 million years ago — one presumed to have enabled animal life to form. Similarly, it would be the first evidence that early animal life survived the severe ice ages that occurred between 720 and 635 million years ago. Here’s to the sponge, stronger than its name suggests.

Art for badger’s sake 

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Bloom the badger and her latest masterpiece. (Photo: BC Wildlife Park)

Who says art can’t make a difference? Not Bloom, a badger at BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops, B.C. For one thing, Bloom can’t talk. For another, Bloom is mad (as a badger) for art! She is the artist behind two paintings helping to raise funds to save other badgers on a particularly bad stretch of Kamloops highway. Bloom paints with her hands — the park reports painting is good for an animal’s sensory and cognitive enrichment. All badgers in B.C. are a subspecies of the American badger — this subspecies is not found anywhere else and is listed as imperiled by the province’s Conservation Data Centre. The Monte Creek Winery launched the fundraising efforts after discovering that it‘s located on the aforementioned bad stretch of highway, on which nine badgers were killed between 2003 and 2017 — to put that into perspective, there are fewer than 360 badgers left in B.C. As part of its wider fundraising campaign for badgers, the winery has auctioned off two of Bloom’s paintings for $365 each and is selling postcard versions that will help support badger conservation groups. 

Pigs running a-muck

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Wild pigs around the world release as much carbon dioxide as a million cars (Photo: Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak, CC BY-SA 2.5)

It seems a bit self-serving to try to blame our climate change woes on pigs, but they are a bit of a menace. Turns out that, as they root through soil each year, wild pigs around the world release as much carbon dioxide as a million cars. Why are there wild pigs everywhere? It’s another colonial story run amok. As Europeans “discovered” the world, they brought with them their domestic pigs, some of which invariably escaped and went rogue. Over the past couple of centuries, the invasive species has become a nuisance from Australia to North America, destroying everything in its path in its continual quest for food. As they churn the earth, the pigs release carbon locked in the soil. Researchers behind a new paper published in Global Change Biology came up with the one-million-cars figure by aggregating previous modelling by researchers around the globe on wild pig populations and behaviour. But while we know pigs are a problem, getting rid of them is almost impossible. They’re strong, breed often and love to eat. In other words, they’re happy as a pig in mud.

Building a better bat cave

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A little brown bat. (Photo: Moriarty Marvin, USFWS)

Cool news for bats! Colder, human-engineered caves might help them better survive the deadly white-nose syndrome that has been decimating North American bat populations. The fungus, which first appeared in New York state in 2006, has killed millions of bats, pushing some species to the brink of extinction. Populations of once-common bats such as the little brown bat, the northern long-eared bat and the tricolored bat have fallen by more than 90 per cent in central and eastern U.S. and eastern Canada. Now, wildlife officials in Pennsylvania are reporting success with a new solution — changing the entrances to some caverns to lower cave temperatures where the bats hibernate. The deadly fungus thrives at 12-16 degrees Celsius, so making cooler caves might just thwart the disease. Between 2015 and 2018, officials altered six caves — remodelling entrances or adding ventilation shafts to alter air currents. Their air-con engineering lowered the cave temperatures an average of 2.1 degrees. The cooler caves were popular with the bats and preliminary research, published in the journal Conservation Biology, suggests those bats exhibited less severe infections. Looks like this idea has wings.

A bald eagle in flight. (Photo: Tracy Kerestesh/CanGeo Photo Club)
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