Sunday, 31 January 2010

Big Foot filmmaker sets sights on Humboldt

RIGHT: Photo still from Roger Patterson's infamous film of 1967.

Franklin Stover, Humboldt Beacon
Posted: 01/27/2010 02:40:02 PM PST

A resident of Nevada City, Calif., William Barnes is a modern-day explorer whose strong sense of wonder fuels his drive to uncover age-old mysteries that have haunted humankind for centuries.

While some have written off Big Foot as a corny hoax after the Roger Patterson film of 1967 was widely discredited, many go on in search of the allusive man-beast, undetered in their quest for cryptozoological truth.

Having seen the creature with his own two eyes, Barnes is convinced there is something to the stories, and is determined to set out in July to capture photographic proof of the creature. To help rally support around the investigation, Barnes set up a website (www.bigfoot24-7.com) and described his search as “the most penetrating search for Sasquatch/Bigfoot ever conducted in North America.”

From his website, Barnes wrote, “As a weekend goldminer in Northern California, I had such a creature walk up to my tent, so close I could have touched it, and then walk past me and up the side of the hill. Since that night by the creek, I have pondered for years, about how one could be filmed for any length of time, and how it could be studied in it's own safe habitat.”

When Barnes arrives in mid-July, he will be focusing on areas that have a history of sightings, “including the area around the Klammath River, and yes, I would be using historical sighting maps and documentation that has been deemed credible. I would not stop in one place for long durations, since there have been many sightings on the entire West Coast,” Barnes explained.

Barnes added that a great deal of preparation would be in order to make the study possible. “I would want residents of each area I plan to be in, to know what the blimp is doing there. It would be unfortunate if a pot grower, who didn't understand my intentions, shot down my expensive blimp.”

And yes, Barnes plans on using a unique, one-of-a-kind 35-foot blimp that will hover over areas of special interest.

”Mine is being custom-made for the job it has to do. It is a remote control and is being made to go up to five hours fly time,” Barnes said. Meanwhile, his RV will act as a control center during the flyover and film investigation.

Barnes explained that it took him roughly 12 years to develop his unique method of filming Big Foot in the wild. Christened the “Falcon Project,” Barnes said that he is “the first person ever to do it this way.” Not going into great detail to reveal his procedures, Barnes said that his system is all run by electric, and all high-tech. “I can see up to 2,200 feet in the dark, and this will be almost all night work.”

Barnes acknowleges that films can be easy to fake, especially short ones. His plan therefore, is to film a documentary following the building of the blimp, installation of infrared cameras, and volunteers at work.

”The thermal-imaging cameras are the newest in today's technology, and are the same as the ones being used by the military. The infrared camera can portray an image in the dark, as clearly as though it were in daylight,” Barnes added.

To assist Barnes in the endeavor, the Big Foot stalker will employ a five-person crew who will be alert to the creature's presence around the clock.

Not afraid of skeptics or naysayers, Barnes explained that the reason why his project was concieved is to prove that the creature is real, and is not something fabricated to sell books and movies.

”Because it is controversial, human curiousity drives us to investigate further. Think about this: why do people buy tabloids in grocery stores, and why do celebraties allow their "secrets" to be exposed? Human curiousity.”

Barnes ended by saying that he would like our readers to know that his story isn't “just a myth or publicity stunt.”

Other areas of interest to Barnes include Oregon, Washington, Texas, Arkansas, and Florida. (In Florida, there is a regional creature known as the Skunk Ape.)

The search for Big Foot will surely incur a Yeti-sized price tag, so Barnes is also in search of fellow believers and investors “who are as interested in discovering this elusive creature as I am. There is also a need for volunteers, hobbyists, and financial backers.”

Eddie Diaz is a team member of the Falcon Project, and added that he has always been interested in the Big Foot phenonomen.

”I was told of a theory along with the Bearing Strait. That Humans were not able to cross due to two factors, a Sasquatch like beast and a big cat with a saber tooth,” Diaz said.

”Those closed-minded folks are entitled to their opinions. What really intrigues me, and I bring up the question. How is it they all have steered away from people. A secret society that knows that if one is caught, there lives will change forever. Maybe they learned by watching their neighbors the Native American Indian vanish when they mingled with the whites. Lots of questions. And should we leave them alone for that reason alone?”

According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (www.bfro.net/), a total of 416 sightings in California have been reported since people began seeing the hirsute ape-men. Although last year, it seems that the creature took a respite from Humboldt County, as more recent sightings have been reported in Del Norte, Kern, and Shasta counties than anywhere else lately.

http://www.humboldtbeacon.com/ci_14280252
(Submitted by Lindsay Selby)

New species of Papua New Guinea frog changes colour

Friday, 29 January 2010
By Jody Bourton
Earth News reporter

PICTURED: All change for the Papua New Guinea frog (left: a young frog and right: an older member of the same species)

A new species of frog undergoes a remarkable transformation as it grows into an adult, report scientists.

Shiny black juvenile frogs with yellow spots dramatically change into peach coloured adults with bright blue eyes.

Scientists discovered the unique frog in a remote part of south-eastern Papua New Guinea.

The bright pattern of the young frog could act as a warning to predators, they say, but it is a mystery why the adult then loses this colour.

The scientists from Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, US, report their findings in the journal Copeia.

Amphibian species come in a range of colours and patterns, from the brightly patterned poison dart frogs to the plainer greens of the common toad.

After metamorphosising from a tadpole, some frogs change in colour as they get older.

However, it is unknown for juveniles and adults of a species to have strikingly different colour and pattern schemes.

The research team came across the new species of frog Oreophryne ezra while on a expedition to find new species on Sudest Island, Louisiade Archipelago, off the south-eastern tip of New Guinea.

Of the new species they found, the frog particularly caught their attention.

"It's always exciting to discover a species you know to be new. However, the obviously unusual biology of this frog made its discovery especially exciting," says Dr Fred Kraus who along with Dr Allen Allison undertook the study.

"The remarkable thing about this frog is the drastic nature of its change in colour pattern as it matures from a tiny froglet into adulthood," Dr Kraus says.

As a juvenile the frog is dark black with yellow spots and black eyes but then switches to a uniform peach colour with blues eyes.

"This raises the question of what possible function the striking colours of the juveniles might serve," says Dr Kraus.

Juveniles closely resemble the general appearance of some of the poison dart frogs from the tropics.

Like these frogs, the colouration could serve as a warning to potential predators.

Although untested, the frog may also have harmful toxins in its skin like those present in poison dart frogs.

Poison dart frogs have skin that contains harmful alkaloids acting as a chemical defence against predation.

"If this is the case this would make this species another instance of the independent evolution of such a system," says Dr Kraus.

The behaviour of the frog also points to the idea that its colour advertises that it is toxic.

The researchers write how the juvenile frogs perch in conspicuous places during daylight hours and also demonstrated a lack of a well developed escape behaviour, indicating that they have another form of defence.

One aspect that cannot be explained is if the colour offers protection to the juvenile, why does the frog then change its colour scheme as it ages to one that offers no protection.

For now this poses further questions for the researchers.

"No other such instance is known in frogs," Dr Kraus says.

"If it does serve as protective warning colouration, the reason for its loss remains a mystery."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8483000/8483739.stm

Bleak future for randy owl whose midnight hoots are ruffling a few feathers

5:15pm Thursday 28th January 2010

HE’S the sex starved owl that’s ruffled the feathers of his neighbours with his late night mating calls.

But the future looks bleak for the horny tawny after complaints from nearby residents forced council chiefs to order an end to his midnight hoots.

Now Twixx faces being put down if his owner Wendy Whitfield cannot find him a new home.

The 12-year-old bird of prey is kept in a cage at the bottom of Wendy’s garden in Hedge End, but it backs on to a small block of flats.

The residents there are being kept awake by the randy bird’s noises after his head was turned by a wild owl that comes to visit.

The flat owners could take it no more and complained to Eastleigh council which ordered Wendy to remove Twixx or face a £5,000 fine.

See video at: http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/4878740.Bleak_future_for_randy_owl_whose_midnight_hoots_are_ruffling_a_few_feathers/
(Submitted by Mark North)

How to whip up the perfect frothy frog 'meringue' nest

Friday, 29 January 2010
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

Scientists have revealed how frogs perform the architectural feat of building floating foam nests.

These meringue-like structures, which help the amphibians protect their young, are renowned for their stability under the harshest of conditions.

Now, by filming Tungara frogs, researchers have found that they are built using a meticulously timed, three-stage construction process.

The research is published in the Royal Society's journal Biology Letters.

The team says that knowing more about how the foam is created could help scientists create "bio-foams" for use in medical applications, such as treating injuries at the scenes of accidents.

Floating fortresses

Tungara frogs, like many frogs species, create foam nests to protect their young as they mature from eggs to tadpoles.

But while these floating refuges look delicate, as if they could collapse into the pond they sit upon at any moment, they are in fact remarkably sturdy.

Malcolm Kennedy, an author of the paper, from the University of Glasgow, said: "These are exposed to full sunlight, high temperatures, all kinds of infections, including parasitic ones, and yet they survive for four days without any damage, until the tadpoles leave - or if there aren't any eggs, they'll last for two weeks.

"And unlike other foams, they do not damage the membranes of eggs and sperm. They are a remarkable biological material.

"But until now, we did not now quite how the frogs used these material and made the foams."

To find out more, the research team went to Trinidad in the West Indies to train their cameras on amorous pairs of Tungara frogs (Engystomops pustulous).

By studying the footage, frame by frame, the researchers found that the small brown amphibians whipped up their nests in several phases.

Professor Kennedy explained: "In order to begin, the male sits on the back of the female, and puts his legs underneath her legs, to collect a foam-precursor fluid."

The male frog then begins to whip this up, mixing in air bubbles by vigorously kicking his legs. He does this in short bursts, gradually increasing this "mixing" duration each time.

"This overcomes some of the biophysical problems; if he mixes for too long in the beginning, then this would disperse the fluid and it wouldn't make a foam at all," said Professor Kennedy.

Like clockwork

In this first phase, this frothy bubble raft contains no eggs. But as the male moves on to stage two of construction, he gradually begins to blend in eggs, provided by the female, who is all the while sitting beneath him. He carefully manoeuvres the eggs into the centre of the foam.

As the male does this, the length of time that he spends mixing and resting remains exactly the same.

Professor Kennedy says: "They do this about 200 times - they are a bit like clockwork at this stage.

"Eventually they build this 'meringue'."

Finally, in the "termination stage", the frog starts to slow down; the period between each mixing session gradually increases until finally the nest is complete.

The team believes that understanding this nest building process could help us to create a similar foam in the laboratory.

Professor Kennedy said: "This material is resistant to bacterial and microbial damage - and if you could make a spray can that could produce this, it could potentially be used on burn victims, for example, because it would prevent them from infection, but it doesn't damage cells."

See video at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8481102.stm

My encounter with a tokoloshe

Posted By Mduduzi Mathuthu on 15 Apr, 2009 at 12:25 am


EVER come face to face with a tokoloshe? Well, I have. If it was that anyway!

I was young, but I remember enough. It was following my grandfather’s death, sometime in 1991.

Some members of the family who thought my grandfather’s 80 years or so were not a good length for life on earth suggested that a “prophet” should be called in to solve the “mystery” of his death.

All members of our extended family gathered at our home deep in rural Filabusi. It was night and we had gathered the cattle early that day and secured them in their kraal and waited for the special visitor who duly arrived.

Our holy man wore a white garment, with a blue cross on the front and back. He carried a walking stick - perhaps the equivalent of the flying broomsticks in Harry Potter movies.

He began by saying “kulento” (”there is a thing”) that claimed my grandfather’s life, and it would strike again unless it was stopped.

Those were chilling words, carefully armed with enough urgency and threat to even make those who were not taken in by this inquisition stand up and listen.

After some brief rituals — he said it was a prayer — and with a start, he was out of the hut where everyone had gathered. He ran to the middle point of our home as we followed in frightened anticipation.

Then as sudden as he left the hut, he shouted “nankuya!” (”there it is”) and he was away, running straight for a three-roomed house, and into the bedroom of one of our domestic workers. You should have seen the blank stares on the faces of those gathered!

Here he was, our prophet, telling us all about a creature that none apart from him could see. And worse, this mysterious “thing” seemed to be running pretty fast and flying through closed doors and into people’s bedrooms!

Never have I put my faith in one man as I did that day. He had to chase it down, find it and kill it or I would not be sleeping at home that day - or any other day for that matter.

As we followed into the room, he headed straight for the wardrobe where his magic stick was brought into play, prodding and beating around the poor wardrobe. More “nanku’s” (”here it is”) and “nankuyana’s” (”there it is”) followed as our hero, throwing caution to the wind, used his bare hands to catch the “killer” creature.

Finally, he shouted: “I got it.”

We all gathered, scared and weak. Then we all saw “it”.

I swear, he could have demanded 10 cows at that point and he would sure have got them.

In front of us was this “thing”, perhaps the size of a TV remote control. I think I saw it breathing, before the “prophet” told us he was ending its life by pouring “holy water” over it.

The overall demand was that the “thing” must be dismembered so we all see what it really was. From the outside, it was a body of colourful rags, all tied around a firmer inside.

Slowly, the “prophet” stripped the layers off, explaining as he did that the “thing” lived on sucking blood.

Finally, he came to the heart of the object and I saw a lot of fat around it, and some fresh blood coming out of what perhaps was a wound inflicted by our holy man.

The thing took some two hours to fully burn, the fat almost putting out the fire which had been especially lit some 100m from the home.

The prophet would put up at our home that day, perhaps to ensure he deals with any reinforcements that might be deployed by the “thing’s” owner.

A cleansing ritual followed in which we were made to bath in “umswane wembuzi” (”waste from the stomach of a slaughtered goat”). The ritual was conducted behind some rocks and we were instructed not to look back, or the “thing” would return. I later heard the “prophet” had got all the goat meat as none of us could eat it, or… yes, you guessed it, that little blood-sucking monster would return!

This little story was inspired by the curious case of the Hwange women who say they were victims of a sex-crazed tokoloshe which left them exhausted after nocturnal sex romps with them.

I don’t know what to make of their story, just as I don’t know what to make of my story.

A bit of me thinks it was all a fraud because I am convinced my grandfather died because his time had come, and not because he had been sucked dry by some fat creature.

And yet another part of me believes there is an undiscovered science in Africa which, if used positively, could really help us all.

http://www.newzimbabwe.com/blog/?p=516
(Submitted by T. Peter Park)

Saturday, 30 January 2010

World's ugliest dog

A pedigree Chinese crested dog has won the title of the World's Ugliest Dog for the third year running.

Sam's right eye is red from cataracts while his left is blind white.

A few whiskers sprout from skin littered with warts and moles and he's lost a few teeth over the years.

But owner Susie Lockheed, 53, insists her Sam is a real beauty - and finds it very strange that people think he's ugly.

The 14-year-old won his title at a fair near her home in Santa Barbara, California.

http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_1503455.html
(Submitted by Corinna Downes)

Seals killed and beheaded in Northeast England

19/01/2010 11:28:09

RSPCA investigates after seals found beheaded January 2010. The bodies of five grey seals have been found on a north-east beach, three of which had been decapitated. The seals were all juveniles, the oldest of which is thought to have been no more than a year old and the youngest just a few weeks. It is not yet known if the seals were killed there, or have washed ashore having been killed elsewhere.

The RSPCA is investigating the grim discovery made by a passer-by at Whitley Bay, North Tyneside on 11 January.

RSPCA acting chief inspector Mark Gent said: "Obviously this was a very upsetting thing to come across and has caused a lot of distress to the person who found them. These were very young animals, one of them was what's often described as a ‘white coat' and was just a few weeks old. Clearly they haven't died of natural causes and we are very concerned. We want to hear from anyone who knows anything that might help us in our investigation as soon as possible."

One of the seals was tagged. Investigations by the RSPCA have found that it was part of a study into the survival and reproductive success of seals conducted by the Sea Mammal Research Unit, St Andrews, Fife.

Seals are protected under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c) Regulations 1994 (as amended).

Anyone with any information should call the RSPCA cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 and ask to leave a message for ACI Gent.

Source not supplied.
(Submitted by David Curtis)

Will 'Bownessie' be found in Windermere?

2:56pm Thursday 21st January 2010

By Gazette Newsdesk

A SECOND investigation is being planned to find Windermere’s legendary monster after video evidence previously recorded “something big”.

A team of experts, led by Dean Maynard, claimed to have filmed their best ever video evidence of ‘Bownessie’ during their first attempt.

The evidence featured on Sky News, which has prompted the team to investigate the lake again.

The original footage and other highlights will feature on the ITV show ‘The Lakes’ on March 1, with the team’s efforts starting five days afterwards.

“We all firmly believe that something very big is in Windermere,” said Mr Maynard. “What is it? Well, we are hoping to find that out.”

http://www.thewestmorlandgazette.co.uk/news/4864441.Will__Bownessie__be_found_in_Windermere_/
(Submitted by Mark North)

Friday, 29 January 2010

Panda cubs settle in at Shanghai Zoo

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Metro Herald Ireland, 29 January 2010, p10.
Metro, 29 January 2010, p14.

The day divers swam with a crocodile and lived to tell the tale

Click to enlarge
Metro Herald Ireland, 29 January 2010, p8.
Also: Metro, 29 January 2010, pp26-27.

Croc sharks in - what's Jaws is mine

NICK CALACOURAS
January 29th, 2010

FIVE fishermen have fought off a hungry crocodile to defend a prized shark caught on a Territory beach.

A video of the daring battle was posted on YouTube last month by the Cape Don Barramundi Fishing Lodge.

It shows one angler snagging the shark from a boat while one of his mate comments: "Here we go. Another shark is attacking him".

He wrestles with the shark for several minutes before the boat is brought ashore.

As the fisho reels the shark on to the beach, the group's guide catches it with a gaff and drags it on to the sand.

But the boys soon found they had competition for their prize catch.

A three-metre croc silently swam up to the shore and launched itself towards the captured shark.

Before the croc managed to make a meal out of the shark, the group's guide stepped forward and whacked him on the head.

Defeated, the croc returned to the water, while the victorious fishermen cautiously posed for a photo.

http://www.ntnews.com.au/article/2010/01/29/119351_ntnews.html

New dinosaur discovery solves evolutionary bird puzzle

Thursday, 28 January 2010

By Doreen Walton
Science reporter, BBC News

A newly discovered fossil has shed light on why a group of dinosaurs looks like birds, say scientists.

Haplocheirus sollers may not be as charismatic as T. rex or as agile as a pterodactyl but it's thought to solve a long standing puzzle.

Researchers believe its short arms and large claw show how bird-like dinosaurs evolved independently of birds.

The 3m-long skeleton, found on an expedition to China's Gobi desert, is described in the journal Science.

The fossil is a member of the Alvarezsauridae family, a group of bird-like dinosaurs. The group shares features with birds, including fused wrist elements and a loosely structured skull.

But the researchers say the new fossil shows the Alvarezsauridae group split from birds much earlier on the evolutionary tree than was thought.

"Haplocheirus is a transitional fossil," Jonah Choiniere from George Washington University told the BBC.

"Previously we thought the Alvarezsauridae were primitive, flightless birds. This discovery shows they're not and that the similarities between them evolved in parallel."

The fossil is of a nearly complete adolescent dinosaur skeleton and was found in orange mudstone beds in the Junggar Basin, Xinjiang, China.

It was spotted when a member of the team noticed the pelvis at the ground's surface. The rest of the skeleton was found only inches down.

The new dinosaur shows an early evolutionary step in the development of the short, powerful arm typical to the Alvarezsauridae group.

"The rest of the members of this group have really short forelimbs with huge muscle attachments, like body-builder arms. The fossil shows the first step in the evolution of this weird arm and claw," said Mr Choiniere.

Varied diet

The researchers believe the fossil shows development of the two diverged in the Late Jurassic period, about 160 million years ago. Until now there was no evidence of this type of dinosaur living at that time.

"It's like finding a great, great grandfather in your family which doubles the age of your family tree," said Mr Choiniere.

Scientists believe that birds descended from theropods or bird footed dinosaurs in the Late Jurassic. Theropods include alvarezsaurs, other bird-like dinosaurs including the well known Velociraptor, meat eaters like T. rex and modern birds.

Haplocheirus sollers means simple, skillful hand. The fossil shows the dinosaur had small teeth and researchers believe the claw may have been used for digging termites.

"It may have had a very general diet, tackling smaller animals like lizards, very small mammals and very small crocodile relatives," explained Mr Choiniere. "It was a lightly built animal and could run very quickly."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8485263.stm
(Submitted by Lindsay Selby)

Sex and the Single Snail

Study shows benefits of sexual reproduction over asexual.

By Fariss Samarrai
28 January 2010

Why have sex?

That is one of the big questions in evolutionary biology.

Sexual reproduction is a high-energy endeavor, requiring, often, the quest for a mate, the actual act of sex, and the carrying of offspring (almost always by the females).

Why not reproduce asexually? Many organisms do, though most of them are single-celled bacteria and other simple life forms. Still, some multicellular organisms also reproduce asexually, including many plants, insects, some reptiles, various mollusks and a few fishes.

This highly efficient mode of reproduction is a low-energy endeavor, requiring no search for a mate, no sexual act, and sometimes, no carrying of offspring. It also allows rapid and abundant proliferation, since all members of that population are female and able to produce offspring.

So, yes, why have sex?

The prevailing theory is that sexual reproduction, which requires two genders, allows genetic intermingling that overall is very good for both the individuals and the species as a whole.

Asexual reproduction, on the other hand, is largely static, where each offspring is genetically identical to every other. This allows for the ongoing accumulation and replication of harmful mutations and little room for adaptation to rapidly changing environments, such as the introduction or quick proliferation of a pathogen. This could, in the long run, lead to extinction of the species.

A new study, by researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Iowa, published currently in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, provides additional credence to this understanding.

“We demonstrated that sexual reproduction allows organisms to clean deleterious mutations from their genome,” said U.Va. biology professor Doug Taylor, who co-authored the study. “Asexual reproduction does indeed allow for the accumulation of deleterious mutations.”

Taylor and his colleagues at Iowa sequenced the entire mitochondrial DNA of multiple sexual and asexual lineages of a species of snail, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, which has sexual and asexual individuals living side-by-side in lakes in New Zealand.

They found that the sexually reproducing variety accumulates harmful mutations in DNA at about half the rate of the asexual lineage. This does not mean that mutations occur at a slower rate, but that, when mutations do occur, they are cleaned from the genome twice as fast in the sexual lineage.

“Asexual lineages suffer from the fact that they can’t clean the mutations from the genome—that’s the theory,” Taylor said. “And we found that, indeed, the sexual lineages are able to purge the genome of their deleterious mutations much more effectively than the asexual lineages.”

Taylor said the finding might be a profound demonstration, at the genetic level, for why sexual reproduction exists in the first place.

Taylor and his colleagues looked for mutations in the snails’ mitochondrial genome, in part because the mitochondrial genome is small and evolves rapidly in most animals. However, the mitochondrial genome is also where many mutations are known to affect the overall health of the full organism.

Underlying genetic disorders in the mitochondria are believed to cause many diseases affecting organisms, such as—in humans—Parkinson’s disease, premature aging, optic neuropathies and muscular degenerative disorders.

http://news.clas.virginia.edu/x16422.xml
(Submitted by T. Peter Park)

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Liger who enjoys tourist attractions right in her own pad

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Metro Herald Ireland, 28 January 2010, p3.

Blobfish has 1,300 fans on Facebook

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Metro Herald Ireland, 28 January 2010, p2.

China to outlaw the eating of cats and dogs?

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Metro Herald Ireland, 28 January 2010, p10.

Dinosaur had ginger feathers

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News

Meet Sinosauropteryx, a very spiky little dinosaur.

A team of scientists from China and the UK has now revealed that the bristles of this 125-million-year-old dinosaur were in fact ginger-coloured feathers.

The researchers say that the diminutive carnivore had a "Mohican" of feathers running along its head and back. It also had a striped tail.

The team revealed details of the dinosaur's coloured feathers in an article published on Nature's website.

The team began by studying the fossilised remains of a bird, Confuciusornis, which also lived during the early cretaceous period.

Confuciusornis' feathers were preserved in extraordinarily complete fossils that were recently discovered in northern China.

Using a powerful electron microscope to look inside the feathers, researchers were able to see microscopic structures called melanosomes, which, in life, contain the pigment melanin.

"Melanin is what gives colour to human hair and animal fur," said Professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol, UK, who led this study. "They are also the most common way that colours are [produced] in feathers."

Professor Benton explained that differently shaped melanosomes produced different colours, with blacks or greys produced by "sausage-shaped" melanosomes, and reddish or "russet" shades found in spherical ones.

"A ginger-haired person would have more spherical melanosomes, and a black-haired or grey-haired person would have more of the sausage-shaped structures," said Professor Benton.

The scientists found both types of melanosome in Confuciusornis and decided to turn their attention to Sinosauropteryx, which is the most primitive feathered dinosaur yet found.

It was about the size of a turkey and would have fed on lizards and other small prey.

"There's a very clear rim of feathers running down the top of its head like a Mohican, all the way along its back," Professor Benton described.

Bands of dark and light along the tail can be seen in the fossils. This close examination has shown that the dinosaur's "Mohican" was russet or ginger-coloured, and that these bands were in fact ginger and white stripes.

"This is the first time anyone has ever had evidence of original colour of feathers in dinosaurs," said Professor Benton.

He said the study has also confirmed that the bristles on this "rather primitive flesh-eating dinosaur... really were feathers".

This gives more weight to a very well-supported theory that modern birds evolved from theropods, the group of small carnivorous dinosaurs to which Sinosauropteryx belonged.

"Critics have said that these visible spiny structures could be shredded connective tissue," Professor Benton explained. "But the discovery of melanosomes within the bristles finally proves that some early dinosaurs were indeed feathered."

The findings also help to resolve a long-standing debate about the evolution and original function of feathers.

"We now know that feathers did not originate as flight structures," said Professor Benton. This suggests that they evolved, initially, for insulation and perhaps for display.

Dr Richard Butler, a palaeontologist at the Bavarian State Collection for Palaeontology, in Munich, Germany, said this was a "fascinating and exciting discovery with important implications for understanding dinosaur evolution and biology".

Dr Butler, who was not involved in this research, told BBC News: "When people ask how we know what colour dinosaurs were, the answer has always been that we make an educated guess.

"This discovery suggests that with more work we may be able to accurately reconstruct colour patterns in some dinosaur species, and begin to understand how those colour patterns may have functioned for camouflage or display."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8481448.stm
(Submitted by Joe McNally)

Tiny dinos perished in footprint death pits

27 January 2010 by Jeff Hecht
Magazine issue 2745.

FOLLOWING in someone's footsteps was a bad idea for a few unlucky dinosaurs. A rare fossil haul of feathered dinosaurs suggests they perished after falling into the deep muddy footprints of larger beasts.

David Eberth of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, found partial skeletons of 18 small two-legged dinosaurs in the 160-million-year-old sediments from an ancient marsh in China. They were stacked on top of each other, apparently after becoming trapped in roughly circular swampy pits.

The pits contain distinctive red fragments of crust mixed into the mud. The palaeontologists reckon this is the result of large, heavy sauropod feet breaking through a crusty surface layer to watery mud beneath. A thin crust would have formed hiding the trap from an unsuspecting small dinosaur but unable support its weight.

Fifteen of the fossils were Limusaurus inextricabilis, an odd bipedal dinosaur with short arms and a beak. It appears to have eaten plants, although it belonged to a group of predators.

The victims were less than 1 metre tall and 1 to 3 metres long, says Eberth, so they would have been too short to push against the bottom, which was 1 or 2 metres beneath the surface of the watery mud. Their arms would have been covered with mud-slicked feathers and too small to pull them out of the hole (PALAIOS, DOI: 10.2110/palo.2009.p09-028r). "Finding any fossil remains like these, whose presence depends on the behaviour of other dinosaurs is bizarre," Eberth says.

There are few small dinosaur fossils from the period. "It's a really interesting find," and expands the known behaviours of two-legged dinosaurs, says David Fastovsky of the University of Rhode Island, Kingston.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527454.100-tiny-dinos-perished-in-footprint-death-pits.html
(Submitted by Tim Chapman)

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Three Baby Pigs Rests Next To Their Adoptive Mother, Sai Mai, An Eight-Year-Old Tiger, At The Sriracha Tiger Zoo In Thailand's Chonburi Province

Date: 27-Jan-10
Country: THAILAND
Author: REUTERS

Photo: Sukree Sukplang

Three Baby Pigs Rests Next To Their Adoptive Mother, Sai Mai, An Eight-Year-Old Tiger, At The Sriracha Tiger Zoo In Thailand's Chonburi Province

Three baby pigs rests next to their adoptive mother, Sai Mai, an eight-year-old tiger, at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Thailand's Chonburi Province, nearly 100 km (62 miles) east of Bangkok January 26,2010.

Tiger numbers have fallen by more than 70 percent in slightly more than a decade in the Greater Mekong, with the region's five countries containing only 350 tigers, according to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report released on Monday.

http://planetark.org/wen/56491
(Submitted by Tim Chapman)

Blobfish: world's most 'miserable looking' marine animal facing exinction

The world's most miserable-looking fish is in danger of becoming extinct, according to scientists.

By Andrew Hough
Published: 7:30AM GMT 26 Jan 2010

Scientists fear the blobfish, which can grow up to 12 inches, is in danger of being wiped out by over-fishing in its south eastern Australian habitat.

The fish, which lives at depths of up to 800m, is rarely seen by humans but it lives at the same depths as other ocean organisms, such as crabs and lobsters and other edible sea creatures.

As a result the fish, which is unedible, is being dragged up with other catches by trawler fishermen.

Marine expert Professor Callum Roberts, from University of York, said the blobfish had plenty to be miserable about.

Prof Roberts, who wrote the book "The Unnatural History of the Sea", said: "Blobfish are very vulnerable to being dragged up in these nets and from what we know this fish is only restricted to these waters.

"The Australian and New Zealand deep trawling fishing fleets are some of the most active in the world so if you are a blobfish then it is not a good place to be.

"A very large amount of the deep sea is under threat from bottom trawling which is one of the most destructive forms of fishing."

He added: "There are some deep water protected areas around sea mounts in the Southern Ocean but that is only really to protect coral and not the blobfish.

"We've been overfishing areas up to about 200m deep and now we have moved off those continental shelves and into the deep sea in areas a couple of thousand metres deep.

"In 2006 conservationists came very close to achieving a global moratorium on restricting bottom trawling on the high seas."

He continued: "They came within a whisker of that but Iceland rejected it so the United Nations was charged with protecting the deep sea species."

"If you add together all the area of the deep sea that has actually been looked at, then it is an area about the size of Paris, it's a really unexplored area, but we could be destroying it."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/howaboutthat/7077472/Blobfish-worlds-most-miserable-looking-marine-animal-facing-exinction.html
(Submitted by Max Blake)

Is the Hobbit's brain unfeasibly small?

25 January 2010 BioMed Central Limited

Homo floresiensis, a pygmy-sized small-brained hominin popularly known as ‘the Hobbit’ was discovered five years ago, but controversy continues over whether the small brain is actually due to a pathological condition. How can its tiny brain size be explained? Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Biology have tackled this question in the context of a comprehensive assessment of the evolution of brain and body size throughout the larger primate family.

Nick Mundy and Stephen Montgomery, from the Department of Zoology at Cambridge University, UK, and colleagues from Durham University used previously published data from living and extinct species to reconstruct the pattern of brain and body mass evolution in primates. According to Nick Mundy, “Our results provide robust confirmation for the suggestion that strong evolutionary trends have governed the expansion of the primate brain. In contrast, body size evolution has not tended to increase in primates, implying brain and body mass have been subject to separate selection pressures and supporting the findings of previous studies in other taxonomic groups that these two highly correlated traits can show differences in their patterns of evolution”.

Brain expansion began early in primate evolution and has occurred in all major groups, suggesting a strong selective advantage to increased brainpower in most primate lineages. Despite this overall trend, however, Mundy and his colleagues have identified several branches/lineages within each major group that have shown decreasing brain and body mass as they evolve, for example in marmosets and mouse lemurs. According to Mundy, “We find that, under reasonable assumptions, the reduction in brain size during the evolution of Homo floresiensis is not unusual in comparison to these other primates. Along with other recent studies on the effects of ‘island dwarfism’ in other mammals, these results support the hypothesis that the small brain of Homo floresiensis was adapted to local ecological conditions on Flores."

http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcbiol/

Full bibliographic information
Reconstructing the ups and downs of primate brain evolution: implications for adaptive hypotheses and Homo floresiensis
Stephen H Montgomery, Isabella Capellini, Robert A Barton and Nicholas I Mundy
BMC Biology (in press)

(Submitted by Tim Chapman)

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Is the big cat mystery finally solved? Villagers find huge paw prints in snow after 30 years of sightings

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 10:49 AM on 25th January 2010

A set of massive paw prints could finally be proof of the existence of a 'big cat' residents believe has stalked their village for 30 years.

The chilling 9cm (3.5inch) imprints of a large feline's foot were discovered in several inches of snow by teaching assistant Coryn Memory, 43.

She took photos of the prints after her neighbour Jane Spicer, 53, saw a large cat 'the size of a Labrador' dog run past her on a country lane in Thrupp near Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Villagers have been reporting an elusive beasts in the area - sometimes rummaging through bins - for the last three decades.

The creature has been spotted more than 15 times this month alone and experts believe it may have been forced into the open by the bad weather.

Ms Memory said: 'Jane and I went out immediately and followed where it had been and took photos of the prints. It's about nine centimetres from its front toe to its back pad.

'You can see its toes and it looks like someone's just dropped a dart at the end of each toe where it's claw has made an indentation in the snow.

'The stride between the prints was about 120cm and there were tail marks in the snow as well.'

She added: 'I've seen it loads of times across the valley. One of the neighbours has been here since she was a child and she said she's been seeing it for 30 years.'

Ms Spicer, a caretaker, said: 'The animal was long in body and about the size of a collie. The tail was round thick and black, and it had a small catlike head.

'I've always been quite sceptical about whether to believe it or not, but I know what I saw.'

Big cat investigator Frank Tunbridge said more sightings are likely in the adverse weather as the cat comes out of the woodland to look for prey, such as voles, field mice and deer.

He said: 'The tracks are clawed, which make them different from a domestic cat.

'The pads are slightly rounder than a dog's and the claw marks are like points of a dart, as opposed to a dog's which are blunt.

'This animal is a mysterious beast. It has a few characteristics of a big cat and others which are dog-like.

'This time of year is also their mating season so they come out of familiar surroundings to look for a mate. I think the sightings are all probably the same one or two cats, as most are very territorial.'

Experts believe big cats are the descendants of animals like pumas or panthers released into the wild by owners after the Dangerous Animals Act 1976 tightened up regulations over keeping them as pets.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1245816/Is-big-cat-mystery-solved-Villagers-huge-paw-prints-snow-30-years-sightings.html#ixzz0dik9KUT3
(Submitted by Liz R)

World's least known bird rediscovered

Jan 19, 2010

A species of bird, which has only been observed alive on three previous occasions since it was first discovered in 1867, has been rediscovered in a remote land corridor in north-eastern Afghanistan. The discovery was made as part of an international collaboration, which included researchers at the University of Gothenburg.

During the summer of 2008, the American ornithologist Robert J Timmins was commissioned by the American aid organisation USAID to compile an inventory of bird species in the Badakshan province in north-eastern Afghanistan. He managed to record the call of a species of bird that was as yet unknown.

Unheard birdsong

The recording found its way to the Swedish ornithologist Lars Svensson, who was quick to note that the recorded birdsong did not resemble that of any known species of bird. But from Timmins' description of the species, he soon began to suspect what kind of bird was on the recording.

Ornithological sensation

Lars Svensson and Urban Olsson at the Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, had in fact shown in a previous study that about a dozen stuffed birds in museum collections all around the world had been incorrectly classified: they were not of the common species of reed warbler the curators had assumed, but rather a far rarer species known as the Large-billed Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus orinus) - observed on just three documented occasions since 1867.

In their previous study Svensson, Olsson and co-workers had pinpointed North-Eastern Afghanistan as an area where the Large-billed Reed Warbler probably bred in the 1930s. When both the Swedish colleagues heard the recording of the mysterious birdsong they realised that they were on the trail of an ornithological sensation.

World's least known bird

A year later, in June 2009, the Afghan ornithologists Naqeebullah Mostafawi, Ali Madad Rajabi and Hafizullah Noori from the Wildlife Conservation Society Afghanistan managed to travel to the Badakshan region, despite the war and ongoing clan conflicts. They used nets to capture 15 individuals of the mysterious species of bird. They sent photographs and feather samples to Lars Svensson and Urban Olsson, who used DNA analyses to confirm that after 142 years of searching, the breeding site of perhaps the world's least known bird had been found.

Under acute threat

News of the find was published this week in the journal Birding Asia and has aroused huge interest in ornithological circles. The Large-billed Reed Warbler is not hunted, but is regarded as being under acute threat since its breeding sites are being deforested by the local population in their hunt for fuel.

"That's why it's vital that we protect both the species and its habitat now," says Urban Olsson.

Link to the article in Birding Asia: http://www.orientalbirdclub.org/publications/ba12pdfs/Timmins-LBWarbler.pdf

Contact:
Urban Olsson, Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg
46 (0)31 7863453
46 (0)73 6701822
urban.olsson@zool.gu.se

Lars Svensson, ornithologist and artist
46 (0)8 6632655
46 (0)431 364022
46 (0)708 152122
lars@lullula.se

Facts:

The Large-billed Reed warbler belongs to the reed warbler family; a group of small brown and white birds usually found in habitats where there are willows, reeds, sedge and other vegetation, in or close to water. The Large-billed Reed Warbler is the same size as a reed warbler, approximately 13-14 centimetres long, and is also similar in colour: the upper plumage is an even brown colour with pale greenish-grey variation, while the underside is a rusty beige-white colour.

There is a short, pale streak above the eye, apart from which the bird lacks any distinctive features. The bird's name indicates that it has a long beak, somewhat longer in terms of its proportions than that of Swedish reed warblers. Furthermore the wings are short and rounded, while the tail feathers are quite long.

The species was found in the Wakhan region in the province of Badakshan in north-eastern Afghanistan. The Wakhan region forms a 300km-long corridor up to the Himalayas, which runs between Tajikistan, Pakistan and China. The area is known for its rich birdlife, but is extremely difficult to access for field studies due to the ongoing conflicts. Accessing the region also takes several days' travel.

Photo credit: WCS Afghanistan

BY: Krister Svahn

http://www.science.gu.se/english/News/News_detail/World_s_least_known_bird_rediscovered.cid913282 (Submitted by Tim Chapman)

If you think a crow is giving you the evil eye…

08:00 26 January 2010 by Bob Holmes

Video: Crows recognise people's faces

Wild crows can recognise individual human faces and hold a grudge for years against people who have treated them badly. This ability – which may also exist in other wild animals – highlights how carefully some animals monitor the humans with whom they share living space.

Field biologists have observed that crows seem to recognise them, and a few researchers have even gone to the extreme of wearing masks when capturing birds to band (or "ring") them, so that they could later observe the birds without upsetting them. However, it was unclear whether the birds distinguish people by their faces or by other distinctive features of dress, gait or behaviour. To find out, John Marzluff at the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues donned a rubber caveman mask and then captured and banded wild American crows.

Whenever a person wearing the same mask approached those crows later, the birds scolded them loudly. In contrast, they ignored the same person wearing a mask of former US Vice-President Dick Cheney, which had never been worn during banding. "Most of the time you walk right up to them and they don't care at all," says Marzluff.

Long memories

The birds' antipathy to the caveman mask has lasted more than three years, even though the crows have had no further bad experiences with people wearing it. The crows responded less strongly to other details of a person's dress, such as the presence of a hat or a coloured armband.
In a second experiment, Marzluff's team prepared six masks from casts of people's faces, then wore different masks to capture crows in each of four locations. In each case, they found, the crows recognised and scolded whichever mask they had seen when they were captured, and ignored the others.

This shows that crows pay close attention to humans, noting which individuals pose a threat and which do not, says Doug Levey of the University of Florida in Gainesville, who was not part of the team.

"We may think they are just bystanders minding their own business – but we are their business," he notes. "It's likely that they're incredibly perceptive of the dog and cat components of their environment, as well."

Journal reference: Animal Behaviour, DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.12.022

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18429-if-you-think-a-crow-is-giving-you-the-evil-eye.html
(Submitted by Tim Chapman)

Juneau's famous black wolf's absence a mystery

by KIM MARQUIS / Juneau Empire
January 24th, 2010 08:10 AM

JUNEAU, Alaska - Plenty of catastrophes can befall a wolf: icy stream crossings, a nasty spat with a bear, a fall in a crevasse, even other wolves.

Romeo faced those dangers and more because he chose to live near humans, where he could socialize with their pets. His increasing comfort around people probably upped his chances of mortality, but at age 7 or 8, he was getting up there in years and could have died naturally.

Then again, maybe he hooked up with a female wolf or joined a pack and left. That scenario seems unlikely to area biologists, but some Romeo fans like to think about it.

Neither hide nor hair of Romeo, the city's celebrity wolf, has been seen in Juneau this winter. Residents who hiked with him every day said he was last seen in mid-September.

Romeo first showed up in the Mendenhall Valley in 2003, hanging around every winter since in the Dredge Lakes area and on the frozen, snow-covered lake.

It was clear this was no ordinary wolf; he instigated playful behavior with dogs being walked by area residents.

"The thing that impressed me most about him was his non-aggressiveness, or his turn-the-other-cheek sort of attitude that he had," said photographer John Hyde, who spent countless hours taking hundreds of images of the animal. "I saw him attacked by various dogs, aggressively attacked and bitten, and he would just turn away and walk off when he could have literally killed those dogs in seconds."

It was clear to many residents the shiny black wolf, estimated at 140 pounds, yearned for canine companionship and was seemingly willing to stifle innate behavior in a quest to make friends.

"He would make noises, wanted to show us something. He wanted to play," said Harry Robinson, who was joined by the wolf on daily walks with his female dog, Brittian. "He'd jump eight feet straight up in the air and grab a branch, be like, 'Look at me, I'm so cute, look what I can do.' He'd play tug-of-war with other dogs but act like he's pulling it, so the dog would not get discouraged or something. He liked to be chased by other dogs."

He lived in the area woods, feeding on mice, voles, salmon and beaver. He sometimes got a deer and sometimes ate dog food, evidenced by the scat. Some say he left in the summer and others say he widened his range but stayed around, harder to see in the lush forest.

Romeo's socialization eventually became routine. He'd hang around the West Glacier Trail parking lot, his ears perking up at the sound of certain vehicles.

His "pack" was made up of a group of unrelated dogs, both large and small, belonging to people who walked their pets at different times of day.

He'd spend only minutes with some, and hours with others.

Robinson said he would hike two hours a day with him, and could call him with a wolf-like howl.

He'd follow many of his canine companions back to the parking lot.

"You'd see him whining and crying as they left, and they'd tell him to go back to where he came from and they left," Hyde said. "But then he'd be there the next day looking for the same thing."

Though thought of fondly by many, Romeo was accused of killing and eating several small-breed dogs.

Those incidences are strongly discounted by his fans but not ruled out by area wildlife managers, who discussed relocating the wolf but decided to attempt to change human behavior instead.

They requested pet owners not let dogs play with the wolf, putting signs up at the trailhead. It didn't stop the socialization, however.

This winter, Romeo did not come back to the lake, where many residents in years past saw him frolicking among ice skaters' pets.

Robinson said Romeo was last seen Sept. 18. He looked healthy and had about three-quarters of his winter coat grown in.

Events and details about Romeo observed by residents who got to know him offer some hints about what may have happened.

Always after canine companionship, Romeo was never that interested in humans but he became too comfortable around them, Hyde said.

"He was beginning to lose that fear of people, so if he saw a dog that looked interesting he'd come right up to it," he said, "even if there was a person on the end of a leash 20 feet away or even less."

Last year he began to show some age, shrinking his range and staying out of deep snow more than before. Wolves generally live a decade or so.

"He was just getting older," Hyde said, "and he wasn't quite as rambunctious as he used to be."

Biologist Steve Lewis said Romeo likely died of natural causes.

"My guess is that he's probably dead ... he just died from being a wolf," he said.

Romeo also could have interacted with a pack of wolves, said Lewis, a former researcher for the state department of Fish and Game now with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He studied the animals until last year.

GPS collars on two of the pack animals showed them moving from Mount McGinnis north to the Katzaheen River near Haines. The pack made regular trips between the two areas but stayed up in the mountains, never coming down to the Mendenhall Valley, Lewis said.

In March they detoured around the valley, crossed the glacier and avoided downtown while heading for Thane to the south. The animals might have been checking boundaries of another pack in the Taku River drainage, Lewis said.

"He potentially could have been interacting with one of these other packs and he could have been killed because of that," Lewis said.

He also could have left on friendlier terms.

Last summer, a second wolf showed itself in the valley.

It was a gray wolf, with brown, black and gray markings said to be smaller than Romeo but not many people, if anyone, got a really good look.

The new wolf did not interact with people but stayed in the forest. Some heard it howl. Hyde said the call got no reaction from Romeo.

"The impression I got watching him, he didn't even answer," he said.

Still, the possibility Romeo could have developed an interest in the gray wolf is attractive, especially to those who became attached to him.

"I'm working on the supposition, an off-chance, that some type of female that came through the area was appealing to him," Robinson said.

Robinson also thinks someone could have hurt the wolf. He suggests it could have been trapped or shot.

State wildlife managers "don't have a clue" what might have happened to Romeo, Fish and Game Area Biologist Ryan Scott said, and drawing conclusions about a wrongdoing is "inappropriate."

Romance, violence, a new beginning, a natural death - no one likely knows what happened to Romeo but many agree, a unique opportunity to see a wild animal up close and personal is lost to Juneau residents and visitors.

For Robinson, who saw Romeo as an individual and not just as a wild animal, his disappearance means a bit more than that.

"To me he was intelligent, loyal, very playful," he said. "... I miss him, as a friend, really. Much like - I don't want to say a dog because while I've never petted him, he's really wild - he certainly trusted us and he was a great, loyal companion."

http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/ap_alaska/story/1108029.html
(Submitted by Caty Bergman)

Experts stunned by swan 'divorce' at Slimbridge wetland

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Experts have told of their surprise after witnessing a rare "divorce" between a pair of swans at a Gloucestershire wildfowl sanctuary.

The Bewick's swans have returned to winter at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre at Slimbridge - but both have brought new partners.

It is only the second time in more than 40 years that a "separation" has been recorded at the centre.

Staff have described the new couplings as "bizarre".

It is not unheard of for the birds, which usually mate for life, to find a new mate but it tends to be because one of the pair has died, they said.

During the past four decades 4,000 pairs of Bewick's swans have been studied at Slimbridge, with only one previous couple moving on to find new partners.

Normally loyal

First suspicions of the rare event were raised when male swan Sarindi turned up in the annual migration from Arctic Russia without his partner of two years Saruni and with a new female - newly-named Sarind - in tow.

The pair's arrival led conservationists to fear the worst for Saruni.

But shortly afterwards Saruni arrived at the wetlands site - also with a new mate, Surune.

And after observing them, the experts discovered the old relationship had ended and new ones had begun.

Julia Newth, wildlife health research officer at Slimbridge, said the situation had taken staff by surprise.

She said swans tended to have "real loyalties to one another" and long partnerships.

"As long as they are both still alive, they will try to stay together. If they have a change of mate it is perhaps because of mortality, not necessarily through choice," she said.

In this case, however, both swans and their new partners are now over-wintering in close proximity on the lake at Slimbridge.

Ms Newth said the old pair had not acknowledged each other with any signs of recognition or greeting - even though they are occupying the same part of the small lake.

As for why they may have split, she said: "Failure to breed could be a possible reason, as they had been together for a couple of years but had never brought back a cygnet, but it is difficult to say for sure."

Bewick's swans are the smallest and rarest of the three species found in the UK and each individual can be identified by their unique bill pattern.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/gloucestershire/8477351.stm
(Submitted by Liz R)

Museum exhibit explores history of sasquatch

JEFFREY P. MAYOR; Staff writer
Published: 01/24/10 12:05 am

“Giants in the Mountains: The Search for Sasquatch” does not attempt to prove or disprove the existence of sasquatch, but instead looks at how and why the story is so ingrained in the cultural fabric of the Northwest.

The story of sasquatch certainly goes far beyond the 1987 movie “Harry and the Hendersons” or recent beef jerky TV commercials. It has been told for centuries among Northwest Indian tribes.

That mix of ancient mythology and modern commercialism is the focal point of a sasquatch exhibit that opened Saturday at the Washington State History Museum.

“One of the themes of the exhibit is to look at sasquatch from a perspective that people don’t think about how far-reaching the story is,” said Gwen Perkins, the co-curator on the exhibit. “If you look back into history, this type of story has been reflected in legends and stories all over the world. But this story also has such strong connections to the Northwest.”

Sasquatch is a word derived from the Salish word “sesqec,” meaning “wild man,” Perkins said. In other parts of the world, the name is Bigfoot, Yeti or Wild Man. Definitions of the names vary from “ape man” to “bad luck spirit” and from “big elder brother” to “evil cannibal spirit.”

The exhibit is built around about 40 significant items, including casts of alleged footprints, ancient stone carving and Indian masks.

One of the key artifacts is a prehistoric stone head borrowed from the Maryhill Museum of Art. The carving was found in the Columbia Basin in the 1890s and is believed to date from 1,500 B.C. to 500 A.D., Perkins said.

“When you see them, they resemble gorillas. There have been at least four of these stone heads,” Perkins said.

There was a lot of debate when they were found, Perkins added, questioning how people at that time would have seen a gorilla-like creature.

“Anthropologists have one belief about it, sasquatch people have their belief about it,” said Susan Rohrer, manager at the State Capital Museum. The head was part of the exhibit when it appeared in Olympia in 2007-08.

“What is the origin of them, why are these stone heads there? It really is a cornerstone of the exhibit,” Rohrer added.

Another part of the exhibit looks at the story of sasquatch in Northwest Indians culture.

“There are easily hundreds of sasquatch legends, particularly here in the Northwest,” Perkins said.

One told frequently by the Nisqually Tribe of Indians is the story of the giant hairy beast Tsiatko, believed to mean nocturnal demon.

“They thought it was huge, with 18-inch feet shaped like a bear’s. One thing that keeps coming up, here and on the east side, sasquatch supposedly has an owl voice,” she said.

The exhibit also includes five Indian masks, four of which are believed to have been made in the 1920s.

Also on display are a number of footprints casts, including items from the collection of Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, a Discovery Channel Bigfoot expert and professor at Idaho State University. There also are casts from the late Dr. Grover Krantz, a noted Bigfoot researcher and anthropologist from Washington State University.

“He was one of the first scientists to come out and say sasquatch exists,” Perkins said of Krantz. “That had a pretty major impact on how people looked at the possibility of this being real.”

Perkins admits not everyone who sees the exhibit will be convinced sasquatch is real. She recalled a letter to the editor written to The Olympian when the exhibit appeared at the State Capital Museum. The letter’s author asked why the museum would not do an exhibit on the tooth fairy if it did one on Bigfoot.

That was the lone dissent, however, said Rohrer, the Olympia museum manager.

“We had huge attendance. We had people fly in from out of state for this exhibit. I had people from Southern California call to see where was the nearest airport to Olympia so they could fly in,” Rohrer said.

Then there was the day Meldrum and Bob Gimlin spoke at the museum. Gimlin is famous for being part of the group that filmed what they claim was a Bigfoot in Northern California in 1967.

“We held two programs that day, but we still must have turned away 200 people,” Rohrer said.

“I never had an exhibit when I had to stand between a speaker and the public so the speaker could go get dinner,” she added. “Meldrum was on the floor of the museum for 12 hours that day, people just wanted to speak to him, show him evidence.”

Gimlin is scheduled to speak at the Tacoma museum in June.

“It’s an exhibit that has a really focused interest group,” Rohrer said. “There are scientists, naturalists, pop culturists, ethnographers, the hobbyists, people who enjoy the unknown. It’s kind of one of the last unknowns, kind of like UFOs.”

“We understand this is a topic that is very strongly under debate. We’re trying to portray a very balanced view,” Perkins said. “In a sense, whether the creature actually exists isn’t as important as the impact it has had on the people who live out here.

“If you come here looking for an exhibit poking fun at people or mocking the story, this is not your exhibit. This is too important to many people, like the tribal communities, the people out there researching sasquatch. We want to present those sides of the story as well as the side about people who are making money off of this.”

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640

Jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com

blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure


If you go

What: Giants in the Mountains: The Search for Sasquatch

When: Jan. 23-June 27

Where: Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma

Museum hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. On the third Thursday of each month, the museum is open until 8 p.m. with free admission from 2-8 p.m.

Admission: Adult (18 and over), $8; Senior (60 and older) $7; student (6-17 years old) and military, $6; family (two adults and up to four children), $25; child (5 and under) and Historical Society members, free.

Information: 253-272-3500, www.washingtonhistory.org

http://www.thenewstribune.com/soundlife/story/1041929.html
(Submitted by Katy Bergman)

Monday, 25 January 2010

Zoo Keepers Rear Abandoned Antelope

7:10pm UK, Saturday January 23, 2010
Heather Christie, Sky News Online

The first Kirk's dik-dik antelope has been born at Chester Zoo, but because it was rejected by its mother, the keepers are stepping in to raise the baby.

Standing only a few centimetres tall, the female newborn was abandoned by her mother who gave her the cold shoulder during the recent big freeze.

While the zoo's keepers are looking after the youngster, they told Sky News that a reunion between mother and baby is not on the cards.

"It's probably unlikely, unfortunately. Mum stopped looking after her and keeping her warm, so we've had to do that instead," senior keeper Helen Massey told Sky News.

Ms Massey and her team are hand-rearing the unnamed baby. They are bottle feeding it milk five times a day until she is old enough to eat the species' regular diet of buds, shoots, and fruits.

The spindly-legged creature is also being fed hay and a nutritious concentrate.

"Kirk's dik-dik is one of the smaller of the antelope species but what they lack in stature, they make up for in appeal," she said.

"Our addition is growing stronger by the day and we hope she will be holding her own in the next few weeks."

Although the little one does not have a name yet, Ms Massey says her staff are working on one.

"We're hoping to decide on a name all together, we need to whole team to be here for that, though," she told Sky News.

Click here to see more pictures of the baby antelope.

A tiny species that looks like a pygmy deer, the Kirk's dik-dik is Native to Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia and is named for the sound it makes when fleeing danger.

The Chester newborn, whose parents arrived to Britain in 2008, will grow to be about 40cm tall.

The female's parents came from Colchester and Hanover zoos.

See video at: http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/UK-News/First-Kirks-Dik-Dick-Antelope-Is-Born-At-Chester-Zoo/Article/201001415534237?f=rss

Live pigs blown up in government terrorism experiments

Live pigs are being blown up as part of a series of government terrorism experiments at Porton Down, the government's secret military research laboratory.

By Amy Willis
Published: 1:43PM GMT 24 Jan 2010

Eighteen pigs wrapped in protective Kevlar blankets were blasted in a bid to help scientists understand more about the effects of bomb blasts on victims.

The animals were placed less than three yards from an explosive. Before being blown up, tubes were inserted into their blood vessels and bladders, and their spleens were removed.

A wire was also put into a major abdominal blood vessel to ensure the vessel became lacerated in the explosion.

The Kevlar blankets were used to protect the animals from minor bomb debris and the animals were anaesthetised throughout.

Scientists wanted to find out how long the animals survived when more than a third of their blood had drained from their bodies.

Medics hope the experiments will help British soldiers in Afghanistan as well as casualties of terror attacks like the July 2005 bombing of the London Underground and a double-decker bus.

In particular these results should help them understand how to control haemorrhaging in bomb blast victims.

But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, questioned the use of live animals in military experiments.

Talking to the Sunday Times he said: “These are revolting and unnecessary experiments. Sadly, we are too familiar with the effects of terrorism. It is perfectly possible to find out things we don’t know without blowing up pigs to find out.”

A spokeswoman for Porton Down said anecdotally there was already evidence that the research was helping to save lives.

She said: “This work is part of our broad combat casualty care programme. Anecdotally, we are seeing evidence of people surviving because of this work.”

The facility at Porton Down, in Wiltshire, was originally set up during the first world war to research chemical warfare.

No pigs survived the experiments.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/7066382/Live-pigs-blown-up-in-government-terrorism-experiments.html

It's weird when lizards fall out of trees

BY GLENN TERRY
Special to The Miami Herald

Two weeks ago it was raining lizards in South Florida. The cold temperatures made a million or more geckos, iguanas and Cuban anoles lose their grip and fall out of trees.

Didn't you find it hard to sleep with all those critters hitting the ground?

My wife and I tried to imagine we were hearing large raindrops.

The morning told us different. We waded out into a front yard littered by a sea ( OK, about a dozen) of those once fleet-footed beasts.

Picking them up, I couldn't tell if they were dead or in some sort of cold-induced coma. I arranged them on the hood of my car.

Later I moved them to a large, warm rock where the sun brought half back to life.

Sunday night was another freezer so I booked the still stiff six into a room at our home's Hotel Tupperware.

On Monday I took them to the elementary school where I teach. By then, two of the lizards were slowly moving. The duo spent the day entertaining 10-year-olds while the "frozen four" were given a sunny spot in the schoolyard.

The next morning the four were gone. Maybe they crawled off or perhaps the birds ate them. The last two seemed eager to return to the trees.

My students and I set them free, happy to be helping our mosquito-eating friends.

http://www.miamiherald.com/brickell/story/1441176.html
(Submitted by Caty Bergman)

Crocodiles 'taught to recognise their names'

Two British crocodiles have been taught to recognise when a keeper calls their names, The Blue Planet Aquarium.

By Andrew Hough
Published: 8:00AM GMT 23 Jan 2010

The reptiles, Paleo and Suchus, have been taught to listen for their names being called, it was claimed.

Keepers at the centre in Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, they are even learning when to open their mouths for food.

They said the type of training had worked with mammals before but hardly ever with reptiles.

"They are very intelligent and started responding to their names in just a few days," said Tom Cornwall, the aquarium's manager.

In a bid to train them, the crocodiles, which are called Cuvier's dwarf caiman, are given food as a prize if they react in the right way.

The training takes its idea from a similar scheme run at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust in India.

Once fully trained, the aquarium's zoological team will set up "enrichment activities" for the pair.

Mr Cornwall, Blue Planet Aquarium's ranger and exhibits manager, added: "As well as enabling us to approach them and inspect and treat any potential health issues it will also allow us to set up tasks and foraging exercises for them to mimic the types of behaviour they would have to use in the wild."

Found throughout South America, the Cuvier's dwarf caiman usually live in freshwater habitats like rivers, including the Amazon, flooded forests and larger lakes.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/7053745/British-crocodiles-taught-to-recognise-their-names.html

Rescued dog bites firefighter

By Sue Manning, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
January 23, 2010

LOS ANGELES — A firefighter splashed into a rain-swollen river Friday to rescue a German shepherd and managed to hang on safely, even after the dog furiously bit his arm and hand.

Los Angeles fire officials said 50-year-old Joe St. Georges, who suffered severe hand and arm injuries, was taken to County USC Medical Center.

“He has significant injuries, bites and punctures, to his hand and arm and is being seen by a specialist,” Los Angeles fire Capt. Steve Ruda said. The 25-year department veteran was in good condition, Ruda said.

The dog, nicknamed Vernon after the Southern California town where he was found, did not have a name tag or computer chip, said Sgt. Charles Miller of the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority in Downey.

The dog was quarantined to be monitored for rabies, but “appears to be well-maintained and cared for,” Miller said.

At least 50 firefighters responded to reports that the dog was in the river. For an hour, firefighters stood at the top of the steep, concrete banks, throwing life vest and float rings, hoping the dog would grab on. Most of the time, the canine walked along a pipe or ledge in the centre of the river, sometimes slipping. One firefighter got into the river and tried to catch him, but the dog took off. Soon the pipe was submerged.

When the helicopter hovered overhead, the dog scrambled to the side of the river and tried to climb the slippery sides, only to slip each time.

St. Georges finally splashed down from the helicopter, wrestled with the frightened canine and lifted it to safety, using the dog’s collar and a rope to hoist him up. Despite St. Georges’ injuries, he didn’t fail the dog.

At a late afternoon news conference, helicopter pilot Scott Bowman said St. Georges took a muzzle with him but he wasn’t able to get it on, “so he decided to go for the capture.”

Miller said the dog had some scrapes and worn nails, but was otherwise fine.

“He was fearful when he first got here, understandably. He went through a big ordeal,” Miller said.

The dog will be quarantined for 10 days, unless the owner shows up with proof of rabies vaccination, Miller said. Then, the dog could be monitored at home. If the owner doesn’t show up, officials will try to find the dog a new home.

http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/WeirdNews/2010/01/23/12585421-ap.html

Sunday, 24 January 2010

OUT OF PLACE ANACONDA

Reporting from Orlando, Fla. - A 12-foot green anaconda has been captured at a Florida park, where it apparently had been feasting on waterfowl for months.

The giant snake, a native of the Amazon, was spotted and captured Jan. 13 at East Lake Fish Camp by an Osceola County sheriff's mounted patrol unit.

Toni Englert, who keeps horses at the park's stable, witnessed the capture.

"The officers called me over and said, 'Toni, I think we know what happened to the ducks,' " Englert said.

Englert had pointed out to deputies, who train at the park, that the ducks and geese were disappearing. She said she had assumed an alligator was responsible.

"We would only find feathers all over the place," she said.

Englert said the snake was discovered in a drainpipe leading to a pond, which is probably where it eluded discovery -- until the recent cold weather made it sluggish.

"I looked and saw the snake curled up inside the pipe," Englert said. "It was barely moving."

Lt. Rick Brown of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission thinks it's the first time an anaconda has been caught in the wild in the state. Green anacondas, the largest snakes on record, can reach 30 feet. They are nonvenomous constrictors.

"They are in the same category of concern as the Burmese pythons," Brown said. "Someone purchased this at a time it was no bigger than a couple of fingers, and when it got big, released it."

Until early 2008, anyone could purchase exotic reptiles from Florida pet shops. The rules were tightened because the foreign species were being dumped into the wild and becoming a menace to native flora and fauna. A special permit is now required to own the reptiles.

The captured anaconda was taken to Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud,
Fla.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-na-anaconda24-2010jan24,0,3698833.story

Tribute is paid to late Sandford-on-Thames 'goggle dog'

Click to enlarge

Oxford Times, Thursday, January 21, 2010, p18.

White rhino dies at age of 41

Click to enlarge

Oxford Times, Thursday, January 21, 2010, p19.

Jake to the rescue

Click to enlarge

Oxford Journal, Thursday Januasry 21st, 2010, p3.

Bigfoot might not be real, but the fascination is

By MARCUS SCHNECK, The Patriot-News
January 23, 2010, 12:19PM


Eric Altman is awaiting test results on “some possible hair samples.” Altman is the director of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society. He collected the samples recently in Clearfield and Jefferson counties, which he described as Pennsylvania’s “hot area” for bigfoot reports.

Bigfoot sightings in the midstate are dwarfed by the dozens of reports that have come out of the state’s north-central wilds, Altman said. Adams and York counties provide some reports in “areas that are more remote, a little more wooded,” he said.

Most recently, in October, Tom Biscardi and the Searching for Bigfoot team were drawn to York County by rough amateur video in which they claimed to have seen a female bigfoot carrying an infant.

The existence of bigfoot may remain in doubt, but the fascination with the mythic creature endures.

While many Native American cultures have tales of bigfoot or sasquatch-like creatures in their folklore, modern interest in the phenomenon soared in 1951 with photographs of footprints in California. Most bigfoot reports arise from the West Coast.

The Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society, which was launched in 1998, boasts a few hundred followers. Dozens of similar groups exist nationwide.

The legend is the focus of the Bigfoot Film Festival, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art at Millersburg.

Even those who want to believe in bigfoot are skeptical of its existence in Pennsylvania. In a state with 12 million residents, it seems likely the creature would have been spotted by now if he is here.

“We don’t track bigfoot sightings,” said Jerry Feaser, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “The only time in recent years that there was a bigfoot sighting happened, coincidentally, the same week a bigfoot researcher was in the Harrisburg area.”

Investigators for the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society have recorded “some unusual footprints that we can’t really say are bigfoot,” Altman said.

Loren Coleman, one of the world’s most published cryptozoologists (researchers in the study of hidden species), said he thinks there is something real behind some of the bigfoot reports. In the last month, he said, he has heard of at least 10 legitimate reports, all in the northwestern U.S.

Chad Arment, a Lancaster County man who writes books on cryptozoology, does not rule out the presence of bigfoot in Pennsylvania. “There are some interesting old stories, particularly in Central Pennsylvania, of gorilla-like creatures,” he said. Still, Arment said the presence of bigfoot would be a “long shot” in Pennsylvania.

Scott Weidensaul, a Friedensburg nature writer who has written about the search for lost species, doubts that bigfoot is here. “It breaks my heart to say it, but I just don’t think it’s true,” he said. “We would have had a body by now."

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2010/01/bigfoot_might_not_be_real_but.html (Submitted by Caty Bergman)
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