Tag Archives: environment

Meat Lovers: Pitcher Plants

You’ve probably seen pitcher plants around. After all, they are a common sight in nurseries and at pasar malam markets. They are well known for being carnivorous, trapping small insects inside fluid-filled jugs where they unfortunately meet their sorry end. But what exactly are pitcher plants and why are they so different from normal plants?

The term “pitcher plant” generally refers to any carnivorous plant with pitchers that trap insects. This includes several families of organisms such as Nepenthaceae and Sarraceniaceae .

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Image: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090804081545.htm

So, how do these plants catch their prey? Basically, insects make a beeline for the pitchers, attracted by their colour or the smell they emit. However, when they stand on the peristome, also known as the edge of the pitcher, they fall in, landing in a pool of enzyme-containing fluids where they are slowly broken down into simpler nutrients such as amino acids [2] [3].

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Image: https://www.sciencesource.com/archive/-SS2521889.html

Pitcher fluid contains more than just insect-digesting enzymes. In fact, the components that make up the fluid of different types of pitcher plants vary. While generally acidic, the fluid in certain species are mostly made up of rainwater that collects in the pitcher, while those in other species contain more secretions from the plant itself. Pitchers also have an operculum, or lid. In some species, the operculum prevents rainwater from entering the pitcher diluting its fluids.

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Image: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/growing-pitcher-plants/

Pitcher plants generally live in areas where the soil does not have enough nutrients for typical plants to thrive. Therefore, they rely on insects to obtain sufficient amounts of what they are unable to get from the ground. However, pitcher plants still photosynthesise to produce glucose. Insects are only a replacement for substances they would otherwise have absorbed from the soil.

It is interesting to note that many species of pitcher plants are not closely related to one another, suggesting convergent evolution – different organisms independently evolved to have this particular appearance and insect-trapping ability. For example, the Australian pitcher plant is more closely related to starfruit than to other species of pitchers [7]. It’s pretty amazing how all these different pitcher plants adapted to their situation in similar ways.

So the next time you see one of these protein-guzzling plants around, do remember that they’re simply doing what they can to live their life to the fullest, just like you and me.

References:

[1]: https://www.britannica.com/plant/pitcher-plant

[2]: https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/pitcher_plant.htm

[3]: https://www.botany.one/2013/10/adapted-kill-pitcher-plant-traps-prey/

[4]: https://academic-oup-com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/aob/article/107/2/181/188441

[5]: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150420-the-giant-plants-that-eat-meat

[6]: https://www.thenakedscientists.com/articles/questions/carnivorous-plants-can-photosynthesise-so-why-eat-flies

[7]: https://www.nature.com/news/how-plants-evolved-into-carnivores-1.21425

 

 

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Award-winning video game is a dream for the nature lover

Diving. It looks so good, and costs so bad. If you’ve ever dreamed of being surrounded by colourful fishes and accidentally kicking corals (a painful memory of mine), but have been unable to for whatever reason, you still have the next best thing: a $20 video game on the Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows and Xbox One. A simple image search of the game will flood you with the happy chaos and bright colours of a thriving ocean – and you haven’t even played it yet. Players experience diving freely through pristine waters, unencumbered by oxygen tanks and ear-popping pressure. You can explore caves and swim through seagrass. You can – yes – grab hold of a dolphin and let it take you on a ride, all while the joyful calls of its pod surround you.

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Released in 2016 by developer Giant Squid, Abzû is hailed for its awe-inspiring beauty and breath-taking soundtrack, but it’s not just another pretty game for virtual tourism. It carries a message. A game like that, at a time like this, when human society is struggling to catch up with its own waste and consumption, when the environment is at breaking point, couldn’t not. Anyone who reads the news – who lives on earth – would notice the lack of trash bobbing in the water, the missing smokestacks on the horizon, and they’d get to experience what marine life would be like without human influence. That is, briefly – the game has a story to tell.

Without spoiling too much, Abzû is adamant about our duty to preserve and return life back to the oceans. But it doesn’t execute this message through guilt and blame in the way many environmental news articles and stories (deliberately or not) do. So few of us now have the privilege of meeting nature face to face, and that affects the way we see ourselves in relation to the environment. There’s no denying the awkwardness in trying to get a city dweller to care about some blue whale a million miles away that they’ve never seen. Abzû gives you a chance to fall in love with the ocean. The game features species of marine creatures from real life, telling us the names of each animal as we swim alongside it. The profound intimacy that the player gets is beyond statistics and reports and academic journals. It’s emotional.

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https://www.trustedreviews.com/reviews/abzu

Another aspect of the game that many environmentalists will appreciate is its rejection of anthropocentrism – seeing humans as the centre of the world. Neither does it swing in the other extreme. There’s a deliberate emphasis on togetherness, on the harmony between creatures that vary as dramatically as each colour of the rainbow. And that diversity includes our four-limbed, finless protagonist. At the same time, the player is constantly reminded of their staggering insignificance compared to the leviathans of the deep. Some have raised the player’s lack of control over the game as a flaw (the gameplay mechanisms are simple and repetitive), but maybe it’s the perfect metaphor for our relationship with nature. As the protagonist dives alongside a whale, looking into its eye that’s as big as her torso, it’s difficult not to think about how tiny she is. Her speed of travel underwater is frustratingly slow compared to all the marine creatures gliding effortlessly past. When she grabs hold of a fish to ride it, she goes faster, but loses all control over her direction. This all contributes to the timely reminder that we’re small, but not alone.

Whether you enter this game as an environmentalist, a marine expert or somebody who’s never been to the ocean, the story and experience are one of a kind, so don’t let anyone’s solemn analysis of its real-life relevance stop you from picking it up. That said, I highly doubt that anyone could complete this game and go on without having an extra tenderness for the ocean in their heart. Everyone’s tired of hearing and reading about environmentalism. It’s time they felt it.

Watch the official trailer here.

Source: I played the game and it was incredible.

Why boycott Kopi Luwak?

Kopi Luwak is one of the world’s most expensive coffee; one cup can cost about 80USD (109SGD). But what is Kopi Luwak? Simply put, it is coffee made from coffee beans that have been through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet (Luwak in Indonesian).

Brief process of making of Kopi Luwak

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Image from http://www.most-expensive.coffee/

Kopi Luwak was rumoured to originate in the 18th century in Indonesia, which was still under the Dutch colonial rule. At that time, the natives toiling in the coffee industry were not allowed to taste any of the coffee that they have been working to produce.  At the same time, they observed that the wild civets also ate coffee cherries, leaving undigested coffee beans in their excretions. Thus, the farmers collected these seeds, cleaned and roasted them to make their own brew of coffee.

Later, the Dutch discovered this special brew of coffee, and they found that it tasted better than what they had. It is said to be because civets only chose the ripest cherries, so coffee beans found in their faeces are uniformly of the best quality. In addition, the fermentation process and natural enzymes in the civet’s intestines break down some of the proteins in coffee beans. This results in coffee that is more aromatic, less bitter, and smoother (less acidic). Even so, the question of whether it indeed tastes better than other gourmet coffee yields varying opinions. While some say it tastes better, more feel no difference, or even say that it is worse, because it is bland (due to its lower acidity) and does not taste as complex.

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Image from http://nordiccoffeeculture.com/what-kopi-luwak-is-and-why-you-should-avoid-it/

Nevertheless, the popularity of Kopi Luwak grew rapidly, with many wanting to have a taste of this exotic (and expensive) beverage. Yet, it is difficult to find the faeces of the civets in the wild; only about 250-500kg of wild Kopi Luwak beans are produced each year, nowhere near enough for this industry to be commercially viable. As a result, farmers started to cage the civets for their precious droppings, without considering their welfare.

In the worst cases, some farm owners crammed the civets in tiny cages and exclusively fed them coffee cherries. However, wild civets are solitary, territorial animals. When forced so close to each other, especially in such poor living conditions and only allowed a limited diet, gory outcomes result: they fight with each other, chew away their own limbs, start passing blood in their faeces, and eventually die. With only coffee cherries provided to them, eating them is no longer a choice, it is their only option. Essentially, the high quality associated with Kopi Luwak is eroded. To make things worse, these civet farms even became tourist attractions, where many would come to the coffee plantation to see the civets, then enjoy a cup of Kopi Luwak.

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Image by Ulet Ifansasti, Getty Images

After so many years, what propels this industry is the high demand for Kopi Luwak. From a commercial product, it had grown to become a tourist attraction, where tourists are invited to view the captured civets, processing of coffee beans, then have a cup of Kopi Luwak. Apart from the ethicality of this practice, the authenticity of the coffee sold is also questionable. Coffee labelled Kopi Luwak may not have been anywhere close to a civet, or only contains a small percentage of the real deal, but are sold at exorbitant prices (compared to normal coffee). While it may seem fine to drink authentic coffee beans obtained from wild civets, this perception is wrong. There are no certification schemes and it is simply impossible to determine the source of coffee. If the demand does not die down, the conditions of these civets will only get worse.

Now, there is only one effective way to protect these civets: stop drinking Kopi Luwat completely.

By Shenny Goh

References

Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world! (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.most-expensive.coffee/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Wisotzky, M. (2017, August 1). Kopi Luwak anyone? It’s just $80 a cup. Retrieved from https://coffeewithoutlimits.com/kopi-luwak-anyone-just-80-cup/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Animal Coffee (n.d.). The History of Kopi Luwak. Retrieved from http://coffeeroastersdirect.com/the-history-of-kopi-luwak/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Kolbu, C. (2015, April 22). What Kopi Luwak is and why you should avoid it. Retrieved from http://nordiccoffeeculture.com/what-kopi-luwak-is-and-why-you-should-avoid-it/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Wild, T. (2013, September 13). Civet coffee: Why it’s time to cut the crap. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/sep/13/civet-coffee-cut-the-crap (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Bale, R. (2016, April 29). The Disturbing Secret Behind the World’s Most Expensive Coffee. Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160429-kopi-luwak-captive-civet-coffee-Indonesia/ (Accessed 21 Sep, 2018).

Going vegetarian for the environment

Personally, I’m an omnivore and my only concern for food is how good it tastes. Although I have always heard about how environmentally damaging eating meat is, I never put much thought into the situation. This led me to picking up this topic to learn more about the nitty gritty of meat production. It turns out the problem was worse than I expected. My steak probably didn’t come from a cow who frolicked in the clovers. It was probably confined in small cages and rested on a cold, hard cement floor. Similarly, my chicken was probably confined into small cages known as battery cages.

Such is the reality for the meat we eat. In fact, the majority of meat we eat comes from animals bred and confined in a place called an AFO (Animal Feeding Operation) (Worldwatch Institute, n.d.). According to American standards, AFOs are facilities where animals are confined and fed for at least 45 days in any 12-month period, and their feed is delivered from outside to the mouths of the animals (EPA, n.d.). AFO’s elder brother, Concentrated AFO (CAFO), has an additional criterion of having at least 450,000 kg worth of livestock in it (USDA, n.d.).

1.pngAs they say, a picture speaks a thousand words… or cows

(Picture taken from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sustainabletable/2950338558/in/photostream/)

Squeezing so many animals into tight conditions is not only unethical, but also poses serious environmental problems. At such high densities, the resulting quantities of manure (aka poop) can range from 3 to 20 times that of human waste produced in America (Hribar, 2010). In addition, CAFO owners typically add monstrous amounts of water to the manure before placing them in a pool. In this manure lagoon, bacteria guzzle on the nutritious meal and generate huge amounts of gas; greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxides as well as foul smelling ones like hydrogen sulfide (with a rotten egg smell) and other Volatile Fatty Acids (with a manure smell). 1 kg of methane and nitrous oxide can trap as much heat as 25kg and 298kg of carbon dioxide respectively – that’s how potent they are.

Given that there are so many AFOs nowadays, the combined greenhouse gas emissions are astronomical. In events of high rainfall or flooding, the contents of the lagoon can overflow and pollute the environment. The two main concerns are the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria and eutrophication. I shall stop here before I turn this into an essay, but bear this in mind – what I’ve just said is the tip of the iceberg.

Energy wise, eating meat is not a very efficient method. According to the ecological pyramid, only 10% of the energy is transferred from one tropic level to the next. This means that a cow would only receive 10 units of energy from a plant with 100 units of energy; a human would then only receive 1 unit of energy from that plant, should they eat the cow. However, they would be able to receive 10 units of energy if they eat the plant directly. This makes eating meat more energetically inefficient than eating plants. Given that mechanization has replaced much manpower in the crop and meat production, we are also wasting the resources used to produce the meat itself.

As we can see, while delicious, meat may not be the greenest food. However, crops are not all that good either. There are flaws in the way farmers are farming, which causes problems like loss of topsoil and leaching of nutrients. However, we can’t live without food! If we want to both survive and stay green, eating vegetables seems like the lesser of two evils. If you are indeed concerned about the environment, I would recommend you going vegetarian. Start small! One meal a week, followed by 1 day a week, then 2 days a week and so on.

At this point, you may have given up the thought of eating meat. Sorry to disappoint you, but I foresee a future where eating meat may be more common than eating vegetables. This is due to the rise of insects and lab-grown meat as alternative sources of protein. Once they become commercially viable, we may be eating them in the future! Who knows? Perhaps 10 or 20 years down the road my juniors will be critiquing my post for advocating the consumption of vegetables (especially broccoli L).

2.pngWould you eat this? I would!
(Picture taken from: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/lab-grown-meat/565049/)

That’s all from me for now. Personally, reading up on this topic has made me more conscious of eating as much meat as I did.

Be green, eat green!

Written by: Lee Yang

References:

Worldwatch Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from Worldwatch: http://www.worldwatch.org/rising-number-farm-animals-poses-environmental-and-public-health-risks-0

EPA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/npdes/animal-feeding-operations-afos

USDA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/livestock/afo/

Hribar, C. (2010). https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf.

 

The Bio”D” in Disney

It is a widely known fact that many of the beloved Disney characters that we are all too familiar with are based on actual animals. But really, how well do we know about the real-life creatures that inspired them? And how accurate are their real-life behaviours being portrayed through their fictional counterparts? Amongst many, five characters across the Disney universe have been chosen for you to compare fact to fiction because it is honestly such a pity that many of these real-life creatures and their equally interesting character traits lay hidden behind the spotlight.

  • Winnie the Pooh- Canadian Black Bear

(Credits: Heroes Wiki, Alex Pawlowski, New York Public Library)

One of the most timeless and oldest characters in Disney history, Winnie the Pooh, needs no introduction. He was based upon a teddy bear owned by the creator’s son, Christopher Robin Milne. Though the original teddy bear was not based on any actual bear species, the boy named it “Winnie” after a Canadian black bear that lived at the London Zoo. Perhaps this explains the stark difference in fur colour!

Fact:

Winnie the Pooh had a chronic addiction to honey and constantly plotted ways to raid hives with his Hundred Acre companions. Canadian black bears, or bears in general, do in fact love raiding hives too! They have short, non-retractable claws that allow them to climb up trees to reach the heights the hives are at.

Fiction:

While you only ever see Pooh Bear consuming honey, actual bears may be going in for the more succulent prize, as they are rather opportunistic eaters with a taste for almost anything. The bees and larvae are extremely nutritional and rich in protein and fat.

Also, actual bears are coated with long, thick fur which makes it hard for bees to reach the skin surface and sting them, thus making them resistant to bee stings. Their faces and ears, however, are areas uncovered with fur, so they are not completely immune either. So in fact, Pooh doesn’t have to make such elaborate plans just to get to his meals.

2) Zootopia’s Mr. Big – Arctic shrew

 

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Clara Chaisson)

You’d be surprised at the amount of thought that went into casting the characters of “Zootopia”. As a good example, the filmmakers consulted animals experts for “the most vicious carnivore” to play the part of the Mafia king of sorts, and it surprisingly was this petite little creature.

 Fact:

Shrews are as much of savages as Mr. Big in the film. Though seemingly adorable and harmless, these rodents will not hesitate to take on animals larger than them, such as mice, snakes, and scorpions. At one point, it was even believed that the shrew’s bite was poisonous, but it was later discovered that the saliva of some shrew species are lethal to mice and can cause substantial pain to humans. In fact, they hold economic value to farmers, ridding them of pests like insects and slugs.

Fiction:

It would be highly unlikely that an arctic shrew would possess such a wide network of family, friends, and servants, for they are highly solitary animals. Adults are territorial to the point where any forced extended interaction between two shrews would render one of them dead within a matter of days, as studies have shown.

3) The Lion King’s Timon and Pumba – Meerkat and Warthog

(Credits: Toonbaboon, Metro News)

It’s everyone favourite comedic duo and #BFFgoals, Timon and Pumba from “The Lion King”! Have you ever wondered whether these inseparable characters are based on actual, real-life animal interactions? Let’s put their friendship to the test.

It’s…fiction!

The meerkat-looking animals you see in the photograph on the right are actually mongooses and not meerkats! (That’s right, it’s not mongeese.) Warthogs and mongooses have been observed to share a rather rare form of symbiotic relationship between mammals known as mutualism, where both parties benefit – the warthogs cleaned and the mongooses fed.

Limited research has been conducted on this behaviour, though if you would like some evidence, do check out the 2010 BBC special called “Banded Brothers”, here:

4) Finding Nemo’s Pearl – FlapJack Octopus

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Dante Fenolio)

That’s right, for all those of you who thought this adorable character was a jellyfish or squid of sorts, you were wrong! This is a flapjack octopus, appropriately named after the way it collapses on the seabed, looking like mush. Unfortunately, that’s about the point where the resemblance ends, and from here it’s mostly…

Fiction:

If there were indeed fish schools, Pearl would probably not be going to school with the other fishes as octopuses are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and very possibly the most intelligent invertebrate on earth. They have highly developed nervous systems that allow them to solve puzzles, mimic other animals through camouflage, and develop both long and short-term memory.

Sadly, Pearl and her father would not have coexisted in the same time period either. Octopuses mate sacrificially, as after they practice external fertilization, the males wander off to die shortly after, and the females either starve to death obsessively guarding the eggs for many months (depending on the species), or her own body degenerates on its own. This, coupled with the fact that octopuses only live from a few months to a few years, is why experts think that humans are instead the dominant intelligence on earth because there was no way for octopuses to accumulate and pass down knowledge without generational overlap, despite their incredible cognitive and learning abilities.

5) Jungle Book’s King Louie – Gigantopithecus

(Credits: Walt Disney. Co, Wookieepedia)

Enough of the present, let’s dig up some of the past! Those of you who have watched the 2016 version of The Jungle Book might have guessed that King Louie’s character is based on the extinct ape species, Gigantopithecus, the largest primate to ever roam the earth.

Fact:

Indeed, it is possible for an early human and this real-life King Kong to have crossed paths. Archaeologists found the fossil remains of the Gigantopithecus in parts of Asia, India included (where the movie was set in), and it existed alongside human ancestors, Homo Sapien and Homo Erectus, for tens of thousands of years.

Its size is no disappointment either, as the Gigantopithecus easily stood up to 3 metres tall and weighed up to 600 kg! (There is, however, a slight locational discrepancy, as the species found in India, G. Giganteus, is only slightly taller than a human, as compared to its much more massive China counterpart.)

 Fiction:

Sadly, a meetup between King Louie and Mowgli would not have been possible, as the Gigantopithecus has been extinct for around 300, 000 to 400, 000 years ago.

Poor King Louie might also have been overly demonized as the Gigantopithecus, after research on its dental structure, has been proven to be a gentle giant with a general liking for bamboo – its cavities closely resembles that of a giant panda, indicating similar diets.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this magical carpet ride, and realised that actual animals can also be as fascinating as their fictional counterparts!

 

 

 

 

References:

 

  1. Barras, C. (2018). Jungle tales: the real King Louie was the biggest ape of all. [online] Newscientist.com. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2088989-jungle-tales-the-real-king-louie-was-the-biggest-ape-of-all/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Bear.org. (2018). North American Bear Center – What do bears like to eat in a beehive?. [online] Available at: https://www.bear.org/website/bear-pages/black-bear/foraging-a-foods/206-what-do-bears-like-to-eat-in-a-beehive.html [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Defenders of Wildlife. (2018). Basic Facts About Black Bears. [online] Available at: https://defenders.org/black-bear/basic-facts [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Disney Wiki. (2018). Mr. Big (Zootopia). [online] Available at: http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Mr._Big_(Zootopia) [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Encyclopedia.com. (2018). shrew facts, information, pictures | Encyclopedia.com articles about shrew. [online] Available at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/animals/vertebrate-zoology/shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Arctic shrew. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Gigantopithecus. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigantopithecus [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Griggs, M. (2018). Consent Form | Popular Science. [online] Popsci.com. Available at: https://www.popsci.com/warthogs-take-themselves-to-mongoose-gleaners [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Harness, J. and 1, R. (2018). 11 Things You Might Not Know About Winnie the Pooh. [online] Neatorama. Available at: http://www.neatorama.com/2012/01/18/11-things-you-might-not-know-about-winnie-the-pooh/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Manning, E. (2018). ASK A WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. [online] Adfg.alaska.gov. Available at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=371 [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Nuwer, R. (2018). Ten Curious Facts About Octopuses. [online] Smithsonianmag.com. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-curious-facts-about-octopuses-7625828/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Softschools.com. (2018). Octopus Facts. [online] Available at: http://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/octopus_facts/23/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. YouTube. (2018). A Warthog Spa – Banded Brothers – Series 1 Episode 1 Preview – BBC Two. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXW_1i1pA0w [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

International Biodiversity Day 2018

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Happy International Biodiversity Day! Today, 22 May 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of the day the Convention on Biological Diversity came into effect. Why not celebrate by donating a tree or two in support of our planet?

The Trillion Tree Campaign has allowed people around the world to pledge and donate to plant trees since its 2006 launch by the United Nations Environment Programme. As of 2016, more than 14.2 billion trees have been planted by people who care about the earth. Last year, the campaign set a new goal of a trillion trees. A 2015 study by Yale found that there are about 3.04 trillion trees on earth. However, we lose about 15 billion trees each year – imagine what a difference we could make with a trillion trees! You could become a part of that movement with just a few clicks.

Join in the effort at https://www.plant-for-the-planet.org/en/treecounter/billion-tree-campaign-2, and spread the word!