Thursday 31 December 2015

Grizzly bear deaths rise as Yellowstone population grows

December 30, 2015 by By Mead Gruver

The number of grizzly bear deaths or removals in the Yellowstone region climbed to an all-time high in 2015, but biologists say they're not worried about the animal's long-term survival in the area.

The known or suspected deaths of 55 bears shouldn't interfere with plans to remove the region's grizzlies from protection under the Endangered Species Act, Frank van Manen, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, said Wednesday.

"This year should be considered within the context of what we've seen in terms of the long-term trend," van Manen said.

The team of state and federal scientists and biologists estimates more than 700 grizzlies live in the Yellowstone region spanning parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. That's up from about 600 in 2010 and around 200 in the early 1980s.

Grizzlies first were listed as a threatened species in 1975. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set a management goal of 674 bears as it moves toward delisting.

Northern Territory removes 290 saltwater crocodiles from waterways in a year

Residents are warned to take more care as 2015’s figure is announced – it’s a high one, based on recent years, although not a record

Helen Davidson in Darwin

Friday 1 January 2016 07.29 GMTLast modified on Friday 1 January 201607.31 GMT

Wildlife rangers pulled almost 300 saltwater crocodiles from Northern Territory waterways in 2015, more than in either of the two previous years.

As part of its population management program, the Parks and Wildlife Commission NT (PWCNT) removed 290 crocodiles of various sizes from NT rivers, harbours and waterholes, the largest measuring 4.38m from the Daly River.

Two crocodiles which were smaller than two metres were pulled from Shoal Bay on Thursday.

The figure is slightly about 2014’s 287 and well beyond the previous year’s 226. The highest number of crocodiles removed by PWCNT staff was 318 in 2012.

Rangers use a combination of baited traps and boats custom-fitted with harpoon racks, slides, a self draining deck and side rails to catch the “problem animals”.

All crocodiles are caught alive, and taken to the NT’s crocodile farms, which pay a “nominal fee” to the government based on size and weight, and “can do what they like with them,” PWCNT wildlife ranger Tom Nichols told Guardian Australia.

'Unprecedented' jellyfish invasion in UK waters in 2015

Warmer seas and overfishing bring record numbers of jellyfish to Britain, National Trust says, as it predicts climate change could make deadly Portuguese Man o' War more common in UK waters

By Emily Gosden, and agency

12:01AM GMT 29 Dec 2015

Britain saw "unprecedented" invasions of jellyfish in 2015 due to a combination of warmer seas and overfishing, the National Trust has said, as it predicted climate change could make the potentially-deadly Portuguese Man o' War more common in UK waters.

Record numbers of barrel jellyfish were spotted in the summer, appearing in huge swarms around the south west of England and Wales, the National Trust said in its annual review of wildlife and weather.

Matthew Oates, nature and wildlife specialist at the National Trust said the barrel jellyfish could be as big "as a dustbin" but were "virtually harmless", with a sting only "as bad as a nettle".

He said the rise in numbers "may be due to overfishing and warming seas, which has led to huge plankton booms and reduced the number of predators".

Mother frog controls embryo's gene activity - via Herp Digest

Date: December 18, 2015
Source: Radboud University

Frog embryos do not fully control which genes they can turn on or off in the beginning of their development -- but their mother does, through specific proteins in the egg cell. Molecular developmental biologists at Radboud University publish these results in Nature Communications on December 18.
Frog embryos do not only receive half of the genetic information from their mother, but also the instructions on how to use that DNA. That is what molecular developmental biologist Saartje Hontelez and her colleagues, led by Gert Jan Veenstra at the Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences, have discovered. For a long time, scientist believed that the gene regulation is not inheritable.
Mother's tools
How does the influence of the mother work exactly? Hontelez explains: 'The mother delivers all kinds of tools like proteins and RNA which control the gene regulation of the embryo. And because these tools are very specific, the embryo is limited in its possibilities. The mother sets strict boundaries regarding which genes can be turned on and which cannot. It is only after the twelfth cell division that the embryo can produce its own RNA and thus have some influence on the gene regulation. But this process is still largely controlled by the mother until much later in the embryonic development.'
'The amount of influence the mother has, surprised us. We always thought that gene regulation is not inheritable and therefore expected that the embryo is in control of it. But when we shut down the embryo's RNA production, this had surprisingly little effect. That was not only the case for important genes during early embryonic development, but also much later, well into the stages of organogenesis. This shows very clearly that the mother is responsible for the early stages of embryonic development, and that her influence is still strongly present in later stages as well.'
Fast development
For this publication, Hontelez and her colleagues investigated embryos of the western clawed frog (Xenopus tropicalis), because their embryonic development occurs very rapidly: there are only six hours between fertilization and the moment that the embryo's RNA production starts. For comparison: mammal embryos start producing their own RNA after twenty-four hours.
'When you consider the amount of eggs a frog lays, and how many of those eggs successfully develop into frogs, it is not surprising that embryos get a little help from their mother', Hontelez explains. 'It is a pre-programmed system, making sure that early embryonic development usually succeeds.' Can these results now be compared to the development of mice, or even humans? 'Yes, it probably works roughly the same. The biggest difference is that mammalian embryos start producing their own RNA after the first cell division. But the time until that moment takes much longer than in frogs. It is also worth noting that the genes involved in setting up the epigenome are all involved in human cancer.'
Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Radboud University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
Journal Reference:
  1. Saartje Hontelez, Ila van Kruijsbergen, Georgios Georgiou, Simon J. van Heeringen, Ozren Bogdanovic, Ryan Lister, Gert Jan C. Veenstra. Embryonic transcription is controlled by maternally defined chromatin state. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 10148 DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS10148

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Tortoise fossils provide clues on the rise of Andes Mountains

DECEMBER 30, 2015

by Chuck Bednar

The discovery of tortoise fossils on a massive, arid plateau in the Andes mountains in southern Bolivia indicates that the area was once no more than one kilometer above sea level, researchers from Case Western Reserve University revealed Tuesday in a statement.

A team led by Case Western anatomy professor and paleomammalogist Darin Croft discovered what turned out to be the fossil remains of the five-foot-long tortoise, as well as pieces of a tinier aquatic turtle, at the Altiplano plateau near what is bow the town of Quebrada Honda.

It marked the first time that turtle fossils dating back to the Miocene epoch have been found in Bolivia, the researchers said, and their discovery indicates that the plateau was far closer to sea level some 13 million years ago than the currently projected 2.0 to 3.2 kilometers.

Furthermore, the findings, which have been detailed in the latest edition of the Journal of South American Earth Sciences, offer a closer look into historical climate change caused by mountains rising, and could also help experts better understand the changes to modern-day climate.

Researchers identify areas of plague risk in western United States

Date:December 28, 2015
Source:SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Researchers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center have identified and mapped areas of high probability of plague bacteria in the western United States. Their findings were published in a recent edition of the journal PeerJ.

This investigation predicted animal plague occurrence across western states based on reported occurrences of plague in sylvan (wild) and domestic animal hosts. Plague is a disease caused by Yersinia pestis, a bacterium found in rodents and their fleas in many areas around the world.

"This study used surveillance data of plague in wild and domestic animals in the American West to identify and map those areas with the greatest potential for human exposure to this infection, which can be particularly deadly when transmitted to humans," said Michael Walsh, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate.

Rare encounter with giant squid caught on video in Japan

DECEMBER 29, 2015

by Chuck Bednar

A fisherman at one Japanese marina got quite a surprise as he prepared to cast off on Thursday morning, spotting a rare 12-foot giant squid swimming beneath boats docked at the facility, and best of all, the entire incident was caught on video.

According to the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mail, the encounter occurred at Mizuhashi Fisherina in Toyama prefecture, located approximately 250 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, and featured a 3.7 meter (12.1 foot), orange-and-white colored Architeuthis squid.

“It was the first time that we saw a live giant squid here, where water depth is only about 2.5 to 3 meters,” marina manager Tatsuya Wakasugi told the Journal. While he noted that more than a dozen giant squids had been captured in the Toyama Bay this year, all of them had already died or were close to death, with the color of their bodies having turned white.

The squid observed on Christmas Eve had a few scratches on its head, Wakasugi said. While it is unclear why it originally wandered into the marina, as sea and weather conditions were said to be fair, it remained there for several hours and seven swam alongside divers before ultimately being led back out into deeper waters.

Not the biggest squid out there, but impressive nonetheless

The creature was identified as a rare Architeuthis squid after the video of it was posted on social media, according to the Daily Mail. The newspaper noted that these squids can grow to be up to 13 long, making them the longest known to scientists, and weigh as much as 600 pounds.

While the Architeuthis squid, which typically lives an average of five years and reproduces only once during its lifetime, is the longest known squid, it is not necessarily the biggest, according to the Washington Post. That honor goes to the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni), which scientists have found to grow as large as 750 kilograms, or 1,650 pounds.

Tasmanian Devils' Mysterious Cancer May Come in Two Varieties

by Charles Q. Choi, Live Science Contributor | December 29, 2015 02:42pm ET

The Tasmanian devil has long been known to suffer from an unusual type of cancer that can spread from animal to animal, but now researchers say the endangered species is plagued by at least two kinds of infectious cancer.

The finding suggests that Tasmanian devils are especially prone to the emergence of contagious tumors, and that transmissible cancers may arise more frequently in nature than previously thought, scientists added.

Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) are marsupials, like kangaroos and opossums; females have pouches to carry and suckle newborns. The furry, dog-size mammals are found only on the island of Tasmania, which sits about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Australia. Fossil evidence suggests that Tasmanian devils were once spread across the Australian mainland, but disappeared from the area about 400 years ago. 

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Mathematical model for animal stripes

Date:December 23, 2015
Source:Cell Press

The back of a tiger could have been a blank canvas. Instead, nature painted the big cat with parallel stripes, evenly spaced and perpendicular to the spine. Scientists don't know exactly how stripes develop, but since the 1950s, mathematicians have been modeling possible scenarios. In Cell Systems on December 23, Harvard researchers assemble a range of these models into a single equation to identify what variables control stripe formation in living things.

"We wanted a very simple model in hopes that it would be big picture enough to include all of these different explanations," says lead author Tom Hiscock, a PhD student in Sean Megason's systems biology lab at Harvard Medical School. "We now get to ask what is common among molecular, cellular, and mechanical hypotheses for how living things orient the directions of stripes, which can then tell you what kinds of experiments will (or won't) distinguish between them."

Stripes are surprisingly simple to model mathematically (and much of the early work on the subject was by Alan Turing of "The Imitation Game" fame). These patterns emerge when interacting substances create waves of high and low concentrations of, for example, a pigment, chemical, or type of cell. What Turing's model doesn't explain is how stripes orient themselves in one particular direction.

Hiscock's investigation focused on orientation--e.g., why tiger stripes are perpendicular to its body while zebrafish stripes are horizontal. One surprise from his integrated model is that it takes only a small change to the model to switch whether the stripes are vertical or horizontal. What we don't know is how this translates to living things--so, for a tiger, what is the variable that pushes the development of perpendicular stripes?

Genetically pure bison population discovered in southern Utah

DECEMBER 26, 2015

by Chuck Bednar

A genetic analysis has found that a group of bison in southeastern Utah are genetically pure, meaning that they are directly descended from those what once roamed the American west, a study published this month in the journal PLOS One has revealed.

According to Associated Press and Utah Public Radio reports, scientists from Texas A&M and Utah State University found that the secluded creatures, which live in the Henry Mountains, are even more unique than other groups of bison that have not interbred with cattle.

As Dr. Johan du Toit, a professor of ecology and large mammal conservation at USU, explained to reporters, the Henry Mountain herds are “the only population of bison in existence which is now both genetically pure and is free of the disease brucellosis and is free-ranging on public land co-mingling with cattle and is legally hunted.”

Cross-breeding with cattle began in the 19th century, but after analyzing tissue samples from the approximately 350 bison from this herd, Dr. du Toit and his colleagues discovered that this “one of a kind” herd lacks cow DNA, and could ultimately improve bison recovery efforts.

Lack of cattle crossbreeding good news for species recovery efforts
As Utah Public Radio explained, cattle genes can alter the bison’s size and behavior. Ideally, conservationists looking to restore the herds and return them to national parks and other areas would prefer to use the rarer, pure DNA as part of their ongoing efforts.

Lead author Dr. Dustin Ranglack, now at Montana State University, told the AP that out of the 500,000 bison currently in the US, only 20,000 are considered wild bison. The Henry Mountain bison “represent a really important source for potential reintroduction projects that are trying to restore bison to a large portion of their native range,” he added.

Turtles' Wayward Travels May Mean BP Oil Spill's Impact Was Global

by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor | December 28, 2015 09:05am ET

The far-flung journeys of juvenile sea turtles could mean that the impact of 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil spill was global.

More than 300,000 sea turtles were likely in the region of the Gulf of Mexico affected by the oil spill, according to a new computer simulation. About three-quarters of these marine animals probably came from Mexican nesting populations, the research found. Others hailed from South America, Costa Rica and as far away as western Africa.

As a result, efforts to rehabilitate the environment after the spill should likely reach far beyond the Gulf Coast of the United States, said study researcher Nathan Putman, a biologist at the University of Miami.

Dead dog lives again after British owners successfully clone him

DECEMBER 28, 2015

by Emily Bills

After losing their beloved pet dog Dylan to a brain tumor in June, this British couple successfully had him cloned by a company in South Korea for $100,000.

The first-of-its-kind boxer puppy was born on Boxing Day and was cloned from Dylan two weeks after his death—the previous record for dog cloning was held at five days after death, according to the Guardian.

Laura Jacques, 29, and Richard Remde 43 of West Yorkshire, England enlisted the help of the controversial cloning company Sooam Biotech Research Foundation to bring back their pup. The only laboratory of its kind, it can bring back your pet for a cool price of $100,000 per procedure.

The newborn puppy's name isn't Dylan like his predecessor, but the couple named him Chance after a character in the Disney movie Homeward Bound. Chance is expected to have a brother in just a few short days—another clone puppy named Shadow also after a character in the movie.

Monday 28 December 2015

6 jailed in Tanzania for total of 122 years for wildlife trading.

In less than a week the Tanzanian courts have made a bold and strong statement in order to protect the country’s wildlife. Six people involved in wildlife trafficking have been jailed for a total of 122 years.

In one court case, yesterday (Monday 22 December 2015), two ivory traders were sentenced to 21 years each for their part in trying to smuggle 4 elephant tusks out of the country.

Resident Magistrate Odira Amwol sentenced the two to the long jail term after the court had proved beyond reasonable doubt that they committed the offence.

The prosecution told the court that Justin Bruno, 50, a resident of Usevya Village and Philbert Leo, 35, a resident of Ikuba Village, were arrested on Thursday in possession of the haul. The magistrate ignored their pleas for lenient sentencing because they had families to look after.

Mammal diversity exploded immediately after dinosaur extinction

December 21, 2015

The diversity of mammals on Earth exploded straight after the dinosaur extinction event, according to UCL researchers. New analysis of the fossil record shows that placental mammals, the group that today includes nearly 5000 species including humans, became more varied in anatomy during the Paleocene epoch - the 10 million years immediately following the event.

Senior author, Dr Anjali Goswami (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment), said: "When dinosaurs went extinct, a lot of competitors and predators of mammals disappeared, meaning that a great deal of the pressure limiting what mammals could do ecologically was removed. They clearly took advantage of that opportunity, as we can see by their rapid increases in body size and ecological diversity. Mammals evolved a greater variety of forms in the first few million years after the dinosaurs went extinct than in the previous 160 million years of mammal evolution under the rule of dinosaurs."

In response to Issue 53, Article 5, entitled Red-eared sliders invade Auckland city waterways dated Sunday Dec 13, 2015, in the I received the following letter in response which was published the next day in the New Zealand Herald. - via Herp Digest

The letter:

The headline “Turtles invade Auckland city waterways” was way off the mark.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  Here are a few:

Prior to importation being banned in 1965 about 30,000 red-ear slider turtles had been brought into the country.  Since then about 2000 turtles have been bred per year in New Zealand.  That’s a total of about 130,000 animals.  If they were able to survive and reproduce in the wild there would now be many millions of them running around Auckland yet only a handful are found each year.

There are two reasons why we are NOT being invaded.  The first is that turtles cannot reproduce here without human help.  Turtle eggs require high temperatures and lots of moisture to hatch.  The few areas where it’s warm enough are inevitably too dry for the eggs to survive.  There have been a few cases of turtle eggs hatching outdoors but they have always been situations near a north facing rock wall or other heat sink that was watered consistently.  The sex of hatchling turtles is controlled by ground temperatures so even those situations are only able to produce males because of the cooler temperatures.

The other problem for turtles in New Zealand is that it is too cool in the summer and too warm in the winter.  The cool temperatures in summer prevent them from being able to warm up enough to digest the vegetation they eat (they do NOT eat live fish, birds or eggs) and the relatively warm winter temperatures keep them from hibernating properly so they lose weight and die of starvation and disease after about four years.

Turtles are also no threat to the few natural wetlands in New Zealand because the water is too cool for them to be able to warm up enough to eat.  Turtles might survive for a few years in warmer man made ponds, backwaters of the Waikato River and the numerous weed choked canals in the Hauraki Plains but, even there, they inevitably die after a few years.

Hopefully when the Auckland Council goes through their “major pest management review” they will consult with someone that is actually familiar with the biology of turtles.

Dr. Mark Feldman
Dr. Feldman has regularly spoken at the TSA conference concerning updates to recommendations on drugs and doses to induce egg laying in turtles.  His research is carried out at the largest turtle farm in the USA where they have large numbers of turtles available to develop new drugs and determine dosages, and in New Zealand where he has maintained a colony of turtles for 25 years so he can detect any long term side effects. He has also spoken in Australasia at the vertebrate pest conference on real and perceived threats of introduced turtle species, published articles on the real and perceived threats of turtles under New Zealand conditions and consulted for, and spoken at, a conference of the US Fish and Wildlife service on American turtle farms and their relevance to turtle conservation.

Dead whale closes popular South African beach amid shark concerns

Strand Beach near Cape Town has been shut as experts fear the corpse of the 14 metre whale may attract sharks

Thursday 24 December 2015 05.33 GMTLast modified on Thursday 24 December 201509.13 GMT

A South African beach popular with Christmas holidaymakers has been closed until the carcass of a beached whale is removed amid concerns its blood may attract sharks, the City of Cape Town said.

Photograph: Reuters
Local media described it as a humpback whale measuring over 14 metres (46 feet) in length and said two sharks had been spotted in the area.

“The immediate area around the whale carcass has been cordoned off and this area is closed to members of the public ... The blood and debris from the carcass can attract sharks to the area,” the city said in a statement.

Workers remove the carcass of a whale on Strand Beach, near Cape Town. The South African beach, popular with Christmas holidaymakers, has been closed until the carcass is removed amid concerns its blood may attract sharks. 

The affected area was the Strand Beach, a stretch of sand east of Cape Town.

Great whites, the largest predatory species of shark, are common in the cool Atlantic waters off Cape Town and sometimes attack surfers or swimmers. They would not be expected to attack a whale and it was not immediately clear how the humpback had died.

Hop to It! Cocooned Wasp Larvae Jump to Survive

by Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | December 23, 2015 09:21am ET

Tiny, cocooned parasitic wasp larvae hop their way to safety, jumping to get away from predators and to find cool, shady areas, a new study finds. These wee jumpers are adorable — though perhaps you might find them less so, once you learn that their cocoon shells originally held alfalfa weevil larvae, which the wasp larvae consumed after hatching.

Females of the parasitic wasp species Bathyplectes anurus lay their eggs in alfalfa weevil (Hypera postica) larvae. As the parasitized weevils spin cocoons during their final development stage, or instar, they're essentially sealing themselves into a tomb with their murderer. Once the wasp larva hatches, it eats the host, spins its own cocoon inside the host cocoon, which measures about 0.1 inch (3.5 millimeters) in length, and settles in, double-sealed for safety, waiting to pupate.

But even within their double-layered cocoons, the wasp larvae are responsive to their surroundings, the scientists found. Researchers observed the larvae moving their cocoons by using a "whipping movement," to shift away from danger or environmental stresses. 

Sunday 27 December 2015

The 10 Strangest Animal Discoveries of 2015

by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | December 23, 2015 04:35pm ET

Every year, scientists wade into jungles, deserts and museum collections to examine animals and, if they're lucky, discover a new species.

For instance, in 2015 researchers identified a ruby-red sea dragonoff the coast of Australia, a new species of giant tortoise in the Galápagos Islands and an ancient spikey worm with 30 legs in China. As these newfound creatures are uncovered, it's important to protect them from pollution, habitat loss and the havoc caused by invasive species, especially as Earth enters its sixth mass extinction, experts say.

In the meantime, scientists are busy learning about these new animals, and whether these critters can inspire new materials, robots and medicines. Here's a look at 10 newly identified ─ and exceptionally strange ─ animals, both living and extinct. 

Bats found to produce longer and more intense calls when crowded by other bats

December 24, 2015 by Bob Yirka report

Big eared townsend bat (Corynorhinus townsendii)
 Credit: Public Domain
(—A trio of researchers with Tel-Aviv University has found that bats produce calls that are longer and more intense when among a crowd of others of their own kind as a means to hear themselves among the din. In their paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Eran Amichai, Gaddi Blumrosen and Yossi Yovel describe lab experiments they conducted with trained bats to learn more about how bats contend with noise from surrounding bats.

Bats famously use echo-location to avoid colliding with objects while flying and to zero in on moving prey such as insects, but how do they recognize their own echoed pings when traveling or hunting with a large group of other bats, all of whom are sending out pings of their own, creating a lot of competing noise? That is what the researchers with this new effort sought to learn. Some have suggested that the bats simply change the frequency of their tone, so that it can be differentiated from other bats, but no one had ever tested this theory.

MP blasts fox hunting: 'Brits want the blood sport consigned to history'

SPORTS Minister Tracey Crouch has kicked fox hunting into the long grass by saying MPs have better things to do than over turn its legal ban.

PUBLISHED: 00:01, Sat, Dec 26, 2015

The anti-hunt Conservative says the overwhelming majority of British people want the blood sport consigned to history although there is a need for greater enforcement to keep the Hunting Act effective.
Boxing Day is traditionally the climax of the hunting season and as many as 250,000 people could turn out to see fox packs and riders in their “pink” coats at meets across the country.

Yet the huntin’ set are desperate for David Cameron to signal his promised free vote in the Commons to overturn the current decade old law which prohibits hunting foxes, hares and stags with dogs.

Anti-hunt Tories in the House say there is not the public will to see the return of animals being killed for fun, a belief supported by a new poll that shows opposition to abolishing the Hunting Act is at an all time high.

The League Against Cruel Sports says its annual poll by Ipsos MORI shows 83 per cent say fox hunting should not be made legal again.

Sri Lanka to start New Year with Ivory burn

Sri Lanka has made an unexpected and sudden U-turn in its resistance to destroy its ivory stockpiles. The government has announced that on 26th January it will burn a stockpile of 5,000 seized tusks to put them beyond economic use.

Sri Lanka has always resisted pressure to destroy its stocks and had announced that seized tusks and ivory would be given to temples and religious buildings. The new mandate, announced on 16th December, will see the government stockpile burned at the Holcim Cement Plant in January 26, 2016. Senior government and NGO members will be present at the burn. The tusks will also undergo a religious ceremony before the destruction.

The 5,000 tusks that will be destroyed represents the killing of at least 2,500 elephants. The tusks were seized by customs on May 14th 2012 and all come from Africa. The consignment was on route to Dubai from Kenya when the consignment was discovered.

Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera said the destruction would ensure that the seized ivory would not make its way back onto the illegal market and would be in keeping with international laws to protect the survival of elephants.

'Virgin' sheep gives birth to twin lambs as farmer hails 'Christmas miracle'

11:00, 25 DEC 2015
UPDATED 16:57, 25 DEC 2015

Shirley the ewe hadn't shown any sign of mating with a ram and a recent ultrasound scan gave no indication she was pregnant

A farmer believes he has witnessed a Christmas miracle after his 'virgin' sheep gave birth to twin lambs.

Shirley the ewe hadn't shown any sign of mating with a ram and a recent ultrasound scan gave no indication she was pregnant .

Staff at White Post Farm in Farnsfield, Nottinghamshire, were stunned to discover the two newborn when they arrived for work on December 23.

Anthony Moore, from White Post Farm, said: "It is a Christmas miracle.

"The ewe hadn't been marked and the ultrasound was negative so it was a surprise to everyone.

"There was no evidence she was pregnant so it was pretty unusual. Both lambs are doing really well.

"The farm is buzzing with new life and festive cheer at the moment and this is the icing on the Christmas cake."

Saturday 26 December 2015

RSPCA warns rise of 'fad pets' inspired by popular films is leading to widespread neglect of exotic animals

The warning comes as the government announces the online sale of dangerous exotic pets like snakes, lizards and meerkats is to be regulated for the first time

By Laura Hughes, Political Correspondent

7:30PM GMT 25 Dec 2015

The rise of "fad pets" and impulse purchasing following the release of popular films is leading to the widespread neglect of exotic animals, the RSPCA have warned in the run up to Christmas.

The animal charity also saw a 191 per cent rise in the number of calls about meerkats, after the Compare the Meerkat advert was launched in 2009.

After the release of Finding Nemo in 2003, they said pet shops and breeders reported a 60 per cent rise in sales of clown fish, despite the message of the film's focus on how Nemo resisted being captured and kept in a tank.

The warning comes as the government announces the online sale of dangerous exotic pets like snakes, lizards and meerkats is to be regulated for the first time.

Current laws predate the large-scale sale of animals over the internet and there are currently no controls for those who set up online as individual traders.

Snake bellies help scientists get a grip

Date:December 17, 2015
Source:University of Cincinnati

For many of us, the bodies of moving snakes look like little more than wiggly strands of spaghetti.

However, Bruce Jayne, University of Cincinnati professor of biology in the McMicken College of Art and Sciences, sees a wide variety of anatomy and behavior that allows diverse snake species to crawl and climb almost anywhere, including tree branches with variable bark texture.

Using three different species to test their tree-worthy talents, Jayne and his students studied stout and heavy boa constrictors, medium-weight corn snakes and the slender and agile brown tree snakes.

Unlike most snakes that have a nearly circular cross sectional shape, Jayne found that brown tree snakes look more like a loaf of bread where the top is rounded but the bottom has corners -- called keels -- where the skin on either side of the belly is folded. He says these sharply contoured keels are the key for how various tree snakes can exploit subtle nooks and crannies in tree bark to prevent slipping, and propel themselves up a tree quickly, making it easier to get to their prey in a flash with less effort. To a smaller extent corn snakes have this shape, and boa constrictors were the roundest species that Jayne studied.

This weird, newly discovered ninja lanternshark glows in the dark

DECEMBER 24, 2015

by Brian Galloway
The ocean is a scary place full of unknown creatures and unexplored depths, and some creatures are difficult to find due to their location, small population size, or effective camouflage. Although this new creature had all three of these going for it, a group of scientists recently discovered a new species of shark off the coast of Central America.

ninja lanternsharkEtmopterus benchleyi, also called the ninja laternshark, is a small black creature discovered in the eastern Pacific Ocean named after Jaws author Peter Benchley. According to Hakai Magazine, lead author Victoria Elena Vásquez coined the “ninja lanternshark” designation after a conversation with her 8 year old cousins. (They wanted to go with “Super Ninja Shark”, but Vásquez decided to rein it in just a bit)

“We don’t know a lot about lanternsharks. They don’t get much recognition compared to a great white,” said Vásquez, a graduate student at the Pacific Shark Research Center out of California.

New shark, strange abilities
According to the study published in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation this month, most specimens were collected off the coast of Costa Rica at a depth between 836-1443 meters. All specimens collected were entirely black with small white patches around their eyes and mouth—making them very difficult to spot in the dark water.

Threatened mountain goat gets help from the skies

By Sylvia Smith
BBC News

25 December 2015 
From the sectionScience & Environment

Capra pyrenaica.jpgPopulations of Spanish ibex are being hit by a deadly disease. Now scientists are using drones and thermal cameras in an effort to conserve the mountain goat.

A herd of wild mountain goats leap and scatter at a sudden sound overhead. The scrubby, uneven terrain of the upper reaches of the Sierra de las Nieves national park is a protected area and the goats' natural habitat.

They have no trouble hiding themselves in among the rocks and clusters of bushes which may help when they are being hunted illegally.

But is it this ability to go to ground that has caused problems for scientists intent on managing the shrinking populations of Spanish ibex.mage copyrightThinkstockImage captionBut now a joint project of the University of Cordoba and the Junta de Andalucia is bringing together park rangers, vets and drone experts to find ways of dealing with outbreaks of deadly sarcoptic mange which has been devastating ibex populations in the Iberian peninsula.

The Spanish mountain goat is a species of ibex with four subspecies, of which two are now extinct and two which can still be found on the Iberian Peninsula in small pockets.

Most Australians want customs ship to monitor Japanese whaling, poll finds

Roy Morgan poll finds 76.9% of 1,002 people – including Coalition voters – want the federal government to ‘send a ship to oppose the whaling’

Wednesday 23 December 2015 02.05 GMT
Last modified on Wednesday 23 December 201502.22 GMT

Australians overwhelmingly support calls for the federal government to send a customs ship to monitor Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean, a poll commissioned by the anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd indicates.

The Coalition has previously been accused of backing away from a pre-election commitment to tackle whaling in the Southern Ocean, after refusing to send a specialist customs patrol vessel and instead sending aircraft to monitor the whaling, which Japan claims is for scientific purposes.

Of the 1,002 people questioned by SMS, by the polling company Roy Morgan, 76.9% said they wanted the government to “send a ship to oppose the whaling by Japan”.

A majority of Greens, Labor and Coalition voters were in favour of sending a ship. About a third ofCoalition voters opposed the proposal.

The Greens senator Nick McKim said the Coalition was backing away from the monitoring commitment made in opposition and the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had refused to express anything stronger than “disappointment” about whaling on his recent visit to Japan.

Friday 25 December 2015

102 new species described by the California Academy of Sciences in 2015

Date:December 17, 2015
Source:California Academy of Sciences

In 2015, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences added 102 new plant and animal species to our family tree, enriching our understanding of Earth's complex web of life and strengthening our ability to make informed conservation decisions. The new species include two frogs, 23 ants, three beetles, eight wasps, 11 spiders, 26 fishes, nine sea slugs, two corals, nine plants, one water bear, and eight new viruses. More than a dozen Academy scientists--along with several dozen international collaborators--described the discoveries.

Proving that our planet contains unexplored places with never-before-recorded plants and animals (with their own set of evolving viruses), the scientists made their finds over five continents and three oceans, ventured into steamy rainforests and plunged beneath the sea, looked in their own San Francisco backyards and traveled to remote islands in Africa. Their results, published in 43 different scientific papers, help advance the Academy's mission to explore, explain, and sustain life on Earth.

Nicolas Cage to Return Dino Skull to Mongolia

by Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | December 23, 2015 01:16pm ET

It's been a long, strange journey for the skull of a predatory dinosaur — from Late Cretaceous Asia, where the dinosaur once roamed; to an auction block on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where the skull was sold anonymously in 2007 by the Beverly Hills art gallery I.M. Chait; to actor Nicolas Cage, later confirmed by his publicist to have bought the fossil from the gallery, according to TheNew York Times; and now, back to Mongolia. 

The skull's original owner 70 million years ago was a Tyrannosaurus bataar (also called Tarbosaurus bataar), a large predatory dinosaur that closely resembled its North American cousin Tyrannosaurus rex. But officials questioned whether the skull's most recent owners had obtained the skull legally, according to a Dec. 16 statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

The statement announced the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint on behalf of the U.S. Attorney's Office and Homeland Security Investigations, to return the skull to its country of origin, saying that the skull was unlawfully taken from Mongolia's Gobi Desert and illegally brought into the United States.

A horse of a different color: Genetics of camouflage and the dun pattern

Date:December 21, 2015
Source:Uppsala University

Most horses today are treasured for their ability to run, work, or be ridden, but have lost their wild-type camouflage: pale hair with zebra-like dark stripes known as the Dun pattern. Now an international team of scientists has discovered what causes the Dun pattern and why it is lost in most horses. The results, published in Nature Genetics, reveal a new mechanism of skin and hair biology, and provide new insight into horse domestication.

The work is an international collaboration led by groups at Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, and the Huntsville Institute of Biotechnology, Huntsville, Alabama, USA.

Pale hair colour in Dun horses provides camouflage as it makes a horse in the wild less conspicuous. In contrast, domestic horses, as well as many other domestic animals, have been selected over many generations to be more conspicuous, more appealing or simply different than the wild type. The pale hair colour in Dun horses does not affect all parts of the body; most Dun horses have a dark stripe along their back, and often show zebra-like leg stripes. However, the majority of domestic horses are non-dun and show a more intense pigmentation that is uniformly distributed.

"Dun is clearly one of the most interesting coat colour variants in domestic animals because it does not just change the colour but the colour pattern," states Leif Andersson, whose group led the genetic analysis. We were really curious to understand the underlying molecular mechanism why Dun pigment dilution did not affect all parts of the body, continues Leif.

The research team started by analysing the distribution of pigment in individual hairs.

"Unlike the hair of most well studied mammals, the dilute coloured hairs from Dun horses are not evenly pigmented the whole way around. They have a section of intense pigmentation along the length of the hair, on the side that faces out from the body of the horse, whilst the rest of the hair has more or less no pigment," explains Freyja Imsland, the lead author for the genetic analysis, and a PhD student in Andersson's group. The hairs from the dark areas of Dun horses are in contrast intensely pigmented all around each individual hair. In spite of scientists having studied hair pigmentation in detail for a very long time, this kind of pigmentation is novel to science, and quite unlike that seen in rodents, primates and carnivores.

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