Monday 29 February 2016

Snake island: Massachusetts to establish colony of venomous rattlesnakes

The plan is to save a species that’s been wiped out in the state – but some residents fear the snakes, which are capable of swimming, will escape the island

Oliver Milman in New York
Tuesday 23 February 2016 18.56 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 23 February 201619.17 GMT

A colony of venomous rattlesnakes is to be established on an uninhabited island in Massachusetts in a bid to save a species that has been virtually wiped out in the state.

Massachusetts’ division of fisheries and wildlife has devised a plan to release timber rattlesnakes onto the island to build up a viable population. But some residents fear that the rattlesnakes, which are capable of swimming, will escape the island and maraud across areas frequented by people and their pets.

The plan will involve taking eight young snakes – each measuring four to five feet – from a captive breeding program and releasing them onto Mount Zion, an island in the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. The island, which is 1,350 acres in size and 3.6 miles in length, is uninhabited and is considered prime rattlesnake territory as it has undisturbed forest and boulders for shelter, with plenty of chipmunks and mice to feast upon.

It is hoped that the snakes raised at the zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, will be hardy enough to survive predators and establish a colony on the island. A healthy colony population is 150 snakes but officials are first aiming for a group of 35 snakes.

Hundreds of thousands of timber rattlesnakes once slithered across what was to be become Massachusetts prior to Europeans’ arrival in the region. But mass deforestation, combined with persecution of rattlesnakes which, along with hawks, bobcats and other animals, had bounties on their heads, saw their numbers crash.

There are just five populations of timber rattlesnakes, comprising perhaps 200 individuals, left in the state. Tom French, assistant director of the Massachusetts division of fisheries and wildlife, said it is “amazing” that any still exist, although pressures are mounting.

No fin whales to be hunted in Iceland this summer

Director of country’s biggest whaling company says his fleet will not be hunting this season because of problems exporting the meat to Japan

Thursday 25 February 2016 15.26 GMTLast modified on Thursday 25 February 201618.37 GMT

Conservationists are hopeful that an end to commercial whaling in Iceland has moved one step closer following media reports that no fin whales will be hunted there this summer.

Kristjan Loftsson, the director of Iceland’s largest whaling company, told daily newspaper Morgunbladid on Wednesday that Hvalur HF would not be sending out vessels to slaughter the endangered whales this season because of difficulties exporting the meat to the Japanese market.

Last year, Loftsson’s whaling company is reported to have killed 155 fin whales, and a total of 706 since Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006. Icelanders traditionally do not eat meat from fin whales, making the world’s second largest whale a species hunted specifically with a view for sale in Japan.

According to reports, Loftsson has faced increased difficulty in his whaling activities in recent years due to a combination of logistical problems, a falling market for whale meat and increased international opposition to whaling.

Last year’s fin whaling season, which usually begins in mid-June, was delayed because of a strike by veterinary inspectors. At the same time, the company’s attempts to ship 1,700 tonnes of whale meat to Japan via Angola were hampered by the reluctance of some foreign ports to allow transit of the meat. A similarly controversial delivery of 2,000 tonnes in 2014 sparked protests and was turned away from several ports.

Humans sped up evolution in a Canadian lake. How did this happen?

FEBRUARY 24, 2016

by Susanna Pilny

The accidental introduction of crayfish into a lake in British Columbia, Canada, by humans has caused the extinction of two species of fish that had lived there for some 15,000 years—well, sort of.

Life, ah…finds a way, and what has replaced these two fish could have dire consequences for the local environment.

The two fish were similar species of endangered threespine stickleback fish, both of which coexisted peacefully in Enos Lake in BC—until they didn’t.

"When two similar species are in one environment, they often perform different ecological roles," said co-author Seth Rudman, a PhD student in zoology at UBC, in a statement. "When they go extinct, it has strong consequences for the ecosystem."

In the case of Enos Lake, one species tended to live in the middle of the lake, where it preyed on zooplankton, while the other lived nearer to the shore and ate mostly waterborne insect larvae. They more or less left each other alone, breeding only with their own species, for thousands of years.

But then, in the early 1990s, American signal crayfish were accidentally introduced to the lake, likely through fishermen who were using them as bait on Vancouver Island.

From then on, the crayfish began to clear-cut the vegetation on the bottom of the lake—forcing the middle-of-the-lake sticklebacks to search for food and mates in the open water above, where the shore-preferring species lived.

Forced together, these two species of fish began to interbreed between 1994 and 1997—and then totally disappeared, leaving behind only a hybrid species of stickleback.

Beetle bumps inspire bigger and faster water droplets

By Matt McGrath
Environment correspondent
25 February 2016

Scientists have drawn inspiration from the bumpy shells of Namib beetles to improve the collection and transport of water droplets.

Researchers were able to make drops grow six times faster than normal by copying the insects' shell geometry.

Combined with other plant techniques, the team created drops that grew larger as temperatures increased.

The authors say the development could significantly improve water harvesting and electricity generation.

A little drop of water may seem insignificant but the physical processes involved in both the formation and movement of the liquid are essential to operation of thermal power plants, desalination and air conditioning systems.

Condensation is also critical to the more fundamental function of gathering water for human use in dry climates, a growing, global issue.

Researchers have made previous attempts to mimic the remarkable abilities of the Namib beetle, which uses its bumpy shell to draw all the water it needs from periodic, foggy winds in the desert.

The assumption until now has been that the surface chemistry of the beetle's back has been the key - but this new study says that it's actually the physical arrangement and location of the bumps that's critical.

The researchers also aped cactus spines by building their bumpy surface to guide the transport of the harvested drops. The slippery coating of pitcher plants inspired the team to coat the bumps with a smooth lubricant to reduce friction as the drops moved.

According to the study, drops grew six times more quickly on this surface and it was able to collect and transport a much larger volume of water in a short time compared to other materials.

"We experimentally found that the geometry of bumps alone could facilitate condensation," said Kyoo-Chul Park, a postdoctoral researcher and the first author of the paper.

'Cocktail' orangutans leave researchers shaken and stirred

Reintroduction of genetically distinct subspecies has led to hybridization in an endangered wild population

Date: February 25, 2016
Source: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Reintroduction of a genetically distinct subspecies has led to hybridization in an endangered wild orangutan population, report scientists. Inter-breeding animals from two genetically distinct populations can sometimes lead to 'hybrid vigor', in which offspring reap the benefits of their parents' individual qualities, they say.

As their natural habitats continue to be destroyed, increasing numbers of displaced endangered mammals are taken to sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres worldwide. The ultimate goal of these centres is often reintroduction: to return these animals to wild populations. In a new study published in Scientific Reports, however, Graham L Banes and Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, caution that such reintroductions can act as a form of genetic translocation. By using genetic analysis to assess a subset of historical reintroductions into Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesia, they found that orang-utans from a non-native and genetically distinct subspecies were unwittingly released and have since hybridized with the Park's wild population. As orang-utan subspecies are thought to have diverged around 176,000 years ago, with marked differentiation over the last 80,000 years, the researchers highlight the potential for negative effects on the viability of populations already under threat.

When Biruté Galdikas and Rod Brindamour began their pioneering orang-utan rehabilitation efforts at Camp Leakey in Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, all orang-utans were considered a single species. Over 14 years, from 1971 to 1985, they released at least 90 orphaned and displaced apes into the surrounding wild population. Advances in morphological and genetic studies have since revealed two species of orang-utan, however, on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The Bornean orang-utan is further subdivided into three distinct, geographically and reproductively isolated subspecies, which last shared a common ancestor in the Pleistocene and have differentiated substantially over tens of thousands of years.

Thursday 25 February 2016

Sudden recent howler monkey deaths in Nicaragua

Date:February 25, 2016
Source:University of Michigan

Two University of Michigan-based scientists are leading an effort to explain the recent deaths of at least 75 howler monkeys living in the tropical forests of southwestern Nicaragua.

Liliana Cortés-Ortiz and Kimberly Williams-Guillén are assembling a multi-institution team of experts to test various scenarios that might explain the Nicaraguan deaths, which come on the heels of smaller howler monkey mortality events in Ecuador and Panama.

"It's really, really, really unusual to see this many monkeys sick all at once and to see this many monkeys dead all at once," said ecologist Williams-Guillén, a visiting scholar at U-M's School of Natural Resources and Environment who has studied wild howler monkeys in Nicaragua since 1999.

Williams-Guillén is also the director of conservation science for Paso Pacífico, an environmental nonprofit that works in Nicaragua's Pacific forests. She said her group has confirmed at least 75 deaths reported by Nicaraguan landowners and forest rangers, 70 of them since mid-January.

Williams-Guillén plans to return to Nicaragua in a few days to investigate the monkey deaths and to look for other sick or recently deceased howlers.

Mystery Ocean Hum May be Migration Signal, or Fish Farting

by Discovery News | February 25, 2016 12:47pm ET

Vast communities of migrating deep-sea marine life are the culprits behind a mysterious, low-frequency humming sound in the ocean, made as the creatures swim to and from the surface at feeding time.

The discovery, made by University of California, San Diego assistant research biologist Simone Baumann-Pickering, answers a long-standing question. The source of the hum has for years vexed marine biologists, as NPR reports. They knew the sound wasn't consistent with whale calls or other marine mammals, such as dolphins, communicating.

Saving salamanders from amphibian killer may take extreme measures – via Herp Digest

Experience from outbreaks of lethal Bd fungus may help defend North America’s salamander paradise

February 13, 2016 WASHINGTONNorth America, a Garden of Eden for salamanders, faces a dire threat from a recently discovered fungal disease. But biologists say that lessons learned from the last worldwide wave of amphibian die-offs are helping to rush a new animal import ban and other measures into effect that could prevent the introduction and spread of the deadly disease here.

Fears of widespread die-offs come from the 2013 discovery in northern Europe of a previously unrecognized Batrachochytrium fungus nicknamed Bsal (SN: 10/5/13, p. 18). This fungus has already ravaged populations of rare salamanders in the Netherlands by eating away their skin. There’s no known way to rid most wild populations of the disease. But the good news is that there’s no sign — yet — that Bsal has reached North America, Karen Lips of the University of Maryland in College Park reported February 12 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Lips was one of several biologists at the meeting who has had the rare horror of witnessing a previous wave of lethal fungus, called Bd, sweep through new territory and kill amphibians by the thousands. She and colleagues pleaded for a faster, more informed attempt at defense this time.

What she and fellow speakers called the most important defense has just been put in place: an interim measure from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that, as of January 28, bans imports of 201 species of salamander to the United States. Even moving those species across state lines is no longer permitted. This pet-trade measure matters, the speakers explained, because international shipping of animals infected with Bsal apparently carried the fungus from its longtime home in Asia to Europe, where such species as fire salamanders had no resistance to it (SN: 11/29/14, p. 6).

With a Bsal threat looming in the United States, herpetologist Joe Mendelson of Zoo Atlanta urged anyone who notices a dead salamander to report it via the new Amphibian Disease Portal. One of the lessons of the last die-offs was how difficult it was for scientists to observe catastrophes as they happened. Infections burned through remote sites in months, with scavengers quickly cleaning up carcasses. To catch the earliest signs of any Bsal outbreaks, “we want to see dead salamanders,” Mendelson said. “Well, we don’t want to…”
If the Bsal pathogen slips in to North America, such widespread species as the Eastern newt could prove disastrously susceptible, said Ana Longo of the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. North America has the greatest diversity of salamander species in the world, with close to 200 of the known 700 or so species. The Appalachians and the West Coast are especially rich in species, and the threat of disease savaging them has amphibian researchers “all very worried,” said Patricia Burrowes of University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.

Burrowes’ research on the disease ecology of Bd, the first amphibian-killing fungus to be discovered, has helped demonstrate just how difficult managing, or even predicting, outcomes of disease invasion can be. The other animals sharing the habitat, the microbes that teem on their skin and the details of local climate all make a difference. Burrowes’ current project shows that even small patches of sunlight beaming through gaps in the canopy of a tropical forest could, in theory, create refuges where the Bd fungus might not grow well on a basking animal.

The biggest lesson that scientists learned from the previous invasion is that one fungus disease can quickly crash local populations of a lot of species, says Vance Vredenburg of San Francisco State University. He was working at a remote lake in California over a decade ago when mountain yellow-legged frogs that had looked fine the day before were floating belly up by the hundreds the next day. “We just couldn’t believe what was happening.”

World's loneliest chimp' hugs conservation worker after spending years in isolation

Ponso's mate and their young died in 2013, and he has been alone in an island off the Ivory Coast ever since

2:10PM GMT 18 Feb 2016

Ponso the chimp spent nearly three years in isolation on an island with no other chimpanzees after the death of his mate and their young in 2013.

For years, he only had occasional contact from a nearby villager named Germain, who visited sometimes to bring bananas and bread - the chimp's only source of food on the tiny island

He was cheered up this month when he made a new friend - Estelle Raballand.

Ms. Raballand is the Managing Director at the Centre de Conservation pour Chimpanzes.

When she met the primate, he responded by grinning from ear-to-ear and giving her a hug - evidently overjoyed at having someone new to spend time with.

What popular dog breeds looked like before and after 100 years of breeding

Many well-known breeds have changed a lot physically in the last century, thanks to humans

Thursday 18 February 2016

Dogs have been our furry companions for thousands of years, but they didn't always look the way they do today.

Many well-known breeds have changed a lot physically in the last century, thanks to humans.

By identifying specific traits — such as size, coat color, and demeanor — and allowing only those animals to mate, we've created at least 167 different "breeds," or groups of dogs with unique physical and mental characteristics. Still, they're all part of the same species.

The Science of Dogs blog put together a side-by-side comparison of several popular breeds from the 1915 book "Dogs of All Nations" by Walter Esplin Mason, showing what they look like today.

Here are some of the dogs from that list, plus a couple more we found ourselves:

Wednesday 24 February 2016

30-Year Deep Freeze Just Puts Tardigrade in the Mood

 by Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer   |   February 19, 2016 01:17pm ET

After being locked in a deep freeze for more than 30 years, two microscopic creatures called tardigrades have been resuscitated, with one of the adults getting busy with reproduction "immediately" and "repeatedly," scientists reported.

Scientists were even able to revive a tardigrade egg after it spent the past three decades cooling its jets alongside the mature duo in a researcher's freezer.

Their findings shattered the previous preservation and revival record for tardigrades and their eggs, which had been eight years for frozen tardigrades and nine years for dried eggs stored at room temperature.

Gray treefrogs provide clues to climate change-Females' interpretation of mating calls may not be affected by climate change, could help provide clues to ecosystem management – via Herp Digest

Date: February 2, 2016
Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2015 was the hottest year on record. According to a University of Missouri researcher, increasing temperatures and climate variability might have an effect on the sounds produced by gray treefrogs. According to a recent study, scientists found that a female's interpretation of male mating calls may not be affected by climate change; however, knowing how breeding habits are affected can help predict the health of ecosystems. These findings will contribute to the enhanced management practices of ecosystems by federal and state officials.

Gray treefrogs are a common species found in North America and throughout the eastern two-thirds of the country, including Missouri. They're marked by their sticky toe pads that help them cling to windows and by the male mating calls, or trills, which distinguish them on warm, summer evenings.

"In a way, the decline of the polar bear has become the face of climate change; yet, gray tree frogs located in our own backyards might give us better clues about changes in the environment," said Sarah C. Humfeld, a postdoctoral fellow of biological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science. "Our team wanted to take a look at how rising temperatures might affect how female gray tree frogs interpret the signals given off by males and whether or not that might interrupt their breeding habits."

During mating season, male treefrogs produce calls to attract potential female mates. Females interpret various characteristics of the trilled call to help them locate a high-quality male of the correct species. Scientists have long known that the pitch and rate of trilling can be temperature-dependent, often corresponding to rising or falling temperatures experienced by these cold-blooded animals.

"We already know that there's an optimal range for male mating calls," Humfeld said. "When temperatures rise, the pitch and trill rate of the calls can increase. What we didn't know, was whether or not females' interpretation of those calls were dependent on temperature as well. We were interested in studying whether or not the responses of the female's auditory system shifted in tandem with the male's calls at different temperatures."
The researchers gathered female treefrogs from the field and brought them to the lab. In a controlled environment, they elevated the temperature slightly to simulate a warmer climate. Then, using computer-synthesized sounds, they played back various types of calls to see how the females responded.

"We found that temperature didn't have a great effect on females and their interpretation of the mating call; however, these are still important findings," Humfeld said. "Amphibians are the veritable 'canary in the coal' mine, an indicator species that can send signals to scientists who study the effects of rising global temperatures. Knowing more about how their mating habits are affected by climate change can help us study the ways rising temperatures are affecting biodiversity. Findings from our study help add to the knowledge base needed to study thermal tolerance levels for various species and the steps conservation managers can take to maintain various ecological systems."

The study, "Effects of Temperature on Spectral Preferences of Female Gray Treefrogs (Hyla versicolor)" recently was published in Herptological Conservation and Biology. It can be found at:

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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University of Missouri-Columbia. "Gray treefrogs provide clues to climate change: Females' interpretation of mating calls may not be affected by climate change, could help provide clues to ecosystem management." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2016. <>.

Dolphin was 'already dead' when crowd in Argentina handled it – tourist

Hernan Coria says endangered dolphin was one of many which had washed up dead on Santa Teresita beach before crowd started taking selfies with it

Australian Associated Press
Friday 19 February 2016 07.13 GMT

One of the tourists who handed around a dolphin on an Argentinian beach claims it had died before people started taking selfies with it.

Footage appeared to show the small dolphin being scooped up and taken to land where it was surrounded by a gawking crowd. Reports said it quickly overheated and died when it was paraded along the beach so holidaymakers could take photos.

During the video shot at Santa Teresita beach, south of Buenos Aires, people can be heard saying “Take it to the water” and “Poor thing, don’t touch it.”

But a tourist, Hernan Coria, said the dolphin was one of many which had washed up dead on the beach.

“The water was very hot,” he told local news outlet Telefe Noticias. “It was full of jellyfish and people were not going in the water.

“Everything happened in five minutes. It was washed up already dead. They took it back to the water but it wouldn’t go back out.”

Coria said there was no lifeguard on duty to help and dead dolphins were also washing up on nearby beaches.

With help, tigers clawing back in Southeast Asia

Date: February 18, 2016
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

A new study by a team of Thai and international scientists finds that a depleted tiger population in Thailand is rebounding thanks to enhanced protection measures. This is the only site in Southeast Asia where tigers are confirmed to be increasing in population. It is also the first-ever long-term study of tiger population dynamics in Southeast Asia.
Moreover, the scientists feel even better days lay ahead for this population of the iconic carnivores.

The Government of Thailand in collaboration with WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) established an intensive patrol system in in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (HKK) in 2006 to curb poaching of tigers and their prey, and to recover what is possibly the largest remaining "source" population of wild tigers in mainland Southeast Asia.

Monitoring of the population from 2005-2012 identified 90 individual tigers and an improvement in tiger survival and recruitment over time.

"The protection effort is paying off as the years have progressed, as indicated by the increase in recruitment, and we expect the tiger population to increase even more rapidly in the years to come," said Somphot Duangchantrasiri, the lead author of the study."

World's Rarest Antelope Flourishes Under Community Conservation

Most people have never heard of the hirola. The fawn coloured antelope is a shy animal, with a long thin face and spectacled eyes. And yet this unassuming creature is the centre of what may be one of the most successful conservation efforts in recent history. And the heroes - the equally unassuming Somali pastoralists who live alongside them on the East bank of the Tana River.

The Abdullah Somali community that run the Ishaqbini Conservancy in north-east Kenya have always had a fondness for the hirola, whose docile nature has earned it the nickname of ‘the stupid antelope’ in other communities. It is endemic to north-east Kenya and south-west Somalia, but populations have declined by over 80% since 1990. Numerous factors, including disease, hunting and loss of grasslands, have contributed to this.

Ishaqbini is part of a network of 33 community conservancies in northern Kenya, operating under the umbrella of the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT). Together they are managing over 44,000 km² of land, stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Great Rift Valley. Not only are they conserving wildlife, but they are securing peace and building resilient livelihoods for rural communities on the back of it.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Badger cull linked to rise in bovine TB cases

Stop the Cull finds number of herds with TB outbreak, in Dorset cull zone and at its edge, increased after badger killing began

Friday 19 February 2016 18.25 GMTLast modified on Friday 19 February 201622.01 GMT

The government’s controversial badger cull has led to a rise in the number of cases of tuberculosis found in cattle in one of the programme’s key geographical areas, say animal rights activists.

Rather than the number of cases of bovine TB falling among herds in and on the edge of the badger killing area in Dorset, they have been increasing, it was claimed. The campaign group Stop the Cull suggests this was due to “perturbation”, referring to the way culling may disrupt badger social groups, leading probably to more widespread roaming (including migration into cull areas), and consequently the disease spreading.

The claims came as the government announced thatNatural England had received 29 applications or expressions of interest from farmers’ groups wanting a badger cull in their area. Natural England said the various areas ranged from a total of 52 sq miles to up to 252 sq miles. The areas were in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Cheshire. There has been no decision on the number of cull areas for 2016.

Stop the Cull, which has championed direct action against the government’s programme, has analysed official figures recording outbreaks of bovine TB in Dorset, where culling began in the autumn.

New phase in Scottish polar bear breeding project

By Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter
19 February 2016

An attempt to breed polar bears in Scotland looks set to go ahead this year.
Polar bear cubs were last born in the UK almost 25 years ago.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has begun preparations to pair up two bears at its Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore.
A crate has been placed in the male bears' enclosure which will be used to transport Arktos to where the female, Victoria, is kept.

RZSS said captive breeding formed an important part of conserving polar bears, which are classified as "vulnerable" on the International Union Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

But animal welfare organisations OneKind Scotland and Born Free Foundation said tackling climate change to better protect wild bears should be the focus of conservation efforts rather than captive breeding.

Arktos shares an enclosure with a younger male bear called Walker.

Genetically important
The older bear has been selected for breeding because he is considered to be a genetically more important male, according to RZSS. Walker's genes are already well represented within the captive population.

Victoria, who was brought to Scotland from Aalborg Zoo in Denmark last year and is kept in an enclosure about a mile away from the males, previously raised cubs in 2008.

Florida's monkey river

Anthropologists studied human interaction with a colony of feral rhesus macaques living on the Silver River in central Florida

Date: February 19, 2016
Source: San Diego State University

A colony of feral rhesus macaques calls the banks of the Silver River in Silver Springs State Park in central Florida its home. The monkeys are part of a larger feral population living throughout the Cross Florida Greenway. Many locals enjoy having the monkeys in the park, but wildlife officials are concerned about overpopulation caused by human feeding, the nonnative animals' ecological impact and the potential for interspecies disease transmission. A study released this week in the journal Primates by anthropologists at San Diego State University has found that the park's macaque population is smaller than many previous estimates and that the vast majority of the monkeys' diets come from environmental--not human-given--food.

No one knows exactly how or when the monkeys, which are native to southern and southeast Asia, were introduced to the central Florida wetlands, but they have lived in the region's wetland parks for decades and have adapted to the environment. Over the years, population numbers have waxed and waned due largely to intermittent trapping efforts. Their presence has been contentious.

"The local authorities, like the Fish and Wildlife Service, have been less thrilled with the monkeys," said SDSU anthropologist Erin Riley, one of the paper's authors. "Their purview is to maintain a natural environment, and these animals are not natural to this area. They have concerns about the local ecological impact of these animals, and then there are also health issues if people interface and get close to them."

Ancient lone star lizard lounged in lush, tropical Texas

Date: February 19, 2016
Source: University of Texas at Austin

Researchers have discovered a new species of extinct worm lizard in Texas and dubbed it the "Lone Star" lizard. The species -- the first known example of a worm lizard in Texas -- offers evidence that Texas acted as a subtropical refuge during one of the great cooling periods of the past.

A paper describing the new species was published on Feb. 18 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The species is officially named Solastella cookei. Solastella is a Latinized form of lone star.

"Nothing has been called Solastella before, which is amazing to me because there are so many fossils from Texas. It's the one guy, and it's from the Lone Star State, so it just seemed to fit," said Michelle Stocker, a paleontologist who described the extinct reptile while earning her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences. She is now a research scientist at Virginia Tech.

The second part of the scientific name honors botanist William Cook, a professor at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, which owns the property where the fossils were collected.

Worm lizard is the common name for a group of reptiles called amphisbaenians, whose long bodies and reduced or absent limbs give them an earthworm-like appearance. The group includes extinct species as well as ones still living today. Solastella belonged to a subgroup called Rhineuridae, a group with only one living member -- the Florida worm lizard.

Monstrous fossils 'were armadillos', says DNA evidence

22 February 2016

An extinct group of giant, armoured animals with spiky, club-shaped tails belongs firmly within the family tree of modern armadillos, according to a study of 12,000-year-old DNA.

The glyptodonts roamed South America for millions of years until the last Ice Age, and some grew as big as cars.

Their physical attributes - notably an impenetrable shell - already placed them as likely cousins of armadillos.

Now, researchers say they are not even a sister group, but a subfamily.

"Glyptodonts should probably be considered a subfamily of gigantic armadillos," said Frederic Delsuc, from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) and Montpellier University in France.

Dr Delsuc and his colleagues used computer predictions to reconstruct some likely DNA sequences of armadillo ancestors, based on the genes of living species.

They then made RNA "bait" based on these sequences and used it to fish for glyptodont DNA in a tiny, mashed-up sample of shell from a fossil in a Buenos Aires museum.

Continued ...

Monday 22 February 2016

Escaped lions safely returned to Nairobi national park

Kenya Wildlife Service sent in rangers after lions were seen roaming in residential area in middle of night

Reuters in Nairobi
Friday 19 February 2016 11.06 GMT
Last modified on Friday 19 February 201622.01 GMT

Several lions which strayed from the Nairobi national park, on the edge of Kenya’s capital, and wandered into a residential area, have returned, an official has said.

Kenya’s Standard newspaper said the lions were spotted roaming the Langata area in the middle of the night, prompting the Kenya Wildlife Service to send in rangers.

“Lioness and cub safely back into the park,” said Paul Udoto, a spokesman for the wildlife service. “Two others suspected to have sneaked back before dawn.”

Wildlife pushed back as city encroaches on Nairobi national park
The wildlife service said its team had been dispatched to the residential area at about 3am local time and had urged members of the public not to try to capture the lions on their own.
It is not the first time lions have escaped the park, a sprawling sanctuary for giraffes, zebras and other wild animals. Previous escapes have brought rush-hour traffic to a standstill, forcing bewildered commuters to dodge playful lions.

Kenya’s oldest national park is under pressure from the rapid growth of the capital over the last decade. Poachers have also taken their toll on the animal population, whose numbers have fallen dramatically.
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