Listen back to our best nature and animal stories of 2023!

Dec 14, 2023 Episode 168

It’s that time of year for our Best Of’s – listen back to our best nature and animal stories of 2023!

Episode Transcript

EPISODE 168- Best Of Nature 2023

LEELA: It’s that time of the year to look back and reflect… Yes, it’s the start of our “Best Of 2023” series!

OPENING STING – LEELA: “Hey, hey, hey. Listen up. New, new, newsy – Newsy Pooloozi!”


LEELA: Hello and happy holidays! This is Newsy Pooloozi – the coolest pool of news and information around. I’m Leela.

MAMA: And I’m Lyndee.

LEELA: So, as 2023 winds down it’s time to look back and reflect over the last 11 or so months.

MAMA: And, boy, was there a lot of this…

NATURE STING – VARIOUS VOICES: “The call of nature. Get on your safari suit. Or squeeze into your scuba gear. And get ready to hop into a jeep. Or submarines. Submarine. Because Mother Nature is calling! Nature.”  


 MAMA:  So, Leela.

LEELA: So, Mama.

MAMA: If I say Siberia, what comes to your mind?

LEELA: Cold!

MAMA: Yes, seriously cold. But it used to be even colder.

LEELA: Uh-oh. Is this another global warming story?

MAMA: Nope. It’s about the disappearance of woolly mammoths.

LEELA: Oh! Those huge, but kinda adorable, ice-age animals that look like, uhhh, very woolly elephants but with, uhhh, much more mammoth tusks.

MAMA: Now you know where the word comes from, thank you very much.

LEELA: My pleasure. But, yep, I’m talking about 15-foot-long tusks – that’s like the size of a canoe! But, well, curled up and pointy at the end. Would not like to encounter that in the forest.

MAMA: Well, you wouldn’t be in a forest. They liked grassland. And those mighty tusks of theirs could easily uproot the trees that got in their way. And believe it or not, that winter grassland is actually colder than forests.

LEELA: What? I always think of forests, with all that snow clinging to the pine branches, as sooooo cold. I just got cold just thinking about it.

MAMA: Actually, the forests are not only darker, so they absorb more heat, but those snowy branches act like a big blanket, trapping in the thick layer of snow until summer comes of course and and…

LEELA: It melts?

MAMA: Bingo. That’s why a snowy, grassy plain is actually colder all year round. And it’s also why some biotech engineers want to bring back the woolly mammoth.

LEELA: Oh, to help restore the old, cold ecosystem?

MAMA: That’s what they say. And with the help of gene editing technology, they reckon they can. Because the woolly mammoth shares 99.6% of the same DNA as Asian elephants.

LEELA: I did not know that.

MAMA: Neither did I.

LEELA: So that only leaves, wait, less than a percent actually point-four percent that makes an Asian elephant a woolly mammoth? Whoa… And I bet it’s the woolly fur and mammoth tusks!

MAMA: Right. The researchers from the Texas-based Colossal Biosciences lab will focus on the genes that make woolly mammoths cold-resistant.

LEELA: So, in a lab they can do that?!

MAMA: They think they can. But it’s unlikely to be precise. That’s why they’re saying it will be a “hybrid” woolly mammoth. This is called de-extinction. Of course, it has its critics from those who don’t think we should be genetically creating anything at all to those who think we should be concentrating on the animals on earth about to go extinct rather than reviving those long gone. And there are even those worried that the resurrected mammoth won’t have a mother to bond with.

LEELA: That’s not good. So, when’s this all gonna happen anyway?

MAMA: Well, the company says by next year they’ll have completed half the “edits” of an actual mammoth embryo. But really, they reckon it’ll be decades before the creatures are rewilded in the Arctic, that means being able to roam on their own.

LEELA: Well, I would say watch this space, but ten years is quite a long way away.

MAMA: So true

[FROM EPISODE 136- Chimp gestures]

MAMA: Seriously, there’s tons of nature news this week.

LEELA: And when she says tons, she’s not even talking about the bear caught on camera in Colorado, as if posing for one selfie after another.

MAMA: Oh, no we are not doing that story though we will have a link to the adorable pictures in our transcript so you can check it out, of course. But let’s start with our ancestral cousins.

LEELA: Makes monkey noises.

MAMA: Is that your best chimpanzee?

LEELA: Yeah, pretty good, huh?

MAMA: OK – or you could sound like this…


MAMA: But who cares about what they sound like.

LEELA: Well, hold on – we do! We did a story just in September about how chimps using drumming to communicate – Episode 116 in fact.

MAMA: Well, that is true. But guess what?

LEELA: What?

MAMA: Well, there’s more understanding about chimpanzees, which come from the forests of Central Africa, are highly intelligent and social animals.

LEELA: And our closest cousins – humans share about 98 percent of the same DNA as chimps.

MAMA: Correct. So, I guess it’s no wonder that they not only gesture like we do, but according to a new study from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland – but that humans can pretty easily interpret these gestures too.

LEELA: Mama says, as she throws her hands out widely.

MAMA: Oh, I couldn’t talk without gestures. But more importantly, these findings suggest our human language might have evolved from the hand and body signals of chimpanzees.

LEELA: Well! Says me, with my hand on my hips, “You don’t say!”

MAMA: I do say, say me wagging my finger. Now, next. Last week we had two new bits of news about dinosaurs. But there’s more!

LEELA: Oh, yes. A new species, discovered in Germany, is thought to have had 400 teeth. With a long mouth that looked more like the beak of a duck.

MAMA: The researchers, from the University of Portsmouth, think it waddled around small ponds and rock pools in search of food, eating like a duck or a flamingo.

LEELA: “The duck-dino.” Has a better ring to it than a flamingo dino.

MAMA: True. Though to be clear, this new species is part of the pterosaur family. Which were technically flying reptiles rather than dinosaurs.

LEELA: So, not “dino-duck” then?

MAMA: Debatable. Now, last but definitely not least.

LEELA: Oh, no. In fact, this should really be called an oddball.

MAMA: Hmm technically, more like an odd bottom.

LEELA: Odd or rather magical…

MAMA: So true. What are we talking about, you wonder?

LEELA: Oh, none other than the creepy-crawlie sea-spider.

MAMA: Which is a type of arthropod – that means an invertebrate with an exo-or external skeleton instead of an internal skeleton or backbone.

LEELA: Thank you. And while we know other arthropods – like crabs and centipedes – can re-growing their limbs, we didn’t know they could regrow their…

MAMA: Butts. Bottoms.

LEELA: Bottoms. Bums. Anus.

MAMA: The list goes on and on for what you call on your back side but say their behinds. Though, technically, being a spider it’s really just their little bottom bit. But, yeah, more researchers from Germany – this time zoologist from Humboldt University of Berlin, in Germany – found that juvenile sea spiders could regrow body parts, including their bums, if, you know, they happened to get severed or squashed amputated somewhere another.

LEELA: But not adult sea spiders.


MAMA: So, we’ve all heard of sniffer dogs, right?

LEELA: Sure, the dogs at airports that go up and smell everyone’s luggage and sometimes people too, trying to sniff out anything you’re not supposed to be carrying on planes. Like plants or animals. Or more so illegal drugs.

MAMA: That’s right. Well, you’re not gonna believe what animal is being recruited for the same kind of job.

LEELA: Oh, I know the answer – and it’s totally nutty!

MAMA: You said it! The newest members of an anti-drug police squad are… squirrels.

LEELA: Cray-cray and cute as this sounds, it’s no joke.

MAMA: Yep, they’re small, agile and quick. That’s why police in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing are training six Eurasian red squirrels to sniff out drugs.

LEELA: It’s part of a national program to see if animals other than dogs can be used in drug-busting operations.

MAMA: Well, squirrels are special rodents when it comes to smell. Did you know they can smell food under a foot of snow?

LEELA: Well, if we’re sharing fab facts about these nutty creatures – did you know about a newborn squirrel, it’s only about an inch long. A-dor-a-ble! And – get this – their front, buck teeth – which are equally adorable, never stop growing!

MAMA: That’s a common trait of most rodents – the word of which actually comes from the Latin word “rodere,” which means to gnaw.


LEELA: Huh! But hold on. Dogs sniff and bark to let their minder know they’ve found something. What will the little squirrels do?

MAMA: They’ll scratch their minder, of course.

LEELA: OMG. Too cute!


MAMA:  So, a lot of you have probably been hearing about the giant blob of seaweed heading for Florida, right?

LEELA: Yeah, I saw it on the PBS website. It’s a 5,000-mile-wide seaweed belt lurking in the Atlantic Ocean! Yuck! It’s more like science fiction, if you ask me.

MAMA: I know, right? Well, while we don’t wanna argue with PBS, it might not be as bad as feared, at least not by the time it reaches the beaches.

LEELA: Phew!

MAMA: This week, we thought we’d better head to Florida – to talk to our correspondent there, Lani Power, for the lowdown.

LEELA: Who’s just come back from Miami Beach, in fact. Over to you, Lani.

LANI: Most beachgoers are used to seeing seaweed piled up in the water and on the shore.

But have you heard of the news reports that have been swirling around the massive band of algae coming our way.

The Space Coast Tourism Office has even started calling it “Seaweed-ageddon”!

While the news reports may be exaggerating somewhat, it is true that we’re going to see a lot of seaweed this summer.

You see, sargassum as this is officially called is a type of brown algae that floats on the top of the ocean.

While it’s an important habitat for sea creatures, once Sargassum washes up on shores it quickly becomes a nuisance.

Some people are already complaining of rashes and headaches.

But the real threat is to our noses.

That’s because it doesn’t take long in the harsh Florida sun to decompose, giving off a pungent smell similar to that of rotten eggs.

Not exactly what most people are looking for when they plan a trip to the seaside…

From what I saw a couple weeks ago on a trip to Miami it wasn’t so much an enormous blub of algea – more like patches of seaweed floating on the water.

Scientists predict that the majority of the Sargassum will arrive on beaches in a couple of months.

Bad news for tourism, which is the third largest industry in Florida, and it employs 1.7 million people in tourism related jobs, so it’s kind of a big deal.

While I’m glad Florida isn’t going to be eaten by a giant ooze monster, it’s going to take some planning and quick action to stop people’s vacations from becoming an odiferous outing.

In Florida I’m Lani Power, reporting for Newsy Pooloozi!

LEELA: Thanks, Lani! Wow – odiferous, huh? That sure is a fancy way to say stinky!


MAMA: Now – some of you might be familiar with that great children’s book, Giraffes Can’t Dance.

LEELA: Ooooh, I loved that story.

MAMA: I know, it was always a favorite. So, in case you’re not familiar with it, it’s about giraffe –

LEELA: Named Gerald.

MAMA: Gerald the giraffe, yes, who’s laughed out of a big jungle dance party because, well… giraffes are the world’s tallest living land animals.

LEELA: I know, they can grow up to 18 feet or 5.5 meters – that’s taller than three adult humans!

MAMA: I know. They not only have exceedingly long necks, but also very long legs. So that means poor Gerald doesn’t dance the way the other animals do. But then he meets a musical cricket, and finds out that –

LEELA: “Everyone can dance if they find the music they love.”

MAMA: And, sure enough, Gerald the giraffe can dance. And so well the entire jungle goes to watch him in awe.

LEELA: Such a great story.

MAMA: Well, there’s part two. Only it’s real life. Turns out giraffes can’t just dance but they can also do math!

LEELA: What?!

MAMA: So, we’ve known for a while that different primates can do some basic math and even some fish can count, and bees can tell apart odd and even numbers. Did you know?

LEELA: I did not know that… Impressive.

MAMA: But no one thought GIRAFFES – which have quite a small brain for mammals given their body size – that they might have a special ability to use simple math, well statistics, actually to make predictions. Until now. Yep. Some Spanish researchers have given giraffes a math test.

LEELA: Oh, lucky them!

MAMA: Well, of course, they’re animals so there were no numbers, or anything.

LEELA: Let me guess – there was food involved!

MAMA: Oh yes that’s smart

LEELA: That’s a kind of math test

MAMA: Yeah right, So, here’s how it worked. They showed the giraffes two clear containers, each with yummy bright orange carrots which giraffes love, apparently and green cucumbers which they’re not so crazy about. Now one container had a higher proportion of the thing they loved.

LEELA: Carrots!

MAMA: Exactly. And the other one had more cucumbers. So, here’s where it gets interesting. The researcher would use one container with their right hand and take out one item but not let the giraffe see.

LEELA: They kept it in a closed fist.

MAMA: Right.

LEELA: And then they did the same with the other container and their other hand.

MAMA: Bingo. Then they held both hands out to the giraffe to let them guess which hand was more likely to have their favorite orange carrot.

LEELA: So, they had to size up the proportion of each container’s contents… and see which had a higher chance or probability of having the carrot. And could they?

MAMA: Ohhh they could indeed! Of course, this experiment was done using several variations, but each time the giraffes were able to successfully choose the hand that picked from the container with the highest proportion of their favorite snack.

LEELA: Clever creatures! So, a big brain is not necessarily a sign of a smart brain.


MAMA: So, we’ve known for a while that animals can do pretty amazing, sometimes even heroic things.

LEELA: Oh, yeah, check out the 2 stories we’ve done about Ma-gawa, the large rat who sniffed out explosive mines in Cambodia and was given an international honor for doing so!

MAMA: Thank you. That would be episode 14 and episode 50 in case you wanna have a listen.

LEELA: But like do it after you listen to this one. Right, ya…

MAMA: Yeah, we don’t wanna distract you too much. And you’ve probably heard the amazing but true stories of pets rescuing their owners from trouble – like the video that recently resurfaced of the dog that pulled his human away from a car driving down a residential road at 60 miles an hour.

LEELA: Or the cat that pounced on her sleeping human, waking her up to realize there was a fire in her front room.

MAMA: And now we’ve got news of pets coming to the rescue in more ways than one in Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia since 2014 though it really escalated 18 months ago in February 2022.

LEELA: Take Patron, the dog who’s an official member of Ukraine’s state emergency service.

MAMA: Yes, the pooch puts to good use his eyes and powerful dog nose – which smells ten-thousand times more accurate, or better, than humans, in case ya didn’t know.

LEELA: I did know that, thanks to several earlier stories on this very podcast. So, not surprisingly, Patron has also turned into quite a social media star.

MAMA: I mean, how could he not, right? Well, putting his influencer status to good use, Jack Russell has also helped fundraise for people affected by the war, particularly his colleagues injured while clearing mines.

LEELA: He’s not the only one. Oh, no, there’s also a fundraising feline in Ukraine too. Of course, there is an act who is just so amazing! You see, Stepan was just another incredibly cute internet cat until Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Now he also puts his social media celebrity status to helping raise money for animals abandoned or caught in the crossfire.

MAMA: And that’s not all. It’s really worth noting that in these super hard times for a country dealing with the hardships of war whether it’s the fear of bombs going off or resources like electricity and even food and water being scarce, never mind your whole world being turned upside-down these pets also provide a lot of emotional support too.

LEELA: Well, with the help of their humans, of course, their online avatars offer words of comfort and support.

MAMA: And sometimes just good, distracting humor to those suffering through the war.

LEELA: There’s even a cartoon cat getting in on the act.

MAMA: Proving to be super popular and comforting. No surprise there.

LEELA: And proving that help comes in all forms.

MAMA: Indeed. We’ve of course got links to all these heroic deeds and more in our transcript.


MAMA: So, we all know that most land animals make a noise like (barks) right?

LEELA: Oh, my gosh mummy! You scared me!

MAMA: And that those animals often use sounds exactly for that purpose, right? To shock and scare. But also… to attract… (meows and purrs – or tries to!) And we’ve kind of heard that even some sea creatures make noises. Like, of course, dolphins.


MAMA: But we’re learning more and more That it doesn’t end there. In fact, the ocean is a cacophony of noise, would you believe it?


LEELA: Well! I had no idea. But maybe it’s because my ears don’t work very well underwater being, you know, full of water.

MAMA: That is a very good point and perhaps that’s why we’re humans so behind in knowing the sounds of the sea. But, hello, technology! So, for a while now researchers have been using underwater sound recorders called hydrophones.

LEELA: That makes sense as hydro is a suffix that means water, right?

MAMA: Prefix, you mean. As it’s before the word. But also, these hydrophones keep getting better and cheaper. So, researchers can leave them down in the murkiest marine environments and capture audio.

LEELA: Even in the deepest depths of the ocean, like The Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth?


LEELA: Whoa.

MAMA: But also, artificial intelligence is now helping scientists listen to tons of recordings in super quick time and piece together similarities and patterns across the world to help identify different creature’s, well, you know voices.

LEELA: Good old, AI. I think.

MAMA: In fact, a research team from Goa right here in India at the National Institute of Oceanography, is leading a lot of this machine-learning.

LEELA: Good old India!

MAMA: Of course, we know some of the basics, like with land creatures, there are sea creatures that use sounds to attract mates. Like here’s the male damselfish.


LEELA: Eww la la. Although… Gotta say that sounds like a frog.

MAMA: And of course, there’s the “get out of my territory or I’ll bite your head off” noise from the clown fish.


LEELA: Huh. Can’t say it’s very scary, but then, maybe they hear differently down there?

MAMA: Yeah, that’s a really interesting point. Or maybe, their fishy bodies have different acoustic abilities?

LEELA: Got me! All I know is that it stands to reason that if you can’t see very well – and let’s face it, most of the ocean is in darkness, right?

MAMA: Yep, true.

LEELA: Than you gotta rely on sound.

MAMA: We just have to be able to learn to translate it, that’s all. And eventually with more research we could not just map out the sounds of the sea and but even discover new creatures. Like there’s a “mystery buzz” that has everyone perplexed. And never mind there are so many unknown fish like this…


LEELA: I guess all these recordings help scientists monitor the ocean better and be able to help if they spot a problem.

MAMA: Exactly! Did you know that scientists can tell the health of a coral reef by the sounds they make?

LEELA: I did not.

MAMA: Yeah. In fact, they can tell when a reef is dying more from the way it sounds than the way it looks.

LEELA: Whoa… I guess this is super important because the ocean covers almost two-thirds of the Earth, right?

MAMA: That’s right. And it plays a huge role from helping clean the air we breathe to helping produce the food we eat.

LEELA: Well, one thing is for sure. I think that “Sounds of the Sea” album, that some people use to help sleep, might just need updating…


MAMA: So, for the past few years, it seems like forest fires dominated the news headlines during the summer months in both California and down under in Australia, right?

LEELA: Tell me about it. But this year it feels like we were hearing about forest fires in all different parts of the world.

MAMA: I know, right? From Canada, to Portugal, to Chile…

LEELA: And Hawaii.

MAMA: Of course. As temperatures are creeping up with global warming, resulting in super dry land, it meant the right condition for forest fires to crop up.

LEELA: And spread.

MAMA:  That’s right. Because when land gets hot and dry, it burns quickly. Well, authorities are thinking of ways to stop fires even BEFORE they begin by reducing the amount of highly flammable dry grass and bush around it. And you’ll never guess what they’re using to do that in California.


LEELA: Goat firefighters?!

MAMA: Yep.

LEELA: Mama, you’ve got to be “KIDDING” me.

MAMA: Ha! Because a baby goat is called a kid… Nice one! But it’s true. In places that are super dry, firefighting teams are using goats as a sort of vacuum cleaner to gobble up the bushes before they catch fire.

LEELA: I guess it makes sense. Goats have those long narrow snouts and nimble – or quick – tongues and lips. And, whenever I’ve seen them, well, they do seem like they’re always hungry!

MAMA: They are! They eat lots of grass and bushes that are a pain in the neck to remove by hand, like the thorny star thistle plant, because you get stuck by their prickly thorns!

LEELA: They also eat poisonous plants I guess because, I guess, they have stomachs of steel.

MAMA: Exactly! And besides these eating habits, did you know that goats like to stand up on their hind legs to get too hard-to-reach spots?

LEELA: Anything for a snack, I guess.

MAMA: You got that right. Now, interestingly, this is not the first-time firefighters have used goats to help create a buffer, or a firebreak.

LEELA: A fire-what?

MAMA: A firebreak, it’s an area where all the dry bush, and dead trees, and loose shrubs and other flammable vegetation are cleared away.

LEELA: Ah, I get it! So, if a wildfire is headed that way and it gets to the open spot – with no trees or shrubs to burn – the fire goes out!

MAMA: That’s exactly right. A firebreak BREAKS the fire before it reaches people’s homes. And firefighters have been using goats, and cows and sheep for that matter, for years in other places in the world where it’s dry.

LEELA: Smart. Genius, actually.  “Kids” these days, just have all the answers!

MAMA: Oh dear. With all these puns, you’re really “goading” me on, aren´t you?


MAMA: Oh well, you started it!

LEELA: And that’s a wrap of nature stories for the year.

MAMA: We’ll see you next week for the wrap of the wackiest news from the past 11 and a half months.

LEELA: That would be the best of our oddballs – next week. Until then – stay curious!