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5 Shockingly Creative Ways Animals Are Using Our Garbage

Humanity is pretty good at subjugating nature. In just a few short millennia, we inbred one of the most powerful apex predators evolution could muster, the gray wolf, into the Chihuahua, a hairless rat that couldn't win a fight with a strong breeze. And that's just what we did on purpose. Our little "accidents" have been such a fierce torrent of environmental nut shots that you'd expect nature to be nothing but a quivering mass of weeping extinction by now. But somehow, the natural world keeps finding a way ...

#5. Birds Use Cigarette Butts to Fight Off Parasites

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Cigarettes are bad news, and not just for us: Animals that live near humans are stuck with billions of pounds of non-biodegradable butts to deal with. Now, normally we'd make a joke here about your mom's ass, but this is just too sad:

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Plus their tiny little feet are way too weak to get a Zippo going.

Except that it's not, really.

It turns out that not all animals mind: Some birds are purposefully seeking out cigarette butts to line their nests because the nicotine that cigarette butts absorb while you're smoking them is pretty effective at combating the kinds of mites that plague bird nests. Researchers discovered this after planting heat traps lined with both smoked and unsmoked cigarettes butts in the nests of common house finches and sparrows. After a mere 20 minutes, the scientists found that traps with unsmoked butts had caught roughly twice as many mites as the traps with smoked butts. So, if anything, rather than disposing of your cigarettes properly, just toss that bird a fresh smoke every once in a while.

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You've come a long way, birdy.

Of course, being a general bummer, the scientists also pointed out that, while protective and beneficial in this one very specific instance, nicotine is still generally poisonous as all hell, so ashing your American Spirits into a baby bird's mouth doesn't count as your good deed for the day. What you can take away from these findings, however, is that even parasitic bird mites are turned off by smokers.

#4. Nuclear Fallout Helps Thwart Poachers

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Rivaled only by fast food and masturbation, nuclear weapons are the premier symbol of man's ability to screw itself on a species-wide scale. Not everyone realizes quite how broad the repercussions are: The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the more than 2,000 nuclear weapon tests conducted thereafter (not to mention the nonviolent nuclear catastrophes at Chernobyl and Fukushima) have contaminated soil, water, air, and even the very cells of living organisms with measurable levels of carbon-14. If radiation worked the way it does in comic books, we'd all be comic book characters by now. But it turns out that having cancer isn't a superpower, so we guess all these decoder rings were for nothing.

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Just once couldn't industrial waste give us X-ray vision instead of just tumors?

Oddly enough, the deadly footprint left by nuclear fallout has become an unexpected ally in the fight against the illegal ivory trade, which kills tens of thousands of elephants every year. By measuring the amount of carbon-14 in a given piece of ivory against the "bomb curve" (the shorthand for leftover carbon-14 floating around our atmosphere), scientists can figure out when an animal died. They then can use that information to figure out if it was killed illegally and in some cases track down the poachers responsible. In short, scientists are deducing crimes via radiation like a post-nuclear Sherlock Holmes. It's not a permanent solution (the technique will only last for another 15 years or so, when background levels will stop being measurable), but in the meantime, helping to save endangered species from human-driven extinction is at least a bit of a silver lining in that ominous, mushroom-shaped cloud.

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"I've been a lot happier since I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb."

#3. Turtles Love Some Golf Courses

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Pretty much the entire sport of golf is one deep-swinging ecological crotch punch, with everything from the building of the course to the balls themselves having massively harmful side effects. And yet golf courses can also be an environmental wonderland for a number of different animals. Some research suggests that properly managed golf courses are incredibly beneficial for a plethora of birds, beetles, and especially turtles. So what accounts for the difference?

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Not being hunted by a varmint-hating Bill Murray?

It's all in how you build it. On some courses, only a small fraction of the landscape is used for the actual swinging of sticks while wearing stupid pants; the rest is just scenic surroundings that you only experience firsthand if you hook a shot into the rough. So barring the rare crash from an exceptionally shitty golfer, it's a sweet hangout pad for nature in the middle of the city. Some of the more flattened courses -- the ones that usually replace delicate and rare marshlands -- end up having a more negative impact, but in the end, it seems like an even split. About half of all golf courses are hate crimes against Mother Earth, but the other half actually manage to cultivate a greater ecological value than farmlands or nature reserves.

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A third subset protects vital cement and plywood ecosystems.

So loving nature and enjoying a shockingly expensive walk with occasional club-swinging breaks aren't always mutually exclusive pastimes. If we just put a little effort into not actively ruining the habitat, we can still enjoy "hockey for people who hate teamwork and excitement" to our heart's content.

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Although we must admit that golf smokes hockey on the Grecian columns front.

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