Wednesday, October 29, 2014

7 Islands where Animals Rule

In some places in the world, a certain species of animal seem to rule over humans. From horses to cats and even rabbits, below are 7 places where it seems like there are more animals than humans.

Monkeys - Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico

Imagine the movie Planet of the apes instead the settling is in an island used as a research facility. There is an estimate of around 800 to 1,200 rhesus macaque that frolic around the area. 409 of these monkeys were actually sent in from India in the late 1930’s to make the research facility, and a couple decades and some generations later, the monkeys have ruled the island.

Cats - Tashirojima, Japan

Cat lovers with think this little island is paradise. The island of Tashirojima is a fishing village where cats are said to outnumber humans by 4 to 1. The felines that live here are pretty happy and well feed, thanks to locals and tourists who give them food for good luck. The island also has a number of cat shrines as well as unique cat-shaped and themed buildings.

Pigs- Big Major Cay Island, Bahamas

When you think of the Bahamas, you usually imagine white sand beaches, tropical drinks and just relaxing. However, you might see a couple dozen pigs that would swim along with you. Pigs are actually good swimmers. Local legends say that these pigs were left by sailors as food reserves, but they never came back for them. The pigs are now tourist attractions and are very warm to strangers.

Rabbits - Okunoshima Island, Japan

Japan has a thing about cute, furry little animals. Okunoshima Island once housed a facility that made poison gas back in WWII but now the place has completely changed with a tourism industry brought in by thousands of rabbits that freely hop around the place. The island also has a hotel, camping grounds, a small gold course and even a museum that remembers its dark past, but most of the tourists go there for the bunnies.

Horses - Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia

Assateague Island has one of the best beaches in America, but first time tourist there are often shocked to find over 300 feral horses that roam around the place freely. Locals say that these horses survived a big shipwreck that happened near the island some years ago. They’re mostly harmless, although they’ve been known to take food away from campers.

Snakes - Ilha da Queimada Grande, Brazil

If you’re scared of snakes, this island near Brazil is deffinetly not for you. Ilha da Queimada Grande, which is around 90 miles off 90 miles, is often called the world’s deadliest island. Deadly snakes are found all over the place, estimating 1 snake per 10sq-ft. Golden lanceheads, which are vipers with poison that are said to have the ability to melt human flesh breed here.

Deer - Itsukushima, Japan

The Shinto religion regards the dear as a sacred animal, which is why many of these animals just prance around so many towns near the rural areas. However, Itsukushima is known to have the most populated herd. The place is also known for its Torii gate and shrines.
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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Scientists describe newly discovered dinosaur as 'one of the weirdest', 'pretty goofy'

WASHINGTON –  Nearly 50 years ago, scientists found bones of two large, powerful dinosaur arms in Mongolia and figured they had discovered a fearsome critter with killer claws.

Now scientists have found the rest of the dinosaur and have new descriptions for it: goofy and weird.

The beast probably lumbered along on two legs like a cross between TV dinosaur Barney and Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars fame. It was 16 feet tall and 36 feet long, weighing seven tons, with a duckbill on its head and a hump-like sail on its back. Throw in those killer claws, tufts of feathers here and there, and no teeth -- and try not to snicker.

And if that's not enough, it ate like a giant vacuum cleaner.

That's Deinocheirus mirificus (DY'-noh'-KY-ruhs mur-IHF'-ee-kuhs), which means "terrible hands that look peculiar." It is newly reimagined after a full skeleton was found in Mongolia and described in a paper released Wednesday by the journal Nature.  Some 70 million years old, it's an ancestral relative of the modern ostrich and belongs to the dinosaur family often called ostrich dinosaurs.

"Deinocheirus turned out to be one the weirdest dinosaurs beyond our imagination," study lead author Yuong-Nam Lee, director of the Geological Museum in Daejeon, South Korea, said in an email.

When scientists in 1965 found the first forearm bones -- nearly 8 feet long -- many of them envisioned "a creature that would strike terror in people," said University of Maryland dinosaur expert Thomas Holtz Jr, who wasn't part of the study. "Now it's a creature that would strike bemusement, amazement."
This undated handout image provided by Michael Skrepnick, Dinosaurs in Art, Nature Publishing Group, shows a Deinocheirus. (AP Photo/Michael Skrepnick, Dinosaurs in Art, Nature Publishing Group)
And yes, he said, "it's pretty goofy."

The find is tremendous but is a cautionary tale about jumping to conclusions without enough evidence, said University of Chicago dinosaur expert Paul Sereno, who wasn't part of the discovery.

It also reminds us that evolution isn't always what we think, Sereno said.

"This is evolution in a dinosaur -- not a mammal -- world," Sereno said in email. "The starting point is a two-legged animal looking somewhat like a fuzzy-feathered ostrich. Now you want to get really big and suck up lots of soft vegetation. In the end you look like a goofy Michelin ostrich with fuzz and a tail -- not a cow."

Lee figures the tilted wide hips and massive feet show that Deinocheirus was a slow mover and probably grew so big to escape from being regularly feasted on by bigger dinosaurs.

It had a beak that could eat plants, but it also had a massive tongue that created suction for vacuuming up food from the bottoms of streams, lakes and ponds, Lee wrote.

Originally Lee's team couldn't find the dinosaur's skull, but a tip from another researcher led them to recover it from the private market in Germany.

Some kids will soon adopt this dinosaur as their favorite, Holtz said, "and those are kids with a sense of humor."

Source: Here
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River Monster: Face to face with a 20-foot, Monster Anaconda

When Jeremy Wade dives to murky depths hunting a slithery predator, he immediately realizes HE could instantly become the hunted. See him come face-to-face with a massive, terrifying anaconda.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Sea otter teeth more than twice as tough as ours

Sea otters, which often dine on clams, crabs, and other shelled creatures, have unusually chip-resistant teeth, a new study suggests.

Lab tests show that the enamel coating the teeth of sea otters (Enhydra lutris, shown) is up to two-and-a-half times tougher than human tooth enamel, thanks largely to the enamel’s microstructure. In all mammal enamel, the tiny crystals of calcium phosphate that give the tooth’s surface its hardness are separated by thin layers of protein-rich gel that help prevent cracks from propagating. In human enamel, there are about 14 of these crack-arresting layers per millimeter of tissue, but sea otter enamel has about 19 such layers per millimeter—an increase that substantially boosts the surface toughness of the teeth. Interestingly, the researchers report online today in Biology Letters, previous studies have found that the early hominin, or member of the human family, Paranthropus boisei—which lived in Africa between 1.2 million and 2.3 million years ago and has been nicknamed “Nutcracker Man” due to its large, thick-enameled molars—also had about 19 of these crack-arresting layers of protein gel per millimeter of enamel. That spacing suggests that P. boisei’s teeth may have been more chip-resistant than scientists have previously recognized, which may in turn revamp notions about the diet of these early humans.
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Flying Drone Captures Groundbreaking Killer Whale Video Footage in British Columbia

Researchers from Vancouver Aquarium and Canada's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Fisheries department have used flying drones to capture incredibly rare footage of killer whales in the first known use of this technology for whale marine conservation research.
Killer Whale
Marine biologists studying killer whales (also known as orca whales) usually have to use helicopters and fly over the water to take measurements of the width-to-length ratio of the whales in order to figure out which whales are sickly and malnourished, and which are healthy or even pregnant.
Unfortunately helicopters are very noisy and disruptive, as well as being very expensive, and the helicopters have to be operated at 250m above the water, so it is difficult to obtain high quality footage of the whales.

So the researchers decided to use a custom-built hexacopter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) mounted with a camera that they named "Mobly" to study how reliant endangered killer whales in southern Canada are on Chinook salmon.

There is concern that an increase in salmon fisheries may have affected orcas and the researchers wanted to see if the whales were getting thinner.

In August 2014, the researchers launched Mobly over the ocean, flying at a height of 30m over the ocean and the whales, while the researchers waited in a boat watching the live video feed.

"That first day was memorable not only for images of whales, but for the amount of high-fiving that took place. Mobly performed like a dream—steady, stable, and quiet," Dr Lance Barrett-Lennar, head of the Cetacean Research Program at Vancouver Aquarium wrote in a blog post.

"The images of the whales were stunning, and revealed right away that we weren't going to have difficulty distinguishing robust and thin whales.
"Most importantly, the whales didn't react to Mobly visibly; not only did they not appear disturbed, they didn't seem to notice him at all."

The researchers spent 13 days studying the killer whales and succeeded in taking high-quality images of both southern and northern killer whales visiting the area.

They captured really useful footage of the whales' social behaviour within family groups, how they chased fish, how young whales played together, and even how whales and dolphins swam side by side peacefully.

Barrett-Lennar said: "The bottom line is that the method worked wonderfully well. We are convinced now that Mobly - or one of his cousins - will be an invaluable part of our research program for years to come, as we focus on recovering resident killer whale populations by, among other things, ensuring they have enough to eat."

Source: Here
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Puppy-Sized Spider Surprises Scientist in Rainforest

Piotr Naskrecki- an Entomologist and photographer at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology caught a new Puppy-Sized Spider. This spider is also known as the South American Goliath bird-eater, having scientific name, “Theraphosa blondi”. The specimen was taken to the lab afterwards. It was also found that it’s a female. After further study, it has been deposited in a museum finally.
puppy-sized spider
Piotr Naskrecki/Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM
A Goliath bird-eater tarantula spider surprised scientist Piotr Naskrecki when he looked for insects in the Guyana rainforest.

According the Guinness World Record, “the colossal arachnid is the world’s largest spider”. Naskrecki reporting to Live Science stated that

“I was taking a night-time walk in a rainforest in Guyana, when I heard rustling as if something were creeping underfoot. When I turned on the light, I expected to see a small mammal, such as a possum or a rat but couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing. Later I realized that it is a puppy sized spider.”

Moreover, he reported that the its leg span can reach up to a foot, may be around 30 centimetres, or about the size of “a child’s forearm,” with a body the size of a large fist. On his blog, he wrote that the spider can weigh more than 6 oz. i.e. 170 grams. It is almost equal to the weight of a young puppy.
puppy-sized spider
Pete Oxford/Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM
The Goliath bird-eater can weigh up to 6 oz and have a leg span of almost a foot.

Sources also reported that the size of its leg is bigger than the bird eater but it’s more delicate than bird-eater. Naskrecki suggests that comparing the two would be “like comparing a giraffe to an elephant. Its feet have hardened tips and claws that produce a very distinct, clicking sound, not unlike that of a horse’s hooves hitting the ground”.

Moreover he also observed that the spider used to rub its hind legs against the abdomen. Soon he realized that spider was sending out a cloud of hairs with microscopic barbs on them. And when these hairs get in the eyes or other mucous membranes, they are “extremely painful and itchy and can stay there for days.
puppy-sized spider
The spider's venom is not poisonous to humans.
It has also been reported that the spider is not dangerous to human at all. Even if its bite, it can do no harm to human. The spider basically relies on frogs, insects and earth worms. If it find a nest, it punctures and drink bird’s eggs as well.

Moreover Naskrecki also said,

“Bird-eaters are not very common spiders. I’ve been working in the tropics in South America for many, many years, and in the last 10 to 15 years, I only ran across the spider three times”.

Source: Here
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chimpanzees have favourite ‘tool set’ for hunting staple food of army ants

New research shows that chimpanzees search for the right tools from a key plant species when preparing to ‘ant dip’ - a crafty technique enabling them to feast on army ants without getting bitten. The study shows that army ants are not a poor substitute for preferred foods, but a staple part of chimpanzee diets.
West African chimpanzees will search far and wide to find Alchornea hirtella, a spindly shrub whose straight shoots provide the ideal tools to hunt aggressive army ants in an ingenious fashion, new research shows.

The plant provides the animals with two different types of tool, a thicker shoot for ‘digging’ and a more slender tool for ‘dipping’.

On locating an army ant colony, chimpanzees will dig into the nest with the first tool - aggravating the insects. They then dip the second tool into the nest, causing the angry ants to swarm up it. Once the slender shoot is covered in ants, the chimpanzees pull it out and wipe their fingers along it: scooping up the ants until they have a substantial handful that goes straight into the mouth in one deft motion.  

This technique - ‘ant dipping’ - was previously believed to be a last resort for the hungry apes, only exploited when the animal’s preferred food of fruit couldn’t be found. But the latest study, based on over ten years of data, shows that, in fact, army ants are a staple in the chimpanzee diet - eaten all year round regardless of available sources of fruit. Ants may be an important source of essential nutrients not available in the typical diet, say researchers, as well as a potential source of protein and fats.

The new research, published today in the American Journal of Primatology, was led by Dr Kathelijne Koops from the University of Cambridge’s Division of Biological Anthropology and Junior Research Fellow of Homerton College.

“Ant dipping is a remarkable feat of problem-solving on the part of chimpanzees,”  said Koops. “If they tried to gather ants from the ground with their hands, they would end up horribly bitten with very little to show for it. But by using a tool set, preying on these social insects may prove as nutritionally lucrative as hunting a small mammal - a solid chunk of protein.”

Koops points out that if Alchornea hirtella is nowhere to be found, chimps will fashion tools from other plants - but seemingly only after an exhaustive search for their preferred tool provider.   

Previous research has shown that chimpanzees will actually select longer tools for faster, more aggressive types of army ants. The average ‘dipping’ tool length across the study was 64 centimetres, but dipping tools got up to 76 cm.

The question for Koops is one of animal culture: how do chimpanzees acquire knowledge of such sophisticated techniques?  
“Scientists have been working on ruling out simple environmental and genetic explanations for group differences in behaviours, such as tool use, and the evidence is pointing strongly towards it being cultural,” said Koops. “They probably learn tool use behaviours from their mother and others in the group when they are young.”

The research for the ant-dipping study - which took place in Guinea’s Nimba mountains - proved challenging, as the chimpanzees were not habituated to people - so the team acted almost as archaeologists, studying ‘exploited’ ants nests to measure abandoned tool sets and “sifting through faeces for ants heads”.
Source: Here
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Top 10 Biggest Cats on the Planet

Although you’d never usually see these cats lying around a couch at home or chasing a laser pointer around, these massive wild cats are natural predators that top the food chain wherever they are seen.

Here are the top ten big wild cats and information about these majestic felines.

10. Caracal
They’re also called the desert lynx. These cats are commonly seen in areas around Southwest Asia, Central Asia, parts of India and Africa. Althoughthey are tagged as least concern, they are threatened in North Africa and are rarely seen in India and Central Asia. They commonly weigh in at 42 pounds.

9. Clouded Leopard
Clouded Leopard
Clouded Leopards are seen along the Himalayan foothills, mainland Southeast Asia,Northeastern India and China. These cats are tagged asvulnerable back in 2008 as their total population is estimated to be less than 10,000 mature specimens. They are considered to link big cats and small cats. These leopards can reach a weight of 51 pounds.

8. Eurasian Lynx
Eurasian Lynx
These medium-sized cats are native to East Asia,Central Asia, Siberian forests and Europe. They’re also called the Russian or Siberianlynx, northern lynx,common lynx and European lynx. Lynx are slowly being reintroduced in Western Europe where their population almost despaired. They commonly get as heavy as 79 pounds.

7. Cheetah
Cheetahs are one of the fastest animals alive. They can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3 seconds, making them the ideal predator. They’re commonly seen in Northern Iran and Sub-Saharan Africa, reaching 119 pounds.

6. Leopard
Commonly seen in parts of Asia andAfrica, these big cats can reach a weight of 143 pounds, which is the same as a full grown adult human. They’re known to have short legs, a long body and large heads. These cats are tagged as near threatened because of hunting.

5. Snow Leopard (Unciauncia)
Snow Leopard
Snow leopards are native to Tibet, South and Central Asia. These black and white cats have been tagged as endangered since 2003. Their global population is estimated to be around 4,080-6,590 adults with less than 2,500 individuals reproducing in the wild. They can reach a weight of 165 pounds.

4. Cougar
Also called Puma and Mountain Lion, these cats can grow to reach 264 pounds. They’re commonly found in the Americas, specifically around Southeastern Alaska, Chile and Southern Argentina. They’ll prey on ungulates likebighorn sheep, elk,deer, moose, and domestic cattle, sheep andhorses.

3. Jaguar
Another native to the Americas, they can be found in the Southwestern United States, Mexico, much of Central America,Paraguayand Argentina. Weighing in at 299 pounds, they are the 3rd biggest cats on the planet.

2. Lion
Reaching a weight of 598 pounds, lions are the most popular big cats around. About 10,000 years ago, these giant cats we hunting us a prey. Now, poachers and hunters threaten their population. They’re seen in Sub-Saharan Africa.

1. Siberian Tiger
Siberian Tiger
Along with the Bengal tiger, these big cats are the biggest amongst all of them. Siberian Tigers can reach a whopping 931 pounds and are very powerful. They roam Northeastern China, Russia, some parts of India and the Himalayas.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

5 Adorable Animals that can Actually Hurt You

Seeing animals in their natural habitat is an exciting experience for us humans. We think that they’re so adorable and peaceful as they go on their ways in the wild. However, no matter how adorable and cute these animals look, they may pose a threat to you.

Here are 5 adorable animals that can actually do a lot of damage on you if it does ever attack.


Don’t let their cartoon-like grin fool you. Moose are actually one of the most aggressive animals in the planet. They have giant antlers and hooves that are strong enough to bash a car like a baseball bat. They’re also massive, standing at around 5 to 6 feet tall. These huge mammals can also reach a weight of 800 pounds, so you can just imagine scary it is if one would ever charge at you.

Slow Loris

Slow Loris
They might look like a toy, but these animals are actually the only venomous primate. They’re commonly found in areas surrounding Indonesia, they’re often captured by humans because of alleged medical reasons. The toxin they carry is mixed with saliva and it bites when provoked.  The bite causes anaphylactic shock which can cause death.

Big Cats
Big Cats
All big cats, from lions to leopards, are extremely dangerous. For one, they’re big. They might act like kittens but their huge paws, long sharp claws, strong jaws and razor sharp teeth can rip you to shreds easily. They’re natural predators, which means that a lot of things can cause them to attack, so don’t even consider keeping these as pets.

They do keep a low profile, but these flightless birds can be really aggressive and territorial. The Guinness Book of World Records acknowledged the cassowary as the most dangerous bird on the planet. They are capable of running very fast and leaping in very high, it attacks by thrusting its 5 inch long claws on their pray. They can even break bones with their strength.

Poison Dart Frogs

Poison Dart Frogs
Colorful, but deadly, these frogs got their name from Native American Indian tribes that use to make poisonous darts for hunting. There are hundreds of different types of dart frogs, but the most poisonous of them all are the golden poison dart frog. They have the alkaloid toxin covering their skin which can actually kill small mammals and even humans.

It’s important to remember that wild animals don’t really attack you unless you provoke them. So always keep your distance and just observe them.
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Monday, October 13, 2014

Hermaphrodite snail named after marriage equality

Biologists christened the species Aegista diversifamilia, referring to a diversity of family types, because it "represents the diversity of sex orientation in the animal kingdom".

The snail is widespread throughout eastern Taiwan, but was previously mistaken for a closely related species.
A new species of hermaphrodite land snail found in Taiwan has been named in support of marriage equality.
Its discovery is reported in the journal.

"When we were preparing the manuscript, it was a period when Taiwan and many other countries and states were struggling for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights," said Dr Yen-Chang Lee, who first suggested the snail might entail its own species.

"It reminded us that Pulmonata land snails are hermaphrodite animals, which means they have both male and female reproductive organs in a single individual.

"We decided that maybe this is a good occasion to name the snail to remember the struggle for the recognition of same-sex marriage rights."

Dr Lee, from Academia Sinica in Taipei, noticed in 2003 that land snails of the established species Aegista subchinensis seemed to be markedly different on the eastern side of Taiwan's Central Mountain Range.

Together with researchers from the National Taiwan Normal University, Dr Lee then conducted a detailed study of the shape of the animals as well as molecular markers.

The new diversifamilia species, from the east of the mountains, has a larger, flatter shell and is in fact more closely related to a land snail from Ishigaki Island in Japan.

Source: Here
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Bill Peterson Comes on Board as New Manager of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Bill Peterson is the new manager of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. It's not been even a month since he has come on board for the post that was vacant for over a year.

Peterson has lately moved to Massachusetts from Memphis, Tenn. There, he was manager of Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. Currently, Peterson and his wife, Stacy, are living on rent in York, Maine.
He has good amount of experience and is planning to utilize the same in the Refuge, which was established in 1941 with an aim to provide feeding, resting and nesting habitats for migratory birds. The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is associated with Plum Island.

The Refuge comprises of over 4,700 acres of diverse habitats, including sandy beach, dune, cranberry bog, maritime forests, freshwater marsh and shrub land. Peterson affirmed, "Our primary focus is on the wildlife. Our top priority is the endangered species and the larger numbers of migratory birds. Conservation comes before public use, but we try to balance that".

He wants to encourage people to step out and recreate in the Refuge and learn about nature. Every year, between 250,000 and 300,000 people visit the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. He wants every person visiting the place should be able to see the beach and the marsh and explore the area.

Along with this, they have also to make sure that the marsh continues to be there for the next generations. Parker River is the perfect coastal habitat for over 300 species of resident and migratory birds and a number of mammals, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians.

One of the first things in the to-do list of Peterson is to ensure that the staff, volunteers and visitors have safe and positive experiences in the refuge. As the Refuge manager, Peterson wants to complete the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge comprehensive conservation plan (CCP), which the Refuge's management plant for the next 15 years.

Source: Here
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Intrusion of Quagga Mussel species can dismantle Britain’s Economy and Ecology

An alien species of mussels has been discovered in a reservoir in London that can pose severe threat to Britain’s economy and ecology. These species are anticipated to wreak catastrophe in UK, by escalating the water bills by a large amount and disturbing the native biological diversity. On October 1, the Quagga Mussel (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) capable of covering boat hulls and smothers native species to death were first observed in Britain. It has been spreading westward from the Ponto-Caspian region in South-east Europe in recent years.
Quagga mussels are the species that originates from an area around black and Caspian seas. Feeding on various kinds of algae, they are hard to be distinguished from zebra mussels which are already native to various parts of US.

According to a study report by Cambridge University, the mussels can block water pipes, leading to floods in the region. Also, the presence of the species can deter the quality of water. Water bills will soar again attributed to presence of these alien mussels.

Wraysbury reservoir, (the one where it has been found), is a hub of sailing, fishing and scuba diving. Also, the lake is a protected zone of aquatic and non-aquatic wildlife. However, invasion of the area by this five centimeter long foreign species can disturb ‘ecological balance’ of the area. These mussels form colonies rapidly and get adhered to rocks and hard surfaces, intervening the food webs already established.

“These tiny mussels can be devastating but look so innocuous, which is why it is difficult for boaters, anglers and other water users to avoid accidently transferring them between the water bodies when they latch on to their equipment”, said Jeff Knott, head of conserving policy at the Wildlife and Wet life Trust (WTT). Thus, he urges every water users to sterilize their equipments before and after each use. Equipments must be properly washed and cleaned to prevent much contact of the species.

Eradication of this particular group is just next to impossible, but prevention followed by cautious steps can prevent foray of further foreign species. The report was published in Journal of Applied Ecology.

Source: Here
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Entomologists Discover New Form of Social Parasitism in Ants

The Mirror turtle ant (Cephalotes specularis) – an insect recently discovered in Brazil by entomologist Dr Scott Powell of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and his Brazilian colleagues – is the first-known species of ant to use visual mimicry to parasitize another ant species, according to a paper published in the October 2014 issue of the journal American Naturalist.
Mirror Ants
Dr Powell first discovered the mirror turtle ant while conducting fieldwork in Brazil.

He had climbed up into a tree to observe the thousands of hyper-aggressive host ants on their search for food, when he noticed that one thing wasn’t quite like the others.

“The mirror turtle ant nests just inches away from the well-guarded enemy enclave.”

“The host ants, Crematogaster ampla, travel by the thousands on a busy highway system, dropping chemical messages to their fellow workers along the way.”

“During rush hour, the mirror turtle ants, also colored black, dive out of their nest and rapidly merge into the high-speed traffic.”

“Once inside the host’s foraging network, the mirror turtle ants disguise themselves among the enemy workers by mirroring their unique body movements.”

“The impostors go largely unnoticed as they quickly weave through traffic lanes and dodge the host ants.”

“This mimicking behavior allows the parasitic ants to successfully locate and exploit the host’s food resources.”

In spy terms, this new form of social parasitism allows mirror turtle ants to steal food from an enemy.

“I did a true double-take when I first saw this new species. As I turned away, after seeing what appeared to be large numbers of host foragers, I noticed that a couple of the ants I had just laid eyes on were not quite like the others. Turning back around, I managed to re-find the few peculiar ants in the masses of host ants, and everything followed from there,” Dr Powell explained.
Left: Crematogaster ampla minor worker in defensive posture on a tree in the type locality of Cephalotes specularis. Right: Cephalotes specularis mirroring posture of its host, Crematogaster ampla. Image credit: Scott Powell et al.

He and his colleagues conducted additional experiments to better characterize the different components of the parasite-host interaction of Cephalotes specularis and Crematogaster ampla.

They watched as the mirror turtle ants raised their backsides in the air, imitating the distinctive posture of host ants.

They also observed the parasitic ants’ keen capacity to ‘eavesdrop’ on the host ants’ pheromone-based foraging trails.

The mirror turtle ants are so skilled at this, in fact, that they are better at following the chemical trails of the host ant than those of their own workers.

The study also revealed that mirror turtle ants were embedded within a whopping 89 percent of host territories.

Dr Powell, who is the lead author of the paper on the team’s findings, said: “beyond the fascinating biology of this new ant, we appear to have a rare window into the early stages of the evolution of social parasitism, before the parasite has lost much of its free-living biology. This promises to help us better understand the general pressures that tip a species towards a parasitic lifestyle.”

Source: Here
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Chickens have gotten ridiculously large since the 1950s

Here are three different breeds of chicken, raised on the exact same diet:
The left-hand chicken is a breed from 1957. The middle chicken is a breed from 1978. The right-hand one is a breed from 2005. They were all raised in the same manner for this paper and were photographed at the same age. Vox added the dates to this image. (Zuidhof, MJ, et al. 2014 Poultry Science 93 :1–13)
The one on the left is a breed from 1957. The middle one is a 1978 breed. And the one on the right is a commercial 2005 breed called the Ross 308 broiler. They're all the same age. And the modern breed is much, much, much larger.

In just 50 years or so, chickens have been bred to be much bigger. The image above comes from a study done by researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, who raised three breeds of chickens from different eras in the exact same way and measured how much they ate and how they grew. This allowed them to see the genetic differences between the breeds without influences from other factors like food or antibiotic use. They recently published their results in Poultry Science.
What breeding has done to your chickens.

1) Chickens today are much bigger than those in the 1950s: This one's pretty obvious. The 2005 chicken breed on the right ended up being about four times as heavy, on average, as the 1957 breed on the left — despite being fed the same foods.

2) Chickens today are more efficient at turning feed into meat: The reason for that is that modern-day chickens are more efficient at turning feed into breast meat. The researchers' metric for this was something they called the "breast conversion rate" of grams of feed into grams of breast meat. The 2005 breed was roughly three times as efficient as the 1950s one.

3) Modern chickens also have extra health problems: Previous research has noted increased bone, heart, and immune system problems in some contemporary chicken breeds. Health problems could come from several factors, including both unintentional genetic effects and behavioral differences such as diet and carrying around all that extra weight.

4) But the growth of chickens has helped make chicken a popular food: Over the past few decades, chicken has become a much cheaper food. And Americans have been eating more of it. (The price of poultry has risen at about half the rate of other consumer goods from 1960 to 2004.) In 2013, Americans consumed more than 83 pounds of chicken per person.
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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Robot snake learns secrets of sidewinders

With the help of a robot, US researchers have described for the first time precisely how "sidewinder" rattlesnakes climb up sand dunes.

By observing snakes on an artificial dune, they found that on steeper slopes the animals flatten themselves to increase their contact with the sand.
Robot Snake
Physicists analysed the motion of sidewinders as they climbed an artificial sand dune
They then tested the new insights with a robotic snake and calculated the best strategy for snakes - and robots - to scale sandy slopes without slipping.

The work appears in Science Magazine.

Unstable, granular surfaces like sand dunes pose a particular problem for animals and robots trying to traverse them.
Sand strategy

"We originally hypothesised that the way the snakes could ascend would be to dig their bodies more deeply into the sand, just like we would do on a sandy slope," said senior author Dr Daniel Goldman, who runs a biomechanics lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
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    We found that they could basically ascend any sand dune we threw at them”

Dr Daniel Goldman Georgia Institute of Technology

That was not what he and his team found, however, when they painted reflective markers - carefully - on to six venomous rattlesnakes and put them to work on a tilting bed of sand, fresh from the Arizona desert that these snakes call home.

"One of the first surprises was how nice these animals are as subjects - they tend to just sidewind on command," Dr Goldman told the BBC.
The next surprise, captured by several high-speed videocameras, was that instead of digging in for extra purchase, the snakes flattened themselves more smoothly against the sand, every time the researchers tilted the "dune" more steeply.

Furthermore, it was only sidewinding rattlesnakes - a species called Crotalus cerastes - that used this strategy. Thirteen related species of pit viper, faced with the same challenge, tried other wriggling techniques and got nowhere, with the exception of one: a speckled rattlesnake that inched its way very slowly up the incline using a concertina motion.

Sidewinders, on the other hand, Dr Goldman said, "could basically ascend any sand dune we threw at them".

To test out their findings in detail, Dr Goldman's team of physicists and biologists contacted robotics engineers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

There, Prof Howie Choset and his lab had been working on sidewinding robots for several years. Their designs are aimed at various applications, from search-and-rescue to surgery.

But Prof Choset's robotic sidewinders were troubled by the very same challenge that the snakes had a knack for: sandy ascents.
Robot Snake
The robot revealed details of the snakes' success but also learned from the animals about climbing slopes
 A particular robot, nicknamed "Elizabeth", had failed on assignment in Egypt, slipping and falling on a slope within an archaeological site.

So the engineers brought Elizabeth to the artificial dune that Dr Goldman's team had built "in a shed out back of Zoo Atlanta", to see what they could learn.

Sure enough, using the insight from the rattlesnakes that flattening more of its body on to the sand would help with steeper slopes, the robot's performance improved.
Flow stopping

Adjusting Elizabeth's settings also allowed the collaboration to figure out other secrets to the sidewinders' success.

In particular, their motion boils down to a surprisingly simple combination of a horizontal and a vertical wave: a left-right slither, along with up-and-down movement, both travelling down the body but slightly out of sync.

"If you phase those waves just right, you get sidewinding," Dr Goldman explained.

Flattening or enlarging the vertical wave allowed Elizabeth to get just the right amount of contact with the sand. Too much, and the robot would slip; too little, and it risked tipping over.

The reason all these adjustments help the snakes and robots to climb is because they keep the sand more stable underneath them. Getting enough purchase without making too much sand flow downhill is a delicate balancing act.

"What we noticed was that when the snake's ascending effectively... the material behind it was in a nice solid state. And when we applied the changes to the robot, we found a similar feature of the interaction, such that the material didn't flow much," said Dr Goldman.
Robot Snake
The key to successful dune climbing is maintaining just the right amount of contact, to keep the sand stable
Andrew Graham is the technical director at Bristol company OC Robotics, which specialises in snake-like robots. He said that although the Carnegie Mellon team were already known for their sidewinding designs, the new study was "a very thorough investigation of the efficiency of the process".

"They've looked at the whole problem, end to end, and demonstrated the application of what they've observed in nature to a robotic model," Mr Graham told BBC News.

He added that the insights from the snakes would help make Prof Choset's robots "more efficient and more applicable to different environments".

Source: Here
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Captive Orcas Can Learn How to Speak Dolphin, Researchers Say

One of few species capable of learning new vocal sounds

Captive orcas who live with dolphins are capable of imitating their sounds, joining an exclusive list of species that are capable of modifying their voices or learning new vocalizations, according to a new study published this month in Acoustical Society of America.
Amanda Fletcher—Flickr RF/Getty Images
Researchers analyzed 10 captive orcas, seven who lived with only other orcas, and three who lived with only bottlenose dolphins. They discovered that the three orcas who interacted with only dolphins made dolphin-like whistles, clicks and buzzes, while the other seven orcas communicated almost entirely with typical whale pulses. The findings build on two-year-old research that showed that dolphins could similarly mimic sounds of whales and other animals, according to Science Magazine.

Only a few species are capable of vocal learning, a group that includes humans, birds, elephants, bats, seals and dolphins, along with now the orcas, whose acoustic imitation abilities previously had been studied only anecdotally.

Source: Here
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Friday, October 10, 2014

How many animals are really going extinct?

A century ago this fall, the world’s last passenger pigeon, a bird named Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Her death marked the end of an astonishing decline in that bird’s numbers; in America’s first centuries, passenger pigeons were so abundant that stories about them can be almost impossible to believe. Cotton Mather described a flock a mile wide that took hours to pass overhead, and John James Audubon reported that they blocked out the sun like an eclipse.
passenger pigeon
By 1900, thanks to deforestation and overhunting, passenger pigeons had disappeared from the wild. Martha’s 1914 death in captivity marked not just the end of what had been the most common bird in the country. It was also the beginning of widespread public awareness of the problem of extinction.

Once, the idea that animals would go extinct was unthinkable; it was believed that the world was a certain way and always would be. But the drastic dwindling of the American buffalo and a handful of high-profile extinctions, including the colorful Carolina parakeet just a few years after Martha’s death, made the permanent loss of a familiar animal a key way we think about damage to our world. Since then, extinction has become one of the most powerful illustrations of the human effect on the planet.

Today the threat of extinction is one of the most motivating factors for environmental activism. Endangered animals including pandas and tigers serve as logos for many conservation groups. Leonardo DiCaprio, who has donated millions to protect animals including tigers and elephants, told the audience at a gala in July, “Not since the age of the dinosaurs have so many species of plants and animals become extinct in such a short period of time.” The party raised $25 million.

Extinction’s emotional power is rooted not just in the sense of loss—the idea that a familiar animal will be unknown to our children—but in how black and white it is: The animal is either still with us, or gone forever. But in recent years, extinction itself has become a hotly argued topic among scientists who study the natural world. A high-profile paper a few years ago said the rate of new extinctions was much lower than estimates; this summer, another said it was far higher. Extinction, it turns out, is extremely hard to document, and the health of species and the planet is much more complex than the binary “extinct” or “not extinct.”

As scientists debate numbers and definitions, it has triggered another fight, one about how the argument will affect the public. Most scientists in this field are also strong conservationists, and many of them worry that airing dirty laundry—even arguments about percentages—could hurt the cause. Others worry that there’s more to lose by burying those doubts.

“There have certainly been some enormous exaggerations,” said Richard Ladle, a Brazil-based conservation scientist who studies extinction. “If you keep on talking about very, very large figures and nothing appears to be happening, eventually that’s going to erode public confidence in conservation science.”
Such is the economy of nature, that no instance can be produced of her having permitted any one race of her animals to become extinct,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1784. A fossil collector himself, he told Lewis and Clark to keep a sharp eye out for mammoths on their explorations. Mark V. Barrow Jr., a historian at Virginia Tech, says that Westerners of Jefferson’s era believed the natural world to be orderly, young, and static, just the way God created it. In that context, “extinction was unthinkable,” explained Barrow, the author of the 2009 book “Nature’s Ghosts: Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology.”

By the early 19th century, the existence of extinction had been accepted by most scientists, and over the next 200 years it gradually became a public concern, as it became clear that human beings were playing an active role in making it happen. Martha’s death helped inspire the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty, a multinational protection agreement; President Nixon’s signing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 was a high point of public and political engagement on the problem.

Since then, pronouncements from conservation advocates have grown more and more dire. In 1979, Berkeley ecologist Norman Myers published a book called “The Sinking Ark,” which claimed 40,000 species were disappearing each year. The next decade, a biologist who worked for the World Wildlife Fund predicted up to 20 percent of all species would disappear by the turn of the millennium. That didn’t happen, but the drumbeat of alarms continues: A much-publicized paper in 2004 warned that by 2050, climate change could put 1 million species at risk of extinction.

There’s at least one problem with these predictions: Where are the bodies? Actual documented extinctions are vanishingly rare. “If you ask any member of the public to name 10 species that have gone extinct in the last century, most would really really struggle,” Ladle said. “Then you’ve got the world’s most famous conservationists telling you that 27,000 are going extinct every year. The two don’t tally up.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which keeps the most definitive list of extinct and threatened species, has counted just over 800 total confirmed animal extinctions since the year 1600.

That disconnect illuminates one reason Martha’s death drew so much attention: Unlike most extinctions, it was one documented in the moment. “Extinction is really about knowing the last individual is gone, and we don’t monitor the life of the planet that accurately,” said Stephen Hubbell, an ecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We have to use approximations, and that’s where the argument comes in.”

About 1.5 million plant and animal species have been named, but estimates of how many actually exist vary from 2 million to 100 million. Those numbers change every year: New species are discovered, and others wink out of existence, often without us ever knowing they were there at all. So when scientists talk about thousands of species going extinct in a year, they aren’t counting disappearances: They’re making extrapolations based on estimates of habitat loss, and of how many species currently exist, and how many have existed in history.

In 2011, Hubbell coauthored a controversial paper that was published in the journal Nature under the bold title “Species-area relationships always overestimate extinction rates from habitat loss.” It was a technical argument that questioned an equation commonly used to estimate extinction, but the implications were clear: Conservationists really had no idea what the extinction rate is, and were likely overstating their case. That notion had been bubbling up for several years; an earlier paper by two tropical biologists claimed that population shifts and forest regrowth would mean rain-forest extinctions would be lower than many predictions.

The critiques by Hubbell and others have not been well received by some conservationists. “They’re either venal or stupid,” said Stuart Pimm, a leading extinction expert, of those who question the higher estimates. Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, published a paper this summer warning that species are currently dying off at 1,000 times the rate they were before the human era, and in the future are likely to perish at 10,000 times that rate. “The rates are the rates,” Pimm said. “Those numbers aren’t unnecessarily alarmist; they’re the best numbers we can get our hands on.”

Why does the exact extinction rate matter? In part, it’s because animal and plant extinctions are a bellwether for broader environmental problems that could have an impact on humans, too. It’s also a way to track the loss of biological richness—not just the beauty of nature, but the potentially crucial and undiscovered resources its species contain. And if we’re asking people to modify their behavior to support animal survival, it seems logical that we would want to know whether it’s working. As Robert May, a leading extinction-rate expert, has put it, “If we are to meet the challenges facing tomorrow’s world, we need a clearer understanding of how many species there are.”

The huge numbers of extinctions being thrown around may be overstated, or they may be understated. They may also, some say, be the wrong thing entirely to focus on. “It bothers me, and you can quote me on this, that we are still talking about species-level extinction,” said Ross MacPhee, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History who studies extinction. There are other vital questions: Is there a wild population diverse enough to be healthy? Does the animal exist only in zoos? Is a threatened species a linchpin in a large ecosystem? Is it particularly unusual genetically? As Ladle pointed out in a 2010 paper, “extinction” isn’t as binary as it seems: There’s local extinction, extinction in the wild, extinction of subspecies, theoretical extinction of unknown species, and so on—each of which can grab headlines, depending on the fame of the animal.

MacPhee and others worry that the relative appeal of certain animals, especially those known as charismatic megafauna, are distorting our conservation priorities. You might spend millions intervening to stop the extinction of a panda, he says, but “its role may not have anywhere near the significance of some unregarded invertebrate that may be far more important.” These same wondrous, personable big mammals—tigers, elephants, gorillas—are also most likely to be protected in zoos and to have sanctuaries devoted to them. Despite what might be precipitously dwindling numbers in the wild, only a handful of mammal species have been declared extinct this century. “Maybe extinction in that sense has lost its power,” Ladle said. “I’ve often thought that a really high-profile extinction would be the best thing that could happen for conservation.”
All of these scientists agree that human-driven extinction is a crisis. They are not allied with reactionary politicians or climate-change skeptics, and they are all committed to the flourishing of the natural world. But the vitriol of the extinction debate makes clear they see more than statistics at stake.

“If you express a view that’s different to some people, they say you’re anticonservation, and that’s not true,” said Nigel Stork, a conservation biologist at Griffith University in Australia and the author of a 2013 paper published in the journal Science that argued the extinction rate was not as bad as had been previously feared. “Conservation is working. There have been fewer extinctions because we’ve been conserving a key part of the world.”

If anything, the anti-alarmists worry that, in the modern American culture of widespread skepticism about basic science, overstating the facts about extinction could lead to cynicism and attacks from anti-environmental groups—much the way debates over climate models have been spun into anti-environmental rhetoric. “I’m concerned that if we appear to be exaggerating, even if we’re not, even if it’s scientifically based, the difference between documented extinctions and predicted extinctions is so big that people are likely—and justifiably so—to question it,” Ladle said. Hubbell, who was surprised by the vehement reactions to his paper, said that some conservationists have effectively told him, “Damn the data, we have an agenda.”

As the extinction conversation becomes increasingly intertwined with the fraught debate about climate change, the consequences are growing more serious both for animals and for the air, water, and land that surround us. And the swirling controversies demonstrate how even “science-driven” policy can sit uneasily with the workings of science itself. Galvanizing public opinion sometimes demands single dramatic certainties, while science proceeds by estimate, correction, and argument. “The only thing science has going for it is truth and the search for truth,” Hubbell said. “If it loses that, it’s really lost its way.”

Regardless of whose estimates are borne out by future research, few would argue with the anti-alarmists that it’s vital to know what’s really happening as plant and animal populations dwindle around us. “The world is losing species at an incredible rate,” Hubbell said. “We don’t know how fast...but we’d better find out.”

Source: Here
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Thursday, October 9, 2014

10 of the Largest Birds in the World

Coming across a bird with a wingspan that’s taller than a human might scare a few people, but it’s an amazing and wonderful experience.

Below are the top 10 biggest birds in the world. 

10. Golden Eagle
 Golden Eagle

This eagle’s wingspan can reach around 8.2 feet. They’re known to be powerful and majestic hunters found in the Northern Hemisphere, they’re also one of the biggest eagles on earth. Although these birds are strong enough to finish off a deer, they often hunt smaller mammals like prairie dogs, ground squirrels, and rabbits.

9. Grey Crowned Crane
Grey Crowned Crane

With a wingspan that reaches 8.2 feet or 2.5 meters, these elegant birds are commonly seen in the African dry savannas. One of the remarkable behaviors that these birds show is their elaborate courtship which involves jumping, bowing and dancing.

8. California Condor
 California Condor

This condor is one of the rarest birds. Constant threats on their lives have caused them to be tagged as critically endangered. Although there is a steady and slow increase in their population thanks to captive breeding, they still face a number of problems.

7. Griffon Vulture 
Griffon Vulture

This massive vulture has a wingspan that can reach 9.2 feet or 2.8 meters. Although they’re commonly seen hunting alone, they occasionally hunt in groups. They’re commonly seen in the mountainous areas in Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe. They build their nest in cliffs so these birds are definitely not afraid of heights.

6. Bearded Vulture 
Bearded Vulture

Also called the Lammergeier vulture, its wingspan can reach 9.8 feet or 2.99 meters. What makes these vultures different from other vultures is that they don’t have that bald head. When on flight, they can reach a remarkable elevation of 24,000 feet.

5. Whooper Swan 
Whooper Swan

Although these birds are large, they’re very elegant. They can be seen in eastern Asia and northern Europe and fly miles away just to breed in Eurasia. Even though they weigh 18-44 pounds or 8-20 kilograms, they can fly for hours without actually landing to rest. Their massive wingspans can reach 9.8 feet or 3 meters.

4. Andean Condor 
Andean Condor

Commonly seen in the mountains of Andean in South America, these large birds feed on carrions but are also known to hunt smaller animals. They can live up to 60 years old and have wingspans that can reach 11 feet or 3.4 meters.

3. Marabou Stork 
Marabou Stork

Also called “undertaker birds”, they’re scavengers who are seen in the hot African plains, it’s common to see these birds alongside vultures feeding on carrions. They live in both dry and wet areas in the southern Sahara. They have wingspans that reach at least 3.4 meter or 11 feet.

2. Great White Pelican 
Great White Pelican

These pelicans are seen in the eastern Mediterranean and areas in South Africa. They adapted aquatic life, using their webbed feet to fish and feed. A huge colony of these birds can be seen in Tanzania, consisting of around 75,000 individuals.

1. Wandering Albatross
Wandering Albatross
With a wingspan that can reach 11.8 feet or 3.6 meters, these albatrosses spend most of their lives in sea. They only come to land during mating season in the Macquarie Island, South Georgia Island, Kerguelen Islands, Crozet Islands, and Prince Edward Islands.
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