Friday, 30 November 2018

First tally of US-Russia polar bears finds a healthy population

Date:  November 14, 2018
Source:  University of Washington
Not all polar bears are in the same dire situation due to retreating sea ice, at least not right now. Off the western coast of Alaska, the Chukchi Sea is rich in marine life, but the number of polar bears in the area had never been counted. The first formal study of this population suggests that it's been healthy and relatively abundant in recent years, numbering about 3,000 animals.
The study by researchers at the University of Washington and federal agencies is published Nov. 14 in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal from the Nature Publishing Group.
"This work represents a decade of research that gives us a first estimate of the abundance and status of the Chukchi Sea subpopulation," said first author Eric Regehr, a researcher with the UW's Polar Science Center who started the project as a biologist in Alaska with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Despite having about one month less time on preferred sea ice habitats to hunt compared with 25 years ago, we found that the Chukchi Sea subpopulation was doing well from 2008 to 2016.
"Sea-ice loss due to climate change remains the primary threat to the species but, as this study shows, there is variation in when and where the effects of sea-ice loss appear. Some subpopulations are already declining while others are still doing OK."
Of the world's 19 subpopulations of polar bears, the U.S. shares two with neighboring countries. The other U.S. subpopulation -- the southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, whose territory overlaps with Canada -- is showing signs of stress.
"The southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation is well-studied, and a growing body of evidence suggests it's doing poorly due to sea-ice loss," Regehr said.

Eleven seal species narrowly escaped extinction

Date:  November 16, 2018
Source:  Bielefeld University
Their fur was used as a raw material for coats; their fat was used for oil lamps and cosmetics: right up to the end of the nineteenth century, millions of seals were being hunted and killed every year worldwide. The consequences of this episode of commercial hunting for today's seal populations is the subject of a study published today (16.11.2018) in Nature Communications. Population geneticists at Bielefeld University and the British Antarctic Survey have found that eleven seal species only narrowly escaped extinction. The scientists managed to include nearly all of the species alive today in their research. The study nevertheless reveals that most species survived the heyday of seal hunting in sufficient numbers to retain most of their genetic diversity.
'Hunting, epidemics, and climate change all have the potential to reduce the number of individuals in a population to the point where genetic diversity is lost,' says Professor Dr Joseph Hoffman, head of the Molecular Behavioural Ecology research group at Bielefeld University and sub-project manager in the Transregio Collaborative Research Centre NC³ that is studying animals and their individual niches. 'These extreme population reductions are known as bottlenecks and can affect a species' potential to survive'.
'When a species lacks genetic diversity, it has a lower chance of adapting to changing environmental conditions or protecting itself against parasites or pathogens. You can compare the gene pool with a toolbox: the fewer tools you have, the less well-equipped you are for different situations,' says Hoffman.

Translocating frogs to lakes where disease wiped out previous populations may be the key to recovery

November 19, 2018 by Shelly Leachman, University of California - Santa Barbara
In a box, within a canister, surrounded by snow, tucked tightly into a backpack strapped to one determined ecologist. Twenty at a time they travel, these unassuming, iconic frogs, departing places where they're thriving for sites from which their species has vanished. Their mission: population recovery.
In ecology-speak this is known as translocation—capturing, transporting, then releasing animals somewhere else, often to conserve the species. And when it comes to the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, amphibian residents of Yosemite National Park left devastated by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), it appears to be working.
UC Santa Barbara ecologist Roland Knapp has been leading a team of field crews—in collaboration with the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service—to save these frogs by reintroducing them to lakes from which they have disappeared because of Bd. The results of these novel experiments might provide important insights into how amphibian populations worldwide that have been impacted Bd might be recovered.
"Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs were devastated by Bd following its spread across these mountains," said Knapp, a research scientist based at the UCSB-managed Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory in Mammoth Lakes. "But a few populations survived and appear to be evolving some degree of resistance to this pathogen, allowing them to recover despite the ongoing presence of Bd. Using frogs from those recovering populations to reestablish populations that were previously eliminated by Bd—that hasn't been done much before. It's good news for frogs for sure."

Species and environment affect which frogs are infected by parasitic fungus

November 19, 2018, Uppsala University
The parasitic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis causes lethal infections in amphibians. Species and environment affect which frogs are infected by parasitic fungus. This is a green toad. Credit: Uppsala University
An aquatic parasitic fungus causes lethal infections in amphibians and is thought to be one of the reasons for a global decline in toad and frog populations. A new study by researchers from Uppsala University shows a wide variation among different species in the number of infections and that the surrounding environment has an impact.
The study was performed in Skåne, which is home to twelve amphibian species. The common frog, common toad, moor frog, European fire-bellied toad, European green toad and the natterjack toad were included in the study. The number of infections varied widely among the species. The common toad and common frog had the lowest proportion of infections, while the European green toad, the natterjack toad and the fire-bellied toad had the highest. In addition to the differences in the proportions of infected amphibians across the species, the infection rate was also affected by the environment in the ponds and surrounding landscape where the frogs and toads live. The proportion of infected individuals increased if the pH value in the pond was high and decreased if there was forest and many nearby ponds in the surrounding countryside.
Earlier studies have shown that the parasitic fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) is sensitive to temperature and pH. Because the number of infected individuals was higher in ponds with higher pH values, the results suggest that the fungus is happiest in such environments. Likewise, forests can affect the prevalence of the fungus because it is relatively colder in wooded areas than in more open country. Some amphibian species avoid colder areas and ponds with specific pH values, which also affects the prevalence.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Killer whales share personality traits with humans, chimpanzees

Complex social interactions may require certain personality traits
Date:  November 15, 2018
Source:  American Psychological Association
Killer whales display personality traits similar to those of humans and chimpanzees, such as playfulness, cheerfulness and affection, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
Researchers in Spain analyzed the personality traits of 24 captive killer whales (Orcinus orca) at SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego and the Loro Parque zoo in Tenerife, Spain, which operates its killer whale program in partnership with SeaWorld. Six of the killer whales were caught in the wild while the remainder were born in captivity.
Trainers and other staff who worked closely with the killer whales completed surveys ranking each animal on a list of 38 personality traits, including playfulness, independence, stubbornness, bravery, sensitivity and protectiveness. Those traits were analyzed and compared with previous studies of the same personality traits for chimpanzees and humans. The research was published online in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.
"This is the first study to examine the personality traits of killer whales and how they relate to us and other primates," said lead researcher Yulán Úbeda, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Girona in Spain. "These similar personality traits may have developed because they were necessary to form complex social interactions in tightly knit groups that we see in killer whales, humans and other primates."
The study used a common personality measure called the five-factor model, which assesses five personality dimensions, including extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, dominance and carefulness. The model, which was developed in the 1930s, describes personality traits using a combination of single adjectives or descriptive phrases.

Indonesia: dead whale had 1,000 pieces of plastic in stomach

Sperm whale washed up in Sulawesi had flip-flops, bottles, bags and 115 drinking cups in its stomach
Associated Press in Jakarta
Tue 20 Nov 2018 10.27 GMTLast modified on Tue 20 Nov 2018 10.42 GMT
A dead whale that washed ashore in eastern Indonesia had a large lump of plastic waste in its stomach, including flip-flops and 115 drinking cups, a park official has said, causing concern among environmentalists and government officials in one of the world’s largest plastic polluting countries.
Rescuers from Wakatobi national park found the rotting carcass of the 9.5 metre (31ft) sperm whale on Monday near the park in Southeast Sulawesi province after receiving a report from environmentalists that villagers had surrounded the dead whale and were beginning to butcher the rotting carcass, park chief Heri Santoso said.
Santoso said researchers from wildlife conservation group WWF and the park’s conservation academy found about 5.9kg (13lbs) of plastic waste in the animal’s stomach containing 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, two flip-flops, a nylon sack and more than 1,000 other assorted pieces of plastic.
“Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful,” said Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation coordinator at WWF Indonesia.
She said it was not possible to determine if the plastic had caused the whale’s death because of the animal’s advanced state of decay.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 260 million people, is the world’s second-largest plastic polluter after China, according to a study published in the journal Science in January. It produces 3.2 million tons of mismanaged plastic waste a year, of which 1.29m tons ends up in the ocean, the study said.
Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister of maritime affairs, said the whale’s discovery should raise public awareness about the need to reduce plastic use, and had spurred the government to take tougher measures to protect the ocean.

How Do Squirrels Remember Where They Buried Their Nuts?

By Emma Bryce, Live Science Contributor | November 17, 2018 08:18am ET
Few things symbolize the onset of fall quite so well as the sight of a squirrel scampering around a park, industriously burying nuts. As the weather cools and the leaves turn, squirrels engage in this frantic behavior to prepare for the upcoming shortages of wintertime.
But have you ever wondered how effective the squirrel's outdoor pantry project could really be? After going to all that effort to conceal its winter stash, how does the squirrel actually find the buried treasure again, when it's needed most?
First, let's backtrack slightly, because the way that squirrels bury their food yields some interesting clues. Animals that store food to survive the winter don't just do so randomly: They typically use one of two strategies. Either they larder-hoard — meaning they store all their food in one place — or they scatter-hoard — meaning they split up their bounty and stash it in many different locations. [The 12 Biggest 'Little' Mysteries of Fall — Solved!]

Sea Turtles Washing Up ‘Cold-Stunned’ At Jersey Shore As Wintry Weather Arrives - via Herp Digest

November 17, 2018

BRIGANTINE, N.J. (CBS) — Turtles are washing ashore along the East Coast according to officials at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) in Brigantine, New Jersey.

“Now that the colder weather is setting in, please remember that turtles will sometimes strand as a result of being cold-stunned,” officials explain.

Cold-stunning is a reaction that turtles have when exposed to cold temperatures for an extended period of time. Turtles can’t acclimate to temperatures below the mid-60s and must migrate towards warmer waters to stay safe.

“If turtles don’t make their way down south, they’ll be subject to cold stunning,” explains Bob Schoelkopf, the director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. “It happens every winter.”
Over 70 volunteers help the MMSC in their mission to respond efficiently to cases of stranded marine life.

 They work alongside experts to identify animals along 1,800 miles of the coastline in order to perform rescues. At times, they’re occupied with taking care of as many 25 cases at once.

“Volunteers are really invaluable to us to help us along with our work,” explains Schoelkopf, who adds that the volunteers are often their first responders considering the center has 3 stranding technicians on their staff.

Already, officials up north have responded to over 90 turtle rescues in New England and reports have begun to pick up further down along the East Coast according to Schoelkopf.

Turtle are washing in up and down the east coast. Please keep a sharp lookout when you walk the beach and immediately report any turtle, live or dead. 609-266-0538. We are here 24/7 to respond.

As the cold weather settles in for the tri-state area, Schoelkopf and his crew have already responded to several reports of various strandings.

On Saturday, a stranding technician from the team was responding to a call regarding a deceased dolphin as well as a stranded turtle on Long Beach Island.

It is especially important to note that while the turtles might appear lifeless, they are still alive.

Officials say you should not attempt to warm up a stranded turtle if you come across one. If mishandled, even by well-meaning citizens, a turtle could die and officials want the public to know to instead call them immediately.

With all the casinos and tourist attractions at the Jersey Shore, Schoelkopf reminds visitors that as winter arrives and marine life continues to migrate away from colder northern climates even seal sightings are likely to happen.

“They are wild animals, not pets,” says Schoelkopf, who wants the public to be mindful not to approach any wildlife found along the shore.

Officials also want the public to keep in mind that they should keep a safe distance from wildlife and always keep pets away from them as seal bites can be especially nasty.

Anyone that comes across a stranded turtle is urged to call the MMSC at 609-266-0538.

Animal populations are shrinking due to their high-risk food-finding strategies

It hasn't been clear why certain animal populations are taking a hit, until now
Date:  November 15, 2018
Source:  Swansea University
A study using animal-attached technology to measure food consumption in four very different wild vertebrates has revealed that animals using a high-risk strategy to find rarer food are particularly susceptible to becoming extinct, as they fail to gather food for their young before they starve.
In the first study of its kind, a team of researchers led by Swansea University used thumbnail-sized electronic tags to record the movement of a number of individual condors, cheetahs, penguins and sheep in Argentina, South Africa and Northern Ireland over a six-year period.
Nicknamed the "Daily Diary," the tags record a mass of data -- everything from the animal's minute movements through space and time, to the temperature of its environment and light levels.
The results from the tags were used to measure:
The probability that each animal finds food items.
The size of the food items.
The effort used to find the food.
The effort used for all other activities such as rest, play etc.
Professor Rory Wilson of Swansea University, a world-leading expert on animal movement and lead author of the study, said: "We know that animal populations across the world are taking a hit, with the most charismatic animals like lions and cheetahs being among the worst affected, but up until now it hasn't been clear why.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

National Trust criticised after hiring marksman to cull wild boar

Animals to be removed from Stourhead estate after complaints from ‘intimidated’ visitors
Mon 19 Nov 2018 12.00 GMTLast modified on Mon 19 Nov 2018 19.25 GMT
The National Trust has been criticised for planning to cull wild boar at its Stourhead estate in Wiltshire.
It said it had taken the “difficult decision” to remove the animals from its land following reports that members of the public were feeling intimidated by the prospect of coming face-to-face with a wild boar. The charity added it felt it needed to sanction a cull to protect its staff.
The trust said: “Following recent reports of an unlicensed reintroduction of wild boar on land adjacent to the Stourhead estate and several reports of members of the public being confronted and intimidated, we have taken the difficult decision to remove the animals from the estate.
“We only made this decision after considering the alternatives and after consulting with Natural England. Unfortunately, there are some instances where humane control is necessary – for instance where there are safety concerns for our visitors, staff or volunteers; or to protect other species or habitats. We never take this decision lightly.
“Any cull of wild boar will be carried out by an experienced and licensed marksman who conforms to National Trust standards of safety and animal welfare.”
The 2,650-acre estate is known for its lake, which reflects classical temples, grottoes and rare and exotic trees. It has attracted visitors in the autumn when the colour of the trees can be particularly striking.

Researchers study animals' unique sense of smell to develop improved chemical sensors

Move over Rover: There's a new sniffing powerhouse in the neighborhood
Date:  November 19, 2018
Source:  American Physical Society
Some animals have a superpower in their sense of smell. They explore, interpret and understand their world with such sensitivity that people have enlisted canines to help solve crime and detect cancer on the breath. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology are now homing in on the secrets behind animals' super sniffers to develop an artificial chemical sensor that could be used for a variety of tasks, from food safety to national security.
"We turned to animals to understand what nature has already figured out," said Thomas Spencer, a doctoral candidate in David Hu's lab at Georgia Tech. "We are applying the underlying principles that we learned about these mechanisms to design a better sensor."
Spencer will present the group's latest design for an electronic nose that concentrates odors for improved chemical sensing at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics 71st Annual Meeting, which will take place Nov. 18-20 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Their work began inauspiciously at a competition to develop a sensor that could identify different varieties of cheese. Turning to nature to guide their work, they traveled to the Atlanta Zoo to compare the way different animals sniff, from mice to elephants.
"We wanted to measure the sniffing frequency of animals when they are trying to identify a new source of food or something that interests them," Spencer said.
After reviewing the data, they found that sniffing speed decreases as body size increases; put another way, mice sniff faster than elephants. Using their findings, they designed a customized pump that oscillates back and forth at the same frequency that animals sniff. The design of their device moves airflow around the chemical sensor in a more controlled fashion.

Wombat poop: Scientists reveal mystery behind cube-shaped droppings

19 November 2018
Scientists say they have uncovered how and why wombats produce cube-shaped poo - the only known species to do so.
The Australian marsupial can pass up to 100 deposits of poop a night and they use the piles to mark territory. The shape helps it stop rolling away.
Despite having round anuses like other mammals, wombats do not produce round pellets, tubular coils or messy piles.
Researchers revealed on Sunday the varied elasticity of the intestines help to sculpt the poop into cubes.
"The first thing that drove me to this is that I have never seen anything this weird in biology. That was a mystery," Georgia Institute of Technology's Patricia Yang said.
After studying the digestive tracts of wombats put down after road accidents in Tasmania, a team led by Dr Yang presented its findings at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics' annual meeting in Atlanta.
"We opened those intestines up like it was Christmas," said co-author David Hu, also from Georgia Tech, according to Science News.
The team compared the wombat intestines to pig intestines by inserting a balloon into the animals' digestive tracts to see how it stretched to fit the balloon.

Manatees in peril as toxic red tide tests Florida's resources for rescued animals

Resources to save manatee and other sea life nearing limit a year after toxic red tide bloom outbreak
Richard Luscombe in Orlando, Florida
Mon 19 Nov 2018 14.51 GMTFirst published on Mon 19 Nov 2018 11.00 GMT
At the peak of Florida’s red tide crisis this summer, Jon Peterson had to dig deep into Sea World’s storage warehouses to find enough portable pools to accommodate the dozens of sick manatees arriving at a rate of two or three a week.
The Orlando theme park’s manager for animal rescues even found himself forking out for air fares to send some of his younger manatee patients off to zoos in Ohio to free enough space in the rehabilitation centre for the newest victims of the toxic algae phenomenon that has killed thousands of fish and marine mammals.
It was, Peterson says, “the roughest red tide we’ve had in a long while”, testing to the limit the capabilities of the Sea World facility and the many other essential components of a fragile network of foster care for Florida’s distressed sea life in times of emergency.
Now, with red tide blooms still creeping along areas of the state’s west coast in high concentrations, according to the latest water samplings from the Florida fish and wildlife commission (FWC), there has been little let-up in the pressure on the marine parks, zoos and aquariums that continue to respond to the crisis a year after its outbreak.

A bigger nose, a bigger bang: Size matters for ecoholocating toothed whales

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises have all evolved to use similar narrow beams of high intensity sound to echolocate prey
Date:  November 15, 2018
Source:  Aarhus University
Trying to find your lunch in the dark using a narrow flashlight to illuminate one place at a time may not seem like the most efficient way of foraging. However, if you replace light with sound, this seems to be exactly how the largest toothed predators on the planet find their food. A paper out this week in the journal Current Biology shows that whales, dolphins, and porpoises have all evolved to use similar narrow beams of high intensity sound to echolocate prey. Far from being inefficient, this highly focused sense may have helped them succeed as top predators in the world's oceans.
A new sense enabled toothed whales to succeed in diverse habitats
32 million years ago, the ancestors of toothed whales and baleen whales diverged as the ancestors of toothed whales -- including dolphins, porpoises and sperm whales -- evolved the ability to echolocate; to send out sound pulses and listen for the returning echoes from objects and prey in their environment. This new sense allowed these animals to navigate and find food in dark or murky waters, during the night, or at extreme depths. Since then, this evolutionary step has allowed these animals to occupy an amazing diversity of habitats, from shallow freshwater rivers to the great ocean deeps.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Humpback whales come to the Mediterranean to feed themselves

Experts predict that sightings of this species could increase in the Mediterranean in the coming years
Date:  November 15, 2018
Source:  University of Seville
Although the presence of humpback whales in the Mediterranean has been considered unusual, it is known that their visits have increased in the last 150 years. Until now, there had been no clear reason to justify this fact, with various options being considered, such as disorientation, following the migratory routes of other species, etc. However, a recently published study by experts from the University of Seville and from the Biological Research Area from the Seville Aquarium indicates that what motivates these cetacean mammals to enter these waters is the search for food.
This species travels long migration routes from the poles (both North and South), where the feeding areas are found, to the Equator to reproduced in the 15 DPS reproduction areas detected by the scientific community until now.
"In spring of 2016, a single young humpback whale was detected alongside a boat used from sighting cetacean mammals in the area. For almost a month, it was possible to follow the animal within the bay of Algeciras, taking exhaustive data, accompanied by photographs for photo-identification and future tracking of the animal, as well as for checking that the animal did not have any kind of problem," informs José Carlos García-Gómez, direct of the Marine Biology Laboratory at the University of Seville.


Sumatran elephant found dead with missing tusks in Indonesia

November 17, 2018
Rampant deforestation has reduced the species' natural habitat and brought them into conflict with humans
A Sumatran elephant has been found dead with its tusks removed in an apparent poaching case targeting the critically endangered animal, an Indonesian conservation official said Friday.
The 10-year-old male's rotting corpse was found in Blang Awe village in Aceh province earlier this week.
"His tusks were missing and there were traces of blood in the location where he was found," Aceh conservation centre head Sapto Aji Prabowo told AFP.
Officials estimated the animal had been dead for at least a week when the carcass was discovered.
The cause of death was not immediately clear because the body was badly decomposed, Prabowo said.
Tissue samples will be analysed for signs of poisoning.
Rampant deforestation has reduced the species' natural habitat and brought them into conflict with humans, while their tusks are prized in the illegal wildlife trade.
At least 11 wild elephants died in Aceh last year, most of them killed by humans.
In July, a Sumatran elephant was found dead from apparent poisoning in a palm oil plantation.
The environment ministry estimates only around 500 Sumatran elephants remain in Aceh.

Rare Sumatran tiger rescued from beneath shop in Indonesia

November 17, 2018
A rare Sumatran tiger that was trapped beneath the floor of a shop for three days has been rescued, an Indonesian official said Saturday.
The three-year old male was freed from the 75 centimetre (30 inch) crawl space on Burung Island in Riau province at about 1:50 am, the local conservation agency said.
"After the tiger was successfully put to sleep we opened up part of the shop's foundation to do the evacuation," Suharyono, head of the Riau conservation agency, told AFP.
The 80-kilo (180-pound) animal was treated by veterinarians for minor wounds on its legs and cracked canines, officials said.
The big cat became stuck between two buildings in the densely populated market area on Wednesday before freeing himself and then becoming trapped again beneath the building.
Video footage showed the tiger lying on its belly between two concrete foundations, unable to move.
The tiger has been transported to a rehabilitation centre.
Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild and environmental activists say they are increasingly coming into conflict with people as their natural habitat is rapidly deforested.


Protected northern red-legged frog re-discovered - via Herp Digest

Delta Optimist/ NOVEMBER 16, 2018
The northern red-legged frog is federally and provincially protected.

After finding a northern red-legged frog in the Delta Nature Reserve, Burns Bog Conservation Society staff are jumping with joy. The frog was thought to have been extinct locally.

“I was leading one of our field trips through the Delta Nature Reserve on Oct. 9 and one of the students saw something move,” said Nikolai Karpun, the society’s education and communications coordinator. “I looked over and saw a frog. It looked unlike any I had seen in the Delta Nature Reserve. Luckily, my first instinct was to take a photo.”

The northern red-legged frog is federally and provincially protected. It’s threatened by habitat loss as well as competition from non-native frogs.

The goal of the provincial management plan for the northern red-legged frogis to maintain self-sustaining and ecologically functioning populations in occupied watersheds throughout its range.

Burns Bog Conservation Society executive director Eliza Olson said nearby highway work will soon impact the Delta Nature Reserve.

“Before works start, we must find out if there are any more northern red-legged frogs in the Delta Nature Reserve,” said Olson. “We’d be hopping mad not to.”

Rare creatures have been found in Delta before. In 1999, a southern red-backed vole was spotted on the western side of Burns Bog, the first time since 1947 it had been seen in B.C.

“I wonder what other hidden treasures are in Burns Bog waiting to be found?” asked bog society education and research coordinator Mark Robertson.

Anyone who thinks they’ve spotted a northern red-legged frog in Delta, note the date, time and location. If possible, take a photo, but do not attempt to capture the frog. Contact the Burns Bog Conservation Society at, or call 604-572-0373.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Drop your weapons! Autotomy, the shedding of a body part, reveals the hidden cost of conflict

Animal weapons such as antlers, tusks and limbs specialized for fighting require a large energy expenditure to produce and may cost even more to maintain. Because the leaf-footed bug sheds its large hind limbs, used as weapons in male-male battles, scientists working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama could measure energy use of live bugs with and without hind legs to calculate the hidden energetic cost of weapons' maintenance.
Wild animals can spend up to 30 and 40 percent of their total energy budget while at rest. "Human athletes often burn more calories during their relatively long rest periods than during physical exercise itself," said Ummat Somjee, who did this study as part of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Florida in co-author Christine Miller's lab group and is currently a Tupper post-doctoral fellow at STRI.
"We calculated the metabolic cost of maintaining large hind legs in a leaf-footed bug and found that males invest more in weapons than females do," Somjee said. "Large males expend relatively less energy on their super-sized weapons than smaller males." The results are published online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Male leaf-footed bugs, Leptoscelis tricolor, hang out on bright orange or red heliconia inflorescences, feeding on nectar and developing heliconia fruit. Their hind legs, covered with thorny structures, are larger than females' legs and serve as weapons in male-male duels.

Eyeing echidnas: Study models echidna forelimbs to help shed new light on mammal evolution

November 17, 2018, Harvard University
These days, mammals can use their forelimbs to swim, jump, fly, climb, dig and just about everything in between, but the question of how all that diversity evolved has remained a vexing one for scientists.
To help answer it, Harvard researchers are turning to one of the most unusual mammals around—echidnas. These sprawling, egg-laying mammals have many anatomical features in common with earlier mammal ancestors, and so can help bridge the gap between extinct and other modern-day mammals.
Using a highly-detailed musculoskeletal model of an echidna forelimb, Sophie Regnault, a Post-Doctoral Fellow and Stephanie Pierce, Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, were able to not only shed more light on how the little-studied echidna's forelimb works, but also open a window into understanding how extinct mammals might have used their forelimbs. The model is described in a November 14 paper published in Royal Society Open Science.
"Echidnas are not very well-studied, and little is known about their biomechanics." Regnault says. "There are few related species, and echidnas themselves can be difficult to study because they have very large spines hiding underlying movements. We made this virtual model using CT scans that allow us to look in closer detail at how the skeleton and muscles interact with one another."
The researchers discovered that the bony anatomy and muscles work together to optimize limb leverage and mobility for certain kinds of movements. In particular, the configuration of muscles support limb rotation important for the echidna's sprawling gait.
"This model gives us unique insight into not only the echidna but can also guide reconstructions of extinct mammals," Pierce says. "The similarities between the echidna forelimb skeleton and transitional animals can help us to understand the evolution of forelimb diversity in modern mammals."

Frogs breed young to beat virus

November 20, 2018, University of Exeter
Frogs from groups exposed to a deadly virus are breeding at younger ages, new research suggests.
Scientists studying European common frogs in the UK compared groups ("populations") exposed to ranavirus and those free from the disease.
While the youngest breeding frogs in disease-free populations are four years old, frogs in virus-exposed groups breed as young as two.
The reasons for this are not yet clear, but the team—led by researchers from the University of Exeter and the Zoological Society of London—warn that this decrease in breeding age means disease-exposed populations are at greater risk of local extinction sparked by environmental changes.
Frogs gather at breeding spots such as ponds and then disperse, but most return to the same ponds year after year.
"Our research shows that the ages of the frogs that return to breed varies between populations which are known to have ranavirus and those which don't," said Dr. Lewis Campbell, who conducted the research during his Ph.D. at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
"We found significantly fewer old frogs and significantly more young frogs at populations which have ranavirus.
"It's possible that the more times an older frog returns to the same infected breeding pond, the more likely they are to become diseased and die.

Encourage reptiles and amphibians to take up residence, Berks environmental consultants urge - via Herp Digest

Courtesy of Quillyn Bickley | Mike Torocco photographs an Eastern Kingsnake.

The message from Quillyn Bickley and Mike Torocco is clear: amphibians and reptiles should not be discouraged from taking up residence in our yards and gardens.

In fact, the environmental consultants urged, Pennsylvanians should do more to encourage snakes, toads, frogs, salamanders, turtles and other reptiles and amphibians onto their properties.

Bickley and Torocco of Spring Township are herpetologists, zoologists who study reptiles and amphibians. They are employed by Herpetological Consultants Inc., an environmental consulting firm that serves clients throughout the United States and abroad.
Courtesy of Mike Torocco | Quillyn Bickley holds a box turtle she found in a wooded area.
Courtesy of Quillyn Bickley | Mike Torocco handles a snapping turtle.

The New Jersey-based firm specializes in planning for wildlife conservation and protecting the environments of endangered and threatened plants and animals.

Bickley and Torocco recently presented a program on “Amphibians and Reptiles of Pennsylvania” during a gathering at the Reading Public Museum.

Pennsylvania is home to a great variety of common and rare amphibians and reptiles, collectively known as herps.

A number of them, including the bog turtle, redbelly turtle, southern leopard frog, New Jersey chorus frog and rough green snake, are endangered or threatened.

Considering the population, industry and environmental factors present in the state, the number and variety of herps here is surprising, Torocco said.

“This area has been settled and his habitat beat up for a long time,” he said. “It's amazing that we have the diversity that we do.”

Manmade factors such as gas and oil exploration, pipeline construction and automobile traffic are disruptive to amphibians and reptiles, as are natural predators such as raccoons, which dig up nests in order to get the eggs they contain.

“Raccoons are very good at finding nests,” Torocco said.

Eastern Pennsylvania is home to 22 varieties of salamanders, 16 kinds of turtles, 4 varieties of lizards and 21 types of snakes. Of the snakes, three types are poisonous.

“We have both rare species and then a great variety of common species,” Torocco said.

While many people are afraid of snakes, lizards and other amphibians and reptiles, they play an important role in the environmental landscape, Bickley explained.

Lizards, snakes, frogs and toads eat a variety of pests, including slugs, snails, roaches and rodents. Having herps on your property increases the diversity of animal life, which is an indicator of a healthy environment.

To that end, Bickley advised, try to be intentional when thinking about your yard and garden, and work to provide food, water, breeding habitat and places for reptiles and amphibians to survive over the winter.

Brush piles, wood piles, logs, rocks and ponds will all encourage herps to take up residence.

“Consider your surroundings, and then consider what you're willing to take on,” Bickley said. “Something as simple as a toad house can encourage herps on your property.”

Layered, flat rocks will encourage snakes, who love to bask in sunlight. Fallen logs in a moist, shady are will attract salamanders, and ponds are home to different varieties of turtles and frogs.

“If you build it, they will come,” Bickley said.

A variety of plants, shrubs and flowers also is important.

Learning to live with and appreciate reptiles and amphibians may require a change in mindset, Bickley said, but all living things are important in maintaining a healthy environment.

She warned that herps should not be relocated, but allowed to move from place to place on their own. Never release non-native species of amphibians or reptiles, and watch for hitchhikers when purchasing plants or other items.

“It's really important, ecologically, to leave what's wild in the wild, and where it belongs,” Bickley said.

About Quillyn Bickley and Mike Torocco

 Quillyn Bickley and Mike Torocco are herpetologists, or zoologists who specialize in the study of amphibians and reptiles.

 They are employed as regional managers of the Pennsylvania Field Office by Herpetological Consultants Inc., a New Jersey-based consulting firm with offices in New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania.

 Bickley and Torocco conduct environmental surveys for clients to determine the presence or absence of amphibians and reptiles on a property and other factors that may affect housing, utility or other construction projects.

Courtesy of Steve Edmonds | Quillyn Bickley and Mike Torocco exhibit a hellbender salamander found in a creek.
Courtesy of Quillyn Bickley | Mike Torocco and Quillyn Bickley use radio tracking to locate amphibians and reptiles
Winter habitat management will help Blanding’s Turtles in spring
by David Brooks /Nov 16, 2018/Granite Geek/Concord Monitor 

Winter habitat management will help Blanding’s Turtles in spring
by David Brooks | Nov 16, 2018
Blandings Turtle

From NH Fish and Game: Late summer and early fall is the time when eggs laid by New Hampshire turtles in the spring begin to hatch and future generations emerge from their upland nest chambers. With luck and excellent camouflage, these tiny hatchlings will make it to the safety of a pond, stream, or wetland. In an effort to move ahead with conservation actions while turtle populations overwinter, Fish and Game biologists have been working with local, state and federal partners, landowners, and land trusts to identify areas within high-priority turtle populations where nesting habitat can be created to decrease the likelihood of females crossing roads or entering residential developments.

“The location of a suitable nesting area is crucial for successful nesting and hatchling survival,” said New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Wildlife Biologist Josh Megyesy. “For some sites, creating nesting areas requires cutting trees to expose the ground to full sunlight and then bringing in sand, while others just need some vegetation cut back and soils scarified with heavy equipment.”

This kind of habitat management in sensitive turtle areas is done during the winter months when turtles are hibernating in the water and the ground is frozen. Some of this work has already been initiated in key areas in the Granite State, but more will continue this coming winter and beyond. The Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program has been monitoring populations of several rare species of turtles throughout New Hampshire, including state-endangered Blanding’s turtles. Through mark-recapture methods and the use of radio telemetry to track individual turtles, biologists have been able to better understand how these turtles use their diverse wetland and upland habitats.

“For two years we followed this one particular female Blanding’s turtle,” explained Megyesy. “The first year we tracked her from wetland to wetland, and eventually after crossing a road she then nested in a residential environment. The second year it was amazing to watch her follow almost the exact path she had taken the previous year, and nest again on the same property. It became clear that good nesting habitat was lacking within the core of their territory and something needed to be done.”

Other females from other populations followed a similar pattern, each time increasing the chances of road mortality. These turtles require sandy, well-drained areas with full sun for nesting and successful incubation. Female turtles dig a nest chamber, deposit eggs, cover the eggs with soil and then depart, leaving the embryos and future young turtles to fend for themselves.

“For rare turtle populations to persist in New Hampshire, it is essential that adult female survival rates are high and that new young individuals are added to the populations,” Megyesy continued. “Turtles have coped with various threats by being able to live for a very long time, with some local species of turtles possibly exceeding 70 years! But low survival of young isn’t the only reason why turtles must live a long time − female turtles of some species may not be capable of reproducing until they are at least 15 years old.”

Many of the monitoring and conservation actions for rare turtles in New Hampshire are made possible by federal programs, such as State Wildlife Grants administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service New England Field Office, along with matching state funding from the NH Conservation License Plate funds and individual donations to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. Biologists are also working with the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect turtles and their habitats occurring on private working lands in the state.

To learn more about the Department’s involvement in the regional Blanding’s turtle conservation efforts, visit Learn more about New Hampshire’s turtles at and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, supported by federal and state grants and individual donations, at

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