Q. From dolphins to redwoods, species learn from and rely on their parents. Explain, please.
A. “All around the world, on every continent and in every sea, wisdom is flowing from mature adults to the less experienced,” says Gary Ferguson in “Discover” magazine. Meerkats are teaching their young how to handle the scorpions they relish without getting stung; wolf leaders guide younger pack members across rugged mountains and show them how best to hunt elk without getting kicked.
In the frigid waters of the Arctic, three adult orcas come together side by side, about 50 yards away from their prey – a sea lion on a small ice floe. Swimming in unison, they submerge together just feet from the edge of the floe, creating a line of big, fast-moving waves that knock the sea lion into the water. “A young whale is nearby, watching all this unfold.”
And, adds Ferguson, maturity can be equally valuable in the plant kingdom. For example, beneath the oldest, tallest coastal redwoods of Northern California are perhaps 10 miles of tiny fungal strands woven through the soil, enabling the trees to communicate. Forest ecologist Suzanne Sinard found that the biggest, most vibrant networks are between elders and their young relatives, with older trees even scaling back their own root structure to give the others more room to grow. Moreover, a sick or dying elder tree will send doses of its carbon to the saplings and may also help stimulate their defense mechanisms, increasing their survival rates three or four times more than less connected seedlings.
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Q. Ivory – the material comprising elephant and walrus tusks – has been prized for thousands of years. It has been carved into combs and brush handles, chess pieces, impossibly intricate Chinese sculptures, piano keys and pool balls. Demand remains strong, especially in Asia. But elephants and walruses are a dwindling resource, potentially threatened with extinction. So another animal source has emerged. Can you name it?
A. The woolly mammoth, already extinct, notes Kassia St. Clair in her book “The Secret Lives of Color.” “As the glaciers and icebergs melt across the arctic tundra, woolly mammoth carcasses have emerged in the thousands. Exact figures are hard to come by – so much of the trade in ivory is conducted on the black market – but it has been estimated that over half of China’s current supply of ivory may have come from woolly mammoth tusks. In 2015, a single carved tusk weighing 200 pounds was sold in Hong Kong for $3.5 million.”
Q. How did an upholsterer’s observation of the pattern of chair-wear in a cardiologist’s waiting room provide insight into type A personality?
A. After taking one look at the chairs with the front two inches of the seat cushion and the arm rests totally shredded, the new upholsterer asked, “What’s wrong with your patients? Nobody wears out chairs this way.” The patients in the waiting room were “waiting to find out the bad news…, literally sitting on the edge of their seats and clawing and squirming,” says Steve Mirsky in “Scientific American” magazine. “You don’t find chairs like these in a podiatrist’s office.” At the time, cardiologist Meyer Friedman dismissed the comments, but five years later, when he and his partner Ray Rosenman were collaborating with psychologists, out popped the type A profile: “time-pressured, hostile, poor self-esteem, joyless striving.” “Oh, my God. The upholsterer, he was right.”
According to neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, type A “is a bigger risk factor for cardiovascular disease, than if you smoke, than if you are overweight, than if you have elevated cholesterol levels.”