Science Seminars at the St. Louis Zoo Offer Timely Topics and Recent Discoveries

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Imagine a “through the looking glass” forest with a giant mushroom that’s older than the pyramids and still alive and going strong. Whenever we think that we have discovered everything that there is to discover about the planet that we live on and the only thing left is outer space, something new comes along that makes us scratch our heads. First scientists discovered a giant mushroom that is probably the world’s largest living organism in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. The huge fungus covers some 2,200 acres, is 3.5 miles across, and takes up 1,665 football fields. They estimate that it is at least 2,400 years old and may be as old as 7,200 years. (www.infoseek.com) One commentator for a local radio station here described the fungus mistakenly as the “world’s biggest orgasm.” His co-host tried to whisper to him what he had said but the announcer went right on talking.

Another anomaly has been found a little closer to home here in the Midwest. Scientists exploring an old coalmine near Danville, Illinois have found what may be the world’s oldest fossilized forest. The discovery was published in the May issue of the journal geology. Over millions of years as sediments and plant materials pile up layer on top of layer they become time indicators with the youngest layers on the top and the oldest layers on the bottom. Miners are used to seeing stray examples of fossilized plants as they dig, but having one on the roof of the coal mine offers a unique glimpse of one of the layers spread out over a large area. (www.msnbc.com)

Recently two Illinois State Geological Survey geologists, Scott Elrick and John Nelson, showcased a photographic array of some of the rainforest’s beautifully preserved and somewhat bizarre plants at the St. Louis Zoo’s Science Seminar series. By examining the plants, which later became coal, much can be learned about the environmental conditions at the time.

The St. Louis Zoo’s Science Seminar series is held at the zoo’s Living World (north entrance of the zoo on Government drive) on some Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. and is co-sponsored by the Academy of Science of St. Louis. These seminars feature St. Louis and regional scientists presently timely topics and recent scientific discoveries. The next seminar will be “Hopping the Gauntlet: Multiple Stressors and Amphibian Biodiversity.” It will be held on April 2nd 7:30-9 p.m. Amphibians are sometimes called the “canaries of the modern world” because they are very susceptible to environmental changes. (www.stlzoo.org/education/

Just think of it. If we eventually use up all of the fossilized fuel and become extinct like some 40 percent of all species of plants and animals do by the end of this century, WE will become the next fossilized forest. And the cycle continues. Me, I’d rather be a giant mushroom.

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