Friday 30 August 2019

Global heating brings Mediterranean butterfly to the UK

Long-tailed blues and eggs seen in large numbers but are unlikely to survive the winter

Patrick Barkham

Wed 28 Aug 2019 17.31 BSTLast modified on Wed 28 Aug 2019 17.52 BST
A fast-flying migratory butterfly from the Mediterranean is appearing in large numbers across southern England this summer as a result of global heating, experts say.

More than 50 long-tailed blues and hundreds of the butterfly’s eggs have been discovered in recent weeks, which is likely to result in an unprecedented emergence of the butterfly in Britain later this autumn.

Experts believe record-breaking summer temperatures have led to the brightly coloured insect booming in number, with longer-term global heating helping it shift far north of its historical range.

“We’ve never recorded this many migrant adults before – it’s completely unprecedented,” said Neil Hulme of Butterfly Conservation, an expert on the long-tailed blue. “In only a few days, I’ve found more than 100 eggs in Sussex alone and the butterfly has been seen in Cornwall, Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Kent and Suffolk. We’ve even had a sighting in Glamorgan, in south Wales.”

The long-tailed blue is abundant in Africa and southern Europe but was once an extremely rare visitor to Britain – possibly brought in accidentally on imported plants and vegetables. Only 30 butterflies were recorded over 80 years after it was first spotted in Britain in 1859.

But this is the third time in six years that large numbers have crossed the Channel to reach the south coast, with a record 109 sightings in 2013.

The long-tailed blue may be small but it is a powerful flyer and lays eggs on plants such as everlasting pea, which are common in gardens and allotments. The eggs laid by migratory butterflies will hatch adult butterflies at the end of September or in October, but British winters are too cold for the butterfly to survive.

Read on

Animal testing: Turkish beekeeper finds thieving bears prefer premium honey

Ibrahim Sedef discovers to his cost that they don’t just settle for the bear necessities

Thu 29 Aug 2019 06.54 BSTLast modified on Thu 29 Aug 2019 21.05 BST

A beekeeper in Turkey who was harassed by a particularly persistent group of bears has discovered a profound truth: the animals have very expensive tastes when it comes to honey.

Ibrahim Sedef, an engineer from Trabzon, north-east of Ankara on the Turkey’s Black Sea coast, struggled to keep his bee hives out of the hands of local bears, despite building storage houses and metal cages.

Over three years he estimates he may have lost more than $10,000 worth of honey.

Food decoys, including apples, failed to divert the intruders.

So he decided to set up recording equipment to track the bears and inadvertently embarked on animal testing of a different kind.

Sedef set up four bowls; three contained different types of honey – flower, chestnut and Anzer – and one had cherry jam. He wanted to see which one the bears preferred.

Department of Biological Sciences helps target invasive species (The Tegu Lizard now in Georgia digging up Gopher Tortoise Eggs) - via Herp Digest

The George-Anne-Georgia Southern University 

by Nathan Woodruff , Aug 26, 2019
Statesboro, GA — Faculty and students at the Georgia Southern University Department of Biological Sciences are helping state and federal agencies target the Tegu lizard, an invasive species in Tattnall and Toombs county. 

An invasive species is one that is not native to a specific location and that has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy or human health. 

Lance McBrayer, Ph.D., professor of General Biology and Herpetology, graduate student Jada Daniels and undergraduates Michael Brennen and Noah Osterhoudt are involved on the project. 

The Tegu lizard has been deemed a threat because they are especially good at hunting and finding eggs, specifically that of the gopher tortoise, which is listed as a vulnerable threatened species, as well as small animals. 

"We are worried about losing our already threatened species and they will go and hunt other small animals as well that we should be concerned about,” Brennen said.

The GS team is using several approaches, including posting flyers on ATV trails, social media outreach, with over 70,000 people reached. The second thing they are doing is using chicken eggs to bait the lizards and use a camera to spot the lizards.

“We’ll bait a trap and leave it closed, so we don’t catch anything but then have a game camera on that trap so if something comes by and smells it or trips the sensor then we realize they are there,” McBrayer said. “We are going to increase our efforts in that kind of trapping.”

The sightings cover about 150 square miles which are confirmed through sightings on the game cameras. Eyewitness reports have also helped pinpoint the lizards’s exact location. Sightings of the Tegu lizard can be reported at the Georgia Invasives website.

The idea among area officials is that this problem was caused by pet releases and perhaps relocations.

“Most of them this far north are pet releases,” McBrayer said. “Someone was probably raising them in outdoor pens, that was the rumor we have, and then they let them all go.”

Reduction or eradication of the Tegu population in Georgia before more damage is done is the ultimate goal of the program.

The lizard is native to Argentina and Brazil, and it has found a home in Georgia because it is on a similar latitude in the Northern Hemisphere that the lizard’s habitat would be in in the Southern Hemisphere.

Saving the ‘Horny Toads’: A year long study at the OKC Zoo is raising them- Oklahoma researchers hoping to save the horny toads - via Herp Digest

AUGUST 26, 2019, BY Galen Culver, Oklahoma News 4
Go to for video

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Sam Eliades has been checking this incubator for weeks. Within the past few days, he's found success.

"We have one head sticking out, and one other that looks like it could hatch any second," says researcher Sam Eliades.

Eliades has baby Texas Horned Lizards looking back at him.

"We have 26 lizards out already and 10 more to go."
He and several other herpetologists at the Oklahoma City Zoo collected 36 eggs from clutches at a prairie preserve on Tinker Air Force Base property.

All of this is part of a year-long study commissioned by the National Science Foundation.

"There's a lot we're trying to learn, specifically about horned lizard growth rates," he said.

If all eggs hatch successfully, Eliades will raise them for a year, through their first hibernation.

He'll monitor their progress, even monitoring their gut bacteria for good and bad germs.

"What good and bad bacteria may be entering the lizards in our care and what good and bad bacteria might be in horned lizards out in the wild," Eliades explains.

The last clutch of eggs hasn't peeked out yet but the hatchlings are healthy and active.

Eliades makes sure they can drink a little water off the sides of their containers.

"It also helps keep the humidity up," he says. "It does tend to be a little dry in this room.”

He even feeds them a few fruit flies to see if they'll bite.

"Well they're looking," he observes.

Grown-up 'horny toads' eat mostly harvester ants, plus some termites and grasshoppers.
But little is known about these creatures when they're small.

"Are you getting attached to these little guys?" asks a lab visitor.

"Yes, absolutely," answers Eliades. "It's really cool to actually have lizards out to work with.”

In a year, Eliades' lizards will go back to the Tinker refuge where their eggs were gathered, bolstering an Oklahoma population that desperately needs the numbers, and adding to the knowledge of how to keep these little guys with us.

The Oklahoma City Zoo's Lizard Lab isn't accessible to regular visitors but the public can help through the Roundup for Conservation program there.

Thursday 29 August 2019

Lizards Prefer to Poop on the Largest Rock They Can Find-Conspicuous toilet spots may help Dalmatian wall lizards communicate. - via Herp Digest

Simon Baeckens knows when he's in a good spot for catching lizards. It's when he sees the largest, most prominent rocks are crowned in poop.

"It's not like I'm a poop researcher or anything," he clarified. Baeckens, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, studies the pheromones and physical traits of lizards in the family Lacertidae, also known as wall lizards, which are native to Europe, Africa and Asia. But after years of collecting lizards from the wild, it was clear to him that his research subjects did not choose their toilets randomly.

Previous studies have indicated that wall lizards use their feces to communicate. Males will avoid areas where another male has defecated, suggesting that lizard droppings may function as a "keep out" sign. Wall lizards can also glean information from the scent of other lizards' feces.

Baeckens suspected that lizards might be deliberately leaving their "signals" in places where other lizards could easily see and smell them. But it's also possible that lizards like big rocks for other reasons, and their waste placement is a side effect of where they spend their time. For example, big rocks might provide the warmest sunning spots or the best view to watch for predators.

To partially control for such factors, Baeckens and his colleagues collected 90 Dalmatian wall lizards from Croatia and housed them alone in identical enclosures. Each enclosure contained a small rock, a medium rock, and a large rock, all of which were the same temperature.

Eighty percent of the lizards defecated primarily on the biggest rock, the researchers reported in the journal Behavioural Processes. "There's almost no feces on the smallest or the medium-sized rock," said Baeckens. The findings held true for males and females and for lizards from three separate populations. It's not yet possible to be sure of the lizards' motivations, said Baeckens. Still, the study lends weight to the idea that large rocks serve as poop display sites.

Northern white rhino eggs successfully fertilized

Date: August 26, 2019
Source: Forschungsverbund Berlin

After successfully harvesting 10 eggs from the world's last two northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu, on August 22nd in Kenya, the international consortium of scientists and conservationists announces that 7 out of the 10 eggs (4 from Fatu and 3 from Najin) were successfully matured and artificially inseminated. This was achieved through ICSI (Intra Cytoplasm Sperm Injection) with frozen sperm from two different northern white rhino bulls, Suni and Saut, on Sunday, August 25th. This is the next critical step in hopefully creating viable embryos that can be frozen and then later on transferred to southern white rhino surrogate mothers.

Beaver reintroduction key to solving freshwater biodiversity crisis

Date: August 26, 2019
Source: University of Stirling

Reintroducing beavers to their native habitat is an important step towards solving the freshwater biodiversity crisis, according to experts at the University of Stirling.

New research from the Faculty of Natural Sciences has provided further support to previous work that has shown beavers have an important impact on the variety of plant and animal life.

The latest study, led by Dr Alan Law and Professor Nigel Willby, found that the number of species only found in beaver-built ponds was 50 percent higher than other wetlands in the same region.

Dr Law, Lecturer in Biological and Environmental Sciences, said: "Beavers make ponds that, at first glance, are not much different from any other pond. However, we found that the biodiversity -- predominantly water plants and beetles -- in beaver ponds was greater than and surprisingly different from that found in other wetlands in the same region.

"Our results also emphasise the importance of natural disturbance by big herbivores -- in this case, tree felling, grazing and digging of canals by beavers -- in creating habitat for species which otherwise tend to be lost.

"Reintroducing beavers where they were once native should benefit wider biodiversity and should be seen as an important and bold step towards solving the freshwater biodiversity crisis."

Beavers are one of the only animals that can profoundly engineer the environment that they live in -- using sticks to build dams across small rivers, behind which ponds form. Beavers do this to raise water levels to avoid predators, such as wolves and bears: however, numerous other plants and animals also benefit from their work.

Isotopes in feces show where secretive jaguars hunt

Date: August 28, 2019
Source: University of Cincinnati

How do you follow a predator so elusive that its nickname is "shadow cat"?

To track secretive jaguars in the forested mountains of Belize, the University of Cincinnati turned to geology and poop.

Brooke Crowley, a UC associate professor of geology and anthropology, can trace the wanderings of animals using isotopes of strontium found in their bones or the bones of animals they have eaten. This method works even with long-dead animals such as ancient mammoths.

Now she and her research partners are applying the technique to jaguar poop, or scat, found in the geologically diverse Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in Belize.

Claudia Wultsch, a wildlife biologist from the American Museum of Natural History and City University of New York, and Marcella J. Kelly, a professor of wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech, co-authored the study. Both have studied jaguars in Belize for more than a decade.

The research found that jaguar scat provides isotopic signatures similar to those found in the undigested bones of prey to track the big cat's movements across its varied landscape. Researchers examined strontium, carbon and nitrogen isotopes to identify the habitat and geology of prey upon which the jaguars were feeding.

The isotopes get absorbed in the food chain starting with plants that draw in minerals. Strontium then gets absorbed into the tissues and bones of herbivores that eat the plants and finally those of the predators that hunt them.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Migrating mule deer don't need directions, study finds

Date: August 23, 2019
Source: University of Wyoming

How do big-game animals know where to migrate across hundreds of miles of vast Wyoming landscapes year after year?

Among scientists, there are two camps of thought. First is that animals use local cues within their vicinity to determine where to migrate. Animals might move up to areas with greener forage -- often termed green-wave surfing -- or move down from mountains with deeper snow. The second idea is that animals develop memory of the landscape where they live and then use that information to guide their movements.

Recent research from the University of Wyoming has found that memory explains much of deer behavior during migration: Mule deer navigate in spring and fall mostly by using their knowledge of past migration routes and seasonal ranges.

The study found that the location of past years' migratory route and summer range had 2-28 times more influence on a deer's choice of a migration path than environmental factors such as tracking spring green-up, autumn snow depth or topography.

"These animals appear to have a cognitive map of their migration routes and seasonal ranges, which helps them navigate tens to hundreds of miles between seasonal ranges," says the lead author of the paper, Jerod Merkle, assistant professor and Knobloch Professor in Migration Ecology and Conservation in the Department of Zoology and Physiology at UW.

Prehistoric puma feces reveals oldest parasite DNA ever recorded

The oldest parasite DNA ever recorded has been found in the ancient, desiccated feces of a puma

Date: August 27, 2019
Source: Cambridge University Press

A team of Argentinian scientists from the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) made the discovery after studying a coprolite taken from a rock-shelter in the country's mountainous Catamarca Province, where the remains of now extinct megafauna have previously been recovered in stratigraphic excavations.

Radiocarbon dating revealed that the coprolite and thus the parasitic roundworm eggs preserved inside dated back to between 16,570 and 17,000 years ago, towards the end of the last Ice Age.

At that time, the area around the shelter at Peñas de las Trampas in the southern Andean Puna was thought to have been wetter than today, making it a suitable habitat for megafauna like giant ground sloths, and also smaller herbivores like American horses and South American camelids which the pumas may have preyed on.

Ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis was used to confirm the coprolite came from a Puma (Puma concolor) and that the eggs belonged to Toxascaris leonina, a species of roundworm still commonly found in the digestive systems of modern day cats, dogs and foxes.

The study, published in the journal Parasitology, explains that the extremely dry, cold and salty conditions which took hold at the Peñas de las Trampas site since the onset of the Holocene would have helped to reduce the breakdown of the DNA, allowing it to be preserved.

Wild ground-nesting bees might be exposed to lethal levels of neonics in soil

Date: August 26, 2019
Source: University of Guelph

In a first-ever study investigating the risk of neonicotinoid insecticides to ground-nesting bees, University of Guelph researchers have discovered at least one species is being exposed to lethal levels of the chemicals in the soil.

Examining the presence of these commonly used pesticides in soil is important given the majority of bee species in Canada make their nests in the ground.

This study focused on hoary squash bees, which feed almost exclusively on the nectar and pollen of squash, pumpkin and gourd flowers.

Researchers found that the likelihood that squash bees are being chronically exposed to lethal doses of a key neonicotinoid, clothianidin, in soil was 36 per cent or higher in squash fields.

That means 36 per cent of the population is probably encountering lethal doses, which is well above the acceptable threshold of 5 per cent, in which 95 per cent of the bees would survive exposure.

"These findings are applicable to many other wild bee species in Canada that nest on or near farms," said U of G School of Environmental Sciences professor, Nigel Raine, who holds the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation and worked on the study with PhD student and lead author Susan Chan.

What's killing sea otters? Parasite strain from cats

Genetic link found between deadly pathogen and wild and feral cats on land

Date: August 22, 2019
Source: University of California - Davis

Many wild southern sea otters in California are infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, yet the infection is fatal for only a fraction of sea otters, which has long puzzled the scientific community. A new study identifies the parasite's specific strains that are killing southern sea otters, tracing them back to a bobcat and feral domestic cats from nearby watersheds.

The study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, marks the first time a genetic link has been clearly established between the Toxoplasma strains in felid hosts and parasites causing fatal disease in marine wildlife.

The study builds on years of work by a consortium of researchers led by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The scientists were called upon in the late 1990s to help decipher the mystery when Toxoplasma caused deaths in sea otters along the California coast.

Monday 26 August 2019

Giraffes given greater protection from unregulated trade as numbers fall

22nd August 2019

Giraffe conservation has taken a big step forward with the world's tallest mammals receiving enhanced protection from unregulated trade.

The move will regulate the trade in giraffes and their body parts under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

The vote was overwhelmingly approved, although some countries opposed it.

Giraffe numbers in Africa have fallen by 40% in the past 30 years, in what is being called a "silent extinction".

The mammals are largely targeted for bushmeat but body parts are also used to make products including jewellery, bracelets and purses, the proposal stated.

The motion came from the Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Senegal, where giraffe populations have been diminishing heavily.

But there was resistance from southern African countries, including South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania, where giraffes have fared better.

They argued that there was scant evidence to suggest international trade was contributing to the decline of the giraffe.

Despite the opposition, 106 parties voted in favour of the motion, 21 voted against, with seven abstentions.

Sharks and rays to be given new international protections

25 August 2019

Countries have agreed to strengthen protections for 18 threatened species of sharks and rays, including those hunted for their meat and fins.

The proposal was passed at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) on Sunday.

The newly protected species include mako sharks, wedgefishes and guitarfishes.

A demand for shark fin soup is one of the driving factors in the depleting numbers of sharks in the ocean.

The proposal, which was tabled by Mexico and requires ratification this week, means that the species can no longer be traded unless it can be proven that their fishing will not impact the possibility of their survival.

The number of sharks killed each year in commercial fisheries is estimated at 100 million, with a range between 63 million and 273 million, according to The Pew Trust.

Makos, the fastest shark species, have almost disappeared completely from the Mediterranean and numbers are diminishing rapidly in the Atlantic, Northern Pacific and Indian oceans.

Although 102 countries voted in favour of the move, 40 - including China, Iceland, Japan, Malaysia and New Zealand - opposed it.

Some argued that there was not enough evidence to show that mako sharks were disappearing as a result of fishing.

An array of New snakes from India have been described - via Herp Digest

By Josh Davis, Natural History Museum at South Kensington, U.K Science News First published  8/16/2019

India has an impressive diversity of reptiles, with over 600 species recorded to date. But snakes and lizards remain poorly studied there, and new species are continually being described. 

Deepak Veerappan, Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Museum, specialises in south Asian reptiles. He has recently been involved in a host of papers describing three new species, a new genus and a new subfamily of snakes from across India.

Deepak has helped to describe the first new species of pit viper from India in 70 years, found in the northeastern province of Arunachal Pradesh, which borders Bhutan and Tibet.

Deepak was drafted in thanks to his specialised skillset. 'My colleagues needed help with a couple of things,' he says. 'One of these was inverting the hemipenis from a preserved specimen. This is a difficult task, and I have become quite good at it.’

Most male lizards and snakes possess what is known as a hemipenis. This is the organ roughly analogous to the penis in mammals, except it is formed of two branches and works in a slightly different way.

'Relatively speaking, the study of hemipenis morphology is only very recent,' explains Deepak. 'Studies began in the 1960s when people actually started to understand what it was. But later in that decade, it was realised that there are some groups of reptiles in which the characteristics of the hemipenis are important.

'When people started looking in more detail, it turned out that in some cases you can even use the hemipenis to identify individual species.’

Trimeresurus arunachalensis is the first new species of pit viper from India to have been described in 70 years. 

For different species of pit vipers, the shape and structure of the hemipenis is highly distinctive. To get a good look at it, the organ has to be inverted from the snake. While this is fairly straightforward in recently dead snakes, in preserved specimens it gets a bit trickier. This is where Deepak's skills came in. 

When compared to its closest relative - the new species' hemipenis was distinctive in that it was unforked and remarkably smooth.

T. arunachalensis lives on the ground and not in trees, and looks unlike any other pit viper in the region. These factors combined suggested that this animal was new to science. 

The species is only known from a single specimen, so DNA sequencing was needed to confirm the finding. 

Deepak and his colleagues have also named a new species of slender snake from the Eastern Ghats.
'We have also described a new species of vine snake from eastern and central India,' says Deepak. 'My colleague in India found the first specimen around nine years ago, but since then he has surveyed a lot in the same area and has found only three more individuals.’

The species belongs to a group that is fairly well known, making the discovery even more surprising.

Despite only having a few specimens to go on, to the researchers saw it was clear that it is a new species, now named Ahaetulla laudankia. It has distinctive colouration, pattern of scales and DNA analysis. The snake is a rich chestnut brown on its belly, and it has black speckles running all over its body. 

Found in the Eastern Ghats, Ahaetulla laudankia is distinguished by its distinct colouration.

It is also unlikely to be the only new species of vine snake. 'There are definitely more new species hidden within this group of snakes,' Deepak says. 'But it is difficult for many people to come to collections such as the Museum and check.

'So in the study we've published all the raw data, hoping that people from different parts of Asia can then look at it all and help uncover these other species.'

A group of burrowing snakes from south western India have long been an oddity. Belonging to the genus Xylophis, the three species of snake burrow through the soil and leaf litter in search of worms and other small creatures.

Limited to the Western Ghats, a region renowned for its biodiversity, the burrowing snakes are unlike others in the area.   

Deepak says, 'They looked similar to some of the natricine snakes, a group that includes many more common species like the European grass snake. But some people had speculated it to be something else.’

By sampling the DNA of two of the Xylophis species, the team were able to finally place these unusual reptiles on the evolutionary tree, though the results were not what they expected.
'Nobody in their wildest dreams thought that this burrowing species found only in the Western Ghats would be related to tree-climbing specialist feeders in southeast Asia,' says Deepak.

Despite living underground, the closest living relatives of Xylophis live up in the trees. 

It turned out that their closest living relatives were another group of strange snakes known as the snail-eaters. As their name suggests, these animals climb trees to feed primarily on snails, and their skulls having become astonishingly specialised in the process.
'This particular group has become so specialised to scoop out snail flesh that their head shape is unlike anything else, their heads are modified in a really dramatic way,' says Deepak.
This makes it all the more surprising that the ground-dwelling burrowing snakes are their closest relatives of Xylophis.

'We estimated that the split between the groups occurred around 40-50 million years ago, which makes sense as this is about the time that most of the animal and plant exchange happened between southeast Asia and peninsula India,' Deepak continued.

This divergence was great enough to warrant Xylophis becoming its own new subfamily.

The Western Ghats is also home to a group of natricine snakes known as Rhabdops. These semi-aquatic snakes are found in small forest streams, feeding on frogs and other reptiles. But included in this group is another species, Rhabdops bicolor, living far away in northeastern India.

The new genus was named Smithophis in honour of Malcolm Arthur Smith.

'This is quite interesting, because biogeographically they are found in two different areas, and yet are species of the same genus,' explains Deepak. 'So the obvious question is how are the Western Ghats snakes related to the one found in the northeast?’

Museum collections combined with new samples revealed that the two separate populations are actually two separate genera, with those in the northeast now belonging to the new genus Smithophis, named in honour of Malcolm Arthur Smith, who published three influential volumes on reptiles and amphibians of the Indian subcontinent.

Additionally, this new genus is not made up of a single species but two. The new snake species has been named Smithophis atemporalis.

The work being carried out by Deepak and his colleagues in India goes some way to highlighting just how much there is still to discover in the forests of Asia, and the importance of historic Museum collections that can be used as vital references.

Malta’s only amphibian has its Rabat home, a one-kilometre water channel, restored - via Herp Digest

Government agency Ambjent Malta planning to restore Wied Liemu valley channel to its original state after Painted frog populations suggested decline due to destruction of habitat

August 16, 2019, by James Debonno, MaltaToday
Urbanisation threats to an indigneous frog population has forced the environment agency Ambjent Malta to carry out rehabilitation works by hand at the Wied Liemu water channel in Rabat.

The painted frog is Malta’s only amphibian but the species has shown a worrying decline with the biggest threat coming from the destruction of its habitat.

Government agency Ambjent Malta is now planning to restore the one-kilometre-long Wied Liemu to its original state through the manual removal of silt, the repair of channel walls and the construction of arches using local globigerina limestone.

Wied Liemu is an upstream tributary that flows into the Wied il-Fiddien and Wied il-Qlejjgħa valleys

Due to lack of maintenance, the channel is silted up leading to localised flooding that results into exacerbated soil loss from the adjacent agricultural land.

Most parts of the channel walls are damaged and some sections of the walls have practically disappeared.

The channel is inhabited by ruderal plants and numerous specimen of the painted frog (Discoglossus pictus).

The presence of these frogs means that works have to be carried out in a meticulous manner to limit any impact on the amphibians.
(They didn’t ID this frog, but since it so different from the painted frog shown above I have to assume it is the Levant water frog, an invasive species threatening the painted frog.)
The biggest threat for the frog in Malta comes from the destruction of its habitat

The removal of material will be carried out manually and using handheld tools to lessen the impact on the fauna and limit damage to the existing structures.

Ambjent Malta will also ensure that interventions will be carried out during the summer period, when the channel dries out and the frogs retreat into damper places away from the exposed parts.

The rehabilitation of this valley will also include the replacement of various concrete bridges with arched limestone ones.

The painted frog inhabits several Mediterranean countries but the species found locally is only present in Malta and Sicily. This species is, however, showing a worrying decline.

The biggest threat for the frog in Malta comes from the destruction of its habitat.

The highest numbers of frogs occur at Chadwick Lakes.

Chadwick Lakes also provides the highest number of adjacent suitable habitats and a higher possibility for migration of the species to other locations.

The frog population at Tal-Wej in Mosta is the most vulnerable since the area and its catchment is almost totally surrounded by urbanisation, eliminating any possibility for the species to migrate to adjacent areas.

Lower precipitation is considered as a major threat to the species. Another probable threat is the use of pesticides that poison the creature and its food. The painted frog is also facing the threat of alien amphibian species that could push it out of its habitat.

This has happened in some sites in Gozo where an alien species, the Levant water frog, was introduced some years ago.

Sunday 25 August 2019

No sex please, we're British (stick insects)

Phasmids hailing from New Zealand become asexual after arriving in the UK

Mon 19 Aug 2019 06.52 BST Last modified on Mon 19 Aug 2019 20.50 BST

A New Zealand stick insect that migrated to the UK more than seven decades ago has given up having sex and become asexual, prompting biologists to wonder about the use of sex at all – especially in Britain.

The Clitarchus hookeri is native to New Zealand but migrated to the UK some time between 1910 and 1935, catching a ride on shiploads of New Zealand plants that were transported to the subtropical Tresco Abbey Garden on the Scilly Isles islands off the coast of Cornwall.

Biologists from Massey University in New Zealand’s North Island have discovered that some time in the last 100 years the Scilly isles population of Clitarchus hookeri gave up having sex and start to reproduce asexually. The local population of Scilly Isles stick insects is now entirely female.

UK ‘is failing to protect wildlife habitats’, new EU report shows

Government has pledged to improve environment record, but European report shows no progress defending designated habitats

Toby Helm political editor

Sun 25 Aug 2019 08.00 BSTLast modified on Sun 25 Aug 2019 08.02 BST

The UK is failing to meet its international obligations to protect its most important wildlife sites and vulnerable species, and now lags behind most other EU countries on key criteria, according to figures posted online by the European Environment Agency.

With the environment high on the agenda at the G7 summit in Biarritz this weekend, the data will be an embarrassment to ministers who have repeatedly pledged to protect the environment – despite imposing savage cuts on England’s statutory nature conservation agency, Natural England.

Under the EU’s habitats and birds directive, member states commit to improve the physical protection of individual specimens and the conservation of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species. The EU also sets rules regarding animal welfare and works with the international community to fight illegal wildlife trade.

Member states have to report every six years on progress. But the draft figures for the UK for 2013-2018 show it faring worse than many other member states and making no progress on key measures.

During the period, the draft data show 82% of the UK’s designated habitats to be in “bad” or “poor” condition, unchanged from the last reporting period of 2007-12. The percentage in a “bad” state was 71%, compared with 36% in Germany and 32% in France.

Lizards from cold climates may face rapid extinctions in next 60 years, study shows - via Herp Digest

Lizards that produce live young are significantly more likely to be driven to extinction through climate change than those that lay eggs, new research suggests.

The study, involving Nottingham Trent University and the University of Lincoln, suggests that live-bearing lizards face high risks of extinction within the next 60 years, driven predominantly by rising temperatures.
Researchers investigated how strategies for reproduction that live-bearing (viviparous) or egg-laying (oviparous) modern lizards evolved in the past can affect their chance to survive ongoing climate change caused by humans.

As part of the work, the team argue they have confirmed the emerging 'cul-de-sac' theory, which suggests that live-bearing reproduction evolved in lizards that colonized cold climates, such as high elevations and latitudes.

This adaptation, however, is dragging them to extinction.

The theory—developed by NTU's Dr. Daniel Pincheira-Donoso—suggests that following colonization of those harsh environments, mothers 'retained' the eggs in their bodies to act as incubators, and this provided embryos with stable conditions of temperature and oxygen.
It is thought that, over time, this egg retention evolved into birthing live young.

Reproducing live young is not very effective in hot environments, however, and once reptiles evolve in this way, they remain 'trapped' in cold areas.
As climate warming rapidly progresses towards higher elevations and latitudes, the 'suitable' cold climates where live birthing species live will be pushed towards mountain tops and continent edges until lizards run out of space and are eventually wiped out.

The study looked at three groups of highly-diverse lizards from South America: one which only has viviparous species, one with only oviparous species, and one which has evolved both forms of reproduction.

To investigate whether ongoing climate change will cause extinctions predicted by the theory, the researchers used computational modeling of current climate change, combined with real data on the conditions that lizards live under.

Their team, led by Dr. Pincheira-Donoso, found that live-bearing species will displace towards the mountain tops at significantly faster speeds than egg-laying species—displacing at a rate of 0.3% of the current geographical range per year.

While this means that viviparous lizards will face high extinction risks within just six decades, oviparous species will remain largely unaffected. Of all the climatic factors studied, temperature was the dominant factor responsible for these extinctions.

"Human-induced climate change has forced the modern world to face one of the most severe periods of global-scale extinctions of species since life began," said researcher Dr. Daniel Pincheira-Donoso, a bioscientist at Nottingham Trent University.

He said: "Our results highlight the extent of the extinction crisis that modern biodiversity is currently facing. By 2080, more than half of the current 'cold lands' in the area we investigated in South America will have become warm, leading current resident species to extinction.

"Extinction risks are known to increase as a result of rapid climatic alterations and environmentally sensitive species traits that fail to adapt to those changes.

"Viviparous lizards appear to have undergone a 'double-edged adaptation' – life births evolved because it was the critical adaptation that reptiles needed to colonize cold climates, but it will also accelerate their extinctions.

"This work provides us with an opportunity to identify specific areas that need more urgent protection—such as high mountain elevations where extinction risks will concentrate.

"This phenomenon would apply to other reptiles, such as snakes, anywhere in the world.”

Researcher Manuel Jara, who was at the University of Lincoln when the work was carried out, added: "Live-bearing lizards are predicted to follow their dramatically shrinking cool habitats, increasing their risk of extinction."

More information: Manuel Jara et al. Alternative reproductive adaptations predict asymmetric responses to climate change in lizards, Scientific Reports (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-41670-8
Journal information: Scientific Reports 

Snakebites Hit Record Highs in Southern States as Suburbs Expand Rapid urbanization and heavy rains lead to more copperhead attacks -via Herp Digest

By Valerie Bauerlein, 8/519, Wall Street Journal

RALEIGH, N.C.—Venomous snakebites are on the rise in the Sunbelt this summer, with North Carolina, Georgia and Texas on track to set records. 

In North Carolina and Georgia, venomous snakebites have been rising for the past several years and are up more than 10% from a year ago, according to the states’ poison-control centers. In Texas, there were 415 reported snakebites in May and June, 27% more than the same period five years ago.

Copperheads represent the vast majority of bites in the three states, and most are in fast-growing suburbs of cities like Raleigh, Atlanta and Dallas. Reasons for the increase include rapid urbanization, as new neighborhoods spring up in what was formerly forest or farmland, and last winter’s record-setting rainfall, which drives snake activity, poison-control workers said.

“There’s no question as we build out more, we’re definitely inhabiting the areas where snakes reside,” said Gaylord Lopez, the managing director of the Georgia Poison Center.

Snakebites take place nationwide, but North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Florida represent a disproportionate 39% of the reported bites, according to a 2016 study of pediatric snakebites led by a University of Louisville epidemiologist. 

Copperheads are the dominant snake in all those states except for Florida, where snakebite activity has been average so far this year, according to Florida’s Poison Control Centers. Florida’s dominant snakes include the eastern coral snake and the cottonmouth.

Copperheads thrive in suburban environments because they have relatively small roaming areas, a strong homing instinct and a willingness to eat “whatever’s available,” from rodents to cicadas, said Jeffrey Beane, herpetology collections manager at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Copperheads also camouflage themselves easily in underbrush or leaf piles with their tan scales and brown triangular markings, he said.

A copperhead recently bit David Weitz, a Raleigh optometrist, as he transplanted rosemary from a flat to a pot at his newly built home on the outskirts of the city. Dr. Weitz, who grew up in Virginia Beach, said he knew enough about snakes to wear gloves but had taken them off to handle the small plants. He said his hand swelled to twice its size, and he was hospitalized for two days while being treated with antivenom.When Dr. Weitz recovered, he said he snake-proofed his 2-acre yard by clearing out underbrush and removing dead logs. “When I walk around my yard, I have a stick with me,” he said. “I hit the ground with it so they scatter.”

Many people who grow up in the Southeast learn to recognize copperheads by their “Hershey Kiss” markings. But in North Carolina, nearly half of the adults were born somewhere else, according to the Census.

Michael Beuhler, an emergency-room toxicologist in Charlotte and the medical director of the Carolinas Poison Center said many of his snakebite patients moved from the Northeast and Midwest where snakes are less common.

“They don’t realize that snakes are part of the environment,” Dr. Beuhler said. “They’re part of the circle of life here.”

Wet winters tend to drive snake activity, according to Grant Lipman, an emergency-room doctor at Stanford University who conducted a 2018 study of 20 years of California snakebite data. He found that snakebites decreased after periods of drought and increased after periods of heavy rain.

This past winter was the wettest on record in the U.S., with 9.01 inches of precipitation, 2.22 more than the average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It is not completely clear why rain drives snake activity, Dr. Lipman said, but he theorizes that heavy rain causes flora and fauna to flourish, creating ready food sources for rodents who become food for snakes. Heavy rains can also drive snakes out of their habitats, according to Mr. Beane, the herpetologist.

To be sure, venomous snake bites are rare in the U.S. compared with other parts of the world. About 7,000 to 8,000 people in the U.S. are bitten each year and about five die, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most fatalities occur when a victim has an allergic reaction or is far from medical treatment when bitten, poison-control experts said.

It is difficult to get accurate data on the number of snake bites, which aren’t tracked by state or federal regulators. The state poison control centers, typically housed in medical centers, track snake encounters by incoming requests for help, particularly from medical professionals seeking help with antivenom dosing.

Mr. Beane and other herpetologists caution against identifying long-term trends from incomplete data sets collected over a relatively short period of time. He also said some people bitten by non-venomous snakes mistakenly report being bitten by copperheads.

To avoid being bitten, Mr. Beane said to clear away piles of leaves, wear shoes while outdoors and use a flashlight when out at night. He also said to leave snakes alone, because they typically won’t bother you unless you bother them.

Mr. Beane said he encourages the skittish to see the good in North Carolina’s abundant copperheads, from their “superb color and pattern” to their role in controlling the rodent and insect population.

“If not, I tell them to move to a place where they don’t occur, like a high-rise apartment,” he said.
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