Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Scientists find new invasive fresh water clam species in Lake George

RIGHT: Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea)
August 30, 2010

Scientists find new invasive fresh water clam species in lake George

(PhysOrg.com) -- The new species (Corbicula fluminea) was located in the Village of Lake George and poses a serious threat to native mussels and the Lake George ecosystem, according to Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, director of the Rensselaer Darrin Fresh Water Institute.

The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Darrin Fresh Water Institute (DFWI) has discovered a new invasive fresh water clam species in Lake George. This species, found last week by DFWI student Jeremy Farrell, was located in the Village of Lake George and poses a serious threat to native mussels and the Lake George ecosystem, according to Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, director of DFWI.

Nierzwicki-Bauer said the species - Corbicula fluminea - is an invasive clam from Asia, capable of self fertilization, achieving densities of thousands per square meter, and crowding native species from their typical habitats. Commonly known as the Asian clam, it is a light brown triangular clam that can survive in fresh and brackish waters. If the invasion is a localized one, it may be possible to eradicate, she added. The dominant native mussel in Lake George is Elliptio complanata.

“It is imperative that we move quickly to determine the extent of this infestation to assess the best treatment options that can be undertaken immediately,” said Nierzwicki-Bauer, who is also a professor of biology at Rensselaer. “We have reached out to the regulatory agencies to assess all our options.”

The Lake George environmental organizations have contracted to bring in an expert in invertebrate biology and scientific SCUBA: Dan Marelli, from Florida. He has worked with DFWI scientists for over 15 years to help coordinate SCUBA surveys, and he will direct new surveys that will be carried out by FUND for Lake George, DFWI, Bateaux Below Inc., and volunteer divers. Immediate plans include a survey of the shallow and embayment areas to establish the extent of infestation. Possible eradication or management strategies include use of a benthic barrier, essentially a plastic mat that could “smother” the clams, suction harvesting, or a combination of these methods. Currently, benthic mats are being used on a one-acre area in Lake Tahoe, Calif., to help manage the infestation there. Preliminary field work by DFWI staff indicates that a minimum of 2.5 acres in Lake George is infested.

The environmental groups will be coordinating with the Adirondack Park Agency and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

An initial plan of action has been organized to complete a SCUBA survey during the next two weeks to determine the geographical range of the infestation. This will involve surveys by divers of the lake bottom sediment. Other nearby areas with suitable habitat will be surveyed soon. Initial surveys will be supervised by Marelli. Once the extent of the infestation has been quantified, either a management or eradication strategy will be determined. The initial survey work will utilize the eight-diver crew of Aquatic Invasives Management (AIM) of Lake Placid, which is currently working in Lake George on management of Eurasian watermilfoil, under a contract with the FUND for Lake George.

Peter Bauer, executive director of the FUND for Lake George, said, “This is the newest invader to be found in Lake George. We’ve long had Eurasian watermilfoil and curlyleaf pond weed, as well as zebra mussels. We’ve seen a few plants of Brittle Naiad, too. We don’t know the current extent of the Asian clam infestation, but if we’re lucky maybe this is an isolated infestation in Lake George that we caught early.”

Once field investigations are completed, further information on the extent of the infestation will be provided.

“It is now most important that we pull together with other organizations and the public to mount a rapid and effective response to this disturbing discovery,” said Bruce E. Young, chairman of the Lake George Park Commission. “The community should be reassured that steps are under way to assess the extent of the Asian clam colony and if possible, eradicate it.”

“While the discovery of an established Asian clam population in the lake was not good news to hear, the good news is that all the groups involved are taking swift action and rallying the troops. We are all divvying up the tasks, and LGA is heading up public outreach. It is very important to spread the word to area boaters and business owners, as we do not want the clam to spread further within our own lake or to other nearby bodies of water as well. We will be providing educational materials about the Asian clam and its spread to boaters, businesses, and residents all around the lake in the next few days,” said Walt Lender, executive director, Lake George Association.

“It will take a concerted partnership effort to address Asian clam in Lake George. Key partners have already begun the rapid response process to survey, evaluate, and determine feasible control and spread prevention options. The Lake Champlain Basin Program will assist management efforts in any way possible as this species affects not only Lake George but the entire Lake Champlain Basin watershed and beyond,” said Meg Modley, Aquatic Invasive Species management coordinator, Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Background on Corbicula fluminea

Asian clams (Corbicula fluminea) are native to South East Asia and were first documented on the west coast of the United States in 1938. Since then they have spread to over 40 states. Asian clams are small, averaging less than 25mm (1.5 inches) with an oval triangular shape, deep at the hinge. Its outer shell is yellow brown, light brown to black with distinctive elevated, evenly spaced concentric ridges on the surface.

The Asian clam is a very hardy and persistent freshwater mollusk, capable of rapid growth and spread. The Asian clam prefers to colonize on sandy substrates in quiet, warmer, sunlit waters, and can be found with one-third of its shell protruding above the substrate (although it has been found at water depths to 250 feet and within the sediment buried up to 7 inches in Lake Tahoe). Asian clams can form dense clusters, with up to 5,000 animals per square meter. Asian clams are able to withstand freezing conditions, but their ability to reproduce decreases with exposure to lower temperatures (below 10oC/50oF). For a long time, New England was considered environmentally inhospitable to the Asian clam.

The Asian clam is hermaphroditic and therefore capable of self-fertilization. A single clam can release over 400 offspring per day, depending on the conditions. The microscopic pediveligers (the final veliger or larval stage) travel along the substrate to a new location, attaching with byssus fibers to any available suitable substrate. The young that are hatched in the spring usually attain maturity by the fall (at 6-10 mm) and live an average of two to four years, with a maximum life span of seven years.

Geoffrey Schladow, director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center of the University of California, Davis, said the Asian clams promote so much algae growth that they can turn some waters from blue to green. As they filter the water and consume plankton, they deposit high concentrations of nutrients in their excretions. Another significant impact of the Asian clams infestations is the “biofouling” or the impairment or degradation of intake pipes for power plants and drinking water treatment systems.

Provided by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (news : web)


New dinosaur species found in China

Beijing, Aug 29: Scientists in China have identified a new species of dinosaur in a mountainous region in Shandong province, experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) said.

Though fossils of the dinosaur were unearthed in January 2008 in Zhucheng city, where several Cretaceous dinosaurs have been found since the 1960s, they were "identified only quite recently", Xu Xing, a dinosaur researcher, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Xu, a researcher with CAS Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, has named it "Sinoceratops zhuchengensis", a type that has never been found before.

"Its skull is at least 180 cm long and 105 cm wide," said Xu. "It has a 30-cm long horn on its face and at least 10 crooked, smaller horns on the top of its head."

Ceratops (meaning "horn face") were large, plant-eating dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous period that dates back to more than 65 million years. The most renowned ceratops is the triceratops, a huge herbivore weighing over 10 tonnes.

The discovery of the new species might rewrite current theories on the morphological transition among dinosaurs, Xu said.

"It blurs the distinctions between two types of ceratops," he said. "It bears features of centrosaurus, a group of ceratops, that are smaller in size, but its size resembles chasmosaurus, the giants of ceratops."

Before the discovery in China, ceratops had been unearthed only in the western regions of North America.


Bird group wants better species protection

Monday, 30/08/2010

Birds Australia says the organisation is imploring governments to think carefully about the development of their conservation policies.

The organisation's secretary, Allan Briggs, says governments changed their policies to focus on protecting whole ecosystems, rather than individual species.

He says that's a real concern, because protecting animals from extinction is complicated, and a "broad brush" approach shouldn't be used.

"This is a real difficulty for governments, They like to chop things up into easily digestible pieces, but this isn't an easily digestible piece," he says.

"We really need to be looking at the biodiversity and conserving it for future generations to enjoy."


A new chameleon species from Madagascar on the brink of extinction - “A tarzan yell for conservation”


A team of German and Malagasy biologists from the Technische Universit√§t Braunschweig, the University of Antananarivo, the Zoological State Collection of Munich and of the hesssiche Landesmusem Darmstadt discovered a new chameleon species in the rainforests of Madagascar’s east coast.

The species was discovered in a small rainforest fragment very close to the village formerly known as Tarzanville. “Therefore, we dedicated the new species to the fictional forest man "Tarzan" in the hope that this famous name will promote awareness and conservation activities for this apparently highly threatened new species and its habitats, Madagascar's mid-altitude rainforest”, says PhD student Philip – Sebastian Gehring, first author of the description of this new species.

The Tarzan - chameleon should be considered as "Critically Endangered" because its recent distribution area covers probably less than 10 km2, there is continuing decline in the extent and quality of much of its habitat, and none of the habitats are included in the network of protected areas yet. The known habitats of this new chameleon should be protected as soon as possible in order to ensure the survival of this splendid species and other locally endemic endangered amphibian and reptile species occurring in these forest remnants, thereby using the Tarzan chameleon as a flagship species.


Gehring, P.-S., M. Pabijan,, F. Ratsoavina, J. Köhler, M. Vences & F. Glaw:
A Tarzan yell for conservation: a new chameleon, Calumma tarzan sp. n., proposed as flagship species for the creation of new nature reserves in Madagascar.- Salamandra 46(3) 151–163


Basking sharks are fascinating beasts who may just have launched the legend of Nessie

Published Date: 30 August 2010
By Kath Gourlay

Being classed as a hotspot for sharks doesn't always make for a tourist area, but visitors to the Western isles need have no worries. The bus-sized basking sharks cruising through the Minch this month have no interest in snacking on limbs or torsos. In fact, they're the ones who can be at risk, from the boatloads of tourists and film crews that gather to watch their activities.

"Basking sharks are slow-moving and harmless to humans and their sheer bulk makes them vulnerable when it comes to outmanoeuvring fast boats and the people in them," says Suzanne Henderson, marine advisory officer for Scottish Natural Heritage, Nets from fishing boats, and creel ropes are also a hazard, and SNH has published leaflets and water-resistant maps highlighting the areas around the West coast where large groups of these massive sharks are likely to be at this time of year. "These sites are really important, both nationally and globally, and consistently high numbers have been seen in the sound between Coll and Tiree, and the seas round Canna and Hyskeir," says Suzanne.

In recent summers, SNH recorded the presence of more than 80 basking sharks around Canna and even more around Coll. Shark expert Colin Speedie, who carried out much of the work, says that people have a lot to learn about the habits of these gentle giants.

"Basking sharks are huge – the size of a double decker bus – but they feed entirely on plankton. These minute creatures drift through the water and are filtered through comb-like gills in the shark's enormous gaping mouth.

In one hour an adult shark filters enough water to fill a 50m Olympic-sized swimming pool."

Basking sharks are most often seen in coastal areas during the summer and early autumn, when plankton are plentiful and they get their name from being seen "basking" at the surface of the water. The hotspot areas round the Western Isles are known to be mating sites and keen observers might get lucky and spot rare displays of courtship behaviour, such as "breaching" where huge sharks 20 or 30ft long and around six tonnes in weight leap clear of the water.

Another fascinating sight – again, rarely seen, though observed in the Western Isles – is when pairs of courting basking sharks swim along nose to tail for miles and miles in a seemingly trance-like state. This is the time, says SNH, when the sharks are most vulnerable and boat owners and fishermen need to be vigilant around these mating areas.

Previous generations were not so considerate. Basking sharks have been following the plankton drifts up the west coast for centuries, and in the 18th and 19th centuries were highly valued for the high oil content in their huge livers.

The curious story of a creature dubbed "the Stronsay Beast" suggests that a basking shark might have been behind the origins of the Loch Ness Monster legend. In 1808, an enormous carcass was found washed up on the Orkney island of Stronsay. It was measured in front of witnesses and found to be 55ft long. A drawing was made of it which is now in the Orkney museum. In the drawing, the massive creature appeared to have a very long neck.

Stronsay was a thriving herring fishing port, and trade flourished round the coasts and through the Caledonian Canal, where travelling fisherfolk told and retold the story.

A piece of the vertebrae stored in the Royal Museum of Edinburgh showed it was made of cartilage, not bone, so it had to be a shark. If the gill arches had fallen off and the soft tissue had rotted, then the backbone leading to the head and neck would be left looking just like a long neck with a huge body behind it.

Did "the Stronsay Beast" launch the legend of Nessie? We may never know.

Visit www.whalewatchscotland.com/trips for more information

This article was first published in The Scotsman on Saturday, August 28


The Frozen Zoo aiming to bring endangered species back from the brink

San Diego Zoo began collecting skin samples from rare animals in 1972 in the hope they might be used to protect these endangered species in the future. A breakthrough in stem-cell technology means that day is getting closer.

Paul Harris
The Observer, Sunday 29 August 2010

The inside of a metal box filled with liquid nitrogen and frozen to -173C (-280F) is hardly the ideal habitat for a large African mammal. But, as a test tube is fished out of the frigid container amid a billowing cloud of white gas, a note written on its side is unequivocal about its contents. "This is a northern white rhino," says Scripps research scientist Inbar Ben-Nun as she reads out the label and holds the freezing vial with thick gloves that look like industrial-grade oven mitts.

Ben-Nun is holding no ordinary scientific sample. For the frozen cells in that test tube could one day give rise to baby northern white rhinos and help save the species from extinction. They would be living specimens of one of the most endangered species on Earth, who after a few months would be trotting into wildlife parks, and maybe, just maybe, helping repopulate their kind on the African grasslands. No wonder that the place where the sample came from is called the Frozen Zoo.

The Frozen Zoo was founded in 1972 at San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research as a repository for skin-cell samples from rare and endangered species. At the time that the first samples were collected and put into deep freeze it was not really known how they would be used and genetic technology was in its infancy. But there was a sense that one day some unknown scientific advance might make use of them and it was better to be safe than sorry. Now, thanks to a team at the nearby Scripps Research Institute, that day has come a lot closer.

Genetic scientists at Scripps, working from an anonymous-looking building in a business park in San Diego's northern suburbs, have succeeded in taking samples of skin cells from the Frozen Zoo and turning them into a culture of special cells known as induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells. Stem cells are a sort of all-purpose building block of life that can then become any other sort of cell. By creating IPS cells from a species it is now theoretically possible to use them to create egg cells and sperm cells. Those two could then be combined via in vitro fertilisation to form a viable embryo. And long-dead animals whose species are almost extinct could create new life. The breakthrough, so far, has come with creating IPS cells for the silver-maned drill monkey, a primate native to just a few parts of West Africa and which is the continent's most endangered monkey. On 1 June this year, the stem cells morphed into brain cells, proving their viability.

"The Frozen Zoo was a wonderful idea. They just thought: 'Well, something might happen, so we should preserve some samples for the future'," says Dr Jeanne Loring, who is leading the Scripps team of which Ben-Nun is a part. "This is the first time that there has been something that we can do."

The implications of Loring's breakthrough are clear for those trying to save endangered animals. If the technology is perfected and IPS cell cultures can be established for many of the species held in the Frozen Zoo, then conservationists will not just have to rely on preventing extinction by coaxing a few remaining individuals to breed. Instead, cell lines preserved in the Frozen Zoo can be added to the possible gene pool, increasing the chances of healthy reproduction.

"If we could use animals that were already dead – even from 20 years ago – to generate sperm and eggs then we can use those individuals to create greater genetic diversity. I see it as being possible. I see no scientific barrier," Loring says.

It has also raised another prospect among some observers: that of a Jurassic Park scenario. If viable cell samples could be harvested from the remains of extinct animal species, such as stuffed Tasmanian tigers in museums or the woolly mammoth corpses dug up from the Siberian tundra, then perhaps scientists would one day be able to reverse extinction. It is not a prospect that many scientists involved want to encourage. But ever since news of Loring's work with the drill monkey cells was revealed, the Jurassic Park headlines have been coming thick and fast.

Loring's lab at Scripps holds samples from the northern white rhino and the drill monkey, but the real Frozen Zoo, just a few miles away, is on a much larger scale. Housed in a building inside San Diego Zoo, its freezers contain samples from 8,400 animals, representing more than 800 species. They include Gobi bears, endangered cattle breeds such as gaurs and bantengs, mountain gorillas, pandas, a California grey whale and condors. The entire gigantic menagerie is housed in four deep-freeze tanks, representing a staggeringly important slice of some of the world's most rare wildlife.

Dr Oliver Ryder, the geneticist who heads the Frozen Zoo programme, welcomes the news of Loring's work, which itself built on a breakthrough in 2007 by Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka. For Ryder it is confirmation that the zoo's founding as a sort of "bet" on the science of the future now has great prospects of paying off. "We wondered if one day pigs would fly. Well, now pigs are flying. I am very excited by the results," Ryder says.

But Ryder does not appreciate some of the wilder headlines that have sprung from the potential implications of the research. The words "Jurassic Park" get short shrift from the plain-spoken scientist. He has little time for those who advocate bringing back long-dead species or those fringe figures who dream one day of recreating a dinosaur just like in Steven Spielberg's movie. Apart from the fact that the science of extracting viable DNA for such animals is virtually impossible, he believes it distracts from the Frozen Zoo's primary aim: to stop species becoming extinct in the first place. "What would be the benefit of bringing back something that has been extinct for some 10,000 years? It is intriguing and evocative but it plays to human hubris. What's the motivation? Is this for personal benefit or society saying: 'We have arcane powers and the world is our oyster'?" he asks.

When it comes to species still on the brink, with perhaps just a few individuals left, however, Ryder is insistent that humanity has a duty to save them and that the Frozen Zoo can play a crucial role. Especially close to Ryder's heart is one of the species that Loring is working on: the northern white rhino. There are just eight of the animals left alive on earth and not all of them are viable breeders. To put it bluntly: the northern white rhino's gene pool is more accurately a rapidly drying-up gene puddle. But, if Loring's work succeeds in creating northern white rhino IPS cells and then turning them into sperm and eggs, that gene pool can be deepened again.

It is a race against time. Unlike with the drill monkey, Loring's efforts with rhino cells have not yet worked. But at least Loring thinks she knows why. The drill monkey samples were coaxed into becoming IPS cells using viruses loaded with carefully selected human genes that can trigger that reaction. Loring suspects it worked with drill monkeys because – as fellow primates – they are genetically close enough to humans for the introduced human genes to work properly. Rhinos, she thinks, may be too distantly related. However, she plans to try again, this time perhaps using genes from a closer animal relative to the rhino, the horse.

Ryder makes no secret of how emotionally attached he is to saving the northern white rhino while there are still living animals, rather than just reviving some later entirely from a test tube. He recalls witnessing the birth of a female northern white rhino more than 20 years ago and watching it being introduced to its herd: something that would be lost for ever if the last northern white rhino died before Loring's technology is perfected. "I saw her meet the rest of the rhino herd. There was a clear sense of how to meet the baby. If we wait until there are no white rhinos and then one is created from a test tube, to whom are we going to introduce it?" he says. "My feelings about the rhino come straight from the heart. I am not ready to give up on this rhino."

Sadly, it is already too late for other species. The Frozen Zoo already holds samples from animals that are now extinct. One such is the po'ouli bird, a species of honeycreeper that lived in Hawaii and was only discovered in 1973. Unfortunately, the last recorded sighting of the po'ouli was in 2004, and it is thought to be extinct, assailed by habitat loss and the introduction of disease by humans. Now it resides only in the Frozen Zoo in the form of its skin cells preserved and frozen. Ryder, sticking with his belief that there is no point in rescuing the already extinct, hopes instead that studying the po'ouli bird's genes will help conservationists prevent other related and endangered species from following the same path. "Maybe we cannot bring back the po'ouli, but we can use its secrets to help others," he says.

Ryder believes the importance of the Frozen Zoo cannot be overestimated in the face of the vast pressures that humanity is putting on the creatures with which it shares the planet. In fact the Frozen Zoo's collection of samples is so valuable that a secret duplicate collection has been established in case a natural or manmade disaster were to strike the original. "No time that people have kept something safe in just one place has it worked. This is a globally important depository and its importance is not going to decrease. Over time there is going to be a big disaster. So we have to insure against that," he says. He is also keen on reaching out to other, smaller frozen zoos that exist elsewhere, such as one at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans and one at the University of Nottingham. He hopes one day a global network of frozen zoos will be established to provide the ultimate insurance policy to carry the earth's rarest animal species into the future. "Having a duplicate site is an important step but in the long run we need to have a global network," he explains. "The future will thank the present generation for saving what we can save. We have to look beyond the current moment. People who are not yet born will greatly appreciate what we can do."

That opinion holds true for Loring, too. Her success in creating IPS cells has the potential to unlock the whole Frozen Zoo as a powerful tool for breeding and conservation. She is already thinking of getting a third species from the zoo to add to the Scripps research on drill monkeys and the northern white rhino. She, too, is seeing the big picture and says there is a moral imperative to use the animals kept in the Frozen Zoo to preserve rare species as part of a living, breathing global ecosystem.

"The idea of doing it has become a reality," Loring says. "This is something that can be done and should be done. We should make up for the damage that we have caused."


Halifax center displays 180 species of waterfowl


SCOTLAND NECK -- The black-headed duck of South America is a lousy parent.

Rather than build its own nest, it simply lays its eggs in ones built by other birds, regardless of species, and never looks back. Left to fend for themselves, the ducklings somehow know to hatch at the same time as their stepbrothers and sisters.

"How it knows to do that, I don't know," said Mike Lubbock, founder of the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Center on the edge of this small town 85 miles northeast of Raleigh.

This 18-acre zoo for birds - primarily ducks, geese, cranes and other water birds - has about 180 species on display. Each, like the parasitic black-headed duck, has a story.

The waterfowl center opened in late 2006 as an outgrowth of Lubbock's breeding center next door, where he produces birds, some extremely rare, for zoos and collectors. Lubbock has done 18 "first breedings," meaning he was the first to coax 18 species of birds to reproduce in captivity.

With his wide-brimmed hats, the accent of his native England and 45 years of work with water birds, Lubbock is the image of the globe-trotting naturalist. But the center is his home base, the place where he has chosen to share his love and knowledge of birds with the public and to encourage people to protect the habitats that sustain them.

Sylvan Heights takes its name from the town in the mountains of North Carolina where Mike Lubbock's breeding business got its start in the 1980s. After his partner in that business died, friends who lived in Scotland Neck suggested he move it east.

Lubbock says that besides having a milder climate, the area had what a waterfowl breeder needed, including hardware stores and a good supply of well water.

"It's a farming community," he said. "And I was farming birds, if you look at it that way."

The center may not yet be the tourist draw that some in Scotland Neck have wanted. On Sunday, there were few enough visitors that one could be alone with the birds at times, surrounded by their various honks, laughs and quacks and the sounds of flapping wings on water.

The birds are grouped by continents into five walk-through aviaries, each enclosed in netting held up without internal poles to make it easier for birds to fly around and for people to see and photograph them.

Surprisingly large

Melissa Phillips of Greenville liked the openness. "The birds seem happier," she said. "It's a more natural setting."

Phillips and her husband, Scott, had heard the center was a good place to bring a picnic and walk around, and they were pleasantly surprised. "We didn't expect it to be this big and have so many birds," Scott said.

Lubbock says the best time to visit Sylvan Heights is from October to April, when most of the waterfowl have finished molting and their drab new feathers become more showy.

"If you came back here in two months' time, you'd think these were different birds, because of the bright colors," he said.

Though the center specializes in waterfowl, there are other birds on display, including laughing kookaburras, parrots, an emu, a toucan, turkeys and a family of eagle owls, the largest owl in the world. These are a concession of sorts to the tastes of visitors, particularly school groups.

"To a kid, one duck looks like another one after awhile," Lubbock says.

Seven-year-old Tabitha Suzanne Shrader of Pine Tops said her favorite birds are owls, blue jays and flamingos, as she and her grandmother looked out over an enclosure containing 86 flamingos Sunday. Most were various shades of white and pink, but a gray, fuzzy baby approached the fence where Tabitha stood.

"That is a real strange one," she said.

The center is a family affair; Mike's wife, Ali, is operations manager, and their son Brent handles memberships and marketing on behalf of the N.C. Zoological Society, a partner in the venture. Brent notes that more than half the income for the nonprofit center comes from memberships and donations.

The center gets about 30,000 visitors a year, Brent said. It hopes that grows to about 50,000 in coming years. As it is, though, the Lubbocks say the tranquility is one reason to visit.

"There are probably 30 to 40 people in the park at the moment," Mike Lubbock said Sunday. "And you don't really run into anyone."


Birmingham woman names endangered British species

Aug 31 2010 by Sophie Cross, Birmingham Mail

A NATURE-loving Birmingham woman has won the chance to give an endangered British species a common name to help save it from extinction.

Lisa Bassett, from Sutton Coldfield, came up with the name “Witches’ whiskers” for a type of lichen when she entered a “Name a Species” competition organised by Natural England.

The organism, renowned for its medicinal qualities, is one of ten endangered species of native lichens, beetles, bees, jellyfish and shrimps now enjoying new titles after previously only being listed in Latin.

It is hoped the common names will help the public become more familiar with species the country is in danger of losing.

Lisa’s lichen was previously only known by its Latin name, Usnea florida.

Describing how she came up with the name, Lisa said: “The lichen looks hairy, and the witches who would have been making the plant into medicines – at least in the stories – would have been warty and whiskery.” The competition’s overall winner was Josh Clare from Market Drayton, who named a larvae-eating beetle found only in Windsor Great Park “Queen’s executioner”.

Natural England say 430 species have become extinct in England over the last 200 years.

Chief scientist Dr Tom Tew said: “The continued decline of biodiversity in England is a seriously worrying issue as every species matters – from the newly-named sea piglet to the more familiar hedgehog.

“Biodiversity is the foundation of our own existence and we cannot afford to take it for granted, which is why we are getting the issue out from under the microscope and into the limelight.”

All ten species will be on display at an exhibition in Oxford’s Museum of Natural History.

Other winning names included “Skeetle”, a beetle that escapes predators using natural “jet skis”; “Mab’s lantern”, a rare four-spotted beetle; “St John’s jellyfish”, a tiny 1cm jellyfish in the shape of a Maltese cross and “Scabious cuckoo bee”, which lays its eggs in the nests of other bees.


1 Million Fish Dead in Bolivian Ecological Disaster

Over 1 million fish and thousands of alligators, turtles, dolphins and other river wildlife are floating dead in numerous Bolivian rivers in the three eastern/southern departments of Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija. The extreme cold front that hit Bolivia in mid-July caused water temperatures to dip below the minimum temperatures river life can tolerate. As a consequence, rivers, lakes, lagoons and fisheries are brimming with decomposing fish and other creatures.

Unprecedented: Nothing like this has ever been seen in this magnitude in Bolivia. Inhabitants of riverside communities report the smell is nauseating and can be detected as far as a kilometer away from river banks. River communities, whose livelihoods depend on fishing, fear they'll run out of food and will have nothing to sell. Authorities are concerned there will be a shortage of fish in markets and are more concerned by possible threats to public health, especially in communities that also use river water for bathing and drinking, but also fear contaminated or decaying fish may end up in market stalls. They've begun a campaign to ensure market vendors and the public know how to tell the difference between fresh and unhealthy fish.

In university fish ponds and commercial fisheries the losses are also catastrophic.

Read more at: http://www.boliviabella.com/1-million-fish-dead-in-bolivian-ecological-disaster.html



Frightening new predator found in the homeland of the dragon
Fossil of balaur bondoc in Romania shows how the dinosaur would have terrorised other animals
• Caroline Davies
• guardian.co.uk, Monday 30 August 2010 20.00 BST

There's no evidence of wings or fire-breathing capability. But the powerfully built, meat-eating predator that terrorised Romania some 80m years ago is close to the mythological dragon.

Fossils found near the city of Sebes in central Romania have revealed a dinosaur with scythe-like claws for ripping apart prey which scientists have named balaur bondoc – "stocky dragon" in ancient Romanian.

Related to the velociraptor, which was brought to terrifying life in the film Jurassic Park, the dinosaur roamed the area when it was an island during the late Cretaceous period. At just 2.1 metres (7ft) long, it might have made a disappointing opponent for St George but would have preyed on small animals.

A partial skeleton of balaur bondoc, including leg, hip, vertebrae, arms, ribs and tail bones, has been unearthed from a former flood plain near Sebes.

Balaur had a stockier build than the velociraptor, its short legs and powerful muscles suggesting it was built for strength rather than speed. Its most unusual feature was having two oversized toe claws to the velociraptor's one.

"Balaur is a new breed of predatory dinosaur, very different from anything we have ever known," said Stephen Brusatte of Columbia University in New York, co-author of the research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Its anatomy shows it probably hunted in a different way than its less stocky relatives. Compared to the velociraptor, balaur was probably more of a kickboxer than a sprinter, and it might have been able to take down larger animals than itself, as many carnivores do today."

Scientists believe the lower limbs were used to grasp and disembowel prey.

Unlike the vampire, which entered the mythology of eastern Europe in the early 18th century, the dragon has been part of Romanian legend for many centuries. Its ubiquity in fairytales worldwide has been interpreted as evidence that it could have existed. Balaur the evil hydra, a popular creature in Romanian mythology, is similar to a dragon but differs from its newly discovered namesake in that it was large and had fins, feet and multiple serpent heads.

The Romanian link with dragons was perpetuated in JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. The character Ron Weasley's brother Charlie worked at the world's largest dragon reservation in Romania.

As to the comparatively modest balaur bondoc, Josh Chamot of the National Science Foundation in Virginia said: "It's as large as anything you'd expect to find on one of the larger continents. Animals which were isolated from others on these islands were usually a lot smaller than their continental counterparts. This dino's size advantage, combined with the two claws it had on each foot to slice prey with, would have made it a very successful hunter."

Mark Norell, co-author of the study, called the discovery "thrilling". He said: "While we would expect that there were carnivorous animals in these faunas, finding one as unusual as balaur is thrilling and is testament to the unusual animals found on islands today and in the past.

"The finding indicates that this area of the world, despite its archipelago geography, had at least intermittent connections with the mainland up to the end of the cretaceous."

Monday, 30 August 2010



26 August, 2010

WHILE living in Australia he survived both the venomous bite of a redback spider and the deadly sting of a box ­jelly­fish.

But the last thing Don Forrester expected when he returned to England was to be left close to death by a poisonous ­spider in Kentish Town.

After being bitten by a hungry, hairy-legged creature last week, the former Sunday Times journalist has warned residents to beware of a colony of tropical spiders that could be on the loose in Camden.

Mr Forrester, of Grafton Road, was laying decking for a friend in Islip Street last Wednesday when he felt a sudden pain in his hand, which he put down to a wood splinter.

Seconds later he saw two unusual-looking brown hairy spiders with yellow stripes on their backs scurrying across the garden.

But it was only when his hand swelled to five times its normal size that he realised he had become the creatures’ prey.

Mr Forrester said: “Within an hour my hand went from what I thought was a little splinter to looking like a balloon. It continued to get bigger for three days and the pain got so intense I thought I’d better do something about this.”

Mr Forrester sought the advice of a chemist who told him he needed antibiotics, but before the 62-year-old could see a doctor he took a turn for the worse while having a drink with friends in the Sir Robert Peel pub in Malden Road.

“I’d just got my pint when I just started to shake all over, my heart started to race and I started to come over all white,” said Mr Forrester. “The boys took one look at me and said they were going to get an ambulance. Without them I’d probably be dead.”

He was rushed to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead with dangerously low blood pressure and was later taken into theatre where doctors worked to remove the poison, which had already begun travelling up his arm. Mr Forrester’s condition was so serious he was kept in overnight and given antibiotics intravenously. He is now taking a cocktail of 11 tablets a day and has been advised to have physiotherapy to restore the movement in his arm.

But the ex-Fleet Street reporter is only too aware of how lucky he was to survive his ordeal.

“I’m a fit man – that’s the reason I was able to fight it off,” he said. “But if it had been an elderly or sick person without that level of resistance they might not have made it.”

Mr Forrester now plans to research the ­spider’s identity so he can warn other people what to look out for.


Second sighting for monkey (Via Dave Curtis)

Louth Leader (Louth, England), August 25, 2010

THE MYSTERY monkey that was spotted down a quiet country lane in South Cockerington has been spotted again.

This time by another police officer, PC Ian Garrick, who saw the creature in the same location on Sunday August 15.

As reported, PC Paul French was travelling along Mill Hill Way on his way to Louth Police Station when he saw the monkey run in front of his patrol car and scurry over the hedge on Friday August 13 about 11.30am.

Police are still appealing for anyone to come forward to report a missing monkey which is described as being a similar size to a squirrel, dark brown in colour and having a long straight upright tail.

Anyone with information should call Louth police Station on: 0300 111 0300.

Drunk baboons plague Cape Town's exclusive suburbs

The sun is setting over South Africa's oldest vineyard and the last of the wine-tasting tourists are climbing onto their buses. But one large family group has no intention of leaving – and there is little the management can do about it.

Groot Constantia, in the heart of Cape Town's wine country, can deal with inebriated holidaymakers – but it is invading baboons which have developed a taste for its grapes that the wine makers are struggling with.

Each day, dozens of Cape Baboons gather to strip the ancient vines – the sauvignon blanc grapes are a particular favourite – before heading into the mountains to sleep. A few, who sample fallen fruit that has fermented in the sun, pass out and don't make it home.

"They are not just eating our grapes, they are raiding our kitchens and ripping the thatch off the roofs. They are becoming increasingly bold and destructive," said Jean Naude, general manager at the vineyard, which is celebrating its 325th birthday this year. Guards banging sticks and waving plastic snakes have been deployed with only limited success, and not even a blast of a vuvuzela, the plastic horn made famous at the World Cup, seems to frighten them.

It is not just the vineyards in South Africa which are under siege, however, but also the exclusive neighbouring suburb of Constantia, home to famous residents including Earl Spencer, Wilbur Smith and Nelson Mandela.

Crisis meetings between animal welfare groups and traumatised locals are struggling to find a workable solution.

"Where there's a mountain, there's a baboon," said Justin O'Riain of the Baboon Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. "As we take up more and more of their land, the conflict increases."

The baboons lived in the mountains of Cape Town long before humans took up residence, but development has forced the unlikely neighbours into increasingly closer contact.

Before laws afforded baboons a protected status a decade ago, troublesome animals were regularly killed or maimed by home owners and farmers. Now around 20 full-time "baboon monitors" are employed to protect them and guide them away from residential areas. It has proved mission impossible. Last week, a 12 year old boy was left traumatised after confronting a troop who had broken into his family home.

Hearing noises from the kitchen, he went to investigate and found the beasts ransacking cupboards. When the child fled upstairs to find his babysitter, three males gave chase and surrounded him as he made a tearful phone call to his mother, while the animals pelted him with fruit.

"When he called me he was terrified. They had him surrounded," said the Constantia housewife, who did not wish to be identified.

Chickens, geese, peacocks and even a Great Dane dog have been killed in recent weeks by the marauding baboons - the males have huge and terrifying canine teeth. Roof tiles, electric fences, orchards and vegetables gardens have been trashed.

"Lunch parties in the garden are now just impossible," a homeowner complained. "It is so unrelaxing. Rather than chatting over our meal, we are looking over our shoulders and bolting the food as quickly as we can before it is stolen. We can't even leave a window open in summer. We are under siege."

In a concession to despairing residents, wildlife authorities have begun collaring baboons identified as "troublesome" and imposed a strict "three strikes" policy whereby animals which repeatedly break into homes are humanely destroyed.

Fourteen year-old William, a large male known officially as GOB03, who had terrorised the coastal suburb of Scarborough for as long as anyone can remember, was the first to fall foul of this controversial rule.

His death last month was greeted with outrage and jubilation in equal measure and dominated the letters pages of the local newspapers for weeks.

Meanwhile, For Sale signs are sprouting up in suburbs with baboon populations. Families which have lived in the same house for generations are giving up, moving away to get away from their animal tormentors.

I caught a piranha ...in the Thames

AN angler told yesterday how he caught a piranha - in the RIVER THAMES.
Richard Salmon, 38, was trying to catch chub when he reeled in the razor-toothed beastie - fabled as the world's most fearsome freshwater fish. He said: "I didn't expect to come eye to eye with a piranha."

The tropical fish, native to South America, is thought to have been dumped in the Thames by a collector with a heated aquarium. Graphic artist Richard knew it wouldn't survive long if he threw it back in the cool river. He said: "I took it home so I could prove to my pals I caught a piranha from the Thames.

"I normally fish for pike so I'm used to dealing with sharp teeth. But it was very unnerving unhooking it." Richard caught the 4in specimen in Marlow, Bucks, opposite the famous Compleat Angler hotel.

Piranhas can grow to 18ins and strip flesh from prey in seconds. They are scaring movie fans in Kelly Brook's new film Piranha 3D. In June The Sun told how angler Derek Plum, 46, hooked a piranha in a pond near Folkestone, Kent.


Sunday, 29 August 2010

'Sea serpent' captured, never identified (via Dale Drinnon and Chad Arment)


'Sea serpent' captured, never identified

From Staff Reports
Sunday, Aug 29, 2010

Before dams upstream could regulate the Savannah River's flow, Augusta pretty much had to take whatever the Good Lord put in the river.

Sometimes it was high water. Sometimes it was low water.

And on a warm day in 1820, it was something else.

"Sea Serpent" says a headline in a September edition of The Augusta Chronicle.

What followed was an account of the remarkable discovery of something in the river that no one could identify.

"This monster of the deep has at last made his appearance in Sav. River. He was discovered coming up about 5 o'clock on last Thursday & was witnessed by several respectable citizens," the paper reported.

The creature appeared in the river below Augusta and frightened a man chopping wood, then disappeared beneath the water as others rushed to the riverbank to see it.

About four days later, it was back.

"Sea Serpent Caught!!!" a new headline read.

The story beneath it added this:

"A large concourse of citizens was attracted to the Sand Bar Ferry on Thursday evening to witness the monster of the deep, whose arrival in our waters was announced last week.

"In endeavoring to force himself over the shoals, he foundered, and laid high and dry, exposed to the entire observation of a vast multitude."

Apparently a crowd then attacked and subdued the mystery monster -- still identified as a mighty serpent. It was rolled into town "alligator style" and "the triumph was now complete and a general shout announced it."

So what was it? Augusta didn't know.

The paper added this:

"Postscript -- a number of distinguished Naturalists are now busily engaged in examining this nautical phenomenon. It is stated, but upon whose authority we know not, that three Expresses to Doctor Mitchell of New York, left this City at 12 o'clock, last night, upon this important subject."

Apparently they never heard back.

[--This is interesting and it may have some bearing on a report of 1850 from Port Royal, South Carolina, which Oudemans called a hoax but said it was a likely description. Oudemans was predisposed to discount freshwater reports in general up until the Loch Ness Monster became big news. Heuvelmans follows Oudemans' lead and calls it a hoax: both reports are in the same general area and both of them could indeed be hoaxes because the naturalists certainly should have been interested and there should have been some general announcement in the scientific journals of the time. In the postscript it mentions "a number of distinguished naturalists" examining the dead creature and they are unnamed. Doctor Mitchell of New York is named but evidently he never responded, so that any mention of him at all is a red herring.

It might be that there were creatures in both 1820 and 1850 cases and possibly there were giant eels involved, but the fact that in both cases no announcements were made in the scientific journals and in both cases the assumed bodies disappeared without a trace shortly thereafter does make it sound as if there were no actual bodies at the time and that both stories were indeed hoaxes. In this case, the wording of the postscript makes that sound pretty likely.

Coati missing from Belfast Zoo thought still alive


Coati missing from Belfast Zoo thought still alive
By Niall Glynn BBC News
White nosed coati The coati has been missing since 19 July

The manager of Belfast Zoo has said he is confident a racoon-like animal which escaped more than five weeks ago is still alive.

The white-nosed coati from Belize escaped from the north Belfast site on Monday 19 July.

"While it remains relatively mild we're presuming it's still alive," zoo manager Mark Challis said.

"They're resourceful, relatively tough animals and there's a good presumption that it's still alive."

The mammal was being held in quarantine after just arriving at the zoo.

It had been hoped the female would take part in a breeding programme with several other coatis recently imported.

Mr Challis said there had been three sightings of the coati on the periphery of the zoo two weeks ago, but none since.
Continue reading the main story
"Start Quote

This is a small mammal, no bigger than a domestic cat and by nature it's not going to be looking for a confrontation with dogs or cats"

End Quote Mark Challis Belfast Zoo manager

"It was quite reassuring to have these sightings close to the zoo, because that's what we thought it would do, because it knew the site and obviously we were putting food out for it as well.

"So we're hopeful that it's still quite close to us," he said.

"If we do get a good sighting of it, we're ready to run wherever we're needed."

The coati is an omnivorous animal and is likely to be surviving on fruits, berries and leaves as well as mice and small birds,

The zoo manager stressed that it was no threat to any domestic pets it may cross paths with.

"This is a small mammal, no bigger than a domestic cat and by nature it's not going to be looking for a confrontation with dogs or cats or anything like that," he said.

"By nature it's going to be more shy and retiring than that."

While so far the coati seems to be staying close to the zoo, two previous escapees were found further afield.

Two different red pandas escaped in 1999 and 2002.

"One was put up a tree by fox hounds in Templepatrick and we caught the other one in a garden on the outskirts of Glengormley," Mr Challis said.

Tiger cub found in bag at airport

Authorities at Bangkok's international airport found a tiger cub that had been drugged and hidden alongside a stuffed toy tiger in the suitcase of a woman flying from Thailand to Iran, an official and a wildlife protection group said.

The woman, a Thai national, had checked in for her flight and her overweight bag was sent for an X-ray which showed what appeared to be a live animal inside, according to Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring group.

The woman was arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport before boarding her flight. The cub, estimated to be about three months old, was sent to a wildlife conservation centre in Bangkok.

"The cub arrived at our unit on Monday," said Chaiyaporn Chareesaeng, head of the Wildlife Health Unit at the Department of National Parks' Wildlife and Plant Conservation Centre, where the animal was put under close supervision.

"He appeared exhausted, dehydrated and couldn't walk, so we had to give him oxygen, water and lactation," said Chaiyaporn. "We have monitored him closely. As of today, he looks better and can walk a little now."

A DNA test was expected to provide details about the cub's origin, said Chaiyaporn.

"I was a bit shocked because an animal isn't supposed to be treated like this," said Nirath Nipanant, chief of the airport's wildlife checkpoint. "Had the animal passed the oversize baggage check and gone through four to five hours of travel, its chances of survival would have been slim."

The woman, identified as Piyawan Palasarn, 31, faces up to four years in prison and a 40,000 baht (£820) fine for two wildlife smuggling-related charges, police said.

She denied the luggage with the cub belonged to her and said another passenger had asked her to carry it for them, said Adisorn Noochdumrong of the Thai Wildlife Protection Department.

The cub could have fetched about 100,000 baht (£2,000) on the black market in Iran, where it is popular to have exotic pets, Adisorn said. He said he did not know what the woman allegedly intended to do with this particular cub. He said his office wanted the law amended so the maximum prison term was increased to 10 years.


Saturday, 28 August 2010

Mountain lion sighted in Red Bluff, California

By Record Searchlight staff
Posted August 27, 2010 at 2:06 p.m.

A Red Bluff woman reported seeing a mountain lion in Red Bluff near Forward Park.

The woman, who was not identified, told police that she was looking out her bedroom window shortly before 9 a.m. and saw a mountain lion walking along an access road behind her residence, according to Red Bluff police.

The woman said she lives on Lassen View Drive near the park. Police checked the area for the mountain lion but were unable to find it, according to a news release.

Thursday's sighting was the fourth in a month, police said. Police have asked anyone who sees a mountain lion in the Red Bluff vicinity to call 527-3131.


UN warns alien species are threatening biodiversity of Wadden Sea

27 August 2010 – A wide range of species not native to Europe’s Wadden Sea have invaded its ecosystem, threatening the biodiversity of the World Heritage Site, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a report unveiled today.

A diverse range of alien species are increasing at an alarming rate in the sea, which borders the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, according to the report, delivered at a conference in Bonn, Germany, to mark Wadden Sea Day. Many species have become abundant and several can be regarded as invasive with a significant impact on the recipient ecosystem.

The Wadden Sea includes mud and sand-flats, salt marshes, islands, dunes, estuaries, gullies and open waters that stretch over 500 kilometres along the North Sea coast. It is one of the last remaining natural inter-tidal ecosystems in Europe and supports a huge number of plant and animal species. Between 10 and 12 million birds visit the Wadden Sea during their migratory journeys every year.

The alien species could also become a serious problem to human health, according to the report. For example, the sharp shells of Pacific oysters can cause injuries to the feet of mud-flat walkers and oysters or other aliens may carry agents that cause infections. Oysters covering blue mussel beds reduce fishermen’s yield.

Grasses, mussels and jellyfish are among the most damaging invaders. The common cord-grass (Spartina) is the main invasive plant in the Wadden Sea as it facilitates the build-up of sediment, thus transforming the sea’s tidal flats into salt marshes. The plant was deliberately introduced into the Wadden Sea to enhance the development of such salt marshes. Efforts to eliminate the plant failed and the spreading of the species increased.

Pacific oysters were introduced from Asia in the 1990s. Since then, they have begun to invade native blue mussel beds and create their own oyster reefs throughout the Wadden Sea, causing a food shortage for birds that feed on blue mussels.

Although there has been an increase in blue mussel populations in the Dutch parts of the Wadden Sea, numbers in the Danish and German areas have dropped. There are major concerns that the Pacific oyster might displace domestic blue mussel beds.

An invading jellyfish species could also be threatening fish populations. The sea walnut is originally native to the coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean and was first recorded in the Wadden Sea in 2006. It is thought that the species was introduced via ballast water – water carried by a commercial ship for stability that is then discharged upon arrival at its destination.

The sea walnut consumes zooplankton, crustaceans, other jellyfish and the eggs and larvae of fish. Elsewhere, this species is being blamed for the striking decrease of anchovy in the Black and Caspian Seas. Conservationists are concerned that the same phenomenon might occur in the Wadden Sea if the numbers of sea walnut continue to rise.


Researchers blame sea acidity for killing species

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The rising acidity of the world's oceans – one of the key fears for the world's seas in the 21st century – is likely to have been responsible for massive species extinction in the past, scientists have found.

Researchers from the University of Plymouth and the University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, studied single-celled organisms called foraminifera, or "foram" around volcanic carbon dioxide vents off the island of Ischia, near Naples in Italy.

The study, published in the September issue of the Journal of the Geological Society, found that increasing CO2 levels – raising the acidity of the water to a lower pH value – caused foram diversity in the "natural laboratory" to fall from 24 species to only four.

"Previous studies have shown a reduction in diversity of 30 per cent, but this is even bigger for forams," said Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, one of the study's co-authors.

"A tipping point occurs at mean pH 7.8. This is the pH level predicted for the end of this century."

Rising carbon dioxide levels acidify the ocean, which has a particularly devastating effect on organisms that have calcium carbonate shells, like foraminifera.

"Forams are well preserved in the fossil record, which is why we chose to study them," said Dr Hall-Spencer.

"We knew the results were likely to show a decline in foram diversity but we weren't expecting such a seismic shift."

Forams record past events in the geological record – in particular, the effect of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a period of massive carbon release and rapid warming 55 million years ago, accompanied by extinctions in marine life. It is also thought to have seen a period of ocean acidification.

"That was a period when massive changes in marine ecology happened," Dr Hall-Spencer added.

Our natural laboratory provides a glimpse into the future of our oceans.

"These are the first CO2 vents to be used to study ocean acidification. They allow us to observe how ecosystems react to changes in ocean acidity.

"At a mean pH level of 7.8, calcified organisms begin to disappear, and non-calcifying ones take over. We are headed towards that being the case in this century.

"The big concern for me is that unless we curb carbon emissions we risk mass extinctions, degrading coastal waters and encouraging outbreaks of toxic jellyfish and algae."

Co-author Professor Malcolm Hart will be presenting the research to the 2010 Forams meeting in Bonn on Friday, September 6.

This weekend, Deborah Wall-Palmer will present the work being done by Plymouth on the last 250,000 years of ocean acidification at the International Palaeoceanography Conference in San Diego, which runs from August 29 to September 3.


Guinea pig saved from escaped snake

27 August 2010

An escaped snake has been caught just moments before it was about to eat a pet guinea pig.

Diego the boa constrictor escaped from his enclosure at his owner Aaron Waymont's house almost a month ago sparking a neighbourhood-wide search in Wickford, Essex, England.

After Diego made his escape police warned local residents to watch out for the killer reptile - which weighs around 63lbs and is capable of eating a small pet or even a baby.

Aaron was relieved to find the serpent in his own garden just as Diego was about to devour one of his beloved guinea pigs and has now promised to keep him under lock and key.

Aaron said: "I knew he'd still be around here. Everyone can relax now. I've ordered a bigger vivarium with reinforced glass and two locks on it. There's no way he's going anywhere again."


Black bear sighted in Edmonton

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wildlife officers and Edmonton park rangers were combing a wooded area in the city Thursday after a woman reported seeing a black bear near the Whitemud Equine Centre.

Officers said they found evidence of the bear in the river valley area. The woman reported the sighting Wednesday evening.

Paul Prefontaine, one of two officers surveying the area, said bear sightings are not unusual, adding several have been reported in Edmonton and the surrounding area this season.

"It's a general corridor path that they can walk through," he told CBC News.

"They're just like anything else — if there's lots of berry crops they're probably going to make their way through here and then eventually move out, with the amount of people that are around."

Prefontaine said anyone encountering a black bear should slowly back away. And if that doesn't work, making yourself large, and yelling at the animal should scare it off.


Report of man with snake slows Boston train line

Aug 27, 4:54 PM EDT

BOSTON (AP) -- Snake on a train? Transit officials in Boston aren't taking any chances.

A Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokesman says a train was temporarily stopped after riders reported a man aboard had a snake around his neck.

The man had already left when police arrived Thursday afternoon at the Green Line's Brookline Village station, a few minutes outside Boston.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo tells The Boston Globe newspaper police held the train for nine minutes to investigate, briefly backing up service.

The transit agency allows small pets to ride in secure animal carriers as long as they don't annoy passengers. The policy doesn't say anything specific about snakes.


Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/globe


Shark sighting a practical joke, but Massachusetts police not laughing

Thursday, August 26, 2010

SOMERSET — A practical joker in Massachusetts has taken advantage of recent shark sightings and caused a scare with a fake fin.

Police say about 50 people were drawn to a Somerset, Mass., cove on Wednesday night after someone reported seeing a shark fin in the water. Police tell the Herald News of Fall River that several 911 calls came in to Somerset and Swansea police.

Responding officers soon realized that the "shark" was just a piece of Styrofoam cut into a fin shape, wrapped in gray duct tape and weighted down.

There was no word on who pulled the prank.

Several Massachusetts beaches have been closed this summer after shark sightings. Police cautioned that the joke could have caused a problem had there been a real emergency call.


Friday, 27 August 2010

A novel method for collecting dolphin DNA (via Chad Arment)

Scientists at Georgetown University, the National Aquarium and the University of Queensland are the first to extract DNA from dolphin blow (breath exhalations). The researchers found that blow-sampling, which involves collecting exhalations from the blowholes of whales, dolphins and porpoises, could be developed as a less invasive method for DNA collection. Their findings are explained in the Aug. 25 edition of the online journal PLoS ONE in an article titled "Thar She Blows! A Novel Method for DNA Collection from Cetacean Blow."

Scientists currently biopsy animals by using a small piece of tissue taken from a dart gun to get DNA from wild dolphins and whales for use in research projects.

"Dart biopsying is considered inappropriate for very young animals and the technique requires considerable skill to avoid injuring the animals," says Janet Mann, a senior author on the paper and a professor of biology and psychology at Georgetown. "Thus identifying alternative genetic collection techniques for cetaceans remains a priority, especially for internationally protected species."

At the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md., blow and blood samples were collected between March and May 2010 from six bottlenose dolphins. A test tube was held inverted over the dolphin's blowhole as they were trained to exhale on cue. A control sample of seawater was taken along with each blow sample set to ensure that any DNA results were from blow samples and not seawater contamination. The blood was collected as part of routine medical examinations for the dolphins.

To estimate whether DNA profiles from the blow and blood samples matched, the scientists amplified 3 polymorphic dinucleotide microsatellite loci for each sample. To estimate whether mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) also matched, the scientists amplified a 426 base-pair fragment of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA control region. For all samples, blow and blood showed a perfect match for each individual animal. The scientists were therefore able to show that DNA can be successfully extracted from dolphin blow.

The authors are currently applying their method to a wild population of bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia's Shark Bay that they have studied for more than two decades.

"Both biopsy and blow-sampling require close proximity of the boat, but blow-sampling can be achieved when dolphins voluntarily bow-ride, and it involves no harmful contact," says Mann. "While we recognize the important role played by dart-biopsying, we have provided evidence that blow-sampling is a viable and less invasive mode of DNA collection."


Nessie nominated for tourism award (via Lindsay Selby)

THE world famous Loch Ness monster has been nominated for a top tourism accolade.advertising.

Usually the shortlist for the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards is kept secret but the team behind this year's event have decided to release the unusual nomination to spark debate.

The legend has been nominated for the honour of Highland Ambassador of the Year - an entry submitted last month under the pseudonym "The Snitch".

Awards chairwoman Elizabeth Mackintosh said: "Nessie has made a major impact on the positive profile of the Highlands and Islands worldwide over the years and perhaps we should seriously consider this nomination for HITA's Highland Ambassador of the Year 2010."

Two months ago, at a tourism meeting held in Inverness, Councillor Thomas Prag criticised Inverness for not embracing the monster legend to increase visitor numbers.

He claimed Inverness had a "snooty" attitude towards Nessie and the city's long-term reluctance to being identified with the monster had not helped when trying to attract more tourists.

Yesterday, the Inverness South ward member said the nomination was a lovely idea but added: "I think they may find it a bit difficult to present the award if Nessie were to win!"

In nominating Nessie, "The Snitch" said the monster had been an unstinting supporter of tourism for over 1500 years, attracting tourists and sustaining communities across the north of Scotland.

"Her timely appearances have been carefully measured to tempt many visitors and researchers to come to Loch Ness."

The board is welcoming further nominations and entries are accepted at www.highland-tourism-awards.co.uk


22 Komodo dragons hatch this month at Los Angeles Zoo, boost to the endangered species

This image provided by the Los Angeles Zoo shows two of the 22 Komodo dragons that were born at the zoo over an 11 day period begining Aug. 8, 2010 in Los Angeles. Komodos, the world's largest dragons, are cannibalistic and usually eat their young and eggs of their own species, so zoo officials say staying alive is tricky for a hatchling. Los Angeles is one of the few zoos in North America to have successfully bred Komodos. The curator says 11 babies will eventually go to the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Zoo) (AP / August 24, 2010)
SUE MANNING Associated Press Writer

7:25 p.m. EDT, August 26, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Twenty-two Komodo dragons have hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo this month, giving a modest boost to the world's endangered population.

The zoo's adult female Komodo, Lima, laid the eggs on Jan. 22. The first one popped through its soft-sided egg shell on Aug. 8 and hatchlings kept coming for two weeks.

Komodos are the world's largest lizards and are popular attractions at zoos from the United States to Europe. All 2,500 left in the wild can be found at the 700-square-mile Komodo National Park in Indonesia.

Komodos are cannibalistic and usually eat their young and eggs of their own species, so zoo officials say staying alive is tricky for a hatchling.

This is the first time the Los Angeles Zoo has succeeded at a breeding attempt. It joins fewer than 10 other zoos in North America that have made it work.

Eleven babies will eventually go to the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and the others will go to zoos assigned by the Species Survival Program, curator Ian Recchio said Thursday. Los Angeles will just keep Lima and the adult male, Buru.

It is exciting to know "the hatchlings from this clutch will go on to help ensure the survival of the species," Recchio said.

Hatchlings are 14 to 20 inches long and weigh around 3 ounces, but they will grow to about 9 feet and can weigh 200 pounds or more. Males tend to be slightly larger than females and sometimes have yellow spots on their snouts but are otherwise gray.

They have about 60 needle-like teeth that will grow back quickly if one falls out. They will cut their prey into sections and then swallow without chewing. They drink rarely, getting their fluids from the food they eat.

There are no Komodos on display at the zoo now, but before the offspring all leave Los Angeles, some of them will be shown at the Winnick Family Children's Zoo.

In the wild, a young Komodo will sprint up the nearest tree to avoid being eaten by adults. They will stay in the trees and eat insects and other lizards until they get too heavy for the tree. By then, they will have developed enough to protect themselves from adult Komodos on the ground.

Komodo dragons in the wild eat 80 percent of their weight and then go without food for several weeks. They will eat snakes, other lizards, reptile and bird eggs, carrion, deer, pigs, goats and dogs. They will even try to eat larger animals, like horses and water buffalo.

The dragons are probably best known for their venomous saliva. It is naturally harmless, but picks up deadly pathogens because of the food they eat, Recchio said. The Komodos are immune to the bacteria, but the animals or humans in their path can be in nearly instant trouble.

The animals are believed to have descended from a larger lizard on Indonesia's main island Java or Australia around 30,000 years ago.





Scientists Bring New Species of Turtle Out of Its Shell


When scientists announce the discovery of a new animal species, we often imagine exotic, difficult to reach locations—the untouched shore of a distant island, the forests of the rain-drenched Amazon or the darkest depths of the Arctic Ocean.

But the recent announcement of a new species of turtle in the southeastern United States proves that even in a country considered to be well-explored, perhaps more awaits discovery.

In June, Jeff Lovich, NAU adjunct faculty member in biology, and Josh Ennen, NAU affiliate, published the discovery of a new species of turtle in Chelonian Conservation and Biology International Journal of Turtle and Tortoise Research.

Found in the Pearl River, which flows through Mississippi and Louisiana before it meets the Gulf of Mexico, the newly named Pearl Map Turtle, or Graptemys pearlensis, had been mistaken for a turtle native to the neighboring Pascagoula River. Ennen found it odd that the Pascagoula Map Turtle was found in both rivers and wanted to further investigate.

Ennen was completing his dissertation at University of Southern Mississippi when he decided to take a closer look at the inhabitants of the two rivers. His research led him to Lovich, who had found, described and named the last turtle species in the same region in 1992.

“I was familiar with Jeff’s work when questions started coming up,” Ennen said. “Based on the genetics, morphology and geographic isolation, I was considering classifying the turtles as distinct population segments when I decided to contact Jeff.”

Lovich, a research ecologist with U.S. Geological Survey’s Colorado Plateau Station at NAU, shared his findings and insight as the scientists built their case for classification of the new turtle species. His access to geologic and geographic data with the USGS assisted in their developing theory that the turtles had evolved into separate species.

“You’d expect to see similar aquatic species in these rivers due to their proximity,” Lovich said. “However, with sea level changes associated with glacial and interglacial periods in the past, animals in these rivers were periodically separated for tens of thousands to millions of years.”

Ennen and Lovich observed pattern variations between turtles in two rivers, and examining their DNA verified that the turtle endemic to each river was a different species.

The announcement of the Pearl Map Turtle, “Genetic and morphological variation between populations of the Pascagoula Map Turtle (Graptemys gibbonsi) in the Pearl and Pascagoula Rivers with description of a new species,” brings the number of native turtle species in the United States to 57, including six in Arizona, with approximately 320 species documented worldwide.

CIndy Brown | Quelle: Newswise Science News


Genomes of Two Separate Ant Species Sequenced

August 27th, 2010

An international collaboration of scientists has just released the results of a new investigation, which managed to sequence the full genomes of two socially-divergent ant species. The finding can be used to derive more data on the role of epigenetics in aging and behavior.

Generally, the concept of epigenetics is used to refer to the field of genetic sciences which deals with studying the inherited changes that a body exhibits in its appearance (phenotype) and gene expression.

Studying this concept is one of the main goal in biology today, but two researchers at the Arizona State University (ASU) are now taking a more unconventional approach to understanding its role/

They are part of a team that is using the fully-sequenced genome of ants from the species Camponotus floridanus and Harpegnathos saltator to understand epigenetics.

The group also contains researchers from research institutions and organizations in New York, China, Pennsylvania, and Denmark.

The ASU crew is made up of School of Life Sciences assistant professor Jurgen Liebig and postdoctoral fellow Navdeep Mutti, who works in the former's lab.

“With the genome sequences and gene expression analyses of our two ant species, we show the potential of ants as a new system to study the epigenetic foundations of aging and developmental, reproductive and behavioral plasticity,” explains Liebig.

He is also a researcher at the ASU Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, in the university's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The international research effort was led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Danny Reinberg, who is a professor of biochemistry at New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center.

Details of the work were published in the August 27 issue of the esteemed journal Science.

“Ants are extremely social creatures and their ability to survive depends on their community in a very similar way to humans. Whether they are workers, soldiers or queens, ants seem to be a perfect fit to study whether epigenetics influences behavior and aging,” explains Reinber.

He also holds an appointment as a member of the NYU Cancer Institute. “In studying the genomes of these two ants, we were fascinated by the different behaviors and different roles that the worker ants develop,” he adds.

“Since every ant in the colony starts with the same genetic information, the different neuronal connections that specify the behavior appropriate for each social rank, must be controlled by epigenetic mechanisms,” the researcher explains further.

“The findings could potentially help us learn more about the effect of epigenetics on brain function in humans,” Reinber concludes.


Chinese bear poses for pictures with tourists

27 August 2010, 10:28

A bear has become a minor celebrity in a Chinese zoo by happily posing for pictures with tourists.

Tian Tian was forced to retire from his job in a circus - where he performed on the parallel bars and a bike - because he was too obese.

He is now paraded around Shendiao Mountain Zoo in Shandong, northern China, but because of his time interacting with humans at the circus, he relates to people better than other bears.

"I have to take her and wander around during the day time outside the bear pen," said Tian Tian's feeder Wang Qunfa.

When she first arrived at the zoo and tourists began to request pictures, officials decided to turn her into a full-time 'picture bear'.

She soon began to adopt special poses for photographs by putting on a casual look and leaning on a fence. In return, she stares at tourists' food until they give it to her. She has become particularly fond of beer.


Panda-keeper contest attracts thousands

More than 17,000 candidates seek to be panda keepers for a month in China

Published Friday, August 27, 2010

More than 17,000 people from around the world have entered a contest to become a panda keeper for a month in China, organisers said Friday, less than two weeks after the competition was launched.

"Project Panda," launched by the Chengdu Panda Base in the southwestern province of Sichuan and the WWF, aims to give the contest's six winners a chance to study panda behaviour for one month.

The keepers will witness the birth of baby pandas and trek in the mountains around Chengdu, Sichuan's capital, to study wild pandas.

They will also have to keep a blog about their experiences, to help raise awareness of the endangered animal's plight.

According to pandahome.com, the website where animal lovers can apply for the position, a total of 17,114 people have so far entered the contest, ahead of the September 6 deadline.

A panel of experts will select 12 finalists, which they will then whittle down to six winners at the end of September.

Videos posted on the website by applicants who want the position show they come from countries such as the Netherlands, South Africa and Japan -- as well as China.

There are just 1,600 pandas left in the wild and nearly 300 others are in captive-bred programmes worldwide, mainly in China, according to official reports.


Kayaker forced out of race by aerial fish

Tom Phillips - 27 August 2010

A favourite in a long-distance kayak race was forced to pull out of the competition after he was hit on the head by a flying carp.

Brad Pennington was competing in the annual Missouri River 340 endurance race, and was considered one of the favourites for the men's solo race.

But it all when wrong for Pennington when a 30-pound Asian silver carp leapt out of the river and struck him hard on the head.

'It felt like a brick hit me,' Pennington said Wednesday.

The fish hit forced him to withdraw just hours into the 340-mile race because of a 'pounding, pounding headache that kept getting worse.'

43-year-old Pennington was already having some problems with his kayak, which had been slightly damaged. It was as he was heading to shore to repaitr it that the jumpy fish caught him on the head. The carp are known to panic and jump in response to passing vessels.

'It's definitely a risk of being out on the river,' commented said Tracy Hill, a project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's local fisheries office. 'It's extremely serious. Those things can kill you.'

Hill says he was hit several times by flying carp a few days before while conducting tests on the river. He and his colleagues already wear construction hard hats while working, to protect themselves from the risks of airborne fish impact.


Mystery boa constrictor left on woman's doorstep

Tom Phillips - 27th August, 2010

A woman was left puzzled after a mystery caller knocked on her door in the early hours of the morning and left behind a four-foot long snake on her doorstep.

The homeowner said that a young woman knocked on her door in Cricklewood, north London, in the early hours of Thursday morning. When she answered the door, the woman asked for 'Andrew' before walking off, leaving a pillow case on the doorstep.

Confused, the homeowner spotted that the pillow case appeared to be moving. Looking inside, she discovered that it contained a four-foot-long South American boa.

At that point, she quite sensibly decided to call the police.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said that the snake, which officers have nicknamed Kojak, is 'friendly', is in good condition, and appeared to have been handled before.

Officers kept the snake in an office at Colindale police station for several hours before it was taken to London Zoo.

The spokeswoman added: 'If you are the owner of the boa and wish to be re-united with your pet, or have information about where he has come from please call police on 0300 123 1212.


Tiger cub found among stuffed toys in Bangkok luggage

26 August 10 21:41

A two-month-old tiger cub has been found sedated and hidden among stuffed toy tigers in a woman's luggage at Bangkok's airport, the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has said.

The Thai national was trying to board a flight to Iran but had difficulty with a large bag at check-in.

X-rays aroused suspicions among airport staff who believed they had seen an image resembling a real animal.

Wildlife officers were then called in and discovered the tranquilised cub.

The tiger was found last Sunday and is now being cared for at the rescue centre of the department of national parks, wildlife and plant conservation.

Authorities are trying to determine if the cat is wild or captive-bred.

Chris Shepherd, South-East Asia deputy regional director for Traffic, said: "We applaud all the agencies that came together to uncover this brazen smuggling attempt."

But he also called for regular monitoring and harsher penalties.

"If people are trying to smuggle live tigers in their check-in luggage, they obviously think wildlife smuggling is something easy to get away with and do not fear reprimand," he said.

"Only sustained pressure on wildlife traffickers and serious penalties can change that."

(Submitted by Janet Lawrence)

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Robotic sub films new species off Indonesia

An image of a stunning 10-armed sea star was captured by a camera on a robotic vehicle in waters off Indonesia on Aug. 2. (Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010)
Thursday, August 26, 2010

Scientists using cutting-edge technology to explore waters off Indonesia were wowed by colourful and diverse images of marine life on the ocean floor — including plate-sized sea spiders and flower-like sponges that appear to be carnivorous.

They predicted Thursday that as many as 40 new plant and animal species may have been discovered during the three-week expedition that ended Aug. 14.

More than 100 hours of video and 100,000 photographs, captured using a robotic vehicle with high-definition cameras, were piped to shore in real time by satellite and high-speed internet.

Verena Tunnicliffe, a professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said the images provided an extraordinary glimpse into one of the globe's most complex and little-known marine ecosystems.

"Stalked sea lilies once covered the ocean, shallow and deep, but now are rare," she said in a written statement. "I've only seen a few in my career. But on this expedition, I was amazed to see them in great diversity."

Likewise, Tunnicliffe has also seen sea spiders before, but those were tiny in comparison, all around 2.5 centimetres long: "The sea spiders ... on this mission were huge. Eight inches (20 centimetres) or more across."

One animal captured on video looks like a flower, covered with glasslike needles, but scientists think it is probably a carnivorous sponge. The spikes, covered with sticky tissue, appear to capture food as it passes by.

The robotic vehicle captured more than 100 hours of video and 100,000 photographs, including this one of a deep-sea chimaera. Chimaeras are a group of cartilaginous fish that branched off from sharks nearly 400 million years ago. (Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010)
Scientists used a powerful sonar mapping system and the robotic vehicle to explore nearly 54,000 square kilometres of sea floor off northern Indonesia, at depths ranging from 240 metres to more than two kilometres.

The mission was carried out by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's ship, the Okeanos Explorer. An Indonesian vessel, the Baruna Jaya IV, also took part, collecting specimens that, together with all rights for future use, will remain in the country.

Confirmation that a species is new involves a scientific peer review and other steps and can take years.

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