What is an Ecosystem?

On this week’s news update: bad news for monarch butterflies in California, an unusual orangutan goes home, and a robot musician makes its debut!

Migrating monarch butterflies

Something strange is happening to the monarch butterflies in the northwestern United States. These monarch’s escape the cold winter by migrating south to the warm California coast. In the spring, they return home.

Each year, volunteers count the butterflies when they arrive in California. Just over twenty years ago, more than one million butterflies were counted! But in 2017, the volunteers counted just 148,000. And in 2018 there was more bad news: the number had dropped again to 20,456.

Scientists believe that one reason for this huge decrease is a lack of milkweed—the plant that monarch caterpillars eat. Extreme weather, wildfires, and chemicals sprayed on farms have reduced the number of milkweed plants in California. Now, scientists are looking for ways to protect the butterflies before they disappear from the area completely.

Alba’s albinism

Meet Alba.

Alba is the world’s only known orangutan with albinism. She was born with no coloring in her hair or skin, so instead of being orange-brown, like most orangutans, Alba is white.

Alba grew up in the forests of Borneo, in Indonesia. When she was rescued last year an infection had left her very tired and dehydrated. Now that she’s recovered, her rescuers have taken her back to her forest home. Like many animals with albinism, Alba has problems with her sight, making it harder for her to see—and so escape from—predators.

The rescuers will keep a close eye on her while she settles back into her forest home.

The pianist robot

In recent years, scientists have created robots that can walk, dance, and even play soccer. But now, researchers at the University of Cambridge would like to introduce a robot with a new set of skills—playing the piano!

Well, it’s not a star performer just yet.

The robot hand was created by 3D printing soft and hard materials. The fingers can’t move on their own, but the hand is attached to a rotating device that acts like a wrist. For now, it can only manage basic movements.

With more development, scientists think that robots could eventually be used to handle delicate objects, and even help doctors to treat patients.

Learn more…

The environmental changes occurring in California are damaging the monarch butterfly’s ecosystem. Watch our What is an Ecosystem? film to learn more about how where animals live affects how they survive.