Sunday, 29 March 2015

500 million-year-old lobster-like predator found in Canada

March 28, 2015

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

(Credit: University of Toronto)
Fossils of an ancient, lobster-like creature that is the forerunner of a diverse group of creatures including lobsters, butterflies, and spiders have been identified by paleontologists at the University of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum, and Pomona College in California.

The species, Yawunik kootenayi, is described as a marine predator that had two pairs of eyes and prominent frontal appendages that could have been used for grasping. They believe that it lived more than 508 million years ago, or 250 million years before the first dinosaurs.

Yawunik kootenayi is believed to be the first new species to be described from Toronto’s Marble Canyon site, part of the renowned Canadian Burgess Shale fossil deposit, the researchers said. A paper describing the discovery was published this week in the journal Palaeontology.


On St. Patrick's Day, here's the real reason Ireland has no snakes - via Herp Digest

By Chris Gaylord, Staff writer, Christian Science Monitor, March 17, 2015

Tuesday marks St. Patrick's Day, named after the 5th-century missionary who was famous for banishing all of the snakes from Ireland. With staff in hand, the Christian preacher cast the slithering critters into the sea, never to return – at least that's the story.
The Emerald Isle is indeed one of very few places in the world without snakes, not counting the few serpents kept in zoos or as pets. But can an ancient saint really take credit for Ireland's curious lack of snakes?
The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin has combed through the country's fossil records. As far as its researchers can tell, there's no evidence that snakes ever lived in Ireland. In other words, St. Patrick couldn't have banished many snakes, because there weren't any native snakes to begin with. 
Rather than trusting a 1,000-year-old legend, scientists think the real answer reaches back more than 10,000 years. 
Long before St. Patrick, an ice age gripped Europe. At the time, Ireland was too cold for reptiles. Yet, as the ice thawed, some animals migrated from continental Europe over a land bridge to Britain and then west to Ireland. Boars, brown bears, and lynxes arrived in Ireland around this time.
Snakes, however, moved north much more slowly. Three species slithered into Britain – the adder, the grass snake, and the smooth snake – but they arrived too late to reach Ireland. Around 8,500 years ago, melting glaciers caused ocean levels to rise, cutting off the Emerald Isle. Some animals could still swim over, but scientists have never found a snake species that could migrate across open ocean. (For this reason, several other large islands don't have snakes either, including Greenland, Iceland, and New Zealand.)
The rising waters kept away more than just snakes. In fact, Ireland has only one species of native reptile, the viviparous lizard. 
If Ireland never had snakes, why make such a big deal about St. Patrick? Many think the snake legend is symbolic. Several pagan religions in and around Ireland used serpent imagery. So when stories say that St. Patrick cast out the snakes, they actually mean that Christians cast out the pagans.
Snakes have became a favorite pet among rich Irish, who enjoyed defying the legend by importing high-end species, according to a The New York Times report from 2013. But as Ireland's economy turned several years ago, some snake owners couldn't afford their scaled pets. Many snakes were set loose. "A California king snake was found [in 2012] in a vacant store in Dublin," reports the Times, "a 15-foot python turned up in a garden in Mullingar, a corn snake was found in a trash bin in Clondalkin in South Dublin, and an aggressive rat snake was kept in a shed in County Meath."
Perhaps Ireland could use a modern-day St. Patrick, one who could make the legend a reality. 

Namadgi's endangered northern corroboree frogs are bouncing back, ecologists say - via Herp Digest

Craig Allen, 3/15/15, Australian Broadcast Company

A population of critically endangered northern corroboree frogs in Namadgi National Park, west of Canberra, is rebounding after nearly being wiped out by fire and a killer fungus, ecologists say.

During the current breeding season, for the first time in more than a decade, male frogs were heard calling in small numbers.
The fluorescent yellow and black striped frogs were once plentiful in the ACT's alpine bogs, while a southern variant of the species still lives around Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales.
However, the deadly flesh-eating chytrid fungus, which has decimated frog populations globally, severely reduced numbers in Namadgi National Park over several decades from about the 1980s.
The frogs' habitat was then ravaged by the 2003 bushfires, which badly damaged much of the ACT's fragile sphagnum moss ecosystem.
"When the 2003 fires hit and devastated their habitat, we had serious concerns that we'd actually lost the species," ACT government ecologist Murray Evans said.
"It was very heartening to find some corroboree frogs had survived up there, and we were able to collect eggs."
The scientists took the eggs they had found to a purpose-built, climate-controlled breeding centre made from shipping containers at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve to Canberra's west.
In frigid conditions, mimicking the alpine climate the frogs were accustomed to, they successfully raised the eggs and now care for about 600 individuals in captivity.
In 2011, the first 200 frogs were finally released into the wild.
Those frogs should now have reached breeding age.
Frog calls lift the spirits of scientists
Scientists recently surveyed the ACT's fragile alpine bogs and found tell-tale signs of breeding - adult male frogs calling for a mate.
They found two frogs calling at one site, but seven at another, which is the highest number recorded since 2003.
Although the numbers heard calling were small, it was still an exciting result for ecologists.
They believe the actual populations could be higher, as female frogs do not call and other frogs could still be immature.
"Some of the corroboree frogs we released from this institution, captive bred frogs, have survived in the wild. So they've survived four years to reach breeding age," Dr Evans said.
"It's survival of the fittest, so not all of those frogs [we released] would have survived.
“Some of them would've succumbed to natural mortality, but for corroboree frogs there's that added hurdle of chytrid fungus which is still present in the wild.
"We're hoping that this is the start of natural resistance for chytrid fungus in corroboree frogs, and hopefully one day we may actually hear the many hundreds, or even thousands that we used to hear in the 1980s."

Texas man who won hunting auction to be allowed to import black rhino trophy

US Fish and Wildlife Service says importing carcass will benefit conservation
Corey Knowlton bid $350,000 to shoot endangered species in Namibia

Associated Press

Friday 27 March 2015 17.08 GMTLast modified on Friday 27 March 201517.23 GMT

The US government will allow a Texas man to import the trophy of an endangered black rhinoceros if he kills one in Africa as part of a conservation fundraiser.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service said on Thursday that importing a carcass from Namibia meets criteria under the Endangered Species Act of benefiting conservation.

Corey Knowlton bid $350,000 last year in a Dallas Safari Club auction billed as a fundraising effort to save the black rhino.

In a letter to the agency in December, the club’s executive director, Ben Carter, said the money raised from such auctions is “critical to supporting the Namibian government in their efforts to stem the tide of commercial killing of these animals”.

12ft Florida alligator becomes a golf course celebrity, but he's not alone

Locals aren’t sure what’s so special about the giant reptile, nicknamed Goliath, since ‘where there’s water, there’s alligators in Florida’ – but he’s a social media hit

Jessica Glenza in New York


Friday 27 March 2015 21.16 GMTLast modified on Friday 27 March 201521.36 GMT

 A large alligator believed to be Goliath lies on the green.
Photograph: Myakka Pines Golf Club/Handout/EPA
A 12ft American alligator has become a minor celebrity for doing what he does best: gobbling turtles and roaming from pond to pond across the putting green of a Floridagolf course.

Golfers first captured the large gator, nicknamed Goliath, in early March, after he (it’s probably a male) walked near golfers at the seventh hole of the Myakka Pines Golf Course. On Thursday, staff captured the large alligator, which is believed to be the same reptile, devouring a turtle for breakfast.

“Lots of people are asking what alligators eat … here is Goliath having a turtle for breakfast. (Sorta nasty to see but it’s the reality of wild animals),” Myakka Pines posted on Facebook, only to have news outlets worldwide reach out about the creature.

“He’s not the only alligator we’ve got on the golf course,” said Mickie Zada, the general manager of Myakka Pines. “Where there’s water, there’s alligators in Florida.”

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