Tuesday, 30 November 2010

100-million-year-old crocodile species discovered

A new species of crocodile that lived 100 million years ago has been identified from a fossil found in Thailand, researchers said Thursday.

Komsorn Lauprasert, a scientist at Mahasarakham University, said the species had longer legs than modern-day crocodiles and probably fed on fish, based on the characteristics of its teeth.

"They were living on land and could run very fast," said Komsorn, who noticed the skull fossil in a museum in the summer of 2006. The 6-inch-long (15-centimeter-long) fossil was originally retrieved from an excavation site in Nakhon Rathchasima province, also known as Korat, but had not been identified as belonging to a distinct species.

The species has been named "Khoratosuchus jintasakuli," after Korat province, where the fossil was found, and the last name of the director of the Northeastern Research Institute of Petrified Wood and Mineral Resources, Pratueng Jintasakul.

The finding has been published a peer-reviewed publication of The Geological Society of London.

Northeastern Thailand has become an important site for paleontologists in recent decades. Numerous prehistoric fossils have been found in Thailand's so-called dinosaur belt, where fossil-rich Mesozoic-era sedimentary rock has been thrust to the surface.

Thai and French scientists began conducting joint research in the area in 1980 after a geologist seeking uranium found a dinosaur thigh bone in the late 1970s.

Horticulturists develop world's first black petunia plant

Horticulturists have developed the world''s first black petunia plant for next summer’s gardens.

The dramatic new flowers, named Black Velvet, were created using natural breeding techniques to turn them a dark black colour and will be on sale at a premium price of 2pounds- 3 pounds per plant.

The rare plants, which have taken four years to perfect, are due to blossom in British gardens for the first time next spring.

Experts believe the new variety will be highly sought-after among gardeners as they will provide a “wonderful contrast” to colourful flowers.

They were developed by flower breeding company Ball Colegrave and will be going on sale for the first time in British garden centres.

The plants will be advertised under the catchline “black goes with everything.”

“It''s completely unique. It''s the first black petunia anywhere in the world,” the Daily Mail quoted Stuart Lowen, from Ball Colegrave in Banbury as saying.

“It was created by experimenting with existing colours already on the market and breeding them using traditional methods.

“We don''t use any genetic modification at all, just pollenation.

“They say black goes with anything, and it really looks exceptionally striking in the garden - it goes very well with whites, yellows and pinks.

“It''s rare to get a flower as black as this - very seldom do you get anything this dark,” Lowen added.

Flower breeder Jianping Ren developed the new plants at Ball Colegrave.

She said: “The black colour did not exist in petunias before, so it has to come from the right recombination of a novel colour mutant and multiple regular colour genetic backgrounds.

“It''s unique and unusual, and opens the door for more new colours,” Ren added.

(Corinna's note:  That is one stunning plant, beautiful)

Why did mammals evolve to enormous sizes - then get smaller again?

After the dinosaurs were wiped out by a massive meteor strike 65 million years ago, tiny mammals ruled the Earth. But they quickly evolved to be as big as dinosaurs, then evolved to be smaller again. What happened?

This is what paleontologists have long wondered. Scientists knew that extremely large mammals evolved within a few million years after the end of the dinosaurs. As evolutionary biologist Patrick Stephens puts it:

There is a much better fossil record for mammals than for many other groups. That's partly because mammals' teeth preserve really well. And as it happens, tooth size correlates well with overall body size.

But how many of these mammals there were, and why they evolved, have been a mystery until a group of international scientists pooled all the information they had about these giant mammals into one database.

What they discovered was extraordinary: Giant mammals, long believed to be somewhat rare, were common across the entire planet. It seems they grew to fill an ecological niche left by the dinosaurs, aided by a cooling climate and greater amounts of land mass that supported large body sizes. Even more interesting is that mammals didn't reach some "upper biomechanical limit" to their body sizes - they could have grown much larger. The only thing that prevented truly mega-mammals from evolving were climate and available food resources.

According to a summary of the research, published today in Science:

The researchers found that the pattern was indeed consistent, not only globally but across time and across trophic groups and lineages-that is, animals with differing diets and descended from different ancestors-as well. The maximum size of mammals began to increase sharply about 65 million years ago, peaking in the Oligocene Epoch (about 34 million years ago) in Eurasia, and again in the Miocene Epoch (about 10 million years ago) in Eurasia and Africa.

"Having so many different lineages independently evolve to such similar maximum sizes suggests that there were similar ecological roles to be filled by giant mammals across the globe," said [researcher John] Gittleman. "The consistency of the pattern strongly implies that biota in all regions were responding to the same ecological constraints."

Global temperature and the amount of land available as an animal's range are two ecological factors that appear to correlate with the evolution of maximum body size, but Gittleman warned against assigning cause and effect. "A big part of science is seeing patterns, and then producing new hypotheses and testing them," he said. "We have now identified this pattern very rigorously."

The point is, climate change could - over millions of years - lead to giant monsters. So there's something for future geoengineers to aspire to.

You can read more about the scientists collaborating on giant mammal work via their website, or read their paper via Science

Poached egg? No, it's a rare jellyfish that looks just like it should be on your breakfast plate

By Daily Mail Reporter

They might look tasty but you probably wouldn't want one of these on your toast in the morning.

For these bizarre fried eggs are actually a peculiar type of jellyfish that has just been successfully born in captivity.

The odd jellyfish are found naturally in the Mediterranean, because they require a huge amount of sunlight to survive.

When captive they are incredibly difficult to breed - but staff at Basel Zoo, Switzerland, have managed to imitate their natural conditions and a new batch of tiny jellyfish have been born.

A staff member said: 'Breeding is a real challenge because they're only found in far-off ocean fisheries and transportation is so difficult.

'So we have to mimic the natural environment with special daylight lamps to illuminate the aquarium as well as making sure there are lots of meals a day.

'The young jellyfish are tiny, just a few centimetres but they take the egg shape right away - we have to keep them away from the lights at first in case they toast.'

The fried egg jellyfish, also known as medusa, produce eggs that are fertilised in sea water, which then develop into a tiny larva fixed to sea bed organisms.

They can measure up to 35cm in diameter when fully grown, and in contrast to most jellyfish they move on their own by moving the 'white' of the egg in a waving motion.

He said: 'They're beautiful creatures - but they are very unusual looking.'

How 'bioluminescent' trees that glow like fireflies could one day replace our streetlights

By Niall Firth

Scientists are developing ways of making trees glow so they can be used as natural streetlights without the need for electricity.

A team of researchers are experimenting with genes to allow the trait that causes fireflies to glow -bioluminescence - to be implanted into a variety of different organisms.

As well as replacing traditional streetlights, bioluminescent plants would be useful for people who are not hooked up to the electricity grid.

And if more lights were ever required, they could simply be grown.

The scientists at Cambridge University used genes from fireflies and a special form of glowing sea bacteria to create ‘BioBricks’ – genetic building blocks that can be inserted into a genome.

After inserting the modified genes into a sample of e-coli bacteria they were able to produce a range of colours – and created a living light that was bright enough to read by.

The scientists created the glowing effect by creating a substance known as oxyluciferin which is naturally in a high-energy state at first. However it quickly settles into a more stable, lower-energy state, and when it does so it emits a single photon of light.

Geneticist Theo Sanderson, one of the members of the team, told New Scientist: ‘We didn't end up making bioluminescent trees, which was the inspiration for the project.

‘But we decided to make a set of parts that would allow future researchers to use bioluminescence more effectively.’

The research was presented at the annual International Genetically Engineered Machines competition (iGEM), held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The technology could even be used to make glowing signs that do not need to be wired up

The team say that there is huge commercial potential in replacing the street with natural bioluminescent systems.

The idea is also extremely environmentally friendly as no electricity would be required and the process which produces the photons of light is extremely energy-efficient.

The scientists have also considered the possibility that the fuel to fire the chemical reaction in the trees could come from human waste or food waste.

And if the plant species used was a form of algae then energy could be harnessed from sunlight.

The team say on their website: ‘We might imagine a system where a bioreactor in the roof of a house - supplied with leftover foodstuffs - could pipe glowing algae through the rooms of the house during the night and across the roof during the day.’

In separate research, Taiwanese scientists have found that inserting gold nanoparticles into the leaves of trees helped the chlorophyll to glow red.

Under ultraviolet light the nanoparticles glowed with blue light, causing the surrounding chlorophyll to glow red.

Sea Monster Scare in Barbados

THERE’S A “MONSTER” in Barbados’ waters, says fisherman Joel Brooker.

“Monster” was the word Brooker used to describe a “strange looking species” he and his fishing partner Wendel Bryan encountered on Monday. They were fishing three-and-a-half miles from Shower Bank area, which is south west of Hilton Barbados.

As he described the experience to the DAILY NATION, Brooker said that the “monster” was 40 feet in length, with a flat head, two eyes and “a mouth which was opened for almost the entire time I saw it”.

“When we saw it coming towards us, we thought it was a sunfish.

But when I saw the length and look of this thing, I thought it was an unusual submarine.

“So then I started preparing myself to run into the cabin but when I looked and saw small fishes on this thing, I told myself this thing is alive.

“I could see that it was not a whale, a shark, or anything that looked like it belonged to the sea family . . . so I said this thing is a monster. I wanted to know what this thing doing in Barbados’ water at three-and-a-half miles,” said the fisherman.

“I took up a club that I beat sharks with to weaken them and I went and stand up by the engine and pelt this thing with all the strength and force I had and hit it at the top of it head and the club hit this thing so hard and this thing ain’t move.

“It took ten minutes before the Spirit told me to put the boat in gear. But the boat wasn’t moving because the anchor was on the ground. Then the boat started to move.”

He added: “I couldn’t run anywhere, but it’s a good thing I listened to the Spirit to get out the anchor, start the engine and head home – the fishing trip was over,” he said.

Brooker said he prayed that other fishermen “will see this thing and get away from it”.

He warned them to “don’t get scared and frightened like me, but take caution and beware of that monster”.

“While the boat was moving this thing was still coming, so then I turned to my second man and said I hope I am not Jonah that God give me a message and I disobeyed and God send this fish for me . . . . I think this fish is dangerous and I want other fishermen to be aware of this thing because it ain’t shunning boats, it coming right at right.

“I couldn’t sleep last night because all night I was studying this thing,” said Brooker, who was traumatised to the extent that he refused to go fishing with his partner yesterday.

Bizarre squidworm discovered

New anatomical and genetic analysis of the squidworm Teuthidodrilus samae has revealed it to be a segmented worm -- an annelid, just as the earthworm is. But its appearance is far stranger than any backyard night crawler you've ever seen.

The slimy animal's flattened body is about 3.5 inches long. It possesses 25 or more pairs of translucent white paddles arranged on its sides for swimming and up to 10 fragile, tentacle-like appendages at its head that are the same length as its body or longer.

The creature is eyeless, explained researcher Karen Osborn, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. To make its way around, it relies on frilly organs on its head for smell and what seem to be structures at the tips of its appendages specialized for touch or smell.

It was discovered in 2007 using a remotely operated underwater robot exploring the deep waters of the Celebes Sea. This hotspot of diversity is located between the Philippines and Indonesia.

The deep waters of the ocean may be the largest habitat for life on Earth, but they are also the least explored. Plumbing their depths is challenge because of their remote, vast nature and crushing pressures.

"We still have more knowledge more about the moon than about our oceans," said marine biologist Fredrik Pleijel at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, who did not participate in this research.

Scientists know especially little about free-swimming creatures of the deep because they have proven hard to capture without damaging either the animals or the gear used to gather them. To collect the squidworms, the researchers used both a device that gently sucks the animals into a bucket and an adroitly-maneuvered robot that scoops them up into large open canisters. They caught seven specimens roughly 6,650-9,550 feet below the ocean's surface and, after photographing them live, brought them up to the surface preserved in a formaldehyde solution.

Based on gut contents and videos of the squidworm, the researchers suspect that the squidworm feeds on "marine snow" -- detritus that rains down from the upper layers of the ocean, such as sinking plankton, "fecal material, dead animals, cast off mucus," Osborn said. "Not the most appealing sounding food."

These new findings just go to show "there is an enormous variety of remarkable animals with unique adaptations to that deep habitat that we never could have imagined until we found them," said deep-sea ecologist Bruce Robison at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Calif., who did not take part in this study. "Nature seems to be infinitely variable, and try as we might, we can never anticipate all of the twists and turns she'll take."

The squidworm differs dramatically from all known worms. It is a polychaete, a type of bristly annelid that is generally found in marine environments, and seems to be a missing link between benthic polychaetes living on the seafloor and pelagic ones dwelling much further up. Future research can focus on which benthic polychaetes the squidworm evolved from, and "whether the transition benthic-to-pelagic has occurred once only in these groups or a number of different times," Pleijel said.

Although just one species of squidworm is known to date, the scientists expect more to crop up soon. They suspect a related species was spotted by a submersible off the coast of western India in 2004 at a depth of roughly 3,300 feet (1,000 meters).

Osborn and her colleagues detailed their findings online Nov. 23 in the journal Biology Letters.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Woman adopts 1,500 stray dogs

A Chinese woman has given up her job, her home and her car to adopt more than 1,500 stray dogs.

Ha Wenjin gave up her business career and sold her house, car and jewellery to set up her unofficial dog rescue centre in Tangquan County, Nanjing.

"At first I did this in my spare time, but as I gathered more and more abandoned pets, I had to work full time for them," she said.

She has taken on 10 workers to help her look after the dogs - and another two to help care for 200 adopted cats at a second centre she has set up nearby.

But her project was put at risk when local government officials, who don't recognise her work, reclaimed the land for redevelopment.

"I had to find a new place which was deserted and not close to any human habitat, as 1,500 dogs are not quiet," she said.

"And the place had to be very cheap to rent, as most of our income comes from donations."

Finances are so tight that she partly relies on volunteer days when people bring hundreds of 'pork buns' to feed the dogs.

Ha eventually found a site, in Houyu village, Pukou County, but desperately needs funds to get the new animal rescue centre up and running.

And she is hoping more volunteers will turn out help her move the dogs on four buses on 4 December - and to clean the vehicles afterwards.


Chicken sore after laying 4 inch egg

A chicken was left shell-shocked after laying an enormous four inch tall egg, with her surprised owner describing the poor hen as 'bow-legged.'
The monster egg measures a whopping 9cm by 5.7cm (2.2ins) and is more than twice the size of a normal egg.

It was laid by Bolt, a 20-week-old chicken from Christchurch, Dorset, who has only been laying for three weeks.

Owner Denise Sloan, a 52-year-old gardener, said she has never seen such a large egg despite owning chickens for 15 years.

The egg, which has not been fertilised, is now destined for the dinner plate.

She said of Bolt’s impressive achievement: ‘I don't know what the world record is, but all I can say is she is pretty bow-legged now.’

‘It's enormous, bigger than a duck egg.’

And for anyone wondering what to make with the egg, Denise described its size in food terms: ‘You could make two omelettes out of it.’


'Panther' attacking sheep in Wales

A big cat is thought to be behind a string of savage attacks on livestock in Wales, some of which involved limbs being ripped from the animals' bodies.

Farmers in the Pembrokeshire region have reported nine sightings of the 'beast', which is believed to resemble a large black cat.

Malcolm MacPhee, of Great Redford Farm, said he believes the animal is behind a recent gory attack on one of his sheep.

'The sheep had its shoulder ripped off, with the flesh stripped off to expose its ribcage, while claw marks could be seen along its carcass,' Mr MacPhee said.

He added over the past few years, farmers have reported a number of cases of a panther-like creature in the Narberth region, one of which was said to be at least 4ft long.

Referring to the latest violent attacks, Mr MacPhee said: 'Experts have now pointed out to us it was a clean kill, not something synonymous with a fox, dog, badger or any other predator.'

John Mathias, a local dairy farmer, also suspects the beast is behind a recent attack on one of his calves.

'I also saw it carrying a big lamb in its mouth across my yard. It left a paw print in the slurry, and it was the width across of my glasses,' he added.

Earlier this year, two schoolgirls claimed they were stalked through the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire by a panther-like creature.

Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/news/848727-panther-attacking-sheep-in-wales#ixzz16heFFqDz

Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/news/848727-panther-attacking-sheep-in-wales#ixzz16heCvTWi

Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/news/848727-panther-attacking-sheep-in-wales#ixzz16he9Lx1p

Whale Sharks Use Geometry to Avoid Sinking

ScienceDaily (Nov. 27, 2010) — They are the largest fish species in the ocean, but the majestic gliding motion of the whale shark is, scientists argue, an astonishing feat of mathematics and energy conservation. In new research published November 25 in the British Ecological Society's journal Functional Ecology marine scientists reveal how these massive sharks use geometry to enhance their natural negative buoyancy and stay afloat.

For most animals movement is crucial for survival, both for finding food and for evading predators. However, movement costs substantial amounts of energy and while this is true of land based animals it is even more complex for birds and marine animals which travel in three dimensions. Unsurprisingly this has a profound impact on their movement patterns.

"The key factor for animal movement is travel speed, which governs how much energy an animal uses, the distance it will travel and how often resources are encountered," said lead author Adrian Gleiss from Swansea University. "However, oceanic animals not only have to consider their travel speed, but also how vertical movement will affect their energy expenditure, which changes the whole perspective."

For the past four years, Adrian Gleiss and Rory Wilson, from Swansea University, worked with Brad Norman from ECOcean Inc. to lead an international team to investigate the movements of whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. They attached animal-borne motion sensors, accelerometers, to the free-swimming whale sharks to measure their swimming activity and vertical movement, which allowed them to quantify the energetic cost of vertical movement.

The team's data revealed that whale sharks are able to glide without investing energy into movement when descending, but they had to beat their tails when they ascended. This occurs because sharks, unlike many fish, have negative buoyancy.

Also, the steeper the sharks ascended, the harder they had to beat their tail and the more energy they had to invest. The Whale Sharks displayed two broad movement modes, one consisting of shallow ascent angles, which minimize the energetic cost of moving in the horizontal while a second characteristic of steeper ascent angles, optimized the energetic cost of vertical movement.

"These results demonstrate how geometry plays a crucial role in movement strategies for animals moving in 3-dimensions," concluded Gleiss. "This use of negative buoyancy may play a large part in oceanic sharks being able to locate and travel between scarce and unpredictable food sources efficiently."


Lake invaders may be killing birds

Scientists suggest invasive mussels in the Great Lakes may be responsible for the deaths of thousands of migratory birds.

The hunt is on in the upper reaches of Lake Michigan to count what's believed to be thousands of bird carcasses that have washed ashore this fall — a staggering toll blamed on the disruptive powers of invasive species that have taken root in the Great Lakes.

The great debate in the Asian carp crisis, still playing out in federal court and the halls of Congress, is whether the feared fish has the capability of establishing a thriving population in the Great Lakes. If so, bighead and silver carp will almost certainly, and dramatically, alter commercial and recreational fishing in the nation's largest freshwater body.

But what if, as some scientists suggest, the Great Lakes' natural defenses — plankton shortages, lower water temperatures, greater water depth and swift-moving currents — keep Asian carp from sustaining themselves in large numbers? Will the threat have been avoided?

The answer is that all invasive species bring consequences that few can predict, leading scientists to ponder the thousands of gulls, loons, mergansers and other migratory birds whose remains wash ashore along the white-sand beaches in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's upper peninsula each fall.

There is a somewhat controversial theory for this annual die-off, which by some estimates has claimed more than 100,000 birds in the last 15 years, and it involves a type of naturally occurring but deadly botulism linked to the spread of invasive zebra and quagga mussels, which entered the Great Lakes decades ago aboard ocean vessels.

"There's still a lot about this we don't know," said Joe Kaplan, of the Michigan-based nonprofit Common Coast Research & Conservation. "The one thing we do know is that it's killing a lot of birds that are important to us.

"This is a very serious problem that deserves more attention."

Like Asian carp, zebra and quagga mussels reproduce rapidly and overwhelm their environment. Scientists feared densely packed clusters of mussels would take a toll on industry, colonizing in water pipes, intake valves, and air conditioning and cooling systems. And they have.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which has studied zebra and quagga mussels for more than 20 years, rank them among the most destructive "biological invasions into North America." But few could foresee the carnage that has followed.

Zebra mussels and quagga mussels filter naturally occurring botulism and other toxins from the water. Round gobies, another problematic invasive species, eat the mussels, and birds, in turn, eat the gobies.

"The evidence is there to suggest this is happening, but it's circumstantial evidence because we haven't found any proof of it," said Tom Cooley, a biologist at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "All we can really do at this point is to continue to monitor what's happening and maybe something in the lakes will turn around."

Michigan's DNR and the Common Coast Research & Conservation are among the organizations, including the USGS and the National Wildlife Health Center, studying the deadly phenomena that this year is expected to kill as many or more birds than died in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last summer.

Scientists don't know how long botulism or similar toxins have been killing birds in the Great Lakes, but the first sizable counting came in 1999, when researchers recorded 311 birds off the shores of Lake Erie. The following year, they found 8,000 around the Great Lakes and the death counts have remained in the thousands every year since.

For now, the deaths appear limited to the northern Great Lakes region, where the concentrations of mussels and birds are higher. But so little is known about the environmental factors that contribute to these deaths that scientists can't rule out large numbers of dead birds washing up along the shore closer to Chicago and western Michigan.

After two "low years" the death toll seems to have risen again this fall, Kaplan said, with perhaps as many as 50 dead birds recovered for every mile of beach. That may be because the unusually hot summer around the Great Lakes produced more algae, which feeds the mussels' population explosions. Or it may be attributed to other factors scientists haven't yet explored.

"We're still learning," Cooley said.

The die-off has devastated the populations of a number of important and protected bird species, but the discovery of many hundreds of common loons, a threatened species in Michigan, has given researchers a rallying point to draw attention and hopefully more funding to this issue, Kaplan said.

But with so much money already being spent to minimize the spread of invasive species within the Great Lakes, and recently to stop another from entering, Kaplan said he realizes this fight may be unwinnable.

"Unfortunately, we don't begin to really study an issue until we see entire systems collapse or get out of control," Kaplan said. "But that comes at a high cost."



Big cat alert after attack on sheep

by Paul Jeeves

POLICE have been alerted to reports of a big cat prowling moors in North Yorkshire after a savage attack on a sheep.

Officers from North Yorkshire Police confirmed the evidence suggests a panther-like creature could be responsible for the attack near Ravensworth, to the north of Richmond.

Flesh had been stripped from the mutilated remains of the sheep and wildlife officers from the North Yorkshire force have been liaising with experts from the Big Cats Society.

Rural crime officer Pc John Wilbor from North Yorkshire Police said: " The evidence seems to fit with a possible big cat attack.

"These animals can travel a wide area and by their nature they are very secretive."

The best known big cat supposedly roaming the wilds of Yorkshire is the so-called Black Beast of Ossett.

It was reportedly spotted in 2000 in a field near an old quarry in Coxley Valley, near Ossett.

Some experts believe a number of large felines were released by private collectors after the Dangerous Wild Animals Act came into force in the 1970s and have since bred with native cats to produce hybrids.

However, Natural England maintained earlier this year that there was no evidence of big cats roaming the countryside after probing dozens of sightings.


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Rare Arctic bird found in county as polar conditions are forecast for two weeks

FREEZING polar conditions have reached Lincolnshire – and they've brought a rare Arctic bird with them.

A grey and white speckled Arctic buzzard, drawn down from the frozen north, has created quite a stir since it was found injured near Lincoln by an RSPCA officer.

It was taken to the city's Park View Veterinary Surgery and treated before being handed over to staff at the Weirfield Wildlife Hospital in Rookery Lane, Lincoln.

The bird, more commonly known as the rough-legged buzzard, is thought to be one of only four to have been ringed in Britain.

Park View practice manager Sara Allwood said: "It certainly brought the weather with it."

Weirfield spokesman Alison Townsend said the male bird would be comfortable with the cold snap after a lifetime of dealing with freezing Arctic conditions.

She said: "I've worked with wildlife for 20 years and I have never seen one before.

"I was quite concerned that he wouldn't survive, but after a few days, he started eating.

"His leg is much better and he is ready to go again, so I will probably release him over the weekend, depending on the weather."

According to experts, the Arctic buzzard – which differs from the common buzzard by its larger size, pale colours and feathered legs – migrates from the north in autumn and could well stay in the area until next spring.

Alan Ball, British Trust for Ornithology spokesman, of Sleaford, said: "They are a rare sight in Lincolnshire and we took the chance to tag this bird as there are so few in the wild that are tracked.

"The chance of seeing the same bird again is less than 10 per cent. It really is smashing up close."

Rachel Shaw, spokesman for the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, said there had been several sightings made of the birds.

She said: "It is likely that it has been a good breeding year, but now there may be a lack of food, causing them to cross the North Sea.

"Common buzzards are found in the county in high numbers. They look very similar and can be difficult to tell apart."

The freezing temperatures are set to continue for the next two weeks, according to experts.

Helen Chivers, of the Met Office, said: "Today will see a light coating of snow and tomorrow there could be between 2cm and 5cm of snow across Lincoln city and the wider county area.

"It will drop to about -5C overnight, with widespread frosty conditions."

The cold snap comes just days after the Met Office said this year was the warmest in history.


One scientist's hobby: recreating the ice age

CHERSKY, Russia – Wild horses have returned to northern Siberia. So have musk oxen, hairy beasts that once shared this icy land with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Moose and reindeer are here, and may one day be joined by Canadian bison and deer.

Later, the predators will come — Siberian tigers, wolves and maybe leopards.

Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing these animals to the land where they once roamed in millions to demonstrate his theory that filling the vast emptiness of Siberia with grass-eating animals can slow global warming.

"Some people have a small garden. I have an ice age park. It's my hobby," says Zimov, smiling through his graying beard. His true profession is quantum physics.

Climate change is felt most sharply in the Arctic, where temperatures are warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. Most climate scientists say human activity, especially industrial pollution and the byproducts of everyday living like home heating and driving cars, is triggering an unnatural warming of the Earth. On Monday, negotiators representing 194 countries open a two-week conference in Cancun, Mexico, on reducing greenhouse gases to slow the pace of climate change.

Zimov is trying to recreate an ecosystem that disappeared 10,000 years ago with the end of the ice age, which closed the 1.8 million-year Pleistocene era and ushered in the global climate roughly as we know it.

He believes herds of grazers will turn the tundra, which today supports only spindly larch trees and shrubs, into luxurious grasslands. Tall grasses with complex root systems will stabilize the frozen soil, which is now thawing at an ever-increasing rate, he says.

Herbivores keep wild grass short and healthy, sending up fresh shoots through the summer and autumn. Their manure gives crucial nourishment. In winter, the animals trample and flatten the snow that otherwise would insulate the ground from the cold air. That helps prevent the frozen ground, or permafrost, from thawing and releasing powerful greenhouse gases. Grass also reflects more sunlight than forests, a further damper to global warming.

It would take millions of animals to change the landscape of Siberia and effectively seal the permafrost. But left alone, Zimov argues, the likes of caribou, buffalo and musk oxen multiply quickly. Wherever they graze "new pastures will appear ... beautiful grassland."

The project is being watched not only by climate scientists but by paleontologists and environmentalists who have an interest in "rewilding."

"This is a very interesting experiment," said Adrian Lister, of the Natural History Museum in London. "I think it's valid from an ecological point of view to put back animals that did formerly live there," he told AP Television News. He disapproved of suggestions to rewild nonnative species — for example, relocating elephants and rhinos to the American plains.

Zimov began the project in 1989, fencing off 160 square kilometers (40,000 acres) of forest, meadows, shrub land and lakes. It is surrounded by another 600 square kilometers (150,000 acres) of wilderness.

It is an offshoot of the Northeast Science Station, which he founded and where he has lived for 30 years. Already icebound by October, the park is 40 kilometers (25 miles) inland from the station, accessible only by boat in summer and by snow vehicles after the rivers freeze.

A 32-meter (105-foot) tower inside the park gives constant readings of methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor. The data feeds into a global monitoring system overseen by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Zimov's research on permafrost, greenhouse gas emissions and mammoth archaeology has attracted world scientists to his laboratories, a small cluster of cabins and a tiny chapel on a rocky bluff above a channel of the Kolyma River. A 20-bed barge is used for field trips in summer, and a $100,000 hovercraft is on order. Zimov sometimes uses an old Russian tank to bring supplies from the Chinese border, 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away.

Part of the station's attraction — and deterrence — is its remoteness. It is 6,600 kilometers (4,000 miles) and eight time zones east of Moscow. The nearby town of Chersky, with some 5,000 people, has few amenities, and the nearest city, Yakutsk, is a 4-1/2 flight. Many researchers, particularly Americans, prefer to work in Alaska or northern Canada, which are more accessible.

"Most of the Arctic is in Russia, and yet most of the Arctic research isn't," said Max Holmes, of Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, director of the Polaris Project, which has sent undergraduates to the station for the last three summers.

Zimov started the park with a herd of 40 Yakutian horses, a semi-wild breed with a handsomely long mane that is raised by Yakuts and other native people for their meat. Short, sturdy and broad-backed, they survive harsh Siberian winters with the help of a furry hide, thick layers of fat and the ability to paw through a meter (3 feet) of snow to forage.

Of his first herd, Zimov said 15 were killed by wolves and bears, 12 died from eating wild hemlock that grows in the park, and two slipped through the perimeter and made their way back some 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) to their original pastures.

But he bought more. Now the horses have learned to avoid poisonous plants and to resist predators. Over the last three years, more colts were born and survived than horses lost.

The challenge is to find the right balance between grazers and predators, and how to help his animals get through their first winters.

His workers still give occasional buckets of grain to the horses to supplement their diet with salt. About half the horses come regularly to the cabin where a caretaker stays year-round. The other half are rarely seen except for their tracks.

Zimov also has had problems with the moose that he brought inside his enclosure. Moose still live in small numbers in surrounding forests, and the males jump back and forth over the 6-foot-high fence.

In September he traveled to a nature reserve on Wrangel Island, about five hours by boat across the East Siberia Sea, and brought back six 4-month-old musk oxen. One died a few weeks later. The others are kept in a small enclosure and fed hay until they can fend for themselves.

His objective is to see whether a thriving population of grazing animals will regenerate grasslands that disappeared long ago, which would slow and even halt the accelerating pace of permafrost thaw. So far, he says, the results are encouraging.

Today he has 70 animals in the park. He wants thousands to restock Siberia. To bring 1,000 bison from North America would cost $1 million, Zimov says, a small price to pay.

"If permafrost melts, 100 gigatons of carbon will be released this century," he said. "What's $1 million? One regular grant."

By ARTHUR MAX, Associated Press Arthur Max, Associated Press

Fishing nations agree slim Atlantic tuna quota cut

(Reuters) - Fishing nations agreed on Saturday to a slim reduction in quotas for catching giant Atlantic bluefin tuna, whose stocks have plunged as fishermen strive to meet demand from sushi lovers.

Ignoring calls from conservation groups for deep cuts, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) said its 48 member states, meeting in Paris, had set a 2011 quota of 12,900 tones, down 600 from this year.

An Atlantic bluefin can grow to the size of a horse and fetch as much as $100,000 in markets such as Japan, but stocks have plunged by more than 80 percent since 1970s, according to western scientists.

Environmental groups said the quota fell short of what was needed to sustain healthy stock levels, noting that illegal fishing and under-reporting of catches might mean stock estimates were over-optimistic.

"Greed and mismanagement have taken priority over sustainability and common sense," WWF Mediterranean fisheries head Sergi Tudela said.

"This measly quota reduction is insufficient to ensure the recovery of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea."

The warm-blooded bluefin tuna can weigh up to 650 kg (1,433 lb) and is found in the North Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean, where big commercial fishing operations fatten captured fish in enclosures.

France, Italy and Spain catch most of the Atlantic bluefin consumed in the world and 80 percent of the haul goes to Japan.

While environmental groups lamented the cut as too little, the fishing industry said it was too much.

Serge Lazarbal, head of the bluefin tuna commission at the French Fishing Committee, said his industry would have preferred the existing quota to be retained.

The European Commission had said the catch should be cut to 6,000 tones to give the fish a real chance of recovery, but the European Union's Mediterranean members shot down that proposal even before the 10-day ICCAT meeting started on November 17.

Despite the rejection of her proposal, EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said in a statement that the meeting had made "a step in the right direction for sustainable management" of bluefin tuna.

Japan championed a crackdown on illegal fishing and under-reporting, but was cautious about whether members would follow through on tougher measures to ensure quotas are respected.

"We have to do many things (on) compliance before the fishing season starts," said Masanori Miyahara, head of the Japanese delegation.

In a move welcomed by conservation groups, ICCAT members also agreed to step up protection in the Atlantic Ocean of whitetip oceanic sharks and several species of hammerhead sharks by banning their retention when they are netted with other fish.

By Leigh Thomas


Elephant ultrasound

Elephant maternity image

November 2010. With a tiny trunk already visible, this incredible image of an elephant in utero shows George, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's new arrival, 19 months before he was born. Seen here at approximately 3 months into its 22-month pregnancy, the elephant embryo is clearly visible using 3D ultrasound scanners.

Ultrasound scans are carried out throughout the pregnancy, much like with humans, to monitor the health and well-being of mum and baby.

Now 6 months old, George weighs around 60 stone and is a boisterous member of the herd of Asian elephants at the Zoo in Dunstable, Bedfordshire.


Most Recent Loch Ness Photo (via Dale Drinnon)

by Val Sweeney

A LANDSCAPE architect working at Aldourie Castle is wondering whether he has captured the elusive figure of Nessie on camera.

Richard Preston, who has redesigned the castle grounds on the loch's southern shores, snapped the image of a mysterious three-humped object on the water.

"I am not saying it is the monster. But I don't see any reason why it cannot be some sort of a sea-going beast," Mr Preston said.

The 27-year-old Yorkshireman, who is based at Broughton Hall near Skipton, was working at the castle when something close to the opposite shore caught his attention at about 3pm. "It was a glimmer," he said. "It was like a reflection. The rest of the water was still and dark. It was quite odd."

Mr Preston snapped a series of images on his mobile camera but when he turned around, the mystery object had disappeared.

"I was gobsmacked," he said. "I have been working here for the last two or three years and have never seen anything like it."

The mystery `humps' as photographed by Richard Preston.

The photographs have raised the interest of full-time Nessie hunter Steve Feltham who lives in a former mobile library parked by Dores beach.

"I am quite excited about these photographs," he said. "To me, they are unexplained and Richard is a reliable character."

The images were taken from the grounds of the castle looking towards Lochend.

"About three-quarters of the way across, you can see what looks like three humps," Mr Feltham explained. "Initially, I thought they could be the wake of a boat. But there are several photos and the image does not move, whereas if it was a boat wake it would move along to the shore. I don't know what it is. "

Loch Ness Monster expert Adrian Shine, who runs the Loch Ness Project, described the picture as interesting but suggested it could be the reflection of the sun on the water, perhaps against a house or leaves.

{--It seems the image in the water IS EXACTLY the refection of the white building immediately above it on shore, and the second building next to it also has a reflection but it is obscured by the trees on the near shore (our side)

There were asome possibly valid "Loch Ness Monster" photos many years ago but nothing of any much substance since then. And even in the cases I am thinking of, the critics were calling "Hoax." I rember when the photos marked "Gilles" turned up on the internet several years back and in fact I had a dialogue going with both critics and promoters of the photos then (including the person who allegedly took the photos). I had no reason to doubt they were genuine and some good reasons for saying they were Plesiosaurian. Those photos were taken in 2002, within a span of a few years either way of some other Longnecked-Periscope photos. However, if there was a "Monster" in the Loch then it may have died since.


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Rare cricket halt work at Wakefield nature park

By Mark Lavery

An invading army of rare insects has brought a major conservation project at a West Yorkshire nature reserve to a grinding halt.

Volunteers were caught on the hop after spotting what at first appeared to be odd looking grasshoppers at Walton Nature Park near Wakefield.

They caught one of the critters, which was examined by a wildlife expert.

Incredibly, it was confirmed as the first short winged conehead bush cricket to be found in West Yorkshire for more than 80 years.

Now the five-year British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) scheme – to control spread of woodland and manage grassland at the park – has been set back up to a year.

The area cannot be touched until at least next summer after any cricket eggs hatch.

Wakefield Council's biodiversity officer, Paul Andrews, said: "They have not been recorded in Yorkshire for a least 15 years and the last definite sighting in West Yorkshire was in 1929.

"They are quite common on the south east coast, but they are very unusual in this part of the world."

Last year, a rare Southern Oak Bush Cricket was discovered in Denby Dale, Wakefield.

Mr Andrews said: "Because these crickets like relatively warm conditions, it may be evidence of climate warming.

"It's possible we have got a small colony as more than one was found at Walton.

"That's why we have had to stop carrying out the conservation work."

Mr Andrews continued: "It is a very important record in terms of insects and because of the possible implications of climate warming.

"Not a lot of people get excited about bush crickets, or any other insects, but it's a very unusual and exciting find." Trevor Healey, site assistant for BTCV, said: "We're used to seeing a variety of creatures but these certainly didn't look like any grasshopper I'd seen before so I thought we'd better catch one and get someone to try to identify it. I'm glad we did."

Short winged conehead bush crickets are up to 20mm long and are grass green coloured with a dark brown stripe on their backs

Alaska polar bears given 'critical habitat'

The US has designated a "critical habitat" for polar bears living on Alaska's disappearing sea ice.

The area - twice the size of the United Kingdom - has been set aside to help stave off the danger of extinction, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said.

The territory includes locations where oil and gas companies want to drill.

Environmentalists hope the designation will make it more difficult for companies to get permits to operate in the region.

"This critical habitat designation enables us to work with federal partners to ensure their actions within its boundaries do not harm polar bear populations," said Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks.

Any proposed economic activity in the area, which covers 187,000 sq miles (almost 500,000 sq km) must now be weighed against its impact on the polar bear population, Mr Strickland said in a statement.

Most of the designated habitat is sea ice and includes some of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, where the oil company Shell wants to drill.

Shell was due to start drilling in the Arctic earlier this year, until the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico brought the plans to a temporary halt. It is now aiming to start drilling in 2011.

Environmentalists welcomed the move.

"Now we need the Obama administration to actually make it mean something so we can write the bear's recovery plan - not its obituary," said Kassie Siegel from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Ms Siegel urged the US government to impose a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in bear habitat areas.

Environmentalists also want the polar bear to be listed as an endangered species. Currently the US interior department describes them as "threatened" or likely to become endangered because the sea ice on which they live and hunt is melting.


From Estonia to Poland – one of Europe’s largest predators relocated for survival

Warsaw – WWF plans to introduce lynx from Estonia into the Polish forests of Piska and Napiwodzko-Ramuckie in order to combat the declining population in the country. The first felines should be relocated by February 2011.

Bobcat numbers have been decreasing dramatically in Poland in the past 20 years resulting in the listing of the species, mainly threatened by hunting and habitat loss, in the Polish red Book of Animals in 1995.

‘The lynx’s survival is at stake in Poland. With the transfer of animals from Estonia, we hope to repopulate the forests and prevent the species from extinction in the country’ said Pawel Sredzinski, leader of the WWF Poland Lynx Campaign.

Lynx population in Poland have benefitted from a ban prohibiting hunting passed in 1995.

Although lynx are listed on the Appendix II of CITES and international trade is forbidden, illegal hunting still represents a major threat. In Estonia, it is estimated that over a hundred animals are hunted annually for their fur.

WWF started raising funds to pay for the transfers. The cost of relocating just one lynx is 10’000 Zloty, almost eight times more than the country’s minimum wage.

There are currently only 200 lynx in Poland. Most of them live in the Polish Carpathians but an estimated 60 felines live in the Piska and Napiwodzko-Ramuckich forests where the Estonia bobcats will be introduced.


Life discovered in deepest layer of Earth’s crust

Just when you thought we had discovered signs of life everywhere possible on Earth, a new expedition has revealed a complete ecosystem existing in the deepest layer of the planet’s crust.

A drilling expedition towards the Earth’s centre would mean digging through sediment, a layer of basalt, and then hit the gabbroic layer, which lies directly above the mantle.

A team led by Stephen Giovannoni of Oregon State University in Corvallis drilled down to 1391 metres, where temperatures reach 102 degrees Celsius. Here, they found communities of bacteria that were sparse but widespread, reports New Scientist.

But the type of organisms they came across was very different.

One key difference was that archaea were absent in the gabbroic layer. Also, genetic analysis revealed that unlike their upstairs neighbours, many of the gabbroic bugs had evolved to feed off hydrocarbons like methane and benzene.

This could mean that the bacteria migrated down from shallower regions rather than evolving inside the crust.

"This deep biosphere is a very important discovery," said Rolf Pedersen of the University of Bergen, Norway.

He added that the reactions that produce oil and gas abiotically inside the crust could occur in the mantle, meaning life may be thriving deeper yet.

The find is published in PLoS ONE.

Video Cat takes on two alligators

By Daniel Bird

A Louisiana cat has become a YouTube star after showing not one but two alligators who the king of the swamp really is.

With a jab that Audley Harrison would have be proud of, the feline was filmed hitting its foe with two clean swipes before the reptile retreated.

Down but not out, the alligator returned with a friend to take on the fearless feline but the cat stood its ground and delivered a swift left paw that sent the reptiles scuttling back to the swamp.

The onlookers who filmed the showdown were left stunned by the event. One can be heard saying "that cat has no fear" while another describes the attack as "unbelievable".


Animal genomes riddled with the 'skeletons' of ancient viruses

It’s time for animals - including humans - to admit that the bacteria, viruses and other microbes have won. Our bodies are home to many times more bacterial cells than animal cells and countless trillions of viruses. Ancient retroviruses make up a good size chunk of our genome. Now, scientists have discovered that most any virus can set up shop in an animal's genomes and lay dormant for millions of years.

A scan of 44 mammal genomes, plus those of several mosquito and tick vectors and two birds that could serve as reservoirs, has uncovered DNA sequences that can be traced to 10 different families of viruses, including some related to viruses that cause hepatitis B, Ebola, rabies and dengue. Most of the viral sequences are riddled with enough mutations to be considered junk, but some appear to encoding working genes co-opted by their host. The work is published online today in the journal PLoS Genetics.

It’s not obvious how all these viruses got into animal genomes. The researchers, Aris Katzourakis at the University of Oxford, UK, and Robert Gifford at Rockefeller University in New York, searched specifically for viruses that aren’t retroviruses, which are obligated to copy their DNA into hosts. Many but not all of the viruses infect their hosts persistently or replicate inside of the nucleus, however, offering ample opportunity to take up residence in the genomes of germ cells.

The work is just a first look at all the non-retroviruses in the animal genome, but Katzourakis and Gifford turned up a few interesting findings. For instance, their scan identified sequences from filoviruses, the family Ebola belongs to, in the genomes of bats, tarsiers, several rodents, opossums and even wallabies. This hints that filoviruses have a much wider host range than the primate and bat species which these viruses are known to infect.

The paper also hints at unknown ancient transmissions of viruses between hosts. The bottlenose dolphin genome, it turns out, is home to sequences of a kind of parvovirus similar to one found in birds, suggesting that the viruses may have jumped between mammals and birds in the past.

Most of these sequences are junk, so filled with mutations that they can’t make working proteins. But some of the viral sequences might do something inside their hosts. One example is a bornavirus gene called EBLN-1 that took up residence in ancient primate genomes some 50 million years ago and survives intact in many modern primates, including humans. A similar protein latches onto RNA in bornaviruses, so it might do the same in primates as part of a viral defence mechanism, Gifford speculates.

Like the ancient retroviruses locked inside animal genomes, these viruses offer a window into infections that occurred millions of years ago.

“People who are looking at the ecology of those diseases, they very much work in recent time and they have no assumptions that it’s an old system that might have evolved over billions of years,” says Gifford. "The data that we’re finding is really contradicting that and providing the first evidence that these are really old relationships between hosts and viruses, and I think it’s really critical to how we underestand them to get that context right."

San Jose Pet Store Looks To Find Homes For Over 1,000 Rats

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- An unusual rescue mission in the South Bay was underway Monday night as animal groups sought to find homes for more than a thousand rats that were discovered during the filming of a reality television show.

The population all started with one pregnant pet rat whose owner didn't separate the males and females of the litter.

The rescued rodents were brought to Andy's Pet Shop in downtown San Jose Saturday and will be featured in an upcoming episode for A&E's reality show "Hoarders."

Danville-based North Star Rescue was one of several animal groups which recently recovered the animals from a home near Palmdale where one man kept them as pets.

“The house was literally covered in rats,” said North Star Rescue founder Lauren Paul. “There were rats in every room. Hundreds in every room, so you had to walk carefully not to step on any of them.

The pet shop's extra room was covered with stacks of containers with rats inside waiting to be checked by a veterinarian.

In the last 24 hours---25 baby rats have been born at the temporary rescue shelter.

“We had three litters born last night, two the night before,” said Andy's Pet Shop manager Zoe Thoel. “So it's been nuts. Our estimate is about 1000 to 1200 without the new babies being born.”

Workers Monday wrapped cages with extra wire to prevent any rat escape.

The rats won't be up for adoption until December 5th. The shop has already received calls from as far as New York by people interested in taking on a couple of new pets.

The animals will be spayed and neutering and adopted in pairs of boys or girls.

Pictures of dead 'mermaid' in Zimbabwe?


Friday, 26 November 2010

Secrets of Sharks' Success: Flexible Scales Enable Fast Turning

ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2010) — New research from the University of South Florida suggests that one of the evolutionary secrets of the shark's success hides in one of its tiniest traits -- flexible scales on the bodies of these peerless predators that make them better hunters by allowing them to change directions while moving at full speed.

The key to this ability lies in the fact that the scales control water flow separation across the creatures' bodies, says Amy Lang of the University of Alabama who will present work she performed with her colleagues at the University of South Florida Nov. 23 at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD) annual meeting in Long Beach, CA.

Flow separation is an issue in systems like aircraft design, explains Lang, because it tends to cause vortices that impede speed and stability.

"In nature, if you look at surfaces of animals, you'll see that they are not smooth," she says. "They have patterns. Why? One common application of patterning a surface is to control flow -- think of the dimples of a golf ball that help the ball fly farther. We believe scales on fast-swimming sharks serve a similar purpose of flow separation control."

Based on experimental measurements and models of shark scales, Dr. Lang's team discovered that the bases of shortfin mako scales (literally small teeth covering their body) where they attach to the skin are not as wide as the tops of the scales. This tapered shape enables the scales to be easily manipulated to angles of 60 degrees or more, endowing them with movement called "denticle bristling."

Also, these flexible scales are only found on parts of the body where flow separation is most likely to occur, such as behind the gills on the side of the body. Denticle bristling is the probable mechanism leading to flow separation control for the shortfin mako shark.

"As we investigate further, we imagine applications of controlling flow separation in design of aircraft, helicopters, wind turbines -- anywhere flow separation is an issue," Lang adds.

This work is funded by the National Science Foundation


Kokako discovery in New Zealand

Threatened North Island Kokako have been discovered nesting in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges for the first time in 80 years.

The discovery on Tuesday of a nest is a triumph for the Ark in the Park open sanctuary, which is a project by Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand), the Auckland Council and West Auckland iwi, Te Kawerau a Maki.

“It’s fantastic news. When the Ark was started in 2003, this event would only have been in our wildest dreams,” said Forest & Bird North Island Conservation Manager Mark Bellingham.

The nesting pair, named Maurice and Kowhai by workers and volunteers in the Ark, were transferred from Pureora Forest in the King Country in September last year.

“They have been moving around as a tight pair for the last nine weeks, and Forest & Bird field staff found their nest on Tuesday,” Dr Bellingham said.

“The female, Kowhai, is incubating eggs. We expect them to hatch in the second week of December and the chicks should be off the nest and moving around by Christmas.”

Pest control is carried out throughout the 2,300 hectares in the Ark and volunteers are intensifying trapping efforts around the nest. The main threat from stoats and cats is likely to come after the chicks have hatched and start making a noise.

Forest & Bird staff and volunteers are now searching for other Kokako – a total of 22 have been transferred into the Ark.

One other pair has been together for about a month, and the female has not been seen much in recent days, so searchers want to see if she is building a nest.

The discovery of the nest follows the first transfer of six Kokako from the King Country in 2009 and this year 14 more came from the King Country and two from Tiritiri Matangi island in the Hauraki Gulf.

Kokako live for up to 40 years and it is hoped this will be the first of many breeding seasons for Maurice and Kowhai and other Kokako in the park. Dr Bellingham said it is hoped the population in the Ark will start growing in a self-sustaining way in the next three or four years.

The Ark in the Park sanctuary aims to restore some of the glory of the forest and wildlife in the Waitakere Ranges, west of Auckland. Possum control has allowed forest vegetation to recover and intensive control of rats, stoats and wild cats has led to work restoring some of the bird life in the forest.

Among other species reintroduced are whitehead, North Island robin, and hihi (stitchbird). This has been achieved with Forest and Bird volunteers putting in more than 8,000 hours a year managing biodiversity in the Ark in the Park project area.


Army ants are creators not destroyers of worlds

Army ants have a reputation for annihilating everything in their path as they march through the jungle.By Matt Walker

But the most complete study of its kind has found that army ants are creators of whole worlds, not destroyers.

More than 300 species, ranging from birds to tiny mites, depend in part on a single species of army ant for their survival, scientists have discovered.

That means army ants support a greater number of other life forms than any other known species.

This revelation about army ants is the culmination of more than 50 years of scientific research into their behaviour conducted by naturalist Carl Rettenmeyer and his wife Marian, based at the University of Connecticut, US.

Together with fellow biologists, they generated a comprehensive list of animals known to be found in the company of a single army ant species Eciton burchellii.

This New World species is one of two army ant species that sends out large swarming raiding parties above ground, and it is the only one that creates temporary bivouacs above ground in piles of brush, or inside logs or tree trunks.

Around half a million worker ants belong to a colony.

Each colony sets up home for a period of 20 days, which gives time for ant pupae and newly laid eggs to develop.

During this time, the workers send out daily raids, each time proceeding in a new direction to avoid raiding the same area twice.

Then once the eggs have hatched and the larvae have become adults, the colony becomes nomadic.

During this wandering phase, the army ant colony again raids every day, setting up bivouacs at night.

But while it is well known that army ants kill and eat numerous insects and other arthropods on their raids, less well known is how many animals actually depend on the ants for their survival.

"Only a few studies have focused on collecting army ant 'guests'," says Dr Stefanie Berghoff, who worked with the Rettenmeyers to complete the study.

Some of these "guest" or associate species, as biologists call them, are already known.

So-called antbirds, for example, follow ant raiding parties, picking up arthropods flushed out by the marauding ants.

One species of African army ant even has a snake that follows it.

But until now, no-one has recognised the huge diversity of other species that army ants support.

Carl Rettenmeyer, who died in April last year, and his wife Marian started collecting these associate species in 1952.

The research team, who continued the work after Carl's death in 2009, have now collated data from 1200 coloniesof E. burchellii ants, adding samples from 345 colonies studied by other scientists.

What they found is remarkable: 557 separate species have been recorded associating with this single type of army ant.

Of those, more than 300 are known to depend on the ants in some way for their survival.

"And I think this is only the tip of the iceberg," Dr Berghoff told the BBC.

At least 29 species of bird, including "typical" antbirds, ground antbirds and woodcreepers feed on arthropods flushed out by the ants, such as millipedes, cockroaches and stick insects, rather than the ants themselves.

At least 239 butterfly species have been seen or collected at ant swarms, feeding on bird droppings laid by birds that have been attracted by the ants, while springtails run with the army ant columns at night.

Tiny wasps buzz around the ant swarms, seeking out small spiders that flee the raiding parties. These wasps are parasitoids of the spiders, laying their eggs within them.

Thousands of blowflies, flesh flies, tachinid flies and scuttle flies accompany each swarm raid too, belonging to numerous different species.

Many appear to target dead insects or those newly killed by the ants, laying their eggs within the insect carcasses.

Such species flock to each army ant raiding party, but many others frequent refuse deposits left by the ants, or the bivouacs they live in.

Army ants create refuse deposits, or garbage dumps, which contain all the hard bits of prey items, such as insects' legs, that are inedible to them and their larvae.

However, these deposits are teeming with life.

Beetle, mite, wasp and springtail species all depend on them as a habitat and food.

Tens or hundreds of similar small creatures also survive with the bivouacs of E. burchellii.

Many of these associate species are difficult to capture and study.

Because of that, say the researchers, it is likely that many, many more species that depend on E. burchellii will remain to be identified.

"If really well studied, I would think the number of E. burchellii associates could double," says Dr Berghoff.

"It is a bit of a paradox that E. burchellii, bringing death to so many species, has this other role for such a high number of associates," she adds.

Editor, Earth News


New bird species recognised in Australia – Critically endangered

DNA uncovers one of the world's rarest birds

November 2010. A team of Australian researchers involving DNA experts from the University of Adelaide has identified a new, critically endangered species of ground parrot in Western Australia.

The team, led by Australian Wildlife Conservancy's Dr Stephen Murphy, used DNA from museum specimens up to 160 years old to reveal that populations of ground parrots in eastern and western Australia are highly distinct from each other and that the western populations should be recognized as a new species, Pezoporus flaviventris.

Only 110 Western Ground parrots left alive
"The discovery has major conservation implications," said Dr Murphy. "The Western Ground parrot has declined rapidly in the last 20 years, there are now only about 110 birds surviving in the wild and most of these are confined to a single national park. It is now one of the world's rarest birds."

Highly vulnerable
WA Department of Environment and Conservation's Dr Allan Burbidge said: "A single wildfire through the national park or an influx of introduced predators, such as cats, could rapidly push the species to extinction. There is now an urgent need to prevent further population declines and to establish insurance populations into parts of the former range."

Old museum collections are still relevant
"Our findings demonstrate that museum collections, some going back more than 150 years, continue to be relevant and can provide critical information for understanding and conserving the world's biodiversity into the future," said team member Dr Jeremy Austin, Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.

Director of CSIRO's Australian National Wildlife Collection, Dr Leo Joseph, said: "Even after 200 years of study, we are still recognizing new species of birds in Australia. This finding highlights the need for further research on Australia's unique, and sometimes cryptic, biodiversity."

The team's findings have been published this month in the international conservation research journal Conservation Genetics.

Shocking images: possums and stoats eat kea chicks

Cameras catch predators invading defenceless nests

November 2010: New evidence shows possums are eating New Zealand's native parrot, the kea. Researchers using nest-cameras have for the first time witnessed the gruesome reality inside defenceless kea nests invaded by stoats and possums in South Westland.

Brent Barrett, from the Department of Conservation, says large numbers of kea nests are failing in the wild but it is only now that camera equipment has been able to uncover what's going on.

‘We are just midway through the breeding season and of 11 nests we've had under surveillance three have been devastated by stoats and possums. That's a loss of six chicks.'

Mr Barrett said photos and videos have been posted on YouTube under the key words ‘possums eat parrots' so that people can see for themselves exactly what is going on in kea nests.

Grisly surprise to see such a prolonged and tormented death.
‘We have never been able to look at kea nests in this way before and it was a grisly surprise to see photos of a possum eating a nearly fledged kea and video showing the prolonged and tormented death of chicks attacked by stoats,' Mr Barrett said.

‘Possums have previously been filmed killing an adult kaka but until now we were completely unaware of their direct impact on kea nests,' he said. ‘This constitutes a huge risk to our lowland populations as nearly all of our nests are being visited by possums.'

Mr Barrett said it has been distressing to discover that just how long it takes chicks to die during a prolonged attack by stoats.

‘One attack lasted two-and-a-half hours with the stoat remaining in the recesses of the nest hole and repeating its assault on the two dying chicks. One chick died at the end of the torment but the other lived for 40-hours with its injuries before disappearing. The mother was also injured.'

The stoat predation footage was captured at a nest south of Fox Glacier and the possum was photographed in Okarito Forest.

This is what happens when predators are not controlled

‘The YouTube footage is unpleasant stuff to watch, but it shows what's going on in places where predators are not controlled,' Mr Barrett said.

The kea research team is monitoring nests in the Okarito Forest and in the area from the Copland Valley to the Paringa River, south of Fox Glacier. These areas are steep and thickly forested making it difficult to track wild kea and carry camera equipment and large batteries around in.

‘We are all relieved that the effort is worth it, but saddened by the graphic nature of what we have found,' Mr Barrett said.

Researchers are also monitoring trees for signs of excessive fruiting which would trigger a chain of events starting with a rat plague and ending with a plague of stoats.

‘We are still in the process of gathering this information, but at the moment it looks like we may have a moderate rimu fruiting coming up,' Mr Barrett said.


Record number of whales slaughtered in the Faroe Islands

More than 1,000 so far this year

November 2010: A total of 1,115 pilot whales have been brutally slaughtered in the Faroe Islands so far this year, making it the largest kill of any whale species in the world.

Environmental and animal welfare organisations are deeply concerned about the escalation of these hunts, as more whales have been killed in 2010 than in any year since 1996 - and even more may be killed before the end of the year. The average annual catch for the past ten years has been 627 pilot whales.

Despite Government claims to the contrary, Faroese TV footage clearly shows that the brutal methods used to kill the whales have not improved and are likely to inflict appalling suffering on the whales - and as these shocking stills show, the slaughter is literally turning the sea red.

'Killing these intelligent, social whales results in shocking cruelty'
Joanna Toole, Marine Mammals Programmes Manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals, said: ‘The chaos of killing large groups of these intelligent, social whales inevitably results in shocking cruelty. A highly modern community killing more than 1,100 whales in this way is completely unacceptable.'

The Faroese authorities have given no indication as to why so many whales have been killed this year.

During the past two decades, extensive research, led by Dr Pál Weihe of the Faroese Department of Public and Occupational Health, has been undertaken into the impact on the health of Faroese consumers of contaminants including mercury and PCBs which are found in pilot whale meat and blubber.

In August 2008, Dr Weihe and Faroese chief medical officer Dr Høgni Debes Joensen issued a statement recommending that pilot whale no longer be used for human consumption due to the significant threat it poses.

The Faroese Government has said it is in the process of evaluating these findings, but in the meantime has recommended that consumers be guided by dietary advice it issued in 1998 - that only one or two pilot whale meals a month should be consumed, and women who are or may become pregnant, or are breast-feeding, should refrain from eating any pilot whale at all.

The equivalent of 11kg meat for every islander
Jennifer Lonsdale, Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said: ‘Hunts in 2010 have produced about 550 tonnes of pilot meat and blubber for the 49,000 islanders. This equates to 11kg for every islander, including babies - almost 1kg per month per person. This is about five times 1998's supposedly safe consumption recommendations, and it completely ignores the more recent warning not to eat pilot whale at all.'

Since many people, including infants and some mothers, do not consume pilot whale meat and many others are unable to obtain it, some people will inevitably be consuming much higher amounts.

By allowing these hunts to continue, the Faroese Government is callously ignoring both this proven threat to the health of its citizens and the unchecked cruelty inflicted on the whales


Dinosaur Die-Off Cleared Way for Gigantic Mammals (Courtesy of Ken House)

*Lauran Neergaard*

WASHINGTON http://www.aolnews.com/tag/washington
(Nov. 25) - They just needed some leg room:
New research shows the great dinosaur die-off made way for mammals to explode in size - some more massive than several elephants put together.

The largest land mammal ever: A rhinoceros-like creature, minus the horn, that stood 18 feet tall, weighed roughly 17 tons and grazed in forests in what is now Eurasia. It makes the better known woolly mammoth
seem a bit puny.

Tracking such prehistoric giants is more than a curiosity: It sheds new light on the evolution of mammals as they diversified to fill habitats left vacant by the dinosaurs.

Within 25 million years of the dinosaurs' extinction - fast, in geologic terms - overall land mammals had reached a maximum size and then leveled off, an international team of scientists reports Friday in the journal
Science http://www.aolnews.com/category/science. And while different species on different continents reached their peaks at different points in time, that pattern of evolution was remarkably similar worldwide.

"Evolution can happen very quickly when ecology permits," said paleoecologist Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico http://www.aolnews.com/tag/new-mexico/, who led the research. "This is really coming down to ecology allowing this to happen."

Anyone who frequents natural history museums knows that the end of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago ushered in the age of mammals, and that some of them were gigantic. But the new study is the first comprehensive mapping of these giants in a way that helps explain how and why their size evolved.

"We didn't have a clear idea of how the story went after the extinction of the dinosaurs," explained Nick Pyenson, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, who wasn't involved
with the new research.

Previous theories suggested that species diversity drove increases in size, but the new study didn't find that connection.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

New 'dog only' beer hits shelves

Ever sat in a bar and thought ‘I wish just once my dog could join me in a casual beer?’ Us neither, but clearly it’s a problem for someone as a Dutch brewer has started producing beer for the as yet untapped pooch market.

Dog Beer is made from a special blend of beef extracts and malt, giving dogs that clean, crisp lager taste while adding some meaty goodness.

A spokesman for the brewers said: ‘It is a beer for your best friend.

‘For large dogs we would recommend one bottle a day and for things like a Chihuahua... well, they prefer shorts.’

The brew is of course, non-alcoholic.

Dog owner Wiktor Piotrowski was among one of the first to buy the product when it was released on Poland this week.

After enjoying some frosty suds with his pet he said: ‘My dog loves it. Now when we go for a walk we can both go to the pub


Novice angler catches monster halibut worth £25,000

Hansel took more than two hours to reel in the 2.5m (8ft 2in) monster of the deep off Bolungarvik, in Iceland’s Western Fjords, where it took five men to eventually haul the 970-portion fish on board.

‘This is the fish I have been fishing for all my life,’ said the 70-year-old German.

He used a 30lb line and a plastic lure to snare the halibut. Once he got it alongside their boat, a rope was tied around its tail so it could be hoisted on to the deck.

Herbert Loechel, managing director of the fishing tour operator, said: ‘After the bite, we had to worry that Gunther would land the fish. It took him 135 minutes.

‘But the boat’s crew helped hoist the giant fish, with more anglers on board to help, on to the boat.

‘Back at port, the giant fish was celebrated vigorously.’

The mighty fish has broken all records – beating the previous best by 8.2kg (18lb). The earlier record was held by anglers Bosse Carlsson and Hans-Olov Nilsson, weighing 210kg (464lb), caught off Norway in July 2009.

Atlantic halibut are native to the northern Atlantic ocean, from Greenland to the Barents Sea and as far south as the Bay of Biscay.

They can reach up to 5m (15ft) in length, weigh up to 320kg (700lb) and can live for 50 years.

Commercial fishing of the Atlantic variety has largely collapsed since overfishing led to it being registered as endangered in 1996


Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/848168-novice-angler-catches-monster-halibut-worth-25-000#ixzz16JOSCa9g

24' crocodile lurks in river in Normanton, pastor says

Pastor reveals crocodile paw prints

Tipped to belong to 8m monster croc "Pretty much the biggest they've ever seen"

Krys the Crocodile at Normanton is purportedly a life-size model of Australia's biggest-known crocodile, which was killed in the 1950s and reportedly measured 8.6m / AAP Source: AAP

A footprint being measured at 25cm (10 inches) on the Norman River at Normanton, Queensland / AAP Source: AAP

A footprint being measured at 25cm (10 inches) on the Norman River at Normanton, Queensland / AAP Source: AAP

A PASTOR says he has evidence that an 8m croc lurks in a river in Queensland's Gulf country.

Pastor Elton Thompson said he took pictures of slide marks from the crocodile last Wednesday on the Norman River at Normanton.

"I haven't actually seen the crocodile but it was the slide marks that was left behind,'' Pastor Thompson said.

He said he took his measuring tape down to the bank.

It's paw imprint spanned 25cm, and some claw marks went into the mud 2.5cm deep.

It measured 1m between its two back feet.

"We're predicting the croc is 1.5m to 2m across its girth,'' he said.

"There's a possibility that the croc is 8m.''

Normanton is famous for its love affair with crocs.

An 8.64m alleged replica of a croc shot in the area in the 1950s sits proudly on the town's main street.

Pastor Thompson said the latest find is just as big.

"It's a big croc,'' he said.

"A few people have seen it in water. They're all saying it's about that size, if not bigger. It's pretty much the biggest croc they've ever seen.''

Crocodiles are regularly seen in the Gulf country and Pastor Thompson said locals aren't spooked.

"It doesn't bother anyone. There are crocs in the rivers up here everywhere. It is part of the country.''

Strange animal caught after eight-hour hunt


Luanda - A strange animal that caused panic among people at Luanda's Hoji-ya-Henda road, district of Rangel for about eight hours was eventually caught at 05 pm by a team from Fire Department, Angop learnt.

The panic started when the animal that had never been seen before was spotted on a Hoji-ya-Henda road tree.Due to its strange characteristics, the animal caused panic and traffic jam.

The animal is under care of the Fire Department.

Shennongjia releases micrographs of unknown animal's hair (via Chad Arment)

November 25, 2010

The Shengnongjia National Nature Reserve has released the micrographs of unknown animal hair on its website on Nov. 22.
The micrographs show that the hair of the unknown animal is very different from human hair and horse tail hair. Therefore, the exact origin of the hair is worth studying.

The micrographs that have been released are from the molecular lab under the Research Institute of Shennongjia National Nature Reserve. Using a microscope, Piao Jinlan, a researcher from the molecular lab, observed the unknown hair samples, which included black and light brown hair, and translucent cream-colored hair from the area where locals originally found the unknown hair.

She also used horse tail hair taken from a ski field located in southern Shennongjia and women's hair as references to compare her findings.

Researchers spent nearly half a day to compare the hairs and their observable internal structures and agreed that they cannot determine whether the unknown hair is human hair or horse tail hair.

Although Piao has been using and looking through microscopes for a long time, the microscopic images of this unknown animal hair still surprised her.

However, she believes that a further in-depth analysis is still needed, with more scientific technical means to make a qualitative conclusion. The local nature conservation sectors said they will not rule out adopting any openly suggested scientific identification methods in order to determine the source of the unknown animal hair as early as possible and to unveil the mystery of the unknown animal.


Chinese "Wild Man" Hair

Local people think hair of unidentified creature could be from "Wild Man"

Global Times
November 23 2010

The Shennongjia Nature Reserve in Hubei province has examined a strand of hair which it has not managed to identify, prompting local people to speculate that it may belong to the "Wild Man" – China's own Bigfoot.

Piao Jinlan, a researcher at the reserve, said that scientists need to continue their tests before they can identify the species.

The hair is said to be thicker than human hair and thinner than horsetail hair, and the reserve posted a photo on its website on November 22.

More than 400 people have claimed to have seen the half-man, half-ape "Wild Man" in the area in the last 100 years.

Witnesses describe the creature as walking upright, more than 2 meters tall and with grey, red or black hair all over its body.

An investigative team was set up in 2009 and started a large-scale search for the mysterious creature in Shennongjia this year.
Related Posts with Thumbnails