7 Animals That Were the Last of Their Species

Rodrigo Buendia, AFP/Getty Images
Rodrigo Buendia, AFP/Getty Images

Every species that's ever gone extinct has had an endling: a specimen that represents the last living member of its kind. While countless endlings have blinked out of existence before we got a chance to document their species, others have gained worldwide recognition. Here are some of the most famous animals that signaled the end of their eras.

1. BENJAMIN THE THYLACINE

Thylacines, or Tasmanian tigers, were among the more unusual species to go extinct in the 20th century. The largest carnivorous marsupials of the modern age, they resembled dogs with the black stripes of a tiger and the pouch of a kangaroo. Their numbers dwindled as a result of hunting, disease, and loss of habitat following Australia's colonization, and their line finally came to an end with Benjamin, a thylacine who lived at the Hobart Zoo in Australia from 1933 to 1936. Benjamin was captured in the wild and died only a few years later, likely due to neglect. He famously appears in videos taken at the zoo, the last images ever recorded of his species. (Though some claim the species isn't extinct at all.)

2. BOOMING BEN THE HEATH HEN

The extinction of the heath hen came at the end of a hard-fought preservation effort, making its story even more tragic. After their habitat was changed by colonizers, heath hens, a subspecies of the greater prairie chicken, had all but disappeared from the northeastern U.S., and by 1870, the last birds that remained lived on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. But conservationists weren't about to let the species die out so easily: A preserve was created for the struggling population and by 1916 their numbers had grown from 100 to 2000. Unfortunately, all that progress was wiped out that May, when a wildfire burned through their habitat and led to the deaths of hundreds of birds. Despite efforts to rebuild the group, by 1929 only one heath hen remained: a male named Booming Ben. He was last spotted in 1932, which means that unlike other animals on this list, his death wasn't documented.

3. MARTHA THE PASSENGER PIGEON

Martha the passenger pigeon.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Long before Martha, passenger pigeons were the most abundant birds in North America, flying in flocks of hundreds of millions and eclipsing the sun for hours at a time. But by the turn of the 20th century, their population shrunk from roughly 6 billion to just a few captive specimens. Deforestation and game hunting helped fuel their dramatic decline. Martha was born in the Cincinnati Zoo and lived there for 29 years before passing in 1914, marking the end of her kind. After she died she was immediately placed on ice and shipped to the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C., where her stuffed body can still be viewed today.

4. CELIA THE PYRENEAN IBEX

Celia's status as an endling is up for debate. Her body was found in Spain in 2000, leading biologists to declare the Pyrenean ibex extinct following years of hunting pressures and competition from domestic cattle. But that wasn't the end of her story: Using skin samples collected shortly after her death, scientists successfully cloned Celia in 2003, marking the first time a species was brought back from extinction. The cloned ibex died just minutes after it was born as a result of a lung defect, so sadly the effort to revive the Pyrenean ibex was short-lived.

5. TOUGHIE THE RABBS' FRINGE-LIMBED TREEFROG

Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog.
Brian Gratwicke, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Toughie wasn't just the last of the Rabbs' fringe-limbed tree frogs—he was the first of its kind ever discovered. Researchers found him in Panama in 2005 during a rescue effort to save wild amphibians from a deadly skin fungus spreading through the jungle. He was given a new home in Atlanta Botanical Garden and named Toughie—a suggestion that came from the garden's amphibian conservation coordinator's 2-year-old son. More frogs like Toughie were eventually found (or heard croaking in the wild), and the newly discovered species Ecnomiohyla rabborum was officially recognized in 2008. But the frogs died out within years, both in the wild and in captivity, and when Toughie died in 2016, the species likely died with him.

6. TURGI THE POLYNESIAN TREE SNAIL

The main reason for the Polynesian tree snail's demise? Other snails, by way of humans. When settlers brought African giant land snails to the Pacific Islands in the early 20th century for use as lawn ornaments, the local Partula turgida population suffered. A different type of carnivorous snail was later introduced in an effort to rein in the invasive species, but the plan hit a roadblock when the snails started eating the Polynesian tree snails instead of the intended targets. Turgi, the last of his kind, died in a plastic box at the London Zoo in 1996. His grave marker read "1.5 million years BC to January 1996," a nod to the longevity of the species he represented.

7. LONESOME GEORGE THE PINTA ISLAND TORTOISE

Lonesome George the Pinta Island tortoise.
Rodrigo Buendia, AFP/Getty Images

Few endlings (or at least few that we know of) held on to their status as the last of their species for as long as Lonesome George. The Pinta Island tortoise was first seen on his namesake island in the Galapagos in 1971. Initially, his discovery inspired new hope for the fate of the species: Before George, it was believed that the tortoise had been driven to extinction by hungry whalers and fur traders making stops at the island. Conservationists attempted to find a surviving female Pinta Island tortoise for George to mate with, and when that plan failed, they set him up in pens with female tortoises that were closely related to the species. These breeding efforts were unsuccessful, and in 2012, Lonesome George passed away in captivity on California's Santa Cruz Island without having produced any offspring. It's estimated that he had been over 100 at the time of his death. Today, his preserved remains are on display at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos.

11 Tips for Avoiding Germs at the Grocery Store

The early bird doesn't catch the germ.
The early bird doesn't catch the germ.
Minerva Studio/iStock via Getty Images

While going to concerts, movie theaters, bars, beaches, and other recreational destinations is temporarily on hold, there’s one outing that remains a necessity during self-isolation: grocery shopping. If any supermarkets in your area offer home delivery or even store pickup, this is a good time to take advantage of those services.

But if you, like many of us, still need to stock up on food the old-fashioned way, here are some helpful tips for avoiding germs when you venture to the store.

1. Go early in the morning.

Not only will stores be less crowded in the early morning, but they’ll probably be cleanest then, too, since the staff often sanitizes the premises at night. Because many stores are devoting their early hours of operation to senior citizens only, Reader’s Digest suggests calling ahead to find out when your store opens to the general public.

2. Bring hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, or disposable gloves (and wipe down your cart).

Though many stores are now putting disinfectant wipes near the carts so you can wipe them down, you should bring your own just in case. This is especially important, since studies have found that COVID-19 can live for two or three days on plastic surfaces.

Your cart won’t be the only potentially germy place you put your hands during your trip—door handles in the frozen food section, self-checkout screens, and credit card keypads are all risky zones. Be sure to either wipe them down before touching, use hand sanitizer after touching, or just wear gloves that you can toss out at the end of your trip.

3. Don’t touch your face.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be especially prone to absentmindedly touching your face while you contemplate which non-dairy milk to choose when your first choice is out of stock.

4. Don't touch your phone either.

Phone screens are a great example of high-touch surfaces where germs can live, so instead of keeping a grocery list on your smartphone, write it on a piece of scrap paper that you can throw away after you’re finished.

5. Give yourself more time to shop than you usually need.

Maintaining at least 6 feet between you and every other shopper means occasionally waiting for occupied aisles to clear and moving more slowly so you don’t run into people—not to mention the time it takes to use hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes intermittently. If you’re trying to fit in a quick shopping trip before an important Zoom call with your boss, you may be less conscientious about shopping safely.

6. Inspect items for holes in the packaging (or the food itself).

Make sure there aren’t any rips or tears in cereal boxes, potato chip bags, or any other packaging—and that goes for produce, too. Give those apples a nice long look to be certain there aren’t any holes or breaks in the skin that germs could easily get into.

7. Bypass the free samples.

Surprise snacks at supermarkets are one of the perks of grocery shopping, but Livestrong points out that exposed food is an easy target for germs. So skip the free samples and don't graze on those bunches of grapes; instead, reward yourself with an extra snack at home. Some stores, like Costco, are even suspending their samples during this time, so you won't be so tempted.

8. Don’t pay with cash.

While there’s a certain satisfaction in counting out exact change, cash has a reputation for being a hotbed for germs. If possible, stick to cards or other automatic methods of payment. Even then, it's not the worst idea in the world to wipe down debit and credit cards after using them.

9. Leave the grocery bags on your doorstep.

Store employees are being extra cautious about cleanliness, but it’s still possible that your bags could pick up germs during the checkout process. To avoid the risk, leave them outside and only bring your items into the house.

10. Wash reusable bags between trips.

If you’ve made the switch to reusable shopping bags, Food Network recommends tossing them in the washing machine or wiping them down with soap and water between shopping trips.

11. Wash produce and wipe down other items.

Per usual, you should thoroughly rinse produce before eating it. Dr. Lisa Larkin, a Cincinnati-based internal medicine physician and founder of Ms.Medicine, told Reader’s Digest that you can also wipe down jars, cans, and bottles with a disinfectant wipe before putting them in your pantry for good measure.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]

12 Things You Might Not Know About Passover

iStock
iStock

For practicing Jews, Passover is a time to remember their deliverance from captivity in ancient Egypt. It's one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar, and in the days before the first night's seder, families make preparations such as cleaning the home of chametz and planning for a week of meaningful dietary restrictions. Here are 12 facts about Passover that you wouldn't have learned from a yearly viewing of The Ten Commandments.

1. Firstborn sons need to fast for Passover.

matzo
iStock

The festival of Passover (or Pesach) commemorates the story of the Jews' escape from Egypt. The passover in question is when the houses of the observant Israelites in captivity were "passed over" as Egypt's first-born children were killed (although confusingly, in the Torah, the date the 14th of Nisan is referred to as Passover while the week-long celebration is the Festival of Matzot. They've since been combined into one celebration called Passover).

In celebration of the firstborns being saved, it is traditional for them to fast on 14 Nisan. If there are no children, the oldest member of the household fasts. If the firstborn is a daughter? That depends on the tradition of the community.

2. Passover lasts either seven or eight days.

reading the Haggadah at Passover
iStock

The Torah says to celebrate Passover for seven days (the time between the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea), but many Jews outside of Israel celebrate for eight. Traditionally each month of the Jewish calendar was determined by an astronomical observation and could be either 29 or 30 days long. After a new month was determined, messengers spread the word. For Jews who lived too far away for messengers to bring timely news of a new month, it was safest to celebrate for an extra day, so no matter how long the previous month was, the holiday was celebrated.

Eventually the calendar was standardized and the eight-day custom was no longer needed. Today, some Jewish denominations outside of Israel (like Reform Judaism) celebrate the mandated seven days, while many others prefer eight days. Inside Israel it's generally seven.

3. Leavened grains are a no-go at Passover.

Person sweeping the floor
iStock

One of the most important parts of Passover preparations is cleaning the house of chametz, or leavened food. Even the tiniest bit has to go. Because the Jews left Egypt in such a hurry, it's said they didn't have time to leaven their bread. To commemorate that, five grains (traditionally wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats) are banished from the house. Jews can spend weeks ensuring that the house is perfectly clean—and there are even professional chametz cleaning services that say they'll boil toys, break down and reassemble kitchen chairs … and possibly still leave the house dirty. There's a saying in Jewish households: "Dust is not chametz." The goal is to get rid of chametz above all else.

4. Matzo, which is made from wheat, is one of the most important parts of a Passover meal.

baking matzo
iStock

While there are restrictions against leavened products, one of the most important parts of a Passover meal is matzo, which is made from wheat. The difference between matzo and regular bread is that the wheat in matzo cannot come into contact with any water until it's ready to be cooked. And once water and wheat are mixed it has to be baked within 18 minutes (sources differ as to whether the timer stops when it enters or leaves the oven). After 18 minutes, fermentation begins and it is chametz.

But why 18 minutes? Supposedly it's because that's how long it takes to walk between the cities of Migdal Nunaiya and Tiberias in Israel. Over the years, scholars have argued about how long it would actually take to walk between the cities, with some proposing that copying errors reduced the distance from circa 4 miles to 1 and thus reduced the time from 72 minutes to 18. Nowadays, it's felt that even if there was a transcribing error, there's enough tradition to use 18 minutes.

5. Grains get complicated during Passover.

matzo ball soup
iStock

As Jews spread around the world, they often found themselves faced with foods that weren't explicitly mentioned for Passover. Sephardic Jews (generally) feel that only the five expressly mentioned grains are forbidden, while Ashkenazi Jews worry that the dishes made from certain other plants that look similar and are grown in similar conditions as the forbidden grains will risk contamination between the two. So if these ingredients (called kitniyot, or "legumes") were avoided, actual chametz could more easily be avoided (although kitniyot is nowhere near as regulated as chametz).

But recently, some authorities have argued that improved technology and storing methods have rendered the old methods obsolete. It's a current debate in some communities.

6. Some of the best matzo flour is made in Arizona.

field of wheat
iStock

One of the most difficult parts of making matzo is keeping the flour dry before it's ready to be converted into matzo; any water risks converting flour into chametz. So, according to The New York Times, one sect of Hasidic Jews has found the perfect farming conditions to produce their wheat—the arid fields of southwestern Arizona. The group of ultra-Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn, New York, work with a farm in Yuma, Arizona, to ensure that no unwanted moisture affects the crop, and the resulting kosher wheat is shipped back east to make up to 100,000 pounds of matzo.

7. Pets also get special food during Passover.

cute dog with head tilted
iStock

For Passover, houses must be free of chametz and there can be no benefit derived from it. This includes pet food. In keeping with this, there are Passover-friendly pet foods out there, and some Rabbinical authorities propose switching out your pet's diet for a few days—such as giving dogs straight meat or herbivores a variety of approved vegetables. If a pet must have a specific type of food—or you can't get Passover-friendly pet food—some observant Jews follow the rabbinical authorities who give the option to sell the pet to a gentile for a few days and then get it back after Passover has ended.

8. There are six symbolic Passover foods.

seder plate for Passover
iStock

The focal point of the start of Passover is the Seder plate, and on it are six ceremonial items:

Beitzah—A cooked egg, representing sacrifice (it's also been suggested that while most foods soften when you cook them, eggs get harder, representing the resolve of the Jewish people)

Haroset—a sweet mix of fruits, nuts, and honey/wine that symbolizes the mortar used by Jews during their slavery

Karpas—a green vegetable signifying new life

Maror and hazeret—bitter herbs (often horseradish for maror and something like romaine for hazeret) to represent the bitterness of slavery

Zeroa—a shank bone (or a chicken neck) to remember the Paschal sacrifice.

9. Sometimes an orange is added to the Seder plate.

slice of orange
iStock

In the 1980s, Dartmouth professor Susannah Heschel spoke on a panel at Oberlin College. While there, she met some students who told a story of a rabbi who said "There's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate." In response, they started placing a crust on their plates.

Heschel was inspired, but felt that using bread sent the wrong message, writing "it renders everything chametz … [suggesting] that being a lesbian is being transgressive, violating Judaism." So she proposed putting an orange (originally a tangerine) on the Seder plate to symbolize Jewish gays and lesbians. At some point a story emerged that it was actually to symbolize women in general, but Heschel explained: "A woman's words are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is erased. Isn't that precisely what's happened over the centuries to women's ideas?"

Other more modern additions include pine cones (symbolizing mass incarceration), an artichoke (to recognize interfaith families), or tomatoes or Fair Trade chocolate (to remember that there's still slavery around the world).

10. Some major companies produce special kosher-for-Passover food and beverages.

ad for kosher Coca-Cola
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC-BY-2.0

Many companies produce special kosher-for-Passover products, from chocolate syrup to cake mixes. But one of the most important is Coca-Cola. In the early 20th century Rabbi Tobias Geffen was serving as an Orthodox Rabbi in Atlanta. Due to his location (Coca-Cola was invented and is headquartered in Atlanta), he was frequently asked if Coca-Cola was kosher. After analyzing the product, he found two problem ingredients—alcohol and glycerin.

The alcohol was a problem because it was grain-derived and thus unacceptable for Passover, a problem that was solved by switching to fermented molasses. The other problem, however, was glycerin. The glycerin was derived from animals, and there was simply no economic way to ensure the animals were kosher. As Roger Horowitz explains in Kosher USA, there's an exemption in the rules for a tiny amount of an unacceptable ingredient—designed to cover mistakes—and Coca-Cola's glycerin content was dramatically below that level. Rabbi Geffen, however, believed that since the glycerin was deliberately added, it didn't qualify for this rule. Soon though, a new source of glycerin from cottonseed oil emerged, and Coca-Cola was approved for Passover.

When Coca-Cola switched to high fructose corn syrup, however, that created a problem for Ashkenazi Jews. As such, today there's a special yellow-capped Coca-Cola that doesn't use HFCS and is certified kosher.

11. Maxwell House coffee holds a special place at Passover.

Maxwell House Haggadahs
Tom Lappin, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

But the most influential company is likely Maxwell House. In the 1920s they decided to expand their presence to Jewish families—but there was a problem. Colloquially known as coffee "beans," there was a view that they were legumes, and as such forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews. Soon Maxwell House convinced reluctant coffee drinkers that their product was acceptable and in 1932 the company began publishing the Maxwell House Haggadah (the Haggadah is the telling of the Exodus and how to perform a seder meal). In the years since, Maxwell House estimates that it has published 50 million Haggadahs, which were even the preferred text for the Obama White House Seder.

12. The world's largest Seder happens in a surprising location.

Hundreds of worshippers gather in a hall for Passover in Kathmandu in 2014.
Hundreds of worshippers gather in a hall for Passover in Kathmandu in 2014.
PRAKASH MATHEMA, AFP/Getty Images

Going on for almost 30 years and hosting over 1000 people, the Kathmandu Seder was started in 1989 by the Israeli ambassador to Nepal, who quickly realized that the demand was much higher than he was ready for. The ambassador contacted a rabbi friend who dispatched two rabbinical students to aid the preparations. The seder was a massive success—expecting 90 guests and hoping for 150, they ultimately had 500 guests.

Nowadays, preparations for the seder start months in advance, with 1000 bottles of wine and over 1000 pounds of matzo getting shipped in from the United States and Israel.

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