Test Your Nature Know-How

There’s no denying that these are tense and divisive times in America, but I hope one thing we can all agree on is that nature—big, whole-world nature and little, right-out-our-front-door nature—can make us laugh, delight us, and fill us with awe.

With that in mind, here’s a short nature quiz for you. The point isn’t really to evaluate your knowledge, although I suppose that’s a built-in part of any quiz. Rather, it’s to draw you in so you’ll click on the links below that expound on the points and are guaranteed to bring light to even the darkest days.

 Whitebark pine in winter. Photo by @brucejackson.com.

Whitebark pine in winter. Photo by @brucejackson.com.

Nature Quiz

1. Are there more trees on Earth or stars in the Milky Way?

2. What’s the only marsupial that lives north of Mexico? (The species is found in Oregon, but not in Central Oregon.)

3. Patricia Highsmith—who wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, Carol (formerly The Price of Salt), and Strangers on a Train, among other remarkable books—owned 300 animals of what species?

4. As folks in Central Oregon have seen this year, winter flocks of American Robins can be really big. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, their roosts can be how large: 5,000, 100,000, or 250,000 birds?  

5. Of the world's 505 primate species, how many have been discovered since the year 2000? Have we found 5, 15, 85, or 145 new species in that time?

6. If you weighed all the ants on Earth, roughly speaking, would they weigh more, the same, or less than all humans? 

Answers

1. According to a report in Nature, there are 3.1 trillion trees on Earth, which is way, way more than the approximate 400 billion stars in the Milky Way! What’s even cooler is this breathtaking video from NASA that shows you how all those trees combine, over the course of the year, to reduce the carbon dioxide in our air. 

2. The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial that lives north of Mexico. It’s non-native and considered invasive in Oregon. The opossum has been on my mind because I’ll be talking about their ... um ... interesting sex lives at a Sierra Club talk on Feb. 15 at the Environmental Center. That includes the fact that the male has a forked penis, leading some people to believe they mated through the female’s nostrils (!!!). Really, now, is there any better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by hearing about opossums and their forked penises? I think not.

3. Patricia Highsmith was a spectacular writer who battled a number of demons during her life, and she found some soothing companionship from an unlikely place—her 300 pet snails. She is said to have taken some of her snails with her to dinner parties where she would set them out to make their way across the table when the human conversation proved dull. (Snail mating habits are another subject I’ll dive into on Feb. 15.)

4. Flocks of robins in Central Oregon have been especially large this year, although they probably haven’t reached the 250,000 reported by the Cornell Lab. Locally, although there've been lots of robins, this harsh winter is no doubt taking its toll on many of our bird and other species. One worrisome trend is that sightings of Mountain Chickadees have declined.

5. Just since the year 2000, researchers have discovered 85 new primate species, bringing the total to 505 species overall. Incredible, no? It goes to show how much more we have to learn about the world around us—if we're still finding primates, imagine how many more insects and other small creatures are out there! Unfortunately, we're in danger of losing primates before we can learn more about them, as about 60 percent of primate species are in danger of extinction.

6. Roughly speaking, if you placed all the ants on Earth on one side of a scale and put all the humans on the other … the scale would balance! That’s one of many insights from perhaps the greatest naturalist of our day, E.O. Wilson, an entomologist who taught at Harvard and coined the term “biodiversity.” The PBS special about Mr. Wilson’s life (he’s still with us, thankfully) is extraordinary, and about far more than ants. It's guaranteed to lift your spirits.