Sunday 31 July 2011

How Bats Stay On Target Despite the Clutter

ScienceDaily (July 30, 2011) — In a paper published this week in Science, researchers at Brown University and from the Republic of Georgia have learned how bats can home in on a target, while nearly instantaneously taking account of and dismissing other objects in their midst. The trick lies in their neurons: Bats can separate the cavalcade of echoes returning from their sonar pulses by distinguishing changes in amplitude -- the intensity of the sound -- between different parts of each echo within 1.5 decibels, to decide whether the object is a target or just background clutter.

The minute change in amplitude is enough to cause a delay in the bats' neural response to an echo, letting the bat know what is clutter and what is the target. It is as if the bat is using two screens -- a main screen that keeps it locked in on its target by virtue of its neural response to the echo and another, secondary screen that keeps note of surrounding objects but doesn't fixate on them.

"Everything the bat sees using sonar is based on the timing of the neural responses and nothing else," said James Simmons, professor of neuroscience at Brown and an author on the paper.

The research is important because it could help refine the maneuverability of sonar-led vehicles and improve their ability to remain fixed on a target even in dense, distracting surroundings.

In a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, Simmons and Mary Bates, who studied under Simmons and earned her doctorate last May, showed how bats avoid colliding with objects while flying in tight quarters. The key, they determined, is that bats tweak their sounds (chirps) and thus the echoes they receive to differentiate one broadcast/echo set from another. Building on that research, Bates and Simmons sought to determine how bats take note of objects in their sonar surroundings without being deterred by them -- how bats prioritize the waves of echoes they are receiving from their broadcasts.

"The problem the bat is facing is that it's flying around in this really complicated environment. It's getting all these echoes back [from the sonar broadcasts it emits], and the echoes are all arriving at almost the same time," said Bates, lead author on the Science paper. "And they have no trouble at all dealing with that. We're trying to figure out perceptually how these bats distinguish an echo from a nearby target from all the background echoes that are arriving within a similar time window."

In a series of experiments, the researchers studied those times when the bats would encounter a "blind spot," when the echoes were so close together that the bat could not distinguish its target from the surrounding clutter. The range in which the bats can detect when one echo interferes with another is a mere 50 milliseconds, the researchers report.

Harmonics plays a major role. Bat chirps -- sounds -- generally have two harmonics. When a bat chirps, it waits for the corresponding echo. It makes a mental fingerprint of the emitted sound and its echo; if the broadcast/echo fingerprints match up precisely, then the bat "will process it and produce an image," Simmons said. In many cases, that image is an object it is targeting. But when the second harmonic is weaker in the echo fingerprint, the neurons' response is delayed by as few as 3 microseconds. That delay, while undetectable to humans, is enough to tell the bat that the object is present, but it is not its primary interest.

"What the bat does is it takes clutter and defocuses it, like a camera would, so the target remains highly defined and in focus," Simmons said.

Tengiz Zorikov from the Institute of Cybernetics in the Republic of Georgia contributed to the research. The U.S. Office of Naval Research, National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation funded the work.

How to Invite Bats for Dinner

The paper will change the way researchers and botanists look at forests, predicts Brock Fenton, a bat researcher at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, who wasn't involved in the study. "It has certainly changed how I look at it," he says. "That leaf is like a big neon sign over a restaurant."

Whereas bees are the best known pollinators, many plants rely on birds, beetles, or bats to transfer their pollen. "There are approximately 40 species of highly specialized nectar-feeding bats in South and Central America and several hundred plant species that have adapted to them," says biologist Ralph Simon of the University of Ulm in Germany, who carried out the new study with colleagues at the universities of Erlangen-Nürnberg, also in Germany, and Bristol in the United Kingdom. Among these adaptations are big, wide-open blossoms and enough nectar to cater to small mammals.

The challenge for the bats, many of which have poor vision and rely on echolocation, is to find the plants amid thousands of others. "Acoustics in a forest are hell," says Jürgen Tautz, a biologist at University of Würzburg in Germany. The echoes of plants are mostly random, and for a bat flying through dense vegetation, the patterns are constantly changing.

In earlier research, Simon and colleagues had trained bats in the laboratory to recognize objects of various shapes. They had discovered that the animals were very good at finding hollow hemispheres and distinguishing them from other shapes. So when, high up in the canopy of the Cuban rain forest, they found a vine called Marcgravia evenia that is pollinated by bats and has a leaf resembling a dish reflector above each flower cluster, they wondered whether the leaves might serve as a beacon. Because the flowers are very rare and difficult to access, the researchers tested their hypothesis in the lab.

They hid a nectar feeder within an artificial foliage background and measured the time that it took flower-visiting bats (Glossophaga soricina) that had been trained for the task to find it. Mounting a replica of an ordinary foliage leaf on top of the feeder did not significantly reduce search times. But adding a replica of the dish-shaped leaf cut them in half, the team reports online today in Science. "This leaf reflects a loud and constant echo in many different directions, making it easier to locate for a bat than a normal leaf," Simon says.

Even though the scientists have not shown that Cuban bats actually use Marcgravia's special leaf to find it, the evidence strongly suggests they do, says Ulrich Kutschera, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Kassel in Germany.

"It is an interesting example of the ongoing coevolution of flowering plants and their animal pollinators," he says. "Darwin would have been thrilled."

Fenton, meanwhile, raises another question that the scientists have yet to answer: Are the special leaves only displayed when the flowers are ready? "After all, when a restaurant closes, it also switches off the neon sign," he says.

Rare sea creature and slimy surprise found in Cornwall

Violet sea snail spotted near Polzeath

July 20l1. A rare and beautiful sea snail has been found by a Cornwall Wildlife Trust volunteer in Polzeath, North Cornwall. This is the first sighting of such an unusual creature in over 3 years, according to the Environmental Records Centre of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Violet sea snail
A violet sea snail, which gets its name from its vivid colour, is an oceanic drifter with a mucus bubble raft which supports them on the ocean surface. They travel with their prey in tropical and semi tropical ocean drifts therefore arriving in Cornish waters must be quite a shock! Once in a while they wash up in this part of the world, often with other exciting drifters such as goose barnacles and the infamous Portuguese Man-of -War jellyfish.

Abby Crosby, Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust says "Finds like this rare sea snail are exciting and incredibly interesting to marine biologists as they inform us about the processes occurring in the ocean. What is also fantastic is that our volunteer Steve Hearnshaw, who has been supporting the Trust and helping with marine events and activities around Polzeath through our ‘Your Shore' project, has learnt so much through his volunteering that he has the knowledge to spot these exciting things!'

Cornwall Wildlife Trust is the county's leading wildlife conservation charity and has 14,000 members and over 85 Business Members. The Trust supports the Polzeath Voluntary Marine Conservation Area and its Marine Centre through the Your Shore Project.

If you would like to volunteer like Steve please or contact Your Shore Project Officer Abby Crosby on and find out more.

First ospreys fledge at Cors Dyfi in over 400 years

Ospreys in Wales

July 2011. The Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust is pleased to announce that on Wednesday July 27th at 14.22, the first of the three Dyfi osprey chicks fledged the nest at their Cors Dyfi reserve near Machynlleth. This is the first time that ospreys have successfully bred on the Dyfi since 1604 and marks a milestone in the conservation of ospreys in Wales.

Wales' rarest bird
Project Manager for the Dyfi Osprey Project, Emyr Evans said "The osprey is Wales' rarest bird and to see the first of the three youngsters take his maiden flight this afternoon was truly an incredible sight - to think that James I has just taken over from Elizabeth I on the throne the last time ospreys successfully bred in the Dyfi valley feels almost unreal. Centuries of persecution led to the extinction of the osprey as a species in the UK but thankfully now we have two breeding pairs in Wales. Almost 40,000 people have visited the Dyfi Osprey Project since we opened in April - I wish all of them could have seen this seven and a half week old osprey launch himself off the edge of the nest this afternoon and take his first flight around the Dyfi"

40 second flight
"It was Einion, the eldest male chick that was the first to fledge - he pushed himself off the side of the nest and flew towards the Dyfi River before turning around, circling the nest three times and finally landing back next to his parents on the nest. It was a 40 second flight that we have been waiting years to see"

Satellite tags
In partnership with the BBC and Autumwatch, all three osprey chicks were ringed and satellite tagged on Tuesday, 19th July. World renowned osprey expert Roy Dennis OBE flew down from Scotland to oversee the tagging accompanied by Tony Cross of the Welsh Kite Trust.

Roy Dennis said "Tiny satellite trackers weighing just 30g were placed on each youngster and these will send a signal back every hour for around five years of the osprey's life that records the birds' altitude, speed if they're flying and global position accurate down to just 18 metres. This is the first time that Welsh ospreys have been satellite tagged and the information gained from these three birds will be invaluable in gaining a better understanding of where these birds go in winter. Scottish ospreys generally fly to West Africa - Senegal and Gambia; because the Welsh ospreys will begin their migration from a more southerly and westerly starting point, we really have no idea whether they will over-winter at the same grounds as other ospreys or end up somewhere completely different."

First Welsh osprey for centuries fledged in 2004
Tony Cross from the Welsh Kite Trust said "I tried to ring the first osprey chick to ever fledge in Wales at a nest near Welshpool in 2004 but couldn't quite reach the nest to get to the bird, unfortunately that pair never returned. To be able to ring all three of the Dyfi ospreys seven years on makes the wait all the more rewarding. The ringing and tagging process was carried out when the chicks were around six weeks old and all three looked in excellent condition; we have one female and two males, the female being around 10% heavier than her brothers which is what we expected."

The Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust is currently developing a brand new website to allow people to follow the exact routes and position of the three young Dyfi ospreys as they start their migration south in September. The three osprey youngsters have been named after local rivers; Einion and Dulas for the two males and Leri for their sister.

Still open for viewing
The Dyfi Osprey Project is open between 10am and 6pm until Monday 12 September. It is based at Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Cors Dyfi nature reserve in Derwenlas just south of Machynlleth, SY20 8SR. Visitors can see live, high resolution nest camera footage at the visitor centre on large plasma screens and view the ospreys from a specially built tower-hide with telescopes and binoculars.

The Dyfi Osprey Project is supported by Communities and Nature (CAN) which is a strategic project led and managed by Countryside Council for Wales and is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. The Dyfi Osprey Project is also funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. The osprey nest cameras are powered by Network Rail.

Boone Bans Animal Noises, Horns, Yelling

Vehicle Noise, Fireworks, Music Also Forbidden

BOONE, N.C. -- Boone, N.C., home to Appalachian State University, is cracking down on nighttime noises that apparently bother residents of the college town.

Boone Town Council members have beefed up they city's noise ordinance in an effort to reduce complaints of loud student parties and to create more "peaceful neighborhoods" in the college town.

More than half of Boone's 15,000 residents are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Sounds banned from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. include fireworks, outdoor music, animal noises, vehicle noise, yelling, and horns.

Violations could result in only a warning, unless the noise is clearly intended to disturb someone else. Fines will $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.

Business with permits may extend the hours permitted for playing mus

Read more:

Joanna Lumley, Ricky Gervais and Sir Roger Moore join a host of stars fighting to save the last 3,200 wild tigers on earth

July 2011. Joanna Lumley has added her support to TigerTime the new global campaign to save the last 3,200 wild tigers on earth.

Urging people all across the world to join TigerTime Joanna said, ‘Animals share the earth with us: that is to say, they are equal partners in the right to live on this planet. In our anxiety to make the world a better place for ourselves, let us be very careful that we don't obliterate the needs of other species. If the tiger disappears from the wild because of our behaviour we humans shall have lost all claims to be called civilised and compassionate. The greatest enemy is indifference. Please join Tiger Time right now to help to save the lives and habitat of these magnificent creatures. This is extremely urgent. The clock is ticking: real time is running out'.

Joanna Lumley joins an amazing list of celebrities from all across the world of entertainment in both the UK and USA including:

Joanna Lumley
Ricky Gervais
Sir Roger Moore
Sir Michael Parkinson
Mel C
Anjelica Huston
Susan Sarandon
Gemma Atkinson
Vicki Roberts
Simon King
Naomie Harris
Neil Gaiman
Claire King
Abi Titmuss
Elizabeth Emanuel
Paula Abdul

There are only 3,200 wild tigers left on earth. TigerTime was established by the renowned British wildlife artist and conservationist David Shepherd CBE on his 80th birthday in May of this year. David said, ‘I am thrilled that Joanna Lumley and this magnificent group of stars and celebrities from all across the world of entertainment are supporting TigerTime. When I was born 80 years ago there were 100,000 wild tigers - now there are 3,200. Within a few years, their numbers will fall so low that they will pass the point of no return and literally die out. I know that our stars and celebrities will inspire people from all across the world to join us to stop this happening'.

David's daughter and organiser of the TigerTime campaign Melanie Shepherd said, ‘TigerTime is a truly global campaign using the internet to reach out to the world. In the first few weeks, thousands of people have signed up from a wide range of countries. TigerTime will do more than raise awareness of the critical nature of the situation. It will raise funds to provide more anti poaching patrols and to increase efforts to stop people across Asia using tiger body parts in traditional ‘medicines' which stimulates the demand for poaching. We have seen just how powerful ‘people power' can be in recent months in so many areas of our lives. TigerTime aims to be the first ‘people power' campaign to save a species. We need literally hundreds of thousands of people to back us. It is free to sign up as a supporter. Together, we can save the wild tiger'.

Another hunting safari operator identified as key player in rhino poaching ring

Rhino poachers exposed in South Africa - Courtesy of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force

July 2011. Marnus Steyl, a South African lion breeder and safari operator has emerged as a key supplier of millions of rands worth of rhino horn to a ruthless South-East Asian wildlife trafficking syndicate. Steyl allegedly stood to make at least 16 million rand in just a few weeks by supplying 50 sets of rhino horn to a Laotian company fronting for the syndicate.

It has been established that the Xaysavang Trading Export-Import Company - which reportedly operates from a hotel in central Laos - placed the order on April 23rd. The order, which was signed by one of the company directors, states bluntly, "1 month can shoot 15 rhino."

Chumlong Lemtongthai, a senior Xaysavang director and Thai citizen was arrested 2 weeks ago at a house in Edenvale, Johannesburg. Lemtongthai's "man on the ground" in South Africa, Punpitak Chumchom, was recently forced to leave South Africa.

Marnus Steyl allegedly locates the rhinos that are to be hunted, the trophies are then exported to Thailand and Laos where they are ground up and sold on the black market for so called ‘medicinal purposes'.

Lemtongthai's arrest was the culmination of a year long investigation by the South Africa Revenue Service, aided by the Hawk, South Africa's Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.

South Korean scientists create glowing dog: report

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean scientists said on Wednesday they have created a glowing dog using a cloning technique that could help find cures for human diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, Yonhap news agency reported.
A research team from Seoul National University (SNU) said the genetically modified female beagle, named Tegon and born in 2009, has been found to glow fluorescent green under ultraviolet light if given a doxycycline antibiotic, the report said.

The researchers, who completed a two-year test, said the ability to glow can be turned on or off by adding a drug to the dog's food.

"The creation of Tegon opens new horizons since the gene injected to make the dog glow can be substituted with genes that trigger fatal human diseases," the news agency quoted lead researcher Lee Byeong-chun as saying.

He said the dog was created using the somatic cell nuclear transfer technology that the university team used to make the world's first cloned dog, Snuppy, in 2005.

The scientist said that because there are 268 illnesses that humans and dogs have in common, creating dogs that artificially show such symptoms could aid treatment methods for diseases that afflict humans.

The latest discovery published in 'Genesis', an international journal, took four years of research with roughly 3.2 billion won ($3 million) spent to make the dog and conduct the necessary verification tests, Yonhap said.

(Reporting by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

'Vampire' stalks Siberian livestock

A blood-sucking creature is preying upon goats near Novosibirsk. As rational explanations run thin on the ground, the specter of the so-called chupacabra raises its demon head.

Horrified farmers and smallholders are confronted by the drained corpses of their livestock in the morning, bloodless and bearing puncture marks to the neck but otherwise largely in tact.

But local cops are reluctant to record apparent vampire attacks, as they await official recertification, leaving the locals up in arms.

“If this creature is not stopped it could make its way to Novosibirsk! Only our police force are doing jack-diddly about it,” complaining locals told Komsomolskaya Pravda. “They say that there is no Chupacabra. Come if you will journalists, have a look at what is happening to us.”

Death in the night
Local animal keeper Natalya told of her experiences.

“It all happened on the night of June 10,” she told KP. “I was sleeping, my daughter was sitting at the computer looking at the internet. She says that about 2.00 am she heard a sound in the yard. Some whining.

“The dog which guards the farm screamed for 15 minutes and then quietened down. The dog’s behavior drew the attention of my daughter Natalie, but she didn’t think it was important. She thought that if a stranger had come to the house then the dog would bark. And here it was more like whining, you think of howling at the moon.

“In the morning it became clear why the dog had been howling. I got up and went to the barn to milk the goats. I looked and saw right on the doorstep a goat with its neck thrown back unnaturally. On the neck there was something like a bite mark, the belly was torn, and there were huge claw marks. I came over bad and started screaming, I ran to the house to see the children were alright,” she said.

Whatever killed the goats never tried to eat the flesh, it just drank its victim’s blood.

From the devil
Natalya’s news of a near-mythical chupacabra spread like wildfire among residents of Krasnoginnoe village, then it became clear that nearby Tolmachevskoye and Chick villages had also been afflicted.

The blood-suckers had targeted cattle in Tolmochevskoye. “It’s come from the devil. I’ve seen it. My brother, even when he lived near St Petersburg seven years ago accidently photographed a chupacabra. He took the usual family picture and then saw the demonic face through the kitchen window. Grey-red it was, such an unpleasant face, like a bat with fangs,” Natalie’s uncle Viktor Shushpanov told KP.

“My brother showed me this photograph and upon the advice of his family he burned it,” he said.

Ring the church bells
“All the people are scared, they fear that the creature will move onto children,” the head of the village said. “We have organized night patrols of six people. We walk through the village, on the look out for this wickedness. But so far we have had no results.”

While hopes for speedy retribution are fast diminishing the beast has turned out to be a boon to troubled parents, presenting a very useful threat for naughty children.

The chupacabra is a recent legend, originating from mid 1990s North America. It is supposedly a heavy creature, the size of a small bear, with a row of spines reaching from the neck to the base of the tail.

But there seems to be a more prosaic explanation: Discovery News reported in 2010 that what were believed to be chupacabra in the Americas turned out to be wild dogs infected with a deadly form of mange. The University of Michigan put forward a similar theory.

Pit bull puppy saves Air Force veteran from committing suicide

Air Force veteran Dave Sharpe survived two near-death experiences serving in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - but it was his six-month-old pit bull puppy that saved his life.

His dog, Cheyenne, licked his ear and brought a suicidal Sharpe back from the brink when he had put his service pistol in his mouth, CBS reported.

"She came up behind me and she licked my ear," Sharpe told the network of the low point he hit after returning. "And she gave me this look of, 'What are you doing man, who's going to let me sleep in your bed? Listen, if you take care of me, I'll take care of you'," Sharpe said.

Cheyenne's divine intervention inspired Sharpe to reach out to other veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through the P2V (Pets to Vets) organization.

The non-profit matches vets with shelter dogs and cats in an effort to provide companionship.

Sharpe's turnaround serves as the group's prime example of the power of man's best friend.

"Before I met her, I was a wreck," he said of Cheyenne. "I was out of control, I would start fights for no reason."

Saturday 30 July 2011

Christian: The lion who lived on the King's Road (via Dawn Holloway)

It is almost exactly 40 years since two young Australians had what has become a famous encounter with a lion in the depths of the African bush.

The huge, powerful animal strode towards the men, and then instead of launching an attack, lolloped up to be hugged, petted and stroked.

The explanation for this extraordinary behaviour is that the men and the lion were old friends.

Almost incredibly, they had first met in a shop in London. John Rendall and Anthony "Ace" Bourke had come across "Christian" late in 1969, at what was then a zoo in the upmarket department store, Harrods.

"In the centre of it were these two beautiful, beautiful lion cubs," Mr Rendall told the BBC World Service's Witness programme.

Christian visited the BBC studios in 1969

He was immediately drawn to the male of the pair.

"He had a nature that was instantly attractive. You could see that he wasn't frightened, he wasn't distressed. He was just above it all. And that is very, very irresistible."

The two Australians, who had only just arrived in London, decided almost immediately that they would buy Christian.

After the Harrods staff had been convinced that they would be the right kind of owners, the friends paid 250 guineas - about £3,500 ($5,736) in today's money - and then walked out of the shop with the lion on a lead.

Remarkable relationship
Mr Rendall said they put their faith in the fact that lions are not solitary beasts. Unlike others in the cat family, they live in groups and have convivial instincts.

"If you have a lion by itself in any circumstances it is going to look for friends. And if there are no other lions it will create a friendship with human beings," he said.

And so this threesome began to forge a remarkable relationship, with the cub padding around their London flat, and the furniture shop below where his owners worked.

"We realised that we were living with an incredibly complex, intelligent animal," said Mr Rendall. "He was very observant, always looking."

But what of the dangers to other staff, customers and people passing in the street?

"You think, 'is someone going to come in the door now? Is someone going to bring a child - will they have a dog?'

"It was double-guessing to see that a 'situation' didn't arise. And I'm very proud to say that it didn't happen. You could see that he was a gentle, gentle creature."

And Christian was not living just anywhere. His flat was on the King's Road, the heart of "Swinging London" in the last days of the 60s.

The neighbourhood was home to rock stars and celebrity fashion designers. And as he prowled around the shop, the little lion became something of a celebrity himself.

There were television appearances - when he called by the BBC's studios our security men decided that although no dogs were allowed in, the regulations didn't actually mentions lions - and Christian was welcomed in.

Return to the wild
But nearly a year on Christian already weighed as much as a man, and he was growing fast. It was definitely time to find him more secure surroundings than his flat in Chelsea.

Eventually the renowned expert in lion behaviour, George Adamson agreed to try to release him into the wild in Kenya.

A year later John Rendall and Ace Bourke decided to go and see how their old friend was getting on. But would he remember them? How would he react?

Just a few weeks earlier another lion in the process of being returned to the wild in the same area had killed a man.

Eventually, in the depths of the bush in the remote Kora region, Christian came over the brow of a hill - now a really large creature with a fine mane.

"He starts walking very very slowly down towards us. The body language was of curiosity - not attack," said Mr Rendall. "Eventually we couldn't resist, and called him - and that's when he took off."

He bounced down the hill and into his friends' arms, letting them hug, play and wrestle with him.

"It was a euphoric moment."

The whole scene was captured on film, and decades later it surfaced on the internet.

Soon this dramatic revival of an unlikely friendship became a YouTube sensation, moving millions of people around the world.

In their recently re-published book A Lion Called Christian, John Rendall and Anthony Burke acknowledged that back in 1969 they were naive.

They concede that buying exotic animals only serves to fuel the trafficking of them.

Today Mr Rendall says nobody should try to raise a lion in an urban environment in the way that he did.

The dangers are obvious.

But Mr Rendall was profoundly influenced by his time with Christian.

He became interested in conservation work, and today he is heavily involved with the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.

As for Christian, his re-introduction to the wild was successful.

He was last heard of crossing the Tana River and heading further north.

And it is very likely that right now there are lions prowling the Kenyan bush who are descendants of Christian the Lion from London.

By Alan Johnston

BBC News

Dolphin hunts with electric sense (via Dawn Holloway)

A South American dolphin is the first "true mammal" to sense prey by their electric fields, scientists suggest.

The researchers first showed that structures on the animal's head were probably sensory organs, then found it could detect electric fields in water.

Electroreception is well known in fish and amphibians, but until now the only mammal example was the platypus.

Writing in the Royal Society's journal Proceedings B, the scientists say other cetaceans may show the same ability.

The Guiana dolphin (Sotalia guianensis) lives around the east coast of South America, and resembles the much more common bottlenose variety.

Like all of the toothed cetaceans, it hunts and locates using sound.

But the researchers have now shown that at close range, it can also sense electrical signals.

They are not as sensitive as sharks and rays, but can detect signals of the same size as those produced in water when fish move their muscles.

"It feeds in the bottom [of the sea] a lot, and it lives in water where there can be a lot of silt and mud suspended," said project leader Wolf Hanke from the University of Rostock, Germany.

"And echolocation doesn't work at very close range, so this is where electrolocation would come in."

Sensible science
Captive Guiana dolphins are rare; but they have been kept at the zoo in Muenster, also in Germany.

The zoo is among those that have been criticised by animal rights campaigners in recent years, who argue against keeping dolphins in captivity.

The researchers became curious about the function of small depressions in the dolphin's rostrum - the forward-projecting part of the head containing the jaws.

When one of the animals died, the rostrum was examined, with tissues being stained to show the structures inside these depressions.

The depressions - known as crypts - carry whiskers when the dolphins are growing in the womb, but the whiskers later drop off.

But the crypts looked as though they were still involved in sensing something.

To see whether they were in fact electroreceptors, the researchers turned to the zoo's single remaining Sotalia.

They trained it to put its head on a "rest station", where electrodes delivered a tiny electrical signal into the water.

When a signal was present, the dolphin received a reward if it swam away; if not, it received a reward for staying put.

Later, a plastic shield was placed above the lines of crypts, blocking any electrical sensing. It remained still every time.

The experiments proved that the Guiana dolphin could sense the electrical signals, and that the crypts were indeed the organs responsible.

The researchers plan next to investigate whether other cetaceans possess the same capacity.

"We believe that they might, as it seems very useful for the dolphins," said Dr Hanke.

"We might in the future make plans to travel to South America to study the dolphins in the wild."

The acid test would be to fit the animals with tags that carry a variety of instruments, and see how they use their novel electric sense to hunt.

The platypus, which also uses electroreception, is a monotreme, a sub-group of mammals that lay eggs.

By Richard Black

Environment correspondent, BBC News

articles on misidentifications of mystery aquatics (2) (Via Chad Arment)

Orleans man delves into sea serpent `mystery'

Wicked Local Cape Cod
Posted Jul 20, 2011

During the 1800s and early 1900s eyewitness reports and newspaper articles about a sea serpent in the waters off Gloucester and the South Shore abounded. The serpent, said to be 100-feet in length, so fascinated folks that a scientific commission was formed to study it.

No credible explanation for the accounts ever surfaced and in the last 60 years there has been little mention of the creature.

But a man looking out his enormous plate glass windows that provide a panoramic view of Nauset Beach may have unraveled the mystery late last month.

Edward "Kin" Carmody, who lives on Callanan's Pass on a bluff overlooking the beach, is a talkative, engaging man who has found time for various hobbies since he retired as a top marketing man for Kraft Foods 10 years ago. And if he isn't working in his garden or creating new varieties of day lilies he'll relax by sitting in a particular white wicker chair in his living room, look out at the Atlantic and watch for whale spouts. And on June 29 around 3 p.m. he saw something that is now etched in his memory.

"I saw, slightly to left," he said pointing, his binoculars on the table beside him. "Quite a commotion of whales."

He knew they were minke whales because they have a dorsal fin.

That was when he saw a common animal exhibit and uncommon behavior. It was a behavior that just may explain why people over the centuries have sworn they have seen a snakelike creature swimming in the water.

"As soon as I saw it I said `Oh my God, that may be the answer to a 1,000-year old mystery'," Carmody recalled.

Then taking out a pad of paper on a recent sunny morning he sketched out what he saw that day: a chain of minke whales, nose to tail, whose backs looked much like the coils of the iconic sea serpent.

"They were in a chain line, they curved. It was synchronized exactly," he said. "It was just like a gigantic snake."

And then he pulled out another drawing.

"That is the classic sea monster that people see," Carmody said, having quickly sketched the undulating body and dragon-like head.

The obvious difference between the two pictures is the missing head and tail in the whale drawing, but, said Carmody, the mind is a powerful thing. It will often create what you want to see, as evidenced by various mind games where your brain fills in missing words and the famous unreliability of eyewitness accounts.

First he thought the six, maybe eight, whales were playing, but then thought that was something that happened often. This ritual would need to be unusual, so he believes it may determine who the leader of the pod will be.

"That's my hypothesis," he said.

Scott Landry, director of the disentanglement program for Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, said there are an abundance of minke whales around. But, he explained after the caveat that the whales are poorly studied, they are usually solitary creatures – mainly because they have to eat so much a day – and don't have a herd structure.

Still, it's quite possible that the minke whales were in a group because there was a lot of fish or sand lance around. The line could have been "coincidental," Landry said.

Sightings such as Carmody's are probably one of the reasons myths develop, he added.

Carmody's fascination with the sight may have stemmed in part from his knowledge of paleontology, another of his hobbies. (In fact he has a few fossils in his basement.) He knows there is no fossil record of anything resembling a sea serpent and he also knows that when snakes swim they swim left to right, just as they coast across the land. They don't propel themselves up and down as a sea serpents have been depicted.

Carmody isn't professing that he is made one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the century; he is in fact concerned, he admitted with a chuckle, that his wife will be less than pleased that he has given folks the opportunity to say he is a little nutty. But there has been nothing that has been able to explain why so many people have thought they have seen a sea serpent.

Until now perhaps.

Penny-Wise Preservation-Could cost-conscious spending save more endangered species? (Via Herp Digest)

Penny-Wise Preservation-Could cost-conscious spending save more endangered species?
Conservation Magazine, July 19, 2011, Matthew Dieter

Should conservationists give up on saving some species nearing extinction today for the chance to save even more species down the road? That is the question tackled by a new study that examines how best to allocate severely limited resources to address the threat of extinction.

"The threats to biodiversity are increasing and conservation efforts for threatened species are not sufficient," four researchers write in Ecology Letters. "Conservation practitioners and the public alike are often polarized as to what constitutes the wise use of a limited budget."

Some suggest that focusing resources on today's most endangered species will save the greatest number of species in the long term. Others advocate a strategy known as "triaging," or prioritizing resources with cost efficiency in mind. That means sometimes even allowing some species to go extinct. (Triaging originated as a medical concept in which emergency care givers abandon hopeless cases, treat more serious cases first, and put less serious cases on hold.)

To determine the best bang for the conservation buck, the research team created a cost-benefit model that accounted for the probability of extinction and the costs of saving 32 species, and then they crunched the numbers to maximize the number of species saved.

They found that focusing resources only on the most-endangered species "will not typically maximise the number of species saved, as this does not take into account the risk of less-endangered species going extinct in the future." In contrast, over the long term, conservationists can "recover as many species as possible by allocating resources based on the lowest expected cost of recovery." This will result in a short-term tradeoff for long-term gains, the team notes. "In the short-term, there would be relatively fewer species extant when compared with spending on more endangered species, whereas at longer time periods, there would be relatively more species extant."

The model highlights the need to shift resources away from saving a relatively small number of highly threatened species today, they argue. "As in medicine," they conclude, "more emphasis should be placed on long-term preventive conservation rather than short-term fire-fighting."

Source: Howard B. Wilson, et al. When should we save the most endangered species? Ecology Letters (2011). DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01652.x

Rapid Venom Evolution in Pit Vipers May Be Defensive; Marsupials That Prey On Venomous Snakes Also Evolve Rapidly (Via HerpDigest)

Rapid Venom Evolution in Pit Vipers May Be Defensive; Marsupials That Prey On Venomous Snakes Also Evolve Rapidly

ScienceDaily (July 20, 2011) - Research published recently in PLoS ONE delivers new insight about rapid toxin evolution in venomous snakes: pitvipers such as rattlesnakes may be engaged in an arms race with opossums, a group of snake-eating American marsupials.

Although some mammals have long been known to eat venomous snakes, this fact has not been factored into previous explanations for the rapid evolution of snake venom. Instead, snake venom is usually seen as a feeding, or trophic, adaptation. But new molecular research on snake-eating opossums by researchers affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History suggests that predators factor into the rapid evolution of snake venom.

"Snake venom toxins evolve incredibly rapidly," says Robert Voss, curator in the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History. "Most herpetologists interpret this as evidence that venom in snakes evolves because of interactions with their prey, but if that were true you would see equally rapid evolution in toxin-targeted molecules of prey species, which has not yet been seen. What we've found is that a venom-targeted protein is evolving rapidly in mammals that eat snakes. That suggests that venom has a defensive as well as a trophic role."

Several groups of mammals are known for their ability to eat venomous snakes, including hedgehogs, mongooses, and some opossums. Opossums, which belong to the marsupial family Didelphidae, consist of about one hundred known and several dozen undescribed species. Most of these opossums live in Central and South America, although there is one representative in the north that is familiar to those who spend time outside at night: the Virginia opossum.

Some didelphids, including the Virginia opossum, are known to eat rattlesnakes, copperheads, and some species of tropical pitvipers known as lanceheads. All of these pitvipers have venom containing dozens of highly toxic compounds, including many that attack blood proteins, causing massive internal hemorrhaging in nonresistant warm-blooded prey species, mainly rodents and birds.

The new research came out of a previous phylogenetic study of marsupials, published as a Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, that suggested unusually rapid evolution in one gene among a group of snake-eating opossums. The rapidly evolving gene codes for von Willebrand's factor, an important blood-clotting protein that is known to be the target of several snake-venom toxins. The association of rapid evolution in a venom-targeted gene among just those opossums known to eat pitvipers was the essential clue that prompted further study.

"This finding took us by surprise," says Sharon Jansa, associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota and a Museum research associate. "We sequenced several genes -- including the one that codes for von Willebrand Factor (vWF) -- to use in a study of opossum phylogeny. Once we started to analyze the data, vWF was a real outlier. It was evolving much more rapidly than expected in a group of opossums that also, as it turns out, are resistant to pitviper venom."

The recently published research demonstrates that the rate of replacement substitutions (nucleotide changes that result in amino-acid changes) is much higher than the rate of silent substitutions (nucleotide changes that have no effect on the protein) in the von Willebrand Factor gene among pitviper-eating opossums. Typically, high rates of replacement substitutions means that the gene is under strong, sustained natural selection. That only happens in a few evolutionary circumstances.
"Most nucleotide substitutions have little or no effect on protein function, but that doesn't seem to be the case with vWF in these venom-resistant opossums," says Jansa. "The specific amino acids in vWF that interact with toxin proteins show unexpectedly high rates of replacement substitutions. These substitutions undoubtedly affect protein function, suggesting that the vWF protein can no longer be attacked by these snake toxins."

"It is so uncommon to find genes under strong positive selection, that the exceptions are really interesting and often conform to one evolutionary circumstance when two organisms are coevolving with each other," says Voss. "We've known for years that venom genes evolve rapidly in snakes, but the partner in this arms race was unknown until now. Opossums eat snakes because they can."
The National Science Foundation funded this research.

Deal will hurry hundreds of species onto endangered list - But US budget could shut down new listings for 2012. (Via HerpDigest)

Deal will hurry hundreds of species onto endangered list - But US budget could shut down new listings for 2012.
by Emma Harris, Nature News, Published online 7/14/11

On 12 July, the US government agency that administers the Endangered Species Act came to an agreement with a wildlife group that has sued them numerous times over the past decade. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in Tuscon, Arizona, will cut back on its lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for six years if the agency takes action on hundreds of species - from the Mojave fringe-toed lizard to the Pacific walrus - by specific dates.

When added to promises the FWS has made to another conservation group (see 'Wildlife truce divides conservationists'), these actions should clear a backlog of species waiting to have their petitions for listing assessed. And once approved by a judge, the agreement could significantly speed up the sluggish pace of listings during the administration of US President Barack Obama.
But the deal faces a hurdle: the 2012 appropriations bill that funds the federal government says that the FWS can have its budget allocation only if none of the funds are used for listing species or for designating critical habitats.

"It is one of the most dangerous times that has ever existed for the Endangered Species Act," says Tim Male, vice-president of conservation policy at the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife in Washington DC.

The agreement ties up a series of loose ends left over from a previous round of negotiation that the CBD walked away from. As a result, the final agreement takes the form of two agreements, one between FWS and CBD and the other between FWS and a Santa Fe, New Mexico group called WildEarth Guardians. The two agreements resolve at a stroke many ongoing lawsuits.

"The listing programme is a citizen-based programme. Anybody can still petition us."

Gary Frazer, assistant director for endangered species at the FWS, says that the agreement will give the agency a much needed "cooling off period". "What we have had in recent years is a very large volume of petitions that overwhelmed our capabilities. We missed deadlines. And we got sued." As a result, he says, the endangered-species programme was too busy to declare anything endangered.

FWS spokeswoman Vanessa Kauffman says that although the settlement will help the agency to clear its backlog, new species can still enter the pipeline. "The listing programme is a citizen-based programme," she says. "Anybody can still petition us."

The conservation community seems to be generally positive about the deal. However, Male says that "it is hard to be that enthusiastic about it because congress is proposing a moratorium on listings." What's more, the Department of the Interior, the FWS's parent department, summarily delisted the Rocky mountain wolf and other such actions have targeted other species and populations (see 'Taken for a ride'). "There are so many radicals in congress, and the United States faces so many other pressures, that people's ability to focus on issues like this is reduced," says Male.

Elly Pepper, a legislative advocate at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council , is working to get the condition freezing the endangered-species programme stripped from the bill. Even if the rider stays in the bill and makes it to the president's desk, she's hopeful it won't become law. "I don't think president Obama would sign something like this," she says. "This rider would essentially nullify the Endangered Species Act for a year."

If congress can be kept from shutting down the endangered-species program, Suckling thinks that the agreement should be enforceable even if Obama loses the presidential election next year. "Every single time there is a Republican president they try to shut down the listing process," says Suckling. "Except Nixon. Thank God for Richard Nixon." President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law in 1973.

But John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians, is not so sure. "Worst-case scenario, both of these agreements are probably null and void and we go back to the trench fight that we have had for a decade plus," he says. "I am almost certain that that would happen under a Republican administration."

Both Horning and Suckling promise that their groups will continue to work to protect species during the six years they have promised to back off their lawsuits aimed at getting species listed. But first, Suckling says, "we're going to go on vacation". "Ten years of this trench warfare, it is exhausting."

Federation launches fishing line recovery, recycling project (Via Herp Digest)

Federation launches fishing line recovery, recycling project
July 24, 2011 7:38 PM


The strength and durability that makes monofilament line perfect for fishing can also make it a hazard to wildlife if it's not discarded properly.

Most monofilament - a single-strand flexible plastic - can last for hundreds of years. So when discarded fishing line ends up in the water it's there to stay. For the sea turtles, fish, dolphin and birds that ingest the line or become entangled in it, it can cause injury or death.

"Fishermen need something strong and long lasting with a little stretch; that's the definition of fishing line," said Randy Gregory of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. "But when that line is not disposed of properly it can create a lot of hazards for fish and wildlife using the resource."

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Hospital on Topsail Island sees its share of sea turtle injuries from entanglements in fishing line and other gear.

"What happens is that line wraps around their neck or flipper and gets tighter and tighter," sea turtle hospital volunteer Karen Sota said.

Knowing the harm that can be done by improperly discarded monofilament, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation has launched a Fishing Line Recovery and Recycling Project to help educate the public about the issue and encourage recycling through a network of recycling bin drop-off locations.
"Monofilament fishing line can and should be recycled, and we want to provide an opportunity for outdoorsmen to do that," NCWF Conservation Director Christopher North said.

The NCWF's new Fishing Line Recovery and Recycling Program is modeled after a program in Florida and involves installing receptacles at public fishing and boating areas so that used fishing line can be easily discarded, collected and then recycled.

Federation volunteers have installed its first receptacles - built from 6-inch diameter PVC pipe - along the Catawba River, and the organization would like to see the program go statewide.

The coast is already off to a good start with a similar program that has grown to about 60 recycling locations in seven counties, primarily Carteret, Onslow and Brunswick counties.

The Cape Lookout Studies Program, an environmental education and conservation program of the N.C. Maritime Museum, partnered with Duke Marine Lab in 2006 to build a network of recycling stations along the coast through its North Carolina Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program.

As of September, a cumulative 500 miles of fishing line had been collected at the program's coastal recycling sites.

Through affiliations with agencies such as N.C. Aquariums, N.C. Sea Grant, state and national parks, local and county recreation groups and other conservation groups, Cape Lookout Studies has compiled list of recycling stations that is posted on its website. Recycling locations in the area now include all Carteret County piers, Fort Macon State Park, the Newport River Water Access and Continental Shelf head boat in Morehead City, several beach accesses along Bogue Banks and locations at Camp Lejeune.

Other drop-off points for used fishing line include certified N.C. Clean Marinas such as Casper's Marina in Swansboro and various marine-related businesses that have recycling efforts such as East Coast Sports in Surf City, Reel Outdoors in Emerald Isle and West Marine in Morehead City.
Eighteen fishing line recycling bins are located at various sites aboard Camp Lejeune and bins have been in use there since the fall of 2009, according to Les Pearson with the Threatened and Endangered Species Program, who administers the program on base. Four wildlife technicians with the program empty and maintain the bins.

Pearson said educating the public about the program is an ongoing process one but response to fishing line recycling has been good. He said they currently have a 2-foot by 2-foot by 2-foot box that is overflowing with used fishing line that has been collected and after the fall fishing season they plan to send it off for recycling.

Marinas, tackle shops, fishing piers, water accesses and anywhere where large numbers of fishermen may congregate make ideal locations for a recycling receptacle. North said anyone who is interested in installing a receptacle and monitoring it can participate in recycling, whether it's individually or through a program.

Gregory said any effort that reduces the amount of discarded fishing line going into the water and increases recycling is a positive one.

"We want all fishermen who use the resources to be conservation minded, and one thing they need to know is how to properly discard their used fishing equipment," he said.
While fishing line that is braided or contains wire cannot be recycled, most fishing line purchased is monofilament, which can be recycled.

If recycling isn't possible, it is recommended that discarded line be cut into short lengths of 6 to 12-inches and then disposed of properly in the trash so that it doesn't end up in the waterway.
Fishing line collected for recycling gets mailed to Berkley Fishing Company in Iowa, which then melts the material into plastic pellets for use in making tackle boxes, fishing line spools and other items.
For more information about fishing line recycling, go to the Cape Lookout Studies Program website at or the North Carolina Wildlife Federation website at The websites include information about their respective programs and resources, including information on how to build a recycling bin.

Construction and instillation of PVC fishing line recycling centers
Materials needed:
PVC glue
6-inch PVC pipe, 2-feet long
6-inch PVC 90-degree elbow
6-inch PVC cleanout plug
6-inch PVC DWV female adapter

Cut PVC pipe into approximately 2-feet long pieces using a hacksaw, reciprocating saw (metal blade; 12" long blades work well), bandsaw or table saw. Use a deburring tool or sandpaper to remove PVC "burrs" around edges.

Apply PVC glue to inside (non-threaded part) of adapter. With adapter sitting squarely on the ground, press the pipe down into the adapter until snug. Note that PVC glue works by dissolving the PVC, then sets rapidly, so you don't have a lot of "play" time with it.

Apply PVC glue to the inside of one end of the elbow (it does not matter which end). Press the elbow onto the pipe. Try and make sure that any blemishes on the pipe end up on the back side of the bin.
Apply stickers

Drill 2 holes (about ¼ or 3/8") in the center of the screw plug. Thread plug into adapter.

Decide where you are going to install the bin and sign. Using a long drill bit (8"), drill 2 holes in the supporting wood (post or railings). The holes should be placed such that the upper hole will line up with the lower part of the elbow and the lower hole lines up with the collar of the adapter. Drill a hole through the base of the elbow at the back of the bin.

Use bolts or all-thread to attach the bin to the post at the top hole. Lok-tite may be used on the threads to try and keep the nuts from coming loose.

From the back side of the post, drill through the existing hole and through the collar of the adapter. Use a second bolt or piece of all-thread to attach the bin through these holes.

If using all-thread, use a reciprocating saw or bolt cutters to cut off the excess material.

Dead bodies grab our interest (Via Herp Digest)

Dead bodies grab our interest

Along the road, I recently saw a red-eared turtle of a size that made me think of a 9-inch pie pan. I had never seen one so large. It was moving in a safe direction, so I drove on.

I remembered the half- dollar sized red-eared slider turtles my brothers and I had as kids. Lots of kids owned the tiny turtles -- until they were declared illegal due to salmonella.

When I was a kid, when nobody was observing it, which was most of the time, our last tiny turtle climbed out of its clear plastic habitat with the island, the plastic palm tree and water that needed changing, and vanished.

Once we discovered this disappearance, we developed heightened awareness and concern. We fretted about its safety for several days. When we couldn't find it, we were happy to believe it had escaped the confines of our house and was living blissfully in the woods, eating bugs and growing as big as a pie pan.

Then we forgot the turtle completely.

Years later, the turtle's dusty, mummified body was found behind the gas stove. Now we knew.
Our little pet had not escaped to a long, contented life outdoors, but was likely dead before we noticed its absence. The mummification was interesting, as was the fine detail seen in the turtle's dried features.
A young Ripley would have charged a nickel to see this oddity.

The turtle's death was no more or no less significant than the deaths of untold seahorses and starfish. They are turned into stiff corpses for use as souvenirs and décor for the thoughtless visual delight of humans, especially children. Their stories, more morbid than the merry stories of dying little Christmas trees, are never told.

For some people, a dead member of any species, even human, can amuse -- the dead Bonnie and Clyde, and Hitler, have done so.

Most recently, the dead bin Laden was a rich source for cartoons and jokes.

Today, good examples of our being engrossed with dead humans -- without denying a need for anatomical instruction in the medical field -- are human body exhibits for the public.
Most notable is Body World, consisting of human corpses preserved using plastination, displaying real, peeled-away, naked bodies doing everyday activities -- under the guise of education and entertainment for a profit.

It seems a dead human can offer more amusement, humor and entertainment to other humans than a dead, mummified, tiny turtle or a live, 9-inch, pie-pan sized red-eared slider ever could provide.
» George T. Mason is a former turtle owner and freelance writer who lives in Salisbury.

I Killed the Bufo (Via Herp Digest)

I Killed the Bufo, by Mark Derr, 7/23/11
Mark Derr is the author of the forthcoming "How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends."

Miami Beach
I CONFESS. On a recent night, a very dark night, around midnight, I killed a Bufo marinus, commonly known as a cane toad or giant toad. The Bufo had established its domain in our pond several months earlier and swaggered about the backyard at night as if it owned the place.

Like our house, the pond dates to 1925. Made of concrete, it is four feet in diameter and two feet deep, with two inches of muck. Presiding over it is a two-foot-tall plaster cherub jury-rigged fountain that was already old when we moved in 20 years ago. The pond then was a stagnant breeding ground for mosquitoes and algae. Today, it is home to two thriving plants - a lobelia native to the Everglades and a colocasia, an exotic from Southeast Asia. The pond is algae-free and stocked with gambusia, the local minnows that are mosquito predators - hence their common name, mosquito fish.

I have kept the pond more or less functioning since we moved in, and I have no desire to see it colonized by toads the size of soccer balls that secrete toxin from glands in the back of their heads strong enough to kill cats and small or infirm dogs. I feared that our aged kelpie, Kate, would stumble upon the Bufo invader and meet her demise.

I am hardly an ecological purist who would remove every exotic animal as soon as it appeared in an ecosystem not its own, primarily because I figure that at one point or another all of us on this planet have been "invasive species" - or shall I say, pilgrims in search of a better home. Most creatures who visit South Florida, especially when coming from a cold, gray climate or an oppressive political atmosphere, never want to leave. They congregate here and sometimes reproduce so profligately that they are impossible to contain, much less to remove.

In the years I have kept it, the pond has had a mixed record on exotics. For several years, it harbored a visiting African lungfish that trained me to feed it whenever it surfaced with its mouth open. The lungfish prospered until its owner took it away, but as a rule nonnative fish and plants have faltered.
Since the 1930s, people have brought Bufos into Florida, usually to serve as biological pest controls in sugar country around Lake Okeechobee. but the current Bufo population in South Florida appears descended from a group that escaped from a wildlife dealer at the Miami airport in 1955. Similar releases in Australia to control pests in sugar cane fields have created an ecological nightmare that could be titled "Invasion of the Cane Toads."

Still, the notion that the Bufo had to be removed remained abstract, something I should do but could delay as long as I was vigilant with Kate. Since I take no pleasure in killing, that studied ambiguity suited me. I even passed up several opportunities to dispatch it. I hoped it would voluntarily decamp, but I knew it was growing large enough and brazen enough to threaten our dog, who often visited the pond.

I knew I had to act, though, when I learned that several neighborhood dogs had died from Bufotoxin.
Reportedly, the humane way to kill a Bufo is to apply a painkiller and then freeze it in a plastic bag, but I did not want to attempt to catch it, because Parkinson's disease has skewed my balance and dulled my reflexes. I had other plans. After failing to find a gig - a multi-tined spear for hunting fish and frogs - I manufactured my own using oversize deep-sea fishing hooks. I bided my time until I found the Bufo squatting on an exposed piece of limestone in the middle of the pond. I speared it with my gig at the base of its head and unceremoniously dumped it into a garbage bag I then sealed.

I acted to protect our dog without a thought toward other consequences. But within a week of the Bufo's death, I began to notice changes in and around the pond. Young and old gambusia appeared in significant numbers, swimming freely and openly. I am no expert on Bufo behavior, but this one had an ability to knock down plants growing around its chosen resting spots. Once this Bufo was removed, the pond plants grew lush. Anole lizards, whose absence I had silently noted for some time, became everywhere apparent, and I have begun to hear tree frogs again, as well. Even better, the mosquito population collapsed, leading me to conclude that although the Bufo did not appear to eat the mosquito-loving gambusia, its physical presence had somehow intimidated them and forced them into hiding.

I cannot claim to have restored "balance" to our backyard ecosystem. I am even uncertain how to define balance for a fenced area that is dominated by a swimming pool and a mango tree that feeds us and numerous other animals.

There might be other plausible explanations for what I see, but I can say the available evidence indicates that removing an imperialist bully has improved the health of our pond and yard, not to mention our comfort.

Detailed fossil found in China is the oldest example of reptile bearing young (Via Herp Digest)

Detailed fossil found in China is the oldest example of reptile bearing young

An ancient lizard fossil was found with 15 embryos preserved inside its belly.
By Jennifer Welsh

Just days before giving birth to at least 15 young, a lizard somehow kicked the bucket. That was 120 million years ago, and researchers have now found the fossilized pregnant lizard with fully formed embryos in her belly.

The fossil, discovered in China, is the oldest known example of a lizard bearing live young. Lizards and other reptiles typically lay eggs.

"This is the oldest record of live-bearing in a lizard and the first record of live-bearing (viviparity) in a tetrapod that is not a specialist swimmer," study researcher Susan Evans told LiveScience in an email. "This new find shows that the pre-adaptations for viviparity must have evolved quite early in the group."

This fossil shows that pregnancy is as old as the dinosaurs, and seems to be widespread, even in ancient lizards. Mammals seem to have evolved pregnancy around this time as well.

The mama-to-be is a species in the genus Yabeinosaurus, which lived during the early Cretaceous period when dinosaurs trod the Earth; other examples of this species date back 125 million years at least.

"We have several specimens of this lizard (Yabeinosaurus) already, but each one tells us a little more about its biology," Evans said.

This specimen is about a foot long and contains at least 15 complete embryos. They are so well preserved the researchers could even see their fully formed teeth. The lizard would have been just days away from giving birth, they said.

Bearing babies 
Mammals, like humans, aren't the only animals to give birth to live young. About 20 percent of modern lizards and snakes bring their babies to term, while birds and other reptiles, including crocodiles and turtles, are exclusively egg-laying. Pregnancy seems to have evolved in lizards and snakes more than 100 different times.

The newly discovered lizard lived by the water but also spent time on the land, which would've made it tough to get around with cargo onboard. Other pregnant lizards, which lived during the late Cretaceous, were strictly water-living animals; lizards impregnated with babies could have maneuvered more easily in the water than on land.

Bearing live young has its upsides, among them the fact that a mama doesn't have to leave her babies in a nest where they could be preyed upon.

Plastics Killing Terengganu's Turtles (Via Herp Digest)

Plastics Killing Terengganu's Turtles
KEMAMAN, July 24 (Bernama) -- Pieces of plastic floating in the ocean often mistaken for food or jellyfish by turtles may be one of the reasons for their deaths.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-

Malaysia Terengganu Turtle and Terrapin Conservation Programme chief Rahayu Zulkifli said shards of plastic were found in the stomach of dead turtles in the state.

Thus, she urged the people, especially fishermen, to cooperate by not throwing plastics into the sea as they could kill turtles.

Speaking to Bernama at the launch of the WWF-Malaysia's "Protect Our Turtles" campaign here today, she said WWF-Malaysia had taken various measures to increase the turtle population, including by buying turtle eggs for hatching with the assistance of the Fisheries Department.

Rahayu said leatherback turtle was considered a critically endangered species as only 10 nesting areas were found in the state since 2000 compared to 10,000 areas a year in the 50s.

The green turtle is also listed as threatened even though many nesting areas were discovered in Terengganu, she said.

About 400 people, including tourists, who attended the campaign signed a pledge to help protect turtles and will not eat their eggs.

The Terengganu Fisheries Department and the Kerteh District Heritage Society also took part in the campaign.


Dancing goat 'like a kid'

A dancing goat has become something of a local celebrity in a Chinese village.

Owner Zhao Huaiyun, of Gao'an village, Mianzhu, southwest China's Sichuan province, says his goat loves to dance.

He has been offered a small fortune for the eight-month-old animal but is refusing to sell it.

"It's like a kid, always following me everywhere I go," he said.

People were coming from all over the area to see it peform, Zhao added.

"Whenever it has a bit of free time, it will stand up and dance in a circle and even shake hands with visitors," he said.

Fish and Wildlife Service Announces a Proposal to Delist the Morelet's Crocodile Due to Recovery of the Species

Fish and Wildlife Service Announces a Proposal to Delist the Morelet's Crocodile Due to Recovery of the Species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today announced a proposal to remove the Morelet's crocodile from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to recovery of the species. The species is found in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

The Morelet's crocodile was listed as endangered throughout its entire range on June 2, 1970, under the predecessor of the ESA. It was listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) on July 1, 1975. CITES in an international treaty that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild
animals and plants does not threaten their survival. CITES Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction that are or may be affected by trade. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. The overharvest for commercial purposes was the primary reason for the Morelet's crocodile being listed under the ESA and
its inclusion in CITES.

As a result of the species' improved status, on March 18, 2010, at the Conference of the Parties, (CoP) transferred the Morelet's crocodile populations in Mexico and Belize were to CITES Appendix II with a zero quota for wild specimens for commercial purposes. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. At the request of Guatemala, those populations of Morelet's crocodiles in Guatemala will remain in CITES Appendix I. The new CITES designation became effective on June 23, 2010. Because of the zero quota annotation for wild specimens, international commercial trade in Morelet's crocodiles under CITES from Mexico and Belize is limited to individuals from sources other than wild populations.

The Service's determination found that the species is no longer threatened with extinction. This proposed rule, if made final, would remove the Morelet's crocodile throughout its range from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife under the ESA.

In addition, if this proposed rule is finalized and the prohibitions of the ESA are removed, Morelet's crocodile parts and products originating from sources other than wild populations from Mexico (and Belize, if any) could be imported into the United States for commercial purposes, as long as the exporting country finds that the export will not be detrimental to the species, the specimen was lawfully acquired, and the required CITES export permit or re-export certificate has been issued.

The Morelet's crocodile was named after a French naturalist, P.M.A. Morelet, who discovered the species in Mexico in 1850. The species is relatively smaller than other species such as the American crocodile, with most wild adults usually ranging in length from just 6.6-8.2 feet. It is
generally found in freshwater environments such as lakes, swamps, and slow-moving rivers. The majority of the Morelet's crocodile population occurs in Mexico and Belize (87 percent) and those two countries hold the majority of the potentially suitable habitat (81 percent) throughout the
species' range. Guatemala contains the remaining 13 percent of the wild Morelet's crocodiles and the remaining 19 percent of the potentially suitable habitat throughout the species' range.

The 12-month finding and proposed rule to remove Morelet's crocodile from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife will publish in the Federal Register on April 27, 2011. A copy of the rule is available at

To ensure the status review is comprehensive, the Service is soliciting information from all interested parties regarding the Morelet's crocodile. Written comments and information concerning this proposal can be submitted by one of the following methods:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting comments. U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn:
[FWS-R9-ES-2010-0030]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203

Comments must be received within 60 days, on or before June 27, 2011. The Service will post all comments on This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes.

More Reasons Not to Abandon the Baby Turtle Ban (Via herp Digest)

More Reasons Not to Abandon the Baby Turtle Ban, By Laura Goldman, September 19, 2010

Louisiana turtle farmers are suing the FDA to lift a 35-year-old ban on the sale of baby red-eared slider turtles, saying they desperately need the business and now have efficient ways to eliminate salmonella, which was the reason for the 1975 ban on the U.S. sale of turtles smaller than 4 inches. A major reason why those of us who support the ban want it to stay in place is because, although the baby turtles may be salmonella-free, they can still continue to shed the bacteria throughout their lives, wreaking havoc on humans and wildlife alike.

When I wrote about this last month, I didn't realize there were equally compelling reasons to keep the ban intact, and those reasons are practically in my own backyard. The Madrona Marsh Preserve in the Los Angeles area is a 10-acre refuge - basically a suburban pond - and many turtle owners apparently think it's the perfect habitat in which to abandon their turtles. That's right, when the adorable, silver-dollar-sized baby red-eared sliders illegally bought at flea markets, on the internet or elsewhere grow up to become not-so-cute, foot-long, high-maintenance adults, they're often dumped.

Although the turtles can live to be 50 or older in a proper pond, they have difficulty surviving in places like Madrona Marsh. The Daily Breeze reported last week that officials are finding increasing numbers of the turtles either dead or sick from extreme dehydration. They're also easy prey for raccoons and other wildlife.

"In the last couple of weeks I've found three dead ones," Tracy Drake, manager of the preserve, told the newspaper. "We have people that go up to the gate at night and push them through."

In a fact sheet, the U.S. Geological Society says that throughout its nonindigenous range, the turtles "are introduced primarily through pet releases and escapes; a situation which has continued for several decades since the 1930s, reaching a peak during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television cartoon craze of the late 1980s-early 1990s."

Sadly, the turtles have no mutant ninja powers in real life, and rarely grow up to become teenagers.
"The animal trade business is a little scary and we see the dark side of it here," Drake said. "They have their lives and personalities. When they get abandoned, I don't know if they think like we do, but they know they've been abandoned."

The dumped turtles that are strong or lucky enough to survive have become a major threat to western pond turtles, a species native to California. Because of the sliders' aggressive eating and reproducing habits, the USGS has labeled them "clearly invasive."

Since Madrona Marsh represents just one small area inundated with illegally obtained sliders - turtles that carry salmonella, are capable of destroying other species and are typically abandoned and left to die by dehydration or starvation - what's the point of lifting the ban and opening the floodgates for thousands of more unwanted turtles?

At there is a petition asking the FDA to continue banning the sale of baby red-eared slider turtles.

Friday 29 July 2011

articles on misidentifications of mystery aquatics (1) (Via Chad Arment)

July 23, 1955 — Diver solves mystery of 'sea monster': The mystery of Green Bay's "sea monster" apparently has been cleared up, thanks to the sharp eyesight of diver Wayne Truttman.

Truttman, who spends some of his leisure time in a cottage on the bayshore, said he definitely established the identity of the "monsters" (plural that is) Friday evening. He said the monsters are in reality two sturgeon, each about seven feet long, which apparently have been feeding in shallow water near the bay shore.

"I had a good look at them Friday evening," Truttman said. "They're definitely sturgeon."

Truttman said the appearance of a "double-humped monster" apparently was caused by the fins of the sturgeon protruding from the water.

Sheriff's Deputy Ray Delforge and other sheriff's officers said they had noticed the fish before, but were unable to establish their identity.

People at darker, higher latitudes evolved bigger eyes and brains

"As you move away from the equator, there's less and less light available, so humans have had to evolve bigger and bigger eyes," said Eiluned Pearce from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, a lead author on the study.

"Their brains also need to be bigger to deal with the extra visual input. Having bigger brains doesn't mean that higher-latitude humans are smarter, it just means they need bigger brains to be able to see well where they live."

This suggests that someone from Greenland and someone from Kenya will have the same ability to discern detail, but the person from the higher latitude needs more brainpower and bigger eyes to deal with the lower light levels.

Professor Robin Dunbar, director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University and a co-author of the study, said that people whose ancestors have lived within the Arctic circle, have eyeballs 20% bigger than people whose ancestors lived near the equator. They have an associated increase in the size of the brain's visual cortex, which previous studies have shown correlates with the size of the eyeball.

Brain volume is known to increase with latitude: people living at high latitudes north and south of the equator have bigger brains than people living near the equator and . Dunbar said that scientists have wondered whether these inherited differences in total brain volume were driven by the pressure to adapt to low light levels at high latitudes.

The researchers measured the brain volumes and eye sockets of 55 skulls kept at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History dating from the 19th century. The skulls represented 12 different populations from around the world, including indigenous people from England, Australia, China, Kenya, Micronesia and Scandinavia.

The results, published on Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters, showed that the biggest brains, averaging 1,484 millilitres, were from Scandinavia, while the smallest brains, around 1,200 millilitres, came from Micronesia. Average eye socket size was 27 millilitres in Scandinavia and 22 millilitres in Micronesia.

Dunbar said the increase in brain volume must have evolved relatively recently in human history. "It's only within the last 10,000 years or so that modern humans have occupied all latitudes right up to the Arctic circle. This is, I guess, an adaptation that's happened within the last 10,000 years."

The researchers controlled for possible confounding variables influencing their data, such as the fact that people who live at higher latitudes are physically bigger and the possibility that the size of a person's eye socket in colder climates might be bigger to allow for a thicker layer of insulating fat.

The results for human eyes mirror those found in birds and non-human primates. Bird species that sing earlier in the dawn chorus at high latitudes have bigger eyes than those that sing later, and nocturnal primates have bigger eyeballs than species that are awake during the day.

Illegal Animal Trade: Eskimo Hunters Plead Guilty

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Eskimo hunters on an island in the Bering Sea were offered not only cash but firearms, ammunition, marijuana, cigarettes and snow machines for walrus ivory tusks and polar bear hides that were illegally sold, according to federal prosecutors.

When investigators totaled the take, the marine mammal peddling ring was responsible for the illegal sale and transport of approximately 230 pounds of walrus tusks valued at about $22,000 and two polar bear hides for $2,700, not to mention the tusks, skulls, teeth, jaw bones and other animal parts found in the home of the couple charged in the case. They also sold machine guns.

"This case demonstrates that there is significant volume of illegally taken wildlife parts being transferred in violation of federal law," said Kevin Feldis, chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage. "Unfortunately that world wildlife problem is an issue for Alaska."

Federal law allows Indian, Aleut or Eskimos who reside in coastal Alaska to hunt and kill walrus and polar bears without a permit for subsistence purposes. But, they can't turn around and sell the animal parts to non-Natives. They can make money by turning the parts into a Native handicraft to be sold.

In this case, the parts were sold to non-Natives in a "raw" or unaltered state.

Loretta Audrey Sternbach, a 52-year-old Eskimo with closely-cropped grey hair, pleaded guilty this week in U.S. District Court to violating several federal laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. The petite woman in prison garb with "prisoner" in large black letters on the back was asked by the judge if the facts of the case were true.

"Yes," Sternbach said.

Sternbach is the only Alaska Native of the three. Her two co-conspirators, Jesse Joseph LeBoeuf and Richard Blake Weshenfelder, have already acknowledged their guilt.

LeBoeuf reached a plea agreement calling for nine years in prison. Sternbach and Weshenfelder have no such agreements but are expected to get less time. Violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits the illegal sale of wildlife, can carry a $250,000 fine. News

Patches the dog on death row saves his own life by singing Happy Birthday

They say that every dog has its day, but the days of Patches the mongrel seemed numbered - until he was able to sing Happy Birthday.

Patches was due to be put down at a dog pound because no-one who could prove they knew him had come forward.

That was until a dog foster carer called at Mildura pound in Australia, where 15-year-old Patches was being kept on death row and tried to get him to sing Happy Birthday. He obliged - and his life was spared.

If that sounds like a shaggy dog story, well, you should hear him howl in accompaniment whenever anyone strikes up a rendering of the birthday tune.

Patches' elderly master, Eddie Vassallo, an Italian migrant living in northern Victoria, used to spend hours sitting with his pet on his knee.

But when 82-year-old Eddie died three months ago, Patches got caught up in the confusion that followed and ended up in a pound

Working on behalf of Mr Vassallo's daughter, who lives in far-away Sydney, Kaye Grivec, a Victorian Dog Rescue foster carer, helped in the hunt for the much-loved pooch.

When she arrived at the pound, Miss Grivec was asked if she could prove that Patches belonged to someone.

'There's only one way to find out,' said Miss Grivec, and started singing Happy Birthday to the dog.

'At first, he had a sad, faraway look in his eyes, just like he was thinking about something or missing someone,' said Miss Grivec.

'Then he just put his head back and started howling along with me, and I just burst into tears of joy,' she told Melbourne's Herald-Sun newspaper.

Marie Vassallo, daughter of Patches' late master, was overjoyed when she learned that the dog's enjoyment of Happy Birthday had saved his life.

'When they finished singing, Dad would say "bravo, bravo, Patches" and Patches just loved it," she said.

'Also, when it was anyone's birthday, Dad would telephone them and he would sing Happy Birthday to them with Patches singing along.

'It was Patches' favourite song and it became a family tradition for Dad and Patches to sing it together.'

When she learned that Patches had disappeared following her father's death, Miss Vassallo was heartbroken.

'He'd been impounded for quite a while and his time on death row was almost up.

'Thank goodness he's been found and saved and it was all due to that song.

'We're now arranging to have Patches brought up to Sydney to live out his life with the family.'

Read more:

Video: Thylacine Sighting from Jan 2009?

More videos and info can be found on Murray McAllister’s Search for the Tasmanian Tiger website. Read more:

Australia's fattest dog put on diet

Samson, a black labrador retriever, weighs-in at a very tubby 13.3 stone - twice his normal weight.

His owners admit that an unhealthy diet of burgers, pizza and pies has turned their pet into a couch potato that can hardly fit in his own kennel.

Samson is now working with vets in Melbourne who have put him on a strict diet to help the podgy canine shed some weight.

"He's getting two feeds a day of a specific veterinary prescription diet that provides all the nutrition that he needs without the calorie content," said vet Amber Lavery.

Blainville's beaked whales enter stealth mode

Blainville's beaked whales, which are among the world's most enigmatic cetacea, go silent in shallow waters.

Researchers have discovered that the whales refuse to communicate with each other near the surface.

By becoming silent, the whales enter a stealth mode that prevents them being detected by predatory killer whales.

The study, one of the first to record how beaked whales communicate, also recorded sounds made at the deepest recorded depth by any mammal.

Beaked whales are deep-diving, toothed whales.

Little is known about them, in part because they spend so much of their time in the ocean depths.

Some species have been barely sighted, and scientists suspect there may be more species of beaked whale awaiting discovery.

Also, very little is known about how beaked whales communicate or avoid predators.

So Natacha Aguilar of La Laguna University in Tenerife, Spain and colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, US and Aarhus University, Denmark, conducted the first study into how beaked whales communicate when diving.

Using suction cups, the researchers attached electronic listening devices to eight Blainville's beaked whales, recording them for 102 hours in total.

They recorded the sounds made by the whales though the water column, as they came up to breathe and swim near the water surface, and also as they dived to depths of 900m.

The results, published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, revealed that Blainville's beaked whales fell silent once they entered waters that are shallower than 170m.

Above this depth, the whales did not communicate with one another at all, while they were also silent when ascending from dives: a climb through the water that could take an average of 19 minutes.

That is despite the fact that these whales spend 60% of the lives swimming in waters shallower than 170m, and would be expected to communicate with one another to maintain social ties, particularly as they swim and dive in close knit groups.

When the whales swam in deeper waters, they did sound off.

At depths below 450m, the whales made a series of echolocation clicks, interspersed with so-called buzzes, tonal whistles and short bouts of repeated clicks.

The whales likely make the echolocation clicks to navigate and hunt prey.

But the whistles and repeated clicks, which the researchers dubbed "rasps", had never been recorded before.

These could serve to help the whales co-ordinate their movements as they disperse at the bottom of a dive to hunt.

The researchers believe that entering a stealth mode when swimming in shallow waters is an anti-predator strategy.

Killer whales, more appropriately known as orcas, are shallow divers that prey on many whale species in shallower waters.

By swimming in stealth mode, the beaked whales avoid broadcasting their location to orcas.

Hiding in the oceans this way may be an effective avoidance strategy, as beaked whales cannot out-swim orcas and have few other defences against them.
"For Blainville's beaked whales that live in cohesive associations and co-ordinate their activities, keeping silent near the surface is an unexpected behaviour and strikingly in contrast with that of other toothed whales," the researchers write in the journal.

By Matt Walker

Editor, BBC Nature
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