In the nipple-pinching cold of winter, one of the things we can happily count on is that some brave soul in 17 layers of long underwear is going to drive out with a fuck-ton of road salt and sprinkle it on our frozen motorways. Salt destroys the layer of frost on the roads so that our morning commute doesn't turn into a demolition derby, but, unfortunately for wildlife, salt is also delicious.
Michael Dodd/iStock/Getty Images
The wildlife version of hearing the ice cream man.
As a result, it attracts salt-loving animals such as birds to roadsides, putting them at risk for sodium poisoning. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, since birds are biologically equipped to eat sodium and would normally just flush it out with fresh water. But in the winter, these sources are frozen over, so all they have to drink is more salt water. That's bad.
"So to go with all that saltiness, I'm thinking a nice root beer and a side of ... oh, I see. More salt it is."
Even worse, the highway is usually one of those places we try to avoid attracting animals to. Their roadside gorging leaves them so drained that they often fail to avoid traffic and become target practice for oncoming automobiles. Auto collisions are so common that the various winter finches who suffer them are known as "grill birds," named after the part of your car that kills them.
Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images
"Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of wings."
Some of us may be able to tolerate scraping dinner off the front of our car for a few months a year, but what about when the animal you're hitting is big enough to scrape you off of it? Yeah, standard road salt also attracts moose and deer, which are much larger and deadlier animals to hit with a car. Unluckily for drivers, these big animals come with big statistics: According to a Canadian study, moose attracted to road salt increase auto accidents by 80 percent. And in Idaho, switching from sodium- to magnesium-based de-icers saw a more than 80 percent decrease in car accidents and, presumably, thirsty moose.
Thanks to the chemical cocktail we've been unloading into the water supply like Captain Planet villains, various animals are finding it increasingly difficult to select mates in a way that makes any kind of sense. Female stickleback fish in the Baltic Sea, for example, have been reduced to screwing the first male they find because pollution-loving algae have reduced visibility enough to make the duds indistinguishable from the studs. But other fish have it much worse -- according to University of Minnesota researchers, a chemical found in plastics is duping some fish into interspecies loving.
Dim the lights; this is about to get weird.
Specifically, the culprit is BPA, or Bisphenol A. It's a compound found in cans, bottles, and shatter-proof containers, and it was recently banned from use in baby bottles due to a suspicion that it contributes to cancer and other nasty effects. Long known to mimic estrogen, BPA basically trolls the body's endocrine system, which is crucial for sexual development, metabolic processes, sexual functioning, growth, mood, and sex. There are also sex-related effects.
David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images
The stuff hits your junk like a Patriot missile is the point we're trying to get across.
For red shiners and their blacktail counterparts, this results in sexual pandemonium. Researchers came to this conclusion after collecting samples of the two fish species, keeping them segregated for a few weeks, and exposing some of them to BPA before bringing the populations together for a meet and greet. Despite sexual habituation to their own species, the reds and blacktails became sexually confused by color and behavior changes and were more likely to hook up outside their species.
Piet Spaans, via Wikimedia
Yup, that's the exact facial expression we'd make in your situation, too.
Although this sort of match-up works just fine among cartoon characters and Muppets, it's a major ecological problem, since BPA is basically everywhere and has been shown to affect animals even at low levels of exposure. As some of you may have found out the hard way, boning creatures of another species doesn't make any offspring, so the resulting decrease in biodiversity threatens environmental stability and probably leaves a whole lot of fish in need of intensive therapy.
Related Reading: Did you know bat-eating spiders are everywhere? It makes a fellow feel a little less guilty about being human. Also, vampire bats have a map of your veins. So really, you'd be reckless to NOT destroy their habitat. Also, drunken baboons, in case anyone cares.