Plantae and Animalia News: Ferns behaving like a bee colony, feline distant relative of sabertooth cat, and a mysterious whale

Here are some fun recent plant and animal stories I came across!

Australian Staghorn Fern

A staghorn fern in Lamington National Park in Queensland, Australia.

I recently read an interesting article about staghorn ferns in the New York Times. These ferns grow on the trunks of trees and channel rain water into the core of the plant. Researches have found that the variety of types of plant leaves on this plant function almost like a superorganism similar to the way that a bee or ant colony do; if you look at the fronds at the top of the fern (pictured above), they are long and waxy — kind of funnel like. They channel water to the inside of the plant, and to the other type of fern type, the cupped leaf that absorbs the water. These “channel-like” fern leaves have lots of spores on the uppermost fronds. Interestingly, the fronds at the very top have the most spores. These plants also create clones — copies of themselves. The specialized nature of the leaves are a remarkable example of “eusocialilty,” the plant working collectively together as a unit.

52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale

This is a recent story I heard about in the new film: 52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale (movie link). In the 1990s, while scanning the ocean for Russian subs, there was a whale discovered that made calls on a frequency different from both humpbacks and larger baleen whales like blue whales and fin whales, No one knew what whale it was, or what it looked like. Was it a blue whale, or a fin whale? No one knew the answer until Josh Zeeman spurred whale biologists to look at the locations of readings, and formulate a plan to go and look for the mysterious whale. The whale made calls at 52 hertz, which is a frequency different from any other large ocean going mammal. The movie chronicles the story of the search to find this leviathan. If you enjoy hearing about whales, you will love this movie! Some aspects are somewhat technical, so probably best for high school students and above. I do not want to spoil the story — to find out what they discovered, you will just need to see the movie! This film provides education on whale family structure, migratory patterns, and threats and issues facing whale survival in general.

Clouded Leopard

An animal that recently came to my attention, thanks to big cat photographer Steve Winter (below), is the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). The animal lives in the Himalayas, southeast Asia, down to south China. If you look at it’s skull, it looks similar to a sabertoothed cat, with large canines exceptionally large for its body. Much is unknown about this animal; it is fairly elusive. My favorite thing about this animal — the beautiful “cloud-like” patterns on its fur.

This cat is genetically different from Panthera. If you explore the chart below, you will see how the lines diverge. Panthera includes spotted large felines such as tigers, jaguars, and lions, most of which roar (with the exception of the snow leopard).

There are thought to be less than 10,000 alive, with no one population greater than 1,000. This feline has already become extinct in Singapore, Haninan, and Taiwan. Captive breeding programs started in the 1980s. In captivity, the clouded leopard has an average lifespan of 11 years. If you live in the greater Los Angeles area, this animal can be seen at The Cat House (link).

This cat is also extremely dexterous. It climbs down trees head first!

Do you have students that love plant and animal life?

Are you interested incorporating a study of living things into your homeschool?

We have an easy answer, if you answered “Yes!” 18 months ago we published Earth Party! An Early Exploration of the Linnaean System of Classification of Living Things Unit Study. This 12-week exploration delves into the kingdoms of living things, and explores issues such as how species are similar and different from each other. The study is available from the following sources: Carrier Shell Curriculum Store (including literature boxes) and Amazon.

earth party online class

If you would rather your student join an online class to explore this same material, sign-up for our Earth Party class, offered in Fall 2021. Here is a link to more information on this class!

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