During this Earth Day week, we've been introducing you to visionaries whose work has contributed to the green movement. Today, however, I'd like to celebrate non-human organisms that help to keep our planet environmentally sound. All species play important roles in the ecosystem, but a few stand out as being especially productive and beneficial by reusing materials in very clever ways.
Here is my list of the top 5 animals (including insects and other organisms) that recycle:
(Yellow tube, purple vase, red encrusting and gray rope sponges; Credit: Twilight Zone Expedition Team 2007, NOAA)
Certain sponges, such as Halisarca caerulea, grow in the deep, dark cavities underneath coral reefs. Scientists at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research discovered that these sponges consumed half of their own weight each day in dissolved organic carbon, but yet the sponges didn't grow. Where was all of that food energy going?
As it turns out, the sponges were shedding cells produced from their processing of the carbon. Other reef
residents gobbled these now-edible cells up. "Halisarca caerulea is the great
recycler of energy for the reef by turning over energy that nobody else
can use [dissolved organic carbon] into energy that everyone can use
[discarded choanocytes],' explained Jasper De Goeij, who worked on the study.
(Spider webs; Credit: Daiqin Lee)
Some orb-weaving spiders, such as Cyclosa ginnaga, decorate their webs with bits of leaves, twigs and other plant detritus. To these they add their own shimmery ribbons, fluff and silk tufts to create mini web masterpieces. The spiders' goal is to make their webs as enticing as possible for prey.
(Credit: Thure Cerling, University of Utah)
Have you ever wondered what happens to old Christmas trees? At Germany's Zoo Dresden, elephants, deer, camels and sheep chow down on them with much gusto. Check out the photo here for proof. My local zoo feeds old holiday trees to animals too, and I believe the practice has become more popular each year at zoos worldwide.
(Baby blue jays in a nest; Wikimedia Commons)
Many birds will incorporate everything from lint to hacked up cat fur balls in their nests. Some people even leave their hair clippings outside for the birds to gather. One animal's garbage can be another's cool find.
(Credit: National Park Service, Tom Kopp)
Depending on the species, dung beetles may move, eat and even live in poop. They give "waste not want not" new meaning.