How The Supreme Court Could Decide the Fate of the Endangered Dusky Gopher Frog

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The dusky gopher frog might not be much to look at. The species, which lives in a handful of Mississippi ponds, is covered in dark spots and warts. But it's one of the world’s most endangered frogs—and its fate is currently being debated in the country's highest court.

As Nature News and Comment reports, the Supreme Court started its new term on October 1, and one of the first cases on its docket involved the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has a plan to save the frog by restoring ponds 50 miles west in Louisiana, where the frogs once lived, and move the remaining populations there. The dusky gopher frog, otherwise known as the Mississippi gopher frog or Lithobates sevosus, is threatened by development projects in Mississippi that have destroyed much of the amphibians' habitat. In 2012, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature named the frog one of the world's 100 most endangered species. Now, fewer than 100 of the frogs remain.

Conditions are more suitable in Louisiana's ephemeral ponds because they dry out at certain times of the year and can't support fish, which eat frogs' eggs, The Washington Post reports. The problem? The Louisiana ponds' other characteristics are not quite as agreeable as those in Mississippi, and the 1500-plus acres of land in question are owned by a family that leases them to the Weyerhaeuser timber company. Weyerhaeuser is arguing that it isn't required to alter the land to accommodate the frogs, and that doing so would result in the property being devalued by millions of dollars.

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the government can designate privately owned land as a "critical habitat" even when the conditions are less than ideal for supporting an endangered species. Right now, the Endangered Species Act lets the government designate critical habitat only where the species can live and thrive in the present, not at some point in the future. The eight Supreme Court justices appeared evenly divided after hearing arguments this week, but they could wait to decide the case until a ninth justice is confirmed.

This case is only the fifth challenge to the Endangered Species Act to be heard before the Supreme Court, but the FWS and other government agencies are trying to weaken the act's protections in other ways. The court's decision in the dusky gopher frog case could determine how the government manages endangered species in the future.

[h/t Nature News and Comment]

Meet LiLou: The World's First Airport Therapy Pig

Kseniia Derzhavina/iStock via Getty Images
Kseniia Derzhavina/iStock via Getty Images

There's a new reason to get to the airport early—you might run into a therapy pig who's there to make your trip a little easier. As Reuters reports, LiLou the Juliana pig is a member of San Francisco International Airport's "Wag Brigade," a therapy animal program designed to ease stress and anxiety in travelers.

Aside from her snout and potbelly, LiLou can be recognized by her captain's hat and red "hoof" polish. She spends the day with guests who are happy to take a break from the pressures of traveling. She might comfort them by posing for a selfie, playing a song on her toy keyboard, or offering them a head to pet.

After bringing joy to people's day, LiLou goes home to her San Francisco apartment where she lives with her owner, Tatyana Danilova. In her free time, she goes on daily walks and snacks on organic vegetables. She even has her own Instagram account.

Airports around the world are embracing the benefits therapy animals can bring to customers. The Wag Brigade program at San Francisco includes a number of dogs, and earlier this year, the Aberdeen Airport in Scotland debuted its own "canine crew" of dogs trained to make travelers feel safe and happy. Therapy miniature horses have even been used at an airport in Kentucky. According to the San Francisco Airport, LiLiou is the world's first airport therapy pig.

To see LiLou turn on the charm, check out the video below.

[h/t Reuters]

Sssspectacular: Tree Snakes in Australia Can Actually Jump

sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images
sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images

Ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes, is common among humans. We avoid snakes in the wild, have nightmares about snakes at night, and recoil at snakes on television. We might even be born with the aversion. When researchers showed babies photos of snakes and spiders, their tiny pupils dilated, indicating an arousal response to these ancestral threats.

If you really want to scare a baby, show them footage of an Australian tree snake. Thanks to researchers at Virginia Tech, we now know these non-venomous snakes of the genus Dendrelaphis can become airborne, propelling themselves around treetops like sentient Silly String.

That’s Dendrelaphis pictus, which was caught zipping through the air in 2010. After looking at footage previously filmed by her advisor Jake Socha, Virginia Tech Ph.D. candidate Michelle Graham headed for Australia and built a kind of American Ninja Warrior course for snakes out of PVC piping and tree branches. Graham observed that the snakes tend to spot their landing target, then spring upward. The momentum gets them across gaps that would otherwise not be practical to cross.

Graham next plans to investigate why snakes feel compelled to jump. They might feel a need to escape, or continue moving, or do it because they can. Two scientific papers due in 2020 could provide answers.

Dendrelaphis isn’t the only kind of snake with propulsive capabilities. The Chrysopelea genus includes five species found in Southeast Asia and China, among other places, that can glide through the air.

[h/t National Geographic]

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