Thursday, 30 September 2010

Bird sets record as UK's oldest Arctic tern

21 September 2010

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

A sea-bird has officially become the UK's oldest recorded Arctic Tern.

It was ringed as a chick on the Farne Islands on 28 June, 1980, making it at least 30 years, two months and 23 days old. The birds typically live 13 years.

This bird's record-breaking status was confirmed after it was recaptured this summer on the islands, located a few miles off the Northumberland coast.

Arctic terns' 44,000-mile (70,000km) pole-to-pole migration is the longest known annual journey of any animal.

The previous UK record was 29 years and 10 months, although the typical life expectancy is about 13 years - primarily as a result of the terns being prey for other predatory birds, lack of food or being caught in storms while at sea.

The bird was originally ringed by John Walton when he was a seasonal warden for the National Trust, which owns the Farnes.

'Brilliant shape'

Mr Walton, now property manager for the islands, told BBC News he was delighted when he heard the news that the chick he ringed three decades ago was still going strong.

"This bird would have flown close to one million miles, raised any number of chicks, survived predators and storms and still looks in brilliant shape."

The new record only came to light after the information was entered into a database managed by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Mr Walton explained, "then this figure pinged out saying 30 years and I thought wow!

Ringing - which involves attaching a lightweight ring with a unique identification number around the leg of a bird - is carried out to allow researchers to learn more about individual birds.

The BTO says the main purpose of ringing, which started almost a century ago, can offer an insight into trends within populations of bird species.

Lee Barber, BTO recoveries officer, said: "This is a great record but something we wouldn't know about if this bird hadn't been ringed.

"Without this uniquely numbered ring, we really would have little knowledge about how long Arctic terns live and breed."

Although the tern, known as CE60645, has set a new UK record, it is still some years away from claiming the title of the world's oldest Arctic tern that is currently held by a bird ringed in the US and reached the age of 34 years.

"Fingers crossed, this bird is good for another four or five years, which would allow us to take the world record from the Americans," Mr Walton joked.

'Oldest whimbrel' recorded on Shetland

A whimbrel ringed on a Shetland island almost a quarter of a century ago is now believed to be the world's oldest, RSPB Scotland has said.

The bird was ringed on Fetlar in 1986 and has now been identified breeding on the same island.

RSPB Scotland said it was believed to be the oldest surviving ringed whimbrel in the world, more than doubling the typical 11-year lifespan.

The previous oldest 16-year-old was shot in France in 1995.

Dr Murray Grant, principal conservation scientist with RSPB Scotland, said: "I first came across this bird 24 years ago during my PhD research on whimbrel in Shetland.

"It was probably at least two or three years old then, as that's when these birds normally start breeding, so it is a great surprise to learn that it is still revisiting Fetlar after so long."

However he explained: "My pleasure at learning of this record-breaking whimbrel is tempered by the fact that we've only found it because of our research into their population decline on Shetland.

"When I first encountered this bird there were some 80 pairs of whimbrel breeding on Fetlar, now there are probably fewer than 25.

"Sadly, it seems that this level of decline is typical of the rest of Shetland, which holds a vast majority of the UK population."

RSPB Scotland has initiated new research on the species.

Dr Grant said: "The UK population looks like it may have declined by up to 50% in the last 20 years.

"The reasons for these very rapid decreases aren't clear but we hope that our study of the species, which has started this year, will help us understand the difficulties they face.

Odds of Life on Nearby Planet '100 Percent,' Astronomer Says

By Jeanna Bryner
Published September 29, 2010


Lynette Cook,

This artist's conception shows the inner four planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star, a red dwarf star only 20 light years away from Earth. The large planet in the foreground is the newly discovered GJ 581g, which has a 37-day orbit right in the middle of the star's habitable zone and is only three to four times the mass of Earth, with a diameter 1.2 to 1.4 times that of Earth.

An Earth-size planet has been spotted orbiting a nearby star at a distance that would makes it not too hot and not too cold -- comfortable enough for life to exist, researchers announced Wednesday.

If confirmed, the exoplanet, named Gliese 581g, would be the first Earth-like world found residing in a star's habitable zone -- a region where a planet's temperature could sustain liquid water on its surface.[Illustration of planet Gliese 581g.]

And the planet's discoverers are optimistic about the prospects for finding life there.

"Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent," said Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a press briefing today.

"I have almost no doubt about it."

His colleague, Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, in Washington, D.C., wasn't willing to put a number on the odds of life, though he admitted he's optimistic.

"It's both an incremental and monumental discovery," Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Incremental because the method used to find Gliese 581g already has found several planets (all super-Earths, more massive than our own world) outside their stars' habitable zone, along with non-Earth-like planets within the habitable zone.

"It really is monumental if you accept this as the first Earth-like planet ever found in the star's habitable zone," said Seager, who was not directly involved in the discovery.

Vogt, Butler and their colleagues will detail the planet finding in the Astrophysical Journal.

The newfound planet joins more than 400 other alien worlds known to date. Most are huge gas giants, though several are just a few times the mass of Earth.

Stellar tugs

Gliese 581g is one of two new worlds the team discovered orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581, bumping that nearby star's family of planets to six. The other newfound planet, Gliese 581f, is outside the habitable zone, researchers said.

The star is located 20 light-years from Earth in the constellation Libra. One light-year is about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion km).

Red dwarf stars are about 50 times dimmer than our sun. Since these stars are so much cooler, their planets can orbit much closer to them and still remain in the habitable zone.

Estimates suggest Gliese 581g is 0.15 astronomical units from its star, close enough to its star to be able to complete an orbit in just under 37 days. One astronomical unit is the average distance between the Earth and sun, which is approximately 93 million miles (150 million km).

The Gliese 581 planet system now vaguely resembles our own, with six worlds orbiting their star in nearly circular paths.

With support from the National Science Foundation and NASA, the scientists -- members of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey -- collected 11 years of radial velocity data on the star. This method looks at a star's tiny movements due to the gravitational tug from orbiting bodies.

The subtle tugs let researchers estimate the planet's mass and orbital period, how long it takes to circle its star.

Gliese 581g has a mass three to four times Earth's, the researchers estimated. From the mass and size, they said the world is probably a rocky planet with enough gravity to hold onto an atmosphere.

Just as Mercury is locked facing the sun, the planet is tidally locked to its star, so that one side basks in perpetual daylight, while the other side remains in darkness. This locked configuration helps to stabilize the planet's surface climate, Vogt said.

"Any emerging life forms would have a wide range of stable climates to choose from and to evolve around, depending on their longitude," Vogt said, suggesting that life forms that like it hot would just scoot toward the light side of that line while forms with polar-bear-like preferences would move toward the dark side.

Between blazing heat on the star-facing side and freezing cold on the dark side, the average surface temperature may range from 24 degrees below zero to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 31 to minus 12 degrees Celsius), the researchers said.

Are you sure?

Supposedly habitable worlds have been found and later discredited, so what makes this one such a breakthrough?

There's still a chance that further observations will dismiss this planet, also. But over the years, the radial velocity method has become more precise, the researchers point out in their journal article.

In addition, the researchers didn't make some of the unrealistic assumptions made in the past, Seager said.

For instance, another planet orbiting Gliese 581 (the planet Gliese 581c) also had been considered to have temperatures suitable for life, but in making those calculations, the researchers had come up with an "unrealistic" estimate for the amount of energy the planet reflected, Seager pointed out. That type of estimate wasn't made for this discovery.

"We're looking at this one as basically the tip of the iceberg, and we're expecting more to be found," Seager said.

One way to make this a reality, according to study researchers, would be "to build dedicated 6- to 8-meter-class Automated Planet Finder telescopes, one in each hemisphere," they wrote.

The telescopes -- or "light buckets" as Seager referred to them -- would be dedicated to spying on the nearby stars thought to potentially host Earth-like planets in their habitable zones. The result would be inexpensive and probably would reveal many other nearby potentially habitable planets, the researchers wrote.

Beyond the roughly 100 nearest stars to Earth, there are billions upon billions of stars in the Milky Way, and with that in mind, the researchers suggest tens of billions of potentially habitable planets may exist, waiting to be found.

Planets like Gliese 581g that are tidally locked and orbit the habitable zone of red dwarfs have a high probability of harboring life, the researchers suggest.

Earth once supported harsh conditions, the researchers point out. And since red dwarfs are relatively "immortal" living hundreds of billions of years (many times the current age of the universe), combined with the fact that conditions stay so stable on a tidally locked planet, there's a good chance that if life were to get a toe-hold it would be able to adapt to those conditions and possibly take off, Butler said.

Girl vomited two-metre parasitic worm, archives reveal

Medic's account is one of more than 1,000 Royal Navy journals made accessible to the public from today

The Guardian, Thursday 30 September 2010

A 12-year-old girl required medical treatment after vomiting a 220cm-long worm as she sailed to a new life in Canada in the 19th century, documents revealed today.

Ellen McCarthy was a passenger on board the Elizabeth ship taking emigrants from Cork in Ireland to Quebec when she fell ill, expelling three worms in total.

Her unusual case was described by the ship's surgeon, P Power, in June 1825. The medic's account is one of more than 1,000 Royal Navy medical officer journals made accessible to the public after a two-year cataloguing project at the National Archives in Kew.

Power's notes state: "Complained yesterday evening of pain in the bottom of the belly increased on pressure, abdomen hard and swollen, picks her nose, starts in her sleep, bowels constipated, pyrexia, tongue foul, pulse quick, skin hot, great thirst. Her mother brought me a lumbricus [worm] this morning 87in long which the patient vomited."

The naval surgeon treated the girl with a range of syrups and injections including barley water and brandy punch. But he singled out oil of "terebouth" (thought to refer to the turpentine tree) for having the greatest effect. Two days later, on 15 June, she was "very ill and feverish" and Power gave her a laxative which he said prompted the patient to pass a "great quantity of slimey matter".

Her condition gradually improved in a "pleasing" manner and on 29 June, Power stated she was "convalescent".
(Submitted by Tim Chapman)

Australia faces worst plague of locusts in 75 years

Ideal breeding conditions for grasshoppersare expected to cost farmers billions

By Paul Rodgers
Sunday, 26 September 2010

Australia's Darling river is running with water again after a drought in the middle of the decade reduced it to a trickle. But the rains feeding the continent's fourth-longest river are not the undiluted good news you might expect. For the cloudbursts also create ideal conditions for an unwelcome pest – the Australian plague locust.

The warm, wet weather that prevailed last summer meant that three generations of locusts were born, each one up to 150 times larger than the previous generation. After over-wintering beneath the ground, the first generation of 2010 is already hatching. And following the wettest August in seven years, the climate is again perfect. The juveniles will spend 20 to 25 days eating and growing, shedding their exoskeletons five times before emerging as adults, when population pressure will force them to swarm.

It is impossible to say how many billions of bugs will take wing, but many experts fear this year's infestation could be the worst since records began – 75 years ago. All that one locust expert, Greg Sword, an associate professor at the University of Sydney, would say was: "South Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria are all going to get hammered."

A one-kilometre wide swarm of locusts can chomp through 10 tons of crops – a third of their combined body weight – in a day. The New South Wales Farmers Association said an area the size of Spain was affected and the Government of Victoria alone forecasts A$2bn (£1.2bn) of damage.

Though locusts move slowly when the sun's up, at night they can fly high and fast, sometimes travelling hundreds of kilometres. "A farmer can go to bed at night not having seen a grasshopper all year and wake up in the morning to find his fields full of them," said Professor Sword.

All locusts are grasshoppers, but not all grasshoppers are locusts. The difference is a suite of genetic changes that kick in when population densities cross a critical threshold. In some species, they produce physical transformations – the desert locust of North Africa goes from green to black and yellow, for example – but the Australian plague locust merely reprogrammes its behaviour, from solitary to gregarious.

Swarms probably make use of the available food more efficiently as the leading edge is constantly pushing forwards into new vegetation. It may be fear more than hunger, however, that drives the locusts.

Locusts are highly cannibalistic, says Professor Sword, and any that stay still too long are likely to get nibbled. "Swarms are like lifeboats," he says, forging a gruesome metaphor. "If you're the only one in the boat, you could easily starve. But if you've got lots of company, you could be the last to survive. We call it travelling with your lunch."

Controlling the bugs involves spotter planes identifying juvenile bands that can be targets for attack by crop sprayers armed with pesticides. But eastern Australia is struggling to find enough pilots to take on all the work.

And the spraying itself comes at a cost. Apiarists have complained that their bees are in danger from pesticides and ecologists fear for the many animals that treat the locusts as a moving smorgasbord. Concerns have also been raised by bloggers and activists that some of the chemicals used could harm humans.

The best hope for phasing out the chemicals comes from research. But the goal, says Professor Sword, is control not eradication. "They were here long before humans arrived," he said.

(Source not given)

Study: Monkeys Show Self-Awareness


EDITOR'S NOTE: An image and video are available at

EDITOR'S NOTE: The study, with several videos of the monkeys, appears in today's PLoS One at


MADISON - Typically, monkeys don't know what to make of a mirror. They may ignore it or interpret their reflection as another, invading monkey, but they don't recognize the reflection as their own image. Chimpanzees and people pass this "mark" test - they obviously recognize their own reflection and make funny faces, look at a temporary mark that the scientists have placed on their face or wonder how they got so old and grey.

For 40 years, scientists have concluded from this type of behavior that a few species are self-aware - they recognize the boundaries between themselves and the physical world.

Because chimps, our closest relatives, pass the test, while almost all other primate species fail it, scientists began to discuss a "cognitive divide" between the highest primates and the rest.

But a study published today (Sept. 29) by Luis Populin, a professor of anatomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shows that under specific conditions, a rhesus macaque monkey that normally would fail the mark test can still recognize itself in the mirror and perform actions that scientists would expect from animals that are self-aware.

The finding casts doubt on both the relevance of the mark test and on the existence of a definitive cognitive divide between higher and lower primates.

Populin, who studies the neural basis of perception and behavior, had placed head implants on two rhesus macaque monkeys, while preparing to study attention deficit disorder. Then Abigail Rajala, an experienced animal technician who is in the university's Neuroscience Training Program, mentioned that one of the monkeys could recognize himself in a small mirror. "I told her the scientific literature says they can't do this," says Populin, "so we decided to do a simple study."

Much to his delight, it turned out that the graduate student was right.

In the standard mark test, a harmless mark is put on the animal's face, where it can only be seen in a mirror. If the animal stares at the mirror and touches the mark, it is said to be self-aware: It knows that the mirror shows its own reflection, not that of another animal. (Animals that lack self-awareness may, for example, search for the "invading" animal behind the mirror.)

Rhesus macaques, a mainstay of medical and psychological research, have long failed the mark test.

But in Populin's lab, the monkeys that got the implants were clearly looking in the mirror while examining and grooming their foreheads, near the implant. Tellingly, they were also examining areas on their body, particularly the genitals, that they had never seen before. In some cases, the monkeys even turned themselves upside down during these examinations. In other cases, they grasped and adjusted the mirror to get a better view of themselves.

When the researchers covered the mirror glass with black plastic, these behaviors disappeared, and the monkeys ignored what had been a subject of fascination.

Furthermore, although a macaque will often interpret its reflection as representing an intruding monkey and adopt either an aggressive or submissive response, the implanted monkeys showed dramatically fewer of those "social" behaviors compared to the behaviors, such as exploring hidden body parts, that indicate self-awareness, Populin says.

"This report makes a unique contribution to our views about primate self-awareness because the 'mirror test' has been the traditional gold standard for determining if a person and/or animal met a criterion for having a sense of self," says Christopher Coe, a primatologist and professor of psychology at UW-Madison. "If a young child, brain-damaged adult or animal was able to recognize and appreciate that the image in the reflection was really them, then it was interpreted as proof of being aware."

Thus, Coe says, "If we follow that logic through with the belief that mirror recognition is proof of a sense of self, then we need to extend that attribute at least to rhesus monkeys."

Scientists who have used the mark test to explore self-awareness have found the quality in one species of bird, in one individual elephant, and in dolphins and orangutans. And so instead of asking how self-awareness evolved only among primates, they face the larger question of how it evolved multiple times in distantly related species.

The study may refine how the mark test is used, Populin says. "We clearly have data showing that these animals recognize themselves in the mirror, but fail the mark test."

The mounting data on self-awareness has undermined the concept of a cognitive divide in the primate lineage, Populin says. "There is another idea in primatology, and Charles Snowdon of UW-Madison has contributed to this, that instead of a divide, self-awareness has evolved along a continuum, so we will find it in different forms in different locations on the tree of evolution. I think the mark test may not be sensitive enough to detect self-awareness in the lower species; they may have it, but in a different form, and it may show up in different situations, using different tests."

(Source not given)

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Mystery cat photographed: Panther or bobcat? Or something else?

RIGHT: This interesting cat was photographed in Screven County recently by a hunter's trail camera. Can you identify the species?
 Rob Pavey | Tue, Sep. 28 1:27 PM

Georgia wildlife officials say we don't have panthers - and people who claim to have seen one continue to insist otherwise.

It's a perennial stalemate that has lingered for decades, with dozens of sightings reported annually across Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Without evidence, however, the reports are routinely dismissed as mistaken identity linked to hound dogs, bobcats, large feral cats or small deer.

The lone exception was a 140-pound panther killed during a black powder hunt in 2008 near West Point Lake in Troup County. Genetic tests confirmed it was not - as biologists first said - an escaped pet.

It was a Florida panther and a member of the last subspecies of cougar still surviving in the eastern U.S., with fewer than 120 animals.

Almost two years later, authorities still have no explanation of how the cat ended up in Georgia - 600 miles from its known habitat.

Such mysteries bring up the obvious question of whether there could be other panthers - or something other than panthers that could explain the persistent sightings.

The most recent ones I'm aware of occurred just this past month.

One was a woman's call to Columbia County authorities claiming to have seen a panther at the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in the Campania community.

The other was this actual photo - taken by a hunter's trail camera - in Screven County.

The image, snapped about an hour before daylight, shows a dark cat meandering through swamp grass. Its tail is not visible, but it has an unmistakable flat, feline face.

Could it be a panther? Perhaps not. It doesn't appear large enough to be a mature cat from a species that routinely grows to be more than seven feet long.

Other opinions are that it could be a bobcat in low light, or perhaps a mature feral cat that has somehow interbred with bobcats.

The seemingly pointed ears on the cat in the photo might lend credence to that argument, since panthers have more rounded ears. But the angle of the photo could also have made rounded ears seem more pointed.

One common denominator among many reported "panther" sightings is a description of a cat much smaller than a typical panther, leading some theorists to surmise the creatures could be jaguarundi, a panther-like wildcat native to Mexico and Central America that has been found in Texas and Florida.

The jaguarundi is known to inhabit swamps and remote river basins and is so elusive that relatively little is known about the species. It is also commonly found with dark brown or black fur, which could help explain the large percentage of sightings in which the cat was a "black" panther.

Wildlife biologists continue to say it is unlikely that panthers, jaguarundis or other such predators are living in our midst undetected. And people who have seen them will continue to disagree.
(Submitted by Chad Arment)

This seal was declared extinct in 1892. So what is it doing alive and well today?

Good news for Guadelupe fur seal, Bahian tree rat and bridled nailtail wallaby – but survey warns rate of extinctions still accelerating

Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 September 2010

The Guadalupe fur seal was feared extinct, gone the way of the dodo after being slaughtered by Russian and American hunters for their skins. None could be found at breeding grounds and as sightings elsewhere tailed off the species was consigned to history.

So why are there thousands of Guadalupe fur seals swimming off the coast of Mexico now? As naturalists gladly admit, reports of the species' demise at the end of the 19th century were premature. Small numbers of the animals clung on in island caves and were rediscovered only decades later. The population is now thriving, with the latest estimate putting their number at 15,000 or more.

But the case of the Guadalupe fur seal is far from unique – and more animals feared extinct could be waiting to be rediscovered. A survey of the world's mammals published today reveals that more than a third of species once feared extinct have since been spotted in the wild, in one case 180 years after the last confirmed sighting. Rare mammals that were considered dead but later rediscovered were typically missing for 52 years.

The Guadalupe seal was hunted to apparent extinction in 1892, but a tiny colony was spotted on the island by two fishermen in 1926. After a failed attempt to sell two of the animals to San Diego zoo, one of the fishermen went back to slaughter the colony out of spite. He later turned up in Panama to sell the skins, but was killed in a bar brawl. The seals were only rediscovered and protected when a zoologist tracked down the second fisherman, who revealed their location on his deathbed in 1950.

One rodent, the Bahian tree rat, which lives in forests on the Brazilian coast, went missing in 1824. Despite efforts by conservationists, the animal was not rediscovered until 2004. The bridled nailtail wallaby was once common in eastern Australia but seemed to die out in the 1930s. It was spotted in 1973 by a contractor who was preparing to clear an area of land. After he raised the alarm, the habitat was bought by the local parks service to save the animal. Another creature, a small marsupial called Gilbert's potoroo, was missing for 115 years before it was rediscovered in the south of Western Australia in 1994.

Diana Fisher, who led the survey at the University of Queensland, said the number of mammals going extinct was still accelerating despite large numbers of lost animals being found.

Conservation experts have already warned that the world is in the grip of the "sixth great extinction", as imported species and diseases, hunting and the destruction of natural habitats deal a fatal blow to plants and animals.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Fisher lists 180 mammals reported as extinct, feared extinct, or missing since the year 1500. Of these, 67 were later found to be alive and well. Animals that were picked off by new predators were rarely rediscovered, while those threatened by a loss of habitat or hunting by humans were more likely to be holding on in small colonies, she found.

The survey highlights the uncertainties in lists of extinct species, but Fisher said it should help conservationists target their searches for missing species by focusing on those most likely to be alive.

More than 25 large-scale searches have failed to find thylacines, the carnivorous, dog-like marsupials that have not been seen in Australia for nearly 80 years.

Fisher said her analysis puts the chance of the species surviving at "virtually zero". Mammals that were hunted to extinction before the 20th century, such as Steller's sea cow, the Falkland Islands wolf, sea mink and the large Palau flying fox are also unlikely to be found now, Fisher said.

"Conservation resources are wasted searching for species that have no chance of rediscovery, while most missing species receive no attention," Fisher told the Guardian. "Rather than searching ever more for charismatic missing species, such as thylacines in Australia, it would be a better use of resources to look for species that are most likely to be alive, find out where they are, and protect their habitats," she added.

According to Fisher's survey, the most likely missing mammals to be found alive are the Montane monkey-faced bat in the Solomon Islands, Alcorn's pocket gopher, which was last seen in the high forests of Mexico, and the lesser stick-nest rat, a large, soft-furred desert animal from Australia.

Four other 'extinct' species

Bahian tree rat

A small rodent that lives in the coastal forests of Brazil. Was missing and presumed extinct for 180 years from 1824. A year-long search of the area in 2004 found only one of the animals living in the region. The species is critically endangered and is considered at threat from ongoing deforestation.

Bridled nailtail wallaby

Once common in eastern Australia, this nocturnal species was thought to have died out in 1930. The animal was rediscovered in Queensland after a contractor recognised it from a picture of extinct creatures published in a women's magazine. It gets its name from the horny, pointed tip on its tail. It was hunted for its fur, but more recent threats include foxes and habitat loss. It remains endangered.

Gilbert's potoroo

A small, silky-coated marsupial that was missing in Australia from 1879 to 1994, when conservationists found a tiny population of the animals in the Two People's Bay park area in the west of the country. The animal is likely to have survived because the reserve was already protected to save the habitat of a rare bird. The potoroo suffered from predation by cats and foxes that were introduced to the area. Those that remain are genetically very similar, leaving them vulnerable to diseases. It is one of Australia's rarest animals.

Leadbeater's possum

A grey marsupial with black markings. Leadbeater's possum was known from only four specimens collected around 1900. It was considered extinct in 1920 when its habitat was destroyed, but was rediscovered in 1961 during a survey of a mountain forest in Victoria. The population stands at around 2,000 adults, a number that is expected to fall by 90% in 30 years as den trees and nesting habitat are lost.

'Hobbit' Was an Iodine-Deficient Human, Not Another Species, New Study Suggests

ScienceDaily (Sep. 28, 2010) — A new paper is set to re-ignite debate over the origins of so-called Homo floresiensis -- the 'hobbit' that some scientists have claimed as a new species of human.

The University of Western Australia's Emeritus Professor Charles Oxnard and his colleagues, in a paper in PLoS ONE have reconfirmed, on the post-cranial skeleton, their original finding on the skull that Homo floresiensis in fact bears the hallmarks of humans -- Homo sapiens -- affected by hypothyroid cretinism.

The remains, allegedly as recent as 15,000 years, were discovered in 2003 in the Liang Bua caves on the Indonesian island of Flores by archaeologists seeking evidence of the first human migration from Asia to Australia.

When Professor Oxnard and fellow Australian researchers suggested in a 2008 paper that the skull showed evidence of endemic dwarf cretinism resulting from congenital hypothyroidism and were not a new species of human, their claim caused controversy.

In order to test their thesis, in their new paper Professor Oxnard and his team summarised data on the rest of the skeleton and mathematically compared the bones of cretins in relation to chimpanzees, unaffected humans and H. floresiensis. They used two methods with different statistical bases: principal components analyses (PCA) and non-metric multi-dimensional scaling (MDS).

Their work confirms the close grouping of H. floresiensis with the hypothyroid cretins, and the clear separation from both modern humans and from chimpanzees. This leads them to conclude that the Liang Bua remains were indeed most likely cretins from a population of unaffected H. sapiens. They have, further, provided a series of predictions for the further testing of the cretin hypothesis.

"This is consistent with recent hypothyroid endemic cretinism throughout Indonesia, including the nearby island of Bali," Professor Oxnard said.

"Cretinism is caused by various environmental factors including iodine deficiency -- a deficiency which would have been present on Flores at the period to which the dwarfed Flores fossils are dated."

Professor Oxnard has received the Charles R. Darwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in Physical Anthropology; was honoured as the dedicatee on a book Shaping Primate Evolution, Cambridge University Press; and was awarded the Chancellor's Medal of The University of Western Australia.

His co-authors in his most recent paper are Professor Peter Obendorf, School of Applied Sciences, RMIT University, Melbourne; and Professor Ben Kefford, Centre for Environmental Sustainability, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Technology Sydney.

Charles Oxnard, Peter J. Obendorf, Ben J. Kefford. Post-Cranial Skeletons of Hypothyroid Cretins Show a Similar Anatomical Mosaic as Homo floresiensis. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (9): e13018


Human remains, some as recent as 15 thousand years, from Liang Bua (LB) on the Indonesian island of Flores have been attributed to a new species, Homo floresiensis. The definition includes a mosaic of features, some like modern humans (hence derived: genus Homo), some like modern apes and australopithecines (hence primitive: not species sapiens), and some unique (hence new species: floresiensis). Conversely, because only modern humans (H. sapiens) are known in this region in the last 40 thousand years, these individuals have also been suggested to be genetic human dwarfs. Such dwarfs resemble small humans and do not show the mosaic combination of the most complete individuals, LB1 and LB6, so this idea has been largely dismissed. We have previously shown that some features of the cranium of hypothyroid cretins are like those of LB1. Here we examine cretin postcrania to see if they show anatomical mosaics like H. floresiensis. We find that hypothyroid cretins share at least 10 postcranial features with Homo floresiensis and unaffected humans not found in apes (or australopithecines when materials permit). They share with H. floresiensis, modern apes and australopithecines at least 11 postcranial features not found in unaffected humans. They share with H. floresiensis, at least 8 features not found in apes, australopithecines or unaffected humans. Sixteen features can be rendered metrically and multivariate analyses demonstrate that H. floresiensis co-locates with cretins, both being markedly separate from humans and chimpanzees (P<0.001: from analysis of similarity (ANOSIM) over all variables, ANOSIM, global R>0.999). We therefore conclude that LB1 and LB6, at least, are, most likely, endemic cretins from a population of unaffected Homo sapiens. This is consistent with recent hypothyroid endemic cretinism throughout Indonesia, including the nearby island of Bali.

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Search for the north American ape, Part 2 The great hoax of the 1800s

Humboldt Beacon
Posted: 09/22/2010 02:45:48 PM PDT
By Jason Valenti

In August, the Humboldt Beacon carried the article, “Validating Bigfoot” which described the work of researchers with the Falcon Project, a plan that intends to carry out research in Humboldt County. This is the second in a 4-part series by Jason Valenti, a member of the Falcon Project team. For additional information, contact the writer at

In the latter part of the 1800s, everyone thought that the Great Panda was a joke, a hoax and a grand tale that hunters brought back to augment their tales of adventure. I mean, come on. Here is an animal that is not doing anything sophisticated in its environment to hide from predators, and is a two-toned black and white bear, living its life against almost nothing but green background, and is a vegetarian. No one could believe that a bear lived like that. It had to be a tall tale.

Plus, with these slow moving creatures living on a restricted diet of only bamboo leaves, you would think that finding them would be a fairly simple game plan: find the bamboo, and you'll find the Pandas, right?


Their habitat is in the Szechuan province of China, which is geographically the size of Washington state. It is mountainous, very few roads run through much of it, and there are steep mountain cliffs at every turn, making it an extremely difficult area to navigate on foot (and this was the only mode of transportation available in the 1800s).

Proving the existence of the Panda is a perfect example of how a good sized animal can remain elusive for a long period of time in a given region.

It took over 60 years, from when the first expedition was launched in 1869, to find and capture the first panda. Then it was 30+ more years until someone accidentally came across a second one and shot it, thus proving their existence once and for all in 1935.

This “hoax” has now been hunted nearly to extinction.

The difficulty in finding those Pandas had nothing to do with what the Panda was doing to remain elusive, but everything to do with how we humans behave in the environments of our world. As much as people would like to believe that we can live in the deep forest and the jungles on this planet, there are an overwhelmingly large amount of evidence showing that we are not biologically equipped to do so, let alone pursue elusive animals on foot.

How humans do it, how hominoids do it

Humans take down sections of forests and jungles to set up their communities and farms for their basic survival needs.

Hominoids gather, hunt, eat, sleep, reproduce and live happily and easily in the forests that the planet provides them. Humans take years to painstakingly build roads over mountains. Hominoids just climb straight up said mountains.

Humans don't live anything like Hominoids, but we've been trying to track them their way, in their environment, on foot, where none of our modern conveniences, farms or roads exist. And we wonder why we can't find them.

We don't have the physiology to match theirs, and without some type of cooperative survival practices with other humans, we cannot keep up with them. Ecological niches, like where the panda lives, are perfect examples of why Hominoids may dwell in total self sufficiency, and completely out of the average range of humans.

Gathering evidence

The first photographic evidence of the existence of Hominoids came from an expedition in the Himalayas in 1951. Eric Shipton took a series of images of an alleged trackway produced by a Yeti or Abominable Snowman.

Now, the Himalayan ranges are comprised of an area the size of the United States. The terrain is very uneven and is covered with jagged rock, ice and snow in many places. There have been millions of years for this Hominoid to speciate and for its feet to modify through micro-evolution, so that it can navigate this type of terrain well. The shape of the track of these Hominoids, in this part of the world, totally matches the type of foot it would have to possess in order to walk on that type of terrain.

Tracks are the best evidence we have to date that can be verified, studied and explained through the science of ichnology. This is basically the study of plant and animal traces, and has been less used by the average person in “civilized” countries, since humans don't live much in the wilds of the jungles and forests of the world.

Our ancestors didn't have a choice but to be well-educated about the tracks being made in the environment in which they lived. Their very lives depended on being able to identify the animals in their environment for the purposes of either avoiding predators or being able to hunt for food.

(Source not given)

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Dark Steller's sea eagle solves 100 year debate

Monday, 27 September 2010
By Ella Davies
Earth News reporter

A giant bird living in Germany has settled debate over the existence of a huge, dark species of sea eagle.

For over a century, experts questioned whether two Steller's sea eagle species exist: one with white feathers and a darker one.

But a dark, captive Steller's sea eagle in a Berlin zoo, the only living bird of its kind, has solved the mystery.

Born to white feathered parents, the dark Steller's sea eagle confirms they are two variants of the same species.

The Steller's sea eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) is the heaviest of all eagles, and it usually has brown and white plumage, sporting white feathers along the wings, legs and tail.

However, a different, dark form of the Steller's sea eagle was first described as a separate species (H. niger) in 1887. It had brown feathers all over except for a white tail.

Ornithologists suspected this darker Steller's sea eagle bred in Korea.

But few authenticated records exist, leading many to presume its extinction.

The last known dark Steller's sea eagle sighted in the wild was in 1968, and no dark specimen has been held in captivity since the start of the 20th Century.

Since these sightings, debate has continued as to whether the dark Steller's sea eagle is a separate species, subspecies or just a colour variant of the usual bird.

Most interested experts believe the latter, but no proof existed.

That was until the appearance of a dark Steller's sea eagle in Tierpark zoo, Berlin.

It wasn't until the Steller's sea eagle moulted into its adult plumage that the Tierpark's Curator of Birds, Dr Martin Kaiser, realised what a rarity it was.

"It's really a surprise if you suddenly have a bird which was considered extinct and not observed for about half a century neither in the wild nor in captivity," says Dr Kaiser.

The eagle moulted into its adult plumage this year with only a white tail, making it the only known living bird of its kind.

The rare female was the product of artificial insemination at a falconry in Bavaria, Germany.

It arrived at Berlin's Tierpark in 2001 after being foster-reared by two American bald eagles at Nuremburg Zoo.

Crucially, its actual parents were wild birds, caught in Russia in the 1980s and both displayed the familiar white shoulder, leg and rump feathers.

"Both the parents of the dark female in Tierpark Berlin show the normal coloured plumage with white shoulders and rump," says Dr Kaiser.

"This is the evidence that it is a colour phase only... [For the female to] be a subspecies the parents must be also dark coloured."

As the offspring of two white-marked birds, the Tierpark's female provides the first evidence that the dark plumage is not species specific, and that the dark eagles do not exist as a species in their own right.

The fact that the parents came from Russia also proves that dark forms of the eagle are not restricted to Korea.

Dr Kaiser's findings are published in the Journal of Ornithology.

The Steller's sea eagle is one of the world's largest eagles and certainly the heaviest weighing up to 9kg.

Competition for the top title comes from the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) of South-East Asia; the martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) of Africa and the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja), of North and South America.

There are approximately 5,000 Steller's sea eagles in the wild, predominantly found in north-eastern Asia, breeding around the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia.

The giant birds make their nests along Russia's Pacific coast close to their preferred salmon feeding grounds.

Their distinctive large yellow bills are perfect for ripping flesh and stealing food from other eagles.

The IUCN list of endangered animals describes the sea eagles as vulnerable with a declining population under threat from habitat destruction and over-fishing.

Each winter many migrate to the Japanese islands of Hokkaido where they are known as O-Washi, and protected as a species of national importance.
(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Dorset Wildlife Trust concerned about cuts

11:30am Tuesday 28th September 2010

By Diana Henderson

With vulnerable wildlife under threat from lack of funding, Dorset’s leading nature conservation charity has launched an urgent appeal.

Dorset Wildlife Trust is concerned that the harsh economic climate combined with government cuts means less funding will be available for wildlife protection.

Now the charity is appealing for financial help to fund vital conservation work to aid water voles, seahorses and the severely declining marsh fritillary butterfly as well as to continue work to rescue the county’s disappearing ponds.
  • The water vole is Britain’s fastest declining mammal. On the River Allen and Moors River there are still populations and DWT plans conservation work to ensure their survival and to help other important species such as kingfishers, brown trout and the native crayfish.
  • Seagrass meadows in Studland Bay are unique as breeding sites for both spiny and short-snouted seahorses. Work is needed to protect the habitat and raise awareness with boat owners and the public to prevent damage.
  • Grassland restoration to link up and extend isolated populations of marsh fritillary butterflies surviving on nature reserves in west Dorset is urgently needed.
  • Work to halt the rapid decline in wildlife-rich ponds has begun in Purbeck but funding is due to end in December, with many still needing restoration. In North Dorset the globally threatened great-crested newt is in danger if urgent action is not taken to restore lost ponds.

“We are very concerned about these particularly vulnerable wildlife projects, which could make a vital difference to the survival of some populations of native British wildlife,” said Alastair Cook, director of fundraising and marketing.

“We can promise that your donation will only go to the particular project you have chosen and that all of it will be spent on active nature conservation.”

You can donate to the appeal at dorsetwildlifetrust and support seahorses, marsh fritillary butterflies, disappearing ponds or water voles.
(Submitted by Jonathan McGowan)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Rare sighting of egret near Inverness

The little egret was photographed by a whale and dolphin society field officer
27 September 2010

A rare sighting of a little egret has been made at Inverness' Merkinch local nature reserve.

The white heron was photographed by Charlie Phillips, a Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society field officer.

Little egret first appeared in the UK in significant numbers in 1989 from colonies expanding from France and first bred in Dorset in 1996.

RSPB Scotland said only one or two sightings of the bird were made in the Highlands each year.

A spokesman said: "They may become a more familiar sight in the future if they continue to spread."

Snap of a shutter confirms bobcat sighting in Boston Heights

The motion-activated camera in the backyard of Julie Morgan's home in Boston Heights snapped this photograph of a bobcat at 1:40 a.m. Sunday.
Published: Saturday, September 25, 2010, 9:00 AM
Michael Sangiacomo, The Plain Dealer

With Tonya Sams / Plain Dealer Reporter

BOSTON HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Julie Morgan could not believe the image on her backyard motion-activated camera.

Her camera snapped a photograph of a bobcat.

"That was a one in a million shot," the 38-year-old mother said in a phone interview Friday night. "My camera has taken pictures of normal animals like deer and coyotes, but that was the first time I had seen evidence of a bobcat in the area."

The camera shot the photograph at 1:40 a.m. Sunday.

Morgan keeps the camera in the woods, which is part of the two acres she owns near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Morgan sent the photo to her friend Frank Satullo, who runs Ohio Traveler, an online travel magazine at, who posted the picture Thursday. The photo is creating a buzz in the naturalist world.

"Neighbors had spotted the bobcat before, but no one has ever gotten a photo of it until now," Satullo said.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Resource Manager Lisa Petit was excited about the prospect of a confirmed bobcat sighting. She said they have been hearing reports of sightings for the past three years from people who live near the park, including Boston Heights, but had seen no proof.

"This would be the first verification that I am aware of in the park area," she said. "I believe that it's likely that it's a bobcat who is coming from somewhere else -- southern Ohio, West Virginia or Pennsylvania."

She said bobcats pose no threat to people or pets.

"They are very secretive, even more secretive than coyotes," she said. "They prey on small animals like rabbits and are very important to the ecosystem."

Morgan said for that reason, she's not afraid that she will be in any danger of the bobcat.

Boston Heights police said they knew nothing about it.

"Bobcat sighting? We have not heard that," Patrolman Joe Darga said Thursday. "Being close to the park, we see turkeys, coyotes and other animals all the time. This is the first time for a bobcat."

Dan Kramer, wildlife manager with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, has seen the picture and said the division staff has no reason to doubt its authenticity.

"The number of verified sightings of bobcats have been increasing in southeast Ohio," he said. "There were 92 verified sightings in 2009, up from 65 in 2008. They are coming farther north, as close as Stark County. There was one killed on I-90 in Lake County about 10 years ago, and there have been sightings in Ashtabula."

He said that as the population increases, the young males will travel farther to make their own way. He said it is also possible that it escaped, or was released, from an exotic-animal collector.

Unidentified object in water: China's 'Nessie' or just big fish?

A picture of Kanas Lake's "water monster" from the footage shot by Ma Lin on Sept. 23.
15:22, September 27, 2010

After taking the most complicated vacation in China, many photography lovers brought back not only pictures recording beautiful natural views, but also some surprises. Here is the account of one of those photography lovers who brought back footage of an unidentified object swimming in Xinjiang's Kanas Lake.

Ma Lin went to Kanas Lake for her three-day vacation with several companions. When she looked at the surface of the lake, she saw a strange thing swimming in the water, so she took out her video camera immediately and recorded what she saw.

Because she was not quite familiar with her camera, she missed the unidentified object the first time. However, fate offered her a second chance. The thing came back in front of her lens 10 minutes later, and this time she did not miss it. However, she could not make the footage much clearer because of the long distance.

Ma said it was her sixth time to come to Kanas Lake, but the very first time of seeing the "Nessie."

Expert: it might be a huge Hucho taimen

Yuan Guoying, an ecologist and environmental protection researcher, believes the so-called "Nessie" in Kanas Lake might be a huge Hucho taimen, a kind of fish that could be as long as more than one meter. He said he believes it might be a fish based on the so-called Kanas water monster that he himself witnessed 20 years ago.

Yuan also said there were eight kinds of fish living in the Kanas Lake, and only Hucho taimen and another kind of fish can grow as long as one meter or more. However, only the Hucho taimen would emerge out of water.

Yuan had been to Kanas Lake for ten times, and had two experiences of seeing the "water monster" in 1985 and 2009 and he even took some pictures of fish living in the lake.

Huang Renxin, a retired professor of Xinjiang University, said there's nothing surprising about discovering so-called "water monsters" in the Kanas Lake. They might only be some big fish. He said the public should pay attention to something more important and significant.

See more at:

Narendrapur bird sighting

TNN, Sep 27, 2010, 04.16am IST

KOLKATA: In the first such sighting in and around Kolkata, a blue-winged leafbird (chloropsis cochinchinensis jerdoni) was spotted at Chintamani Kar Bird Sanctuary, Narendrapur, on Sunday. Bird expert Sumit Sen confirmed this, saying: "Earlier, local leafbird records were attributed to the golden-fronted leafbird (chloropsis aurifrons), which was last seen in what used to be pre-development Salt Lake in the 1960s." Usually, the blue-winged leafbird is seen in the western parts of Bengal. tnn

Narendrapur bird sighting - The Times of India 

Great Gray Owl

Great gray owl research provides evidence that the Sierra Nevada is home to a genetically distinct population, compared to great gray owls outside of California.

Scientists, in 2010, documented Yosemite's great gray owl (Strix nebulosa Yosemitensis) as genetically distinct from the great gray owl in western North America (Strix nebulosa nebulosa). In addition to genetic differences, behavioral differences appear to exist in the Yosemite subspecies. These include differences in migration patterns, prey preference, and nest site selection. Each of these genetic and behavioral characteristics indicates the Sierra Nevada population of great gray owls has been isolated from other populations for an extensive period of time.

Yosemite, today, is the southernmost range and last sanctuary of almost all of California's great gray owls, listed as California State Endangered Species. Researchers estimate there are only about 200 to 300 individuals in California, and about 65% of the state's population resides in Yosemite. Great gray owls nest in the middle elevations of the park where forests and meadows meet. They can be active at any time of the day or night, preferring to hunt in open meadows and clearings within the forest.Then, in winter, they move downslope to snow-free areas where they can more easily access their rodent prey.

This rare and endangered owl is the largest North American owl but also can be found in Asia and Europe. It stands as tall as 2 feet with a 5-foot wingspan and has distinctive piercing yellow eyes accented by large facial disks.

To gain a greater understanding of Yosemite's great gray owl and its genetic make-up, Yosemite joined with the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station and geneticists from University of California, Davis to assess genetics, ecological-limiting factors, and immediate management needs of the Sierra-wide population. Great gray owls, restricted to montane meadows, are threatened from mounting resource use in the broader Sierra Nevada. Threats outside the park include timber harvest, grazing, and development pressures.

National parks like Yosemite that provide nearly intact ecosystems are critically important to both identify new species of plants and animals and to provide a laboratory in which to conduct scientific study. Yosemite's research aims to develop a predictive GIS-based habitat model of great gray owl distribution and habitat associations; and design a long-term monitoring plan to assess population trends.

Future genetic research on the great gray owl in Yosemite would help develop a technique to identify individual owls from their molted feathers. This non-invasive research method would allow scientists to study survival rates, reproduction patterns, and other important information through the DNA found in the collected feathers. Additionally, this research method would mitigate negative impacts on the sensitive great gray owl population in the park.
Read the 2010 citation naming the Strix nebulosa Yosemitensis:
Hull, J.M.; Keane, J.J.; Savage, W.K.; Godwin, S.A.; Shafer, J.A.; Jepsen, E.P.; Gerhardt, R.; Stermer, C.; Ernest, H.B. (2010, July). Range-wide genetic differentiation among North American great gray owls (Strix nebulosa) reveals a distinct lineage restricted to the Sierra Nevada, California. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 56(1), 212-221, DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2010.02.027
Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2010 Jul;56(1):212-21. Epub 2010 Mar 1.

Range-wide genetic differentiation among North American great gray owls (Strix nebulosa) reveals a distinct lineage restricted to the Sierra Nevada, California.

Hull JM, Keane JJ, Savage WK, Godwin SA, Shafer JA, Jepsen EP, Gerhardt R, Stermer C, Ernest HB.

Investigations of regional genetic differentiation are essential for describing phylogeographic patterns and informing management efforts for species of conservation concern. In this context, we investigated genetic diversity and evolutionary relationships among great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) populations in western North America, which includes an allopatric range in the southern Sierra Nevada in California. Based on a total dataset consisting of 30 nuclear microsatellite DNA loci and 1938-base pairs of mitochondrial DNA, we found that Pacific Northwest sampling groups were recovered by frequency and Bayesian analyses of microsatellite data and each population sampled, except for western Canada, showed evidence of recent population bottlenecks and low effective sizes. Bayesian and maximum likelihood phylogenetic analyses of sequence data indicated that the allopatric Sierra Nevada population is also a distinct lineage with respect to the larger species range in North America ; we suggest a subspecies designation for this lineage should be considered (Strix nebulosa yosemitensis). Our study underscores the importance of phylogeographic studies for identifying lineages of conservation concern, as well as the important role of Pleistocene glaciation events in driving genetic differentiation of avian fauna.

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Cameron Lake Monster Mystery Expanding

Thursday, September 16, 2010

vancouversun - John Kirk is elated when an unusual blip registers on the fish-finder.

"Whoa, hello!" the scientist calls out as he studies the sonar screen with colleague Adam McGirr. Both men are researchers with the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club — monster-hunters, in other terms.

On Tuesday, the pair was cruising the waters of Cameron Lake in search of a creature that has been the topic of local legends for years. The B.C. Scientific Cryptozoology Club first visited the area in September 2009 after an invitation from Oceanside Tourism to probe for evidence of the Cameron Lake monster.

They weren't able to shed much light on the mystery, but two large strikes on a fish-finder prompted the team to return. Last year, poor weather and equipment troubles bogged down the expedition.

It was a large fish — not a lake monster — that sparked a brief moment of excitement Tuesday afternoon as the researchers showed reporters a few of their methods. But earlier that morning, Kirk, who is president of the BCSCC, said the team encountered two large hits on the fish-finder that they couldn't explain.

They were found near the Pacific Rim Highway at a spot known as Angel Rock — close to the same spot where cryptozoologists encountered two fish-finder strikes last year and also where a number of people reported seeing the creature.

Kirk is convinced there's something unusual lurking beneath the surface of Cameron Lake, but the chances of it being a previously undiscovered monster-like animal is "way out in left field."

There's not enough food in the area to support a massive aquatic creature — and with a maximum depth of about 64 metres, it wouldn't have much room in which to hide.

A likelier scenario, he said, is that the monster rumours were sparked by the presence of massive sturgeon, which could have been released into the lake years ago as a prank.

"There's something in the lake for sure, there's no question about that," said Kirk, whose team has also hunted for evidence of the legendary Ogopogo on B.C.'s Okanagan Lake.

McGirr, the club's chief technologist, said Cameron Lake is "fairly deep" for an inland lake and the water is quite cold in some spots, creating a decent environment for sturgeon.

But abnormally large trout could also be behind the mystery. McGirr said a cutthroat trout weighing about 45 kilograms was caught in the Northwest Territories. There have been reports of other freakishly large animals in B.C. as well — including a six-foot-long black salamander at Pitt Lake, he added.

Human meddling seems the likeliest explanation for a non-native species, such as sturgeon making its way into an inland lake; Little Qualicum Falls presents a major obstacle to what is apparently Cameron Lake's only link to the ocean.

The club also will examine whether there is an aquifer between Horne and Cameron lakes that the creature could have passed through.

BCSCC has received reports of 15 sightings dating back to the 1980s, with most people seeing it during sunny summer days. Also, some witnesses have reported seeing three creatures at the same time.

Oceanside Tourism, which helped funded the BCSCC's visits to Cameron Lake, hopes media attention will give the local tourism sector a boost. About half a dozen reporters responded to an invitation to join the cryptozoologists on the lake Tuesday and last year the association issued a news release enticing travel media to write "on the many eclectic man-made, natural and possibly supernatural attractions found in the region."

Tourism officials say they don't expect tales of the lake creature to be a major draw. But a little mystery doesn't hurt, they add.
(Submitted by T. Peter Park)

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Service Seeks Information on Petition To Halt Spread of Amphibian Disease-Chytrid Fungus (Via Herp Digest)

Service Seeks Information on Petition To Halt Spread of Amphibian Disease-Chytrid Fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd) as "Injurious Wildlife" Under The Lacey Act

9/17/10 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced it has posted a notice in the Federal Register seeking information concerning the possible designation of all live amphibians or their eggs that are infected with
chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd) as "injurious wildlife" under the Lacey Act.

The fungus causes chytridiomycosis, a disease deadly to amphibians, and has been identified as a primary factor leading to the listing of a number of amphibian species as threatened or endangered. If finalized, the designation as injurious would require a health certification that live amphibians or their eggs are not infected with chytrid fungus prior to import or transportation across state lines.

The Notice of Inquiry will publish in the Federal Register on September 17, 2010, and explains the chytrid fungus issue and asks the public to provide information on the subject. The submissions will be reviewed and a decision made whether to proceed with a proposed rule or to take no further action.

"The worldwide decline of amphibians is of great concern to us. Chytrid is attributed as a major cause of this amphibian mortality. We understand that halting the spread of the fungus or eradicating it will take more than just regulating importation and transportation of infected amphibians, but it is a major step in the right direction," said Acting Director Rowan Gould.

The petition and the Notice of Inquiry are available at: under Docket No. FWS-R9-FHC-2009-0093. The public will have until December 16, 2010, to provide information on the
subject of the petition.

Under the Lacey Act, the Department of the Interior is authorized to regulate the importation and interstate transport of wildlife species determined to be injurious to humans; the interests of agriculture, horticulture or forestry; or the welfare and survival of wildlife resources of the United States. Current regulations prohibit the release into the wild of all species of live amphibians or their eggs, except as authorized. A listing under the Lacey Act would not affect a person or institution that currently owns an amphibian and does not transport it to
another state or U.S. territory.

For information on injurious wildlife and how to send comments, as well as links to partner agencies, visit: Contact: Valerie Fellows 703/358 2285

Mapping Road Traffic's Toll on Wildlife (Via HerpDigest)

Mapping Road Traffic's Toll on Wildlife
By Malia Wollan, NY Times 9/13/10

To Ron Ringen, a retired veterinarian, roadkill is a calling.

"Most people don't realize how many animals die on the road every day - they just don't see it," he said.

While Mr. Ringen's friends goad him with nicknames like "Doctor Roadkill," he is not alone in his peculiar pursuit. Hundreds of volunteers collect and upload roadkill data to the California Roadkill Observation System, a mapping Web site built by researchers at the University of California, Davis, to better understand where and why cars strike animals.

Begun a year ago, the Web site - - is the first statewide effort to map roadkill using citizen observers. Volunteers comb the state's highways and country roads for dead animals, collecting GPS coordinates, photographs and species information and uploading it to a database and Google map populated with dots representing the kills. The site's gruesome gallery includes photos of flattened squirrels or squashed skunks.

"For some people the only contact they have with wild animals is when they run them over," said Fraser M. Shilling, the lead researcher on the project. "This is the first time people have been able to record roadkill online and I think it will change our understanding of what our road system is really doing to wildlife."

The site's founders hope to soon hire a software engineer to design a smartphone app. They think one would attract new and younger volunteers, speed up the process, and, with built-in GPS function, assure more accurate location information.

About 73 million GPS-enabled cellphones and 23 million automotive GPS units will be shipped in the United States and Canada this year, according to IMS Research, a market research firm. "GPS is very pervasive," said Bill Morelli, an analyst with the firm.

"Everybody is interested in pursuing the benefits of getting data points from these
devices," he said. For example, wireless providers like AT&T and Sprint are looking into applications that would use drivers' GPS smartphones to monitor traffic speed in real time.

The roadkill maps give researchers a better understanding of the environmental impacts of roads. They intend to use the data to build statistical and Geographic Information Systems models to predict roadkill hot spots and to determine where animal road crossings, culverts and warning signs may be most effective on current and future roadways.

Given the more than 258 million vehicles on the country's four million miles of public roads, it is little wonder that cars regularly strike animals. Estimates for just how many run-ins occur each year vary widely.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that a million animals are killed by vehicles every day, while a 2008 Federal Highway Administration report puts the number of accidents with large animals between one million and two million a year. The agency estimates such accidents result in over $8 billion in damages annually.

In addition, about 200 people die each year in accidents with deer and other animals, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Federal Highway Administration provides money to state transportation agencies to help minimize the number of animal accidents. "The methods are as varied as the wildlife themselves, ranging from fences, bridges and tunnels to electronic animal-detection warning systems," said Victor Mendez, the agency's administrator.

Still, Mr. Shilling and his colleagues think that drivers armed with keen eyes, GPS devices and smartphones are perhaps better suited than government agencies to map the cumulative effects of roadkill.

In late March, the researchers started a second Web site, in Maine, called Maine Audubon Wildlife Road Watch, available via "There are so many miles of road, the more people you have involved looking for roadkill, the better," said Susan Gallo, a wildlife biologist with Maine Audubon, the group that commissioned the site in partnership with the state's transportation department and other state agencies.

Despite the grisly nature of the task, volunteers have been enthusiastic, Mr. Shilling says. Even with limited public outreach, the California site has almost 300 registered users and more than 6,900 documented kills.

In Maine, the most commonly counted roadkill species is the North American porcupine. "I see an awful lot of them. They just move so slow," said Donna Runnels, 58. She uploads the data she collects while walking and riding her horse near her home in Burnham, Me.

The animal most likely to be found dead along a California road is the raccoon, though hundreds of species have been counted, including desert iguanas, black bears, tiger salamanders, brown pelicans and western shovelnose snakes.

During countless hours on hundreds of miles of road, Mr. Ringen's eyes have become attuned to the tiniest tattered remains; he can spot a flattened mouse while driving 50 miles an hour, he says. Nevertheless, occasionally his eyes trick him. He regularly pulls over for what he thinks are bird remains only to find discarded banana peels.

Last spring driving on Interstate 80 crossing the Sacramento River Delta, he saw, to his disbelief, what seemed to be a small shark on the highway. He exited and circled his car back to the spot only to find a child's stuffed toy shark. "This is how crazy you get," Mr. Ringen said. "I'm almost a fanatic with it. You get hooked. You wake up wondering 'What am I going to find out there today?' "

(From UC Davis - Some of you may have seen the above article in the NY Times about our roadkill sites - one for California and one for Maine ( Since then we have received dozens of requests from other states to either connect citizen scientist observers to a program in their state, or wanting information on how they could develop a roadkill observation system. I wanted to put the request out to people on this list to help me to connect people to a resource in their state they can use, or people in their state who would be interested in developing something like this. I realize that there are existing programs, some of which I have been able to find online. However, I suspect that there are programs out there that are hard to find. If you have time and either know of a roadkill reporting program in your state, or are interested in developing one, please contact me and I will potentially send some interested parties your way.
Fraser Shilling
Co-Director, Road Ecology Center
Department of Environmental Science & Policy
University of California, Davis 95616

Vietnam Battles US Invaders (Via HerpDigest)

Vietnam Battles US Invaders: Red-eared Sliders And Crayfish Editor's Note - Government ordered importer to destroy 40 tons of red-eared slider turtles imported from the US. How do you do that. That is thousands of turtles? And where did they come from? These are adult turtles, full size 4-9 inches used for food.

Hanoi - 9/14/10, Vnet- Vietnamese authorities said Tuesday they were moving to hunt down two invaders from the United States - red-eared slider turtles and red swamp crayfish.

The two animals were among more than 90 invasive species that have been detected in Vietnam due to the country's lively wildlife trade.

The Ministry of Agriculture last week ordered local authorities to destroy 40 tons of red-eared slider turtles imported from the US by a seafood company in the southern city of Can Tho.

The ministry had allowed the company to import the turtles provided they were killed for food before August 31, but the company had failed to do so.

Authorities said they were worried some of the notoriously invasive turtles, native to the southern US, might escape or be sold as pets.

"They might compete for food with native Vietnamese animals, or destroy the harmony of the environment," said Deputy Minister of Agriculture Vu Van Tam.

The Invasive Species Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the red-eared slider on a list of 100 of the world's worst invasive species.

The ministry was also moving to contain another American newcomer, the red swamp crayfish.

A delegation from Hanoi was scheduled to travel Thursday to Truong Long Tay Commune in the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang, where farmer Le Van Men was discovered earlier this month to be raising several hundred red swamp crayfish in a fish pond.

The official Vietnam News reported Tuesday that Men said some of the crustaceans had escaped because the cages they were being raised in were not tight enough.

Commune agricultural development officer Dinh Minh Khuyen disputed that account.

"How can they have escaped from the pond? I don't believe it," Khuyen said. "They are in a 40-square-metre pond surrounded by a net."

Men had been raising the crayfish under personal instruction from Bui Quoc Hai, an employee of the SJ Crawfish Company, in Ho Chi Minh City, Khuyen said.

Hai had smuggled some crayfish back from the US in his hand luggage, the newspaper Thanh Nien reported.

Khuyen said that Hai simply wanted fresh crayfish to cook for his family and friends.

The American invaders have "no economic benefits, as they have thick skin and very little meat," the paper reported. "But they are very aggressive, and can threaten local crayfish

Star Tortoise Smugglers Shifting Focus to Bangladesh (Via HerpDigest)

Star Tortoise Smugglers Shifting Focus to Bangladesh
by P. Oppili The Hindu, 9/2/10

Star tortoise smugglers, who were earlier operating through the ports and airports in southern India, have now shifted their activities to Bangladesh, according to Wildlife officials.

With the increased vigil at the airports and ports in the southern States, the smugglers take the star tortoises to Bangladesh by train or road from where they are transported to Southeast Asian destinations.

One of the main reasons for choosing the neighbouring country is that reptile smuggling does not attract any major punishment from the authorities there, say the Wildlife authorities.
According to wildlife authorities, people from Tamil Nadu are mainly involved in the smuggling of this species.

A few months ago one consignment of star tortoises was seized by officials in Malaysia. However, following the intervention of the Central government, the consignment was returned to India. But, when the consignment returned home a sizeable number of the smuggled reptiles were dead. Only one third of the reptiles returned alive. The authorities rehabilitated them at the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, Vandalur, they say.

Recently a consignment of star tortoises was seized in Bangladesh from a person holding a passport issued from Tamil Nadu. Officials from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau Headquarters office in New Delhi visited Bangladesh. However, as the authorities could not confirm from where the star tortoises were collected from, they did not insist on returning the consignment to the country, said a senior official from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in New Delhi.

The State wildlife authorities have to increase their vigil at the border check posts to prevent the movement of star tortoises. Star tortoises are found in large numbers in dry deciduous forest patches in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. A few years ago smugglers used to collect them in large numbers from Palmaner forests in Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh. There is also a need for the wildlife authorities of the southern States to hold a coordination meeting with their counterparts in States such as Orissa and West Bengal to increase vigil both on the roads and trains, added the authorities.

Bizarre New Dinosaur Species Found in Utah

Lukas Panzarin, Utah Museum of Natural History/AP
An artist's reconstruction of Kosmoceratops, one of two new dinosaur species discovered in Utah.
Traci Watson

(Sept. 22) -- Scientists say they've found two new dinosaur species in Utah that are among the most bizarre and blinged out ever discovered.

The Utah reptiles belong to the horned-dinosaur family, which is known for outlandish anatomy, and are wowing seasoned fossil hunters. Even the three-horned triceratops, the most familiar horned dinosaur, looks like the no-frills model compared with the newcomers.

The species named Kosmoceratops had 15 horns decorating its massive head, giving it the most elaborate dinosaur headdress known to science. At 15 feet long, it was larger than a Ford Fiesta. Its name means "ornate horned-face" in Latin.

The Utahceratops was adorned with unusual short horns that stuck out to the side like a bison's. It was roughly 20 feet long and weighed 3 to 4 tons, as much as a large pickup truck. Its name is Latin for "Utah horned-face."

The new species "would've both been quite spectacular," Michael Getty of the Utah Museum of Natural History, who spotted the first Utahceratops, told AOL News. And quite big: "The skulls alone can be in excess of 6 feet long, [among] the largest heads on any land animal that ever lived," he said.

Lukas Panzarin, Utah Museum of Natural History/AP
An artist's reconstruction of Utahceratops.
The new discoveries are "first-class finds, no doubt about it," said the University of Pennsylvania's Peter Dodson, an authority on horned dinosaurs. Kosmoceratops in particular "is absurd, a really, really bizarre-looking animal. Kosmoceratops is an outlier even in its class," he said.

The new research was published today in the open-access journal PLoS One.

The dinosaurs probably used those formidable horns to beckon lady dinosaurs, perhaps to fend off rival suitors, but certainly not to impale prey.

"The hooks at the back of the skull would've been relatively useless as weapons, but they're great for showing off," said study leader Scott Sampson of the Utah Museum of Natural History at a press conference today. "These are effectively the peacock feathers ... of the dinosaur world."

Both species were plant eaters, somehow swelling to a massive size on the vegetation that thrived in the warm, swampy landscape that Utah had during the Late Cretaceous period, more than 70 million years ago.

Today these horned dinosaurs would quickly starve in their once-lush homeland. The bone yards that yielded the fossils lie in what is now the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, an isolated, rocky desert granted strict federal protection in 1996.

Fossil hunting at Grand Staircase is an endurance sport. The researchers live in research camps that are among the most remote in the U.S., Getty says. The water source is a 90-minute drive from camp.

The scientists walk several miles from their camp to the dig site, sometimes carrying jackhammers and the heavy plaster needed to protect fossils. Getty was stung by a scorpion earlier this year, which at least was not as bad as being bitten by the local rattlesnakes.

But Getty says the hardships are worth it. In addition to uncovering two eye-popping new species, the researchers helped solidify the theory that a no-go zone in northern Utah divided dinosaurs into northern and southern populations. Dinosaurs from Canada are completely different from those in Utah. Something, perhaps a change in climate, kept the two groups from mixing.

Getty vividly recalled uncovering the first Utahceratops.

"Finding such a significant animal ... [that] looked like a new species, different from anything else we'd seen -- it couldn't get much more exciting," he said.

Mouse-eating opossums run amok in Brooklyn

September 19, 2010

The city played possum -- and Brooklyn residents lost.

In a bizarre attempt to outwit Mother Nature, city officials introduced beady-eyed opossums in Brooklyn years ago to scarf down rats running amok in the borough, according to local officials.

Surprise: Operation opossum didn't work.

Not only do wily rats continue to thrive, but the opossums have become their own epidemic, with bands of the conniving creatures sauntering through yards, plundering garbage cans and noshing on fruit trees.

They've even taken up golf, with two sightings of the whiskered marsupials at the Dyker Heights municipal course in the past week, local officials said.

"They are everywhere," said Theresa Scavo, chairwoman for Community Board 15, which represents Sheepshead Bay and surrounding south Brooklyn neighborhoods.

"Didn't any of those brain surgeons realize that the opossums were going to multiply?"

A city Sanitation spokeswoman said they were not involved with the Brooklyn opossum drop, and the Health Department didn't have any record of it. But Scavo and two city councilmen said city officials spoke about the effort at a 2007 Brooklyn forum.

"City brought possums in to take care of rats," read Community Board 15 notes from the meeting.

The opossums were set free in local parks and underneath the Coney Island boardwalk, with the theory being they would die off once the rats were gobbled up, said Councilman Domenic Recchia (D-Brooklyn).

Instead, the critters have been populating, spreading to Park Slope and Manhattan.

"The population has boomed in recent years," said Josephine Beckmann, district manager for Community Board 10, which represents Bay Ridge. "They climb up in the tree and have a good meal."

The critters have a mouth full of 50 sharp teeth, tend to exude a foul odor, and can occasionally contract rabies, said Stuart Mitchell, an entomologist.

They are nocturnal, and some Brooklynites have become terrified to go into their yards at night.

Scientists look at deodorant for New Zealand's smelly birds

WELLINGTON – Scientists say they are hoping to develop a deodorant for New Zealand's native birds to stop them falling prey to introduced predators.

New Zealand has an abundance of native bird species, including the famous kiwi, but no native land mammals, meaning introduced animals such as cats and stoats have had a devastating impact on bird numbers.

Canterbury University reseacher Jim Briskie said Friday it appeared New Zealand birds suffered from body odor, making them an easy target for predators.

Briskie said unlike their overseas counterparts, which evolved alongside mammals, New Zealand birds emitted a strong smell when preened to produce wax to protect their feathers.

He said the kiwi smelled like mushrooms or ammonia, while the flightless kakapo parrot's odor was like "musty violin cases", possibly contributing to its endangered status.

The Marsden scientific research fund has given Briskie a 600,000 New Zealand dollar ($440,000) grant to study native bird body odors over the next three years in the hope of making them less exposed to predators.

"Down the line, if we do find some species are particularly smelly or vulnerable, perhaps I can design a deodorant for kiwis," he told the Dominion Post newspaper.

Yob arrested after he bought £1.99 goldfish and then swallowed it in pet shop

A yob has been arrested after buying a goldfish in a pet shop and swallowing it in front of horrified shop staff. Chris Caswell, 30, was arrested yesterday over the prank that was videoed by his friends and posted on Facebook.

He paid £1.99 for the fish and then asked staff to put it in a glass he had bought with him, claiming he just lived across the road. A shopworker agreed and then watched in horror as he downed the fish in one gulp. After Caswell ate the creature, his friend, videoing the encounter, said: ‘Goldfish down the hatch!’ They then walked out of the shop laughing and joking.

Police were alerted after the footage was posted on the social networking website.
Caswell, a roofer, was arrested in a dawn raid at his home in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, yesterday, on suspicion of cruelty to animals. He was quizzed at a police station for an hour then released.

Last night he insisted he was an animal lover and said he had been drinking at the time.
He told the Sun: ‘It was over a year ago. We had been out drinking at a friend’s party. I can’t remember much about it. I have just got a puppy. I like animals.’

The RSPCA last night said it was still investigating the stunt at the Petals and Pets shop in Newton Aycliffe. If Caswell is found guilty of animal cruelty he could face a £20,000 fine or six months in jail.

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