Everything’s bigger in Texas: Ancient supersize shark fossils unearthed

 

The well-preserved fossil of a 300-million-year-old shark from New Mexico. The "Texas supershark" fossils (not pictured) are less complete, but suggest the supershark was even larger than the New Mexican shark.

The well-preserved fossil of a 300-million-year-old shark from New Mexico. The “Texas supershark” fossils (not pictured) are less complete, but suggest the supershark was even larger than the New Mexican shark. (John-Paul Hodnett)

A mega shark that lived 300 million years ago would have made today’s great whites look like shrimps, according to fossils of the beast unearthed in Jacksboro, Texas.

Scientists have dubbed the newfound fossils the “Texas supershark,” and the name is fitting: These supersharks were enormous: more than 26 feet long, or more than half the length of a school bus. That’s 25 percent larger than the modern great white shark and more than three times as long as other fossil sharks, including the Goodrichthys eskdalensis shark discovered in Scotland and another newfound shark specimen from New Mexico, both of which measure between 6.5 feet and 8.2 feet from head to tail. (Earth’s largest shark, C. megalodon, could grow up to 60 feet, or 18 m, long during its heyday, between about 16 million and 2.6 million years ago.)

Supershark lived before the age of the dinosaurs, which emerged about 230 million years ago. Until now, the oldest giant shark was found in rocks dating to 130 million years ago. [8 Weird Things About Sharks]

Supershark’s ancient age makes it a prize find, indicating that giant sharks go back much further in the fossil record than previously thought, the researchers said. They presented their unpublished findings Oct. 16 at the 75th annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference, in Dallas, Texas.

When supershark was alive, during the Carboniferous period, a shallow sea called the Western Interior Seaway covered Texas and much of the American West. The fossil remains of the sea’s marine life are still being uncovered in the ancient seabed, which is how study co-author Robert Williams, of the Dallas Paleontological Society, discovered the supershark fossils, including two fossil braincases. He also found a number of large and pointy, fossilized shark teeth, but it’s unclear whether these belonged to the Texas supershark or to another ancient species, the researchers said.

The braincases, which comprise the back end of the sharks’ skulls, resemble the corresponding skull parts of other Paleozoic fossil sharks, but “are clearly different from the far shorter” back skull regions of modern sharks, the researchers said.

To calculate the body size of the supershark without a complete specimen, lead researcher John Maisey, a curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and his colleagues had to get creative.

So they looked to the dimensions of other complete specimens of ancient sharks known as ctenacanthiforms, which are a group of ancient sharks that lived during the Carboniferous period (It’s likely supershark is also a ctenacanthiform, but its true identity will emerge only once other supershark remains, such as teeth and fin spines, are found, the researchers said.) The skulls of these ctenacanthiforms accounted for roughly 10 percent of the sharks’ entire body length, the researchers found.

If the Texas supershark shared the same proportions, its roughly 31.5-inches-long skull suggests that its body was likely more than 26 feet long, Maisey said. The other supershark they discovered likely measured about 18 feet, Maisey said.

Further research is needed to determine whether the Texas supershark specimens represent a known species, such as Glikmanius occidentalis, or a species that has yet to be discovered, Maisey said. But the newly found shark’s close relative, the ancient shark from Scotland (Goodrichthys eskdalensis), suggests that this group of sharks had successfully dispersed across large distances. [Dangers in the Deep: 10 Scariest Sea Creatures]

An entire shark

The conference held another gem for shark enthusiasts. During a dig in a New Mexico quarry, John-Paul Hodnett, a graduate student of biology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, discovered a nearly complete fossilized shark that also dates to about 300 million years ago.

The specimen, a female, measures about 0.6 feet long and sports teeth that “are actually brand-new to science,” Hodnett told Live Science. “We’ve never seen this type of tooth before.” He plans to analyze the teeth in an upcoming study, he added.

That fossil is so complete that studying it may help researchers better describe ctenacanths, a group of ancient sharks, he said.

“There’s a lot of missing data,” Hodnett said. “My advisor is always saying if you can’t find data, go out digging.”

 

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Originally available here

Two men injured in shark, eel attacks off Hawaii

Authorities said one man was seriously injured by a shark, while another man appeared to have been bitten by an eel in separate attacks off the Hawaiian island of Oahu Saturday.

Shortly before noon, a 44-year-old man was wounded after what appeared to be a shark attack in the waters off Lanikai beach in Oahu, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The victim and another man, whose age is unknown, were swimming to shore from the Mokulua Islands when the shark attacked, the newspaper reported. The attack happened about 50 to 100 yards from shore, the Honolulu Fire Department said.

The victim was injured in his lower legs, but the other man did not sustain any injuries, the Star-Advertiser reported.

Two nearby kayakers paddled the men back to shore, where Hawaii Fire Department staff and paramedics treated the victim. He was taken to the hospital in serious condition.

Authorities notified swimmers and cleared Kailua, Lanikai, and Mokulua beaches.

Shortly before 7 p.m. Saturday, a 33-year-old swimmer was bitten on the left foot off Waikiki Beach. He was taken to a local hospital in serious condition.

KHON reported that the man was initially believed to have been attacked by a shark, but lifeguards patrolling off shore early Sunday found no evidence of any sharks nearby.

Later in the day, Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) reported that the injuries sustained by the man were consistent with an eel bite.

The state’s online listing of shark attacks, which dates back 20 years, has no record of any shark attacks occurring near Waikiki Beach. Plans to post shark warning signs on the beach have been scrapped.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click for more from KHON2.com.

Originally available here

Poisonous sea snake found on Southern California beach

An El Nino weather pattern causing warmer ocean temperatures is being blamed for a venomous sea snake washing ashore on a Southern California beach on Friday.

A 2-foot-long yellow-bellied sea snake was found on the sand at Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard in Ventura County but died a short time later, according to the environmental group Heal the Bay. The reptile hasn’t been seen in Southern California for more than 30 years.

The black-and-yellow snake is more common in the waters near Baja California. Warmer ocean temperatures could have enticed the creature to swim north in order to find small fish and eels.

Experts say the highly venomous snake is unlikely to attack unless grabbed or attacked.

The Los Angeles Times reports the body was sent to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, where it was examined Saturday and samples were taken for DNA analysis.

The snake can be found in waters the coasts of Africa, Asia and Australia in addition to Mexico.

The reptile was last seen in San Clemente in 1983 during an El Nino.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Originally available here

‘Extinct’ no longer? Brontosaurus may make a comeback

File photo - visitors look at the skeleton of an Apatosaurus named "Einstein" displayed at the Lewis hall in Fundidora park in Monterrey, northern Mexico, Sept. 23, 2009.

File photo – visitors look at the skeleton of an Apatosaurus named “Einstein” displayed at the Lewis hall in Fundidora park in Monterrey, northern Mexico, Sept. 23, 2009. (REUTERS/Tomas Bravo )

The Brontosaurus is back. Or at least it should be, according to a new analysis of the long-necked dinosaur family tree.

The study researchers suggest the dinosaur currently known as Apatosaurus excelsus is different enough from its Apatosaurian kin as to be a different dinosaur altogether. Because A. excelsus was famously first known asBrontosaurus until 1903, the species would revert back to that original name and become Brontosaurus once again.

It’s a proposal that excites some paleontologists and leaves others skeptical, but researchers say it’s entirely possible that Brontosaurus may eventually regain its place in the scientific nomenclature. [See Images of an Apatosaurus Discovery]

“The big picture is, there are independent groups of researchers looking at these dinos and these relationships, and they are independently arriving at the same conclusion, that the diversity of this family of dinosaurs is greater than previously recognized,” said Matthew Mossbrucker, the director and curator of the Morrison Natural History Museum in Colorado. Mossbrucker was not involved in the new study, but is “wholly in favor of bringing the genus Brontosaurus back,” he said.

Brontosaurus background

The saga of Brontosaurus is as long as this sauropod’s snakelike neck. In 1877, the geologist Arthur Lakes sent paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh some fossilized bones, which Marsh described as a new late-Jurassic sauropod,Apatosaurus ajax. In 1879, Marsh’s team found another long-necked dino in the same era rock, which Marsh concluded was a different genus and species altogether — Brontosaurus excelsus.

The Brontosaurus name was not long-lasting, however. In 1903, the paleontologist Elmer Riggs determined that A. ajax and B. excelsus were more closely related than Marsh had believed. Apatosaurus, being the first named, took precedence, and Brontosaurus was no more. Instead, the dinosaur species once known as B. excelsus became A. excelsus. The Brontosaurus moniker persisted in popular culture, but not among scientists.

Not among most scientists, anyway. There have been occasional calls to re-examine the species. Paleontologist Bob Bakker, the curator of paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, has argued for a revision of the A. excelsus name since the 1990s.

“These guys should never have been lumped [together] back in 1903 or ’04,” Bakker told Live Science. He cites differences in the A. excelsus shoulder blade, head and neck that separate it from other Apatosaurs. But the only systematic analysis of Apatosaurus traits, published in the National Science Museum Monographs in 2004, upheld the current naming conventions.

Revising the family tree

The new research examines not only Apatosaurs, but all long-necks in the Diplodocidae family, the group that includes Apatosaurs and Diplodocuses. The researchers examined 477 different morphological traits from individual specimens found in museums in Europe and the United States. The study started simply, said lead researcher Emanuel Tschopp, a paleontologist at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal. [6 Strange Species Discovered in Museums]

“The idea was to identify some new skeletons that there are in a museum in Switzerland down to the species,” Tschopp told Live Science. “At some point, we figured out that in order to do this, we also had to revise the species taxonomy of the group because it was not known in enough detail to really see where our new specimens would belong.”

Tschopp and his colleagues cataloged the differences in various bony features of Diplodocidae dinosaurs and used a statistical method to quantify how different each dino was from the others. From there, they separated the specimens into individual species and genera, or closely related groups of species.

The most provocative result was how much A. excelsus stood out.

“We found that the differences between the genus Brontosaurus and the genusApatosaurus are so numerous that they should be kept apart as two different genera,” Tschopp said.

Most notably, he said, Apatosaurus would have had a wider, more robust neck than Brontosaurus. The findings appear April 7 in the open-access journal PeerJ.

Dino debate

Tschopp’s work did not take into account Apatosaurus excelsus‘ skull, because paleontologists disagree about whether a true skull of this animal has ever been found. Bakker and Mossbrucker argue there is good evidence that true skulls have been found; other paleontologists are skeptical of the field drawings and diagrams of Arthur Lakes, who found the original Apatosaurus specimens in the late 1800s.

If Bakker and Mossbrucker are right, the skulls of A. excelsus and other Apatosaurians bolster the Brontosaurus claim. The nasal chambers in A. excelsus’ probable skull fossils are larger than in other species, Bakker said, which would have made its bellows higher-pitched. Its muzzle, shoulders and neck joints are different, which would have altered its maneuverability and posture, Bakker added. All of these changes mattered ecologically.

“It’s important to recognize the distinctions, because this group of critters, the long-neck Apatosaurs, evolved faster than we’ve been giving them credit for, and they evolved in sectors of anatomy that are really interesting,” Bakker said. “Why would they change their head-neck posture? Why? I suspect part of it might be social behavior, the way they signaled to each other with head flips and chin bobs.”

But discerning behavior and evolution from bone shapes and features is a tricky business.

“The question for me is when we look at these changes, and we say the shape of this bone is different, the shape of that bone is different, it’s hard for me to say that they are equivalent changes,” said John Whitlock, a paleontologist at Mount Aloysius College, who was not involved in the study but who reviewed it for publication. For example, one change could require the alteration of 400nucleotides of DNA, Whitlock told Live Science, and another just a couple of nucleotides.

“Evolutionarily speaking, those are not necessarily equivalent,” he said.

If anything is certain, it’s that bringing back Brontosaurus will require a lot more debate (and, ultimately, a ruling by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature).

“For sure, there will be other researchers that are maybe not convinced or have their own evidence against the separation of the two,” Tschopp said. “In the end, this is how science works.”

 

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

originally available here

Biggest Elephant Seen in Decades Killed by Hunter

www.newser.com

ANOTHER 40 WERE KILLED WITH CYANIDE

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2015 1:00 AM CDT

(NEWSER) – A disturbing number of elephants have been killed in Zimbabwe in recent weeks, including the biggest one seen in decades. An enormous bull elephant was killed on Oct. 8 just outside a national park by a German hunter who had paid $60,000 for a permit, the Telegraph reports. Conservationists tell CNN that with tusks that weighed around 120 pounds each, the elephant was one of the biggest to be seen in the region for 50 years—and if it hadn’t been shot, it could have become a tourist attraction worth a lot more than $60,000. The hunter, who has not been identified, was on a 21-day hunt that also included leopards, lions, buffalo, and rhinoceros, according to theTelegraph.

The chairman of Zimbabwe’s hunters and guides association tells the Telegraph that the elephant had not been seen in the country before and it was bigger than any of the other five or six “giant tuskers” shot over the last year. He says the client didn’t realize just how big the elephant was until it was shot, and he suggests that authorities start collaring unique elephants if they don’t want hunters to shoot them. Elsewhere in Zimbabwe, the bodies of 26 elephants that poachers had poisoned with cyanide were found this week, the AP reports. Another 14 were killed in three separate incidents last week and no arrests have been made, authorities say. (Zimbabwe hasdecided not to file charges against the American dentist who killed Cecil the lion.)

In this photo taken Oct. 1, 2015, elephants cross the road in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.
In this photo taken Oct. 1, 2015, elephants cross the road in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.   (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Baby duck-billed dinos unearthed in ‘Dragon’s Tomb’ nest

At least three baby hadrosaurs (<em>Saurolophus angustirostris</em>) were discovered in this slab of rock from Mongolia.

At least three baby hadrosaurs (Saurolophus angustirostris) were discovered in this slab of rock from Mongolia.(Dewaele et al.)

A cluster of baby duck-billed dinosaurs — hadrosaurs like the adorable character Ducky in the 1988 animated film “The Land Before Time” — was uncovered in a slab of rock from a fossil-rich part of Mongolia known as “Dragon’s Tomb.”

Scientists examining a roughly 1-foot-long piece of rock from the Dragon’s Tomb site, which is located in the Gobi Desert, discovered at least three new babySaurolophus angustirostris fossils. The rock was part of a dinosaur nest and contained some interesting bones, but until now, scientists didn’t know exactly what those bones were. The new discovery, akin to finding a whole new chapter in a family photo album, could help researchers piece together the entireSaurolophus family tree.

Saurolophus were large duck-billed hadrosaurs with distinctive crests on the top of their heads. But the newly identified fossils weren’t very large at all, the scientists said. In fact, the newfound hadrosaurs were probably at the very earliest stages of life — either they had just hatched, or were just about to. [In Images: Discovering a Duck-Billed Dinosaur Baby]

The Dragon’s Tomb hadrosaurs are the youngest Saurolophus angustirostrisever described, the researchers said. These babies could help paleontologists better understand the changes that occurred to the animals’ bodies as they grew from 1-foot-long babies into 40-foot long adults.

One of the most drastic such changes can be understood by looking at the babies’ snouts. “While hadrosaurids are considered the so-called duck-billed dinosaurs, we saw a very small snout [compared to adults],” said study lead author Leonard Dewaele, a researcher at Ghent University in Belgium. “This had been anticipated by other scientists.”

The babies didn’t seem to have developed the adult’s signature crests yet, either.

By studying these kinds of changes, scientists can piece together not only how each species lived, but also how many different species are related to each other, the researchers said.

To identify the skeletons, the scientists compared the babies to other known specimens of Saurolophus. These types of hadrosaurs are common around the Dragon’s Tomb region, so there was plenty of reference material.

But this new discovery came with some unique challenges, because the fossils had originally been poached from the site and sold to a private collector. The rock slab, in other words, had not been scientifically collected.

“The problem is then we don’t have all the data about the exact location [the fossils] came from,” Dewaele told Live Science.

A lot of a fossil’s scientific value comes from the context in which it was found — what layer of rock, for example, or what side of a hill — and most poachers don’t bother to record that important information, he said. “So, we couldn’t say a lot about [where the animals] died,” Dewaele added. While some information had been recorded, much of the bigger picture had been lost, the researchers said.

The dinosaur nest was likely originally on a riverbank that was washed away and covered in sand, the researchers said. Though the area is now desert, 65 million years ago, the Dragon’s Tomb would have been located in a flood plain with large, winding rivers. The river could have easily swept away the nest and begun the fossilization process, although evidence suggests at least some of the babies had already died by the time they were buried, the researchers said

Though the fossils were originally poached and sold internationally, the baby dinos have now been returned to Mongolian authorities and are currently housed in the Institute of Paleontology and Geology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences in Ulaanbaatar.

The findings were published Oct. 14 in the journal PLOS ONE.

 

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Originally available here

Scientists go in search of elusive river shark

This is an image of the shark Glyphis glyphis which is found in rivers of Asia. (Lindsay Marshall)

This is an image of the shark Glyphis glyphis which is found in rivers of Asia. (Lindsay Marshall)

For decades, stories persisted of a shark that navigated rivers of Asia and the South Pacific, sometimes taking a chunk out of the unsuspecting bathers or those washing their clothes.

But few people had actually seen one of these critically endangered predators.

Now, an international team of researchers is shedding a little more light on this family of sharks known as Glyphis.  Using DNA sequencing, the researchers in a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesconcluded that three different species was actually just one, Glyphis gangeticus. The range of this shark is believed to go from the rivers from India – hence its name – all the way to Malaysia.

In a separate paper published in PLOS One earlier this month, many of the same researchers also rediscovered two species of the shark – Glyphis garricki and G. glyphis – in the rivers of Papua New Guinea for the first time since the 1970s. Again using DNA sequencing, they determined they were the same species found in Northern Australia.

Related: Study finds more sharks than ever swimming in waters along the East Coast

“The river sharks are particularly mysterious,” Gavin Naylor, a professor at College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina who was a co-author on both papers, told FoxNews.com.

“They are archetypal, typical looking sharks like a grey reef or bull shark. They sort of look like that but they have got tiny little eyes and very broad fins,” he said. “These are adaptions for living in very turbid water. If you have a look where these things live, the visibility is about an inch. It’s completely muddy water.“

First discovered back in 1839, Naylor said little is known about this group of sharks simply because so few live sharks have ever been caught.  That has helped fuel their outsized reputation as one of the top predators of river systems.

“Many people have never seen these animals,” Naylor said, noting that many have been identified from various body parts that have turned up in markets or that are in museums.

“They have got this apocryphal mysterious kind of reputation. They were believed – at least one species, the Ganges River shark – was believed to occasionally bite bathers in the Ganges River. But nobody ever saw them. It was a wonderful, kind of a frightening thing that some sort of monster grabs you but nobody knows what it is.”

The fact that so little is known has helped breed plenty of misinformation about the shark – beyond its menacing reputation.

Until Naylor and his colleagues started looking into shark, there were believed to be three species across Southeast Asia – the Ganges River species as well as Glyphis fowlerae from Malaysia and Glyphis siamensis from Myanmar. But thanks to the recent DNA work, all three turned out to be the same species.

In the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, William White, of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, set out to examine shark and ray fisheries. As part of the four-year project, he was able to work with local fishermen in a place called Daru to discover the two species of river sharks that also call Australia home.

Related: Rare ‘sofa shark’ stuns scientists

“They found that the jaws and fins of a large, G. glyphis were brought for sale by a local fishermen. He also had different fins of what looked to be the northern river shark Glyphis garricki,” Naylor said. “Will had the good sense to get some tissue samples to see if it was the same as the ones we had from Northern Australia. We sequenced them and indeed they were.”

Naylor said the rediscovery of the sharks is good news – sort of.

“It give you hope but you are not sure if they have always been there and we just discovered them because the fishing pressure has increased or we have discovered them because they are making a comeback,” he said. “It’s hard to tell.”

White agreed but admitted the discoveries illustrate just how little is known about what lives in the rivers of a remote, mountainous place like Papua New Guinea.

“In the context of the river sharks, more work is needed to determine what if any affect pollution and habitat degradation from processes such as mining are having on their populations,” White, also a senior curator at the Australian National Fish Collection, told Fox News by email. “We barely have the baseline data for some species such as river sharks to measuring the effect of threats such as mining is not possible at this stage. However, it needs to be a major consideration when discussing future management decisions that need to be made. It is possible that PNG still holds a relatively good population of river sharks compared to many other locations in the world.”

Together, Naylor and White said the findings are helping answering some of the questions about the sharks and could help with conservation, since we now the Ganges River shark range was much more widespread and most likely includes both salt and freshwater environments.

Related: Pro surfer fights off shark in incredible encounter

“If you have got lots of different species and each species is supposed to occur in a distinctly different habitat, then you have to be very careful about preserving each of those species,” Naylor said. “If you find out that, in fact, it’s one species that is distributed over a wider area, then there is not quite so much pressure to conserve every single one of those different species because they are all the same thing. It also tells us this very same species is adaptable to living in different environments. It can live in Pakistan. It can live in Borneo and it can live in Myanmar.”

But he and White acknowledged there are still plenty to learn about this elusive shark, including how they navigate the muddy river waters and “make a living there”, how many young they have and the mechanism they use to transition from salt to freshwater and back.

And with the recent discoveries in Papua New Guinea, it begs the question over whether there might be even more of these sharks out there to be found.

“We found evidence from jaws collected in Bangladesh that the genetic sequence of them is different from anything described. But we don’t have a specimen,” he said. “It’s completely different than any of the others. So, there is a species out there that we don’t know about.”

For decades, stories persisted of a shark that navigated rivers of Asia and the South Pacific, sometimes taking a chunk out of the unsuspecting bathers or those washing their clothes.

But few people had actually seen one of these critically endangered predators.

Now, an international team of researchers is shedding a little more light on this family of sharks known as Glyphis.  Using DNA sequencing, the researchers in a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that three different species was actually just one, Glyphis gangeticus. The range of this shark is believed to go from the rivers from India – hence its name – all the way to Malaysia.

In a separate paper published in PLOS One earlier this month, many of the same researchers also rediscovered two species of the shark – Glyphis garricki and G. glyphis – in the rivers of Papua New Guinea for the first time since the 1970s. Again using DNA sequencing, they determined they were the same species found in Northern Australia.

“The river sharks are particularly mysterious,” Gavin Naylor, a professor at College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina who was a co-author on both papers, told Fox News.

“They are archetypal, typical looking sharks like a great reef or bull shark. They sort of look like that but they have tiny little eyes and big broad fins,” he said. “These are adaption for living in very turbid water. If you have a look where these things live, the visibility is about an inch. It’s completely muddy water.“

First discovered back in 1839, Naylor said little is known about this shark family simply because so few live sharks have ever been caught.  That has helped fuel their outsized reputation as one of the top predators of river systems.

“Many people have never seen these animals,” Naylor said, noting that many have been identified from various body parts that have turned up in markets or that are in museums.

“They have got this apocryphal mysterious kind reputation. They were believed – at least one species, the Ganges River shark – was believed to bite bathers in the Ganges River. But nobody ever saw them. It was a wonderful, frightening thing that some sort of monster grabs you but nobody knows what it is.”

The fact that so little is known has helped breed plenty of misinformation about the shark – beyond its menacing reputation.

Until Naylor and his colleagues started looking into shark, there were believed to be three species across Southeast Asia – the Ganges River species as well as Glyphis fowlerae from Malaysia and Glyphis siamensis from Myanmar. But thanks to the recent DNA work, all three turned out to be the same species.

In the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, William White, of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, set out to examine shark and ray fisheries. As part of the four-year project, he was able to work with local fishermen in a place called Daru to discover the two species of river sharks that also call Australia home.

“They found that the jaws and fins of a large, G. glyphis were brought for sale by a local fishermen. He also had different fins of what looked to be the northern river shark Glyphis garricki,” Naylor said. “Will had the good sense to get some tissue samples to see if it was the same as the ones we had from Northern Australia. We sequenced them and indeed they were.”

Naylor said the rediscovery of the sharks is good news – sort of.

“It gives you hope but you are not sure if they have always been there and we just discovered them because the fishing pressure has increased or we have discovered them because they are making a comeback,” he said. “It’s hard to tell.”

White agreed but admitted the discoveries illustrate just how little is known about what lives in the rivers of a remote, mountainous place like Papua New Guinea.

“In the context of the river sharks, more work is needed to determine what if any affect pollution and habitat degradation from processes such as mining are having on their populations,” White, also a senior curator at the Australian National Fish Collection, told FoxNews.com by email. “We barely have the baseline data for some species such as river sharks to measuring the effect of threats such as mining is not possible at this stage. However, it needs to be a major consideration when discussing future management decisions that need to be made. It is possible that PNG still holds a relatively good population of river sharks compared to many other locations in the world.”

Together, Naylor and White said the findings are helping answering some of the questions about the sharks and could help with conservation, since we now know the Ganges River shark range was much more widespread and most likely includes both salt and freshwater environments.

“If you have got lots of different species and each species is supposed to occur in a distinctly different habitat, then you need to be very careful about preserving the habitat for each of those species,” Naylor said. “If you find out that, in fact, it’s one species that is distributed over a wider area, then there is not quite so much pressure to conserve every single one of those different species because they are all the same thing. It also tells us that this very same species is adaptable to living in different environments. It can live in Pakistan. It can live in Borneo and it can live in Myanmar.”

But he and White acknowledged there is still plenty to learn about this elusive shark, including how they navigate the muddy river waters and “make a living there”, how many young they have and the mechanism they use to transition from salt to freshwater and back.

And with the recent discoveries in Papua New Guinea, it begs the question over whether there might be even more of these sharks out there to be found.

“We found evidence from jaws collected in Bangladesh that the genetic sequence of them is different from anything described. But we don’t have a specimen,” he said. “It’s completely different than any of the others. So, there is a species out there that we don’t know about.”

Originally available here

Huge underwater canyon is home to amazing deep-sea creatures

One of the many underwater creatures filmed during the two-week-long mission of Perth Canyon.

One of the many underwater creatures filmed during the two-week-long mission of Perth Canyon. (University of Western Australia)

A two-week-long seafaring mission off the coast of western Australia has helped illuminate a deep and dark underwater abyss the size of the Grand Canyon.

During the trip to Perth Canyon, researchers encountered countless deep-sea organisms, including Venus flytrap anemones and golden coral. They even found a lost piece of equipment — an autonomous ocean glider that had gone missing two years earlier.

The scientists, from the University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute, began their mission on March 1 on the Falkor, a research vessel owned by an American nonprofit organization. Once aboard, they sailed about 19 miles from Fremantle, a city on the western Australian coast. They then used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the underwater canyon, which extends from the continental shelf for more than 2.5 miles to the ocean floor. [Marine Marvels: Spectacular Photos of Sea Creatures]

“We have discovered near-pristine, sheer-drop cliffs of over 1,968 feet and mapped structures that are rarely found in other parts of the ocean,” Malcolm McCulloch, the project’s leader and a professor of earth and the environment at the University of Western Australia, said in a statement. “It is truly a huge canyon.”

The canyon likely formed more than 100 million years ago, the researchers said. Back then, it appears that an ancient river cut the canyon during rifting that separated western Australia from India. Nowadays, the submerged canyon is a hotspot for marine life, attracting blue whales and other sea life in search of a tasty meal.

Researchers knew little about the canyon’s structure and the creatures that inhabited it until this expedition. Using the Falkor’s cutting-edge mapping systems and ROV, they explored Perth Canyon at depths of more than 1.2 miles. By the end of the mission, the research team had traveled more than 1,118 miles to map the canyon’s 154 square miles.

The canyon’s deepest point is 2.6 miles below the ocean’s surface, McCulloch said.

“It is at a depth where light can’t penetrate, making a dark water column where there are no signs of light from above or below,” he said.

Still, the researchers found a surprisingly rich community of deep-sea creatures that cling to the canyon’s walls. For instance, about 1 mile below the surface, they found brisingid seastars and mushroom soft corals. Other researchers have documented these animals living in Perth Canyon before, and now these creatures have been found in other deep-sea areas around the world.

The team also used the ROV to collect samples of the deep-sea corals. In the coming months, the scientists plan to determine the coral’s age, how fast they grow, and whether global warming or ocean acidification has changed their habitat.

The work may also help other researchers, especially those who study deep-sea ecosystems and the factors that threaten survival in these places, they said.

During the project, the researchers also stumbled across an old piece of equipment — an autonomous ocean glider that went missing while it was exploring the canyon more than two years ago. When the team spotted the bright-yellow glider at a depth of about 0.4 miles underwater, everyone celebrated, said Chari Pattiaratchi, a professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia.

Next up, researchers will use the Falkor to test underwater robotic vehicles at Scott Reef, off the coast of northwestern Australia.

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Rare snub-nosed monkey among new species discovered in Eastern Himalayas

Photoshop reconstruction of the snub-nosed monkey. (Credit: Dr Thomas Geissmann/Fauna & Flora International)

Photoshop reconstruction of the snub-nosed monkey. (Credit: Dr Thomas Geissmann/Fauna & Flora International)

Move over, fall allergies.

Today’s hottest sneeze belongs to a rare breed of monkey. And, it’s enjoying viral status on Facebook.

The snub-nosed monkey is one of 211 new species discovered in the Eastern Himalayas, according to a World Wildlife Fund report. In addition to the monkey, the new species include 133 plants, 39 invertebrates, 26 fish, 10 amphibians, one reptile and one bird.

Located in the Eastern Himalayan region of far north Myanmar, the monkeys are known as Rhinopithecus Strykeri. Scientists first heard of the species in that region in 2010 and have taken to nicknaming them “snubby” due to their snub noses.

Related: Tiny flies create zombie honeybees that take night flights, then die

Local legend goes that the species sneezes during rainstorms because water gets into its upturned noses. As a result, the black and white animals are known to sit with their heads between their knees when it rains.

The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) writes that the monkeys were recently encountered by teams of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and People Resources and Conservation Foundation (PRCF).

“Little is known about the monkey’s behaviour in the wild, its distribution range, or its value to local communities. Not surprisingly, this species is likely to be classified as critically endangered due to its restricted range and significant hunting pressures,” writes the WWF.

Related: Extinct hippolike creature was prehistoric vacuum cleaner

The monkeys were photographed using camera traps placed in the forested mountains of Kachin state, which borders China. Cameras were placed through a joint effort by FFI, Biodiversity And Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) and People Resources and PRCF.

“As with most of Asia’s rare mammals, the snub-nosed monkeys are threatened by habitat loss and hunting,” writes the WWF.

An additional population of these monkeys was discovered in Lushui County, Yunnan, China in 2011.

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Tiny flies create zombie honeybees that take night flights, then die

In this Sept. 1, 2015, photo, a honeybee works atop gift zinnia in Accord, N.Y. While scientists have documented cases of tiny flies infesting honeybees, causing the bees to lurch and stagger around like zombies before they die, researchers don't know the scope of the problem. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

In this Sept. 1, 2015, photo, a honeybee works atop gift zinnia in Accord, N.Y. While scientists have documented cases of tiny flies infesting honeybees, causing the bees to lurch and stagger around like zombies before they die, researchers don’t know the scope of the problem. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

Call them “The Buzzing Dead.”

Honeybees are being threatened by tiny flies that lead them to lurch and stagger around like zombies. The afflicted bees often make uncharacteristic night flights, sometimes buzzing around porch lights before dying.

Well-documented on the West Coast, some zombie-bee cases also have been detected in eastern states by volunteers helping track its spread. This comes as honeybees have already been ravaged in recent years by mysterious colony collapse disorder, vampire mites and nutritional deficiencies.

“We’re not making a case that this is the doomsday bug for bees,” said John Hafernik, a biology professor at San Francisco State University. “But it is certainly an interesting situation where we have a parasite that seems to affect the behavior of bees and has them essentially abandoning their hive.”

Hafernik in 2012 started a project to enlist people to track the spread of zombie bees called ZomBee Watch. Participants are asked to upload photos of the bees they collect and photos of pupae and adult flies as they emerge. They have more than 100 confirmed cases.

The fly had already been known to afflict bumblebees and yellow jackets. Then in 2008, Hafernik made a discovery after scooping up some disoriented bees beneath a light outside his campus office. Before long, he noticed pupae emerging from a bee.

That led to the first of many zombie honeybee cases found in the San Francisco area and beyond. Researchers believe Apocephalus borealis flies attack bees as they forage. The flies pierce the bees’ abdomens and deposit eggs, affecting the behavior of the doomed bees.

A beekeeper in Burlington, Vermont, detected the first zombie case in the East, in 2013. Then this summer, amateur beekeeper Joe Naughton of Hurley, New York, discovered the first of two recently confirmed cases in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City.

Naughton, who has 200,000 or more bees, is not panicking just yet.

“You know, the ‘zombie’ thing is a little bit sensational and some people hear that and they go right into alarm bells ringing,” Naughton said. “Where the state of things are right now is mostly just fact finding.”

And there are a lot of facts to find.

It’s possible that zombie watchers like Naughton are just now detecting a parasite that has been targeting honeybees for a long time, though Hafernik notes that reports of honeybees swarming night lights are a recent phenomenon.

It’s not clear if zombie bees can be linked to colony collapse disorder, a syndrome in which whole colonies fail after the loss of adult worker bees. Scientists have not been able to prove what causes CCD, though some believe it could be an interplay of factors including mites, pesticides and habitat loss. For now, threats like mites are more of a concern to researchers than the spread of zombie fly parasites.

“We have several other stresses on bees and we don’t want any other stress like this one,” said Ramesh Sagili, an assistant professor of apiculture at Oregon State University. “We have to be cautious, but I’m not alarmed that this parasite is going to create a big problem.”

 

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