Shrimp in Rural England Have a Cocaine Problem

iStock.com/Aukid
iStock.com/Aukid

It turns out that becoming shrimp scampi or part of a shrimp cocktail is no longer the only threat looming for these crustaceans. Through no fault of their own, England’s freshwater shrimp are trying to kick a drug habit. A new study has demonstrated that shrimp found in bodies of water in rural Suffolk are consistently testing positive for cocaine as well as other controlled or prohibited substances.

Researchers at King’s College London and the University of Suffolk published the paper in the journal Environment International after taking samples from 15 different locations across five river catchments in Suffolk. Drugs like cocaine and ketamine were found in the shrimp, along with pesticides and other micropollutants. Researchers also found lidocaine, a local anesthetic used to “cut” cocaine.

The levels are low, researchers say, but potential damage to these tiny Tony Montanas will need to be assessed with further study. This research does raise the question of how shrimp are testing positive for illegal drugs in the first place. When a human ingests drugs, their urine can contain trace metabolites that enter the wastewater system. One theory is that nearby wastewater treatment plants have discharged this type of contaminated waste into the Suffolk's rivers, though their filtration processes should prevent pharmaceuticals or their metabolites from getting through. It’s possible that sewer overflow or improper system connections are to blame.

While the shrimp don’t appear to be affected, that hasn't been true of all animals. In the UK, a study of the effects of cocaine in eels demonstrated that it can accumulate in their brains, muscles, skin, and gills, causing swelling and hormone disruption that could affect their migrations and reproductive processes. Water contaminated with antidepressants can also influence behavior. Crabs exposed to Prozac, for example, became more aggressive.

[h/t BBC]

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]

Fat Bats Might Be Resistant to Deadly White-Nose Syndrome

Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Good news for flying mammals: chubby little brown bats might be genetically resistant to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that’s killed more than 5.5 million bats since it was first documented in 2006 [PDF]. A new study in the journal Scientific Reports describes three genetic adaptations in the bats that could protect them from the pathogen.

Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), common in Canada and the eastern United States, are especially susceptible to white-nose syndrome. According to lead author Giorgia G. Auteri, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, white-nose syndrome kills bats by disrupting their hibernation cycles.

“When they’re in hibernation in the winter, they’re not meant to be waking up. They’re supposed to be asleep,” Auteri tells Mental Floss. “But this fungus grows on them, and it causes the bats to keep waking up during hibernation. And because they’re waking up when they shouldn’t be, they’re running out of fat reserves too early.”

But while white-nose syndrome has devastated bat populations in North America, not all infected bats die from the disease—some recover. Auteri wanted to find out what made the survivors so special.

Auteri and her team compared the genetic makeup of nine surviving and 29 non-surviving little brown bats from northern Michigan. They discovered that survivors share three important genetic distinctions. “One is involved with fat metabolism,” she says. “And another is involved with regulating when the bats wake up from hibernation. And the third gene is involved in their echolocation ability, in their sonar for hunting insects.”

The results make sense, Auteri says. Because white-nose syndrome interrupts bats’ hibernation schedules, bats with genes that relate to more optimal fat storage (i.e., they’re fatter) and better hibernation regulation (i.e., they sleep longer) are more likely to survive the disease.

Auteri’s research could help scientists and conservationists find ways to preserve little brown bat populations. Besides being adorable, little brown bats also play an important ecological role as predators of insects like mosquitoes, moths, and other pests that are destructive to crops and forests.

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