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12 new species of frogs discovered in India

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Scientists have found 12 new species of night frogs living in the lush mountains of southwest India, and rediscovered three that had been thought extinct.

Evolution biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju from the University of Delhi says he hopes the discoveries draw attention to amphibians as important indicators of environmental health.

He said Saturday that there are now 336 known frog species in India, and that many are threatened by habitat loss.

Night frogs are hard to find as they come out only after dark and during the monsoon season. Biju and student researchers had to sit in dark tropical forests listening for frog sounds and shining flashlights under rocks and across riverbeds.

The research is published in the latest issue of international taxonomy journal Zootaxa.


Via DiscoveryOn

Written by Nokgiir

September 26, 2011 at 2:19 am

The mystery creature that nobody can identify

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If this cute little chap looks a wee bit confused, it’s no wonder.

His big wide eyes stare out at the world around him – which in turn is staring back at him.

Because nobody has seen a creature quite like this one before.

Who am I? The unidentifed animal sitting in his cage after being handed in to Wenling Zoo, in China

Who am I? The unidentifed animal sitting in his cage after being handed in to Wenling Zoo, in China.

With a nose that looks more like a rodent’s but long, pointy paws and white fur dappled with brown and orange, he is quite unique.

And zookeepers at Wenling, in eastern China, who were handed the animal by an anonymous man, have been unable to work out exactly what species he belongs to.

They think they are looking at some strange type of monkey – but other students of nature might recognise the characteristics of a bush baby.

As he sits in his cage, the creature therefore awaits an uncertain fate.

And the zookeepers sit and monitor his development and hopes he grows up into something slightly more recognisable.

Where did I come from? The rodent-like creature was handed in anonymously

Where did I come from? The rodent-like creature was handed in anonymously.

Via DailyMail

Written by Nokgiir

September 26, 2011 at 1:47 am

‘Lost’ rainbow toad rediscovered

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Conservationists report that the Sambas Stream toad, one of their top 10 “lost” amphibian species, has been rediscovered in Malaysian Borneo 87 years after it was last sighted.

The find was made by scientists from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak who spent months looking for the toad in the remote Gunung Penrissen mountains of Western Sarawak, a natural boundary between Malaysia’s Sarawak State and Indonesia’s Kalimantan Barat Province on the island of Borneo. (Just writing those names makes me feel like Indiana Jones.)

Conservation International reports that the initial search was fruitless — so the expedition team, led by Indraneil Das, moved up to higher elevations and resumed the hunt. Eventually there came a night when one of Das’ graduate students, Pui Yong Min, spotted a small toad sitting 6 feet (2 meters) up a tree.

Das could hardly believe what he was seeing.

Indraneil Das

This picture of an adult female explains why it’s called a Bornean Rainbow Toad. The amphibian measures about 2 inches (51 millimeters) in size.

“Thrilling discoveries like this beautiful toad, and the critical importance of amphibians to healthy ecosystems, are what fuel us to keep searching for lost species,” Das said in a news release from Conservation International.  “They remind us that nature still holds precious secrets that we are still uncovering, which is why targeted protection and conservation is so important. Amphibians are indicators of environmental health, with direct implications for human health. Their benefits to people should not be underestimated.”

That’s the whole idea behind the “Search for Lost Frogs” campaign, which was launched a year ago by Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. The groups drew up a “Ten Most Wanted” list in hopes of inspiring researchers to intensify the search for amphibians that have not been seen for decades.

The Sambas Stream toad is also known as the Bornean rainbow toad, with the scientific name Ansonia latidisca. The long-legged, multicolored toad was described by European explorers in the 1920s, and was last seen in 1924. Das’ team identified three individuals — an adult female, an adult male and a juvenile, ranging in size from roughly an inch to 2 inches (30 to 51 millimeters).

Each of the toads was found in a different mature tree, in a region of the Penrissen range that’s outside Sarawak’s system of protected areas. The precise location is being kept secret in hopes of keeping pet collectors from going after the rainbow toads.

The toads are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, and Conservation International said they may be eligible for protection under Sarawak’s wildlife ordinances.

Conservation International’s Robin Moore, an expert on amphibians, said he was amazed to hear of the discovery.

“When I saw an email with the subject ‘Ansonia latidisca found’ pop into my in-box, I could barely believe my eyes,” he said in the CI announcement. “Attached was an image — proof in the form of the first-ever photograph of the colorful and gangly tree-dwelling toad. The species was transformed in my mind from a black-and-white illustration to a living, colorful creature.”

Moore said he considered it a privilege to be among the first to see the pictures of the toad.

“It is good to know that nature can surprise us when we are close to giving up hope, especially amidst our planet’s escalating extinction crisis,” he said. “Amphibians are at the forefront of this tragedy, so I hope that these unique species serve as flagships for conservation, inspiring pride and hope by Malaysians and people everywhere.”

The rainbow frog is the second of the “Ten Most Wanted” amphibians to be rediscovered. The first was the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios), a species native to Ecuador that is critically endangered.

Two down, eight to go … the search continues.



Biological gems found in Philippines

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 Click through a slideshow featuring the new species.

Researchers say they identified 300 species that they think are new to science this spring during a biological prospecting expedition to the Philippines, organized by the California Academy of Sciences.

“The Philippines is one of the hottest of the hotspots for diverse and threatened life on Earth,” Terrence Gosliner, dean of science and research collections at the California Academy of Sciences and leader of the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition, said today in a news release about the findings. “Despite this designation, however, the biodiversity here is still relatively unknown, and we found new species during nearly every dive and hike as we surveyed the country’s reefs, rainforests, and the ocean floor.”

The 42-day expedition was launched in late April and focused on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippine archipelago, as well as the surrounding waters. In cooperation with more than two dozen colleagues from the Philippines, the academy’s scientists surveyed a wide range of ecosystems and shared their findings with local communities and conservationists.

Among the suspected new species are dozens of types of insects and spiders, deep-sea corals, sea pens, sea urchins and more than 50 kinds of sea slugs. Scientists say they came across a new kind of cicada that makes a distinctive “laughing” call, a starfish that eats only sunken driftwood, and a deep-sea swell shark that sucks water into its stomach to bulk up and scare off predators.

When the expedition ended, the scientists combined their data and identified their top conservation priorities — expansion of marine protected areas, plus reforestation to reduce sedimentation damage to coral reefs. The academy said reduction of plastic waste was also a priority, because plastic litter was pervasive throughout the marine environment, even on the ocean floor at depths of more than 6,000 feet.

Over the coming months, the expedition’s scientists will be analyzing their specimens with the aid of microscopes and DNA sequencing equipment to confirm their discoveries.

The academy’s expedition is one of many efforts around the globe to document and safeguard biodiversity — in part because yet-to-be-discovered species may point the way to commercially useful drugs or technologies, in part because they may turn out to be key to an ecosystem’s health, and in part because they’re beautiful, exotic or just plain odd.

“The species lists and distribution maps that we created during this expedition will help to inform future conservation decisions and ensure that this remarkable biodiversity is afforded the best possible chance of survival,” Gosliner said.


Via MSNBC/Alan Boyle

Evolution in reverse: insects recover lost ‘wings’

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The extravagant headgear of small bugs called treehoppers are in fact wing-like appendages that grew back 200 million years after evolution had supposedly cast them aside, according to a study published Thursday inNature.

That’s probably shocking news if you are an entomologist, and challenges some very basic ideas about what makes an insect an insect, the researchers said.

The thorax of all  is by definition divided into three segments, each with a pair of legs.

In most orders, there are also two pairs of , one on the middle segment of the thorax and another at the rear.

Other orders such as flies and mosquitoes have only one set of wings, at the rear, and a few — most ants, for example — have no wings at all.

But no insects today have functional flappers in the first segment next to the head.

Their forebear, however, did.

“Primitive insects 350 million years ago had wings on all of their body segments,” said Benjamin Prud’homme, a researcher at the Development Biology Institute of Marseille-Luminy in France and lead author of the study.

“We don’t know if they were all for flight, but we do know — from  — that these wing-like structures were present on each and every body segment.”

Over the next 100 million years, he explained, wings on the first segment of the thorax and the abdomen dropped away entirely.

But then, some 50 million years ago, something strange happened to the cicada-like treehoppers: they once again sprouted wing-like structures from the top of the first segment of the thorax.

Some of these wildly divergent extrusions resemble thorns, others look like antlers, and still others like aggressive ants or animal droppings, creating one of Nature’s most exotic menageries.

Experts had long assumed that these so-called “helmets” were armour-like expansions of the insects’ exoskeletons.

But by carefully observing the treehopper’s development into adulthood, Prud’homme and colleagues showed that this headgear began as a pair of buds — attached at the sides, and articulated like wings — that fused together as they grew.

Evolution is usually described as linear, but these modified wings suggested the process had come full circle.

“This is the only known example of a modern insect that has grown a third pair of wings,” Prud’homme said by phone. “It is a modification of the basic body plan of insects.”

Just how this happened remains a mystery. For 200 million years, certain genes prevented wing-like structures from emerging on this part of any insect’s anatomy.

The researchers speculated that these genes had lost their inhibiting capacity, but experiments on other insect species demonstrated that their repressive powers remain intact.

However it happened, the evolutionary process found a way to put the renewed appendages to use, the researchers speculate.

“This extra pair of wings was not needed for flight, but nor did it prevent it,” Prud’homme said. “So it became raw material for evolution to play with.”

Many of the helmets appear to serve as camouflage, helping the insects to avoid predators.

The study shows “how development abilities can be lost or silenced over millions of years, only to be redeployed to contribute to the evolution of a complex and beautiful appendage,” commented Armin Moczek, a professor at Indiana University, also writing in Nature.

More information: Body plan innovation in treehoppers through the evolution of an extra wing-like appendage, Nature 473, 83–86 (05 May 2011) doi:10.1038/nature09977 http://www.nature. … re09977.html

Body plans, which characterize the anatomical organization of animal groups of high taxonomic rank1, often evolve by the reduction or loss of appendages (limbs in vertebrates and legs and wings in insects, for example). In contrast, the addition of new features is extremely rare and is thought to be heavily constrained, although the nature of the constraints remains elusive2, 3, 4. Here we show that the treehopper (Membracidae) ‘helmet’ is actually an appendage, a wing serial homologue on the first thoracic segment. This innovation in the insect body plan is an unprecedented situation in 250 Myr of insect evolution. We provide evidence suggesting that the helmet arose by escaping the ancestral repression of wing formation imparted by a member of the Hox gene family, which sculpts the number and pattern of appendages along the body axis5, 6, 7, 8. Moreover, we propose that the exceptional morphological diversification of the helmet was possible because, in contrast to the wings, it escaped the stringent functional requirements imposed by flight. This example illustrates how complex morphological structures can arise by the expression of ancestral developmental potentials and fuel the morphological diversification of an evolutionary lineage.

(c) 2011 AFP

Via Evolution in reverse: insects recover lost ‘wings’

Written by Nokgiir

May 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

Caterpillar Fungus Making Tibetan Herders Rich

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Harvesting of a parasitic fungus that grows high on the Tibetan Plateau in China is infusing hordes of cash into rural communities, scientists say.

The fungus, Ophiocordyceps sinensis, takes over the bodies of caterpillar larvae then shoots up like finger-size blades of grass out of the dead insects’ heads. (See relatedpictures: “‘Zombie’ Ants Found With New Mind-Control Fungi.”)

Known as yartsa gunbu—or “summer grass winter worm”—by Chinese consumers, the nutty-tasting fungus is highly valued for its purported medicinal benefits, for instance, as a treatment for cancer and aging and as a libido booster. Far away in the booming cities of Beijing and Shanghai, demand for the fungus has soared.

(Also see “Ancient Ginkgoes, Redwoods Threatened in China.”)

“Medically, it seems to deliver,” according to Daniel Winkler, a fungus researcher and head of Eco-Montane Consulting in Seattle, Washington.

“Even the whole thing that it’s an aphrodisiac—yes, it might really help.”

Some Chinese grind up the fungus and sell it as a powder, and others use it whole as a garnish—and therefore a display of wealth.

“When you want to impress your business partner, you stuff some kind of fowl with it to show that money doesn’t really matter to you, because you just stuffed your goose with $100 worth of mushrooms,” Winkler said.

In Tibet (see map) and other Himalaya regions of Nepal and Bhutan, yak herders who harvest the fungus are getting rich from fungus sales.

By one account, the value of caterpillar fungus shot up 900 percent between 1997 and 2008, said Winkler, who has studied the phenomenon.

Nomadic yak herders now ride motorcycles, own apartments in the city, send their kids to schools, and pay someone else to do their village chores, he said…

Via http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/04/110427-fungus-caterpillars-tibet-china-herders-science/

Written by Nokgiir

April 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Brainy Birds Live The High Life In Cities

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Some birds avoid cities, but others purposefully move to them, seeking their own version of the big time.

The brainier a bird is, the better its chances are of thriving in a city, according to a new study that found many big-brained birds can succeed in urban environments.

“Big” in this case refers to brain size relative to body size. In other words, the larger the ratio of brain to body, the more likely the bird will thrive in an urban environment.

“Species with relatively larger brains tend to have broader diets, live in diverse habitats and have a higher propensity for behavioral innovations in foraging,” lead author Alexei Maklakov told Discovery News. “They are better able to establish viable populations when introduced to new habitats by humans.”

Maklakov, a researcher in the Department of Animal Ecology at Uppsala University, and his colleagues studied how well — or not — 82 species of passerine birds belonging to 22 avian families did in and around a dozen cities in France and Switzerland.

Bird species that were able to breed in city centers were considered successful colonizers. Birds that bred around the cities, but not in the urban regions themselves, were considered to be urban avoiders.

For the study, which is published in the latest issue of Royal Society Biology Letters, the scientists also looked at the brain size and body mass of each bird….

Via http://news.discovery.com/animals/brainy-birds-city-urban-110427.html

Written by Nokgiir

April 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Immortal Animals Reveal Anti-Aging Secrets

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Some animals and plants that reproduce asexually “can in principle achieve essentially eternal life,” according to a University of Gothenburg press release.

Scientists at the university are studying such species to find out how they avoid aging. So far, one chemical appears to be key:telomerase. This is an enzyme that protects DNA. It is more active in the longest-lived people, so its benefits likely extend throughout the animal kingdom.

The animals that can possibly achieve immortality under ideal conditions, such as sea squirts, certain corals, Hydra, and Turritopsis nutricula (the immortal jellyfish), often activate telomerase. Helen Nilsson Sköld of the Department of Marine Ecology, University of Gothenburg, and colleague Matthias Obst are studying sea squirts and starfish to learn more about how these marine creatures seem to ward off aging.

Out of the animal immortality A-list, sea squirts and starfish have genes that most closely resemble those of humans.

“Animals that clone themselves, in which part of an individual’s body is passed on to the next generations, have particularly interesting conditions related to remaining in good health to persist,” Sköld was quoted as saying in the press release. “This makes it useful to study these animals in order to understand mechanisms of aging in humans.”

“My research has shown that sea squirts rejuvenate themselves by activating the enzyme telomerase, and in this way extending their chromosomes and protecting their DNA,” she added. “They also have a special ability to discard ‘junk’ from their cells. Older parts of the animal are quite simply broken down, and are then partially recycled when new and healthy parts grow out from the adult bodies.”

…Scientists are therefore rushing to study such species, which may hold the secrets of increasing our own longevity. It would be a colossal human mistake if our pollution, habitat encroachment and other activities erased our chances of learning more about nature’s anti-aging secrets.

via http://news.discovery.com/animals/immortal-animals-reveal-anti-aging-secrets-110421.html

Written by Nokgiir

April 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm