Watch a Baby Polar Bear Open Its Eyes for the Very First Time

Zoo und Tierpark Berlin, YouTube
Zoo und Tierpark Berlin, YouTube

Sometimes, after a long week, all you need is something wholesome to lift your spirits. Here to do just that is the Berlin Zoo's newest resident.

In this polar bear video spotted by Geek.com, a 5-week-old cub can be seen opening its eyes for the very first time as its mom, Tonja (pronounced like Tania), cleans and cuddles it. “While it was previously only able to explore its surroundings by groping and cuddling, the little bear can now see and hear things,” according to a translated version of the zoo’s polar bear video caption.

Like kittens and puppies, polar bears are functionally blind and deaf when they’re born. It takes polar bears several weeks longer to develop their senses compared to puppies or kittens, though—about 30 days total. Their claws come later, too.

The diminutive nature of newborn cubs may also come as a surprise. Although full-grown adults can tip the scale at more than 1300 pounds, newborns weigh just 16 to 24 ounces—about the size of a guinea pig. But they pack on the pounds quickly, and can weigh over 100 pounds by the time they’re 8 months old.

A Berlin Zoo spokesperson reportedly said the cub has a big appetite and ate a lot over the holidays (just like the rest of us, apparently). It’s now attempting to walk, but mom and baby aren’t expected to leave the cave in their enclosure before spring arrives.

According to DW Science, zoo staff don’t know the sex of the cub yet. For its protection, they plan to give mom and baby lots of alone time before they approach. Newborn polar bears are quite vulnerable—especially in the wild, where about 85 percent of the bears die before they’re 2 years old.

Meanwhile, zoo staff are keeping a watchful eye on the cub, courtesy of the infrared cameras they have set up in their den.

[h/t Geek.com]

It’s Easy Being Green: Most Amphibians Are Biofluorescent, Study Finds

An alpine newt glows green after being exposed to blue light.
An alpine newt glows green after being exposed to blue light.
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

If you walk through a forest at night, you see only darkness and shadows, and perhaps the smudgy outline of trees against the sky. But if you were a salamander snuggled in the leaf litter, under the right light conditions, you might see something completely different: foliage glimmering in shades of red, and your fellow amphibians glowing in brilliant greens.

Biofluorescence—in which animals emit a fluorescent glow after absorbing high-energy wavelengths of light—is likely widespread among most, if not all, amphibians, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Previously, only one species of salamander and three frog species were known to biofluoresce.

Alpine newt under white light
The same view of an alpine newt under white light
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

“I do field work, so I’m out there capturing species of amphibians, and I think, ‘huh, I wonder if this fluoresces,’” says Jennifer Y. Lamb, an assistant professor of biology at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. She and co-author Matthew P. Davis, an assistant professor at the university, collected representatives from eight of the 10 salamander families, five families of frogs, and one family of caecelians, a type of limbless amphibian. They exposed each critter to high-energy blue light and then viewed them through a yellow filter to see if and how they glowed.

“One of the first salamanders we tested was the Eastern tiger salamander. We saw that it fluoresced really brightly, and that kind of got us hooked,” Lamb tells Mental Floss. “We started [to look] across salamander diversity, [and asked ourselves], ‘OK, how many species do we see within salamanders that biofluoresce?’ When we started to notice, ‘hey, it’s actually a lot of them!’, the question became, ‘can frogs do it?’ Then we looked at a relative of frogs, the caecelians—‘do they do it?’ And it seemed like biofluorescence in some form or fashion is present in all of these lineages.”

Biofluorescent salamander
A biofluorescent Eastern tiger salamander
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

The various amphibians fluoresced in unique patterns depending on their skin’s coloration and markings as seen under normal white light. Some gleamed in blotches, others in stripes. A few animals' bones glowed. Lamb was surprised to see that salamanders’ bellies, which were usually red or orange under white light, glowed brighter than their backs after exposure to blue light.

“A lot of these newts have evolved what we call aposematic coloration, or warning colors. When they’re threatened by a predator, they’ll basically contort their bodies to show off their bellies as a warning,” Lamb says. “So it begs the question, if these bellies are also biofluorescent, then maybe some of their predators can visualize biofluorescence.”

The researchers intend their study to be a roadmap for further study into the fascinating ability. “Now that we know that this phenomenon exists across amphibians, there’s all kinds of interesting applications that future researchers may head towards,” Davis tells Mental Floss. For example, no one yet knows what kind of mechanisms allow amphibians to biofluoresce: In some groups it might be a color-based molecule or compound; in others, maybe something in their mucus.

Biofluorescent frog
A Cranwell's frog glows under blue light.
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

Scientists also don’t know exactly how different amphibians might visualize their own biofluorescence. Salamanders, frogs, and caecelians have rod cells in their eyes that are sensitive to green light, suggesting that they may have evolved green biofluorescence and the ability to see it at the same time, though further research is needed on that front.

“We have to be careful about not falling into the trap of only perceiving the world through our own eyes,” Lamb says. “Human vision is set to a particular set of wavelengths, and that’s not the case across all animal diversity. And that may not be the case in terms of these amphibians.”

Biofluorescent salamander
A biofluorescent three-lined salamander
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

Finally, researchers are debating what purpose biofluorescence serves. In other animals, scientists have suggested it could play a role in communication, camouflage, or choosing a mate. Amphibians might use biofluorescence to locate each other in dense leaf litter.

“We’re hoping this study stimulates researchers to start looking at biofluorescence more broadly across the various different kinds of amphibian lineages that they may work on, so we can fill in the gaps in knowledge,” Davis says.

“There’s still a lot to learn about animal groups that we think we know,” he adds. “There’s still lots of interesting things out there to find that can help us rethink their life history and biology, and that may point us in new exploratory directions.”

You’ll Be Able to Buy Some of Fiona the Hippo’s Poop to Fertilize Your Garden

Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Fiona the hippo has come along way since she was born two months premature at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2017. Today, Fiona is happy and healthy, weighing in at more than 1200 pounds. A hippo that size makes a lot of excrement, and now Fiona fans can purchase some of it to fertilize their gardens, WLWT5 reports.

Fiona produces about 22 pounds of poop a day; just 7 pounds shy of her birth weight. Normally the dung would be sent to a landfill, but as part of its new zero-waste initiative, the Cincinnati Zoo is composting all of its animal waste into fertilizer. Much of it will be added to the zoo's own farm and gardens, but some will also be available to purchase from the zoo's gift shops and online store. The fertilizer will be made from the dung left behind by the hundreds of animals living at the zoo, including Fiona.

The Cincinnati Zoo bills itself as the greenest zoo in the country. In addition to recycling all of its animal waste into compost, it also aims to fill its animal habitats with recycled rain water and grow more food for its animals on its own farm [PDF]. For the zero-waste part of the plan, the zoo plans to repurpose two million pounds of animal feces each year using a combination of on-site and off-site composting.

The zoo is in the process of acquiring the necessary equipment to launch its waste composting program. When the time comes, Fiona will be ready to make her sizable contributions to the project.

[h/t WLWT5]

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