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A Natural Wonder: The Incredible Termite Mounds of Brazil

Renee Yates

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Visible from space, the eastern section of Brazil holds a dramatic count of 200 million massive mounds of earth, all created by creatures that barely measure ½ of an inch long. Created solely by termites, these mysterious cones of earth measure 30 feet wide at the base and stand 6-13 feet tall.

When contemplating the size of these mounds, it becomes staggeringly hard to grasp that an insect is capable of creating something this large. Known as the murundus, these mounds are fashioned in a honeycomb pattern, separated by about 60 feet from each other.

No one has studied the structure of these mounds more carefully than environmentalist Roy Funch, who has researched the murundus of Brazil for the past 30 years. Funch has no doubt that these mounds are created by termites. He explains, “I’ve seen termites building the mounds with my own eyes.”

Through his extensive research with colleagues, Funch has provided us with a glimpse into how termites create these vast mounds of earth, which cover an area as large as Great Britain.

He explains that as the termite workers are foraging leaves, they excavate their nest by building a vertical tube rising upward. He notes that this tube doesn’t have an opening at the top like a chimney does. Instead it has a few small side-holes around its rim. By simply excavating their nest, they throw soil out of these holes, which leads to a cone shape being created.

With such a vast amount of these massive mounds, one might assume that each mound houses its own large termite colony. However, Funch’s research has shown differently.

He collected soldiers from beneath different mounds to see if they would fight with each other. What he found was that a single colony can make their home beneath many different mounds.

In their search for fallen foliage, these termites need to expand their territory to cover a large amount of forested land. To accomplish this, they build a network of tunnels, with the intention of traveling from one mound to the next.

Paul Hanson, a colleague of Funch performed an experiment to determine the age of the murundus. He analyzed grains of sand from the center of 11 different mounds. The method he used was able to determine when the grains were last exposed to sunlight. This allowed him to determine when the first grains were buried, to identify when construction on the mound began.

Here is what his research found. The youngest mound was 690 years old, and the oldest was 3,820 years old! Obviously, termites don’t have this long of a lifespan. Researchers have yet to determine whether succeeding generations of termites take over these mounds, or if the mounds lay unused for hundreds of years.

Need another comparison to grasp the sheer size of these termite colonies? Through satellite imagery, the murundus of eastern Brazil have been proven to occupy 4,000 times the amount of space as the Great Pyramid of Giza. Who would have known that such a little creature could pack such a punch?

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A baby bear, tiger, and a lion found in a basement 12 years ago are now best friends

Kelly Taylor

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Wild animals try to stick to their natural habitat and they also tend to follow their natural social characteristics. For example, leopards are known to be very reclusive creatures and often prefer a solitary life. Bears and tigers are also not very social too.

In this fascinating story, a bear, a tiger, and a lion have grown up to become best buddies. In a video posted online, a 12-year-old Black Bear, named Baloo, walks over to his friend, Shere Khan, a Bengal Tiger, and cuddles with him as if they are brothers. Tigers don’t even get along with their kin. So this friendship between the bear and tiger is even beyond kinship. To make things even more unbelievable, they have another friend, named Leo. You guessed it right, Leo is a lion.

What might explain this unusual friendship is their common history. 12 years ago, when these three animals were babies, they were being kept in terrible conditions in a basement. Fortunately, they were recovered by the police and bought to Noah’s Ark Sanctuary in Locust Grove, GA. The three animals have cared for their entire life at the Sanctuary.

The staff at Noah’s Ark Sanctuary have never heard of such friendship between a big cat and a bear. They do share the same habitat, especially in the Fat East, but any encounters between them as most aggressive or they just ignore each other and keep out of the way of the other. They don’t walk up and cuddle each other.  The staff at the sanctuary does point out that out of these three, Shere Khan has kept a little bit of natural wild mannerism but he is still very friendly. When it is sleep time, the trio shares the same room and cuddle together. They were kept as pets in that basement, which was legally not allowed. The owner of the basement was a drug dealer. They were confiscated and bought the sanctuary. Since then the owner of the sanctuary has looked after these three.

Unfortunately, Leo has passed away, leaving his loved ones with wonderful memories of him. He was 15 years of age when he passed away. He had been feeling sick and during surgery, his doctor found 80% of his liver was damaged. He could not have survived in such a condition. The difficult decision to let him go had to be made so that he does not suffer. His end in the world was peaceful.

Leo’s best friends, Shere Khan and Baloo, were able to say a final goodbye to him. They have been doing all right since their best friend’s departure. The staff at the sanctuary keeps a close eye to check off any worrisome signs of depression or change in behavior. The staff believes these two already knew Leo was terminally ill long before the staff was able to find out.

Leo’s final resting place is located by the clubhouse at the sanctuary. Such compassion and bond in animals of different species are very rare. In the wild, they might have been foes, but at the sanctuary they were brothers. Their story is an example of when nurture overtakes nature. They grew up together and build a bond that went beyond the design of nature. Humans do not fully understand the communication or relationship dynamics of the animals. This story is an example of how wild animals can get along in the right environment.

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Too Shallow for Swimming With Sharks

Shannon Jackson

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University of Florida student Stefani Luke loved the ocean. She lived to be on the water. She was given a surfboard when she was in high school, but growing up in Ft. Lauderdale didn’t offer her much opportunity to ride any exciting waves. Going to college in Gainesville, Florida would provide her with a chance to take weekend trips to the popular beach town, St. Augustine to check out some waves. 

One stormy Tuesday, Stefani and some friends heard the news about coastal swells reaching up to five feet. They loaded up their boards and began a caravan. There were 11 kids but only 8 surfboards. She was excited to finally have the chance to use her board on some real waves, but she was also very aware of sharks. She was a biology major, recently working as an intern at the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Most of her work there was done in a lab or in area rivers. The biggest risk at her job had been alligators. 

Stefani’s love of the ocean and interest in fisheries compelled her to stay abreast of shark activity along the east coast. She knew that in 2019, reports of shark attacks, either provoked or unprovoked, reached nearly 150. 

The kids arrived at the beach, ready for some refreshing water and salty air. Today was a day to enjoy a day out of school. They unloaded the boards from their roof racks. Stefani waxed her beloved board alongside her good friends. Since there were more kids there than boards, Stefani offered her board up to a friend to try first. She figured she’d just do a little body surfing to warm up her muscles before fully engaging on her board. 

The waves were slightly disappointing. The stories they’d heard about giant waves were exaggerated, topping out at maybe three feet. She swam into the surf and waited. She thought she was a good distance from the surfers with boards. The water was a little colder than expected, and she hadn’t brought her wet suit. She swam parallel to the shore for a bit, to warm up. She ended up swimming close to her friend who’d borrowed her board. She waited in the line up, just beyond the breaking point of the waves. She was ready to body surf and catch some waves. 

The waves were coming in sets of four. She took the first in a set. It picked her up and she swam with it. As she glided in toward the shore she saw the dark shadow of what she knew was a shark. Everyone knows that you don’t panic when you see a shark. You don’t thrash around in the water. You don’t show signs of distress that signal to a shark that you’re easy prey. She forgot all that. All Stefani could think was “I don’t want to get eaten by a shark today!” She swam for her life. She swam fast, and probably a little crazy. 

The realization of her frenzy made her calm down slightly. She dropped the panicky swimming. She stopped swimming to realize that she was only in about a foot of water! She felt very silly, probably looking like a fool to anyone who might’ve seen this spectacle. 

She stood in the water to see her friend that had borrowed her board. Her friend asked with excitement, “Did you see that shark?!” Stefani acknowledged that she had in fact seen it. Her friend offered her the board back. Stefani declined, “No thanks. I like my legs. I like walking”. It was at that moment that Stefani gave her board away. She was done surfing and never tried it again. 

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Feisty Chihuahua: The Perfect Hunting Dog?

Shannon Jackson

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Kris Burget made a video in September 2011 where he explained the basics of how he prepared for hunting. Kris is a normal sized guy, but he goes out and hunts elk. Even a small elk is at least 500 pounds, but Kris is easygoing and confident as he explains how he gets ready.

The first thing he explains is that you should always have extra clothes, and he points out that even as he was speaking it looked as though there was a rain storm headed his way. If he became too wet and uncomfortable, he would have to cut his trip short, so he wanted to be able to change into rain gear if necessary.

The next thing he talked about was his cow calling gear. The gear was in his pocket and Kris squeezed it so listeners could hear the odd noise it made. Cow calling gear is available at sporting goods stores and hunters can use it to get the attention of the elk they are looking for. There are tutorials online so hunters can learn the best techniques and methods for using the gear.

Kris also carries an extra gun, as could be expected, and he has jerky within easy reach. Beef jerky is a convenient snack that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and that can be eaten without silverware, so hunters can conveniently carry it for when they need a snack while they are spending several hours in the outdoors. Hunters have to learn to be patient and do without nice things while on the hunt.

Finally, Kris pointed out that one of the most important things to bring on a hunting trip was a really good companion. For Kris, the perfect companion is his hunting dog. 

Anyone watching up to that point would be wondering where his dog was. Most people assume a hunting dog is going to be large, especially if the dog hunts elk. However, this is where Kris surprised everyone.

At that point, with a sly smile, Kris opened his camouflage backpack so he could introduce his hunting dog Coco. At first, you can’t see Coco because she is so small, but then she scrambles into view.

Kris is explaining how great Coco is at hunting, and how she is all business when it comes down to it. While he is talking, Coco seems to understand, because she lifts her tiny head higher and barks like crazy.

Kris warns everyone not to let Coco’s size fool them. Even though she looks small compared to other Chihuahuas, Coco obviously believes she is fierce and frightening. Her small size might be what makes her so good at tracking.

At the end of the video, Kris picks Coco the rest of the way out of the backpack and holds her up there with one hand. Is it true? I would have to see it to believe it.

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Amazing

Dog Gets a Baby Shower & Everyone is Caught by Surprise

Shannon Jackson

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There is no question that dog-owners have a unique, special bond with their furry friends, sometimes even going so far as to treat them literally as one of the family. And that means all the emotional ties connected to a canine friend are part of the package. Is it any surprise then that some even talk to their dogs like a roommate, telling them to be good and enjoy the day at a home until seen again in the evening? When you see this on a regular basis, the human-canine connection becomes natural and familiar, which probably explains why dogs do remain man’s best friend through the centuries.

Is It All In Our Minds?

In reality, dogs don’t really understand the specifics of what we are communicating when we talk. They hear sound and associate it with our pattern of behavior, interpreting care, attention, love, anger, disconnection and sadness in our tone and timbre. And dogs do feel connected back to us as well, as one of their pack. For anyone who doubts this, when you have a dog become so accustomed to you that it jumps up on the couch and pours its entire weight against your leg or side and goes to sleep, that a canine version of attachment.

The most traditional way of showing affection and favor of a dog is, of course, to give them an edible treat. Baths definitely don’t do it, and dogs really don’t care if they wear a sweater or not that says Merry Christmas on it. But put even a hint of food in front of them, and that canine olfactory sense kicks into overdrive on four legs. Physical affection is definitely understood as well, and most dogs love a good belly scratch or scruff behind the ears or under the neck. And then there are the dog owners who send their furry best friend flowers. Yes, we did write the word, “flowers.”

The Baby Shower Sneak Surprise

One teenager loves her baby doll so much, she gave her favorite canine a baby shower for the dog’s upcoming pregnancy. The party was set up with all the fixings and expectations of a baby shower except for one thing. The teenager didn’t tell anyone the party was for the dog. So, the invites went out, people got excited even though it was from the teen (yes, a few comments got passed around), and the baby shower date was set. On the big day, everyone invited who could make it showed up with gifts, food and drink were to be hand, and when the big moment arrived, the surprise was on the guests. Instead of the baby shower being for the teen herself, the guest of honor was in fact her canine love. Complete with maternity photos, cards, and well-wishing, her grown up puppy was feted in styled with a big canine baby shower. The dog, of course, could care less until the food was made available, in which case it was a proper party for a canine too.

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Amazing

The Mysterious Black Fox of Manchester

Renee Yates

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A little black fox was loose on the streets of Greater Manchester! Where did it come from, and why did it try and climb in a motorist’s van?

This fox has a story behind it. But what is that story?

One motorist was driving one day when he saw something. A cat, a skunk, or…could it be..? He slowed down. What was he seeing? He couldn’t tell at first. Was that a skunk playing around on an old road?

Then the motorist he saw he was looking at a fox was a fox. A black fox. He was obviously a little stunned. Like most humans, he had probably never seen a black fox before. Most people don’t even know they exist.

No they are not from industrial Manchester soot. Actually many foxes are born with black fur. They keep the black fur until they shed it as they reach maturity.

But this fox is no pup. Instead, it is one of the rare few that, through some genetic quirk, keeps its black fur for the rest of its adulthood.

The little black fox was hard to lay an eye on. As the smallest wild canines, foxes are quite adept at hiding. But what our motorist didn’t know is that they are quite deft at jumping, too!

That’s right—the little fox fox tried to leap-and-climb into the motorist’s vehicle! Crazy, isn’t it? This should have been a clue to something about the fox (no, the fox isn’t an Uber driver…that we know of). But at the time, the driver was simply quite surprised. What he did next might surprise you.

Well, the motorist did have a suspicion that not all was as it seemed. Doing the exact opposite of what many in the situation would do, he got out of his motor vehicle and tried to more closely encounter the little black fox. But that wasn’t what the fox had in mind.

It was almost funny—a grown motorist chasing a little black fox on a paved road, around the road in the bushes, over by a fence and finally a small building. Was the fox leading him somewhere?

One thing was for sure–even though the fox didn’t want to get too close, he seemed to be courting attention. Almost as if he wanted to be followed…or maybe rescued?

It turns out that was exactly the case! The fox was away from its home. And it wasn’t somewhere you’d normally find a fox.

The driver’s time was short with the fox. But we know now that the (some would say cat-like) canine is back in safe hands.

No, the fox wasn’t part of a zoo, and exhibit, or a farm. Instead he was the beloved pet of a family in Greater Manchester. He just happened to escape this day. As far as we know, he hasn’t ventured into the outside world again—yet!

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