Monday 28 February 2011

Ancient Antarctic Sea Creature Allows Climate Comparison

Kymella polaris, a cheilostome bryozoan, at 32m depth. Credit: BAS
Posted on: Tuesday, 22 February 2011, 11:33 CST

In the latest issue of 'Current Biology', researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have published an analysis of growth rates of a tiny sea animal.

Samples of the bryozoan, (Cellarinella nutti) a sea-bed filter-feeding animal that looks like branching twigs, collected during Captain Scott's Antarctic trips, are yielding data that may prove valuable in projecting climate change, BBC News is reporting.

The samples were collected in the Ross Sea, where Capt. Robert Falcon Scott moored during both the Discovery expedition of 1901-04 and the Terra Nova expedition a decade later, where he lost his life attempting to return from the South Pole.

These early 20th century expeditions brought back many finds including samples of life from the sea floor. Comparing these samples with modern ones, scientists have now shown that the growth of the bryozoan has increased in recent years.

Growing during the period in the year when it can feed by drawing plankton from the water with its tentacles, the length of the feeding season is reflected in the size of the annual growth band, similar to tree rings.

Bryozoan samples, collected at the same site recently by the Census of Marine Life, have increased the flow of data over the past decade allowing researchers to show that the creatures grew roughly the same amount each year until about 1990.

Since then, there has been a steady increase, with the annual growth rate now being more than double the 20th century average. BAS scientists claim this means that the bryozoans are now eating longer, which means they are eating more phytoplankton - the tiny marine plants that draw dissolved CO2 from seawater.

UK Kayakers Claim They Spotted Loch Ness-Like Sea Creature

Young Couple Say They Saw Mysterious Humps Emerge From the Water While Kayaking Near Bowness-on-Windermere

Feb. 19, 2011

Bownessie, the mythical younger and less famous sea monster of Britain's Lake Windermere, who lives in the shadow of her northern neighbor, the fabled Loch Ness monster, may have been spotted today.

Two 20-something Brits told the U.K.'s Daily Mail that they spotted three or four mysterious humps emerge from the water while they were kayaking on Lake Windermere in Bowness-on-Windermere, near the western coast of northern England.

Tom Pickles, 24, and Sarah Harrington, 23, said they stared at the shape, terrified as it moved through the water at about 10 miles per hour.

"I thought it was a dog," Pickles said. "Then I realized it was much bigger and moving really quickly. Each hump was moving in a rippling motion and it was swimming fast. I could tell it was much bigger underneath from the huge shadow around it."

"Its skin was like a seal's, but its shape was abnormal -- it's not like any animal I've ever seen before. We saw it for about 20 seconds. It was petrifying. We paddled back to the shore straight away," Harrington said.
The couple managed to snap a shot of the baffling figure with a camera phone before it disappeared into the water.
Experts who have examined the fuzzy photograph have said that the image is authentic, but that the file size is too small to tell if it was altered.

And of course there are the skeptics who say the monster, whether in Loch Ness or Windermere, is just a myth. "I have a whole lot of doubt that it could be a Loch Ness monster. I don't think a monster can exist biologically," said Ian Winfield, a scientist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology at the Lancaster, England, Environment Centre.

"It's a bit of fun, it adds a bit of spice to life," he said. "It would be wonderful if it was true. I mean if we had some kind of creature alive in the British Isles it would be fantastic but I really don't think it can be so."

Rare spider discovered in nature reserve in Poole

This incredibly rare arachnid, with a wacky human face
on its back, has been discovered on a nature reserve in
Poole, the first one found in 35 years
2:00pm Monday 28th February 2011

By Lara Tollast

YOU WOULD have thought that finding a tiny, rare, fury animal with the markings of a friendly face on its back would have brought families flocking to see it at the Arne nature reserve in Poole.

Tony Whitehead of the RSPB said: “If this were a bird, rather like the recent oriental turtle dove, the queues would be stretching around the car park.”

So why is this tiny critter so lonely?

Perhaps it’s the fact that it also has eight legs, eight eyes, and the ability to scare Miss Muffet right off her tuffet.

The eloquently named Philodromus Margaritatus spider was discovered by RSPB volunteer Chris Emblem-English on an electricity junction box at the reserve in Poole. What makes this eight-legged beauty so special is that it had not been seen in Dorset for more than 30 years.

“This spider is something of a rarity”, Whitehead adds.

For centuries spiders have been on the receiving end of bad press, when only a small handful are capable of harming a human.

Perhaps the fear of spiders comes not only from their appearance but their cunning predatory methods. The fact they construct a web – a trap invisible to its ill-fated prey, is vindictively morbid and easily creepier than the tactics of other larger predators. If spiders were the size of Alsatians we would have fair reason to live in fear of them, so let’s thank mother nature that she made them so small.

Laura Dunne, 22 from Bournemouth says: “I don’t like them because they are so small, and it’s knowing that they could be hiding under your bed and you wouldn’t even know.”

Strange, then, that this fearful disdain is coupled with the belief that some spiders bring you luck. Money spiders are traditionally thought to bring wealth to those who cross their eight-legged path, and circling the spider around your head three times before tucking it in your pocket may make for more financial sense than buying lottery tickets.

The association between spiders and money stems from the belief that spiders attract wealth to people in the same way those spiders attract their prey. This theory dates back to the Romans, who would carry a little gold or silver spider in their pockets for good luck in trade.

Perhaps the best thing about spiders is that their eating habits stop us from being overrun with other creepy crawlies, such as disease-spreading flies. In Papa New Guinea and South America, spiders themselves are included in some traditional foods.

Eat them, fear them or fling them around your head, remember that spiders are more sacred of you than you are of them. As the old saying goes, “If you want to live and thrive then let a spider run alive”.

Amur tigers in population crisis

Monday, 28 February 2011
By Victoria Gill
Science and nature reporter, BBC News

The effective population of the critically endangered Amur tiger is now fewer than 14 animals, say scientists.

Approximately 500 Amur tigers actually survive in the wild, but the effective population is a measure of the genetic diversity of the world's largest cat.

Very low diversity means any vulnerability to disease or rare genetic disorders is likely to be passed on to the next generation.

So these results paint a grim picture for the tiger's chance of survival.

The findings are reported in the journal Mammalian Biology.

The Amur tiger, or Siberian tiger as it is also known, once lived across a large portion of northern China, the Korean peninsula, and the southernmost regions of eastern Russia.

During the early 20th Century, the Amur tiger was almost driven to extinction, as expanding human settlements, habitat loss and poaching wiped out this biggest of cats from over 90% of its range.

By the 1940s, just 20 to 30 individuals survived in the wild. The new study has identified that this recent "genetic bottleneck" - when the breeding population of tigers was so critically low - has decimated the Amur tiger gene pool.

A more genetically diverse population of animals has a much better chance of survival; it is more likely, for example, to contain the genetic resistance to a variety of diseases and less likely to succumb to rare genetic disorders, which can be "cancelled out" by healthy genes.

'Worryingly low'

Scientists in Russia, Spain and Germany worked together to analyse DNA samples from 15 wild Amur tigers in the Russian Far East.

They took blood samples from the animals and screened them for certain "markers" - points in the DNA code that show that an animal had parents that were genetically very different from each other.

The results revealed evidence of the genetic bottleneck during the tigers' recent history, when the variety of genes being passed on dramatically reduced.

Genetically speaking, the Amur tiger has not recovered from this.

"Our results are the first to demonstrate a quite recent genetic bottleneck in Siberian tigers, a result that matches the well-documented severe demographic decline of the Siberian tiger population in the 1940s," the researchers wrote in the paper.

"The worryingly low effective population size challenges the optimism for the recovery of the huge Siberian cat."
(Submitted by Dawn Holloway)

1,607 whales sighted

February 28, 2011

MAALAEA - Volunteers and researchers on Maui tallied 1,607 sightings of humpback whales Saturday, a 33 percent increase from last year, the Pacific Whale Foundation reported.

Last year's total was 1,208 humpbacks. There were 12 counting stations in the Great Maui Whale Count.

Greg Kaufman, founder and president of PWF, which organized the count, said the sighting conditions were "fantastic," with calm seas and light winds.

"Because we have conducted the count systematically at the same time each year, it provides a valuable look at Hawaii's winter whale population. In general, we are seeing evidence of a growing number of whale sightings in recent years," Kaufman said in a news release.

He said the increase in sightings correlates to research that shows the humpback whale population in the North Pacific increasing at a rate of 7 percent or 8 percent each year.

An estimated 20,000 humpback whales live in the North Pacific, and about 60 percent of that population is believed to come to Hawaii each year to mate, give birth and care for their young, a release said.

The counting stations were positioned along Maui's south and western shores, in an area extending from Makena to Kapalua. There also was a station at Hookipa Beach Park on Maui's north shore.

Last year's count took place a week later than usual because of a tsunami warning on the originally scheduled day. In 2009, 1,010 whale sightings were recorded. In 2008, 1,726 were tallied on a day with ideal conditions such as Saturday's.

Of Saturday's sightings, 154 were calves, compared to 149 sighted last year.

Puu Olai in Makena recorded the most whale sightings with 311 during the counting window, which was open from 8:30 to 11:55 a.m.

The count was conducted by 100 volunteers who worked alongside Pacific Whale Foundation researchers and staff and was done along lookout posts from the shorelines.

The count is part of the Maui Whale Festival, a series of whale-related events taking place from November through mid-May.

Sunday 27 February 2011

Bigfoot search planned in N.C.

Bigfoot is said to be a large, fur-covered creature that
lives in forests and avoids human contact.
Published: February 25, 2011

Rick Lunsford, a Wilkes County resident who says he saw Bigfoot more than 30 years ago, is planning an expedition to look for proof of the elusive creature.

"I'm really looking for evidence, and looking for people to go with me," Lunsford said Thursday.

Bigfoot is said to be a large, fur-covered creature that lives in forests and avoids human contact. Bigfoot sightings have been reported in every U.S. state except Hawaii, according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, a national group that investigates such reports. The evidence to date has consisted largely of witness reports, plaster casts of footprints, and fuzzy images.

Lunsford plans a March 5 expedition to search for evidence in the Roten Creek Road area in Wilbar. That is where he says he saw the creature back in late August or September 1978, when he was 20 years old.

Lunsford, now 52, came forward with his story last year.

He described Bigfoot as being somewhere between 6 and 8 feet tall and as broad as a refrigerator. Its arms were bowed out. It had dark hair, 3 or 4 inches long, on its arms. It gave off a terrible odor, he said.

But what he remembers most vividly, he said, were the creature's dark, round eyes and oval head.

Lunsford filed a report last year with the BFRO about his encounter. Counting Lunsford, the organization's website lists 64 Bigfoot sightings in North Carolina, most of them near the Tennessee border.

"People have lived up here all their lives and never knew it existed up here," Lunsford said. "I've heard some more stories since I came out with mine.

"I'm wanting to prove it so bad, I can see it."

He has already heard from about 50 people interested in joining the expedition, he said, and hopes to find more. He doesn't want anyone to bring guns or dogs, saying, "I don't want nobody getting hurt or nothing."

His expedition will gather at noon March 5 at the Food Lion parking lot on NC Highway 16 in Millers Creek, then travel about 12 to 13 miles up the mountain.

The 'Bownessie' monster sighted again in UK

London, Feb 25 : In less than a week after being snapped, a mystery lake monster dubbed 'Bownessie' has been sighted again.

Holidaymaker Brian Arton described seeing something 'dark with humps' sitting 300 yards out on the surface of Lake Windermere, reports the Sun.

And he said it exactly matched the picture taken five days earlier by kayaker Tom Pickles.

The 61-yearold and his wife, from Hovingham, North Yorks, had just checked into a hotel by the Cumbrian lake when they saw the strange shape.

"We thought it must be a pontoon, a log or an odd-looking buoy,"
he said.

"We didn't think it could possibly be an animal—but then it just disappeared," he added.


Sharks sighted off Perth beach

Sat Feb 26, 2011 3:29pm AEDT

A school of up to 100 sharks have been spotted in Warnbro Sound, south of Perth.

The crew of a Surf Lifesaving helicopter first saw the sharks just before 8.00am this morning.

Authorities say they are mostly juvenile hammerhead and whaler sharks, the biggest being about one and a half metres long.

The Surf Livesaving says they are not known to be a particularly aggressive species.

A stretch of beach, between Donald Street boat ramp and Shelton Street, has been closed.

Doggone if it's not a yeti hurtling down the ski slopes

By Daily Mail Reporter
Snowboarder and keen photographer Mikhail Kristev
did a double-take when he saw a furry, bulky shadow
come speeding down the mountain towards him
Last updated at 4:38 PM on 23rd February 2011

A skier in the Swiss Alps received the fright of his life when a 'yeti' seemingly came speeding down a mountain towards him.

Mikhail Kristev could have been forgiven for thinking it was the Abominable Snowman hurtling down the mountain while he was on a snowboarding trip to the Swiss Alps.

Casually making his way up the snowy mountain he feared the legendary beast was hurtling towards him - but it turned out be one man and his dog.

Keen photographer Mr Kristev, 40, couldn't believe his eyes as the skier whizzed by with the pooch on his shoulders.

He said: 'They were travelling at some speed and I'll admit I feared the worst - I thought something was going to attack me as I could hear unusual noises for a mountain.

'But as the shadow got closer to me and even bigger, the skier came round the corner with a barking dog on his shoulder.

'I found it so funny I had to take some pictures. It was an unusual sight either way in the end I suppose.'

Mr Kristev, from Moscow, Russia, likes to combine his two hobbies - photography and winter sports - together on trips.

He said he only spotted this hilarious sight because of the scary noises which later turned out to be the yelping Alsatian.

He added: 'I was just off the main ski route on my way upwards when I heard the funny pair come from behind me and speed past.

'It was the noises I heard first before the shadow started creeping round - I was very worried when I saw it.

'It's a long way up so my heart was already pounding but this sent it over the top.

'Looking back at it - it's really funny I suppose.

The Swiss Alps are the part of the Alps mountain range lying within Switzerland. The highest summit is Monte Rosa at 15,202ft while the highest mountain entirely on Swiss territory is the Dom at 14,911ft.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Sexy monkeys wash with own urine

By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

Capuchin monkeys have what at first glance appears to be an odd habit: they urinate onto their hands then rub their urine over their bodies into their fur.

Now scientists think they know why the monkeys "urine wash" in this way.

A new study shows that the brains of female tufted capuchins become more active when they smell the urine of sexually mature adult males.

That suggests males wash with their urine to signal their availability and attractiveness to females.

We reasoned that urine washing by males might provide chemical information to the females
Primatologist Dr Kimberley Phillips

Details of the finding are published in the American Journal of Primatology.

A number of New World monkey species, including mantled howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys and the few species of capuchins, regularly "urine wash", urinating into the palm of the hand, then vigorously rubbing the urine into the feet and hindquarters.

Several hypotheses have been put forward as to why they do it, including that it may somehow help maintain body temperature or allow other monkeys to better identify an individual by smell.

Most studies into the behaviour have been inconclusive.

"But one study reported that when being solicited by a female, adult males increased their rate of urine-washing," said Dr Kimberley Phillips, a primatologist at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, US.

"Since female capuchins [when they are most fertile] actively solicit males, we reasoned that urine washing by males might provide chemical information to the females about their sexual or social status," she told BBC News.

To investigate, Dr Phillips and her colleagues scanned the female monkeys' brains while the animals sniffed adult male and juvenile male urine.

These magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans revealed that female tufted monkeys' brains became significantly more active when they sniffed the scent of urine produced by adult males compared to that from juveniles.

Since adult males are sexually mature, they excrete higher concentrations of the male sex hormone testosterone in their urine.

The concentration of this testosterone is also linked to their social status; higher status males tend to produce more.

"Female capuchin monkey brains react differently to the urine of adult males than to urine of juvenile males," said Dr Phillips.

"We suggest that this is used as a form of communication to convey social and or sexual status."

She added that it was surprising that capuchin monkeys appeared to respond to these cues, because the species is not known for using communication based on smell.

Mouse heart 're-grows when cut', study shows


Scientists in the United States have found newborn mice can re-grow their own hearts.

The mice had a large chunk of their heart removed a day after birth, only for the heart to restore itself within three weeks.

Fish and amphibians are known to have the power to re-grow heart tissue, but the study in Science is the first time the process has been seen in mammals.

British experts said understanding the process could help human heart care.

Narrow window

The researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center surgically removed what is known as the left ventricular apex of the heart (about 15% of the heart muscle) from mice just a day after birth.

The heart was then quickly seen to regenerate and was fully restored after 21 days. After two months, the organ still appeared to be functioning normally.

But when the same procedure was tested on mice aged one week, the heart failed to regenerate, suggesting this power of self-repair is extremely short-lived in mice.

The belief is that heart cells within the mouse have a narrow window after birth within which they can continue to replicate and repair. Subsequent tests suggested that these repair cells were coming from within the heart muscle.

"What our results show are that the new heart muscle cells which repair the amputated region of the heart came from proliferation and migration of pre-existing heart muscle cells," said Professor Eric Olson, who worked on the study.

"We have no evidence they came from a stem-cell population."

Many amphibians and fish, most famously the zebrafish, have the ability to renew heart muscle right into adulthood.

This new study suggests mammals too have such capacity for self-repair, if only for a limited time after birth.

Professor Olson believes future research will show humans have a similar capacity, although no experiments involving human heart tissue are currently planned.

"There's no reason to believe that the same window would not exist in the human heart.

"Everything we know about development and early function of the mouse heart is comparable to the human heart so we're quite confident that this process does exist in humans, although that of course still has to be shown."

Heart attacks

The team's focus is now on looking at ways to "re-awaken" this capacity to self repair in adult mice, with the ultimate ambition to do the same in humans to repair damage sustained during heart attacks.

"We've identified a micro-RNA (a small piece of genetic material) which regulates this process so we're tying to use that as a way of further enhancing cardiac regeneration later in life and we're also screening for new drugs which can re-awaken this mechanism in adult mice," he said.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said the study showed heart regeneration was not the exclusive preserve of zebrafish and newts, but said more work needed to be done to understand what was actually going on inside the healing heart.

"This exciting research shows for the first time that young mice, like fish and amphibians, can heal their damaged hearts," he said. "It strengthens the view that understanding how this happens could provide the key to healing adult human hearts."

Professor Olson concedes there will be problems ahead. What works in the low-pressured heart of a zebrafish, might not work in the high-pressured multi-chambered heart of humans.

Meddling with heart muscle cells could, for instance, trigger arrhythmias in the heart, he said.

Friday 25 February 2011

Walking cactus discovered in China

Walking cactus: Scientists have discovered what researchers are calling the missing link in China. The strange-looking walking cactus is thought to be the link between worm-like creatures and arthopods like spiders.

By Wynne Parry, LiveScience / February 25, 2011

Fossils of a 10-legged wormy creature that lived 520 million years ago may fill an important gap in the history of the evolution of insects, spiders and crustaceans.

The so-called walking cactus belongs to a group of extinct worm-like creatures called lobopodians that are thought to have given rise to arthropods. Spiders and other arthropods have segmented bodies and jointed limbs covered in a hardened shell.

Before the discovery of the walking cactus, Diania cactiformis, all lobopodian remains had soft bodies and soft limbs, said Jianni Liu, the lead researcher who is affiliated with Northwest University in China and Freie University in Germany.

"Walking cactus is very important because it is sort of a missing link from lobopodians to arthropods," Liu told LiveScience. "Scientists have always suspected that arthropods evolved from somewhere amongst lobopodians, but until now we didn't have a single fossil you could point at and say that is the first one with jointed legs. And this is what walking cactus shows." [Image of walking cactus fossil]

Leggy find

Liu and other researchers described the extinct creature based on three complete fossils and 30 partial ones discovered in Yunnan Province in southern China. The walking cactus had a body divided into nine segments with 10 pairs of hardened, jointed legs, and it measured about 2.4 inches (6 centimeters) long.

It's not clear how the leggy worm made its living. It could have used its tube-like mouth called a proboscis to suck tiny things from the mud, or it may have used its spiny front legs to grab prey, Liu said.

Clues to arthropod evolution are preserved in modern-day velvet worms, which are considered the only living relative to all arthropods. Once mistaken for slugs, these land-dwelling worms are almost entirely soft-bodied except for hardened claws and jaws.

Where spiders, insects and others came from

The discovery of the walking cactus helps fill in the evolutionary history between the velvet worms and modern arthropods, which, in terms of numbers and diversity, are the most dominant group of animals on the planet, according to Graham Budd, a professor of paleobiology at Uppsala University in Sweden, who was not involved in the current study.

The walking cactus is the first and only case of hardened, jointed limbs built for walking appearing in a creature that is not recognizable as an arthropod, Budd said.

But Budd is not convinced that, as the researchers argue, the walking cactus's hardened legs were passed directly down to modern arthropods.

"I am not persuaded that it is a direct ancestor or as closely related to living arthropods as they suggest," he told LiveScience. "I would like to see more evidence; the great thing is a lot more material keeps coming up."
For instance, it is possible that the walking cactus is less closely related to modern arthropods, and that hardened legs evolved multiple times. It is also possible that the bodies of primitive arthropods hardened before their legs did, Budd said.

New fossils, particularly from China, have helped clarify the evolutionary history of arthropods, and in the last decade or so, scientists have come to more consensus regarding that history, he added.

Fox lived in the Shard skyscraper at London Bridge

Romeo has now been released on the streets of Bermondsey
24 February 2011

A fox has been discovered living at the top of the UK's tallest skyscraper.

The animal, named Romeo by staff, is thought to have entered the 288m (945ft) Shard building at London Bridge through the central stairwell.

It survived by eating scraps of food left by builders working on the incomplete structure.

The fox was captured and taken to Riverside Animal Centre in Wallington where it was fed and given a check-up.

Ted Burden, the centre's founder, said: "We explained to him that if foxes were meant to be 72 storeys off the ground, they would have evolved wings.

"We think he got the message and, as we released him back on to the streets of Bermondsey shortly after midnight on Sunday, he glanced at the Shard and then trotted off in the other direction."

'Resourceful little chap'

Barrie Hargrove, cabinet member for transport, environment and recycling at Southwark Council, said: "Romeo has certainly been on a bit of a jaunt and proved rather elusive.

"But I'm glad our pest control officers were able to help out.

"He's obviously a resourceful little chap, but I'm sure he's glad the adventure is over and hopefully he'll steer well clear of skyscrapers in the future."

The Shard overtook Canary Wharf as the UK's highest tower block last year.

Panther sightings have residents freaked, experts skeptical

Tuesday, February 22, 2011, 9:30 PM

By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune

In the New Orleans area, panther hysteria is at fever pitch.

With residents reporting near daily sightings, you'd think we were under attack.

Truth is, the myth of the black panther in Louisiana - and throughout the United States - has a long phantom existence, according to physiologists and biologists.

Maria Davidson, the large carnivore program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, calmly explained that the only black panthers in existence are black jaguars found in South America and black leopards that live in Asia and Africa.

The North American black panther generally falls under the term "cryptid," a creature whose existence has been suggested but is not recognized by the scientific community and has been deemed highly unlikely. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster fall under that category.

They also have been called "phantom cats," "alien big cats" (ABCs), and in certain circles, the sightings have been dubbed "panther paranoia."

And while some people, including local law enforcement officials, discuss the possibility of a black cougar in our midst, Davidson assuredly said black cougars do not exist at all. They come only in tawny and fawn colors, ranging from light gray-brown to a brownish orange.

In fact, she said, Louisiana does not have a breeding population of cougars - in any color - and that the last cougar found in the state was in 2009 and that animal was genetically linked to a population in New Mexico.

Last weekend, two panther sightings were reported, one in St. Tammany Parish and one in Plaquemines Parish. A few days earlier, a man in St. Bernard Parish said he and his wife saw one sitting a block from their garage, staring at them calmly, before darting into nearby woods.

Several other reports of sightings have streamed into Davidson's office and to the news media.

The recent fervor began several weeks ago, when a woman purportedly spotted a panther in a tree behind her house. Plaquemines Parish sheriff's officials went out with Davidson to investigate.

Davidson said she later confirmed that the footprints belonged to a dog.

Recently a photo began circulating on Facebook, and soon made its rounds on local television news channels, that a Plaquemines woman said she took on Sunday. Davidson said the photo certainly is of a house cat, likely measuring about 3 feet from nose to back of tail.

Other supposed black panther photos have come to her attention in the past few weeks, and she said all were much too blurry to decipher.

Plaquemines sheriff's Sgt. Robert Cullum went to the original black panther sighting in Phoenix on Plaquemines' east bank and has searched each day with hunter dogs, trained to track deer. He said he saw a 6-foot-long black cat.

A week or so after the original sighting, residents reported that the cat had moved south to the riverside community of Davant, and now Cullum predicted it is in the Bohemian area, farther south along the parish's east bank.

A Plaquemines sheriff helicopter still regularly circles the area.

Also chiming in, Lake Borne Levee District Police and levee contractors in the Violet area have reported panthers in the area.

And last Thursday, a couple in Violet called the St. Bernard Sheriff's Office and reported a panther near their home. St. Bernard sheriff's officials, especially after news broke about it on Monday, searched the woods there for the past two days to no avail.

Meanwhile, a Folsom couple recently reported to television media that their home surveillance cameras caught a panther on film Saturday. They have not reported it to government officials, and Davidson said on Tuesday that she yet heard of it.

Donna Davis said she now won't let her eight grandchildren out of the house at night.

"There is no refuting from this video what he is. It is very obvious, very clear," she said. "From head to tip to tail it's almost 6 feet, 7 feet and he has a girth to him like you can't believe. It's a massive, massive cat."

She and her husband Randy Davis have horses on their 20-acre property but say none has been injured. She said they have now added better lighting and are using live chickens to bait the panther in hopes of getting a better shot on film.

Erin C. Dupuis, a clinical psychologist at Loyola University, said one explanation for the recent flood of panther reports is the "availability heuristic."

The recent barrage of media reports about panther sightings scare people, thus making a significant impression on their psyche. In turn, they begin thinking about panthers more and they begin to have the impression that more black panthers exist than actually do, she explained.

"Now, when I go to my backyard I am primed to think that what I see is a black panther, even though it might just be a big cat or dog that is blurry in the side of my vision," said Dupuis, who studies how people think about their social environment.

Another explanation Dupuis posed is the "confirmation bias," which states when people think something exists, they seek out information that confirms those beliefs.

Davidson said when a pet goes missing, people often will jump to the conclusion that it was a panther, or a cougar, instead of the neighborhood dog, a coyote or an even simpler explanation: that the cat simply ran away.

"It's a phenomenon that we talk about quite often actually, just among the professionals who deal with it," Davidson said.

And after the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department debunks stories about roaming black panthers, explaining that they do not exist in the area, Davidson said people often try to find another explanation, and resort to stories about how wild, exotic pets must have sprung loose from their owners.

According to urban myth, in St. Bernard's Poydras area before Hurricane Katrina, a man owned two panthers -- one brown and one black. When the deluge came, he let the beasts loose and for the past five years they've been out in the marshes.

St. Bernard officials say no records were kept from before the storm and most of the pre-storm staff in the local animal control department have since left town, making research into the story difficult.

But, any owners of the world's six big cats -- tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs and cougars -- must receive a permit from Wildlife and Fisheries, and Davidson said none has been issued.

Photos and video at:

Brazilian woman finds alligator behind sofa

24 February 2011

A woman in Brazil was shocked to find an alligator hiding behind her sofa after heavy rains flooded her house in the town of Parauapebas, in Para state.

She said she was alerted to the reptile's presence by her three-year-old son, who was patting its head.

The woman snatched the child away and called the fire brigade, who trapped the 1.5m-long (5ft) alligator.

The firefighters said the family was lucky the reptile was not hungry.

Firefighter Captain Luiz Claudio Farias said it could have seriously hurt or even killed the boy.

Capt Farias said it was not uncommon for animals such as alligators and snakes to enter people's houses in towns such as Parauapebas which are built very near rivers and the rainforest.

He said the reptile had been released in a less populated area of the town.

Thursday 24 February 2011


Turtle Populations Affected by Climate, Habitat Loss and Overexploitation (2011 is the Year of the Turtle)

ScienceDaily (Feb. 15, 2011) - The sex of some species of turtles is determined by the temperature of the nest: warm nests produce females, cooler nests, males. And although turtles have been on the planet for about 220 million years, scientists now report that almost half of all turtle species is threatened. Turtle scientists are working to understand how global warming may affect turtle reproduction. To bring attention to this and other issues affecting turtles, researchers and other supporters have designated 2011 as the Year of the Turtle.

Why should we be concerned about the loss of turtles?

"Turtles are centrally nested in the food web and are symbols of our natural heritage. They hold a significant role in many cultures. For example, in many southeast Asian cultures turtles are used for food, pets, and medicine," explains Deanna Olson, a research ecologist and co-chair of the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation steering committee spearheading the Year of the Turtle campaign.
Turtles (which include tortoises) are central to the food web. Sea turtles graze on the sea grass found on the ocean floor, helping to keep it short and healthy. Healthy sea grass in turn is an important breeding ground for many species of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. The same processes hold for freshwater and land turtles. For example, turtles contribute to the health of marshes and wetlands, being important prey for a suite of predators. The Year of the Turtle activities, include a monthly newsletter showcasing research and conservation efforts, education and citizen science projects, turtle-themed art, literature, and cultural perspectives, says Olson, a scientist with the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Olson also co-authored a report, "State of the Turtle," and created a new turtle mapping project for the United States. The report is being translated into other languages for use here and around the world.
"A French translation of the report is already completed, and groups from Bangladesh and Germany signed on recently to help promote turtle conservation, and new partners join us each week," explains Olson.

Here are a few quick facts about turtles:

About 50 percent of freshwater turtle species are threatened worldwide, more than any other animal group.

About 20 percent of all turtle species worldwide are found in North America.

Primary threats to turtles are habitat loss and exploitation.

Climate change patterns, altered temperatures, affected wetlands and stream flow all are key factors that affect turtle habitats.

Urban and suburban development causes turtles to be victims to fast-moving cars, farm machinery; turtles can also be unintentionally caught in fishing nets.

What can be done to conserve turtle populations?

Protect rare turtle species and their habitats.

Manage common turtle species and their habitats so they may remain common.

Manage crisis situations such as acute hazards (i.e., oil spills) and rare species in peril.

To read the report and learn more about the Year of the Turtle and how you can participate, please visit

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Physics of Burrowing Sandfish Revealed (via Herp Digest)

Physics of Burrowing Sandfish Revealed
Simulations show how lizard wriggles a fine line to maximize thrust, extension
By Daniel Strain, 2/22/11

The sandfish lizard wriggles through desert sands like a sci-fi monster. Now, using computer simulations and bendy robots, researchers at Georgia Tech in Atlanta have taken the most complete look yet at the everyday physics of burrowing animals.

And, boy, does this reptile wriggle, the team reports online February 23 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. "This particular behavior is built for speed," says physicist Daniel Goldman, one of the study coauthors.

Like the deadly sandworms in the Dune science fiction series, a host of animals from scorpions to snakes haunt subterranean deserts across the planet. It's not easy to study how these creatures careen through their environments, Goldman says. Scientists have a good idea how water behaves in the wake of an undulating eel or how air flows over a bird wing. But shuffling sand grains ping off each other like a wickedly complicated game of pool.

X-ray studies have shown that sandfish lizards (Scincus scincus) navigate such chaos with an earthwormlike wriggle, Goldman says, tucking in their legs and curling from side to side in S-shaped waves. A fast sandfish lizard dive covers two body lengths per second - and the creatures can grow to 4 inches long, he adds. But just how the lizards achieve such speed in a complex sandy environment wasn't clear. For that, Goldman's team turned to a new set of tools. 

First, researchers simulated sandfish lizards swimming through a field of 3-millimeter-wide glass beads on a computer. The program - which ate up 20 to 30 desktop PCs and still took days to run - illustrated how every bead bumped and thudded as the virtual lizard passed by. The real fun came next. The team built a spandex-covered robo-reptile that could wriggle much like the real thing. "The beauty of robotics compared to the simulation and theory: It's all in the real world," Goldman says. I!
f the team wanted the robot to bend more or less, the researchers just asked it to bend more or less.

On-screen or clad in spandex, the tests agreed. If virtual lizards curl too much, they don't move far enough forward with each wriggle. If they bend too little, the lizards can't give enough push. Real-life sandfish lizards walk, or wriggle, this fine line nearly perfectly. "They dive into the sand as fast as they can," Goldman says.

Such finely tuned diving isn't useful just for lizards, says Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas A&M University in College Station. She designs robots to help in the aftermath of disasters like earthquakes or mudslides. But when it comes to machines that can dig like earthworms and slip through rubble, nothing like that exists, she says.

"There's a lack of any technology short of a shovel." Burrowing animals could inspire new machines, but so far, few studies have been able to capture the constraints robots would face in dirt-filled or muddy environments. "This is the first I've seen that I said, 'Okay, we've got it,'" she says. 

Robots inspired by animals are neat, admits Eric Tytell, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who studies how fish swim in water.

But the Georgia team flipped that inspiration around, too. Goldman and his colleagues used robots to get a better grasp of biology. And that's really clever, Tytell says. 

Goldman says his studies have convinced him that sandfish lizards dive for one reason - to escape. In the desert, there's nowhere else to hide. "You just want to get the hell out of there as fast as you can," he says.

Florida Sea Turtles and The Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (Via Herp Digest)

Florida Sea Turtles and The Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Submitted by AMANDA BRYANT, SCCF Sea Turtle Coordinator
From CaptivaSanibel.Com 2/22/11

This year's sea turtle nesting season will begin on May 1, with Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation staff and volunteers gearing up to cover island beaches.

Last year, many of us spent our spring and summer watching in horror as the Deepwater Horizon Oil rig exploded and the well it serviced pumped barrels upon barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

From April 20 until the well was capped in July, sea turtles were center stage as a poster animal for the disaster. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was responsible for handling the impacts on sea turtles along the Florida shoreline.

Efforts to protect sea turtles began almost immediately. These efforts included on-the-water search and rescue, documentation and collection of sea turtles stranded on or near to shore, nesting beach protection and observation during cleanup activities.

Approximately 450 sea turtles were rescued at sea, all but five alive. Less than one percent of these turtles died during rehabilitation. Releases of rehabilitated turtles into oil-free waters began as soon as the well was capped. To date, all have been released, with the exception of 40 sea turtles that are still receiving care.

On the beaches of the panhandle, Florida's only oiled beaches, emerging hatchlings faced almost certain death. The decision was made to relocate nests at 47-49 days of incubation (about one week before they would hatch) and release the hatchlings on the eastern coast of the state.

Eggs from 274 nests were carefully dug up and removed from the nest. They were placed in coolers with damp sand from the nest and transported near Cape Canaveral. The FedEx trucks used to move the eggs were temperature controlled, air-cushioned and equipped with special pallets to hold the coolers in place.

Every effort was made to reduce or eliminate unnecessarily jarring. At this stage in development, eggs are very vulnerable to movement, which can result in the death of the hatchling.

The coolers were kept in a temperature controlled facility and monitored until the nests hatched. Hatchlings were then released at night on nearby beaches.

In all, this massive undertaking unearthed and relocated 28,568 eggs and released 14,796 hatchlings. The hatch success (percentage of eggs that hatch out of the total number of eggs) for relocated nests matched that of nests left to hatch without assistance.

(Bryant recently attended the Florida Marine Turtle Permit Holders Annual Meeting, where these figures were released.)

Tick Population Plummets in Absence of Lizard Hosts (Via Herp Digest)

Tick Population Plummets in Absence of Lizard Hosts

By: Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley Media Relations, 2/22/11

A Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) can often be found with dozens of ticks attached to it. However, they have a unique influence on the ecology of Lyme disease. The lizard's immune system clears the Lyme disease bacteria from ticks after the ticks feed on the lizard.

The Western fence lizard's reputation for helping to reduce the threat of Lyme disease is in jeopardy. A new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that areas where the lizard had been removed saw a subsequent drop in the population of the ticks that transmit Lyme disease.
"Our expectation going into this study was that removing the lizards would increase the risk of Lyme disease, so we were surprised by these findings," said study lead author Andrea Swei, who conducted the study while she was a Ph.D. student in integrative biology at UC Berkeley. "Our experiment found that the net result of lizard removal was a decrease in the density of infected ticks, and therefore decreased Lyme disease risk to humans."

The study, to be published online Tuesday, Feb. 15, in the journal Proceedings of The Royal Society B, illustrates the complex role the Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) plays in the abundance of disease-spreading ticks.

Lyme disease - characterized by fever, headache, fatigue and a bullseye rash - is spread through the bite of ticks infected with spirochete bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. In the Western region of the United States, the Western black legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) is the primary vector for Lyme disease bacteria.

In 1998, a pioneering study led by UC Berkeley entomologist Robert Lane found that a protein in the Western fence lizard's blood killed Borrelia bacteria, and as a result, Lyme-infected ticks that feed on the lizard's blood are cleansed of the disease-causing pathogen. Moreover, research has found that up to 90 percent of the juvenile ticks in this species feed on the Western fence lizard, which is prevalent throughout California and neighboring states.

The lizard is thus often credited for the relatively low incidence of Lyme disease in the Western United States. The new UC Berkeley-led study put that assumption to the test experimentally.

"When you have an animal like the Western fence lizard that supports such a huge population of ticks, you can't assume that all those juvenile ticks will go to another host if the lizard population drops," said Lane, UC Berkeley Professor of the Graduate School and co-author of this study.

For their field test, the researchers selected 14 plots, each measuring 10,000 square meters and spread out over two sites in Marin County, Calif. Half the plots were located at China Camp State Park, and the other half were at the Marin Municipal Water District Sky Oaks headquarters. The researchers had already been extensively surveying tick density in those plots over the course of two years, so they had detailed data on tick and vertebrate populations before this experimental field trial.

From March to April 2008, before tick season went into full swing, the researchers captured and removed 447 lizards from six plots - three at each site - and left the remaining plots unaltered as controls. The lizards that had been captured were marked before being relocated so the researchers could determine whether any wandered back into their old haunts.

After the lizards were removed, the researchers spent the following month trapping other mammals known to harbor ticks - particularly woodrats (Neotoma fuscipes) and deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) - to determine whether they bore an uptick in ticks as a result of the lizards' absence. The researchers also checked for differences between control and experimental plots in the abundance of host-seeking ticks by systematically dragging a large white flannel cloth over the ground.

The researchers found that in plots where the lizards had been removed, ticks turned to the female woodrat as their next favorite host. On average, each female woodrat got an extra five ticks for company when the lizards disappeared.

However, the researchers found that 95 percent of the ticks that no longer had lizard blood to feast on failed to latch on to another host.

"One of the goals of our study is to tease apart the role these lizards play in Lyme disease ecology," said Swei, who is now a post-doctoral associate at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York. "It was assumed that these lizards played an important role in reducing Lyme disease risk. Our study shows that it's more complicated than that."

Notwithstanding the results in this new study, Lane pointed out that the Western fence lizard are key to keeping infection rates down among adult ticks. "This study focused only on the risk from juvenile ticks, specifically those in the nymphal stage," he said. "The earlier finding that adult ticks have lower infection rates because they feed predominantly on the Western fence lizard at the nymphal stage still holds."

"In attempting to decrease infectious disease risk, we need to remember the law of unexpected consequences," said Sam Scheiner, program director in the National Science Foundation Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research through the joint NSF-NIH (National Institutes of Health) Ecology of Infectious Diseases Program. "This study demonstrates the complexity of infectious diseases."

Other authors on this study are Cheryl Briggs, a professor at UC Santa Barbara's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology; and Richard Ostfeld, a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

SHELLSHOCK: New Report Lists 25 Most Endangered Turtle Species (Via Herp Digest)

SHELLSHOCK: New Report Lists 25 Most Endangered Turtle Species
Some turtle species number less than five individuals
Report says controlling illegal trade is only hope to save turtles
Wildlife Conservation Society co-authored report with coalition of conservation group

SINGAPORE (February 21,2011) - A report issued today, co-authored by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) working in conjunction with the Turtle Conservation Coalition, lists the 25 most endangered turtle species from around the world - some of which currently number less than five individuals.

Decimated by illegal hunting for both food and the pet trade along with habitat loss, many turtle species will go extinct in the next decade unless drastic conservation measures are taken, according to the report, which was released at a regional workshop hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and WCS. Seventeen of the 25 species are found in Asia, three are from South America, three from Africa, one from Australia, and one from Central America and Mexico.
The report was authored by the Turtle Conservation Coalition, which is made up by IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservation Fund, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy/Behler Chelonian Center, Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, WCS, and San Diego Zoo Global.

The list of 25 includes "Lonesome George" - the only remaining Abdington Island giant tortoise. Though there is still scientific disagreement as to whether he is a recognized species or a subspecies of Galápagos tortoise, all agree that he is the last of his kind. Another species on the brink is the Yangtze giant softshell turtle with just four known individuals. Wildlife Conservation Society veterinarians have been working with Chinese officials and other partners to breed the last known male/female pair of these giant turtles, which currently reside at China's Suzhou Zoo.

Illegal hunting for turtles in Asia for food, pets, and traditional medicines is a particular problem, the report says.

"Turtles are being unsustainably hunted throughout Asia," said co-author Brian D. Horne of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Every tortoise and turtle species in Asia is being impacted in some manner by the international trade in turtles and turtle products. In just one market in Dhaka, Bangladesh we saw close to 100,000 turtles being butchered for consumption during a religious holiday, and we know of at least three other such markets within the city."

Liz Bennett, Vice President of WCS Species Program, said: "Turtles are wonderfully adapted to defend themselves against predators by hiding in their shells, but this defense mechanism doesn't work against organized, large-scale human hunting efforts. The fact is that turtles are being vacuumed up from every nook and cranny in Asia and beyond."

The report says that better enforcement of existing trade laws, habitat protection, and captive breeding are all keys to preventing turtle species from going extinct while bolstering existing populations.

Copy of Report Available Upon Request PDF file

Sterility in Frogs Caused by Environmental Pharmaceutical Progestogens (Via Herp Digest)

Sterility in Frogs Caused by Environmental Pharmaceutical Progestogens, Study Finds

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2011) - Frogs appear to be very sensitive to progestogens, a kind of pharmaceutical that is released into the environment. Female tadpoles that swim in water containing a specific progestogen, levonorgestrel, are subject to abnormal ovarian and oviduct development, resulting in adult sterility. This is shown by a new study conducted at Uppsala University and published in the journal Aquatic Toxicology.

Many of the medicines that people consume are released into the environment via sewage systems. Progestogens are hormone preparations used in contraceptives, cancer treatment and hormone replacement therapy for menopausal discomfort. Different kinds of progestogens have been identified in waterways in a number of countries. Associate professor Cecilia Berg and doctoral student Moa Kvarnryd at the Department of Environmental Toxicology at Uppsala University have shown that levonorgestrel can cause sterility in female frogs at concentrations not much higher than those measured in the environment. The research group is part of MistraPharma, one of the world's largest research networks focusing on pharmaceuticals and the environment.

"The findings represent important initial evidence that an environmental progestogen can adversely affect frogs," says Cecilia Berg.

Female tadpoles that swam in water containing low concentrations of levonorgestrel exhibited a greater proportion of immature ovarian egg cells and lacked oviducts, entailing sterility. The African clawed frog (Xenopus tropicalis) served as the model organism. It is during the tadpole stage that development of frog reproductive organs begins. The process is governed by the hormone system. The findings underscore the importance of studying how pharmaceuticals affect animals in our environment, which is one objective of MistraPharma.

"Our findings show that pharmaceuticals other than estrogen can cause permanent damage to aquatic animals exposed during early life stages," says Cecilia Berg.


HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) 2/23/11 - A Waianae resident reported a dead lizard to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture after the family dogs apparently killed it on Friday night.

The foot-and-a-half long lizard has been identified as a tegu lizard (Tupinambis teguixin), which are illegal in Hawaii. The resident, who reported the lizard to officials on Saturday, said she heard her dogs barking Friday night and discovered the dead lizard. She was asked to hold it for agriculture inspectors, who picked it up on Monday morning.

It is not known how the lizard arrived in Hawaii. The lizard was identified by a herpetologist at the Bishop Museum and will remain in the museum's collection.

Tegu lizards are native to South America, but are found in the pet trade worldwide. They may grow up to four- to five-feet long and are a threat to ground-nesting birds and agricultural crops, as they may be a source of bacterial contamination of food crops. They are known to use their tails and claws as weapons and can deliver a nasty bite that may cause serious bacterial infections.

Individuals who see or have knowledge of illegal animals should call the State's toll-free PEST HOTLINE at 643-PEST (7378).

Those harboring illegal animals are encouraged to turn in the animals under the state's amnesty program, which provides immunity from prosecution.

Illegal animals may be turned in to any HDOA Office, Honolulu Zoo or any Humane Society - no questions asked and no fines assessed.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Owls change colour as climate warms

The owls are evolving to cope with increasing temperatures
Tuesday, 22 February 2011
By Emma Brennand
Earth News reporter

Tawny owls turn brown to survive in warmer climates, according to scientists in Finland.

Feather colour is hereditary, with grey plumage dominant over brown. But the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that the number of brown owls was increasing.

As winters become milder, the scientists say, grey feathered tawny owls are likely to disappear.

This study indicates that the birds are evolving in response to climate change.

Dr Patrik Karell from the University of Helsinki, who led the study, gathered together data from long-term tawny owl studies carried out across Finland over the last 30 years.

The owls can be split into two plumage-based categories - brown or grey.

The colour of a tawny owl's plumage does not change throughout its lifetime, so Dr Karell and his colleagues were able to use the data to create "colour maps" of breeding pairs and their offspring.

The maps showed that plumage colour was hereditary; pairs with grey plumage had the grey "version" of the gene that coded for plumage colour, so they produced grey offspring.

In the case of mixed colour breeding pairs, the grey colour trait was "dominant", which meant that an owlet that inherited both grey genes and brown genes would be likely to have grey plumage.

Lighter shade

The team examined tawny owl data, which was compiled by amateur bird ringers from the Finnish Museum of Natural History.

This revealed that, in years when winter weather was particularly severe, there was a higher mortality rate in the brown owl population.

This could be because brown owls were more visible to predators when there was thick snow cover.

Previous genetic studies have also suggested that brown owls' may have other disadvantages compared to their grey counterparts, including weaker immune systems and higher metabolic rates - meaning they need to forage more in order to survive.

But as the winters have become warmer, and snow cover has been reduced, the brown tawny owl populations have greatly increased.

Dr Karell told BBC News that the brown owls, which used to form 30% of the tawny owl population in Finland, now make up 50%.

"Its survival has improved as winters have become warmer," he said. "In other words, climate-driven selection has led to an evolutionary change in the population."

The results also suggest that a changing climate could, in some species, reduce the number and variety of characteristics that can be inherited.

If the grey owls disappeared from the "gene pool", for example, there would be only one version of the colour gene to be found.
(Submitted by Dawn Holloway)

Dinosaur named 'thunder-thighs'

23 February 2011
By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, BBC News

Scientists have named a new dinosaur species "thunder-thighs" because of the huge thigh muscles it would have had.

Fossil remains recovered from a quarry in Utah, US, are fragmentary but enough to tell researchers the creature must have possessed extremely powerful legs.

The new species, described in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, is a sauropod - the family of dinosaurs famous for their long necks and tails.

It could have given other animals a hefty kick, say its discoverers.

"If predators came after it, it would have been able to boot them out of the way," said Dr Mike Taylor, from University College London, UK.

The team has named its dinosaur Brontomerus mcintoshi - from Greek "bronto", meaning "thunder"; and "merós", meaning "thigh".

The fossilised bones of two specimens - an adult and a juvenile - have been dated to be about 110 million years old.

They were rescued from the Hotel Mesa Quarry in Grand County, Utah.

The site has been looted by commercial fossil-hunters and so scientists have probably been denied the full range of material from which to make their classification.

Nonetheless, those bones they do have sport tell-tale features that mark out an extraordinary species.
Chief among them is a hip-bone, called the ilium, which is unusually large in comparison to that of similar dinosaurs.

The wide, blade-shaped bone projects forward ahead of the hip socket, providing a proportionally massive area for the attachment of muscles.

"As you put the skeleton together, you can run muscles down from the hip-bone to join at the knee and that gives you a whopping thigh," Dr Taylor told BBC News.

"What's interesting is that if it were a sauropod that could move particularly fast, you would expect to see very strong muscles on the back of the leg to pull it along. But we don't; this is the opposite. It seems most likely to us that what this is about is being able to deliver a strong kick," he told BBC News.

The paleo-scientists speculate that the larger specimen in their possession is the mother of the juvenile.

The adult would have weighed about six tonnes - something like the size of a large modern elephant - and probably measured 14m in length.

At a third of the size, the juvenile would have weighed in at about 200kg - the size of a pony - and been 4.5m long.

Brontomerus was living in what geologists term the Early Cretaceous Period.

Some other marks on the fossils give additional clues to what sort of lifestyle the creature had and the environment it faced.

"The shoulder blade of Brontomerus has unusual bumps that probably mark the boundaries of muscle attachments, suggesting that Brontomerus had powerful forelimb muscles as well," explained team-member Dr Matt Wedel, from the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.

"It's possible that Brontomerus mcintoshi was more athletic than most other sauropods. It is well established that far from being swamp-bound hippo-like animals, sauropods preferred drier, upland areas; so perhaps Brontomerus lived in rough, hilly terrain and the powerful leg muscles were a sort of 'dinosaur four-wheel drive'."

The team also believes the find is significant for its position in Earth history, in that it challenges the notion that sauropods began to disappear in the Early Cretaceous.

"Because sauropods were the most abundant dinosaurs found during the Jurassic Period and the rarest during the Early Cretaceous, there's long been the perception that sauropods were successful in the Jurassic and were replaced by duckbills and horned dinosaurs in the Cretaceous," said Dr Wedel.

"In the past 20 years, however, we are finding more sauropods from the Early Cretaceous period, and the picture is changing. It now seems that sauropods may have been every bit as diverse as they were during the Jurassic, but much less abundant and so much less likely to be found."

Dr Taylor is disappointed that more of Brontomerus could not be recovered, and wonders whether larger fossil pieces are being held in some unknown private collection.

"The fossil-hunters basically pillaged this site," he told BBC News.

"They left behind broken remnants and smashed bits of bone; and in some cases they were using broken bones to hold down tarpaulins - that's really the most disgraceful aspect of it."

See video and more at:
(Submitted by Paul Vella)

The Shameful Shell Games Continue (Via Herp Digest)

The Shameful Shell Games Continue
by David S. Lee The Tortoise Reserve PO Box 7082 White Lake, NC 27614
Originally printed in the CHS Bulletin 45(12) 2010 Pg.185-186

It's like a perpetual game of Whack-A-Mole, but with ever advancing levels of play

Red-eared sliders are the most frequently sold turtle in the pet trade, due largely to their bright colors. By the 1960s there were over 150 turtle farms operating in the United States. Currently there are 80 turtle farms in Louisiana alone, where they represent a $9.4 million a year industry. In most cases these farms are not self-sufficient, and thousands of additional adult sliders are removed from the wild each year to replace senile breeding stock. This ongoing practice has seriously depleted native populations in many areas of the south. In the mid-1970s the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the U.S. sales of turtles under four inches because they found the turtles often transmitted salmonella to small children (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Vol. 8:21CFR1240.62). This was at first devastating to the turtle farmers. Their solution was twofold: overseas sales, and finding markets in the U.S. in states where the regulations were not well enforced. For almo!
st every subsequent attempt at regulation of the industry there was a successful countermove by the farms or the dealers. Today over 200,000 farmed pet turtles continue to be sold in this country each year, and nearly 10 million are shipped to inter- national pet markets.

And to keep it interesting a U.S. senator is attempting to push new legislation to reopen the market for red-eared sliders in the U.S. The bill has already passed the senate and if it goes through the unintended effect will be the mass marketing of turtles in addition to the ones hatched on turtle farms. Eggs taken from the wild will be hatched and the young will be sold in any number of venues: street vendors, pet shops, tourist shops, roadside stands, and of course over the Internet. With this proposed law, imports of turtles hatched from eggs dug up in the wild will enter the U.S. as they will no longer need to reach four inches in length prior to shipment. Countries requir- ing imported or exported turtles to be captive-bred will be swamped with requests for permits to sell "captive-bred" turtles. CITES regulations will be tested to their limits as exporting countries ship boxes of various protected species as "captive- bred." Dropping the 4-inch requirement for import a!
nd sales in the U.S. will have conservation consequences for many species of turtles in many countries.

In addition to the health issues and the devastation of native turtle populations as turtle farms' breeding stock was continu- ally replaced, the commercial trade has resulted in large num- bers of turtles being released into areas where they do not natu- rally occur. These sliders unfortunately are one of the most adaptable of turtles. Having a wide ecological tolerance, by the early 1960s they were becoming established as permanent self- sustaining populations throughout the country. With the shift to overseas markets, these turtles also became established globally.

They are on every continent and subcontinent except Antarctica, and even islands like New Zealand, the Bahamas and Cuba now support feral populations of red-eared sliders.

Biologists in European nations soon discovered that the exotic sliders were competing with their native turtles. Not just food but even basking space was important. Researchers dem- onstrated that European pond turtles when unable to bask, due to displacement from sunning sites by sliders, could not process food, had decreased growth rates, and became even less capable of competing with the aggressive sliders. When the European Union banned the importation of red-eared sliders, the turtle farmers circumvented this and crossbred them with yellow- bellied sliders and shipped their customized, genetically de- signed young turtles to Europe.

Florida recently stopped the sale of red-eared sliders because released pet turtles were becoming established and were compet- ing with native species, so the turtle farms stocked up on differ- ent species to produce young turtles for the market. Over time they too will become problems. As of 1 July 2007, red-eared sliders could no longer be sold in Florida, and after 1 January 2008, it became illegal for non-licensed people to have a red- eared slider smaller than four inches in carapace length. The intent of this regulation was entirely different from that of the federal one. Florida considered red-reared sliders to be injuri- ous wildlife, and became concerned about the numbers of dis- carded pet turtles being released into the state's aquatic systems. Many states have injurious wildlife laws, but Florida is to be applauded for their use of these laws to take a stand against the commercial sales of red-eared sliders. The IUCN lists this turtle among the 100 most dangerous!
exotic animals in the world, and many countries are now recognizing the red-eared slider as injurious wildlife. Vietnam this year required a turtle farm in that country to return a shipment of 40 tons of red-eared sliders to the U.S.

I was in Daytona Beach this July and visited a few tourist- focused gift shops along A1A. Besides the tables of T-shirts, racks of bikinis, postcards, knickknacks, seashells, dried starfish and seahorses, and live hermit crabs there were sales displays of "Live Baby Turtles." The turtles all appeared to be fresh-out-of- the-egg hatchlings, though none had an "egg tooth." I wondered if these were mostly last season's hatchlings, held dormant in refrigeration for 9 months or so to be ready for the early summer tourist market, a time prior to when the 2010 hatchlings would be emerging from their eggs. If so, this is a shame, as most, though seemingly healthy now, would succumb to organ failure in the months to come. The turtles were not red-eared sliders, they were combinations of hieroglyphic river cooters and crosses of red-eared and yellow-bellied sliders. A few individu- als would be hard to distinguish from pure red-ears, but thus the shops like those in Europe were getting around the ban on red-ear sales. In fact they weren't sales at all; one needed to purchase turtle set-ups---units of various sizes starting at $18.50 apiece. Technically no turtles were being sold; they were simply given away. The shops assumed there was no regulation against giving the turtles away, so buy the container and other turtle paraphernalia and you get a free turtle. Not a bad business plan considering that the wholesale purchase price of the turtles is about 40-50 cents each. So, what's next, $45 condoms and a cute gal who will show you how they are installed and used free of charge?

The potential ecological impact on native Florida turtles and other wildlife is not only just as bad, but has been increased because of the river cooters. Now there are two genera of introduced turtles Florida needs to be concerned about. While I did not see any map turtles for sale that day, they are another concern, one that can easily slip through the Florida regulations as now written.

Based on the hybrid swarms of hatchling map turtles produced and sold by turtle farmers we know that Grapt- emys readily hybridize. Considering the overall range of the genus, and the number of endemic range-limited species of conservation concern occurring along the Gulf Coast, the poten- tial for released pet map turtles to destroy the genetic integrity of a number of species is high. And keep in mind the resulting problems are not restricted to Florida. These turtles are being sold at vacation destinations and will be widely dispersed by visiting tourists. What becomes of the hatching turtles when they out grow their store-purchased habitats, or live past the point that they are of interest to the children for whom they were purchased? These hatchlings will show up in creeks, ponds and lakes all over the eastern United States. And it has started. This summer a false map turtle was found in Maryland---a released pet trade turtle, one that could hybridize with the state's native common map turtle, a species of conservation concern. Yet, they can be sold legally in that state because they are not a native species.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for more than a decade has turned a blind eye to enforcement of state and federal regula- tions on the sale of hatchling red-eared sliders. I and others have documented a steady input of unwanted sliders turned into reptile rescue centers and dumped into aquatic systems from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. Owners forfeiting red-eared sliders to rescue groups invariably say they were purchased in gift shops in Myrtle Beach. Near major cities in central North Carolina it is almost impossible to find native yellow-bellied sliders without some amount of red on their necks and heads from intergradation with the introduced turtles from the pet trade. Additionally we are now seeing the creative marketing of farmed turtles. The turtle farms can create turtles that will be under the radar of states with laws prohibiting sales of specific taxa, and ones not allowing sales of any native species. The hybrids lack true names and technically are not native to!
any state. The possibility of new designer turtles was not considered by the agencies writing the regulations. And the take-home message is that our federal government is not concerned if salmonella infected turtles are sold outside the United States and cause health issues for children in other nations. Florida turtlefarms are still allowed to breed and sell red-eared sliders outside of the state. Are they unconcerned with the ecological havoc that released pets could cause in other parts of the nation? What about the pollution of aquatic systems shared with states adja- cent to Florida?

While many people recognize the problems with simply releasing pets into a local lake, their options are limited. Reptile rescue centers are saturated with unwanted pet red-eared sliders. Each year I turn down several dozen requests from people wanting to find homes for their fast-growing pet sliders. I try to forward them on to people who are into turtle rescues and re- homing them, but most groups will no longer take red-eared sliders. Okay, here is how desperate it is: a decade or so back a consortium of turtle rescue groups got together and found a turtle farm in south Florida willing to take unwanted red-eared sliders. The people shipping the turtles were all well aware that their sliders were going into breeding ponds and the young from these turtles were being put back out on the market. Sort of a circular humanitarian effort I suppose.

Despite a number of exemptions and loopholes it would seem that existing federal statutes would prohibit sales of turtles under four inches to the general public. Selling enclosures with a free baby turtle, while a somewhat of a gray area, would still constitute illegal "public distribution. . . in connection with a business." In the past dealers have tried putting signs over their live turtle displays saying "sales for educational purposes only" but the FDA does not recognize this as a legitimate loophole. The penalties can be considerable: " . . . shall be subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or both, for each violation, in accordance with section 368 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 217). More consistent enforcement is needed.

So the overriding question is why can't even seemingly straightforward wildlife regulations be written so that their enforcement can be clearly interpreted while retaining their original intent? Commercial interests are quick to find soft spots in the regulations of various agencies, and they seemingly have most new regulations circumvented by the time they go into effect. For example, Florida allows sales of "color-morphs" such as albino and pastel red-ears in the belief that people will not be releasing the high priced captive-bred strains into the wild. I wonder if the genetically blind red-ears offered for sale by a turtle dealer who advertises on the Internet and in Reptiles magazine, also qualify as high-end stock? Agency response time, reevaluation of the problem, and drafting and passing revised regulations, even when the problems are addressed, take years. And these are just the sales shop issues; think of what is transpiring over the Internet. Or better yet, take a look. Who is regulating that? It is interesting to see that everyone can get behind conservation initiatives that take aim at direct threats to high profile native wildlife. Killing whales or wolves gets attention, yet indirect threats like habitat loss and the introduc- tion of invasive species, while often of far greater consequence than many of the direct issues, are generally met with compla- cency both by the public and by government agencies.

Oil in Gulf of Mexico (Via Herp Digest)

Oil in Gulf of Mexico: Biologists Cite Need for Critical Data to Determine Ecological Consequences

ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2011) - Twenty years after biologists attempted to determine the ecological damages to marine life from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, scientists dealing with the BP disaster find themselves with the same problem: the lack of critical data to determine the ecological consequences of human-induced environmental disasters, a University of Florida researcher said.

Writing in the Feb. 4 issue of the journal Science, Karen A. Bjorndal, a University of Florida biology professor and director of the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research, and other biologists said the United States needs "strategic national research plans for key marine species and ecosystems based on evaluation of cause and effect and on integrated monitoring of abundance and demographic traits."
"It is sad to see that we are in the same place now," said Bjorndal, adding that not much has changed since the Valdez oil spill when it comes to getting the data needed to assess and restore a marine ecosystem after an environmental disaster. She hopes it will provide an impetus for action.
"We know how to create these research plans -- what is needed now is the political will and leadership to do so," she wrote.

"Achieving mandated recovery goals depends on understanding both population trends and the demographic processes that drive those trends," Bjorndal's article states.

Her team argues it "is not too late to invest funds from BP to support teams of experts to develop effective strategic plans that identify, prioritize and provide methodologies for collecting essential data."
The team identified seven elements that need to be included in most of the plans.

"In the wake of the BP oil spill, the need for this policy shift is as clear as it is compelling. The largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history should provide the impetus and opportunity to effect this policy shift." Bjorndal wrote in her article.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Florida. .

Journal Reference:
K. A. Bjorndal, B. W. Bowen, M. Chaloupka, L. B. Crowder, S. S. Heppell, C. M. Jones, M. E. Lutcavage, D. Policansky, A. R. Solow, B. E. Witherington. Better Science Needed for Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. Science, 2011; 331 (6017): 537

Stunned Turtles Hit Record of 1,040 (Via Herp Digest)

Stunned Turtles Hit Record of 1,040 - Volunteers Scramble to Find Places to Keep Them
By Mike Naird, Rhiannon, Valley Morning Star, TX

February 5, 2011 - CORPUS CHRISTI - Forty-two motionless turtles blanketed the floor of a bait shop along JFK Memorial Causeway.

"One that was marked dead came alive," said Kevin Weatherbee, who spent Friday and Saturday rescuing cold-stunned sea turtles, sometimes wading into chilly water along the causeway, in the largest such event since 1980.

A record-breaking 1,040 cold-stunned green sea turtles have been rescued since Thursday, topping a record set last year when 450 were found, said Donna Shaver, division chief of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore.

"We're snowed under with sea turtles," she said.

So was Weatherbee.

When Texas Parks and Wildlife officials walked over the closed causeway Friday to retrieve turtles, they found the Red Dot Pier bait shop, which Weatherbee was watching for a family member, filled with them.

There were so many that he ran out of blankets and towels to wrap each one.

Because turtles are reptiles with a body temperature that fluctuates with the temperature of their environment, cold stuns the turtles. It leaves them motionless, and they float to the surface. If not found soon enough, they die.

"They're coldblooded creatures, but the water was 40.2 degrees, so cold they can't raise their heads out of the water and they drown," Weatherbee said. "It's hard not to try to help when you see these creatures in distress. It's the right thing to do."

Shaver said rescuers have been scrambling to find places to rehabilitate the turtles.
"We've had hundreds of volunteers find more turtles in two days than have been found on the Texas coast in any individual year," Shaver said.

Unlike the cold-stunning event in January 2010, many of the turtles found since Thursday are alive, and have a good chance at survival, Shaver said.

"We're working really hard and I feel optimistic at this point that we've done a really good job," Shaver said. "Those turtles are going to get back out into the wild, safe and sound, in a few weeks."

Shaver said three factors contributed to the high numbers of cold-stunned turtles: This cold snap was more severe than the one in January 2010, the juvenile green sea turtle population has been growing and volunteers have been scouring beaches for them since the cold snap started.

Some rescued turtles have been moved to Animal Rehabilitation Keep in Port Aransas to be warmed and rehabilitated. Others have been moved to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Marine Development Center in Flour Bluff and the Texas State Aquarium.

The Port Aransas group had 42 turtles in kiddie pools Saturday, Director Tony Amos said.
"We're getting pretty full and are exploring other avenues," Amos said. "We have always taken animals when we're past capacity, and we'll find a way somehow."

Turtle tips

-- Report stranded, cold-stunned turtles immediately by calling the Padre Island National Seashore Turtle Lab at 361-949-8173, extensions 226 or 228. If calling after business hours, dial 361-851-4255.

-- Immediately remove the turtle from the wind and cold water. Try to cover it with a dry towel or blanket to prevent further damage from the wind chill. If the animal is too heavy or too difficult to reach, do not attempt to recover it alone. Wait until help arrives.

-- Do not warm the turtle too quickly, as rapidly raising its core temperature can be dangerous or fatal. Be careful not to impede the weakened turtle's ability to breathe.

-- Try to keep a log of where you found the turtle and note any identifying characteristics (barnacles, injuries, missing flipper, size) so officials can tell them apart, once recovered. Photographs also can help with the identification.

Source: Padre Island National Seashore Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery

Race on To Save Sea Turtles (Via Herp Digest)

Race on To Save Sea Turtles , S. Padre Island, TX
2/4/11, Valley Star, TX, by Steve Sinclair

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND - From Boca Chica beach to South Padre Island, cold-stunned sea turtles are being found by the dozens and fears are the numbers could swell by the time the cold front leaves the Rio Grande Valley.

As of noon Thursday, 100 cold-stunned sea turtles had been found. That number swelled to 330, seven of which died. Volunteers are racing the clock to save as many turtles as possible.
"This is really a bad one," Sea Turtle Inc. curator Jeff George said.

"If the sea turtles are in this 20-degree temperature tonight (Thursday), they're going to die. I don't think the little ones will survive."

As many as 40 volunteers are looking for the turtles, but the U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department have also reported finding cold-stranded turtles.

Plans were to keep searching for more turtles until sunset on Thursday, then resuming the search this morning. Boats are also being used in the search.

All the turtles found thus far have been green sea turtles, which are an endangered species. George said the turtles range in size from 8 or 9 pounds to 100 pounds.
Rescue facilities are strained. Besides Sea Turtle Inc. on the Island, turtles are being sent to the University of Texas-Pan American Coastal Studies lab on the Island and Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge also has an emergency facility available.
The record number of cold-stunned sea turtles found came following a freeze in the 1980s when 300 were discovered.

According to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, when the water temperature drops, stunned sea turtles may float listlessly or wash onto shore. Although these turtles may appear to be dead, they are often still alive. However, in this listless condition, they are especially vulnerable to further impacts from the weather and may become prey to scavengers.
George said it is critically important to find the sea turtles as soon as possible. He said the longer they remain in the listless state, their chances of recovery drop.

Sea turtle experts, including a veterinarian, are available to offer assistance.

People who find cold-stunned or dead turtles should immediately call Sea Turtle Inc., day or night, at 956-761-4511 and they will be advised of an emergency number to call.
36 photo slide show of rescue as of 2/4/11

Fishing Closures announced; turtle patrols begin (Via Herpdigest)

Fishing Closures announced; turtle patrols begin
February 03, 2011 Valley-Star, TX

The powerful winter storm that has pummeled half the nation forced the closure of Rio Grande Valley fishing spots.

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department announced the closing of the Brazos-Santiago Pass South Jetty along the beach for ½ mile and out from shore for 1,000 yards, and part of Port Isabel.
Also included is the area from shore out to a line from the high point of the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge on the northwest and the end of the old causeway on the southeast, including the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway bounded by Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge on the north and Port Isabel Swing Bridge on the south. It does not include the adjacent canal in Port Isabel.
Also closed is the entire harbor at Port Mansfield from the corners of the bulkheads on either side of the harbor to the harbor mouth.

There has been no announcement of plans to shut down the Rio Grande Valley's three state parks or three national wildlife refuges.

That, however, could change.

"There are no closures planned, but any decision will be made on a day-to-day basis," said Kelly McDowell, project leader for the South Texas Refuge Complex, which includes Laguna Atascosa, Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande national wildlife refuges.

The Valley's three state parks are Resaca de la Palma in Brownsville, Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco and Bentsen-Rio Grande in Mission.

Jody Mays, a biologist at Laguna Atascosa, said ocelot trapping has been temporarily suspended because of the winter storm and all 15 traps have been pulled.

"It would be too risky putting traps out," she said. "In the wild, the cats have ways to deal with the cold but in a trap, they have limited mechanisms," she said.

Three ocelots have been trapped this season, including one on Monday. The three ocelots include two males, one of which is 14 years old, and a female, 1 to 1 ½ years old that was deemed too young to be fitted with a radio-transmitting collar.

The cold weather could take a toll on salt water fish and a TPWD release said coastal residents can report freeze-related fish kills or cold-stunned fish to the agency's law enforcement communications office at 281-842-8100 or 512-389-4848.

In addition, dozens of volunteers are patrolling the Laguna Madre for signs of cold-stunned sea turtles.

As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, none had been found, but officials expect cold-stunned to start showing up by today.

Jeff George, curator at Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island, said 75 staff and volunteers are taking part in the patrols.

"We'll be particularly looking along the Laguna Madre," George said. "The Laguna Madre is only 3-feet deep and significant cold will drop the temperature significantly and turtles will not be able to take that change."

George said nearly all the turtles will be green sea turtles.

He said that if a cold-stunned turtle is found in the first 48 hours, "chances of survival are almost 100 percent."

After 72 hours, George said the survival rate is only about 10 percent.

Persons who find cold-stunned or dead turtles should immediately call Sea Turtle Inc., day or night, at 956-761-4511 and they will be advised of an emergency number to call.
A veterinarian and other turtle experts will be on call.
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