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The Mysterious Bent Trees of North America

To the casual observer, the thousands of bent trees scattered throughout the North American continent look like mere freaks of nature, deformed by the elements of disease, but a more careful analysis reveals that these trees bend sharply into right angles, parallel the earth, which suggests that they were intentionally shaped long ago, for an unknown purpose.

Bent, splintered or otherwise deformed trees are not exactly uncommon, but the so called “trail trees” still growing in many US states have a very specific shape. At about four or five feet above the ground, their trunks bend sharply forming right angles, parallel the earth, and then sharply bend upwards once again. Various accidents can cause this shape to occur naturally, but another distinctive trait of these mysterious trees is that they feature no scars in their bent areas. While scientists have yet to agree that this is proof that the trees were purposely bent by humans centuries ago, there are many who believe that the bent trees were once used as markers by hunters and gatherers to help them find their way around the vast wilderness.

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Europe’s Oldest Tree Is At Least 1,230 Years Old And Still Growing

A team of researchers studying a national park in southern Italy recently discovered the oldest tree in Europe ever to be scientifically dated – a Heldreich’s pine that is at least 1,230 years old and still growing.

Nicknamed “Italus”, the ancient tree was discovered on a steep mountain slope in Italy’s Pollino National Park by a team of researchers from the University of Tuscia, led by Gianluca Povesan. As soon as they saw Italus, researchers knew that they had stumbled upon an ancient specimen, but they didn’t expect it to be the oldest tree ever discovered on the European continent. Even more surprising was the fact that despite its age – a whopping 1,230 years, at least – and an almost non-existent canopy, the tree seemed to be thriving, with heavy ring growth added to its trunk over the last several decades.

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Video Shows Herds of Arctic Reindeer Walking in Mesmerizing Circular Patterns

A video of several reindeer herds on Russia’s Kola Peninsula, in the Arctic Circle, walking in circular patterns for no apparent reason has been getting a lot of attention on social media lately.

The video was originally posted on the Facebook page of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography Peter the Great, aka Kunstkámera, located in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was apparently captured during a recent expedition to the Kola Peninsula, in Russia’s Murmansk region. The 30-second clip shows large herds of arctic reindeer walking in circular patterns, both in the wild and in pens, and while several theories have been formulated to explain the animals’ behavior, so far no one has been to confirm if any of them actually make sense.

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Caterpillars Don’t Have Lungs, But Somehow This One Can Scream to Keep Predators Away

Apart from the sound they make while chewing on leaves, the vast majority of caterpillars are silent creatures. However, the Nessus sphinx hawkmoth caterpillar is able to produce clicking noises that sounds a lot like static, as a self-defense mechanism, and scientists believe they discovered how.

Insects have no lungs, but some of them can be really noisy. While humans and most other vertebrates make noise by forcing air out of their bodies, insects and larvae don’t have that luxury. Some of them have adapted, rubbing, knocking or vibrating parts of their bodies to produce distinctive sounds, the kind you hear when you open a window on a quiet summer night, but the Nessus sphinx hawkmoth caterpillar doesn’t fall into that category. When threatened, it produces a strange sound that resembles a combination of cracking and spitting, by pushing air through a constriction between its two foregut chambers, even though it has no lungs.

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The Loneliest Tree on Earth – A Fascinating Tale of Survival

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, a Sitka Spruce growing on New Zealand’s southernmost subarctic island, is the loneliest and most remote tree on Earth. Not only is it the only tree on Campbell Island, but the nearest other tree can be found over 200 kilometers away, on the Auckland Islands.

Located about 700 km south of Bluff, Campbell Island is one of the harshest places in the world. With strong winds blowing almost all year round, less than 600 hours of sunshine and only 40 days per year without rain, it’s not exactly an ideal place to live, which is probably why, except for occasional visits by research scientists, it has remained deserted for over half a century. Trees aren’t supposed to be growing here either, a fact made evident by the wind-tolerant shrubs and grasses covering the island, which only makes the thriving “loneliest tree on Earth” so much more impressive.

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Tiny Birds Build Communal Nests So Large They Can Pull Down Trees

While most songbirds build small, discreet nests designed to shelter one clutch of eggs, the Social Weavers (Philetairus socius) of southern Africa build communal nests so large that they can pull down mature trees. Each structure can weigh over a ton, and range upwards of 20 feet wide and 10 feet tall, with over a hundred separate nesting chambers. Successive generations refurbish and reuse these compartments, often for more than a century.

Social Weavers utilize several different building materials, starting with a basic structure of woven twigs. They then line the interior with grasses and feathers and construct a 10-inch long, one-inch wide private entrance with downward pointing spiky straws to deter snakes. While a breeding pair will have a private apartment, most chambers house three or four of the birds at a time. The benefits of this lifestyle become clear in the context of the desert where temperatures vary dramatically.

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Giant Fungus Covering Over 2,200 Acres Is the Largest Living Organism Ever Discovered

In the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon lurks one of the strangest and oldest known organisms on planet Earth- a giant fungus that has been around for over 2,400 years. Armillaria ostoyae, also known as the “shoestring fungus” or “honey mushrooms”, covers an area of 2200 acres, or 3 square miles, making it the largest organism ever discovered. It began its life cycle as a single spore, too small to be seen by the naked eye, and is estimated to have been slowly spreading for at least the past two and a half millennia, although some experts estimate that it is around 8000-years-old.

The giant fungus spreads through the root system of the forest under which it resides and slowly kills whatever is in its path, making it not only the largest organism on the planet but also one of the most deadly. For a few weeks each autumn, the honey mushroom erupts in yellowish clusters with caps, gills and spores, but the rest of the year it takes the shape of a thin white layer, similar to latex paint. It is in this less conspicuous form, however, that the fungus is most lethal, as it can spread more easily through the trees.

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“Bird-Catcher Tree” Lures Birds with Free Meals, Then Accidentally Kills Them

Pisonia Brunoniana is a species of small flowering trees native to tropical regions from Hawaii to New Zealand, and as far west as India. The pisonia tree has soft brittle wood with large glossy leaves and a dark secret. If you search among its roots and branches, you’re likely to find thousands of delicate bones and tiny mummified corpses. It is this macabre feature that gives the tree its creepy nickname – “the birdcatcher tree”.

The pisonia tree produces long seed pods coated with a thick sticky mucus that entraps insects and the birds tempted to feast on them. The ensnared insects look like easy pickings to unsuspecting birds, but if they’re not careful, they can easily get entangled in the sticky seedpods themselves. Too many seeds caught among their feathers can weigh the birds down and prevent them from flying off the tree. If they’re not picked off by a passing scavenger, the birds are doomed to a slow death by starvation. Often, the birds die without ever escaping the pisonia’s branches, which means their withered corpses are left dangling like some strange fruit or a creepy Christmas ornament. In what can only be described as a vicious cycle, birds of prey tempted by the trapped birds sometimes also get entangled in sticky seeds and become trapped themselves.

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How Discarded Orange Peels Brought a Costa Rica Forest Back to Life

20 years ago, a couple of ecologists fighting for the conservation of Costa Rica’s tropical ecosystems convinced a large orange juice producer to donate part of their forestland to a national park in exchange for the right to dispose of massive amounts of orange peels on a degraded plot of land within that same park. No one had any idea what an impact that would have.

In 1997, Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs, a husband and wife team of ecologists working with the Área de Conservación Guanacaste national park, in Costa Rica, came up with a plan to save a piece of unspoiled, completely forested land from a big fruit juice company, by offering something very attractive in return. If the company, Del Oro, agreed to donate part of its forested land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste, they would be allowed to deposit massive amounts of waste in the form of orange peels on a 3-hectare piece of degraded land within the national park, at no cost. Disposing of tons of leftover pulp and peels usually involved burning them or paying to have them dumped at a landfill, so the proposal was very attractive.

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Spanish Natural Park Looks Like a Giant Brain from the Air

The San Fernando marshes in Bahía de Cadiz Natural Park, Spain, are sometimes referred to as “Nature’s Brain”, because of their uncanny resemblance to a human brain, when seen from high above.

Covering an area of 105 square kilometers, Bahía de Cadiz Natural Park consists of wetlands, beaches, pine forests and reed beds, and has long been a popular destination for nature lovers, but it only received its unusual nickname a couple of years ago, when an aerial photo started doing the rounds online. It was taken by wildlife photographer Cristobal Serano who immediately spotted the similarities between the marshes and the human brain, the first time he flew over them, and decided to capture the unreal sight on camera.

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Brazilian Man Spends 40 Years Bringing a Forest Back to Life

83-year-old Antonio Vicente has spent the last four decades of his life fighting against the current. As Brazilian landowners cut down rainforests to make room for profitable plantations and cattle grazing grounds, he struggled to bring the lush jungles of his childhood back to life. Today, his efforts are being rewarded, as the completely stripped land he once began planting trees on 40 years ago, has become a beautiful jungle teeming with tropical wildlife once again.

It was 1973 when Antonio took up the challenge of restoring the forest on a 31-hectare piece of land that had been razed for cattle grazing. Ironically enough, he bought the land on the outskirts of Sao Pablo, in Brazil’s Sao Paulo region, using credits that the military government was giving out to promote deforestation and investing in advanced agricultural technology. But Antonio had no intention of using the money to boost the national agriculture. He just wanted to revive the forest.

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Couple Spend 25 Years Turning Barren Patch of Land into Paradise of Biodiversity

In 1991, Anil and Pamela Malhotra bought a 55 acres of unused farmland in Karnataka, India, and started planting native trees on it. Over the last 25 years, their small forest has turned into a 300-acre wildlife sanctuary that hundreds of endangered plants, animals and birds call home.

Anil and Pamela met and married in New Jersey, USA, during the 1960s. They both shared a love for wildlife, and after visiting Hawaii on their honeymoon, they fell in love with the archipelago’s lush forests and fascinating fauna. They bought some land and decided to settle there. “That is where we learnt the value of forests and realized that despite threats of global warming no serious efforts were being made to save forests for the future,” Anil said.

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Vibrantly Colored Flowers Turn into Creepy Skulls When They Die

The snapdragon or dragon flower is one of the most popular plants in gardens around Europe, United States, and North Africa. Named for its resemblance to a dragon’s mouth that opens and closes when lightly squeezed, this beautiful flower also has a dark side. When its petals wither away and fall off, they leave behind dried seedpods that look a lot like creepy tiny skulls.

One of the few plants to resemble something when alive and another thing entirely when dead, the snapdragon flower has inspired various legends ever since ancient times. According to one story, women who eat the tiny skull-like seedpods will regain their lost youth and beauty, while another says that scattering them throughout the house will protect residents from curses, sorcery and other evil things.

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The Amazing Story of a Gambler-Turned-Conservationist Who Spent $90 Million Saving Nature

Former gambler and businessman M.C. Davis placed the biggest bet of his life about 20 years ago when he decided to spend a considerable chunk of his fortune on nature. Over the past two decades, he spent $90 million purchasing thousands of acres of land all over Florida. And the risk paid off – he managed to revive forests and swamps across the state, saving several wildlife species in the process. Although he tried to do his conservation work without attracting too much attention, the positive effects of Davis’ efforts could not go unnoticed forever. Last year, he was featured in Smithsonian Magazine and on the National Public Radio website, and his story went viral.

Having grown up in a cramped trailer on a dirt road in the Florida Panhandle, Davis set out to make a fortune at a very young age, becoming a self-proclaimed gambler and hustler. He made hundreds of millions of dollars, but it took a simple traffic jam to bring about the epiphanic moment that would change the course of his life forever. “It’s drizzling rain, and I was just sort of frantic with exasperation,” he told NPR. “Stuck in traffic, and I looked up, and I saw on the marquee of the high school, ‘Black Bear Presentation’. Intrigued, he decided to pull over and attend the event.

At the time, Davis didn’t even know that Florida had black bears, but the lecture made by two women of the Defenders of Wildlife piqued his interest – the very next day he donated enough money to keep the Defenders campaign alive for two years. He also began to read more books written by environmentalists, and kept in touch with Laurice MacDonald, one of the Defenders that had oipened his eyes. “He had the steepest learning curve,” MacDonald later said. “We would begin with little debates. They were a little testy but fascinating.”  

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Grieving Mother Dedicates Her Life to Planting Millions of Trees in Memory of Her Son

Meet Yi Jiefeng, a Shanghai woman who has helped plant millions of saplings in Inner Mongolia, over the past 12 years. Her goal is to reforest the arid Alashan Desert while keeping alive the memory of her son who passed away 16 years ago.

In the year 2000, Yi’s only son, Yang Ruizhe, was killed in a road accident in Japan, and the tragic incident left her a shattered woman. But she eventually found a way to deal with the grief by devoting her own life to fulfilling her son’s dream. Ruizhe had told her about his plans to plant trees in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous region in order to stop the advancing desert, so Yi decided to fulfill his dream herself. “He was fond of nature since he was a little boy,” she said. “He was concerned about natural things such as wind, rain, plants, and animals.”

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