Archaeological, genetic evidence expands views of domestication

Many of our ideas about domestication derive from Charles Darwin, whose ideas in turn were strongly influenced by British animal-breeding practices during the 19th century, a period when landowners vigorously pursued systematic livestock improvement.

It is from Darwin that we inherit the ideas that domestication involved isolation of captive animals from wild species and total human control over breeding and animal care.
But animal management in this industrial setting has been applied too broadly in time and space, said Fiona Marshall, PhD, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. It is not representative of the practices of the Neolithic herders who first domesticated animals nor—for that matter—of contemporary herders in nonindustrial societies.

Together with Keith Dobney, PhD, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland; Tim Denham, PhD, of the Australian National University; and José Capriles, PhD, of the Universidad de Tarapacá in Chile, Marshall wrote a review article that summarizes recent research on the domestication of large herbivores for "The Modern View of Domestication," a special feature of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published April 29.

Recent research on the domestication of donkeys, camelids (which includes dromedaries, Bactrian camels, llamas and alpacas) pigs, cattle, sheep and goats suggests that neither intentional breeding nor genetic isolation were as significant as traditionally thought, the scientists said.

"Our findings show little control of breeding, particularly of domestic females, and indicate long-term gene flow, or interbreeding, between managed and wild animal populations," Marshall said.

Why is it important to get domestication right? "Our livestock is losing genetic diversity even faster than some wild animals, because of management practices like artificial insemination," Marshall said. "We took only a bit of the diversity from the wild for domestication, and what we're looking at now is lopping it off really fast so we'll be left with little diversity to survive all the climate and disease issues we're facing. It really is a crisis situation.

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Hungry Snake Picked The Wrong Dinner

Researchers on Golem Grad Island, Macedonia, stumbled upon a rather intriguing and wholly disgusting find whilst looking for snakes -  a dead young viper with the head of a huge centipede protruding through its body. What a way to go! The report has been briefly described in the journal Ecologica Montenegrina.

Nose-horned vipers (Vipera ammodytes) are venomous snakes found in southern Europe, the Balkans and certain parts of the Middle East. They can grow up to 95 centimeters and possess a characteristic “horn” on the snout, hence the name. They’re also considered to be the most dangerous European viper because their venom is highly toxic, but they’re a pretty docile species that tend to only bite when provoked.
Hungry Snake Picked The Wrong Dinner
Adult nose-horned vipers usually feed on lizards, smaller snakes and rabbits on Golem Grad, whilst the juveniles eat lizards and a particular species of centipede, the Megarian banded centipede (Scolopendra cingulata). It is not uncommon for snakes to consume potentially dangerous prey, and there have been numerous reports of death due to them “biting off more than they can chew”. Although, as mentioned, these vipers are known to eat this particular species of centipede, it seems that this cocky snake may have underestimated his dinner this time.

S. cingulata can be pretty savage killers themselves; they’re opportunistic carnivores and will eat almost anything that’s not larger than themselves. The authors of the paper note that it’s exceedingly difficult to kill a full-grown Scolopendra. Some people even keep these creepy crawlies as pets. Each to their own I suppose.

The team measured the viper and the centipede; the centipede was found to be 84% of the viper’s trunk length, 112% of its body width and 114% of its body weight. This isn’t hugely impressive compared to the size of animals that snakes have been found to consume previously. But what is interesting/disgusting is that upon dissection, the snake was missing all of its visceral organs- the centipede was occupying the entire volume of the snake’s body. They think it’s possible that the snake swallowed the centipede alive, but the centipede ate its way through the snake in an attempt of freedom, bursting its way through the snake’s abdomen (I am going to have nightmares now…). But unfortunately the poor little guy didn’t make it and died inside the snake with his head poking out. So close… Yet so far…

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Scientists discover the animal kingdom’s first ‘female penis’

Scientists have discovered four species of Brazilian insects in which the females possess a penis and the males possess a vagina. This announcement, made today in the journal Current Biology, represents the first documented instance of a "female penis" in the animal kingdom.
Contrary to popular belief, the presence or absence of certain sex organs isn't the determining factor when deciding which animal of a species is female and which is male. In fact, biologists don't use sex chromosomes either. They actually rely on the size of an animal's gametes — sperm in males and oocytes in females. As the rule goes, females are the sex that contribute the largest gametes, whereas males are the sex that contribute the smallest gametes and therefore expend the least amount of energy on producing these cells. So, in this particular instance of sex-role reversal, the convention still applies: the female in these species of insect produces the largest gametes — egg cells. She simply also happens to sport a penis that she introduces into the male's vagina during copulation.

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These 22 Photos Will Make You Fall In Love With Foxes

Owing to its beautiful coat and bushy tail, which can be fiery red, steely gray or snow-white, the fox has held a special place in our hearts since time immemorial as a beautiful and mysterious woodland creature. These 22 pictures will make you fall in love with the fox all over again.

The common red woodland fox that most of us know certainly is beautiful, but this cunning creature has managed to adapt to diverse climates throughout the world – the fennec fox of the Sahara desert and kit fox in the southwest U.S. both sport larger ears that help them stay cool in the desert, while the arctic fox has a thick and snow-white insulated coat and small ears that help it retain its body heat.

The fox is a member of the canidae family, which also includes dogs, wolves and other similar animals. After 50 years of breeding experimentation in the Soviet Union, they’ve also provided us with extraordinary insight into the domestication process. Over several generations of selective breeding (by choosing foxes with less fear of humans), Soviet scientist Dmitry Belyaev was able to breed silver foxes that began to exhibit domestic traits like floppy ears, tail wagging and spotted coats.

No matter how each fox looks, however, their wide range ensures that they have become elements of local folklore around the world. Various cultures throughout Europe, Asia and Africa consider the fox to be a cunning and sly creature that often plays the part of the trickster in folktales and myths.

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Breakthrough DNA study could slow big cat extinction

New research comparing genes from living lions with ancient lion remains could help scientists boost dwindling populations.

A team of scientists has for the first time compared the genetic signatures from living and extinct lions to identify five distinct geographical groups within the lion species.

Their findings were reported in the BMC Evolutionary Biology journal last week.
Lion groups

The research team, led by the University of Durham and including Museum zoologists Prof Ian Barnes and Richard Sabin, has identified the five groups of lions as North African/Asian, West African, Central African, South African and East-South African.

Current conservation policies recognise only two distinct geographical groups.

Unique characteristics

The genetic information contained in lion DNA identifies the unique characteristics of each population, which, according to Mr Sabin, is vital in understanding how to protect lions from the increasing threat of extinction, using conservation programmes and repopulation both in the wild and in zoos.

'We need to understand how individual groups develop and adapt to their local environment,' Sabin said. 'You can't just repopulate an area with lions from anywhere, because they could be entirely unsuitable.'

Only one lion species (Panthera leo) exists today, with isolated populations living across Africa and in India. About 124,000 years ago during the Late Pleistocene, lions were one of the most successful land mammals on the planet, with many subgroups of Panthera leo existing across a huge geographical range from southern Africa to Eurasia and Central America.

Modern hunting and habitat destruction has left lions in India, and western and Central Africa critically endangered. In the past twenty years around 30 per cent of the total lion population in Africa has been lost.

The results of this study will help scientists understand the potential loss of genetic diversity that could arise from poor conservation or mismanagement of the remaining lion populations.

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VIDEO: Meet Ocean Ramsey, The ‘Shark Whisperer’ (Who Also Happens to Be Smokin’ Hot)

Now we’ve seen some pretty ballsy interactions with top predators, but this one has got to take the cake.
shark whisperer
Ocean Ramsey is an avid ocean conservationist who’s swimming with sharks to raise awareness and change attitudes about these vilified sea-faring creatures.

She’s also smokin’ hot, which obviously isn’t the most important thing here, but still, damn.
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Hero Parrot Rescues Woman During Assault In London Park

Police are crediting a woman’s pet parrot for staving off an attacker in a London park late last week.

According to the Times-Series, Wunsy, an African Grey parrot, had just finished taking a “walk” with his owner, flying alongside her in Sunningfield Park in the suburb of Henden, when an unidentified man approached and pushed her to the ground. But before the assault could escalate into something much worse, the brave bird came to her rescue by flapping his wings and squawking at the assailant -- enough to send him running.
“This was a random attack on a woman walking out of a park,” says Police Constable Chris Cutmore. “Although the parrot, Wunsy, come to her rescue, we are obviously very keen to trace the suspect and prevent him from attacking anybody else.”

Fortunately, neither Wunsy nor his owner were injured in the assault.

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Majestic New Cat Species Discovered In Nepal

Researchers studying snow leopard populations high in the Himalayas have announced the accidental discovery of a cat previously unknown to Nepal -- a majestic little cat that's at home in the highest mountain range on Earth.

The small feline, about the same size as a domestic house cat, was caught on film by various camera traps between 13,000 and 15,000 feet above sea level. On 11 occasions between 2012 and 2013, the cat was spotted prowling the rocky mountainside at night in search of food.
“The automatic cameras installed for the monitoring of snow leopards tracked a new species of cat which is hitherto unknown to conservationists working in the Nepal,” said Bikram Shrestha, coordinator of the Snow Leopard Conservancy program.

“It has no Nepali name for it is completely a new animal to the country. We came to know the new animal to be Pallas’s cat after comparing photographs with similar species found in other parts of the world.”

Other populations and subspecies of Pallas’s cat can be found throughout central Asia; they are all listed under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Conservationists are encouraged by the discovery, adding that this early evidence may only be the tip of the iceberg.

“Other areas in Nepal also have the possibility of Pallas´s cat,” says Shrestha. “So, an in-depth study is needed regarding this new species.”

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Animals need your time

Today marks the beginning of National Volunteer Week. I know that much of the great stuff that happens at this and any other shelter in the country is primarily because of the great volunteers who work to make a difference.
Volunteering at the shelter can be very rewarding. You’ll never find a more grateful and admiring friend than an animal you just spent time with and comforted. Just lending a hand to make their lives a little more enjoyable and spreading the word about them can help them find a forever home.

Often, people come in during their lunch hour or after work to walk the dogs along the pathway, conveniently located just behind our building. Every dog loves to get out of their kennels and stretch their legs and see what’s happening in the outside world around them. This winter has been an especially long one, each of us is itching to get out and shake this cabin fever. Commit to a walking routine you can enjoy with a shelter pet and you’ll be changing more than just your attitude. It’s great exercise and, like I said, it means the difference between a lonely day and a great day for our shelter dogs.

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Searing heat compounds woes of animals

Other than inconveniencing people, the searing heat has started to get to animals and birds as well.

 Quite often animals are left to fend for themselves during summer and they further find it difficult to look for food and water in the urban habitat. The soaring mercury levels in the city have also restricted the movement of stray dogs and cattle, which are seldom seen on the streets. Besides, the heat wave is also taking a toll on the birds, which are the worst affected in summer as they have to scout far and wide for food and water. 
white tiger
 Lack of dense foliage around the animal enclosures at Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park has confined wild animals to their cages, who have resigned to the same fate as their domestic counterparts. Appeal

 Repeated appeals from people to set aside a bowl of water for birds and other suggestions to provide a better environment for animals are yet to percolate into people’s mindset. Animal lovers have also begun circulating a list of dos and don’ts to help people take care of animals, especially pets. 

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