Strange But True: Longevity could be in favor of 'big guys'

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Q: Creme Puff, a Texas feline that allegedly subsisted on bacon, broccoli and heavy cream, is said to have lived 38 years. Bluey, an Australian cattle dog, at age 29 became the oldest canine on record. So, we wonder, why do we tend to outlive our beloved pets?

A: As a general rule "longevity favors the big guys," says David Grimm in "Science" magazine. For example, a bowhead whale at about 220 thousand pounds can live for about 200 years; a Galapagos tortoise at about 265 pounds can go 180 years. According to biogerontologist Steven Austad, it may be that large animals, like whales and elephants, face fewer dangers so they can afford to take their time growing and maturing.

"When it comes to our pets, the bigger-is-better theory gets flipped on its ear," says Grimm. Cats live an average of 15 years, compared with about 12 years for dogs, despite generally being smaller. And small dogs like the 4-kilo Papillon can live 10 years longer than the 70-kilogram Irish Wolfhound. Yet overall dog life expectancy has doubled in the past four decades, and housecats now live twice as long as their feral counterparts, perhaps due to better health care and better diet.

"Americans will spend $60 billion on their pets this year, with a large part going to humanlike health care (think annual physicals and open-heart surgery) and premium food."

It could be that our pets hold the clues to slowing down the body clock for all of us, adds biogerontologist João Pedro de Magalhães, who maintains the world's largest database of animal life spans. "I don't think there's a set max. longevity for any species," he says. "The real question is, 'How far can we go?' Maybe a thousand years from now you could have a dog that lives 300 years."

Q: It's not often that DNA identification gets dog owners into trouble, but what's one exception to this rule?

A: In the Spanish city of Tarragona, authorities have amassed registration databases to keep track of various canines and their DNA, reports "New Scientist" magazine. Now when this same DNA turns up in uncleared dog feces, it points the finger at the offending owner. "Such schemes already operate in some upmarket neighborhoods in the U.S."

Q: Quick! Can you cite the most recent Square Root Day, you know, when both the day of the month and the month are the square root of the last two digits of the year?

A: It was 4/4/16, where 4 x 4 = 16, reports "Scientific American" magazine. Only nine Square Root Days occur every century, with 1/1/01, 2/2/04 and 3/3/09 already past. The next one is in nine years, 5/5/25, then 6/6/36, 7/7/49, 8/8/64 and 9/9/81. Did you notice that the April 4th date also marked the beginning of the 2016 Major League Baseball season?

Q: The Earth's 27 megacities — including Tokyo (34 million), New York (22.2), Beijing (13.6), Rio de Janeiro (12.6) — account for 6.7 percent of the world's population, yet use 9.3 percent of global electricity and produce 12.6 percent of the world's solid waste. How might gathering data on such "megacity metabolism" help reduce their environmental impact?

A. The first-ever comprehensive comparison of megacities—metropolitan areas with populations of 10 million or more—revealed that New York "gobbles up significantly more energy than Tokyo, even though the Big Apple has 12 million fewer people," reports Gemma Tarlach in "Discover" magazine.

For example, New York consumed 6.8 megawatt-hours of annual per capita electricity, while Tokyo tallied 4.0; annual per capita waste generated by New York was 3300 pounds compared to Tokyo's 750.

As industrial ecologist Chris Kennedy, the study's lead author, puts it: "Gathering the data was the first step in a multiphase project to identify strategies that will help all cities effectively sip, rather than chug, available resources." The goal is important, he says, because by 2020, the Earth will likely add another 10 megacities to its rolls.

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich Sones at sbtcolumn@gmail.com.


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