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.
read more "Sea otter teeth more than twice as tough as ours"

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.
researchers-john-durban-holly-fearnbach-launch-mobly-drone-roof-skana-boat
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.
killer-whales-display-head-butting-other-playful-gestures-wild
"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
read more "Flying Drone Captures Groundbreaking Killer Whale Video Footage in British Columbia"

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
read more "Puppy-Sized Spider Surprises Scientist in Rainforest"

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

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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
read more "Top 10 Biggest Cats on the Planet"

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.

Moose

Moose
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.

Cassowary
Cassowary
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.
read more "5 Adorable Animals that can Actually Hurt You"

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.
snail
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
read more "Hermaphrodite snail named after marriage equality"

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
read more "Bill Peterson Comes on Board as New Manager of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge"

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
read more "Intrusion of Quagga Mussel species can dismantle Britain’s Economy and Ecology"

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
read more "Entomologists Discover New Form of Social Parasitism in Ants"