One of the reasons I chose the title of Hermit City for this site is that I’m interested in the possibilities of the city as a place to live. As I wrote in my journal on my walk across Japan: “The best place for a human being to live is in a well-designed city. I can’t wait to find one.”
Living in a city, I miss the interaction with wildlife that walking in the wild brings. One of the hardest parts of living in China for me was the almost complete absence of animal life in the city, even sparrows or insects. I count myself quite lucky in Brisbane to have a wide range of insect and birdlife outside my window, along with mammals like possums and bats at night. But urban design has a way to go before cities are fully integrated with the landscape, as our recent floods attest.
I’ve always been the one in the office (sometimes the only one) to have a plant on my desk, and my homes have been described–quite inaccurately I might add–as a “jungle”. Research has established the psychological benefits of looking at plants, not only for reducing stress, but also improving cognitive performance. Greater biodiversity seems to enhance the psychological benefits of exposure. So I feel on pretty sure ground with that preference. Having plants and animals around helps me think.
It seems only natural, then, to include sightings of plants and animals among the digital alleys of Hermit City. It was an interesting year:
- The exceedingly rare saola, or “Asian Unicorn”, is still hanging on in the thick forests of Laos. Unphotographed since 1999, this specimen unfortunately died due to the trauma of capture.
- Scientists finally identified the true colours of a dinosaur. Sinosauropteryx was russet, with orange and white stripes.
- Breeding tigers spotted above the treeline in the Himalayas! (video) Only a thousand breeding females are thought to remain on the planet.
- Cemeteries are becoming important refuges for endangered plants and insects.
- A pair of baby albino kookaburras were found in Ravenshoe, Qld after a storm.
- At least five Peruvian children died after being bitten by rabid vampire bats.
- You can now buy domesticated Siberian foxes and have them shipped to your US address. Hard times have forced the Russian Institute of Cytology and Genetics to make some money out of Dmitri Belyaev’s classic domestication study. Selecting only for friendliness to humans, Belyaev quickly produced barking foxes with spotted coats, floppy ears, and curled, wagging tails.
- This is a fascinating article on Moscow’s stray dogs, some of whom have learned to catch the metro.
- More evidence emerged that plants make use of quantum coherence in photosynthesis.
- A rogue wombat attacked Mr Kringle (and was subsequently axed to death).
- In the wake of the Haiti earthquake, several wolf-men, or loup-garous, were lynched for stealing and eating babies and young children.
- Good news: frogs are at last developing resistance to the deadly chytrid fungus.
- This Brazilian treehopper is possibly the most bizarre-looking creature I’ve ever seen.
- The Smithsonian Magazine described the “discovery” of the kipunji, a handsome monkey well-known to local Tanzanian hunters but initially dismissed by scientists as imaginary.
- An entirely new animal phylum was discovered. When you recall that a phylum is a broad enough taxonomic division to include all vertebrates (Phylum Chordata) that is really something. The fantastically named Symbion pandora is a species which lives only on the mouthparts of lobsters and has a complex life cycle involving Pandora larvae, Prometheus larvae, females, and dwarf males.
- Vale Paul the octopus, of 2010 World Cup fame, who is getting his own shrine. Paul correctly predicted the results of each of Germany’s seven matches, plus the final between Spain and the Netherlands. His wikipedia entry still holds precognition to be a likelier explanation than chance.
- Possibly the most overlooked story of the year was the revelation a third human co-existed and interbred with modern humans: the Denisovans. This news was on top of the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, which showed that non-Africans share 1-4% of Neanderthal DNA; Neanderthals were most likely a sub-species of Homo sapiens rather than a separate species.
- Back from the dead: 34,000-year-old bacteria buried in salt in Death Valley was grown in the lab, taking two-and-a-half months to come out of hibernation.
- Also back from the dead is the secretive Bornean Bay Cat, feared extinct but recently photographed by camera traps deep in the northern highlands of Sarawak.
- More than 200 new species were discovered in the mountains of Papua New Guinea in 2009, it was announced. The tube-nosed bat looks particularly distinguished.
- Talk about being outfoxed: a Belarussian fox shot the hunter trying to kill it, escaping into the woods. True story.
- Rhacophorus vampyrus is the name of the newly discovered Vampire Flying Frog of Vietnam. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
- Aquarium employees initially did not believe a woman’s complaints that the phone had been eaten by the crocodile until it began ringing.
- Two words: paragliding vultures.
- And finally, my personal favourite: a frog photographed escaping the recent Brisbane floods by hitching a ride on a snake. May it have many tadpoles.
Got any sightings over the last 12 months that I missed? I’ll post more throughout the year, so be sure to send me any interesting links you come across.