Audubon.org
Get the Magazine
Contact Us


Current Issue Web Exclusives Get the Magazine Issue Archives Advertisers
Editor's Note
Audubon View
Letters
Field Notes
Audubon At Home
Citizen Science
Journal
Earth Almanac
Birds
Reviews
One Picture

Field Notes
Politics
White House Watch
Wildlife
Chapter Spotlight
Dispatches

Dispatches
Rampaging Raccoons
Safety Patrol
Exhibitionists
Fashionable Waste
A Lasting Christmas Gift

Rampaging Raccoons

Some residents of Olympia, Washington, have changed their minds about the “cute” raccoons that bring a little bit of nature to their city. The Olympian, a local paper, is reporting that the animals have killed several cats, attacked a small dog, and even bitten a homeowner who was trying to protect her pet. The woman who was bitten says she now carries an iron pipe at night, and others are packing pepper spray. The unusual attacks baffle officials, who can speculate only that the animals have become extremely territorial. Sean Carrell, a nuisance wildlife coordinator in Olympia, believes the animals have proliferated and become competitive because so many of the local residents routinely feed them. “These raccoons were eating better than some people I know. They were living high on the hog,” he says. For the time being, residents have organized a raccoon watch. Their goal is to convince others to keep pets and pet food indoors, and to never leave human food out for wildlife.—Hilda Brucker
top

Safety Patrol

Even chimpanzees have to cross the road to get to the other side, though sometimes, it seems, they need a crossing guard. A study published this past summer in the journal Current Biology reports that in Guinea, in West Africa, dominant male chimps check out the traffic situation before leading their group across. “They are vigilant before crossing the road,” says Kimberley Hockings, a Ph.D. student in psychology at Scotland’s University of Stirland and a lead researcher in the study. In a mountainous part of the country, where roads have been cut through the chimps’ longtime foraging grounds, Hocking says the animals have adapted by using crossing guards. When the leader gives the troop the go-ahead, the remaining alpha males assume the role of caboose on the chimpanzee train, protecting the females and young chimps in the middle. Thus far no chimps have been hurt by cars, so the system seems to be working—even without the reflective vests and the stop signs.—Susan Cosier
top

Exhibitionists

It’s the stuff of a Jacques Cousteau documentary: Last year two expeditions to the Bird’s Head seascape, off Indonesia’s Papua province, discovered a treasure of more than 50 new marine species, including coral, shrimp, and fish. Among the gems were two species of epaulette shark—distinct for their leopardlike spots and their ability to “walk” across the ocean floor by scooting on their fins—and two species of “flasher” wrasse, tiny fish named for their spawning behavior. Male wrasses are a dull brown until they’re ready to attract mates, at which point they crank out a fireworks display of color to “flash” at the females. “It’s like a guy walking around in a trench coat and all of a sudden he shows his stuff,” says Mark Erdmann, a marine conservationist with Conservation International, who headed the expeditions. Researchers also recorded some 600 reef-building coral species, about 10 times the number in the Caribbean.—Julie Leibach
top
 
Fashionable Waste

One farmer’s trash is a scientist’s treasure. Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are studying agricultural waste—namely, chicken feathers and rice straw—in order to develop environmentally friendly fabrics. The textile industry relies heavily on petroleum to make synthetic fibers, but that resource, of course, isn’t sustainable. And the use of water, pesticides, and fertilizer drives up the cost of producing natural fibers made from plants like cotton. Agricultural waste, on the other hand, is abundant and, well, dirt cheap. “That’s the beauty of it,” says textile scientist Yiqi Yang. “The only money you pay is for pickup.” Yang’s team at the university has already developed a prototype of rice straw–based material. Like linen, it’s biodegradable and can withstand dyeing and, based on preliminary studies, normal washing. Woollike fiber made from chicken feathers is also being developed.—Julie Leibach
top
 
A Lasting Christmas Gift

Thousands of Christmas trees will end this holiday season by being systematically dumped in lakes or placed in vacant fields. Wildlife biologists have long recognized the benefits of sinking brush piles—so-called “artificial reefs”—into the bottoms of lakes and reservoirs to increase fish habitat. Christmas trees are ideal because they’re plentiful and, best of all, free. “The towns are trying to get rid of them anyway, so we take them off their hands,” says Chris Smith, a senior fisheries biologist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The trees are submerged in spots fish are likely to pass, such as the transition from deep to shallow water, in an effort to attract the greatest diversity of species, including important game fish like largemouth bass. The trees also provide cover and nesting areas on land for small mammals, like cottontail rabbits, as well as reptiles, amphibians, and ground-nesting birds. Homeowners and wildlife biologists construct brush piles at least five feet high in areas with sparse natural cover. Contact your local fish and wildlife agency to find out about programs in your area—and rescue this year’s tree from the wood chipper.—Todd Neale
top

















Change of Address | Jobs at Audubon Magazine | Media Kit
Get the Magazine | Audubon.org |
Contact Us