March 14, 2013 3:03 pm
Enjoy, for a moment, the soothing tones and the sound of beating wings in National Geographic‘s quirky mashup of indie rockers Temper Trap and some beautiful footage of one of the world’s greatest mass animal voyages, the annual migration of the monarch butterfly. Each year, says the World Wildlife Fund, monarch butterflies “embark on a marvelous migratory phenomenon.”
They travel between 1,200 and 2,800 miles or more from the United States and Canada to central Mexican forests. There the butterflies hibernate in the mountain forests, where a less extreme climate provides them a better chance to survive.
Relaxed and enthralled with the brilliance of the natural world? Good. Try to hold on that feeling as long as you can, because as the New York Times reports, the spectacle of the monarch migration is crashing: “The number of monarch butterflies that completed an annual migration to their winter home in a Mexican forest sank this year to its lowest level in at least two decades.” In just the past two years, the area of Mexican forest taken up by the monarchs shrank from 7.14 acres to 2.94 acres, both down from an earlier peak of 50 acres. The Associated Press:
It was the third straight year of declines for the orange-and-black butterflies that migrate from the United States and Canada to spend the winter sheltering in mountaintop fir forests in central Mexico. Six of the last seven years have shown drops, and there are now only one-fifteenth as many butterflies as there were in 1997.
The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, the experts said.
Mr. Taylor said a further decline could cross a tipping point at which the insects will be unusually vulnerable to outside events like a Mexican cold snap or more extreme heat that could put them in peril.
“Normally, there’s a surplus of butterflies and even if they take a big hit, they recover,” he said. But if their current 2.94-acre wintering ground drops below 2.5 acres, bouncing back could be difficult.
“This is one of the world’s great migrations,” he said. “It would be a shame to lose it.”
More from Smithsonian.com:
December 21, 2012 4:19 pm
In 1954, the painter Frida Kahlo died. When she did, her eccentric husband Diego Rivera—a famous painter in his own right—refused to let anyone open her closet. When he died, the couple’s patron, Dolores Olmedo, was put in charge of keeping the closet sealed. She did until 2002. Now, finally, Frida’s closet is on display for the world at the Frida Kahlo Museum on Mexico City. ABC News reports:
Eventually, museum personnel decided it was time to look inside. And what a discovery. Art historians and fashionistas already knew Frida was unique and ahead of her time. But, what the items in the exhibit show are that despite the disabilities, the monobrow, and the violent depictions of the female anatomy in some of her paintings, Frida Kahlo was a bit of a girlie girl who wore makeup, used perfume and dressed up her prosthetic leg with a red high-heeled boot. Her clothing aimed for style and self-protection but it also made a statement, both political and cultural.
The dresses that Kahlo was famous for—called Thuana dresses—are featured prominently in the collection. The PBS series “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo” mentions them specifically:
No matter whether she was in Paris, New York or Coyoacán, she clothed herself elaborately in the Tehuana costumes of Indian maidens. As much as Frida’s country defined her, so, too, did her husband, the celebrated muralist, Diego Rivera. If Mexico was her parent, then Rivera – 20 years her senior – was her “big-child.” She often referred to him as her baby. She met him while still a schoolgirl and later, in 1929, became the third wife of a man who gaily accepted the diagnosis of his doctor that he was “unfit for monogamy.”
They were important to Kahlo, as they are to the museum curators like Circe Henestrosa today. She told USA TODAY, “This dress symbolizes a powerful woman. She wants to portray her Mexicanidad, or her political convictions, and it’s a dress that at the same time helps her distinguish herself as a female artist of the 40s. It’s a dress that helps her disguise physical imperfections.”
And the closet didn’t just have clothes in it either. The collection includes nail polish, medicine, jewelry and shoes. The curators plan on cycling through the whole collection over the course of five months, to show all the items.
More from Smithsonian.com:
November 23, 2012 3:15 pm
On October 4, 1824, Mexico ratified its first-ever constitution as an independent country, a document known as the “Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States.” Ever since that day, the country’s official name has not been Mexico, but rather, the United Mexican States. Like North or South Korea—The Democratic People’s Republic of Korean, or the Republic of Korea, respectively—Mexico almost never goes by its full and proper name. CNN:
[T]he reality is the official name is used only by Mexican officials who deal with diplomatic protocol and official documents pertaining to international relations. For the rest of Mexicans — and the world — the country is simply known as Mexico.
Apparently sick of living a double life, the Mexican (United Mexican Statesian?) President Felipe Calderon, “sent to the Mexican Congress a piece of legislation to change the country’s name officially to simply Mexico.”
President Calderon, however, is in the last leg of his term—the new President, Enrique Peña Nieto, takes over in a week. With time dwindling, says CNN, it’s not clear if Calderon’s re-naming proposal will go through.
November 23, 2012 10:30 am
Along the southern coast of the United States a mystery is deepening: mutilated dolphins keep washing up on the beach, and no one knows where they’re coming from. The victims are clearly offed by humans: they have, as the Associated Press explains, “bullet wounds, missing jaws and hacked off fins.”
So far, five victims have been found shot in Louisiana and Mississippi. A dolphin in Alabama was found with a screwdriver stuck in its head; another’s tail was cut off but it managed to survive. Whoever is doing this is not only depraved, but also skirting some pretty big fines. A federal agent is in charge of the investigation: Killing a dolphin can land you in prison for a year and comes with a $10,000 fine per violation. And this population in the Gulf is already struggling after the oil spill. The AP writes:
The gruesome discoveries are heartbreaking for Gulf Coast scientists, who follow the population. Fougeres said that two months before the 2010 oil spill disaster off the coast of Louisiana, dolphins began stranding themselves and that there were unusually high mortality rates — possibly due to a cold winter that year.
Since then, the spill and another cold winter in 2011 have contributed to several deaths within the Gulf’s dolphin population, experts say. Investigators have also found discolored teeth and lung infections within some of the dead dolphins.
Groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund are offering rewards that total in the tens of thousands of dollars for information that might lead to whoever mutilated the dolphins, but so far there have been no leads. Some of these injuries could have been sustained after the animals died and washed onto shore, which might explain the fins or jaws missing. And, it’s probably not one dolphin hater. The cases are spread across the Gulf Coast, and don’t have a common thread other than the species of the victim.
More from Smithsonian.com:
September 12, 2012 8:03 am
Facebook reveals not only people’s social connections but whole countries’, too. To illuminate these sometimes unexpected ties, FacebookStories.com assembled a nifty interactive map that depicts the Facebook friendships between countries. As author Mia Newman writes:
As we did a little research, some unusual connections become surprisingly clear. We learned that immigration between Japan and Brazil dates back to the 1970s, that Poles are the largest immigrant group in Iceland, and that more people commute across the border each day to work in Liechtenstein than Liechtensteiner locals going to work in their own country.
Here are some of the more interesting finds:
The U.S. maintains a lot of Facebook friendships with English-speaking Canada, Australia and the U.K. As of 2010, approximately 30 percent of foreign-born populations in the States hailed from Mexico, so it’s no surprise that Facebook connects Mexican residents and those in the U.S. with ties south of the border. The Dominican Republic ranks as the largest Caribbean economy, and around 100,000 U.S. citizens live there. Over 1 million DR-born citizens live in the U.S., and many have dual citizenship. But Dominican-born citizens comprise only the fifth largest Hispanic population in the U.S., raising questions about whether Cubans and El Savadorans – the third and fourth largest Hispanic populations, respectively – just don’t like using Facebook as much. (The second highest ranking group is the nebulous “other” Hispanic category).
It comes as no surprise that Iraqis like to befriend Facebookers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the U.A.E., all fellow Muslim and Arab-speaking countries. But what’s up with Sweden? As Facebook Stories explains, Sweden tops the list for Iraqi refugees and has allowed more of Iraq’s refuge-seeking citizens to cross its borders than the United States has in recent years. The Swedish town of Sodertalje, for instance, took in over 6,000 Iraqis since 2003 and is fondly referred to as “Little Baghdad.”
Again with the unexpected Sweden connection! According the to Embassy of Mongolia in Sweden, Sweden was one of the first Western nations to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia, which gave Mongolia a boost in international standings back in the 1960s. The two countries established the Mongolia-Sweden Business Cooperation over 20 years ago, too, and mining representatives frequently shuttle back and forth between Ulaanbaatar and Stockholm. Apparently, diplomats and business reps use Facebook to keep in touch, too.