Friday 31 August 2012

Male Snails Babysit for Other Dads: Family Secrets of Marine Whelk Solenosteira Macrospira

ScienceDaily (Aug. 28, 2012) — Pity the male of the marine whelk, Solenosteira macrospira. He does all the work of raising the young, from egg-laying to hatching -- even though few of the baby snails are his own.
The surprising new finding by researchers at the University of California, Davis, puts S. macrospirain a small club of reproductive outliers characterized by male-only child care. Throw in extensive promiscuity and sibling cannibalism, and the species has one of the most extreme life histories in the animal kingdom.

The family secrets of the snail, which lives in tidal mudflats off Baja California, are reported online in a study in the journal Ecology Letters.

In the study, UC Davis researchers report that, on average, only one in four of the hundreds of eggs that a male S. macrospira carries around on his back belong to him. Some carry the offspring of as many as 25 other males.

Such extreme cases provide the raw material on which natural selection can work and shed light on more "mainstream" species, said study author Rick Grosberg, a professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis.


Charlie Naysmith, 8, Discovers Piece Of Whale Vomit Worth $63,000

An 8-year-old boy in Bournemouth, Great Britain, may have some gross profits after finding a piece of whale vomit that may be worth $63,000.

Charlie Naysmith was walking on the beach of Hengistbury Head when he came across a big hunk that looked like a yellowish beige rock with a waxy finish and picked it up, according to the Daily Echo newspaper.

With the help of his parents, he discovered his hunk was not a rock, but a piece of ambergris, a substance barfed or pooped up by sperm whales.

As disgusting as that sounds, the substance is actually in demand with perfume makers as it helps prolong the scent of perfume. That's why a pound of the whale waste sells for as much as $10,000.

Naysmith's piece of cetacean upchuck has been estimated to be worth as much as $63,000, but, according to his dad, Alex Naysmith, they are still researching the product.

“He is into nature and is really interested in it. We have discovered it is quite rare and are waiting for some more information from marine biology experts,” Naysmith, Sr., said, according to

That isn't stopping him from dreaming about how to spend his newfound riches. Currently, he is considering building some kind of a shelter for animals.

West Nile virus prompts Texas aerial spraying

Aircraft have begun spraying pesticide over parts of Dallas, Texas to combat an outbreak of mosquito-borne West Nile Virus blamed for 17 deaths this year, authorities said Friday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services said the aircraftcovered 52,000 acres of Dallas County on Thursday night, opening a new front to stop the spread of West Nile Virus.

"Aerial spraying is a safe and very effective tool, but it doesn't take the place of the basic precautions," said David Lakey, the head of the health department.

"We are urging people to continue using insect repellent every time they go outside."

Four more aircraft were to resume spraying later Friday, and residents were cautioned to avoid going outdoors, keep pets inside, cover ornamental fishponds and rinse off homegrown fruits and vegetables.

Throughout the state 465 people have been sickened since the start of the year, putting it on track to have the most cases since the disease first emerged a decade ago, the department said.

The county incorporating Dallas, the ninth-largest city in the United States, has been the hardest hit, prompting the mayor to declare a local state of disaster on Wednesday.

"The city of Dallas is experiencing a widespread outbreak of mosquito-borne West Nile virus that has caused, and appears likely to continue to cause, widespread and severe illness and loss of life," Mayor Michael Rawlings said.

The virus has claimed ten lives in the county so far, local and state health authorities said.

First discovered in Uganda in 1937, the virus is carried by birds and spread to humans by mosquitoes.

Severe symptoms of the virus include high fever, vision loss and paralysis, while milder symptoms range from headaches to skin rashes.

At least 693 cases -- both confirmed and probable -- of the virus have been reported in the United States this year, including 26 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Texas tops the list in both total cases and fatalities.

Shark Mauls Surfer On Remote Australian Beach

A 34-year-old surfer is in a stable condition after being attacked by a shark in a remote area of Western Australia.

The man was bitten in the abdomen and on the right arm while surfing at Red Bluff on Australia's north west coast on Tuesday afternoon.

The victim, Jon Hines, was helped to safety by a fellow surfer and driven by beachgoers for an hour-and-a-half over dirt tracks to meet an ambulance, which then transferred him to a hospital 140km (85 miles) away in Carnarvon.

He was later flown to the state capital Perth for further treatment.

The attack comes six weeks after surfer Ben Linden, 24, was killed by a five metre (16ft) great white 100 miles (160km) north of Perth in the fifth fatal mauling in Western Australian waters in 10 months.

The spate of attacks has reopened the debate about how best to manage the shark population off the Australian coast.

A report was recently commissioned by the Western Australia state government.

The state's premier, Colin Barnett, said he was considering easing restrictions on both the number of sharks professional fisherman could catch, and on culling large great whites that lurk close to swimming areas.


2,600-Year-Old Brain Found in England, in Remarkably Fresh Condition

Archeologists working in York in the United Kingdom discovered a remarkably well-preserved human brain that was over 2,500 years old.

Found by UK researchers, the brain was found in a decapitated skull aged 2,684 years. The brain is the oldest found brain in Europe or Asia, and is thought to be the best-preserved in the world.

The finding is particularly astonishing because, even when left on a counter in a chilled mortuary facility, brains tend to degrade quickly into liquid. This one, however, had the consistency of tofu, and had none of the distinctive smell so often associated with dead corpses.

Though it is difficult to ascertain cause of death after so many years, the damage to the neck vertebrae was consistent with a hanging. Sonia O'Connor and her colleagues believe that the person was hanged, and then the skull was decapitated.

Interestingly, the way that the body died worked against the preservation of the brain. The separation of the head from the rest of its body would have opened it up to immediate infection from bacteria.

Wily coyotes latest woe for golf pros

Coyotes at a golf course in western Canada had sports fans howling this week, chasing balls, chewing broadcast cables and generally creating havoc at the CN Canadian Women's Open.

Television crews preparing for the tournament at the Vancouver Golf Club replaced several chewed cables along the fairways and soaked others in vinegar to discourage further tampering by the resident wildlife.

"We basically come in each morning and see what lines fire up," Larry Isaac, a producer with public broadcaster CBC told the local Vancouver Sun newspaper, adding: "They seem to only like the cables between (holes) 14 and 17."

The CBC crew finally raised lines off the ground and hooked them to ropes lining the fairways to safeguard them ahead of the start of play Thursday.

But the animal mischief didn't end there. During practice play, some coyotes came out of the woods to sniff golf balls that had just been hit from tees by players in the tournament such as Michelle Wie, Lorie Kane and Brittany Lang.

The Canadian Women's Open is the latest to face such challenges. At the PGA championship on Kiawah Island in South Carolina, CBS reportedly lost seven boom microphones when alligators came from marshes to steal them during the night.

Matka chowk a grave for rare bird

CHANDIGARH: The slick beauty of Matka chowk may well read like an epitaph for the extinction of a rare bird from the City Beautiful's precincts. The beautification, use of exotic shrubs and chemical fertilizers, at the Matka chowk undoubtedly creates eye candy for commuters but it has driven out the yellow-wattled lapwing from its last habitat in the city.

The good news is that four of these lapwings are still there, waging a grim battle for survival in the dry scrublands and fallow lands lying left of the road meandering from village Kishengarh to Saketri behind Sukhna lake.

Lapwing, which is an uncommon bird of the country's north-western region, is seen in good numbers in peninsular India. Unlike its more raucous cousin, the Red-wattled lapwing, the yellow version is less demonstrative and noisy and less adaptable to urban habitats.

"Yellow-wattled lapwings were discovered quite by chance at Matka chowk. It used to be my daily routine to chase migrant labourers who would poach chicks of red-wattled lapwings in Matka chowk area. One day, I saw these juvenile lapwings at Matka chowk and discovered these to be yellow-wattled.


Rare find: Feathered dinosaur feasts on flying food

University of Alberta researchers found evidence that a feathered, but flightless dinosaur was able to snag and consume small flying dinosaurs. The U of A paleontology team found the fossilized remains of three flying dinosaurs in the belly of a raptor-like predator called Sinocalliopteryx.Sinocalliopteryx was about two meters in length and roughly the size of a modern-day wolf.
Sinocalliopteryx's flying meals were three ConfuciusornisConfuciusorniswas one of the earliest birds and had a crude version of a modern bird's skeleton and muscles. The researchers say such primitive birds were probably limited to slow take-offs and short flights.
According to the researchers, this is the first time a predator has been linked to the killing of multiple flying dinosaurs.
Scott Persons, a U of A paleontology student and research coauthor, says Sinocalliopteryx may have used stealth to stock the flyers. "Sinocalliopteryx didn't have wings or the physical tools needed to be an adept tree climber," said Persons.
Persons explains Sinocalliopteryx had feathers or hair-like fuzz covering its body creating a level of insulation that helped maintain a warm body temperature and high metabolism that required a lot of food to fuel.
"The fact that this Sinocalliopteryx had, not one, but three undigested birds in its stomach indicate it was a voracious eater and a very active hunter," said Persons.
This find was made in China's Liaoning province, and U of A researchers analyzed stomach contents of a second Sinocalliopteryx fossil discovery from that area. The researchers identified this Sinocalliopteryx's last meal as a Sinornithosaurus, a small feathered meat-eater about the size of a house cat that may have been able to fly or glide short distances.
"Sinornithosaurus is a relative of Velociraptor which means this is the first direct evidence of a raptor becoming another predatory dinosaur's meal," said Persons.

'Very unusual' pink grasshopper spotted in Wiltshire

Pink grasshopper spotted in Wiltshire
A rare sighting of a pink grasshopper has been made on a farm in Wiltshire.
The "very unusual" vivid pink insect was spotted by eight-year-old Bailey Smith at Ratfyn Farm in Amesbury.
The insect has been identified as a young female meadow grasshopper by the Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre (WSBRC).
Vicky James, from the WSRBC, said although it was not a rare species, "only rarely are vivid pink female nymphs seen".
Bailey Smith, who keeps his pony at Ratfyn Farm, said: "I was just pushing my foot through the grass when it jumped out.
"I knew it was a grasshopper but I was quite surprised."

Thursday 30 August 2012

Raccoons Spreads Dangerous Diseases as They Invade Europe, Spanish Researchers Find

ScienceDaily (Aug. 28, 2012) — Furry, agile, intelligent and voracious: the raccoon is far from being a cuddly toy, which is what many people believe when they get one as a pet. It is more like an invader that escapes and is able to adapt and survive in new habitats. According to a study, its expansion across Spain and Europe is bringing infectious and parasitic diseases like rabies. This puts the health of native species and people at risk.

Originating in North America, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is an invasive species that has established itself in Europe due to hunting and the fur trade along with its acquisition as a pet. In Spain, its presence in the wild is already commonplace in Madrid and Guadalajara and is sporadic in other regions such as the island of Mallorca. Its presence is however far from welcomed.

"Due to its rapid expansion and the long list of illnesses that it may carry, it poses a health risk that we must bear in mind," according to Beatriz Beltrán-Beck, the lead author of the study published in theEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research and researcher at the Research Institute of Hunting Resources (IREC, joint centre of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, the CSIC, and Castilla-La Mancha Council).


Climate Change Could Increase Levels of Avian Influenza in Wild Birds

ScienceDaily (Aug. 29, 2012) — Rising sea levels, melting glaciers, more intense rainstorms and more frequent heat waves are among the planetary woes that may come to mind when climate change is mentioned. Now, two University of Michigan researchers say an increased risk of avian influenza transmission in wild birds can be added to the list.

Population ecologists Pejman Rohani and Victoria Brown used a mathematical model to explore the consequences of altered interactions between an important species of migratory shorebird and horseshoe crabs at Delaware Bay as a result of climate change.

They found that climate change could upset the carefully choreographed interactions between ruddy turnstone shorebirds and the horseshoe crabs that provide the bulk of their food during the birds' annual stopover at Delaware Bay, a major estuary of the Delaware River bordered by New Jersey to the north and Delaware to the south.

Climate change-caused disruptions to the well-timed interplay between the birds and crabs could lead to an increase in the avian influenza infection rate among ruddy turnstones and resident ducks of Delaware Bay, the researchers found. Because Delaware Bay is a crossroads for many bird species traveling between continents, an increase in the avian infection rate there could conceivably help spread novel subtypes of the influenza virus among North American wild bird populations, according to Rohani and Brown.


Endangered Tiger Cubs Caught on Camera Near Proposed Dam

Two endangered tiger cubs and their mother have been caught on film in Thailand near the site of a proposed hydroelectric dam.

The black-and-white footage, taken in May, shows a mother tiger investigating a camera trap near the Mae Wong River. After a moment, her two cubs bound through the woods after her.

The tigers are three of the fewer than 300 wild Indochinese tigers left in Thailand, according to the WWF, which released the video of the cubs and mama tiger, along with the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

Story continued and video:

Why Are There So Many Species of Beetles and So Few Crocodiles?

ScienceDaily (Aug. 28, 2012) — There are more than 400,000 species of beetles and only two species of the tuatara, a reptile cousin of snakes and lizards that lives in New Zealand. Crocodiles and alligators, while nearly 250 million years old, have diversified into only 23 species. Why evolution has produced "winners" -- including mammals and many species of birds and fish -- and "losers" is a major question in evolutionary biology.

Scientists have often posited that because some animal and plant lineages are much older than others, they have had more time to produce new species (the dearth of crocodiles notwithstanding). This idea -- that time is an important predictor of species number -- underlies many theoretical models used by biologists. However, it fails to explain species numbers across all multi-cellular life on the planet, a team of life scientists reports Aug. 28 in the online journal PLoS Biology, a publication of the Public Library of Science.


Black-Market Tiger Skins Found in Russia

Authorities say they have seized eight Siberian tiger skins in a sting operation in Russia, a grim recovery hinting that black-market demand for the big cats remains high.

Acting on a tip, local police raided a home in Arseniev, a tiny city near Russia's border with North Korea, where they found the eight skins, including the hides of four cubs, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). A suspect, whose name has not been released, was taken into custody, WWF officials said.

A preliminary investigation indicated that the suspect was engaged in illegal trade in the Chinese market, according to the conservation group. And there were clues that more than just these eight cats were killed. While no skins of nursing female tigers were found, one of the skinned cubs was suckling, suggesting the baby's mom also may have been killed and sold.

Koala surprises canoeists by hitching ride in Australia

A group of canoeists on Australia's Gold Coast were surprised over the weekend to see a koala swimming near the bank of a river and even more shocked when it crawled into one of their canoes and hitched a ride.
Although it is not unknown for the marsupials to take to the water, experts believe the animal might have felt trapped on a tidal bank in Tallebudgera Creek and decided the canoe was its best way to escape.
Tom Santorelli reports.

Joshua Shelton Killed 70,000 Chickens While Drunk, Police Say

Police say a Maryland man managed to kill 70,000 chickens in one drunken night, and now he's facing charges for it.
Joshua D. Shelton, 21, is accused of drinking so heavily at a Delmar farm that he couldn't tell the difference between a light switch and the circuit breakers connected to three chicken houses, The Daily Times reports.
Shelton allegedly cut the breakers on Friday night, and deprived the chickens of food, water and cooling fans.
"Without power, the chickens will begin to die within 15 minutes," according to charging documents obtained by the paper.
Farmer Mark Shockley found all but 100 chickens dead the next morning.
Shelton was found lying in the houses' power control shed, wearing only a T-shirt and boxers and smelling of alcohol, cops told the Associated Press. He had reportedly been at the home for a small party that Shockley's daughter was holding, and passed out in the control room.
The chickens were worth about $20,000, though cleanup costs will add to the damages.
Shelton was charged with burglary, malicious destruction of property and trespassing.

Pesticides Endanger Bats

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2012) — Bats are a highly threatened group of animals and many people are concerned with their conservation. The entire group of animals is protected in Europe. 10 of the 19 bat species native to Germany are already found on the red list of threatened species. Therefore it is worrying that bats are not included in the EU-wide authorization procedures for plant protection products. A study by the University of Koblenz-Landau revealed that pesticide contamination of their diet can lead to long-term effects in bats.

Before the EU issues a pesticide approval, it will undergo a regulatory risk assessment required by law. Using various scenarios, the risks for different organisms from acute to long-term effects such as impatcs on reproduction are estimated. To date it is assessed whether new pesticides harm birds and mammals, but so far bats are not mentioned in the current relevant guideline for risk assessment in the EU.

Studies have already indicated that bats are particularly sensitive to pesticides. The threatened animals are still ignored in the risk assessment procedure, even after the amendment of the applicable regulations in 2009, since there is a lack of data according to Dr. Carsten Brühl and Peter Stahlschmidt from the Institute for Environmental Sciences at Landau. "Most studies on bats were carried out in protected areas or in forests" explains Stahlschmidt. So far it was not investigated whether bats forage for food in the agricultural landscape at all although more than half the area of Germany is used for agriculture. In a previous study, the researchers were able to detect 14 bat species on intensively managed agricultural land.


Wednesday 29 August 2012

New Maps May Reduce Tourism Impacts On Hawaiian Dolphins

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2012) — Over-eager tourists intent on seeing spinner dolphins up close may inadvertently be disturbing the charismatic animals’ daytime rest periods and driving them out of safe habitats in bays along Hawai’i’s coast. But a study led by researchers at Duke and Stony Brook universities gives scientists and resource managers a promising new tool to curb the frequency of the repeated human disturbances and help reduce their negative impacts.

“Using the maps produced through this study we can identify the bays where the effects of human activities on spinner dolphins should be monitored most closely, and where immediate conservation actions are required,” said David W. Johnston, research scientist at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

The mapping models developed by the researchers indicated that only a small number of bays – 21 out of 99 – in a study area along the western coastlines of the main Hawaiian islands were suitable habitats for resting dolphins. Knowing this, Johnston said, “conservation efforts can be focused on specific areas of importance.”


Even Turtles Need a Nice Place to Call Home - via Herp Digest

By Julie Lasky, NYTimes, Published: August 15, 2012
Two years ago, the children’s-book author and illustrator Jan Brett and her husband, Joseph Hearne, a bassist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, installed a turtle pond on the grounds of their two-acre home in Norwell, Mass. It was inspired by her plan to write a book about an Eastern box turtle with wildflowers and ferns sprouting from its shell. In “Mossy,” due out next month (G. P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99), the turtle spends some unhappy months on display at a natural-history museum until a penitent biologist restores it to its habitat.
Ms. Brett, 62, waited and waited for a turtle to move into her pond. Now, mere weeks before the book’s publication, one is said to be living there. A suspicious reporter had questions, which Ms. Brett answered good-naturedly by phone.
You’ve done books about hedgehogs. You’ve done books about chickens. You’ve even done books about gingerbread babies. How did you get started on turtles?
We were at our summer place dangling our heels into the lake at the end of our dock, when I looked down and saw what looked like waterweeds in the shape of a turtle. It rose out of the water. It was a snapper turtle growing all these waterweeds on its back. So I got the idea: what about a book about a turtle that grows a garden on its back? But then I thought it needed a terrestrial turtle. The turtle in my pond is an Eastern painted turtle, which is aquatic.
Before we talk about your turtle, can we discuss the pond?
We had it made specifically for turtles and for the book. We made it quite deep, so they could hibernate there, below the frost line. We had basking rocks made that are a little above the pond surface.
Basking rocks?
Even though aquatic turtles live in water, they need to haul out — that’s the expression used — and dry their shells.
Then what happened?
We knew we were on the right track when we got a giant bullfrog. That was last year. This year, we have tadpoles.
So when did this alleged turtle show up?
In June. We have wetlands beyond the house. I was afraid turtles wouldn’t come because they were enamored of those ponds. Finally, one moved in. I think the sound of the bullfrogs did it. In the Northeast, so many ponds form in the spring, but then they dry up in the summer. When the pond dries up, tadpoles aren’t able to survive.
Are you saying that turtles are reassured by the sound of bullfrogs because they know they’ll find a pond deep enough to remain in year-round?
That’s my theory. A herpetologist following an Eastern box turtle noticed that, in very dry weather, it would tap its foot on the ground, and then earthworms, which are its food, would rise to the surface thinking it was raindrops. When I read that, I was incredulous, but if you’re a turtle or any kind of animal on the ground, it’s your survival. Nature is complex.
You’re sure you didn’t just pick up a turtle at a pet store?
I thought about it. But, no, there was no pet-shop intervention. You don’t know what kind of disease might appear. I also thought of buying one from the Internet, but if you take a turtle and put it in a pond, it will crawl off and go where it wants to go.
Is it possible that an Eastern box turtle like Mossy will find its way to the pond?
I had been hoping, and it still might happen. Eastern box turtles are constantly on the move in ponds and rivers, where their food source is. They browse. So I planted strawberries and lingonberries and different flowers around the pond to attract them. There’s lobelia, joe-pye weeds, cattails, waterlilies, tons of ferns. I even planted squash.
You’ve owned some of the animals that served as models for the characters in your books. Hedgehogs and chickens spring to mind. And now you have a turtle. Have you considered more traditional pets for inspiration?
I’ve done a lot of bear books, and that’s because it’s easy to put the features of a human being on a bear: bears can stand up, and they have eyes in the front of their head. It’s the reason I don’t do many reptiles in my books. I’m doing a chicken Cinderella at the moment. Chickens have very expressive body language.
Would you recommend other people install turtle ponds?
I would. And my biggest recommendation is to have two big rocks where you can invite someone over and sit. We have breakfast at the pond every morning, with fresh eggs from the chickens. I cook them up, and I make my own bread. The turtle doesn’t usually come out at that time. She comes up at about 9. I say “she,” but I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl.
What do you look at from your perch?
So many different kinds of dragonflies and damselflies. I’ve identified three different kinds, but don’t ask me what they are. The cardinal flowers are my favorite because hummingbirds come to them. We have black-eyed daisies and, in fall, New England asters, which reseed themselves. The pond turns purple around the edges. There are tons of birds, and they bring some of the seeds, I assume. Maybe a bird book will come of it. 

Puerto Rican Anoles Are Chilling In Florida – New Research By Jason Kolbe And Colleagues - via Herp Digest

Posted on August 16, 2012 by Martha Munoz
Anoles are remarkably adaptable creatures. You can find anoles in hostile environments, such as the tops of mountains in the Dominican Republic, in near-desert environments, and in places with over-winter freezing. Anoles are also a model system for rapid evolution; in response to strong selective pressure, an equally strong evolutionary response occurs within a few generations. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that anoles are also one of the most invasive reptiles in the World. Although they are endemic to the tropical and subtropical regions of the New World, today anoles can also be found in such remote places as Guam, Hawaii, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

One of the major questions surrounding anole invasions is how the organisms will respond to the challenges of a new environment. When anoles invade new environments they inevitably encounter new thermal and hydric conditions – how do these anoles adapt to a different environment? Jason Kolbe has spent many years exploring the ecology and genetics of Anolis invasions, and has focused especially on invasions in Florida (1, 2, 3). The Puerto Rican trunk-ground, A. cristatellus, has been found in Key Biscayne and South Miami since the mid-1970s. Ambient temperature is important for A. cristatellus and other anoles have been documented to acclimate to low temperatures. In this study Jason Kolbe and colleagues addressed two questions: (1) To what extent does the thermal environment change from Puerto Rico to Florida? and (2) Is there a phenotypic response in tolerance to cold?
To address the first question the authors used species distribution modeling (SDM) to model the thermal niche shift from Puerto Rico to Florida experienced by A. cristatellus. They gathered locality data for this species from museum databases and extracted relevant temperature variables (mean annual temperature, maximum temperature, minimum temperature, seasonality, etc.) from the WORLDCLIM data set. They then generated niche models using Maxent, a widely used program that uses the environmental conditions of known localities to predict habitat suitability over large geographic areas. They ran two models – one with the entire Caribbean basin as the background and one with just Puerto Rico as the background.
The discrimination ability of the Caribbean model, which refers to how well it can predict occurrences compared to a random selection of points, was greater than the model using just Puerto Rico as a background. Both models were similar, however, in that they gave low suitability scores to the Florida habitat (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). In fact, all of Florida received a suitability score of zero from the Caribbean model. A strong thermal niche shift was detected in both runs, but the inability of the models to detect suitable habitat in Florida, despite the presence of A. cristatellus there, suggests that locality data alone do not predict distributions well. There is a growing literature, in fact, arguing that the inclusion of organismal data will improve distribution models (i.e. ‘mechanistic niche modeling’; 1, 2, 3, 4).
To address the second question the authors assessed acclimation response in temperature tolerance in various native and invasive populations of A. cristatellus. The ability to acclimate thermal tolerance to ambient temperature conditions is potentially instrumental in facilitating invasion in a cooler environment in this species, and so the authors hypothesized that invasive populations of A. cristatellus should exhibit more plasticity in their tolerance as compared to native populations. The metric used in this study is CTmin, which refers to the low temperature at which a lizard loses the ability to right itself when flipped onto its back. Because performance is tightly dependent on body temperature in ectotherms such as anoles, the CTmin is a good metric for understanding the thermal limits to performance. In a previous study Kolbe and colleagues found that populations of A. cristatellus in Florida derive from two distinct invasions. These two genetic sources came from different regions of Puerto Rico, permitting a natural replicate of the CTmin acclimation experiment.
To this end, they maintained invasive populations of A. cristatellus (Key Biscayne and South Miami) and their source populations from Puerto Rico (Fajardo and San Juan) in the laboratory under winterizing conditions (22.5◦C) for four weeks. This temperature falls within the typical range of winter temperatures in south Florida, and so it accurately reflects the thermal conditions experienced by the invasive populations. The authors also tested a population of A. sagrei, the invasive brown anole from Cuba, and the native green anole, A. carolinensis.
Surprisingly, the results of the acclimation experiment varied among populations of A. cristatellus (Fig. 5 above). Although they experience similar winter conditions, only the Miami population of A. cristatellus exhibited plasticity in CTmin. The population from Key Biscayne showed no appreciable change in cold tolerance – in fact, it increased between weeks 2 and 4. Neither source population exhibited an acclimation response in CTmin. Both A. sagrei and A. carolinensis showed plasticity in thermal tolerance, and their final mean CTmin was similar to that of the Key Biscayne population.
We know that animals chilled beyond their CTmin lose mobility and can certainly die. In a previous post, I discussed this possibility in Dominican anoles from cool pine forests at high elevation. Thus, seasonal adjustment of CTmin to track environmental conditions is likely adaptive, and so it is puzzling why the Key Biscayne population does not exhibit tolerance plasticity. Although the invasions are equally young, Kolbe notes that the invasion in Miami is more genetically diverse than the Key Biscayne population, which suggests that more additive genetic variation in the Miami population may be involved in the acquisition of thermal acclimation. Moreover, CTmin acclimation is potentially sensitive to many factors, and so the experimental conditions used here may not trigger an acclimation response in the Key Biscayne population. Perhaps a different thermal treatment, such as acute or chronic exposure to progressively lower temperatures, may elicit a response that exposure to mean winter temperatures does not. It is also possible that animals in the Key Biscayne population (but not the Miami population) use retreat behavior to evade thermal conditions that approach the thermal limit, and so acclimation in cold tolerance may not be ecologically relevant in this population.
The contingency in thermal acclimation in different populations of A. cristatellus highlights that understanding invasions requires studying organismal variation at the population level. While it is difficult to project how differences in thermal plasticity will translate into invasion success, these results do show that similar thermal environments do not always yield the same phenotypic outcome, making this paper an informative and enjoyable read.

Jason J. Kolbe, Paul S. VanMiddlesworth, Neil Losin, Nathan Dappen & Jonathan B. Losos (2012). Climatic niche shift predicts thermal trait response in one
but not both introductions of the Puerto Rican lizard
Anolis cristatellus to Miami, Florida, USA Ecology and Evolution DOI: 10.1002/ece3.263

Tortoise Welfare UK - via Herp Digest

In association with Norfolk Tortoise Club - Welfare Conference------Tortoise Matters -Improving standards for captive chelonian in the UK

Kindly supported by Colchester Zoo
Saturday, 17th November 
10.00am till 4.30pm (6 CPD hours)
Location: Colchester Zoo, Maldon Rd, Stanway, Colchester CO30SL
Stuart McArthur B Vet Med MRCVS
Stuart McArthur is one of the UK’s leading authorities on chelonian medicine and author of a number of veterinary books and journals. Stuart will be talking about the medical treatment of tortoises and turtles, illustrating his talk with case studies drawn from his veterinary experience.

Eleanor Tirtasana & Dillon Prest: Eleanor and Dillon organise and run Norfolk Tortoise Club, which has a thriving membership, and are active in working for, and promoting better care of captive tortoises in the UK. They will be introducing Tortoise Welfare UK, and discussing how the living standards of tortoises and turtles can be improved.
Frances Baines MA VetMB MRCVS: Frances is a retired vet and specialist in UVB Light. Frances will be talking about her research into the   specific UV light needs of different exotic reptile species. 
Henk Zwartepoorte:  Henk is the curator of reptiles and amphibians at Rotterdam Zoo and is well known for his work with the Turtle Survival Alliance Europe (TSA Europe) and European Studbook Foundation. Henk will be talking about the importance of maintaining genetic diversity in reptiles,  which could be achieved by developing  a partnership between zoos and private enthusiasts, thus allowing  healthy breeding colonies to be established. 
Jane Williams MA BSc MSc: Jane organises and runs Tortoise South East and has been involved in chelonian welfare for over 30 years. Jane will be talking about her experiences in dealing with tortoises and the results of her research into keeping tortoises in Britain.
PC Andrew Long: Andrew is a local Wildlife crime officer, (Zoo Liaison) and has a keen interest in reptiles.  Andrew will be giving a presentation on exotic animal crime. 
£35 per person
Pre-book only inclusive of refreshments and lunch
For more details or to reserve your place please email:  or telephone: 01692 402687

Panda Preferences Influence Trees Used for Scent Marking

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2012) — As solitary animals, giant pandas have developed a number of ways to communicate those times when they are ready to come into close contact. One means of this communication occurs through scent marking. A recent study by San Diego Zoo Global researchers, collaborating with researchers at the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Science, indicates that pandas make clear and specific choices about what trees are used for scent marking.

"Variables affecting the selection of scent-marking sites included bark roughnesss, presence of moss on the tree trunk, tree diameter and distance to the trail," said Ron Swaisgood, Ph.D., co-head of San Diego Zoo Global's Giant Panda Conservation Unit.

"These choices have clear effects on the scent signal, making it last longer, be detected from further away, or otherwise enhance its communication efficiency. We are not surprised that pandas are efficient with their use of chemo-signals, as mounting evidence suggests that many aspects of giant panda life history are constrained by their energetically poor diet."

This study, which was recently published in Animal Behavior, confirms that old-growth forest and other factors like tree type are important for maintaining habitat that will support giant panda conservation.

Galapagos' new star tortoise a prolific dad - via Herp Digest

By Gonzalo Solano,
Thursday August 16, 2012 
Lonesome George's inability to reproduce made him a global symbol of efforts to halt the disappearance of species. And while his kind died with him, that doesn't mean the famed giant tortoise leaves no heir apparent.
The Galapagos Islands have another centenarian who fills a shell pretty well. He's Diego, a prolific, bossy, macho reptile.
Unlike Lonesome George, who died on June 24, Diego symbolises not a dying breed but one resurrected.
Having sired hundreds of offspring, Diego has been central to bringing the Espanola Island type of tortoise back from near extinction, rangers at Galapagos National Park say.
Diego was plucked from Espanola by expeditioners sometime between 1900 and 1930 and wound up in the San Diego Zoo in California, said the head of the park's conservation programme, Washington Tapia.
When the US zoo returned him to the Galapagos in 1975, the only other known living members of his species were two males and 12 females.
Chelonoidis hoodensis - some consider it a species, some a subspecies - had been all but destroyed, mostly by domestic animals introduced by humans that ate their eggs.
So Diego and the others were placed in a corral at the park's breeding centre on Santa Cruz, the main island in the isolated archipelago whose unique flora and fauna helped inspire Charles Darwin's work on evolution.
Diego was so dominant and aggressive, bullying other males with bites and shoves, that he had to be moved eight years later to his own pen, with five of the females. The reptiles are not monogamous.
"Diego is very territorial, including with humans," said his keeper, Fausto Llerena.
"He once bit me, and two weeks ago he tried (again) to bite me. When you enter his pen, Diego comes near and his intentions aren't friendly."
A US-based herpetologist for the Galapagos Conservancy, Linda Cayot, says Diego is the most sexually active of the bunch because he's the biggest and the oldest of the males.
"In tortoises, the biggest dominates. It's not that the others aren't active. It's just that he's dominant," she says.
Tapia says it is impossible to know Diego's age, but he is well over 100. He estimates Diego is the father of 40 to 45 per cent of the 1781 tortoises born in the breeding programme and placed on Espanola island.
At least 14 species of giant tortoise originally inhabited the islands 1000 kilometres off Ecuador's Pacific coast and 10 survive, their features developing in sync with their environment, as Darwin observed.
Espanola, which encompasses 130 square kilometres, is arid, and in order to reach vegetation high off the ground, the tortoises there developed the longest legs and necks of any tortoise species in the archipelago.
Diego is nearly 90 centimetres long, weighs 80 kilograms and has a black saddleback shell.
Llerena says tourists take to him automatically, if from a safe distance.
"I think he's going to be the successor to Lonesome George, the new favourite."
A visit to Lonesome George became de rigueur for celebrities and common folk alike among the 180,000 people who annually visit the Galapagos. Among his last visitors were Richard Gere, Prince Charles of England and Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and family.
Before humans arrived in the Galapagos, the six islands were home to tens of thousands of giant tortoises. Numbers were down to about 3000 in 1974, but the recovery programme run by the national park and the Charles Darwin Foundation has succeeded in increasing the overall population to 20,000.
The offspring of Diego and his male rivals in the corrals of Santa Cruz have themselves been reproducing in the wild on Espanola Island since 1990.
"We can now say that the reproduction of this species is guaranteed," said Tapia.
Cayot was asked whether having so many children of the same few parents interbreeding on Espanola could hurt the breed's long-term prospects.
"It could be a problem," she said.
"But it is more important to save the species."

First footage of rare anglerfish

A rare species of anglerfish has been filmed for the first time by US scientists.
The deep-dwelling fish was first described in 1899 from a dead specimen but has not previously been seen alive.
Using a remote-operated vehicle, biologists observed the fish "walking" with its fins and using its namesake lure.
Scientists suggest the footage also shows that the fish change colour as they age.
The discovery is reported in the journal Deep Sea Research Part I by the team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), California, US.
They made their discoveries in underwater mountainous areas, known as seamounts, off the coast of California.
The species Chaunacops coloratus belongs to the family of fish known as anglerfish because of their unique method of predation.

Continued and video:

Ancient Termite-Digging Creature Added to Mammal Family Tree

A new look at a fossil mammal with powerful front legs for digging is clearing up questions about the origin of a group of strange and scaly modern-day creatures called pangolins.

First excavated in Mongolia in the 1970s, the fossil sat in storage for decades until researchers for the Russian Academy of Sciences rediscovered and analyzed it, reporting their results today (Aug. 27) in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

What they found was a dog-size, strong-shouldered digger called Ernanodon. This mammal lived about 57 million years ago, after dinosaurs had died out and our furry ancestors had taken over. Ernanodon was known from one other fossil found in China, but that specimen is warped, and some archaeologists even thought it might be a fake.

200-Year-Old 'Monster Larva' Mystery Solved

For nearly two centuries, scientists have pulled so-called "monster larva" from the guts of fish and wondered what these thick-bodied creatures looked like as grown-ups. Now one biologist believes he has finally matched the larva with its adult counterpart.

"It's very exciting to have solved a nearly 200-year-old conundrum," Keith Crandall, a biology professor at George Washington University, said in a statement.

Drawing from genetic evidence, Crandall reported in the journal Ecology and Evolution this month that the larva, Cerataspis monstrosais actually a baby version of the deep-water aristeid shrimp known as Plesiopenaeus armatus.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Woman's horror after she discovered five of her rare pet parrots had been DECAPITATED Read more:

  • Cherie Morales, 55, found five of her seven rare Greater Vasa parrots brutally killed
  • Three of the birds were decapitated, and two others had their necks snapped. 
  • One of two surviving Greater Vasas returned 
  • Two African gray parrots in the aviary were unharmed.
  • Morales is offering $1,000 reward to help arrest the bird killer.

A retired New York City police officer living in Bennett, Colorado, came home earlier this week to a scene of carnage, discovering five of her rare pet parrots brutally murdered and dismembered.

Cherie Morales, 55, said someone broke into her 12-by-16-foot backyard aviary and slaughtered most of its feathered inhabitants, among them Greater Vasa parrots.

‘When I saw that gate open, I immediately thought, “Oh no,”’ Morales told ABC7. ‘Then, I started seeing bodies and bodies without heads.’

Read more:

Police Call Off Search For Essex Lion

Police have called off a search for a lion reportedly on the loose in Essex.

Officers have spent almost 24 hours combing the countryside around Clacton-on-Sea after a group of residents yesterday claimed to have seen the king of the jungle near Earls Hall Drive in St Osyth.

But after search teams found no evidence of the big cat, the force this afternoon decided to stop looking.

Witnesses reported seeing a lioness in fields stalking up and down a hedgerow before it was disturbed by a farmer and ran off.

Armed officers and Colchester Zoo workers armed with tranquiliser guns searched for pawprints after sightings of the animal were reported at 7pm on Sunday.

Police urged residents in the village to remain inside their homes as the search for the big cat continued.

But on Monday an Essex Police spokesman said: "We believe what was seen on Sunday evening was either a large domestic cat or a wildcat.

"Extensive searches have been carried out, areas examined and witnesses spoken to; yet nothing has been found to suggest that a lion was in the area.

"We would like to thank the local community and holidaymakers for their patience and support throughout the past 24 hours as the police and media presence would have been somewhat overwhelming for them."

David and Susan Wright said they photographed the lioness from their back garden after spotting it in the field.

Mrs Wright told Sky News: "It definitely looked like a lion, the head, the body. When it stood up you could see the tail as well and it was massive.


Racing birds vanishing in pigeon version of ‘Bermuda Triangle’

Pigeon racers say scores of their birds are mysteriously vanishing in what some claim is Britain’s bird equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.
Fanciers say they are experiencing “disastrous” and unprecedented losses in an area between North Yorkshire and Country Durham.
In one recent event, only 13
 of the 232 birds released in
the region made it home to Scotland.
And 200 failed to show up after 1,000 were released over the Triangle, which spans from Wetherby to Consett, Co Durham.
Keith Simpson, of the East Cleveland Federation of pigeon fanciers, said: “They’re calling it the Bermuda Triangle but who knows where they are going?
“Last weekend a mate had 63 birds away from Durham and 25 went missing.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s puzzling and some people’s seasons are finished because of this.”
He said his club also got reports of 24 dead birds on a North Sea oil rig 40 miles off the Yorkshire coast.
Mr Simpson added that it was impossible to say why flocks were vanishing, but it could be down to freak weather patterns in the area or a mystery illness.
Pigeon fancier Gordon Braban, secretary of the Washington Celtic Homing Society in Tyne and Wear, said he raced some of his birds from the south of France to Newcastle, so losses were not uncommon.
But he said he was “gutted” at the number that have failed to return to the loft this year.
In a recent club race from Wetherby to Newcastle, a route that crosses the “Triangle”, he released 1,014 birds and lost around 200 – an unprecedented amount, he said.
“There are people all over England losing vast amounts of pigeons,” he added. “We’ve all been taking big hits over the last few months.
“A lot of owners have been finishing races 20 or 30 short. Where do they go and how do you lose that many? I can’t put my finger on it.”
He said an increase in satellite activity during the Olympic Games could have scrambled the birds’ natural homing device, or it may be down to the bad weather Britain has experienced this summer.
Racing pigeons can be identified by a tag on their leg.
Details of how to report a lost homing pigeon can be found at

Related Posts with Thumbnails