Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fake News: New Species: Hotheaded Mole Rats (Aprilsnar antarcticux)

On one April Fools Day, before I retired, I read the following to my 8th graders after I first told them that I was about to read that was not true (that it was a joke):

"On April 1, 1995, wildlife biologist April Pazzo (pazzo = fool, demented one) discovered the only mammal native to Antarctica --- the Hotheaded Mole Rat.  There used to be plenty of other species of animal life millions of years ago on Antarctica before plate tectonic movements shifted this continent to its extreme southern latitude.  But this unique creature is the only one to adapt and survive.  It is, thus far, found only in a poorly explored area inland from the coast of the Ross Sea.

Its appearance  (and eusocial communal hierarchy) is similar to that of its relative, the Mole Rat of Africa (remember that Antarctica was once attached to Africa).  However, it has a large bulbous protrusion on its forehead (with innumerable blood vessels that radiate tremendous amounts of heat which allows them to melt their tunnels in ice).  It is this that allows them to hunt penguins (their favorite prey). 
In the winter when the Emperor Penguins are tightly clustered in small protected areas to protect their chicks, the Hotheaded Mole Rats sense their return.  Slowly, they migrate under the ice into a location that’s directly under the middle of the penguin cluster.  They then force themselves into one concerted ball with their foreheads pushing upwards.  At some point, the weight of the penguins above collapses some of them into the cave of slush beneath that contains the waiting teeth of the voracious rats.  This will be repeated after the penguins have moved to a different location --- but since the winter storms force them to remain in a specific locale to take advantage of the protection of very tall cliffs, it’s only a matter of time before the procedure is repeated.  [Since the ice in Antarctica never melts, old tunnels remain open.  The old cave-ins fill in with blowing snow & are indistinguishable after just a few years.]"

Note: After I finished reading it, I looked around the room and could see that most of them were believing it. When I reminded them that it wasn't true, they looked truly crushed. They had wanted to believe it.
I immediately altered my lesson plan for the rest of the day. Not all Eighth graders are mentally mature enough to properly handle misinformation. [And, today, I'd say that all too many adults aren't either. Case in point: fake news.]