Friday, 23 June 2017

Three new chameleon species discovered from Democratic Republic of the Congo - via Herp Digest

PTI, 6/20/17, Washington, D.C. Scientists have identified three new species of chameleons, after studying a trio of reptiles earlier thought to belong to the same species.

The specimens were collected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2009 and 2014.

Researchers from University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) were able to describe the three new chameleon species after carefully analysing geographical, morphological, and DNA data.

The reptile trio, historically thought to be a single species, was found in different parts of the Albertine Rift in Central Africa.

“We had this really nice dataset with samples collected all throughout the range of a particular species which meant we could really figure out its true diversity,” said Daniel Hughes from UTEP.

“We took to the next step and ultimately described three new species,” Hughes said.

Two of the chameleons were named Rugege Highlands Forest Chameleon (Kinyongia rugegensis) and Itombwe Forest Chameleon (Kinyongia itombwensis) – after the mountain ranges in which they were found.

The third chameleon, Tolley’s Forest Chameleon (Kinyongia tolleyae), was named after herpetologist Krystal Tolley, principal scientist at the South African National Biodiversity Institute, who has contributed significantly to chameleon research.

There are 206 described species of chameleons on the planet and Hughes hopes to continue finding many more.

The research was published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Snake Fungal Disease Identified in Wild British Snakes for First Time Amongst European snake populations - via Herp Digest

USGS Press Release, 6/19/17

Europe’s wild snakes could face a growing threat from a fungal skin disease that has contributed to wild snake deaths in North America, according to an international collaborative study, led by conservation charity Zoological Society of London alongside partners including the U.S. Geological Survey. The new study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, snake fungal disease, or SFD, can lead to symptoms including skin lesions, scabs and crusty scales, which can contribute to the death of the infected animal in some cases. SFD was first recognized in wild snakes in eastern North America around a decade ago. Prior to this study, the only wild populations found to be affected had been those in the central and eastern United States.

Now, an analysis of samples collected from wild snakes in the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic between 2010-2016 confirmed the presence of the pathogen and SFD in Europe for the first time. While the disease poses no known risk to humans or livestock, scientists are calling for further research to understand the full significance of SFD to Europe’s snake populations. 

Lead author and wildlife veterinarian Dr. Lydia Franklinos said: “Our team at ZSL found evidence of SFD in grass snakes from the U.K. and a single dice snake from the Czech Republic. The analysis found that the fungus strains from Europe are different to those previously identified in North America – suggesting that rather than being introduced across the Atlantic, or vice versa, the disease could have been present below the radar in European snakes for some time.”

“Of all vertebrate wildlife, we probably know least about health conditions that affect terrestrial reptiles such as snakes, so this study represents an important milestone and one that will hopefully encourage greater focus in understanding the threats facing these animals,” Franklinos continued.

Dr. Jeffrey Lorch, a microbiologist with the USGS National Wildlife Health Center and the study’s co-author, said: “The fungus that causes SFD is already known to occur across the eastern half of the U.S. and infect over 20 species of snakes. Comparing how SFD affects wild snakes on different continents may help us pinpoint the factors causing the disease to emerge and help managers identify mitigation strategies.”

The increasing emergence of deadly fungal pathogens – including white-nose syndrome in bats, chytridiomycosis (chytrid) in amphibians and SFD in snakes – is of grave concern to wildlife disease experts worldwide. To learn more about ZSL’s work on wildlife health, including citizen science opportunities, please visit:

Poachers are now selling the penis of endangered lizards as Indian tantric root Tests carried out in labs have found evidence that suggest customers are being duped in the name of Hatha Jodi root. - via Herp Digest by Monalisa Das, 6/20/17 
Go to for photos of these “roots”

A group of scientists and investigators from India and the UK have found that Monitor Lizard Hemipenis or the male sexual organs of monitor lizards are being sold online as Hatha Jodi, a tantric root that is believed to bring wealth and happiness.

Unsuspecting customers, mostly from the Asian diaspora, have been buying lizard genitalia that resemble a root, via major online retailers such as Amazon, Alibab and Ebay, World Animal Protection (WAP) said in a statement.
WAP has been reaching out to the e-commerce markets requesting them to take down the products from their sites.

"We were shocked at the sheer audacity and scale of this illegal wildlife trade. Deceitful dealers claiming to sell holy plant root labelled as 'atha Jodi', are in fact peddling dried lizard penis to their unwitting customers. These illegal items are readily available in the UK and USA with potential street value of £50,000 GBP (Great Britain pound)'," Gajender K Sharma, India Country Director at WAP, said.

The animal welfare organisation stated that these lizards are illegally poached from forests and killed cruelly before their genitals are removed for use as "Hatha Jodi". At times, the animals are even alive when the process of removing their organs begin.

The Hatha Jodi, often considered holy, is a rare plant species found in remote areas of Nepal and Central India, and used in traditional practices.

Tests carried out in labs in Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) have found evidence that suggest customers are being duped in the name of Hatha Jodi root.

Dr David Megson of the MMU said, "Given the photos being advertised online, we needed to get into the laboratory to confirm our suspicions that that these dried 'plant roots' were in fact derived from Indian monitor lizards. However, the plot thickened even further when tests revealed that some of these items are actually plastic mouldings of monitor lizard genitalia.”

All monitor lizards fall under Schedule I and any trade involving the reptile or its body parts is a national offence under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Both the Bengal and Yellow Monitor lizards are also listed under Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) - the highest level of international legal protection that can be afforded and that prohibits commercial trade.

There are over 70 species of monitor lizards around the world and four of them are specifically found in India namely Bengal Monitor, Water Monitor, Yellow Monitor and Desert Monitor lizards.

"Most of the monitor lizards have been extensively exploited for a long period of time for their skin and meat and by those who want to keep them as pets. Now what we are getting to see is that after poachers sell the skin and flesh of the reptiles, they have started selling the rest of the body parts of the animal. This is worrisome.Their population is already dwindling due to habitat loss" explained Anirban Chaudhuri, a herpetologist from Kolkata.

In a recent raid carried out by enforcement agencies in Bhubaneswar, 210 Hatha Jodi, including hemipenis from Bengal and Yellow Monitor Lizards, were seized. Similar raids also took place in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The price of these depends on the size and can range between Rs 400 and Rs 4,000.

This species of lizard are sought after by poachers for their tough skin that is used to make products such as bags, drums, etc. Another species found in the desert regions of India - Pine Tail Lizards - are also used for making traditional medicines.

Chaudhuri added that while the practice is not new, the magnitude of the illegal activity has increased substantially. There's a demand, specially in South East Asian countries, and poachers are making use of technology to fulfill it.
"Poachers are now more organised. They use social media to carry out their

Over 150 Asian Giant Softshell Turtles Return to the Wild

Date: June 21, 2017
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), in collaboration with Cambodia's Fisheries Administration (FiA) and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), released 150 Endangered Asian giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) hatchlings into their natural habitat along the Mekong River.

The hatchlings are part of a community protection program designed to increase the wild population of the species, and had been collected from nests that were guarded by local communities.

The Asian giant softshell turtle is listed on the IUCN Red List as globally Endangered. It was thought extinct in the Cambodian portion of the Mekong River until re-discovery in 2007 in a 48-kilometer stretch of the river between Kratie and Stung Treng Provinces.

"The purpose of this release is to increase the wild population of the Asian giant softshell turtle," said Mr. Sun Yoeung, WCS's Asian Giant Softshell Turtle Conservation Project Coordinator. "As the project pays local people as guardians and rangers, the release will also increase local incomes and encourage the support and involvement of local communities in conserving the species."

The release is part of a project that has been ongoing since 2007, formerly run by Conservation International (CI), and now by WCS in collaboration with the FiA and TSA. The community-based protection program encourages the participation of local communities living in Kratie and Stung Treng Provinces by hiring former nest collectors to search for and protect nests, instead of harvesting the eggs. Since 2007, 329 nests have been protected and 7,709 hatchlings released.

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'Star dust' wasp is a new extinct species named after David Bowie's alter ego

Date: June 22, 2017
Source: Pensoft Publishers

During her study on fossil insects of the order Hymenoptera at China's Capitol Normal University, student Longfeng Li visited the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, carrying two unidentified wasp specimens that were exceptionally well-preserved in Burmese amber. This type of fossilized tree resin is known for the quality of the fossil specimens which can be preserved inside it. Being 100 million years old, they provide an incredible view into the past.

The subsequent analysis of the specimens revealed that both represent species new to science. Furthermore, one of the wasps showed such amazing similarities to a modern group of wasps that it was placed in a currently existing genus, Archaeoteleia which has long been considered as an ancient lineage. The species are described in a study published in the open access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

However, Archaeoteleia has changed since the times when the ancient wasp got stuck on fresh tree resin. The authors note that "a novice might not recognize the characters that unite the fossil with extant species." For instance, the modern wasp species of the genus show visibly longer antennal segments and a different number of teeth on the mandible when compared to the fossil. In turn, the description of the new extinct species enhances the knowledge about living species by highlighting anatomical structures shared by all species within the genus.

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