Saturday, 31 July 2010

New prehistoric shrimp colonies found at Caerlaverock

Two new colonies of one of the UK's most ancient creatures have been discovered in south west Scotland.

The tadpole shrimps - which date back at least 220 million years - have been found at the Caerlaverock reserve in Dumfries and Galloway.

Researchers from Glasgow University said it was a "positive early result" from their exploratory project.

Scottish Natural Heritage described the discoveries as a "real boost for Scottish wildlife".

The creature had been thought to be extinct in Scotland until it was found at Caerlaverock on the Solway Firth in 2004.

Heavy rains in 2008 led to it being spotted again.

The discovery prompted the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Glasgow University and SNH to team up to investigate how widely the species was distributed.

Masters student Elaine Benzies discovered the two new colonies.

Having taken mud samples from pools in the area, she dried and then re-wetted them in small aquaria.

Ancient survivor

She was "absolutely amazed" to find the creature in one of the tanks within a couple of weeks.

She said: "I hadn't expected to find it and was just going in to check on the heat and lights.

"It was great to see everyone in the lab, including the cook from the canteen, gathering round and peering into the tank to look at this ancient survivor from the past."

The only other known UK population before the Caerlaverock discovery in 2004 was at the New Forest in England.

Prof Colin Adams of Glasgow University said: "It's encouraging to get such a positive early result from this exploratory project.

"We must now extend its scope to widen the area of search for this rare and charismatic freshwater animal."

Dr Colin Bean of SNH said it was "thrilling" to find such a stronghold for the creature.

"Clearly there is more work to do if we are to discover how widely it is distributed, but these new findings are a real boost for Scottish wildlife - especially in this, the International Year of Biodiversity," he said.

Fossilised remains prove tadpole shrimps were around 220 million years ago in the Triassic period - pre-dating the dinosaurs.

Experts say they do not appear to have changed in appearance since that time.

Search for 6ft boa on the loose in Wickford, Essex

A 6ft (1.8m) long pet boa constrictor is on the loose after escaping through a bathroom window in Essex.

Police started the for the snake, called Diego, on Friday after its owner realised it was missing from his home in Barnfield, Wickford.

Diego slithered out of the bathroom window. Officers said the snake was not fully grown but members of the public were warned not approach it.

An Essex Police spokesperson said it could be a danger to small animals.

Anyone who spots the snake has been asked to call 999.

Neighbours have been sent leaflets warning that it could be in their gardens and urged to keep children and pets indoors.

Essex Police's wildlife liaison officer is speaking with specialists and the RSPCA.

It is possible the breeding season could have encouraged the boa constrictor to go out hunting and it may have travelled out of town.

Boa constrictors are commonly found in tropical forests in South America and are from the family of constricting snakes, which kill their prey through asphyxiation.

Sea 'monster' spotted in Tor Bay stalking a shoal of fish (Via Lindsay Selby)

Saturday, July 31, 2010, 08:001

Sea 'monster' spotted in Tor Bay stalking a shoal of fish

A LOCH NESS monster-type creature has been snapped at sea off Paignton — just days after the sighting of a sperm whale in Tor Bay. The mysterious Plesiosaur-like creature was spotted just 30 yards off shore by locals who reported a sighting of what they first thought was a turtle. But pictures taken by one of the baffled witnesses reveal its neck may be far too long for any known sea turtle.

A sperm whale was also been seen in the bay last week, but the description of the Paignton creature does not match that of the whale. Boffins at the Marine Conservation Society say the creature may be some kind of turtle, but at present it remains unidentified. Gill Pearce photographed the creature following a shoal of fish at Saltern Cove near Paignton at 3.30pm on Tuesday.

She at first thought it was a large sea turtle but baffled experts say it doesn't fit the description because the greenish-brown beast with a small reptile head has too long a neck. Mrs Pearce reported her sighting to the Marine Conservation Society where it was studied by sea life experts. Peter Richardson, MCS biodiversity programme manager, said that the creature may be a leatherback or green turtle which are known to visit coastal waters in the South West. But the creature did not match the usual description of such creatures.

Mr Richardson said: "At the moment it's an unidentified mystery creature and we don't know what it is.

"Two people have reported seeing a creature about three metres long with a small head on a two-and-a-half foot neck. From the photographs it looks like it could be a basking shark and the tail fin could have been mistaken for a head but the people who saw it said it had large flippers and was about the size of a sea lion. It would be great to find out what it is so we are asking people in the area to look out for it."

Asked if it could have been a rare sighting of the Loch Ness monster, Mr Richardson replied: "That would not be my official explanation." The MCS said the mystery creature was reported to be chasing a shoal of mackerel when it was first spotted part of which was said to be so scared it swam in to the shallows close to shore to escape.

Another eyewitness Graham Oxley, 63, from Paignton, was also just as baffled. He said: "I went down to the beach with my dog and I saw what I thought was a turtle. I saw a black dome which was more rounded than a turtle's shell and its head kept popping out of the water every five minutes. It seemed to lurk over some weeds in about four foot of water for around half an hour."

The semi-retired electrician rushed home to get his camera but when he returned the creature was swimming away. "That was when I realised it wasn't a turtle at all," he said. "What I thought was the shell was actually the creature's back and it seemed to change colour like a chameleon. When it was in the shade it was a black colour and then when it swam off it changed to a greeny-brown.

"It seemed to camouflage itself. That's probably why not many people have spotted them. It was standing feeding on the weeds and had its back arched. My eyesight is perfect, I don't drink and I'm not on drugs."

Just six days previously angler Trevor Smart, of Leicestershire, reckons he spotted a sperm whale, first seen in Tor Bay at the end of June. Mr Smart, who was staying on his boat in Torquay harbour, had gone out fishing early on July 21 when he says the creature surfaced near him in flat calm conditions a quarter of mile from shore. He said: "I was totally enthralled. I don't think I would have seen it if the sea hadn't been so flat. I hadn't got a clue what it was.

"I have visited this area since the early 1960s and fished all my life, seeing dolphins and basking sharks and other sea life in our seas, but I've never seen anything like this." The marine conservation charity Sea Watch sightings officer Gemma Veneruso said: "We do have some concerns that it might strand itself.

"Sperm whales feed on deep sea squid and fish close to the edge of the continental shelf in the North Atlantic but rarely come into shallow waters. It is very rare for a sperm whale to travel as far east as this in the Channel and to come so close to shore."

Meanwhile, the unexplained creature is causing a stir on the MCS website where theories range from sea serpent to salt water crocodile. An MCS spokesman said: "It was reported as a turtle but was also said to have a small head on a thin neck about two feet long which craned above the surface like a Plesiosaur. It's described as being as long as a sea lion with a long neck. This is not a fake."

Friday, 30 July 2010

Mars rocks 'may contain evidence of life'

Rocks have been identified on Mars which may contain evidence of life, researchers have said.

Mars site may hold 'buried life'

Researchers have discovered that a site on Mars may hold ‘buried life’.

Boffins used infrared light beams from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to study rocks on the Nili Fossae area of the red planet and found that they contain similar properties as the Pilbara rocks in Australia, including carbonate.

This is formed from the shells and bodies of dead animals.

The Pilbara rocks are used by scientists as a kind of prism to study life on Earth 3.5 billion years ago. This is partly because they also contain another ‘biomarker’ known as ‘stromatolites’, which are formed by ancient microbes.

Scientists hope that these will also be found on the Mars rocks, but even if they aren’t the similarities between the two sets of rocks have got the scientific community excited.

One of the researchers, Dr Adrian Brown, whose findings have been published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, told BBC News that the ‘hydrothermal’ processes that caused the microbes to be preserved in Australia could have happened on Mars, too.

He said: ‘We suggest that the associated hydrothermal activity would have provided sufficient energy for biological activity on early Mars at Nili Fossae.

‘Furthermore, in the article we discuss the potential of the Archean volcanics of the East Pilbara region of Western Australia as an analog for the Nochian Nili Fossae on Mars.

‘They indicate that biomarkers or evidence of living organisms, if produced at Nili, could have been preserved, as they have been in the North Pole Dome region of the Pilbara craton.'

Mars site may hold 'buried life'

Researchers have identified rocks that they say could contain the fossilised remains of life on early Mars.

The team made their discovery in the ancient rocks of Nili Fossae.

Their work has revealed that this trench on Mars is a "dead ringer" for a region in Australia where some of the earliest evidence of life on Earth has been buried and preserved in mineral form.

They report the findings in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

The team, led by a scientist from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (Seti) in California, believes that the same "hydrothermal" processes that preserved these markers of life on Earth could have taken place on Mars at Nili Fossae.

The rocks there are up to four billion years old, which means they have been around for three-quarters of the history of Mars.

When, in 2008, scientists first discovered carbonate in those rocks the Mars science community reacted with great excitement; carbonate had long been sought as definitive evidence that the Red planet was habitable - that life could have existed there.

Carbonate is what life - or at least the mineral portion of a living organism - turns into, in many cases, when it is buried. The white cliffs of Dover, for example, are white because they contain limestone, or calcium carbonate.

The mineral comes from the fossilised remains shells and bones and provides a way to investigate the ancient life that existed on early Earth.

In this new research, scientists have taken the identification of carbonate on Mars a step further.

Adrian Brown from the Seti Institute, who led the research, used an instrument aboard Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter called Crism to study the Nilae Fossae rocks with infrared light.

Then he and his team used exactly the same technique to study rocks in an area in north-west Australia called the Pilbara.

"The Pilbara is very cool," Dr Brown told BBC News. "It's part of the Earth that has managed to stay at the surface for around 3.5 billion years - so about three quarters of the history of the Earth."

"It allows us a little window into what was happening on the Earth at its very early stages."

And all those billions of years ago, scientists believe that microbes formed some distinctive features in the Pilbara rocks - features called "stromatolites" that can be seen and studied today.

"Life made these features. We can tell that by the fact that only life could make those shapes; no geological process could."

This latest study has revealed that the rocks at Nili Fossae are very similar to the Pilbara rocks - in terms of the minerals they contain.

And Dr Brown and his colleagues believe that this shows that the remnants of life on early Mars could be buried at this site.

"If there was enough life to make layers, to make corals or some sort of microbial homes, and if it was buried on Mars, the same physics that took place on Earth could have happened there," he said. That, he suggests, is why the two sites are such a close match.

'Geological olympics'

Dr Brown and many other scientists had hoped that they would soon have the opportunity to get much closer to these rocks. Nili Fossae was put forward as a potential landing site for Nasa'a ambitious new rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, which will be launched in 2011.

The site was championed by other geologists, including John Mustard from Brown University in Rhode Island, whose team made the case to Nasa to have it included in the landing site shortlist for MSL.

But Nilae Fossae was eventually deemed too dangerous a landing site and it was finally removed from the list in June of this year.

"The rover is being landed remotely - so there's no human pilot involved; it's all up to the robot. And [that's] a very dangerous thing," said Dr Brown. "You need 20km of smooth terrain and unfortunately at this site it is pretty rocky - those ancient rocks are pretty weathered and the surface is rocky and uneven."

"It will be visiting another interesting site when it lands, but this is the place that we should be checking out for life on early Mars."

John Grant, a scientist from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, and a member of the planetary sciences panel that advises Nasa on the MSL mission, spoke to BBC News earlier this year about the choice of landing site.

He said that the objective of mission was a search for "habitability". It was not, he said, a life detection mission.

"[It] entails looking at geologic environments that may not only have been habitable but where signals associated with that habitability have been preserved," he told BBC News in February.

But that does not alleviate the disappointment that many feel over having Nili Fossae and all its secrets taken off the table for the mission.

And what makes Mars Science Laboratory even more of a crucial mission for scientists is the fact that it will be the last rover to explore the surface of Mars until 2018 - partly because funding the mission has been so extraordinarily expensive.

Dr Brown described the experience of having his favoured landing site removed from the shortlist as the geological equivalent of having "your city's Olympic bid rejected".

"I also see a race happening here," he said. "It might take us a couple of decades to build our capability to land [unmanned] rovers somewhere geologically interesting on Mars.

"And in those decades, human space flight capabilities are going to develop and we could have the capability to send humans to Mars."

So in this race of the human versus the robots, which will win?

"It's my personal belief," said Dr Brown, "that by the time real human geologists get to go to Mars, the question of whether there is life on Mars will still be open."

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Pigeon poopers spoil Kings of Leon gig

Pigeon poopers spoil Kings of Leon gig

Kings of Leon abandoned a concert due to pigeon droppingsKings of Leon abandoned
a concert due to pigeon droppings

American rock band Kings of Leon said they were forced to abandon a concert in
St Louis, Missouri, at the weekend after three songs because pigeons kept
pooping on them from the rafters.

The band left the stage at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Friday after
bass player Jared Followill was hit in the face by one dropping.

"Jared was hit several times during the first two songs. On the third song, when
he was hit in the cheek and some of it landed near his mouth, they couldn't deal
any longer," the Nashville band's publicist, Any Mendelsohn, said in a statement.

"It's not only disgusting - it's a toxic hazard. They really tried to hang in

Drummer Nathan Followill apologised on Twitter to fans of the Grammy-winning
band which is made up of three Followill brothers and their cousin Matthew who
plays lead guitar.

"So sorry St Louis. We had to bail, pigeons s***ing in Jared's mouth and it was
too unsanitary to continue," he wrote. "Don't take it out on Jared . . . Sorry
for all who (travelled) many miles."

The band will continue its US tour in Cleveland, Ohio, today to promote their
fourth album Only By The Night before heading to Canada and Britain.

Damselflies in distress forced back to UK by climate change
Damselflies in distress forced back to UK by climate change
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Dainty Damsefly has returned to Britain

Damselflies don't sound like they'd do anything as dramatic as invading
anywhere, and the dainty damselfly sounds like it would do so least of all.
But that's what's happening in southern England, as several species of
these delicate, smaller relatives of the dragonflies cross over from the
continent and start establishing populations here.

The dainty damselfly, a flying matchstick of bright blue and black, is the
latest of a number of new arrivals from Europe which are thought to have
been brought to Britain by rising temperatures caused by climate change.

It is actually a returner, rather than a completely new species, as it bred
in at least one site in Essex until the population was wiped out in the
great floods of the winter of 1953. There was no further sighting for 57
years until four adults were observed and photographed recently in north
Kent by two recorders for the British Dragonfly Society, Gill and John

On the Continent, Coenagrion scitulum has a predominantly central and
southern distribution, although there have been signs of a northerly
expansion of its range. In the last fifteen years the dainty damselfly has
recolonised Belgium after a long absence, and appeared for the first time
ever in The Netherlands; it also appeared on Jersey in 2009.

Its appearance in Britain is significant as it follows the establishment of
other unusual damselflies in southern England over the last decade or so.
The small red-eyed damselfly, now a common breeding species in much of
south-east England, first appeared in Britain only as recently as 1999,
while the willow emerald damselfly appeared in 2007 and may now be
established in Suffolk.

The British Dragonfly Society comments that "these events, which for
Britain's dragonfly fauna are pretty much unprecedented, are thought likely
to be a consequence of ongoing climate change, and many species with a
primarily Mediterranean distribution in Europe are indeed known to now be
advancing northwards."

In fact, the march of the damselflies is only one aspect of a much wider,
continuing invasion of southern Britain, possibly caused by the warming
climate, by a range of continental creatures which can fly - both insects
and birds. Insects in particular are flooding in, and over the past decade
a whole series of continental bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, dragonflies
and grasshoppers has appeared here

At least one new continental dragonfly species, the lesser emperor, is now
seen in Britain every year and is thought to have established a population
at Dungeness, while others, such as the brilliantly-coloured scarlet
darter, are waiting in the wings and could cross the Channel and start
breeding here very soon.

This happened last year with an attractive continental butterfly species,
the Queen of Spain fritillary, which crossed over from Normandy to Sussex -
thought to be only about a six-hour flight for a butterfly - and set up a
breeding population near Chichester. Other continental butterfly migrants
such as the clouded yellow and the red admiral are now managing to survive
over winter, while we are increasingly seeing the charming hummingbird
hawk-moth, which does indeed look just like a hummingbird as it moves in
and out of flowers, seeking nectar.

European bees and wasps are also arriving. Perhaps the most dramatic
arrival is the large, deep-blue, alarming-looking but harmless, violet
carpenter bee, Europe's biggest, which began breeding in a dead Bramley
apple tree in a garden near Leicester three years ago. A rather less scary
arrival is a bumblebee, the brown-banded carder bee, which has now begun
breeding on brownfield sites in the Thames estuary.

Several continental bees and wasps now in the UK are so unfamiliar that
they do not even have English names, such as the large social wasp
Dolichovespula media, which created concern among gardeners when it arrived
in the UK in about 2000 because of its size. Other wasps that have recently
come into the country include the bee-wolf, which hunts bees for food, and
the French spider-eating wasp Episyron gallicum.

But it's not just insects crossing the channel to join us. A number of bird
species have moved in, including the little egret in 1996 and the cattle
egret in 2008, while this year, the purple heron bred successfully in
Britain for the first time. Other species that may well establish
themselves include the great reed warbler, the black kite, the black-winged
stilt and the serin.

Coenagrion scitulum - Dainty Damselfly

Length: 32mm
Both sexes appear yellowish when viewed from the underside. The pale brown
pterostigma is longer than in other Coenagrion species.
In the male, S2 has a "wine-goblet" shaped mark, occasionally reduced to a
bar or crescent. S8 is blue but S9 has black markings towards the rear. S6
and S7 are entirely black.
The female is blue with black "rocket-shaped" markings on the abdomen.

Open but well-vegetated waters. It can tolerate some salinity.

Status and Distribution
Extinct in Britain since 1953 when its known breeding sites in Essex were
destroyed during the catastrophic flooding.

Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis)
The brown-banded carder bee B. humilis is one of the 24 species of
bumblebee or cuckoo bee found in the UK. It is also one of the most
endangered. This tawny coloured species has a characteristic brown band on
the upper surface of the abdomen, hence the common name.

Beautiful 'lost' insect turns up anew in UK

A delicate, blue-hued insect has re-appeared in the UK after an interval of more than half a century.

The dainty damselfly, a smaller relative of dragonflies, was washed away from its single East Anglian pond in the severe coastal floods of 1952/3.

Now, a few individuals have been found at a site in north Kent.

Conservationists believe the insects were blown on the wind from France or Belgium where they have become more common, probably due to climate change.

They were found earlier in the summer by Gill and John Brooks, who record sightings in Kent for the British Dragonfly Society (BDS).

"It's most likely that they've come in from the continent," said Dave Smallshire, convenor of the BDS Dragonfly Conservation Group.

"The spread northwards across the continent seems to be associated with climate change.

"And it's quite likely that they've caught a lift on a southerly breeze and popped across the English Channel."

The species recently established itself again in Belgium after a long absence, and has been documented for the first time in The Netherlands. Last year, specimens were found in Jersey.

Breeding question

Damselflies are very similar to the more familiar dragonflies, but are usually a bit smaller, and weaker fliers.

When resting, they usually have their wings folded along their backs, whereas dragonflies tend to keep theirs at right-angles to the body.

There are 17 species that breed in the UK.

One, the small red-eyed damselfly, first appeared in 1999 - also thought to be a consequence of rising temperatures - and now breeds across tracts of south-east England.

Whether the dainty damselfly can form stable breeding population is not yet clear.

"What we need to do is follow up this year's observations with some more intensive survey work next year," said Dr Smallshire.

"They may be able to breed from egg through to adult in one year.

"So next year we would be looking for the exuvia - the discarded larval casing - and that would be evidence that they have bred successfully in Britain."

Tarantulas on the loose in Britain

By Andrew Hough, The Daily Telegraph, July 28, 2010

Britain could be facing a tarantula invasion after a number of the spiders were discovered in gardens in some parts of the country, wildlife experts have warned.

The RSPCA has issued an alert urging people to be on their guard amid fears a large batch of the spider has escaped in the north of the country.

The alert came after two separate incidents involving 10cm-wide Chilean Rose tarantulas in Bolton, Greater Manchester.

The rare arachnids, capable of blinding people by spitting hairs in their eyes, were both found in back gardens within two miles of each other.

Both spiders are the same age, breed and gender.

Experts said it suggested they could be part of a larger batch. The slow-moving large spiders from South America are a popular breed among collectors.

Lisa Broad, 20, found the first spider in her garden on the Oldhams Estate in Sharples.

She called the RSPCA, who re-homed the creature, named Fang, at Smithills Open Farm.

Three-and-a-half weeks later another woman from Lostock discovered another tarantula, which was sitting on her garden wall.

The woman, who did not want to be named, eventually trapped it under a plant pot on her path and alerted the RSPCA.

Derek Hampson, an inspector for the animal welfare charity, said: "We advised her to keep it under the plant pot until we arrived. They can quite happily go a week without food, so it was quite content.

"It got a bit aggressive when I picked it up. I wore safety goggles as these creatures can spit hairs which can blind you.

"It is possible there could be more out there, but unfortunately we havent got the resources to search for them."

He added: "It is up to members of the public to call us if they spot any."

Mr Hampson took the female, which is known to kill the male after mating, to Bugworld in Liverpool.

Jenny Dobson, the Bugworld curator, said: "It is rare for one of these to come in and we saw... there had been another with the same characteristics found outdoors.

"It is likely they came from the same place.

"It would be too much of a coincidence otherwise for two breakouts and they cant survive in the wild for long with the UK climate.

Divers find ancient monkey fossil

Scientists have examined fossilised remains of a tiny, extinct monkey that were retrieved from an underwater cave in the Dominican Republic.

The researchers believe the fossil to be around 3,000 years old, but say the species itself could be very ancient.

This reveals clues about the origin of primates in the region.

It also suggests that many ecologically valuable treasures could be discovered by the unusual field of "underwater palaeontology".

Dr Alfred Rosenberger from Brooklyn College in New York, US, led the examination of the creature's bones, the results of which were published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

He explained that the bones, which included a skull that was almost complete, were found by a team of scuba divers who were exploring an underwater cave in the area.

"It's miraculous that they even saw it," he told BBC News.

"When they discovered it, they were fearful the bones were exposed, so they moved the material to a little nook to protect it."

Having sought official permission to remove the fossil from the cave, Dr Rosenberger returned to with the scuba divers to retrieve it in October of last year.

The divers packed the skeleton into tupperware boxes in order to bring it safely to the surface.

'Stout little monkey'

Dr Rosenberger said the monkey - only the second specimen of the species Antillothrix bernensis ever found - probably measured about 30cm (12in) from head to toe.

But the shape of the legs came as a surprise.

"Its femur or thigh bone was very thick. So it had sort of stout legs, which is something we didn't expect.

"We don't really have any living examples of New World monkeys that have stout legs like that."

Dr Rosenberger thinks the creature went extinct relatively recently.

He said that it may have behaved similarly to a koala - clinging to the trunks of trees, rather than leaping from branch to branch.

"That's a very rough analogy, he said.

"But there's something very interesting about the ecological niche it inhabited."

The fossil also adds to evidence that there were several lineages of primates in the Caribbean, instead of one ancestor that moved into the region millions of years ago from which all modern species evolved.

Dr Rosenberger said it was likely that several species travelled "over the water" to inhabit the island of Hispaniola.

"And even though these particular bones might be relatively young, we're pretty sure that the arrival of these animals occurred well over 10 million years ago.

"That's an exciting part of the story - if you compare the dental remains of our monkey to other fossils that we know of, we see strong similarities with Patagonian fossils that are around 15 million years old."

Dr Sam Turvey, a researcher from the Zoological Society of London in the UK, said the discovery emphasised how much we still had to learn about the "original mammal fauna" of the Caribbean.

"It's now possible to reconstruct what this mysterious animal looked like and how it evolved," he said.

"The Caribbean islands have experienced the world's highest level of mammalian extinction over the past 10,000 years.

"With this improved knowledge of a recently extinct species, it might be possible to understand what caused it to disappear from Hispaniola."

Two tarantulas discovered in Bolton in less than month

The first was found in Selkirk Road, Sharples, on 23 June. The
second was discovered in Junction Road West, Lostock, on 21 July.
Both were Chilean rose haired tarantulas. The RSPCA said they
believe they either escaped or were dumped as they were in good
They said there was no way to know if there were others on the
loose but said they did not pose a danger to people.

RSPCA animal welfare officer Derek Hampson, who was called out to
the second finding, said: "Tarantulas are not venomous so the
risk they pose to the public is very, very slim.

Cover with container
"They can flick hairs from their body when they're agitated,
which might cause damage if it ended up in an eye but that would
be all."

He said it was rare to find two tarantulas in one town in such a
short space of time.
"I've only picked up two or three in the past 10 years," he

One of the tarantulas was given to Smithills Open Farm in Bolton
and the other is now at the Bugworld Experience in Liverpool.
Mr Hampson advised anyone who finds a tarantula to cover it with
a container and contact the RSPCA."
28 July 2010 Last updated at 16:18

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Mouse jumps from bowl in restaurant

Inspectors visiting the Kam Tong, Hung Tao and Kiasu restaurants in Queensway, Bayswater, west London, found mouse droppings all over the kitchens and cockroach eggs in the dim sum and baskets of prawn crackers.

One rodent was photographed scampering along a kitchen drainpipe in the Kam Tong restaurant after jumping from a bowl of sweet and sour sauce which was about to be served to customers.

Owner Ronald Lim, of Barnet, north London, admitted 17 counts of breaching food hygiene regulations at Southwark Crown Court on Monday.

Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC ordered him to pay fines totalling £30,000, plus £18,131 costs, and handed him an eight-month jail term suspended for two years.

He was told that if he did not pay the fine, he would face 18 months in jail, a spokeswoman for Westminster City Council said.

The three restaurants were shut down between May and August 2008 but have since reopened. Lim now has three months to prove he has improved standards before a decision is made on whether to ban him from operating a catering business altogether.

Brian Connell, Westminster City Council's cabinet member for business, enterprise and skills, said: "This is an appalling catalogue of offences and gives an otherwise good industry a bad name.

"This person was not running these restaurants to the levels of hygiene which are required and which customers rightly expect."

Uncommon hybrid of zebra and donkey born at north Georgia wildlife preserve (Via D R Shoop)

DAHLONEGA, Ga. - A zedonk, an unusual cross between a donkey and a zebra, is attracting attention at the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Dahlonega after being born there about a week ago. The animal, which has a zebra father and donkey mother, has black stripes prominently displayed on her legs and face.

C.W. Wathen, the preserve's founder and general manager, said the foal has a zebra's instincts. Wathen said she sits up instead of lying on her side, as if she's staying alert for predators.

Donkeys and zebras don't usually mate, but zedonks turn up occasionally.

Wathen said that in about two weeks, the zedonk will begin roaming the property with the rest of the animals.


Information from: The Times,

Kitten causes havoc in police chase

A kitten caused havoc in Austria after going on the run from police, who had to dismantle a force car to rescue her. Police and firefighters were called to a Vienna suburb after residents heard desperate meowing and a night-long search ensued.

When the cat was discovered under the bonnet of a car, she sprang away from police and took refuge behind several cars until seemingly disappearing - until her meowing started again. The wayward animal's calls for help were traced to a police car.

It took half-an-hour's hard work boosting the car up on a jack before the cat was released from a small space inside the vehicle's floor panel.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Rare Otter civet filmed for first time in Borneo

By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

An elusive mammal known as an Otter civet has been filmed in the wild for the first time, experts believe.

Conservationists surveying wildlife in the Deramakot Forest Reserve in the state of Sabah, Borneo took video of a pair crossing a road at night.

Otter civets are a type of civet, small primitive long-bodied cat-like mammals.

The announcement follows the rediscovery of the world's rarest otter in Deramakot Forest Reserve by the same scientific survey.

"I guess nobody can say this with 100% certainty, but as far as I know this is the first video ever taken of this species," says Mr Andreas Wilting, leader of the Conservation of Carnivores in Sabah (ConCaSa) project initiated by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) and performed in collaboration with the Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department.

"I and my colleagues at least have never seen a video before."

Mr Wilting's team spotted the Otter civets (Cynogale bennettii) along a old logging road, watching as one fed upon an insect.

The Otter civet is thought to be the rarest civet species in southeast Asia.

As part of a two year survey of small carnivore species in the Deramakot Forest Reserve, the ConCaSa survey photographed Otter civets using camera traps on ten occassions.

More surprising, they managed to film the species in the wild on two occasions.

Otter civets are semi-aquatic, living in wet, lowland areas, a habitat that is being destroyed across much of southeast Asia.

Details of the latest finding have been published in the journal Small Carnivore Conservation, a publication of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission.

Rarely seen species

In the same issue, the scientific survey team lists a host of other rarely seen small carnivore species spotted or photographed in the reserve.

Of Borneo's eight vivverid species, the researchers recorded six: the Binturong (Arctictis binturong), Malay civet (Viverra tangaunga), Common Palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphro), Small-toothed Palm civet (Arctogalidia trivirgata), Banded civet (Hemigalus derbyanus) and previously mentioned Otter civet.

Other small carnivores caught on camera were the Sunda stink-badger (Mydaus javanensis), and two species of mongoose, the very common Short-tailed mongoose (Herpestes brachyurus) and the Collared mongoose (H. semitorquatus), and all three Bornean otter species, the Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) and the extremely elusive Hairy-nosed otter, considered to be the world's rarest otter.

Yesterday, the ConCaSa project released a photograph showing the rediscovery of the Hairy-nosed otter in Borneo by the same scientific survey.

Earlier this year, the same project released the first video to be made public of a wild Sundaland clouded leopard.

Many of these species are classified as globally endangered, threatened or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Of Borneo's eight vivverid species, the researchers recorded six: the Binturong (Arctictis binturong), Malay civet (Viverra tangaunga), Common Palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphro), Small-toothed Palm civet (Arctogalidia trivirgata), Banded civet (Hemigalus derbyanus) and previously mentioned Otter civet.

Other small carnivores caught on camera were the Sunda stink-badger (Mydaus javanensis), and two species of mongoose, the very common Short-tailed mongoose (Herpestes brachyurus) and the Collared mongoose (H. semitorquatus), and all three Bornean otter species, the Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) and the extremely elusive Hairy-nosed otter, considered to be the world's rarest otter.

Yesterday, the ConCaSa project released a photograph showing the rediscovery of the Hairy-nosed otter in Borneo by the same scientific survey.

Earlier this year, the same project released the first video to be made public of a wild Sundaland clouded leopard.

Many of these species are classified as globally endangered, threatened or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Further steps to protect Bornean otters and other carnivores will be developed at the Borneo Carnivore Symposium, which will be held in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia in June 2011.

Australia's marsupials 'have American roots'

The characteristic koalas, kangaroos, possums and wombats of Australia share a common American ancestor, according to genetic research from Germany.

A University of Muenster team drew up a marsupial family tree based on DNA.

Writing in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology journal, they suggest a single marsupial species moved from the Americas to Australia.

Marsupials differ from other mammals in that mothers carry their young in a pouch after birth.

As well as the familiar Australian species, the family includes the opossums and shrew opossums of North and South America, and also has a presence in Asian countries including Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

"I think this is pretty strong evidence now for the hypothesis of a single migration [to Australia] and a common ancestor," said Juergen Schmitz, one of the research team.

Tracing relatives

The research was made possible by the recent sequencing of genomes from two marsupials - the gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica) from South America, and the Australian tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii).

The Muenster researchers looked for DNA elements called retroposons.

These are fragments that have been copied and inserted back into DNA in a random fashion at some point during the animal's evolutionary history.

They are among the "jumping genes" that can scatter genetic information along the genome.

If two species carry the same retroposon but a third does not, that indicates that the first two are more closely related to each other than they are to the third.

Sometimes one retroposon is inserted in the middle of another, again giving vital clues as to the sequence of events in a family's evolution.

Using this method, they showed that the American opossums separated from the main lineage first.

Then at some stage an ancestral species migrated to Australia and gave rise to the various families found there now.

When exactly this happened is still unknown, as this kind of analysis does not show when in evolutionary time the retroposons were inserted.

"Maybe it's around 30-40 million years ago, but we cannot say because jumping genes do not give this information," Dr Schmitz told BBC News.

"It's now up to other people, maybe from the palaeontology field, to find out when exactly it happened."

The overall marsupial history is virtually a circular migration.

The earliest identified species (Sinodelphys szalayi) is known from 125-million-year-old fossils found in China.

Subsequently the family - or perhaps a single species - moved across the super-continent of Gondwana into what is now South America.

The marsupial family began expanding about 70-80 million years ago.

After crossing into Australia, they penetrated north into the Indonesian archipelago - almost returning to their Chinese homeland.

Jesus seen in chicken's feathers

Jesus, not content with just appearing in Marmite, a frying pan and a drain pipe, has now apparently been seen in a chicken's feathers. Owner Mitchell Grainger, 25, spotted the face of Christ in a photo of his pet chicken having a dust bath.

Grainger told Halesowen News: 'I literally said ‘Jesus Christ’ when I saw the picture. The face of Jesus is clear to see and when I showed my mom she even pointed out the ring of thorns.'

Gloria, of Rowley Regis, West Midlands, obviously has someone watching over her, after miraculously escaping a vicious fox attack.
'It is strange that it would appear on Gloria because not long ago she was the only chicken out of 20 that wasn’t killed by a fox. She was standing on the step when he came and miraculously wasn’t touched' Grainger added.

'That's why we called her Gloria, after Gloria Gaynor’s song I Will Survive.'

Monday, 26 July 2010

Falmouth gets Weirder
Man in dress performed sex act on dog at Pendennis Castle, Falmouth11:20am Thursday 22nd July 2010
By Emma Goodfellow

A PACKET front page report of a man dressed in women's clothing caught committing "an indecent act" with a dog in broad daylight at Pendennis Castle, Falmouth has attracted worldwide interest on the web.

A Devon and Cornwall police spokesman said that the man was spotted by a member of the public at 11.45am on Saturday, July 10 committing an "indecent act" with a dog in the grounds of Penndennis Castle in Falmouth.Two women walking their dogs through the castle grounds when they saw a man dressed in women's clothes.The man ran away, but was seen again soon afterwards.He ran off once more and one of the dogs chased after him, disappearing from view.Searching for the dog the women reached the castle moat, where they saw the man committing the "act".English Heritage staff kept hold of the man until officers arrived.They removed him from the castle grounds and took him home.It is not known what breed of dog was involved.The man "fully admitted his actions," to police and was cautioned for the offence of "committing an act of outraging public decency."A spokesperson for English Heritage, which owns and runs the castle, said: "It is a very rare incident."

Dead animal beer bottles at £500 each 'perverse'

A beer served in bottles made from stuffed animals has been criticised as "perverse" and "pushing the boundaries of acceptability".

The End of History, made by BrewDog of Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, is 55% and £500 a bottle. The bottles have been made using seven dead stoats, four squirrels and a hare, said to be roadkill. However, Advocates for Animals and Alcohol Focus Scotland both condemned the marketing. BrewDog claims the beer is the world's strongest and most expensive.

Its co-founder James Watt said: "We want to show people there is an alternative to monolithic corporate beers, introduce them to a completely new approach to beer and elevate the status of beer in our culture." Advocates for Animals policy director Libby Anderson told the BBC Scotland news website: "It's pointless and it's very negative to use dead animals when we should be celebrating live animals.

"This seems to be a perverse idea.

"It's just bad thinking about animals, people should learn to respect them, rather than using them for some stupid marketing gimmick." She added: "I think the public would not waste £500 on something so gruesome and just ignore it." Barbara O'Donnell, director of services at Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "This is another example of this company pushing the boundaries of acceptability all in the pursuit of cheap marketing tactics."
Controversial BrewDog has previously been criticised for 32% and 41% strength beers.

Can a dog receive communion?

Can a dog receive communion?

July 22, 2010

Noor Javed

St. Peter's Anglican Church has long been known as an open and inclusive place.

So open, it seems, they won't turn anyone away. Not even a dog.

That's how a blessed canine ended up receiving communion from interim priest Rev. Marguerite Rea during a morning service the last Sunday in June.

According to those in attendance at the historical church at 188 Carlton St. in downtown Toronto, it was a spontaneous gesture, one intended to make both the dog and its owner – a first timer at the church — feel welcomed. But at least one parishioner saw the act as an affront to the rules and regulations of the Anglican Church. He filed a complaint with the reverend and with the Anglican Diocese of Toronto about the incident – and has since left the church.

"I wrote back to the parishioner that it is not the policy of the Anglican Church to give communion to animals," said Bishop Patrick Yu, the area bishop of York-Scarborough responsible for St. Peter's, who received the complaint in early July. "I can see why people would be offended. It is a strange and shocking thing, and I have never heard of it happening before.

"I think the reverend was overcome by what I consider a misguided gesture of welcoming."

Rev. Rea was contacted numerous times about the incident, but did not want to comment.

"She is quite embarrassed by it," said Yu.

But congregants of the church say the act wasn't meant to be controversial. Peggy Needham, the deputy people's warden was sitting near the front of the church when the dog was given the wafer.

It was the first time Needham had seen the man and his dog in church. He had been invited to the service after an incident where police heckled him as he sat peacefully on the steps of the church early one morning during the G20 weekend.

Angry over the experience, he called the church to vent. They invited him to come to church, and he did, bringing his dog with him.

When it was time for communion, the man went up to receive the bread and the wine, with the dog. "I am sure for Marguerite that was a surprise, like it was for all of us," said Needham. "But nobody felt like it was a big deal, because it wasn't a big deal."

According to the account Yu heard, the man asked the reverend to give the dog a wafer. But Needham says she doesn't recall the man making such a request. Instead, she said Rev. Rea instinctively leaned over and placed a wafer on the dog's wagging tongue.

"I think it was this natural reaction: here's this dog, and he's just looking up, and she's giving the wafers to people and she just gave one to him," said Needham. "Anybody might have done that. It's not like she's trying to create a revolution."

Days later, the church and diocese received a complaint from one parishioner, who felt the church offended the sacred ritual. The bread and wine are meant to represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ and are only to be given to those who have been baptized.

Yu said when he spoke to Rev. Rea, she apologized for what she had done and said she would not do it again.

"Unless there is any further evidence that she is giving communion to animals, the matter is closed . . . we are after all, in the forgiveness and repair business," he said.

Needham said the church has always been open to animals and once a year conducts a service to bless pets. Which is why the incident hardly caused a stir among the congregants – except for one.

"In his email, the man's argument was that Christ wouldn't have liked it," said Needham. "But in my opinion, Christ would have thought it was neat. It was just being human. And it made everyone smile."

Malaysian politician floored by stinky fruit
Malaysian politician floored by stinky fruit
A Malaysian politician has been hospitalised after gorging himself on durian, a south east Asian fruit that is widely-banned in public places because of its pungent smell.
By Malcolm Moore in Kuala Lumpur
Published: 7:00AM BST 14 Jul 2010

Durian, which is revered as the "king of fruits" in south east Asia, has a particularly rich and creamy flesh that is high in fat and sugar.

The 19th-century British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, described it as similar to "a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream cheese, onion sauce, sherry wine and other incongruous dishes".

More recently, Anthony Burgess, the novelist, said eating durian was "like eating raspberry blancmange in the lavatory". The odour of the durian is so strong that the fruit is forbidden on public transport, aeroplanes and in hotels.

Ahmad Lai Bujang, a 61-year-old member of the Malaysian parliament for the Sibuti region was rushed to hospital complaining of breathlessness and dizziness after a durian and mutton banquet last week.

"Ahmad loosened his tie and we noticed that he stopped laughing with us and his eyes rolled back. The other people at the dinner immediately started to rub his forehead and ask if he was all right," said Datuk Idris Haron, another politician present.

Mr Ahmad has since been discharged from Kuala Lumpur hospital. "I ate too many durians that day. There were four different varieties and all were very tasty. The doctors warned me against it in the future, so I will stay away from the fruit for a month," he said.

"People eating durian experience a bloated feeling which lasts for hours because of the high calorific content," said Dr Lee Boon Chye, a cardiologist.

Liberian Elephant Possessed When it Attacked?

A claim that the massive attack on a logging compound in Liberia was supernaturally motivated has sent a stir through the paranormal community with questions being raised about the influence of a third party possibly interfering with industry to protect natural habitations. Of course the idea may sound a bit absurd at first, but those present when the elephant attacked loggers outside Rivercress which resulted in the death of one man say the creature was certainly acting as though it were under the control of a third party.The incident's tragedy was compounded with the deaths of one human and the elephant attacking, and then sent shock waves through a community convinced that the mysterious creature had been supernaturally possessed by something more than just animal rage. In the United States there are several traditions that hold that humans can become possessed by supernatural entities, but the notion that an animal could become possessed to act politically by a human seems like something akin to a late night episode of the X-files rather than something conceivable anywhere in the world.

Geneticists say Chinese and Tibetans were once one. The news appears to be welcome to neither side

Splittism on the roof of the world
Geneticists say Chinese and Tibetans were once one. The news appears to be welcome to neither side

Jul 15th 2010

TO DREAMERS in the West, Tibet is a Shangri-La despoiled by Chinese ruthlessness and rapacity. To China’s rulers it is a backward kind of place whose former serfs, “liberated” by the Communist army, have repaid the favour with ingratitude and even outright “splittism”. But to excited scientists, Tibet is the site of possibly the fastest case of human evolution through natural selection in the history of mankind.

The Tibetan plateau has an altitude of 4,000 metres (13,000 feet or two-and-a-half miles), where the air has two-fifths less oxygen than at sea level. When China’s dominant Han come to Tibet, they succumb to altitude sickness and suffer lower birth rates and higher child mortality than locals.

A study led by the Beijing Genomics Institute and published in Science earlier this month identified a particular genetic mutation as a key to Tibetans’ high-altitude adaptability. Studying contemporary Tibetan and Han populations, the researchers claim that the two ethnic groups were once a single population, divided, they guess, 2,750 years ago, when one lot of splittists—who became Tibetans—moved to the plateau.

There, they say, the mutation that existed in under a tenth of the population spread to nearly nine-tenths—because those with it survived far better than those without. The particular gene seems to code for a protein involved in making red blood cells and regulating the body’s aerobic and anaerobic metabolism.

So much for the science. Now for the politics. Genetics is a minefield given Tibetans’ aspirations to govern themselves. Not everybody is happy with the notion that Tibetans were Chinese until 2,750 years ago. For a start, says Robbie Barnett, a prominent scholar and defender of Tibetan culture at Columbia University, most archaeologists agree that the plateau has been settled for much longer than that. And what’s to say the “Han” were not descended from the “Tibetans”, rather than the other way around? What would be the correct communist term for describing that, Mr Barnett wonders: Meta-Über-Reverse Splittism, perhaps?

Others respond that a plateau culture predating the migration is in fact compatible with the science. Genetic change can overlay archaeological or cultural continuity. For Mr Barnett to dismiss the connections between early Han and Tibetans, says another scholar, is “just misguided Tibetan primordialism”.

When it comes to the contentious issue of China’s political and territorial claims on Tibet, the basis of its current repression rests not on a sense of common heritage or shared ancestors but on a sense of legitimacy based on territories historically controlled by the Qing dynasty. They were Manchus who ruled China from the mid-17th to early 20th centuries and expanded the country’s borders. The irony is that while the communists cling to the frontiers of the Qing empire, their official history condemns the Qing as feudal, foreign, imperialist and usurping.

Holding to the Qing frontiers calls for some curious historical nomenclature. Because ethnic Mongolians live within China’s borders today, Genghis Khan is given star billing as a “national minority”—yet he never set foot in what was then China, and his offspring conquered the place. In north-east China lie the archaeological remains of the Koguryo kingdom of 37BC-668AD, the fount of Korean culture and myth. Chinese historians claim them as Chinese. Scholars and others thus project current political imperatives on to the past, and the notion of “minorities” affirms one big, longstanding Chinese family.

In Tibet the narrative is enforced with a few blandishments and many shows of state power. Like the Qing dynasty, the communists invaded Tibet on a pretext. Like them, they control the Buddhist religion by claiming a right to select lamas.

Qing precedent, over two centuries old, matters. Emperor Qianlong sent a golden urn to Lhasa, in which the names of candidates proposed for reincarnation would be placed. Its later use was fitful. But in the mid-1990s the urn was brought into service again. With it the communists chose their own Panchen Lama, the Yellow Hat sect’s second-most-revered reincarnation. The Dalai Lama’s earlier choice simply vanished. The boy, his family and the abbot who oversaw his selection have not been seen since. This month China’s atheist leaders, led by President Hu Jintao, used the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 75th birthday to say bluntly that only they, with the golden urn, would approve the ageing man’s reincarnation.

Low-altitude sickness

Now the government appears to be gearing up for a big celebration on October 27th of the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the “rebel” Tibetan army. Yet for all China’s propaganda—and the new science suggesting how genetically close the two peoples may be—unity is elusive and “splittism” a constant threat. And now come signs of splits in Chinese circles over Tibet. Though many Chinese rally to the official line, even harder after anti-Chinese riots in 2008, others differ. Before their foundation was closed, some Beijing scholars last year wrote: “When you can no longer find work in your own land…and realise that your core-value systems are under attack, then the Tibetan people’s panic and sense of crisis is not difficult to understand.” Some may dare to hope that such views will, one day, be allowed to be aired in polite company in China.

Meanwhile, Han Chinese flood in their tens of thousands each year on to the Tibetan plateau, making up in numbers what they lack in genetic disposition. As for Hu Jintao, he was first marked for great things when, as a younger cadre, he was the Communist Party secretary in Tibet. Little remains in folk memory of that time—except that Mr Hu suffered from high-altitude sickness and ruled Tibet from Beijing.

Satellite spies vast algal bloom in Baltic Sea

A satellite image has revealed the scale of a vast algal bloom spreading in the Baltic Sea.

The potentially toxic bloom, covering 377,000 sq km, could pose a risk to marine life in the region, warn scientists.

They added that a lack of wind and prolonged high temperatures had triggered the largest bloom since 2005.

The affected area stretches from Finland in the north to parts of Germany and Poland in the south.

The image, captured earlier this month, was recorded by a camera on the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite.

Researchers monitoring the spread of the blue-green algae said such blooms had spread over the Baltic Sea each summer for decades.

They added that fertilizers from surrounding agricultural land were being washed into the sea and exacerbating the problem.

This has led to a process called eutrophication, in which the additional nutrients stimulate rapid growth of phytoplankton - microscopic free-floating marine plants.

This accelerated growth also reduces the amount of oxygen available to other plant and animal species in the affected area; raising fears that it could destabilise fragile marine ecosystems.

As well threatening certain species, blue-green algae can also pose a risk to human health, and officials are advising people not to bathe in areas where the algae is visible.

However, researchers said the current bloom would quickly break up with the arrival of strong winds, as the resulting waves would disperse the algae.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Joyriding bear leaves teen grizzly

A bear got into a teenager's car, honked the horn and then sent it rolling 125 feet into a thicket, a Colorado family has said.

Ben Story, 17, said he and his family were asleep in their home south of Denver when the bear managed to open the unlocked door of his 2008 Toyota Corolla and climbed inside.

A peanut butter sandwich left on the back seat is probably what attracted the bear, Ben said.

It is not unusual for bears to open unlocked doors to cars and houses in search of food, Tyler Baskfield, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife said.

"It happens all the time," he said. "They're very smart."

Once inside, the bear must have knocked the automatic transmission shift into neutral, sending the car rolling backwards down the inclined driveway and into the thicket, Ben said.

The door apparently slammed shut when the car jolted to a stop, he said, trapping the bear inside.

Neighbours had called emergency police dispatchers, and deputies freed the bear by opening the door with a rope from a distance. The bear then ran into the woods.

But Ben says he will need a new car because the bear trashed the inside trying to get out.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Homo sapiens lived in South America at least 100,000 years ago

It's a long way back by bus in Brazil from the mythic land of the capivara Brazil's Parque Nacional Serra da Capivara has prehistoric rock paintings that show Homo sapiens lived in South America at least 100,000 years ago

A reasonable maxim to apply to bus travel in Brazil is that the older and more decrepit the bus, the worse the roads on its route. As less than 20% of the country's roads are asphalted, there's a good chance of driving over mud and gravel almost everywhere.

So when the bus was ready to leave Sento-Sé in Bahia, its battered state was no surprise. Our inquiry about departures had been met with a shrug and a list of possible times. We accepted the advice to come back the following day when more might be known.

The forecast journey time was five hours. For the first four we jolted across mud ruts. The principal entertainment was watching the driver weave between herds of goats and cattle that believed they had exclusive ownership of the road. We were spared air conditioning, which is no bad thing as it is usually set so low that passengers require winter woollies and a blanket even when the temperature outside is in the high 20s or 30s.

We were coming back from the Parque Nacional Serra da Capivara in the north-eastern state of Piauí. There aren't any capivaras in the 1,300 sq km of Serra da Capivara. If the world's biggest rodents - weighing up to 80kg - ever lived there, they left a long time ago. The park does, however, have more than 100 sites containing prehistoric rock paintings. Their discovery in the 1970s revealed that Homo sapiens lived in South America at least 100,000 years ago, much earlier than was previously believed. That is its prime interest.

Little information is available through websites on travel in the interior. It's a matter of asking around, which is how we came to cross Velho Chico (the São Francisco), one of Brazil's most famous rivers. The ferry, we discovered, might sail the following Friday. But, as it was Sunday, it was possible that a boat owner who took passengers would be returning after visiting his family for the weekend. Fortunately he did, though the boat berthed on the edge of a marsh almost a kilometre from the town. Three buses and 29 hours later we arrived home.

All this explains why, in spite of its attractions, Brazil's Parque Nacional Serra da Capivara gets only 1,000 or so visitors a year while its more accessible neighbours receive more than 50 times that number

Meet 100-year old Salamander (Via HerpDigest)

Meet 100-year old Salamander
The Scientist, by Jennifer Welsh 7/21/07

A blind, cave-dwelling amphibian appears to live for more than 100 years, an inexplicable feat that may eventually (when explained) provide insights into aging in other species.

But first, scientists have to unravel the mystery of how the species -- known as "human fish" -- achieves such longevity. "We cannot, at this time, say how this animal manages to survive such a long time," said eco-physiologist Yann Voituron, from the Université Claude Bernard - Lyon, first author of the study published online today (July 21) in Biology Letters. He was able to calculate the animal's extreme longevity by studying over 50 years of birth and death records of a 400-animal captive breeding colony at the Station D'Ecologie Expérimental du CNRS in Moulis, France.

The human fish, also called an olm, is a small, pale salamander, weighing between 15 and 20 grams, that has evolved extreme longevity living blindly in the caves of Europe. It can also live for a year without eating and can survive in hypoxic conditions for years.

Voituron's calculations from the weekly records of the colony predicted the olm's maximum lifespan to be over 100 years, with an average lifespan of 68.5 years. The olm's longevity exceeds that of other amphibians of its size by several times, much the way humans live about four times longer than other animals their size.

Indeed, the runner-up for longest living amphibian, the giant Japanese salamander, weighs in around 25kg, 1000 times more massive than the olm. "It is rather strange to discover that [so small an] animal, weighing about 15-20 grams, is able to survive more than a century," said Voituron. "It's the first time we found this kind of profile for a vertebrate [other than humans]."

In one respect, the amphibian's longevity is not surprising, since it has a natural lack of predators, enabling it to evolve to favor long-term survival and less frequent reproduction.

In other respects, however, the human fish's ability to live 100 years makes no sense, biologically.

Several physiological traits are normally associated with long-lived animals: larger size, low metabolic rates, and high protection against oxidative stress. Examples include giant tortoises and elephants - animals that have large body masses and low basal metabolic rates.

The olm, however, doesn't show any of these traits. So why does it live so long?

John Speakman, an energetics researcher at The University of Aberdeen said in an email that the olm is "a fascinating animal." And in consideration of recent findings that the naked mole-rat, the longest-lived rodent at 28 years, is immune to elevated levels of oxidative stress, the olm "cast[s] further doubt on the oxidative stress theory of ageing."

The authors have suggested two possible explanations. The first is the animal's exceptional laziness -- it only eats about once a month, and doesn't have to run away from predators, because it has none in its natural environment. Because it doesn't extend much energy, its metabolic rate mostly stays at its baseline rates, while most animals' metabolisms are often running much above their basal rate. "This could be a way to avoid free radical production, and thus aging," said Voituron.

Their second theory, supported by data they've collected since publishing the paper, is that the olm's mitochondria function differently from normal mitochondria -- they are able to process more ATP with less oxygen, thereby reducing their free radical output. Voituron is currently learning more about the olm's mitochondrial functioning, and comparing it to other species.

Caleb Finch, an aging researcher at the University of Southern California, said he believes the human fish could be an example of "negligible senescence" -- extremely slow aging without an increase in disease or loss of reproduction.

"This is a new [longevity] example that is very valuable," said Finch. "It documents another group of vertebrates, with actual lifespan data, that show extremely slow aging."

Y. Voituron et al., "Extreme lifespan of the human fish (Proteus Anguinus): a challenge for ageing mechanisms," Biology Letters AOP July 20, 2010 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0539

Calaveras Frogs Jump Farther (HerpDigest)

Calaveras Frogs Jump Farther (Mark Twain)
by Michael Kay, 7/16/10 Union Democrat, Angels Camp, California

Scientists from two of the nation's top research universities announced last weekend that they agree with Mark Twain: Calaveras County's jumping frogs should be celebrated.

A year after four researchers from Brown and Northeastern universities traveled to Angels Camp in 2009 to videotape 3,449 frog jumps over the three days of the 82nd annual Jumping Frog Jubilee, the unofficial results are in.

Using footage from their HD camcorder, a specialized grid system and an algorithm that accounts for perspective, researchers from the two institutions determined that an American bullfrog can leap 7.2 feet in a single bound - shattering the previous record.

Herpetologists - scientists who study amphibians and reptiles - have long relied on a paper published in 1978 by Smithsonian Institution biologist George Zug that found the single leap max for a bullfrog, or rana catesbeiana, to be 4.3 feet.

"He just got a whole bunch of frogs and jumped them down the hall at the Smithsonian," said Henry Astley, a doctoral student at Brown and the author of the paper.

As Jon Kitchell, a founding member of the Calaveras Frog Jockeys, will tell you, there's a lot more to it than that.

Some frogs are suited for jumping. The temperature of the jumping surface must be just right. And the temperature of the frog has to be perfect.

A degree too hot for a minute too long, and frogs become "gellied" - soft and mushy and disinclined to move - said Kitchell. Too cool and they start to hibernate.

Then there's the motivation. Shrieks, stomping feet, sharply blown air and gentle tickles were in common use at this year's event.

"We trick them into thinking that we're coming to eat them, essentially," Kitchell said with a chuckle.

But it did not take a top jockey and their best frog to beat the old record. Fifty-four percent of the recorded jumps were greater than 4.3 feet, according to the findings.

"Were the pro frogs tested for steroids?" asked herpetologist Matt Hinderliter of the The Nature Conservancy in Mississippi, half-joking, during the presentation.

He was told, he said Thursday, that no froggy urine samples were taken. But given many of the event's rental frogs were among those who beat the previous record, the team did not believe doping was responsible for Calaveras County frogs' prowess.

Astley and his colleagues presented their results July 10 at the 2010 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, but they have not yet published the data in a scientific journal.
Since many journals prohibit researchers talking to the media prior to publication, Astley said he could not comment on the study.

But Emily Taylor, an assistant professor of biological sciences with California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, who attended Astley's presentation, said it could have wide-reaching significance.

Frog killer caught in the act

Frog killer caught in the act: DNA barcoding reveals five undiscovered frog species among 30 wiped out by fungal epidemic

Science Daily, 7/20/10 Like a wave, the fungal disease that wipes out frogs -- chytridiomycosis -- is advancing through the Central American highlands at a rate of about 30 kilometers per year. After the disappearance of Costa Rica's golden frogs in the 1980s, Karen Lips, associate professor of biology at the University of Maryland, quickly established a monitoring program at untouched sites in neighboring Panama.

Of the 63 species that she identified during surveys of Panama's Omar Torrijos National Park located in El Copé from 1998 to 2004, 25 species disappeared from the site in the subsequent epidemic. As of 2008, none of these species had reappeared there.

Were there additional species in the park not previously known to scientists? To find out, the authors used a genetic technique called DNA barcoding to quickly estimate that another 11 unnamed or "candidate" species were also present. In DNA barcoding, short genetic sequences that uniquely identify known species are generated and stored in public databases. By comparing DNA profiles from unknown organisms to the databases, researchers can identify biological specimens quickly, and construct genetic lineages. Combining the field data with the reconstructed genetic lineages, the authors discovered that five of these unnamed species were also wiped out.

"It's sadly ironic that we are discovering new species nearly as fast as we are losing them," said Andrew Crawford, former postdoctoral fellow at STRI and member of the Círculo Herpetológico de Panamá, now at the University of the Andes in Colombia. "Our DNA barcode data reveal new species even at this relatively well-studied site, yet the field sampling shows that many of these species new to science are already gone here."

An epidemic that wipes out a whole group of organisms is like the fire that burned the famous library of Alexandria. It destroys a huge amount of accumulated information about how life has coped with change in the past. Species surveys are like counting the number of different titles in the library, whereas a genetic survey is like counting the number of different words.

"When you lose the words, you lose the potential to make new books," said Lips, who directs the University of Maryland graduate program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology (CONS). "It's like the extinction of the dinosaurs. The areas where the disease has passed through are like graveyards; there's a void to be filled and we don't know what will happen as a result."

"This is the first time that we've used genetic barcodes -- DNA sequences unique to each living organism -- to characterize an entire amphibian community," said Eldredge Bermingham, STRI director and co-author. "STRI has also done barcoding on this scale for tropical trees on in our forest dynamics-monitoring plot in Panama. The before-and-after approach we took with the frogs tells us exactly what was lost to this deadly disease -- 33 percent of their evolutionary history."

The U.S. National Science Foundation and the Bay and Paul Foundation funded the field work for this study, which is published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Collection permits were provided by Panama's Environmental Authority, ANA

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Maryland, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Journal Reference:
Andrew J. Crawford, Karen R. Lips and Eldredge Bermingham. Epidemic disease decimates amphibian abundance, species diversity and evolutionary history in the highlands of central Panama. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci, July 19, 2010
Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Hundreds of endangered Malagasy tortoises have been seized in Malaysia (Via HerpDigest)

Hundreds of endangered Malagasy tortoises have been seized in Malaysia

TRAFFIC Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 16 July 2010-Malaysian
Customs Department officers on Wednesday foiled another attempt to smuggle hundreds of Critically Endangered Madagascar tortoises into Malaysia and arrested two women in whose bags, the tortoises were hidden.

The Malagasy women had filled two bags with 369 Radiated Tortoises Astrochelys radiata and five Ploughshare Tortoises Astrochelys yniphora.

Apart from the tortoises, the duo had also hidden 47 Tomato Frogs Dyscophus antongilii and several chameleons in their luggage.

This is the second case in just over a month involving the smuggling of these rare tortoises into Malaysia. In early June, Customs officers at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, discovered 285 Radiated Tortoises, 14 Spider Tortoises Pyxis arachnoids and a Ploughshare Tortoise in two
unclaimed suitcases that also contained a stash of drugs. No arrests were made in that incident.

The reptiles and amphibians seized in both cases have been handed over to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).

Perhilitan Director-General Datuk Abd. Rasid Samsudin told press that the two suspects were being investigated under Section 10(A) of Malaysia's International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, which came into force this month.

This section of the law provides for a total fine of up to MYR 1 million or a maximum jail sentence of seven years, or both, if a person is convicted of importing or exporting any scheduled species without a permit.

These cases confirm links between criminal elements in Southeast Asia and Madagascar. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia urges enforcement agencies within the ASEAN-WEN to collaborate in shutting these syndicates down, especially in international airports, as these are truly the hubs of the trade.

Investigations to find the masterminds behind the trade in Madagascar's tortoises in Southeast Asia should be initiated. It is these people, and those that continue to buy these illegal animals that are driving Malagasy wildlife towards extinction.

The second seizure of Madagascar tortoises comes hot on the heels of several Perhilitan successes this month.

"Malaysia's enforcement officers are to be congratulated on their crackdown on wildlife crime," said James Compton, Director of TRAFFIC's Asia-Pacific Programme.

"These efforts send a strong deterrent signal to those involved in the illicit trade that this global problem is being tackled in an increasingly systematic manner by effective law enforcement action."

On 11 July, Perhilitan's Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) raided the premises of a flea market trader in the state of Selangor and seized several wildlife trophies including five Tiger claws, the casks and beaks of two Rhinoceros Hornbills, Sambar and Barking Deer antlers, bags and shoes made of python and cobra skins and 96 items made of elephant ivory.

On 13 July, the WCU and Malaysian Police raided a car workshop in Kuala Lumpur and discovered over 600 birds, many of them protected under local legislation and/or by international conventions, including three Straw-headed Bulbuls Pycnonotus zeylanicus a Blue-and-Yellow Macaw Ara ararauna, nine Sulphur-crested Cockatoos Cacatua galerita, three Palm Cockatoos Probosciger aterrimus and a pair of Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise Seleucidis melanoleucus.

Two men linked to this case are still at large, police told press on Tuesday when announcing the seizure.

Primitive Frogs Do a Belly Flop (Via Herp Digest)

Primitive Frogs Do a Belly Flop: Study Shows That Frogs Evolved Jumping Before They Refined Landing
ScienceDaily (July 21, 2010) - Sometimes divers, to their own painful dismay, do belly flops. But did you ever see a frog belly flop?

That's just what primitive living frogs do, according to a new study by Dr. Richard Essner, from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the US, and colleagues, looking at the evolution of frog jumping and landing. They found that frogs became proficient at jumping before they perfected landing. This evolutionary split, characterized by an inability to rapidly rotate the limbs forward during flight in order to land front legs first, might also explain why primitive frogs' back legs are out-of-phase with one another when they swim. Essner's work is published in Springer's journal Naturwissenschaften.

Prior to this research, it had generally been assumed that all frogs jumped in a similar manner by rapidly extending their back legs during the propulsive phase and rotating the limbs forward during flight so that they could land front legs first. However, no studies had looked at the jumping behavior of the most primitive living frogs of the family Leiopelmatidae, which uniquely among frogs use a trot-like rather than a frog-kick swimming gait.

Essner and team compared the jumping behavior of leiopelmatids with that of more advanced frogs. They analyzed video footage from 5 species -- 3 primitive (Ascaphus montanus, Leiopelma pakeka, and L. hochstetteri) and 2 advanced (Bombina orientalis and Lithobates pipiens).

They found that although launch movements were similar among the species, primitive frogs maintained extended back legs throughout their flight and landing phases and did not land on their front legs. These belly flop landings limited their ability to jump again quickly.

According to Essner, this unique behavior of leiopelmatids shows that the evolution of jumping in frogs was a two-step process with symmetrical back leg extension jumping appearing first and mid-flight back leg recovery and landing on forelimbs appearing later. The frogs' inability to rapidly cycle the limbs may also provide a functional explanation for the absence of synchronous swimming in leiopelmatids. It is also plausible that the reason these primitive frogs have unusual anatomical features such as large, shield-shaped pelvic cartilage and abdominal ribs is to prevent damage to their internal soft tissues and organs during uncontrolled landing.

The authors conclude: "The simple shift to early hind limb recovery may have been a key feature in the evolutionary history of frogs, facilitating controlled terrestrial landings and enabling rapid repetition of jumping and swimming cycles. These changes may have offered advantages for longer distance locomotion, better landing postures and improved predator avoidance and foraging."

Friday, 23 July 2010

Village weaver appears on Portland

Friday 23rd July 2010

By Joanna Davis

AN EXOTIC escapee has made a nest on Portland, 5,000 miles from its usual Afri-can home.

A village weaver, thought to have been a pet in Britain, has stunned wildlife enthusiasts by setting up home on the island.

The bright yellow bird, which has a distinctive black head and red eyes, usually lives south of the Sahara Desert.

It has been seen feeding from residents’ bird tables and is feasting on seeds and insects.

The tropical bird selected a cherry tree in someone’s garden to build its intricate nest.

Portland Bird Observatory warden Martin Cade said: “Village weavers are fairly common in Africa – rather like sparrows over here.

“They usually live in together in large numbers, with big colonies of nests, but this one is all alone.

“Weaver birds don’t migrate, so this one must have escaped from a cage nearby.”

Mr Cade added that there is no reason why the village weaver wouldn’t thrive – as long as it can get food.

He added: “This one has rather ambitiously built a nest, but I think it’s a futile effort unless we have a female escapee turn up too.

“It may be a lonely vigil for him while he waits.

“It’s very brightly coloured – much more so than most of our native birds – and its nest isn’t exactly unobtrusive, so unfortunately it will be at risk from predators like sparrowhawks.”

RSPB spokesman Grahame Madge said: “It’s interesting that the bird still has its nesting tendencies. It’s a very attractive bird because it’s strikingly black and yellow.

“Portland is an interesting place for it to turn up because it’s where you would expect the bird to end up if it did come here from Africa.

“Unfortunately though, this one is more likely to have come from Weymouth.”

Mr Madge said he wasn’t so sure about the weaver’s long-term survival prospects.

“Birds like weavers would probably have a very difficult time if the winter is like the winter we’ve just had.

“I’m sure it will stay for a while though and give people something to talk about, but I don’t think it’s going to create a massive interest among birdwatchers.”
(Submitted by Mark North)

New Species Comes out of its Shell and onto the Map

New Species Comes out of its Shell and onto the Map
Clam-crushing turtle found in Mississippi and Louisiana

Released: 7/21/2010

A new species of turtle no bigger than a small dinner plate has been discovered, bringing the number of native turtle species in the U.S. to 57.
The Pearl River map turtle, discovered by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, is found only in the Pearl River in Louisiana and Mississippi. It is a relict of sea-level fluctuations between glacial and interglacial periods over 10,000 years ago, which isolated map turtles in different rivers along the Gulf Coast. Eventually, the turtles evolved into unique species confined to a single river system.

USGS scientists Josh Ennen and Jeff Lovich said the turtle, whose new scientific name is Graptemys pearlensis, had previously been confused with another turtle species in a nearby river, the Pascagoula map turtle.

Like the Pascagoula map turtle, the Pearl River map turtle is a native freshwater reptile that lives in large rivers to medium-sized streams. Females are much larger than males, measuring between 6 and 11 inches as adults, and use large crushing surfaces on their jaws to open clams. Males, meanwhile, grow to a comparatively puny 4 to 6 inches and eat some mollusks, but mostly insects and fish.

The discovery, published in Chelonian Conservation and Biology, is a reminder that there are still exciting discoveries to be made – and one doesn’t necessarily have to go far to make them, said Ennen.

“We don’t know as much as we sometimes think we do,” said Ennen. “When people think about discovery and new species, they think of rainforests, or unexplored and isolated countries. Coming from southern Mississippi, I basically found this turtle in my own backyard.”

Ennen discovered the species while doing other research on Graptemys species in the region for his Ph.D. dissertation. “The Pascagoula River map turtle was one of the only map turtle species believed to occur in two major drainages. I thought it was strange that it was such an anomaly. My professors, Brian Kreiser and Carl Qualls at the University of Southern Mississippi, encouraged me to look further, so I started doing genetic research on the turtles from the Pearl River and the turtles from the Pascagoula River.”

Once he started finding significant genetic differences between the two turtles, Ennen called USGS scientist Jeff Lovich onto the scene. Lovich had found, described and named the last two turtle species – also of the genus Graptemys – discovered in the United States in 1992. During his own research in the 80’s, Lovich had noticed subtle differences between the turtles in each river, but had not thought they were different species. “Josh asked me to reanalyze my data on color and the way the turtles look to combine with the genetic data,” Lovich said.

Altogether, the data was enough to make it plain: the Pearl River map turtle and the Pascagoula River map turtle are definitely two different species. The genetic data was clear on this, though the visual differences are more subtle -- one of the most obvious is the Pearl River map turtle sports a continuous black stripe down its back whereas the Pascagoula map turtle has a broken black stripe.

Lovich and Ennen are both excited about the discovery of a new turtle species, but think “it could be a long time before another one is discovered.”
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