New jelly-bean-size ‘masked’ frog discovered in the Andes

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N. madreselva’s distinctive markings include a dark brown “face mask.” (Vanessa Uscapi)

A tiny new frog species discovered in the Peruvian Andes has a white-mottled belly and a dark face mask that makes it look like a bandit.

Noblella madreselva lives in the humid cloud forest near Cusco, Peru, probably only in the valleys right around where it was discovered, researchers report Aug. 6 in the journal ZooKeys. The frogs, which are not much bigger than jelly beans, can fit on the tip of a human finger. They’re active during the day, and live in leaf litter on the forest floor.

Vanessa Uscapi, a biologist at the National University of Saint Anthony the Abbot in Cusco, Peru, discovered the new tiny frog in January 2011, but only now has it been officially described. She and her colleagues picked the name madreselva to honor conservation initiatives in the region: The word means “mother jungle” and is also the name of a nearby ecotourism lodge and a small valley where a group called Sircadia is trying to launch a sustainable eco-community. [In Photos: Teeny-Tiny Frogs Found in Brazil]

N. madreselva has a dark-brown body with a darker patch on its head. Its belly is decorated with striking white marks. It’s not the only recently discovered tiny frog with bold coloration; in June, researchers in Brazil announced the discovery of seven itsy-bitsy new frogs from rainforests in Brazil. Those frogs, all of which belong to the genus Brachycephalus, came in colors ranging from greenish-brown to bright orange and blue.

The smallest frog ever discovered hails from Papua New Guinea, and could perch quite comfortably on a penny. Frogs, of the genus Paedophryne, are less than half an inch long. The smallest species in the genus, Paedophryne amauensis, grows to be just 0.3 inches, on average. It’s not only the world’s smallest frog, but also the smallest vertebrate discovered so far.

The newly discovered Peruvian frog likely has a very limited geographical range, making it vulnerable to the effects of deforestation and habitat loss, Uscapi and her colleagues said. Andean frogs are also at risk of a deadly chytrid funguscalled Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This fungus has devastated frog populations worldwide. It causes the amphibians’ skin to harden, disrupting their electrolyte balance and causing cardiac arrest. A December 2013 study in the journal Conservation Biology found that climate change in the Andes is increasing the area in which this fungus can thrive. Alessandro Catenazzi, one of the researchers on the team that discovered the new frog along with Uscapi, was an author of that 2013 study as well.

The researchers found that highlands frogs in the Andes were vulnerable to the fungus, while lowlands frogs were likely to suffer not from the fungus, but from warming temperatures.

“The frogs in the highlands will not suffer from climate change anytime soon, but they’re doomed because of the fungus, whereas the frogs in the lowlands are shielded from the fungus but they’re going to be toasted because it’s too hot,” Catenazzi told Live Science at the time.

 

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Alien of the deep has needle-sharp teeth and a shiny head lure

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A female of the newfound Lasiognathus dinema species from the Gulf of Mexico. (Theodore Pietsch, Ph.D. University of Washington)

Lurking in the dark depths of the sea, a new species that looks more like an alien than a fish has been discovered, a creature with needlelike teeth and a glowing fishing pole of sorts atop its head.

Scientists spotted three females of the new species of anglerfish between 3,280 feet and nearly 5,000 feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The little fish, whose bodies ranged in length from 1.2 to 3.7 inches, live under extreme conditions: No sunlight penetrates their deep habitats where they endure immense pressures of more than 2,200 pounds per square inch.

Now called Lasiognathus dinema, the anglerfish stood out from other species in its genus by the curved appendages jutting out from its so-called esca, or the organ at the tip of the “fishing rod” that contains light-producing bacteria. The species name dinema comes from the Greek words “di” for “two” and “nema” for “thread,” referring to the threadlike extensions sprouting from the bases of the light organ’s hooks, the researchers, Tracey Sutton of Nova Southeastern University in Florida and Theodore Pietsch of the University of Washington, write in the journal Copeia (published by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists). [See Photos of a Creepy, Deep-Sea Anglerfish]

Anglerfish use this lure to reel in unsuspecting fish that mistake the light for a meal.

The researchers aren’t sure whether or not Lasiognathus dinema can move its head rod at will, but it seems likely. “This particular group of anglerfishes has never been seen alive, but based on the musculature and anatomy, it looks like they have a great deal of control over the ‘fishing rod,'” Sutton told Live Science.

The researchers found just females of this species but suspect the males would be smaller, as other anglerfish in the suborder Ceratioidei show extreme sexual dimorphism — females of the species Ceratias holboelli, for instance, can be some 60 times longer and a half million times heavier than the males.

The males in this group also often lack any lure and some fuse themselves to the female, living off of nutrients from her bloodstream, providing sperm to fertilize her eggs in return.

“So far, we do not have any female specimens with males, but there are so few specimens of this group that are known, the best answer would be, ‘We don’t know if the males attach themselves in this genus,'” Sutton said.

Like the newfound creature, most anglerfish are relatively small beasties — malePhotocorynus spiniceps may be the world’s smallest vertebrate — but Sutton has seen one off Iceland spanning nearly 3 feet, he said.

The team found the haunting new species while out on the Gulf as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Process conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lasiognathus dinema was found near the Macondo wellhead at depths where intrusions of hydrocarbons from the BP oil spill in 2010 were reported.

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Dementor’ wasp turns cockroaches into zombies

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It’s the stuff of nightmares – a newly-discovered wasp that turns cockroaches into zombies.

The Ampulex Dementor, named after the terrifying soul-suckers from the “Harry Potter” movies, is one of a 139 new species discovered in Asia’s Mekong Delta in 2014, according to a World Widlife Fund report.

The wasp, which was discovered in Thailand, injects venom into a mass of neurons on the cockroach’s belly that turns the roach into a passive zombie, according to the report. “Cockroach wasp venom blocks receptors of the neurotransmitter octopamine, which is involved in the initiation of spontaneous movement. With this blocked, the cockroach is still capable of movement, but is unable to direct its own body,” the report explained.

It gets worse for the wasp’s unfortunate victim. “Once the cockroach has lost control, the wasp drags its stupefied prey by the antennae to a safe shelter to devour it,” the report added.

Visitors to the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin voted to name the waspAmpulex Dementor in a poll, noting the insect’s similarity to the dementors that terrorize Harry Potter and his fellow wizards.

The species was discovered by Michael Ohl, Volker Lohrmann, Laura Breitkreuz, Lukas Kirschey, and Stefanie Krause.

The opportunity to name a fascinating new species strengthens such as the Ampulex Dementor helps build public awareness of conservation issues, experts say. “I am convinced that events like this increase people’s curiosity about local and global fauna and nature,” said Ohl, one of the Museum für Naturkunde researchers who led the naming process.

Other new species detailed in the report include Phryganistria Heusii Yentuensis, the world’s second-longest insect, at 21 inches, which was discovered in Vietnam. Researchers also found the Gracixalus Lumarius, a color-changing thorny frog, in Vietnam.

The 139 new species include 90 plants, 23 reptiles, 16 amphibians, nine fish, and one mammal,

Originally available here

 

 

Oldest panda in captivity celebrates 37th birthday

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Jia Jia, born in 1978, was officially recognized on July 28, 2015 as “Oldest panda ever in captivity” and “Oldest panda living in captivity” by Guinness World Records (New China TV)

A female panda in Hong Kong celebrated her 37th birthday today (July 28), becoming the oldest panda in captivity, and setting two new Guinness World Records in the process.

The giant panda, named Jia Jia, now holds the title for “oldest panda ever in captivity” and “oldest panda living in captivity.” The panda’s advanced age is equivalent to 111 human years, according to officials at the Guinness World Records organization.

Jia Jia lives with the world’s second-oldest panda, An An, who is approaching his 29th birthday, at Ocean Park, an animal and amusement park in Hong Kong. [Cute Alert! Adorable Photos of Giant Panda Triplets]

“Giant pandas are undoubtedly one of the Earth’s most endangered and well-known species. Thanks to the attentive care of the Park for the past 16 years, Jia Jia has set a new longevity record,” Blythe Fitzwiliam, an adjudicator at Guinness World Records, said in a statement.

The previous oldest panda in captivity was Dudu, who was born in 1962 and lived to be 36 years old. Before she died, Dudu spent most of her life at the Wuhan Zoo in Chengdu, China.

 

Jia Jia, An An and two other giant pandas (Ying Ying and Le Le) celebrated the new Guinness World Records accomplishment with an icy birthday cake and partied with 200 local senior citizens and their caregivers, who were invited to the celebration by park officials.

Jia Jia and An An arrived in Hong Kong as a gift from the China Central Government in 1999, to mark the semi-autonomous city’s handover by Britain two years earlier. Almost 27 million visitors have come to see the pandas since their arrival, according to Ocean Park officials. Both Jia Jia and the previous record holder, Dudu, were rescued from the wild.

Wild pandas used to roam all over southern and eastern China, even venturing into Myanmar and Vietnam, but are now considered one of the world’s most endangered animals. However, in the past decade, the population of giant pandas in the wild has increased by 17 percent, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The latest 2014 census counted 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild.

Jia Jia’s longevity is especially notable because the average lifespan for giant pandas is typically 14 to 20 years in the wild, and 30 years in captivity, according to WWF.

“Given their advanced years, An An and Jia Jia are both in satisfactory health,” Suzanne Gendron, executive director of zoological operations and education at Ocean Park, said in a statement. “Jia Jia takes regular medication for various conditions such as high blood pressure and arthritic pain, whereas An An has high blood pressure, which is common for giant pandas around his age.”

An An’s blood pressure is controlled with medication, though Jia Jia can’t do much to remedy the deterioration of her eyesight, which is caused by cataracts, park officials said. Still, she can recognize the voices of her caretakers, some of whom she has known for 15 years. “This gives her a strong sense of security,” Gendron said.

“It gives us tremendous pride that Hong Kong Ocean Park is now the home of the world’s oldest ever giant panda and the world’s second-oldest male giant panda under human care,” Leo Kung, chairman of Ocean Park, said in a statement. “A lot of credit goes to our dedicated animal-care team, which has continued to benefit from the advice and guidance of experts in Sichuan through their regular visits to the Park.”

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One tough bite: T. rex’s teeth had secret weapon

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An illustration of a Gorgosaurus using its serrated teeth to rip apart its meal, a young Corythosaurus in Alberta, 75 million years ago. (Painting by Danielle Dufault)

Secret structures hidden within the serrated teeth of Tyrannosaurus rex and other theropods helped the fearsome dinosaurs tear apart their prey without chipping their pearly whites, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at the teeth of theropods — a group of bipedal, largely carnivorous dinosaurs that includes T. rex and Velociraptor — to study the mysterious structures that looked like cracks within each tooth.

The investigation showed that these structures weren’t cracks at all, but deep folds within the tooth that strengthened each individual serration and helped prevent breakage when the dinosaur pierced through its prey, said study lead researcher Kirstin Brink, a postdoctoral researcher of biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. [Image Gallery: The Life of T. Rex]

The new study upends one from the early 1990s, Brink said. Researchers first noticed these cryptic cracks on the tooth of a T. rex cousin named Albertosaurusabout two decades ago.

Initially, the researchers thought the cracks were signs of damage, likely acquired when the dinosaur ate a hearty meal. But the new analysis finds that isn’t the case, Brink said.

“I sectioned teeth from eight other theropods besides Albertosaurus, and found that the structure is actually in all theropods, and it’s not actually a crack,” she told Live Science.

Serrated teeth

The study actually began with a Dimetrodon, a Paleozoic animal with serrated teeth that lived before the time of the dinosaurs. When Brink sliced theDimetrodon tooth in half and compared it with the serrated teeth of dinosaurs, she found they had different internal structures.

“They look very similar on the outside,” Brink said. “It’s only when you cut them open [that you see] that they’re completely different.”

Curious, she obtained two to three teeth from eight different theropods species, including T. rex, Coelophysis bauri and Carcharodontosaurus saharicus. She also looked at specimens of theropod teeth that had not yet fully matured and erupted past the gum line, meaning, “they had not been used for feeding,” Brink said.

An analysis using a scanning electron microscope and a synchrotron (a microscope that helps determine the chemical composition of a substance) showed that each tooth, even the ones that had not yet erupted, had these cracklike structures next to each serration, she said. This debunked the idea that the cracks were artifacts of eating a meaty meal, she said.

Furthermore, each structure has a few extra layers of calcified tissue, called dentine, under the tooth’s outer enamel coating, making it tough and hard.

“We proposed a developmental hypothesis that these are structures created when the tooth is first forming,” Brink said. “It actually helps to deepen the serration within the tooth and strengthen each serration and the tooth overall.”

Serrated teeth help animals pierce through flesh and hold onto chunks of meat. The formations, which the researchers call “deep interdental folds,” strengthen the serrations. In fact, they likely helped theropods survive as top predators for about 165 million years, Brink said.

Serrated teeth still exist today in Komodo dragons. However, Komodo dragon teeth don’t have deep interdental folds, nor do they have the extra layers of dentine that would strengthen their bite, Brink added.

She called the toothy finding fascinating and “unexpected.”

“It’s really cool that such a small, little change in the tooth structure, a small arrangement of the dental tissues, could completely change the ways these animals are living,” she said.

The study was published online today (July 28) in the journal Scientific Reports.

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Tourists get rare chance to pet gray whale and her calf

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A whale of a time in Baja California, Mexico. (YouTube/Barcroft TV)

A group of lucky tourists had a whale of a time on recent cruise through the San Ignacio Lagoon in the Mexican province of Baja California.

Wildlife photographer Mark Carwardine captured images of a gray whale and her calf swimming up to a small boat full of tourists and allowing the humans to pet them.

The gray whale population of the Pacific, which is made up of a meager 150 whales, is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, making this encounter extremely rare.

Despite their foreboding size, gray whales are known for being quite friendly.

“Locals here affectionately call gray whales “friendly ones” as they have an unusual tendency to approach whale-watching boats and check out the occupants,” writes the World Wildlife Federation.

Footage of the experience was also captured by drone that showed the enormous size of the these gentle giants compared to the small boat.

Orginally available here

North Carolina beachgoers craft homemade shark cages

Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

Amid the uptick in headline-making shark attacks, one couple in North Carolina tried to protect themselves against a possible attack by crafting a bizarre-looking contraption to ward off any relatives of Jaws.

While enjoying a sunny day at the Outer Banks, Jordan Cutrell captured a video of Sandi and Scott Bergman entering the ocean with what appeared to homemade shark cages.

“These people are going swimming in their shark proof cages,” a voice narrates at the top of the video. “They don’t wanna get bit.”

The Bergmans made it waist-deep into the water before a lifeguard comes running to the shore, blowing his whistle. Despite the local stir they caused, the beachgoers say their cages, which they constructed from plastic and PVC piping, were just meant as a light-hearted joke.

 

“We went out there with the intention of filming a spoof about this guy who comes up with something called Block Jaw. It’s your own personal shark cage,” Sandi  Bergman told WRIC Richmond. “It (was) very crowded; it’s July, and as soon as we set up immediately people started to watch us.”

As of Wednesday morning, Cutrell’s video had already hit over 250,000 views on YouTube so the Bergmans were clearly on to something.

It comes as vacationers are increasingly wary of getting in the water in the mid-Atlantic region.  In July, a man swimming about 30 feet from the shore along Ocracoke in the Outer Banks was bitten by a shark— which was the seventh attack in three weeks.

“The reactions are all over the place,” said Bergman. “Some people are saying ‘these people are idiots- how could they think that would protect them in any way?’ Others say, It’s great, I love it, I want one.”

 

Originally available here

High temperatures make some lizards change sexes

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 (Arthur Georges)

When some lizards can’t take the heat, they change sexes. In a recent studypublished in Nature, researchers in Australia revealed that rising temperatures are causing male Australian Bearded Dragons to change into females when developing in the egg. Not only that, but they make better mothers, laying more eggs than naturally born females.

Prior to this discovery, it was believed that some reptiles, such as crocodiles and certain types of lizards and turtles have temperature-dependant sex determination (TSD), while others, like some lizards and turtles, and all snakes, have genotypic sex determination (GSD).

“TSD species were thought to be particularly vulnerable to climate change and GSD species secure,” study co-author Arthur Georges of the University of Canberra told Foxnews.com. “I suppose what our work means is that, firstly, TSD and GSD are not that far apart mechanistically or in evolutionary terms, which is contrary to mainstream thinking. Secondly, it means that even GSD species can be vulnerable to climate change because higher temperatures can make them switch to TSD.”

Bearded dragons typically inherit two sex chromosomes — ZZ for the males and ZW for the females. After bringing in 131 specimens from the wild, George and Dr. Clare Holleley conducted controlled breeding experiments using a variety of cutting edge techniques, including comparative genome hybridization to demonstrate sex reversal. They also used a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) library.

“We used a bacterial artificial chromosome library to generate and verify sex specific sequence and probes that were important to determine the underlying sex of individuals,” Georges said. “A BAC library is constructed by cutting up the dragon DNA, the whole genome, and inserting the fragments into bacterial colonies, one fragment per colony, so you can pull particular dragon sequence out at will.”

Georges added that the team then performed a series of incubation experiments in the laboratory, examining the specimens caught in the wild to show that the underlying genotype of some dragons (ZZ) was discordant with their actual sex (female). In other words, they were able to show that 11 lizards with male chromosomes had changed into fertile females during incubation.

How the heat causes the dragons’ chromosomes to change remains a mystery, though Georges added that he has a theory.

“We believe that after the master sex gene on the sex chromosomes does its work, a cascade of gene regulatory processes (those governing development) is initiated leading to a male or a female hatchling reptile,” Georges said. “For the most part, these regulatory processes are buffered in some way from varying temperatures in the nest, but only to a point. At high temperatures, the control of the master sex genes is eroded, and temperature brings in its influence.”

It will be difficult to demonstrate exactly how this is done, he suggested.

It was also found that temperature alone determined the chromosomes of the sex-changing dragons’ offspring, revealing that the W chromosome was completely gone in one generation. Normally, the missing female chromosome would mean disaster for a species, all but ensuring its demise. This isn’t the case with Australian bearded dragons.

“The dragon is saved from such a fate because temperature takes over the role of producing the requisite females for future generations,” Georges explained. “After the W chromosome is lost, males are produced at low temperatures from ZZ animals, and females are produced at high temperatures from ZZ animals. So all is well, so long as temperatures do not rise to the point where all ZZ animals are reversed.”

It is unknown why the sex-changed females produce more eggs than the naturally born females, but Georges suggested it has something to do with degenerating chromosomes.

“It could be that the genes associated with sex characteristics accumulate on the sex chromosomes, and given that the W chromosome, like the Y chromosome in mammals, tends to be a degenerate copy of the Z (or X in mammals), then females with two Z chromosomes are better than normal females with one Z and one (degenerating) W chromosome,” he said. “[It’s] a matter for speculation at present, but fodder for further experimentation.”

The study was carried out by the Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, and the School of Life Science, La Trobe University, Melbourne, and can be found in the online journal Nature.

Originally posted here

Julia Child helped the CIA develop shark repellant

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It’s time to channel the spirit of cooking icon Julia Child, not for her coq au vin, but for her shark cake.

Long before she became a master of French cuisine, the legendary chef’s very first recipe was cooking up a special shark repellent during World War II.

“I could boil water for tea but my first big recipe was shark repellant that I mixed in a bathtub for the Navy, for the men who might get caught in the water,” Child once told her longtime producer Margaret Sullivan.

In light of the recent shark attacks, including this weekend’s stunning video of a surfer beating off a shark, beach goers this season could probably use some of this miracle concoction now.

During World War II, the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested that the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of today’s CIA) find a way to prevent service members stranded in the water from getting attacked by sharks.

 

Child, then known by her maiden name Williams, joined the OSS in 1942 as Captain Harold J. Coolidge’s executive assistant.  She was part of a group charged with concocting a recipe, according to the CIA.

“I must say we had lots of fun,” Child told fellow OSS Officer, Betty McIntosh, during an interview for “Sisterhood of Spies,” McIntosh’s book on women in the war. “We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia.

They tested dozens of substances, like extracts from decayed shark meat, organic acids, and several copper salts, including copper sulphate and copper acetate, before finally settling on copper acetate.

Calling it Shark Chaser, the copper acetate was mixed with a black dye and  formed into a disk-shaped cake that reeked of dead shark when exposed to water. Service members could wear the cake by putting it in a small box –keeping a shark at bay for six to seven hours.

But research found the cakes only had about a 60 percent deterrence rate for sharks and was “completely ineffective” in preventing attacks from the other dangerous fish like barracudas and piranhas.

Still, the Navy, Army and Coast Guard issued the Shark Chaser repellent based on the original OSS recipe all the way up until the 1970s.

So for any of those scrambling to find a modern day equivalent, take some inspiration from Julia herself:

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Originally posted here

Giant lobster spared the cracker

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This giant lobster was weighs in at a whopping 23 lbs and is estimated to be 95 years old. (Danielle Parker)

Jordan’s Lobster Farm’s recent catch of the day is spending more time in photo shoots than in the pot.

The Long Island, N.Y. wholesaler and restaurant got delivery this week of a massive 23-pound lobster believed to be about 95 years old that has quickly become a local tourist attraction.

But this giant crustacean won’t ever be touching anyone’s lips, according to owner Stephen Jordan. He decided that instead of dishing up the ancient creature, he would let it live out its days swimming in the waters of the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center.

“I just thought, being that age, it should get a few more years. And we’ve sent lobsters out there before; they’ll take good care of him,” Jordan said.

Fisherman John Price caught the lobster in the Bay of Fundy, off the Atlantic coast by Nova Scotia, and sent it to the restaurant Wednesday afternoon to an unsuspecting Jordan.

“He shipped it down to us and didn’t tell us, so we opened up the crate and were like, ‘wow,’” Jordan said.

Since then, it’s become a seafood celebrity in the Island Park area as people have their picture taken with the massive creature.

It’s a rare sight for the lobster farm owner, who has seen a wide array of lobsters during his time in the seafood business. “I haven’t seen one like this in about 10 years, one this big,” Jordan said.

The normal lifespan for a North American lobster is about 60 years. A lobster’s age can be determined by their weight: one pound for the first 7 years and a quarter pound for every year following.

The fishermen from Jordan’s farm have had a number of oversized lobsters this year.

He is not sure what’s causing a surge of these monsters in the Atlantic but said, “It may have to do with colder waters.”

A lobster of this size would sell for about $200 and would make for some tasty eating if cooked properly, according to Jordan.

“The lobster may be a little firm because of its older age but it should still taste good if it is not overcooked.”

 

Originally posted here