Frequently Asked Questions: Ecology

Q. Do any animals have personal 'bodyguards'?
A. Yes. For example, the caterpillar of the lycaenid butterfly carries deadly weaver ants around to protect it from predators. In return, it makes a sweet honeydew for the ants.

Q. How many teeth has a shark?
A. The largest shark in the world, a whale shark, has 300 rows of teeth.

Q. Is it true to say that we may have atoms of Leonardo da Vinci inside us?
A. Probably yes. There are a limited number of atoms on earth. These are changed and rechanged into different forms e.g. Carbon atoms that may have been part of Leonardo's muscles or bones may be in the air around us as carbon dioxide or as sugars in our bodies now.

Q. What is the biggest meal that a python snake can eat?
A. A python can eat a small deer, but this would take one year to both digest and then use the nutrients from its meal.

Q. Why are flamingo birds pink?
A. The colour of flamingos comes from eating shrimp (prawns).

Q. What animal has the weirdest camouflage?
A. There is a Brazilian beetle which rolls over to hide from predators. Its belly resembles a bird-dropping, so the birds don't eat it.

Q. What does it mean when an animal 'plays dead' to avoid predators?
A. Animals pretend to be dead to prevent attack by predators. For example, an American opossum first hisses and then releases a foul-smelling substance to deter its predators. If this doesn't work, it falls over, lets it tongue hang out, stiffens its limbs and breathes so slowly as to appear dead.

Q. Why doesn't a spider get caught in its own web?
A. Part of the web is structural and non-sticky, and part is sticky to catch the prey.

Q. How long is the longest tongue of an animal?
A. The tongue of an anteater is about 60 centimetres long.

Q. How wide can snakes open their mouths?
A. Humans can open their jaws at an angle of 30 degrees. Pythons dislocate their jaws to swallow their prey at an angle of 130 degrees.

Q. Does planting trees reduce the Greenhouse Effect?
A. Probably yes. Because the Greenhouse Effect may be caused by a build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of factory and car emissions and other factors, planting trees may reverse this as plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in photosynthesis. For example, an American company is attempting to reverse the global heating effect of carbon emissions from a new 200 Megawatt power station in Guatemala. They are encouraging local farmers to plant 50 million trees over the next ten years. These will absorb more carbon dioxide than the power station will make.

Q. Why was the Mad Hatter in 'Alice in Wonderland' mad?
A. Mercury was used in 19th century to put a shiny lining on the inside of hat brims. Accumulative effects can produce headaches, madness and birth deformities.