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