Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University

Just for Fun: Feel-Good Environmental News

Posted by rdsayler | November 22, 2022
Let’s have some fun. Now that we’ve covered some interesting but oftentimes hard news about global ecology and the environment elsewhere in SoE Science News, let’s relax and look at some fun-to-explore aspects of science.

We feel it’s important to take the time to appreciate the mysteries and magical nature of the universe and scientific efforts to understand it better.

And so we share the following items with you and encourage you to watch, listen, read, and think as you will, and perhaps even have a chuckle or two.

In This Section (see below):

CARTOON: First Dog on the Moon – Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin interviews Climate Scientists

Pop Quiz: Barking Up the Right Tree

Must-Watch Videos: Exploding Plants

Epicurious? What Does 36,000 Year-Old Bison Taste Like?

Darwin’s Orchids and Drunk Wasps

Rediscovery of Frogs Thought to Be Extinct

Discovery of a Living Fossil on the California Coast

Morbid Curiosity: The Difference Between Possum and Opossum

Are You Smarter Than a Slime Mold?

Lost and Found: Rescuing a Rare Oak

Can Bumble Bees Play Soccer?

Photo of red dragonfly
[Cardinal Meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum) in the WSU Arboretum. Photo: R. Sayler.]

Andrew Marlton author of First Dog on the Moon
[Andrew Marlton, creator of the cartoon series, First Dog on the Moon, talking at the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2016. Source: Wikipedia. Credit: Danimations. License: CC BY-SA 4.0]
CARTOON: from First Dog on the Moon – Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin Interviews Climate Scientists 

For those of you who haven’t yet discovered the First Dog on the Moon, you’ll definitely want to check out this cartoon series for its frequent social and environmental commentary using animals and characters from Australia.

In the following cartoon, Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin interviews climate scientists:

See: First Dog on the Moon, Climate Crisis: As a climate scientist, how does it feel to see your worst nightmares come true?

Bark of Conifer Tree

Pop Quiz: Barking Up the Right Tree

Think you know your trees? Take our Pop Quiz to find out.

Photo of cucumber plant Must-Watch Videos: Exploding Plants

Here in the School of the Environment we don’t just give all of our attention to animals. We do a lot of work on plants as well. Now if we talk about exploding plants you might think about people dropping pumpkins and watermelons from the rooftops of tall buildings and watching them explode on the concrete below.

Sure, that can be a good laugh for some people. But some plants have their own built-in explosive qualities to disperse seeds. Some of these plants even made Sir David Attenborough laugh as well.

Here’s a few amazing videos of explosive seed dispersal in plants.

See YouTube (video with sound): These Exploding Plants Will Blow Your Mind

Even Sir David Attenborough laughed at the exploding (or squirting) cucumber plant in the following short video clip.

See YouTube (video with sound): EXPLODING Seed Ponds Make Sir David Attenborough Laugh 

Now if you don’t find exploding seed dispersal amazing, then have you heard about seeds that walk?

See YouTube (video with sound): Walking Seeds 


[Photo credits: Squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium). Source: Wikipedia. Author: Kurt Stueber. License: CC BY-SA 3.0]

Epicurious? What Does 36,000 Year-Old Bison Taste Like?

It’s pretty easy to make a good guess on the correct answer to this question. How about ‘tough and could use a little salt.’

According to Wikipedia, during the Middle Pleistocene, about 195,000 – 135,000 years ago, the steppe bison (Bison priscus) migrated into North America across the Bering land bridge and had a large distribution around the entire northern hemisphere.

In 1979 a gold miner discovered an excellently preserved frozen carcass of a steppe bison north of Fairbanks, Alaska, which he named “Blue Babe” after Paul Bunyan’s mythical ox, because the bison had a blueish cast to it from a coating of vivianite (a blue iron phosphate).

The story links below describe how researchers studying the specimen decided to celebrate by taking some meat from the neck of the animal and making and eating a stew made from it. At this point we feel compelled to assure you that this is not standard scientific procedure!

However, we couldn’t help but thinking that it’s a good thing that soft tissue from the large, now-extinct dinosaurs doesn’t exist, because somebody would undoubtedly decide to make a T-Rex burger. Would you like fries and extra sauce with that?1

See YouTube (video with sound): 36,000 year old Meat of a Mummified Bison was used for a Stew 

From the Univ. of Alaska: Blue Babe, A Messenger from the Ice Age


1We’ve seen some reports that the Blue Babe steppe bison might be even older than first thought. Try at least 50,000 years. Yeah, we’ll take that extra sauce you offered.

[Photo credits: “Blue Babe” steppe bison. Source: Wikipedia. Author: Bernt Rostad. License: CC BY-2.0]

Photo of the orchid, violet helleborine Darwin’s Orchids and Drunk Wasps

Why on Earth would a plant want to get a wasp drunk? Well, as biologists and ecologists here in the School of the Environment we know that plants often attempt to manipulate and influence the animals that may eat them or maybe pollinate or disperse their seeds.

Think of the many flowers that produce nectar to attract pollinators. And remember, there’s even plants that turn the tables and eat animals.

But still, why get a wasp drunk?

A short article about the recovery of a rare orchid, the violet helleborine, being grown in what were once Charle Darwin’s gardens caught our eye and we’ll let them explain. But we couldn’t help but wonder. Do you suppose wasps get a hangover?

See: Rare orchid flourishes in Charles Darwin’s gardens after two-year project 


[Photo credits: Violet helleborine (Epipactis purpurata). Source: Wikipedia. Author: Bernd Haynold. Dual Licenses: GFDL and CC BY-SA2.5 and CC BY-3.0]

Photo of a Harlequin frog, Atelopus certus

Rediscovery of Frogs Thought to Be Extinct

Some of the science news stories that we love to see are the rediscoveries of species that were believed to have been extinct. Such news is at least temporarily encouraging in several ways.

First, amphibians rank among the most endangered groups of organisms on Earth and their numbers have been decimated by habitat loss and other factors (e.g., wetland drainage, deforestation, human consumption, the pet trade, climate change), including the global spread of chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease for which many species of amphibians have little or no defense.

Secondly, if an organism isn’t extinct, then we have a chance to recover it. While rediscovery isn’t recovery, it’s nice to be able to cautiously celebrate small conservation victories when they occur.

See: Up to 32 frog species thought to be extinct may not be, new research shows


[Photo credits: Harlequin frog (Ateleopus certus). Source: Wikipedia. Author: Brian Gratwicke at Flickr. License: CC BY-2.0]

Photo of the mollusk, Cymatioa cooki.

Discovery of a Living Fossil on the California Coast

As long as we’re talking about rediscovering lost species, let’s give a little love and respect to our invertebrate friends, clams. We were intrigued by the recent story of the discovery of a species of mollusk that was thought to be extinct because it was only known from a paper describing the species in 1937. It hadn’t been seen since.

Imagine discovering a living specimen of what was thought to be a fossil species. But what also intrigues us about this scientific investigative story is the dedication that individuals bring to the study of different taxa, ecosystems, and species around the world. We tip our hats to the investigators, and along with them, celebrate this little rediscovery of life on planet Earth.

See: from The Current – A Needle in a Coastal Haystack 


[Photo credits: Jeff Goddard, UC Santa Barbara Marine Science Institute. Source: The Current. Used with permission.]

Photo of a feather tail glider being held in a hand Morbid Curiosity: The Difference Between Possum and Opossum

Okay, let’s jump right into the vernacular fire and try to get things cleared up. Possums and opossums are somewhat the same thing (marsupials), but also quite different kinds of animals as well. There you go. We hope that helps.

Opossums are marsupials in the order Didelphimorphia. The 120+ species arose in South America and the single species in North America with which you might be familiar, the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), came into North America when the two continents connected ages ago.

You’ll find the etymology of the word opossum as described by the world’s public encyclopedia, Wikipedia, quite interesting. Apparently (but not surprisingly) we stole the word from the Powhatan language. However, people in some areas, particularly in the southern states, may commonly drop the “o” and just call them possums.

That’s where it gets confusing, because European settlers that colonized Australia also used the word, possum, to describe their own arboreal marsupials (possums, gliders, and cuscus) in the suborder Phalangeriformes (native to Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Sulawesi, China). These animals may look physically similar to the North and South American opossums, but are more closely related to other Australiasian marsupials like kangaroos.

Now that all the technicalities are done, what really caught our eye about the simple article below is the short video clip of someone holding a possum (not an opossum…). If that’s not the definition of cute, then we don’t know what is. In the future we’ll explore much more about the conservation of marsupials in Australia and elsewhere.

See: USA Today – Are possums dangerous? 


[Photo credits. Feathertail glider (Acrobates pygmaeus) or pygmy glider. Source: Wikipedia. Author: Tony 1212; License: CC BY-SA 4.0]

Photo of slime mold

Are You Smarter Than a Slime Mold? (be careful how you answer…)

In keeping with our celebration of non-vertebrate organisms in this issue of SoE Science News, we couldn’t help but be fascinated by this recent article on problem-solving by slime molds and what scientists call “cognition without a brain.”

See: This Weirdly Smart, Creeping Slime Is Redefining How We Understand Intelligence 


[Photo credits: Slime mold (Physarum polycephalum). Source: Wikipedia. Author: Frankenstoen – flicker. License: CC BY 2.5]

Photo of oak acorns of differing sizes Lost and Found: Rescuing A Rare Oak 

The Chisos Mountains oak or lateleaf oak (Quercus tardifolia) was described in the 1930s but was believed to have disappeared until a team of botanical researchers from the Morton Arboretum and the United States Botanic Garden went on an intensive search to try and find a living specimen. After looking at thousands of oaks, they finally were successful.

“I was amazed and astonished at what I was seeing. As the team was radioed in and rallied, there was a sense of awe that we were quite possibly seeing the last remaining individual of this species.”

Once again, we are humbled by the perseverance and dedication of individuals committed to protecting biodiversity and fighting to conserve threatened and endangered species.

Did You Know?

North America has the largest number of oak species in the world with about 160 located in Mexico (about 109 endemic) and about 90 species in the United States.

See: the Guardian – Lost and Found: Search and Rescue Tactics Help Track Down a Rare Oak 

International Oak Society: Back from the Brink: Quercus tardifolia

Species Profile: Conservation Gap Analysis of Native U.S. Oaks 


[Photo credits: Acorns of differing sizes. Source: Wikipedia. Author: David Hill; License: CC BY 2.0]

Photo of bumble bee on a zinnia flower

Can Bumble Bees Play Soccer?

The answer to this interesting question is, probably not. Bumble bees don’t really seem to understand the concept of team sports per se, even if many species nest in colonies. However, bumble bees do appear to enjoy bowling.

Human ego and the presumption of the superiority of our intelligence compared to all other animals tends to get in the way of evaluating animal behavior, particularly when exploring the depths and possibilities of animal emotions.

However, researchers are beginning to think that they’ve discovered genuine play behavior in bumble bees who seemingly enjoy rolling small balls around for no other reason than they get a kick out of it.

[We know. Terrible pun…].

See: SciTechDaily – Astonishing Experiment Shows Bumble Bees “Play” With Objects 


[Photo credits: Bumble bee on a zinnia flower. Photo by Rod Sayler.

See more stories @ SoE Science News