Becky Pinto: Future animal life could have us running for cover

Recently, an article appeared on the Vox website entitled “The animals which may exist in a million years, imagined by biologists.” Keep in mind two things if you check out the entire article: the far-from immediate time-frame (a million years from now), and the word “imagined.”

Also take comfort in the knowledge that nature detests a void and will work hard to fill it; but neither biologists with good imaginations, or anyone else, will be in charge of exactly how that void gets filled.

That said, here are a few of what I considered the more plausible notions put forth in the article, which you can read at vox.com/down-to-earth/22734772/future-animals-evolution-unexplainable?utm_source=pocket-newtab, and the rationale biologists used to posit them.

Jingmai O’Connor, a paleontologist at Chicago’s Field Museum, suggested that “rats, rodents … cockroaches … and pigeons” have the survivalist stamina likely to carry them through long after humans are extinct. His rationale is that they are “doing just fine despite the worst that we’re doing to this planet.”

An evolutionary ecologist from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Salas Barve, remarks that plastic waste, a reality with which we currently grapple, could, with animal adaptations, serve as a carbon-based food source. Cows are already able to digest plastic, the article points out.

It’s all conjecture, and it’s impossible to say if Cal State’s professor of evolutionary biology, Alter, hits on a prediction likely to come true, but I couldn’t help smiling at her fantastical thought-process. The prediction goes that a large concentration of oxygen resulting from a future CO2-dense atmosphere on which many future plants will thrive, could result in larger insect bodies to the tune of rabbit-sized praying mantises or “ants as large as hummingbirds and dragonflies as large as hawks.”

I find myself tapping into Alter’s whimsical vision: Giant bugs evolving in the future would be “really, really cool,” Alter said. Especially so, she added, “if humans are actually around to see them.”

I agree! (I think.)

Why aren’t burning bushes turning red?

When I was a speaker at the Grandview Garden Club last year, I got a question from a member regarding her burning bushes, and why they weren’t turning red as they had in past years by late October.

Burning bushes are, much like species of maple trees, deciduous; and deciduous trees and bushes trade the green leaves of summer to adopt fall coloration (deep red, orange, yellow, etc.) before dropping their leaves. Many environmental factors can affect the rate of change, such as rainfall, the balance of warm days and cool nights, and changes in light conditions.

Columbus residents frequenting the Target store at this time of year will notice a significant line of burning bush hedge bordering half of the parking lot. The bushes were apparently planted at the same time, their uniform size and deep red color now making a stunning border, perfectly suited to compliment Target’s red logo.

Well, almost perfect. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that a few bushes at the east end of the hedge row were still mostly green. “That’s odd,” I thought, and took a closer look. The green bushes were mostly shaded as opposed to the rest of the row in full sun. Aha! A change in the bushes’ environment caused a slowdown in some bushes’ fall coloration.

Here’s the deal: Look up! When increased shade affects plants’ performance that formerly occurred in concert, it’s likely to mean that a new shade source is affecting them today.

Becky Pinto has been a Master Gardener since 2006 and was the Master Gardener newsletter editor from 2006-2019. She’s a Silver Level Master Gardener, based on cumulative volunteer hours served in the program. Her columns typically publish on the second Saturday of each month in The Republic. All opinions expressed are those of the writer. Send comments to [email protected]