Tuesday 31 July 2012

Wet weather sparks concern for swifts, RSPB says

This summer's cold and wet weather has had a disastrous effect on the breeding season for swifts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says.
The population of the birds that come to the UK every summer to breed is said to be nearly a third lower than it was in the mid-1990s.
The weather has resulted in fewer flying insects for swifts to eat.
Experts say many swifts are returning to Africa early, putting population levels further at risk.
The RSPB says swifts are also facing a lack of nesting sites in the roofs of UK buildings as old properties are renovated and new homes built with no access or space for nests.
RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: "The last thing this struggling species needed was to be hit hard by the wet weather this year.
"But they are at the mercy of more than just a wet summer. Their ability to nest depends on our buildings having spaces for them.
"They fly as many as 6,000 miles each spring to get here from Africa to breed, only to find that changes in the way we're building and renovating means there are fewer nest spaces."

'Land not sea' origin for snakes

One of the most primitive snake fossils ever found hints that the slithery reptiles might have originated on land, not in the sea as has been proposed.
The animal, which lived at the same time as the dinosaurs, probably emerged from a line of burrowing reptiles that lost their legs.
Where and how snakes diverged from their legged cousins the lizards has been a mystery.
Details of the find appear in the journal Nature.
The debate over snake origins has been complicated by the scarcity of transitional fossils (those with features in between two groups of creatures).
But new fossils from eastern Wyoming, US, belonging to the ancient snake Coniophis precedens - which lived some 65-70 million years ago - could help clear up the mystery.
According to the analysis by Nicholas Longrich from Yale University and colleagues, Coniophis lived in a floodplain environment and "lacks adaptations for aquatic locomotion".

Termites' crystal backpacks help them go out with bang

A species of termite has been found to inflict more damage on its enemies as it ages.
When defending their colony, some termites "explode", releasing chemicals that injure intruders.
A previously unknown crystal structure has been discovered that raises the toxicity of their chemical weapons.
As worker termites grow older, they become less able to perform their duties.
Yet this newly discovered structure allows ageing workers to better defend their colony. The research was published today in Science.
When faced with a threat, many termite species employ a type of altruistic suicide known as "autothysis" in order to deter attackers.
n a few species, workers join "soldier" termites in the defence of their colony and perform these acts of suicidal defence.
However, a twist to this system has been discovered in a species from French Guiana.
"My PhD student, Thomas Bourguignon, was studying termite community ecology and collecting species when, casually, he found something really special," Prof Yves Roisin from the Free University of Brussels told BBC News.
By rupturing their bodies, Neocapritermes taracua release a toxic chemical that sticks to intruders, holding them fast and corroding their bodies.
"[Autothysis] is usually a one component system. The defensive secretions are stored in salivary glands, but in these species there is a 'backpack' with two crystals carried outside the body. When the termite bursts, the two mix together, producing the more toxic compounds," Prof Roisin explained.
The "backpacks" are formed from pouches on the outside of the body.

The Fin Whale, Under More Threat in the Mediterranean Than Thought

ScienceDaily (July 26, 2012) — Until now it was thought that fin whales in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea made up part of the distribution of this species of whale in the Mediterranean. However, an international team of scientists led by a Spaniard has revealed that their population has been overestimated by including specimens from the Atlantic that visit at certain times the western Mediterranean, where the noise generated by human activity affects their survival.

In 1991 the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) population in the Mediterranean Sea was estimated at 3500 specimens. A new study, published in Marine Mammal Science, now shows that this record included specimens from the Atlantic, and suggests that the distribution and size of the current population of this whale, which is threatened with extinction, should be reconsidered.

"The Mediterranean population has easily been overestimated, as the census included the whole of the southeast Mediterranean, incorporating Atlantic fin whales within the Mediterranean census", reported to SINC Manuel Castellote, the lead author of the study and researcher in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA), Seattle (USA).

Continued:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120726101727.htm

Biological Mechanism for Growing Massive Animal Weapons, Ornaments Discovered

ScienceDaily (July 26, 2012) — In the animal kingdom, huge weapons such as elk antlers or ornaments like peacock feathers are sexy. Their extreme size attracts potential mates and warns away lesser rivals.

Now researchers led by scientists at the University of Montana and Washington State University have discovered a developmental mechanism they think may be responsible for the excessive growth of threatening horns or come-hither tail feathers. Published in the July 26 online edition of Science, the research reveals a mechanism to explain both the size of these traits, and the incredible variation among males of the same species -- why some beetles, for instance, grow massive horns while their fellows grow nothing but nubbins.

"Our research explains how these enormous traits get to be so enormous," said Doug Emlen, a professor and evolutionary biologist in UM's Division of Biological Sciences. "People have known for 100 years that the best males produce the biggest structures, but nobody has really understood how. Our work looks under the hood to explain why so many sexually selected structures get so massive."


Cull and drought hit feral camels

Numbers of wild camels in Australia have dropped by a quarter in recent years because of drought and culling, a wildlife survey shows.
The camel population was estimated at one million a few years ago, but the body tasked with controlling the animals says it has fallen to 750,000.
Introduced in the 1800s, the camels now form the world's biggest wild herd.
But the camels cause significant environmental damage, and in 2010, the government endorsed a control plan.
The Australian Feral Camel Management Project (AFCMP) aims to reduce camel densities through culling and mustering the animals for sale.
With few natural predators and vast sparsely-populated areas in which to roam, feral camels have put pressure on native Australian species by reducing food sources and destroying habitat.
"Between 2001 and 2008, it was estimated that there could have been as many as a million feral camels in the outback," said Jan Ferguson, from the not-for-profit company Ninti One, which manages the AFCMP.
"Since then, however, there has been a major drought, the feral camel management programme has come into effect and population survey techniques have been improved."

Vietnam's tiger farms are called trafficking hubs

AN BINH, Vietnam (AP) — Nineteen tigers prowl outdoor cages the size of dormitory rooms, nibbling frayed wire fences and roaring at a caretaker who taunts them with his sandal.
It looks like a zoo, but it's closed to the public. The facility breeds tigers, but has never supplied a conservation program with any animals nor sold any to zoos.
Conservationists allege that Vietnam's 11 registered tiger farms, including this one, are fronts for a thriving illegal market in tiger parts, highly prized for purported — if unproven — medicinal qualities.
Nonsense, says manager Luong Thien Dan. He says the farm in southern Binh Duong province was created simply because its management has a "soft spot" for the big cats, and that it's funded privately by a beer company.
"At first we just kept them as pets, but when they started to breed, we got excited and wanted to expand their population," Dan said during a tour of the farm, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City.

Lao PDR identified as a key player in illegal ivory trade

TRAFFIC survey highlights Lao PDR's dark trade in ivory
July 2012. Lao PDR is playing a more prominent role in the international ivory trade than was previously thought, says a new report launched by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

The report points to the significantly higher volume of ivory items openly on sale in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) and the seizures of African ivory en route to the country as indicators of its growing involvement in the illegal trade.
Openly on sale
The Role of Lao PDR in the Ivory Trade, which appears in the latest issue of the TRAFFIC Bulletin, details a TRAFFIC survey carried out in August 2011 that found 2,493 pieces of ivory, including jewellery, name seals and raw tusks, openly on sale in 24 retail outlets mostly in the capital Vientiane, compared to just over a hundred ivory items observed in nine shops in 2002. International visitors appear to be the main buyers, especially in Vientiane where more than 2,100 ivory pieces were found on sale in two luxury hotels where ivory prices were quoted in US Dollars and Chinese Yuan, rather than in the Laotian Kip.
Two cabinets in the Don Chan Palace Hotel alone displayed a staggering 1,843 ivory items for sale. There were also a large number of religious figurines popular with East Asian tourists available. All ivory trade in Lao PDR is forbidden and no commercial export of ivory from the country is permitted.
Lao PDR has escaped much of the negative attention its neighbours, especially China and Thailand, have suffered on account of their major domestic ivory markets, carving industries and role in the global illegal ivory trade.

Divided dolphin societies merge 'for first time'

A unique social division among a population of bottlenose dolphins in Australia's Moreton Bay has ended, according to a new study.
The dolphins lived as two distinct groups that rarely interacted, one of which foraged on trawler bycatch.
But scientists think that a ban on fishing boats from key areas has brought the two groups together.
They believe these socially flexible mammals have united to hunt for new food sources together.
The findings are published in the journal Animal Behaviour.
The Moreton Bay dolphins were thought to be the only recorded example of a single population that consisted of groups that were not associating with each other in a split dubbed "the parting of the pods".
But since the study that discovered the rift, trawlers have been banned from designated areas of the bay leading to a 50% reduction in the fishing effort.

Experimental Turtle Surgery Performed in NC – via Herp Digest

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) 7/19/12— A team of 10 doctors and their assistants crowd around an operating table. An anesthesiologist warns Dr. Greg Lewbart that his patient's heart rate has dropped to 35 beats per minute. But that's a good rate, the doctor says, for a seven-pound endangered sea turtle.
Veterinarians successfully completed experimental skull surgery on a green sea turtle Thursday at N.C. State University in Raleigh. They say the turtle, which is too young to easily tell its gender, needed the operation to close a three-inch gash to the head that had exposed the protective membrane sheathing its tiny brain.
The turtle called Holden III washed up a month ago on Holden Beach in the southern area of the state, apparently the victim of a boat propeller. Its front left flipper was fractured and the turtle was possibly blinded in one injured eye.
Beachgoers brought the turtle to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital and Rehabilitation Center on Topsail Island where volunteers nursed it back to health. Volunteers then sought out medical options to help Holden III get back on its flippers.
"It's amazing; these little greens have such determination to live," said volunteer Peggy LeClair with the turtle hospital. "They have just strong personalities."
Green sea turtles, which can live more than 80 years and grow up to 5 feet and 700 pounds, regularly ply Atlantic waters along the Southeast coast. For a long time, the endangered turtles were hunted to make handbags and turtle soup. Later, the animal was popularized by the characters Squirt and Crush in the Disney movie "Finding Nemo."
Dr. Lewbart led the surgical team seeking to help the turtle's skull heal correctly. Skull surgery on turtles is not unprecedented, Lewbart said, adding that the university had conducted six similar surgeries during the past decade. It was Lewbart's second skull surgery on a turtle, but the first time an external brace had been used on a sea turtle.
The surgery lasted 90 minutes and included an ophthalmologist, anesthesiologist, radiologist and several lab assistants. They surrounded the table that held the 16-inch green turtle, whose brain is about as big around as a penny.
The vets decided early on that the turtle didn't have to be put under general anesthesia. Turtles have to make the conscious effort to breathe, and putting them under is typically the most dangerous part of the operation. Instead, Holden III got morphine.
Dr. Lewbart oversaw the installation of an external brace on Holden III's skull made out of stainless steel surgical wire, clothing hooks and glue. The plan, he said, was to stabilize the skull fragments and allow it to heal into a normal, functional shape.
"There was no way we could knit everything back today, there weren't enough pieces left for us to do that," Lewbart said. "We're going to let the turtle fill in those gaps with mineralized tissue."
Dr. Lewbart said Holden III was a very calm patient and was "resting comfortably" after surgery.
The doctors hope the knowledge gained will help with other turtles in the future. Meanwhile they are watchful there are no complications.
Holden III is back at the turtle hospital where the animal will undergo rehabilitation. Lewbart plans to check back in with his patient in two weeks and volunteers hope to have the turtle back into the wild by next spring or fall 2013.
The turtle hospital volunteer LeClair said she was struck by the resilience of turtles like Holden III.
"Some of these turtles, with what they have gone through, it's amazing to see them heal and go back into the ocean."

Shark Paradise Discovered

A human hunger for shark fin soup, fisheries and other human-related activities threaten sharks worldwide, but researchers have identified one place where sharks appear to rule, living out their lives in tropical splendor.

The location, Cleveland Bay, is a coastal habitat located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on the northeast coast of Queensland, Australia. The bay is home to numerous different shark species, but the study, which will be published in the August issue of Fisheries Research, focused primarily on two: pigeyes (Carcharhinus amboinensis) and spottails (Carcharhinus sorrah).

Wildlife Market Surveys in Jakarta Done by Turtle Conservancy in June – via Herp Digest

for photos - http://news.turtleconservancy.org/2012/07/wildlife-trade/

Trade of wildlife is quite extensive in Asia. Last month a Turtle Conservancy Team met Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia to conduct surveys of the wildlife markets in Jakarta, Indonesia. Our primary goal – to document Ploughshare Tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) being sold – was unfortunately successfully met.
The wildlife markets in Jakarta are not for the faint of heart, and we documented many species of turtles and tortoises along with countless species of birds and mammals. The birds are known as the “Cut Flowers” of the wildlife trade. Many of these animals sold as “pets” will not survive a month in captivity. It was a sobering experience.
In  no specific order, the chelonian species documented during this four day survey include:
Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea)
Central American Mud Turtle (Kinosternon angustipons)
Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata)
Mexican Mud Turtle (Kinosternon integrum)
Ploughshare Tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora)
Burmese Flap-shell Turtle (Lissemys scutata)
Painted Terrapin (Batagur borneoensis)
Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii)
African Spurred Tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata)
Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)
Parker’s Snake-necked Turtle (Chelodina parkeri)
Pancake Tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri)
Siebenrock’s Snake-necked Turtle (Chelodina siebenrocki)
Mekong Snail-eating Turtle (Malayemys subtrijuga)
Red Foot Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)
Asian Brown Tortoise (Manouria emys emys)
Mata Mata Turtle (Chelus fimbriatus)
Yellow Pond Turtle (Mauremys mutica)
Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Reeve’s Turtle (Mauremys reevesii)
Southern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta dorsalis)
Tricarinate Hill Turtle (Melanochelys tricarinata)
Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata)
Chinese Stripe-necked Turtle (Ocadia sinensis)
Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta)
Malayan Giant Turtle (Orlitia borneensis)
North American Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata)
Chinese Soft-shelled Turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis)
Southeast Asian Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis)
African Mud Turtle (Pelusios subniger)
Asian Leaf Turtle (Cyclemys dentata)
Yellow-spotted Amazon River Turtle (Podocnemis unifilis)
New Guinea Snapping Turtle (Elseya novaeguineae)
Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis)
Australian Red-bellied Short-necked Turtle (Emydura subglobosa)
Central American Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcharrima manni)
Indian Star Tortoise (Geochelone elegans)
Black Marsh Turtle (Siebenrockiella crassicollis)
Indian Spotted Turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii)
Mexican Musk Turtle (Staurotypus triporcatus)
Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica)
North American Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)
Yellow-headed Temple Turtle (Heosemys annandalii)
Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)
Spiny Turtle (Heosemys spinosa)
Red-eared Slider Turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans)
Forest Hinge-back Tortoise (Kinixys erosa)
Yellow-bellied Slider Turtle (Trachemys scripta scripta)
Home’s Hinge-back Tortoise (Kinixys homeana)

Monday 30 July 2012

Massive Bigfoot model on eBay

In 1976, a fellow named Clifford LaBrecque built this "museum quality" model of Bigfoot and now he's selling it on eBay. "One look and it shouts this is the "real thing"--eyes that follow you, and hands, fingers, and toes, are all in great detail," reads the auction listing. Starting bid is just $80,000. I sure hope the Bigfoot gets a cut.
More on LaBrecque and his model here.

First Photo Evidence of Snub-Nosed Monkey Species in China

ScienceDaily (July 26, 2012) — Chinese researchers have published the first evidence that a population of the recently discovered snub-nosed monkey, Rhinopithecus Strykeri, live in China. Until now researchers have been unable to photograph the monkey, whose upturned nostrils are said to make it sneeze in the rain.

The paper is published in theAmerican Journal of Primatology.The species was first discovered by a team led by Ngwe Lwin from the Myanmar Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association and described by Dr Thomas Geissman in the American Journal of Primatology in October 2010. It was believed that the species was isolated to the Kachin State of north eastern Myanmar. However, this new discovery reveals the international range of this critically endangered species.

The new expedition, led by Yongcheng Long from the Nature Conservancy China Program, travelled to the Yunnan province of China after a forest guard, Liu Pu, took photos of a group of snub-nosed monkeys in a forest in near Pianma, in Yunann's Lushui County.


South Korea drops scientific whaling plan

South Korea prime minister criticises fishing ministry

July 2012. In an apparent about turn, South Korea has ditched plans to launch a scientific whaling programme. Korea announced at the recent IWC meeting that it planned to launch a scientific whaling programme, which caused outrage in many parts of the world, and was described by on erudite media outlet as ARSE! A brief announcement seem to blame the South Korean Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for announcing a decision that they had not discussed with the prime minister.
Already catching 200 whales per year as ‘bycatch'
Korea already catches an estimated 200 Minke whales per year by ‘accident' (They must be incredibly careless).
Read more details in 'The Age' 

New mammal species discovered in Indonesia

Researchers from "La Sapienza", the University of Rome, have discovered a new mammal species in montane tropical rainforest of Indonesia

July 2012. A new mammal species has been discovered in the Mekkonga mountains in the southeast of Sulawesi (Indonesia). The new species is an arboreal rodent belonging to the genus Margaretamys, and has been named Margaretamys Christinae. 

The new species was captured at 1537 m in tropical montane rainforest. The genus Margaretamys (Muridae) now contains 4 species, all endemic of Sulawesi and all adapted to arboreal life. The species are of conservation concern since two of them are listed as "Endangered" and "Vulnerable" in the IUCN red list.
From the zoogeographic point of view this find confirms the adaptive radiation of rodents in the mountains of Sulawesi; the new species has been proposed as "Endangered" for the IUCN red list.

Crash cat found after two days in Everglades

LAKE WORTH — He's a death-defying cat who stayed put and stayed alive — for two days in the Everglades.
Sam, an 11-year-old gray feline, was feared lost after he ran into the bush after his owner Nikki Saltzburg's minivan was involved in a wreck with another vehicle on Alligator Alley east of Naples Monday.
Now, thanks to social media and the generosity of strangers, the cat will soon be reunited with his owners.
"I couldn't even believe it," Saltzburg said of Sam's rescue. "I said, 'You're kidding, right?' "
On Friday, the Saltzburgs were in Lake Worth visiting relatives and recuperating from their ordeal. They were excited to know their beloved cat was safe.
The crash happened on Monday at about 3 p.m. while Saltzburg, her wife Mara, 40, Sam and their infant son Parker were moving across the country from Los Angeles to Miami. Sam, in his cat crate, was in the front passenger seat. They were driving on Interstate 75 approaching Big Cypress National Preserve when another vehicle collided with theirs, causing Saltzburg to lose control of the minivan.
"It was terrifying," Saltzburg said. "It was really scary."
Saltzburg remembers looking up after her minivan had rammed into a tree off the highway. Sam's cat crate, which had been on the passenger seat, was no longer there. It had been ejected through the window.
After being pulled from the minivan, Saltzburg, who has been a paraplegic since she was only a few days old, saw the broken cat crate in the grass. Sam had dashed off into the bush.
Amid the chaos, Saltzburg was bleeding from multiple cuts and Mara had suffered a fractured pelvis. Their infant son, Parker, was somehow unharmed.
Saltzburg wanted to look for the cat but couldn't. They all needed to be taken to a hospital.
"At that point I was devastated," said Saltzburg, 34, realizing she'd have to leave behind the cat she had since it was an 8-week-old kitten.

Two new areas of marine protection along NI coastline

Two new areas of marine protection off the coastline of Northern Ireland have been announced.
The Special Areas of Conservation include the sea and seabed surrounding the Maidens Islands off Larne and those adjacent to the Portrush Skerries and Giant's Causeway.
The move also provides protection for the harbour porpoise.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said the sites were important for their "marine habitats and biodiversity".
He added: "They demonstrate my department's ongoing commitment to protecting our seas and the wildlife and ecosystems that they support."
The Special Areas of Conservation at the Maidens include sandbanks, reefs and grey seals, while the areas protected at the Skerries and Causeway includes sea caves, sandbanks and reefs.
Mr Attwood said the waters off the north coast were important for harbour porpoises.
"This designation confirms that their numbers in this area are significant th roughout the year. I hope this encourages people to visit the area to get a glimpse of these beautiful animals."
In the Autumn, the assembly is due to debate the Marine Bill, which aims to protect the coastal areas.
Previously designated marine areas of protection include Strangford Lough, Rathlin Island, Red Bay and Murlough Bay.

Big horned rhinoceros beetles are healthiest

The size of a male rhinoceros beetle's horn is a genuine indicator of its health, according to researchers.
The horns vary in size from small bumps to two-thirds of the insect's body length and are used in fights.
Investigating the variation, US scientists found cells in the horn are more sensitive to "nutrition signals" than cells in other parts of the body.
They suggest their findings could explain the evolution of super-sized body parts in the natural world.
The study, led by Dr Douglas Emlen from the University of Montana, US, is published in the journal Science.
Although scientists have long assumed that exaggerated body parts accurately represent the ability of a male to survive and reproduce, the link has not been proven.
To understand the relationship, Dr Emlen and colleagues compared the beetle's horn with other body parts including the wings and genitalia.
They found that the horn's cells were much more sensitive to "nutrition signals": fluctuations in insulin due to diet quality and resistance to illness.
This discovery explained the differences in horn sizes between high and low quality males but it also offered an explanation of how the horns grow to such impressive sizes.
Dr Emlen explained that these insulin pathways are also known to regulate tissue growth and body size. Therefore if a body part contains cells that are more sensitive to these signals it will grow to reflect the health of the beetle.

Big Butterfly Count 2012 - Worrying lack of butterfly counters!

Not just butterflies that are missing, butterfly counters are absent too
July 2012. Big Butterfly Count 2012 is in full swing, but where are all the butterflies? The number of Counts submitted so far this year is low and so are the butterfly sightings. We really need you to take part in The Big Butterfly Count if we are to get a meaningful picture of butterfly numbers this year!
The wettest spring and early summer on record got our Big Butterfly Count off to a very damp start. However, right now things are looking a lot more like the Great British Summer we all dream of. Across southern Britain there’s wall-to-wall blue skies, warm breezes and the smell of summer is finally in the air. But where have all the butterflies gone? 

People are reporting that although the sun is shining, they are seeing very few butterflies on the now blossoming buddleias and lavender in their gardens. However, don't be downhearted – there are lots of butterflies out there! If you try places with long grasses and wildflowers, such as parks, churchyards, woodland glades, fields and nature reserves, you should be treated to a spectacular display of burnet moths, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Ringlets, skippers and Marbled Whites. 


We, and the butterflies, really need your help. Don't forget you can do as many counts as you like, and even if you don't spot a single butterfly a zero count is still important to us! We need your Big Butterfly Count results more than ever to assess how this year’s unusual weather has affected our butterflies. 
The big butterfly count is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and an impressive 10,000 people took part, counting 210,000 butterflies and day-flying moths across the nation. Many more people, some 34,000 in fact, joined big butterfly count 2011.

Ten British species given new names

Ten species step out of obscurity as the 2012 Name a Species competition winners are announced
July 2012. Emerging from obscurity, ten previously unnamed British species are now enjoying some long-awaited limelight as the results of the competition to give them popular names were announced. The overall winner was the ‘cutpurse wasp', hitherto known only as Aporus unicolor - a wasp that breaks into the burrow of the purse web spider, paralyses it and uses the still-living body as a host for its own eggs.

Other winners included the solar-powered sea slug, corrugated scarab and semaphore fly, previously known as Elysia viridis, Brindalus porcicollis and Poecilobothrus nobilatus respectively. It's hoped that their more memorable (and easier to pronounce) new names will find them places in the popular imagination alongside species such as the kingfisher, dormouse and bee orchid.
Name a Species
Thousands of people submitted entries to this year's Name a Species competition, which again invited the public to give popular names to ten British species that have until now only had scientific names. The entries were judged by our panel: Dr Peter Brotherton, Natural England's Head of Profession for Biodiversity; Dr Keith Hiscock, Associate Fellow at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth; George Monbiot, author and Guardian columnist; and Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Room for one more? Baby ducks scramble take shelter under their mother's wings... but one is left out in the cold

When adorable little ducklings ran for their mother seeking comfort it got a bit overcrowded and one tiny duck was left out in the cold.

Certainly not ugly, but lonely, this little duckling would not fit underneath the warm shelter of its mothers wings along with his siblings.

It was left looking on as the others snuggled up together and even waddled off in a strop, apparently not pleased with being the one left out.

Meanwhile, the lucky group of ducklings huddled under their mother for about 15 minutes before they stepped out into the open.

The amazing images were snapped by amateur photographer Christopher Schlaf at a lake in Romeo, Michigan, US.


Saturday 28 July 2012

Falling lizards use tail for mid-air twist, inspiring lizard-like 'RightingBot' – via Herp Digest

Science Codex, June 30, 2012 

Lizards, just like cats, have a knack for turning right side up and landing on their feet when they fall. But how do they do it? Unlike cats, which twist and bend their torsos to turn upright, lizards swing their large tails one way to rotate their body the other, according to a recent study that will be presented at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting on 29th June in Salzburg, Austria. A lizard-inspired robot, called 'RightingBot', replicates the feat.
This work, carried out by Ardian Jusufi, Robert Full and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, explains how large-tailed animals can turn themselves right side up while falling through the air. It could also help engineers to design air- or land-based robots with better stability.
"It is not immediately obvious which mechanism an animal will use to accomplish aerial righting and recover from falling in an upside-down posture. Depending on body size, morphology and mass distribution there are multiple strategies for animals to execute this behavior," said Ardian Jusufi, lead author of the study.
Lizards in their natural environment encounter various situations where they could fall. For instance, they could fall while fighting over territory, seeking food, or even mating. To avoid injuries, they must have a way to turn themselves during a fall to land safely on their feet.
For over a century, people have been studying if and how cats and other mammals right themselves when they fall. Other animals like lizards, which have different body plans and probably use different strategies, have been largely unexplored.
The researchers used high-speed videography to dissect the motion of two common lizards – the flat-tailed house gecko and green anole – as they fall, starting upside down. Watching as the lizards righted themselves in mid-air before alighting on extended legs, the researchers discovered that both lizards swing their tails in one direction, causing their bodies to turn in the other.
The team also compared the righting movement of the two lizards, which have similar body sizes but different tail lengths and inertial properties. The gecko, with its shorter tail, has to swing its tail further to the side to right itself, making a larger angle relative to its body. By contrast, relatively smaller movements of the anole tail, which is twice as long, are enough to reorient its body. 
"A comparative approach provides useful insights in the study of aerial righting responses and could be beneficial to the design of robots that navigate complex environments," said Ardian Jusufi.
For the study, Jusufi and his colleagues developed a three-dimensional mathematical model to test their understanding of the lizards' righting movement.
To further test the mathematical model's predictions the team then built a simple robot. 'RightingBot' consists of just two parts: a body joined to a tail. Despite its simple design, RightingBot rights itself in mid-air with a swing of its tail just like the lizards that inspired it, showing how useful a tail can be for that purpose.

Mystery mass deaths of green turtles in Australia – via Herp Digest

Phys.Org, 6/29/12
Scientists were at a loss Friday to explain the mysterious deaths of more than 70 green turtles that have washed up on beaches in northeast Australia over the last week.
Queensland state authorities said 62 of the vulnerable species were confirmed dead and another 10 were spotted floating at sea by a helicopter.
Marty McLaughlin, operations manager at Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services, said the turtles were nourished and had no obvious signs of illness.
"There is no obvious cause of death. We've tested for all the normal reasons, like boat strikes and starvation, but that has not occurred," he told AFP.
"It is species-specific to green turtles and we can't see any signs of toxicity or chemicals, and our analysis to date has shown no parasites. It's a complete mystery."
All of the turtles were found around Upstart Bay, south of Townsville, in the past week.
McLaughlin said crabs and pigs feeding on the carcasses did not appear affected by whatever killed the turtles, which are considered vulnerable under national

Hundreds Of Turtles Run Away From Georgia Farm – via Herp Digest

NPR, 7/21/12- This isn't oxymoronic but last week, hundreds of turtles successfully dashed out of a Georgia turtle farm and escaped into nearby undergrowth. While there was no slow-speed chase, turtle farmer David Driver tells the Chattanooga News about 1,600 reptiles got away.
It all started last week, when suspected vandals tore down or stole metal siding on Driver's property keeping the turtles penned up. Seizing their opportunity, the reptiles made a break for it: hundreds of them sped, well, maybe 'walked with purpose' to the openings and disappeared into nearby ponds.
Driver says he found out when he got calls from neighbors who saw turtles scooting over the roads, according to the Summerville News. All kinds of turtles escaped: snapping, soft shelled, eastern paints and more. Driver estimates he's lost the bulk of four years' worth of work.
He sells some of the turtles to pet operators and others he ships to China, where they are eaten. Driver says even before the vandalism, sales were falling.
A sheriff's investigator joked to the Chattanooga News about "packs of wild turtles running rampant in the Harrisburg area. Be advised," before becoming serious, warning police are still looking for thieves.
And the vandals? Police suspect they just wanted the metal, because they made off with the tailgate of Driver's old green jeep. They're checking junkyards for it.
A line from Dr. Seuss's Yertle the Turtle seems apt here: "...and the turtles, of course...all the turtles are free. As turtles, and, maybe, all creatures should be."

Unchallenged crimes of "rotten apple" palm oil company

Report exposes illegal activities and enforcement failings in Kalimantan
July 2012. Systemic law enforcement failings threaten to make a mockery of Indonesia's pledge to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions by enabling plantation companies to destroy carbon-rich peatlands with impunity, a recent report reveals.
Testing the Law, jointly produced by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Indonesian NGO Telapak, highlights how a well-connected oil palm firm has been allowed to continue operating in Central Kalimantan in clear breach of the law for almost five years.
Evidence gathered by EIA/Telapak shows that Government officials have been aware of the activities of PT Suryamas Cipta Perkasa (PT SCP) for years and, despite statements to the contrary, have failed to take action.
Destruction of the habitat of hundreds of orangutans
The crimes committed by PT SCP, part of the BEST Group, have led directly to the destruction of the habitat of hundreds of endangered orangutans and local livelihoods, generating millions of tonnes of carbon emissions in the process.
In March2012, EIA/Telapak submitted a dossier of evidence to a range of authorities in Indonesia, detailing how PT SCP had broken numerous laws governing land allocation, access to resources and environmental management.
The dossier provided the authorities with sufficient evidence to prompt a criminal investigation into the illegal conversion of more than 23,000 hectares of peatland and peat swamp forest, while giving notice to the Government that its response would be made public.

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