Numlock News: July 17, 2020 • Wolves, Sturddlefish, Chicken

By Walt Hickey


With many spending the summer close to home, Americans are spending lots more than usual on stuff like patio furniture and outdoor toys. Sales of accessories needed for the use of RVs are up, including a 42 percent increase in hitch sales and a 31 percent increase in RV antifreeze, signaling people are getting more mileage out of their campers. Acon, which sells trampolines, saw a 120 percent increase in sales. NPD Group measured a 47 percent rise in water toy sales and 81 percent rise in playground equipment sales, not to mention the surge in lumber and home improvement sales for around-the-house work. All told, spending on outdoor toys in April 2020 was up $193 million, a 51 percent increase over last year. It’s not all about staycation: boat sales are up spectacularly — ski boats are up 338 percent, pontoon boats up 292 percent, and cruiser boats up 239 percent — so it’s cool to know Americans are still willing to invest in money pits they’ll sell en masse in like two years, the very foundation of our economy.

Jennifer Alsever, Marker


The U.S. is in the grips of a looming coin shortage, related to a decline in many of the industries that accelerated coin re-circulation — like laundromats and coin kiosks — and a general aversion to touching metal bits other people touch. In April, there was an estimated $48 billion of coinage in circulation, the problem being that it wasn’t actually circulating enough. The Mint is making more, working to produce 1.65 billion coins per month through the rest of the year. That would put 2020 production at 19.8 billion coins, much higher than the 12.4 billion coins produced in 2019.

Erik Ortiz, NBC News


Last summer, the government of British Columbia sponsored a cull that killed 463 wolves, carried out in reaction to an alarming paper about the conservation status of the endangered mountain caribou. This was a hard choice to make — killing one animal to save another — but determined to be the right thing to do. Well, it wasn’t, as a new paper published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation argues that the original research painting a caribou in decline made statistical errors (like extrapolating from just 12 populations) that meant that the caribou were not, in fact, being hunted to death by their natural predators. A more significant issue — and one harder to reconcile than “kill some wolves” — is that 350 square miles of caribou habitat has been lost to logging from 2014 and 2019, and it’s a lot harder to confront a profitable logging concern than it is to shoot an animal.

Sabrina Imbler, The Atlantic


In June the U.S. saw a whopping bounce back in apparel purchases, as the third month in sweatpants prompted many to refresh the wardrobe. I’m one of those people, opting to purchase an ambitious, bold new wardrobe, an aesthetic that makes me look like I sell cocaine to the guy in Tron. Spending in stores that sell clothing and accessories rose 105.1 percent in June compared to spending in May according to the Commerce Department, the highest across all retail stores. Other stores that saw a boost included electronics stores (up 37.4 percent), furniture stores (up 32.5 percent) and sports, music, and hobby stores (up 26.5 percent).

Alina Selyukh, NPR


Meat consumption is projected to rise 12 percent worldwide by 2029, with half of that growth coming from chicken alone. Production of poultry is expected to rise 15 million tons in developing countries and 5.5 million tons in developed countries by 2029. The expansion of pork production is expected to outpace the growth in beef production, with a total 11 million tons of pork production added by 2029 compared to 6 million tons of beef annually. Agricultural carbon emissions will rise 6 percent over the next decade.

Joel Leon and Agnieszka de Sousa, Bloomberg

Ah, Carp

Hungarian researchers interested in gynogenesis — where animals under certain conditions reproduce asexually, Jurassic Park style — goofed up real bad and accidentally invented the fish version of a liger, the tiger-lion hybrid that results from zoos making some awful decisions. Sperm from an American paddlefish — filter feeder with a long snout — and eggs from Russian sturgeon — the caviar-producing carnivore — ended up producing hundreds of hybrid (nicknamed sturddlefish) with two-thirds surviving the month and now 100 of whom inexplicably exist. The two fish have evolved independently on opposite sides of the planet for 184 million years and still managed to make it work, so let me tell you about my pitch for Finding Nemo 3: Nemo Finds Himself, it involves a vacationing Russian and an unexpected trip up the Volga River.

Annie Roth, The New York Times

Yellow-Rumped Leaf-Eared Mouse

A new study explains the discovery of the record-breaking mammal found living at 6,739 meters on the Volcán Llullaillaco in the Puna de Atacama of northern Chile. This breaks the record for highest-altitude living mammal ever observed in the wild, beating all observations made in the Himalayas. Hilariously, the paper does not cite the yellow-rumped leaf-eared mouse as a particularly exceptional creature, but rather chides biologists in general for not climbing more extremely high volcanos to find new mice. Essentially, this rodent’s existence means that biologists have probably underestimated the physiological tolerances of mammals in general because they don’t climb enough mountains to find new mammals with high physiological tolerances.

Jay F. Storz, Marcial Quiroga-Carmona, Juan C. Opazo, Thomas Bowen, Matthew Farson, Scott J. Steppan, and Guillermo D’Elía, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Last week’s Sunday edition was an excellent interview with Dina Fine Maron, who is the senior National Geographic Society wildlife trade investigative reporter. This was an awesome interview with someone who has a fascinating beat, Maron reports on wildlife crime and exploitation for Wildlife Watch, and wrote Pandemic-induced poaching surges in Uganda. Maron can be found on Twitter and on National Geographic’s Wildlife Watch investigative unit, and you should consider becoming a paid subscriber today to get the Sunday edition:

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