Ele­phants are big in size, but keep it short when it comes to sleep­ing

The Woolwich Observer - - LIVING HERE - WEIRD NOTES

Q. Light­ning is bet­ter un­der­stood than peo­ple think. When was the elec­tri­cal na­ture of light­ning first un­der­stood and by whom? A. As early as the 1750s, Ben­jamin Franklin and French physi­cist ThomasFran­cois Dal­ibard (17091778) were drawn to the sub­ject, says light­ning spe­cial­ist Brian Bur­rows of Ox­ford­shire, UK, writ­ing in “New Sci­en­tist” mag­a­zine. Franklin is also cred­ited with sug­gest­ing use of an el­e­vated, earthed metal rod to pro­tect build­ings, an idea “quickly taken up by the Royal Navy, which had lost many wooden ships from fires caused by light­ning strikes.”

Fur­ther adding to our knowl­edge was the in­ven­tion of the Boys cam­era (1926), which al­lowed se­quen­tial pho­to­graphs of light­ning flashes. In South Africa, Basil Schon­land took nu­mer­ous pho­tos at a rate equiv­a­lent to 26,000 frames a sec­ond to re­veal some of light­ning’s pre­vi­ously un­known as­pects, in­clud­ing that a typ­i­cal thun­der­cloud has both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive charges.

As for Franklin light­ning con­duc­tors, they don’t do any­thing much to pre­vent light­ning or to dis­charge the cloud; in­stead they pro­vide a pre­ferred at­tach­ment point to a build­ing for a down­wards leader, so the light­ning cur­rent can be con­ducted safely to the ground. Q. Na­ture is filled with su­perla­tives — the old­est, the tallest, the stoutest. How is Thim­mamma Mar­ri­manu one of the crown jew­els of sorts? A. This banyan tree with its nu­mer­ous trunks and com­plex root sys­tem has the big­gest tree canopy on the planet, spread­ing out nearly five acres, re­ports Ben Crair in “Smith­so­nian” mag­a­zine. The banyan tree is the na­tional tree of In­dia. Leg­end has it that this par­tic­u­lar one grew from the spot where Thim­mamma Mar­ri­manu threw her­self on her hus­band’s fu­neral pyre in 1433 and “be­cause of her sac­ri­fice, one of the poles sup­port­ing the pyre grew into a tree with mys­ti­cal pow­ers.” The lo­cal for­est depart­ment sup­ports the tree’s con­tin­ued growth, mak­ing it still re­mark­ably healthy at more than 550 years old.

Other su­perla­tives of the leafy va­ri­ety in­clude Hype­r­ion in Red­wood Na­tional Park in Cal­i­for­nia, the tallest tree at 3,791 feet; Methuse­lah in Cal­i­for­nia’s White Moun­tains, “a 4,765-year-old Great Basin bristle­cone pine ger­mi­nated dur­ing the Bronze Age”; El Ar­bol del Tule in Oax­aca, Mex­ico, a Mon­tezuma cy­press whose trunk mea­sures 148 feet around; and Echo Caves Fig in Ohrigstad, South Africa, a wild fig whose roots reach 400 feet un­der­ground.

And in Cal­i­for­nia’s Se­quoia Na­tional Park stands Gen­eral Sher­man, a gi­ant se­quoia de­clared the world’s largest tree in 1931, with a wood vol­ume of 52,500 cu­bic feet. Q. Is it true that ele­phants, be­cause of their enor­mous size and weight, need a lot of restora­tive sleep? A. Ac­tu­ally, it’s quite the op­po­site. A re­cent study shows that wild ele­phants may set the new sleep record of need­ing only two hours per day, beat­ing out horses at two hours, 53 min­utes, says Su­san Mil­ius in “Science News” mag­a­zine. Much of that sleep oc­curs stand­ing up, with their ly­ing down only once ev­ery three or four days; in fact, ele­phants can even skip a night’s sleep with­out need­ing ex­tra naps later, re­port neu­roethol­o­gist Paul Manger and col­leagues in “PLOS ONE.” On the other hand, those in zoos and en­clo­sures have been shown to snooze from three to seven hours in a 24-hour pe­riod.

Gen­er­ally, it ap­pears that larger species need less sleep and smaller species need more, with some bats, for ex­am­ple, rou­tinely sleep­ing up to 18 hours a day. Per­haps, says Manger, “build­ing and main­tain­ing an ele­phant body may take more feed­ing time than main­tain­ing a lit­tle bat body.”

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