Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Monster insect mimic lures prey with siren song

Male cicadas can't resist the katydid's sweet songs – unfortunately for them

EVERYTHING was going to plan for the male cicada looking for love. High in his tree in the dry bush country of eastern Australia, he started his serenade. First he gave a bright chirruping prelude, then urr-chip, urr-chip, urr-chip. Right on cue came an answering click. Each time the cicada repeated his urr-chip, there was that click again. His luck was in: a female was signalling her interest. The cicada began to move slowly towards the source of the clicks, singing as he went. The closer he got, the louder the clicks, and soon he could make out a telltale trembling among the leaves. Sure of his target now, he made his final move.

Quick as a flash, a pair of long, green legs darted out and clasped him in a tight embrace. In another instant, a powerful pair of insect jaws clamped around his head. What had gone wrong? His song was perfect, the response exactly right and dead on cue. But the cicada had been deceived. Those come-hither clicks were not the love call of a female cicada but a con trick executed by a voracious predator in search of a meal.

When husband-and- wife cicada experts Dave Marshall and Kathy Hill of the University of Connecticut at Storrs first heard this insect duet they too were taken in. They study cicadas belonging to the Cicadettini tribe, a group in which males and females locate each other with a characteristic call-and-response routine. Recently they have focused their attention on Australia, where there are hundreds of species of these duetting cicadas, most undescribed and many still to be discovered. To their expert ears, what they were hearing was the call-and-response of Kobonga oxleyi. "When we homed in on the clicks, we expected to see a small, black cicada," says Hill. "Instead, we found a giant green-and-white katydid."

Hill and Marshall had stumbled across something extraordinary. The spotted predatory katydid, Chlorobalius leucoviridis, a species of bush cricket common across the arid interior of Australia, has a unique talent. It snares male cicadas by imitating the female response to their songs, making it the first known example of acoustic aggressive mimicry.

Most examples of mimicry are a form of defence. Innumerable insects camouflage themselves as leaves, flowers or twigs, or pose as unpalatable species to escape predators. Aggressive mimicry is more malevolent: this time it is the predator that fools its prey, luring victims with the false promise of food or sex. The most famous examples are bolas spiders, which produce fake female-moth pheromones, and predaceous female fireflies, which mimic flashing females of other species (see "Love-lights and perfumed nights").

To mimicry based on smell and sight, we can now add sound. For Hill and Marshall, the siren call of the katydid is exciting for another reason too: it may help explain why cicada songs are so diverse and evolve so quickly.

Male cicadas are famous for their singing, with choruses often reaching deafening volumes. Their songs consist of a rapid series of clicks generated by tymbals - a pair of ribbed, membranous organs on the sides of the abdomen. Only males have tymbals and, in general, males sing and females approach them silently. Female Cicadettini, though, are not so mute. As the male sings they chip in at intervals with loud clicks, produced by a sharp flick of their wings. "The male turns towards the sound and uses it to locate the female," says Marshall. "When it gets close it also looks for the movement of the flicking wings."

The males of each species have a unique song which enables the female cicadas to recognise one of their own. Some songs consist of simple patterns of pulsed clicks, others are much more complex, with a longish "prelude" leading into the call-and-response phase. The sound of a female wing-flick is short and nondescript, however, and so for the male, recognition hinges on timing. Embedded in every song are cues, elements of the song that the female must reply to accurately and promptly to attract a mate.

For those familiar with the songs of duetting cicadas, it is pretty easy to identify cues. They are generally made up of a short and comparatively loud burst of clicks that ends abruptly. "Even if you've never heard the species before, you can usually pick out the cues," says Marshall.

All in the timing

That has proved a boon for the biologists. They have found that one of the best ways to collect specimens is to call males down from their trees with well-timed snaps of the fingers. It takes skill: female cicadas respond to cues within 70 milliseconds, sometimes less than half that time. "Males respond to our finger snaps if we can follow the cue within around 100 milliseconds, " says Marshall. "It's easier if there's a rhythmic pattern to the song so you can anticipate where the clicks come. It takes practice but we've gotten quite good at it."

In 2005, Hill and Marshall joined up with the Australian Museum's cicada expert Max Moulds for a collecting trip in Queensland. One night, they camped near the small town of Cunnamulla. "I happened to wake up very early and heard a cicada singing," recalls Hill. "It was a species that was proving difficult to collect so I went out with my net." Then she heard what sounded like the clicking of a female. "I could see the little black male getting closer and closer to the source of the clicks. Then when it was about 20 centimetres away it abruptly flew away to another tree."

Hill couldn't find either cicada, but a few hours later she heard another male singing and two females clicking in reply. By now Marshall was up and about and after recording the duet, the pair homed in on one of the clicking females. "Then I saw what was making the clicks - a fierce-looking katydid," says Hill. "I rushed back to the tree where I heard the clicking female earlier and found another katydid, about 10 centimetres long and brilliantly camouflaged."

The recording of the duet revealed how accurate the katydid's impersonation had been. Its click was brief and acoustically nondescript, with a broad spectrum of frequencies - just like a female cicada's - and each click followed a cue from the male with an average delay of 58 milliseconds. Like a female cicada, the katydid also provided a visual clue to its whereabouts, though instead of flicking its wings, the katydid flexed its legs with a jerky bounce.

Hill and Marshall suspected that the clicks were part of a predatory strategy and it didn't take long to confirm this. Later that day they pitched their tent, put the katydids from Cunnamulla inside and released a succession of male cicadas into the makeshift lab. "Max agonised over this. It was hard work collecting specimens and now we wanted to feed some to the katydids - so we only used ones he was willing to sacrifice," says Marshall. When the first cicada began to sing, a katydid quickly replied. The cicada moved closer. And closer. Suddenly the katydid grabbed it with its forelegs and subdued it by biting off part of its head, before eating everything but the indigestible forewings. Five kills later and there was no doubt they had been right.

The experiment also showed that katydids could attract several species of cicada with markedly different songs. Their versatility as mimics became even more evident as the expedition progressed and the biologists added more cicadas to their live collection. As they drove along, every so often one of their specimens started to sing - and the katydids would reply. "When we realised how broad the katydid's abilities were, we began to play them songs from our computer archive using my laptop," says Marshall. The katydids responded to more than two dozen songs with beautifully timed responses. "They even got it right when the cicadas were from New Zealand and North America, whose songs they could never encounter."

Versatile virtuosos

By 2008, Marshall and Hill had recorded more than 30 minutes of cicada-katydid duets. The songs varied from very simple with just one sort of cue to the virtuoso, with long introductory passages followed by complex cueing sections. Cues ranged from a simple isolated "tick" to a passage lasting nearly 2 seconds (see diagram). None of this seemed to faze the katydids. They could respond correctly to 22 of the 26 species tested, and for 18 of these, they got it right more than 90 per cent of the time (PloS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal. pone.0004185).

"Their versatility is impressive," says Marshall. "But the katydid isn't quite as clever as it looks." Female cicadas must recognise their suitor's song in its entirety even though they reply only to specific cues. Katydids don't mind which species they eat and so the distinctive phrasing and embellishments are irrelevant: they need only recognise the male's cues. As long as they click after a brief phrase that ends abruptly they are likely to attract one male or another. "It's evolved a mechanism based on the application of a few general rules. That's what makes it so versatile, but it also means it's unlikely to get it right all the time," says Marshall. As he and Hill discovered on their Australian road trips, captive katydids will sometimes respond to almost any short, sharp sound - the click of two coins or even the sound of a car's indicator signal. "They aren't perfect, but they don't need to be."

Captive katydids respond to almost any short, sharp sound, like the click of two coins or even the sound of a car's indicator.

Many questions remain to be answered about how the spotted katydid evolved to become an aggressive mimic. Like cicadas, katydids are singing insects, so they have many of the requisites for acoustic mimicry - noisemaking structures, hearing organs and a brain that can interpret patterns of sound. Some katydids sing courtship duets too, with the males trilling and females clicking in reply. Yet the spotted katydid's mimicry isn't just a modification of an existing courtship song. If that were the case, you would expect them to duet - and this species doesn't seem to. You would also expect male spotted katydid songs to include recognisable cues, which they don't. And you would expect only female katydids to click to cicadas - yet both male and female katydids capture cicadas in this way. Hill and Marshall suggest that unlike the firefly Photuris, which has adapted its normal courtship signals to trick males of closely related species, the katydid's mimicry may have evolved purely for predatory purposes.

Musical arms race

For cicada biologists, these discoveries may help answer an entirely different question. There's something about the courtship songs of singing insects that has bugged entomologists for many years. What drives their evolution and why do they change so rapidly? Sexual characteristics are usually relatively stable. "If a male sings something too different, the female won't recognise him and he loses out," says Marshall. "Yet cicada songs change unexpectedly fast and are often the first sign that populations are diverging into new species." For newly evolved species that live in the same place there's an obvious explanation: the songs must diverge to allow mate recognition. Another force for change could be female choice, where picky females encourage males to change their tune. "If the male's song was any indicator of his quality as a mate, that might explain why some songs change so rapidly, but female cicadas don't seem at all choosy," says Marshall.

Marshall and Hill suspect that in the case of Cicadettini cicadas, predation could be one of the forces driving change, as they engage in a sort of musical arms race to outwit spotted katydids. "Some songs are very complex with short phrases that look like cues. Katydids click after them - but female cicadas never do," says Hill. "These could be false cues to trick the katydid into giving itself away." As katydids cotton on to the false cues, then the cicadas must lay more traps to keep one step ahead of their predators, speeding the rate of song evolution and perhaps explaining why some songs are so extraordinarily complex.

This is not the only way to expose imposters. Some species seem more wary of poorly timed finger clicks. "They may have more stringent criteria for the exact sound of the click and its timing," says Marshall. One species that could be growing wise to the katydid clicks is Kobonga oxleyi, the little black cicada that led to the discovery of acoustic aggressive mimicry. And that could account for the behaviour of the very first one that Hill heard duetting with a katydid - the one that got away.

Love-lights and perfumed nights

Most forms of mimicry are defensive and help potential prey avoid predators. Aggressive mimicry is where predators draw prey closer with the promise of a mate or with fake food - as in the case of the angler fish's lure, or the pink worm-like tongue of the alligator snapping turtle. The most sophisticated aggressive mimics attract victims by exploiting their courtship signals.

Among the most famous are the bolas spiders (Mastophora species), the females of which attract male moths by producing a whiff of female moth pheromones. These extraordinary spiders capture their prey with the aid of a sticky ball on the end of a filament - the arachnid equivalent of a South American gaucho's bolas. When prey comes within reach, the spider swings the ball - and if it hits the insect it sticks. To ensure prey comes close enough, the spiders emit a stream of volatile chemicals that includes compounds present in moth pheromones. Most of these spiders capture moths of a single species, but M. hutchinsoni alters the perfume as the night wears on, attracting one moth species early in the evening and another a few hours later.

An even more versatile mimic is the voracious female Photuris firefly, which attracts males of other species by replying to their courtship flashes. Male fireflies signal to prospective mates with a species-specific pattern of light flashes and females reply with flashes that vary both in their length and the delay between signal and response - yet Photuris can mimic as many as 11 species. The ultimate imposter, though, is the male Photuris. In a bid to attract a female's attention, it has taken to mimicking the flashes of her prey - sensibly switching to its own courtship signals once he gets dangerously close.

Tourist poo 'killed rare shrimp' on Uluru

By Eric Tlozek

A wildlife scientist says people relieving themselves on top of Uluru may have killed off a rare species of shrimp.

Retired university professor Brian Timms says he has studied museum specimens of small inland shrimp that live in pools on top of Uluru.

He says his research shows the localised extinction of one species of fairy shrimp and the dominance of another - changes which could be due to human waste.

"It's happened already that the people going up the rock somehow have affected the animals which live in the pools, possibly by peeing on the rock and pooing on the rock," he said.

He says the Branchinella Latzi shrimp species, which once inhabited rock pools on Uluru, has not been found in collections since about the 1970s.

"Latzi is a very limited species and it might be susceptible to enrichment of the pools whereas [the other species on Uluru] is a widespread, tough species," he said.

"Certainly if they [tourists] go up, they should be behaving themselves, not pooing on the rock."

Earlier this month an Uluru tour guide told the ABC that tourists climbing the rock are sometimes defecating at the top because there are no toilets available.

The Director of National Parks continues to assess submissions on a draft management plan for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which proposes banning climbers from the rock for cultural, safety and environmental reasons.

Buffalo makes light work

A farmer who couldn't work out who kept turning on the light in his barn was shocked to discover the culprit was his buffalo.

Mo Zhaoguang, from Nandan, in China's Hubei province, said his family had repeatedly found the barn light on over the last five years.

"My wife and I quarrelled many times, each accusing the other of having a bad memory," he told the Wuhan Evening Post.

Eventually Mo slept in the barn overnight to identify the culprit - and found his buffalo was pulling the cord switch with its teeth.

He claims it turns on the light when it is hungry or thirsty - and then turns it off again after eating or drinking to go to sleep.

"It turns the light on to look for food or water - and it also even turns it on and off to get our attention if its trough is empty," he added.

"I told this to villagers but none of them believed me. One man even bet me 10 Yuan every time the buffalo turned on the light, and that night I earned 50 Yuan as the buffalo turned the light on and off five times."

Mo's buffalo has now appeared on Chinese television and people have been visiting from far and wide to see its party trick for themselves.

Tourists turn croc handlers for a day

30 September 2009

By Cathy Harper

Dozens of interstate and overseas tourists have become croc musterers for the day in Darwin.

A crocodile farm in the Northern Territory capital today opened its doors to volunteers wanting a hands-on experience with the dangerous animals.

The farm needed almost 400 of its young reptiles measured and moved into pens with animals their own size.

But before the inexperienced croc handlers could get close to the beasts, which ranged in size from 1.2 to 2 metres, they were temporarily stunned with an electric shock and subdued with tape by experts.

"When you keep them in big numbers in captivity, the big ones will eventually bully the smaller ones," zoo keeper Tate Chambers said.

Adelaide tourist Kerri Williams, who was in Darwin visiting her sister, Karen Avery, got more than she bargained for.

"One got out so Karen ran and grabbed it and I jumped on its head, got on its head and held it, so that was really exciting," she said.

They left with a tale they are happy to admit may get embellished as it is retold.

A wee bite: croc attacks tourist

30 September 2009

A crocodile attacked a young American tourist as he tried to urinate in a lagoon near the Mexican tourist resort of Cancun, police said.

Andrew Dales, 20, confessed he had been on a mission to relieve himself when the crocodile suddenly snapped at him, said police spokesman Alejandro Solorzano.

Dales suffered "multiple bite wounds" to his leg and neck and was also left with a head injury after the reptile knocked him to the ground, Mr Solorzano said.

Lagoons in the area are dotted with crocodile warning signs.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Work starts on Bat Rehabilitation centre

The Kent Bat group have recently received a grant of over £5,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to build a Kent Bat Rehabilitation Centre in partnership with Wildwood Trust.

The first part of the construction has just started at the discovery park, situated just outside Canterbury, with a piece of woodland being marked out to take the new enclosure.

The aim of the rehabilitation centre is to help return orphaned or injured bats to the wild. The large flight cage will enable young bats to learn to fly and catch their own insects. Injured bats will also be able to improve their fitness and get their strength back prior to being released back in to the wild.

"This will really help the work of the Kent Bat Group" commented Hazel Ryan, Wildwood Conservation Officer and Volunteer Batworker. "The bat group rescued over 80 bats last year and this facility will give these threatened animals a far better chance to get back to the wild".

All 17 species of bats in Britain are protected by law and 6 species are listed as priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Research carried out recently by the RSPCA concluded that hand-reared bats given the opportunity to practice flying and feeding had a far better chance of survival in the wild.

The rehabilitation centre will give visitors to Wildwood the opportunity to learn more about bats and the work of the Kent Bat Group.

There is a huge range of British animals that can be seen at the Wildwood Discovery Park as well, for more information visit the website at or telephone 0871 782 0087.

Wildwood is an ideal day out for all the family where you can come 'nose to nose' with British Wildlife. Wildwood offers its members and visitors a truly inspirational way to learn about the natural history of Britain by actually seeing the wildlife that once lived here, like the wolf, beaver, red squirrel, wild boar and many more.

Wildwood is situated close to Canterbury , just off the A291 between Herne Bay and Canterbury . For more information visit our website at or telephone 0871 782 0081.

More Bat Facts
  • Bats are mammals: they are warm blooded, give birth to live young and suckle their young.
  • There are over 1000 species of bats which makes them the second largest group of mammals in the world.
  • Bats are the only true flying mammals.
  • All British bats feed on insects.
  • Bats aren't blind. They can see well but their nocturnal lifestyle means that they need to use other senses to find their way around.
  • Many bats find their way about and locate their prey by using echolocation (sonar or ultrasound).
  • European species of bat can live for up to 40 years .
  • In Britain all bats and their roosts are protected by law.
  • There are 17 species of bat living in Britain.
  • The bat that you are most likely to see in Britain is one of the pipistrelle species. It can eat around 3,000 mosquitoes and midges in one night!
  • Bats in Britain hibernate during the winter months when insects are scarce.

'Escaped gorilla' is runner in fancy dress

Motorists reported an escaped gorilla running along a busy road only to discover it was a charity jogger called Rory Coleman wearing an ape costume.

Published: 10:20AM BST 25 Sep 2009

Officers scrambled to the A6 near Leicester expecting to find a primate dodging traffic but found fun runner Mr Coleman, 45, jogging in the shaggy black outfit he had bought from a fancy dress shop.

Mr Coleman, a personal trainer, is taking part in a 143-mile run from Mansfield, Notts, to London to raise money for charity.

He said: "I have had a few strange looks but I hadn't had the police called on me before this.

"I saw the panda car pull up on the opposite side of the road and both officers were staring at me with their mouths wide open.

"They didn't seem too keen to get out initially so stayed in their car just looking at me.

"I think they twigged it wasn't an actual gorilla when they saw I was wearing trainers and had a rucksack on my back.

"I wasn't very far from Twycross Zoo which has a large collection of primates so maybe motorists thought one of them had made a run for it.

"One of the officers that turned up had heard me on the radio that morning so once he knew who I was they let me carry on."

Mr Coleman, a father-of-six from Mansfield, has run 623 marathons and 150 ultra marathons in the last 10 years – a total of 20,267 miles or the equivalent of almost one lap around the globe.

His brush with the law happened at 4.30pm on Wednesday during his sponsored run for the Gorilla Organisation charity.

His wife Sarah-Jane, 43, a civil servant, said: "When Rory told me he'd been stopped by the police it didn't surprise me. He's always been a bit of a cheeky monkey."

A spokesman for Leicestershire Police said: "We did receive a call from a member of the public on Wednesday at about 4.30pm who reported seeing a gorilla on the A6 and was concerned for their safety."

Rory will complete his journey when he takes part in a 7km run with 600 ape-suited runners in London.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Tweeting Ugandan gorillas make friends online

Photo: Sarel Kromer

Mon Sep 28, 2009

By Hereward Holland

BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST, Uganda (Reuters) - Lurking deep in the mist-glazed forests of east Africa, Uganda's mountain gorillas are preparing to 'tweet' for their survival.

With the launch on Saturday of the "Friend a Gorilla" campaign, human fans will soon be able to follow the everyday drama of one of the few remaining 720 mountain gorillas online, far from the red ants, mud and tropical rain of their habitats.

When the site goes live, users will be able to access videos, pictures and rangers' blogs through websites like Facebook and Twitter, said Moses Mapesa Wafula, head of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

They will also be able to follow their new friends via satellite tracking.

"By paying one dollar to Friend a Gorilla, everybody contributes to the conservation of this species," Wafula said.

Not everybody can afford the $500 price tag for a real gorilla trek but the fiber-optic tentacles of globalization will make it possible for anyone to watch a mother grooming her children, juvenile males fighting for dominance or even feel the rush of being charged by a 500 pound (225 kg) silverback male.

Tourist receipts represent Uganda's second largest foreign exchange earner.

Organizers say the campaign is the first time social networking has been harnessed for conservation and hope it will generate $100,000 in the first three months and a further $350,000 within the first year.

Drafted in to help publicize the campaign, actor Jason Biggs, star of the American Pie comedies, said gazing into the eyes of a gorilla was like meeting an old friend.

"It was pretty surreal. I felt like when I made eye contact with the gorillas, it was like an out-of-body experience," Biggs told Reuters after a face to face encounter with one of the gorillas at Bwindi. "It was mind-blowing."

With around 370 mountain gorillas, Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park plays host to roughly half the global population, with the remainder scattered across volcanoes in nearby Rwanda and the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo.

The gorilla's habitat is threatened by illegal logging for charcoal, timber and agriculture and are also poached for bush meat, UWA staff said.

Although the gorillas remain endangered, UWA has registered growth rates of 12 percent and watched the gorilla population double over the last 25 years, according to Wafula.

He said the money raised by the Friend and Gorilla campaign would contribute toward conservation efforts as well as help promote alternative livelihoods for people living in and around the park.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Wanted: volunteers to move 400 crocs

By Jano Gibson

Posted Mon Sep 28, 2009

A Northern Territory wildlife park is seeking volunteers to relocate some of its dangerous inhabitants.

Crocodylus Park, which operates as a zoo and commercial crocodile farm in Darwin, needs helpers to shift about 400 saltwater crocodiles into new ponds.

"It's a bit of an adventure," says the park's research director, Matt Brien, who has had about 15 people sign up for the chance to get up close and personal with the feared reptiles.

But he still needs more.

"The more the merrier. The reason being we try to take as many precautions as possible," he said.

"Ideally we'd have two people handling every animal. It's a lot safer [than one person]."

The mass relocation, which is taking place on Wednesday, is needed to ensure larger crocs at the park are not kept in the same pond as smaller ones.

"If there are big ones with little ones, problems occur," Mr Brien said.

Before moving the creatures, which range in size between 1.2 metres and 2 metres, an electric shock is used to stun them, and then tape is wrapped around their mouths and eyes.

"Otherwise you can imagine how dangerous it would be trying to round up [the] crocs]."

Mr Brien says the relocation, which usually takes place about once a year for animals of this size, is a great opportunity for people who want to see what it is like to work with crocs.

"Usually [we get] backpackers and students, people doing degrees with animals," he said.

"It gives them an opportunity to handle large reptiles, an opportunity they wouldn't normally get."

He says once the animals reach more than 2 metres in length, they will be used for skins and meat.

Crocodile eludes dragnet

September 28, 2009

REALLY WILDLIFE: Police and animal control officers try to corral crafty caiman in storm water pond

The London Free Press

Beavers, eagles, herons, and now, a small crocodile.

"We see a lot of wildlife here," Londoner Sherri Friesman said yesterday at her Killarney Rd. home in north London.

"I don't think we're going to see anything more exciting than this."

About 10:30 a.m. yesterday, Friesman was having a coffee on her second-storey deck overlooking a storm water pond in the Cedar Hollow subdivision, east of Highbury Ave. just south of Fanshawe Park Rd.

She spotted something large in the water.

"I just thought it was a beaver. I grabbed my binoculars and saw it looked like some kind of alligator. I was pretty excited."

She called London's animal care and control centre and kept an eye on the reptile.

At one point, the reptile approached a bird at the edge of the pond.

"The bird didn't know what to make of him."

Fortunately, it appeared the crocodile was looking for sun, not breakfast, she said.

Eventually the crocodile, thought to be a caiman, found warmth on a long ridge of rocks down the middle of the pond.

When the animal control officers showed up, the caiman plopped back in the water, said London police Sgt. Jeff Addley.

The metre-long reptile was still showing its head above water when police arrived to help, he said.

Police and animal control officers tried to capture the crocodile with a noose attached to a pole, but it managed to give them the slip.

Officers approached the croc the same way they approach crooks, setting up a perimeter around the pond.

By 3 p.m., they had brought in dogs to try to flush the crocodile out, with little success.

By the end of the afternoon, the officers had given up for the day.

"He's since resurfaced and he's scouting around the edge of the pond looking for some place to sun himself," Friesman said.

"If they don't get him out, he'll live until the water gets too cold to sustain his body temperature and then he'll be gone," she said.

"Hopefully they'll get him before then."

The caiman was likely someone's pet, until it got too large or expensive to keep, Addley said.

Instead of taking the reptile to a zoo, the person likely abandoned it by the pond, he said.

"Anyone who does that is negligent of the fact there are children, pets and families here."

The smallest of the breed, the dwarf caiman, can reach lengths of 1.2 metres in females and 1.6 m in males.

The caiman is no danger to adults, but pets and small children might be at risk, Addley said.

"Obviously our concern would be how would it react to a small child who is somewhere near the edge of the pond," he said.

"The last thing that (people) are going to be thinking of is a caiman from South America coming out of the water toward them. It certainly is going to give them a fright."

'Evil powers created half-man, half-goat creature'

September 28, 2009

  • Creature born with man, goat features
  • Resembled faun-like animal
  • Died a few hours after birth

AN African village is reportedly shellshocked after the birth of a bizarre faun-like creature said to have the combined features of a man and a goat.

Bild reports the creature, which died just a few hours after birth in Lower Gweru, Zimbabwe, had a huge head and face which resembled a human, as well as goat legs and a tail.

Villagers said the end product was so scary even dogs were afraid to go close to it. They burned the corpse fearing it was an evil sign.

"This is indeed a miracle that has never been witnessed anywhere," elder Themba Moyo said. The goat's owner called police after the birth.

"It’s the first time that my goat did this. I have 15 goats and it’s this goat that gave me birth to most of them. My goats often give birth to sets of twins," he said.

The Zimbabwe Guardian reports that Midlands Governor and Resident Minister Jason Machaya is adamant the creature is the result of a coupling between man and goat.

"This incident is very shocking. It is my first time to see such an evil thing. It is really embarrassing," he reportedly said.

"The head belongs to a man while the body is that of a goat. This is evident that an adult human being was responsible. Evil powers caused this person to lose self control.

"We often hear cases of human beings who commit bestiality but this is the first time for such an act to produce a product with human features."

A vet didn't have the chance to investigate the creature, but after inspecting photos, he told Bild he believed it was a child suffering from hydrocephalus, or water on the brain.

"The condition would have accounted for the abnormally large skull and for the chin, nose, ears and other body parts having shifted during development," he reportedly said.

Half-man, half-goat creatures like fauns and satyrs are popular in Greek and Roman mythology.,27574,26134803-13762,00.html

Man Unhurt After Sneaking Into Bear Exhibit At Zoo

Sep 27, 2009

A man snuck into the grizzly bear exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo Saturday but was rescued immediately afterward without incident, authorities said.

Reporter: CNN

SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- A man snuck into the grizzly bear exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo Saturday but was rescued immediately afterward without incident, authorities said.

A zoo visitor alerted the facility's staff about the 27-year-old man's presence inside the enclosure, said spokeswoman Gwendolyn Tornatore.

Staffers fired a warning shot to keep the two bears away from the man, before securing them inside their dens, Tornatore said in a statement.

The man, who was not identified, was conscious but unresponsive when he was rescued. He did not show any apparent signs of injury, Tornatore said.

It was not clear how the man got inside the enclosure, or what prompted him.

The man has been charged with misdemeanor trespassing and harassing an animal in captivity, said CNN affiliate KRON-TV. He was taken to San Francisco General Hospital for an evaluation.

The zoo made international headlines on Christmas Day in 2007 when a Siberian tiger apparently scaled a 12-and-a-half-foot wall surrounding its enclosure, killing a 17-year-old man and wounding two of his friends.

Following the incident, the zoo overhauled its safety procedures. Construction crews raised the walls of the enclosure to help keep the big cats in.

The one-acre Hearst Grizzly Gulch at the zoo is home to its two female grizzly bears, Kachina and Kiona. It is equipped with a 20,000-gallon pool, herb garden, and a waterfall, according to the zoo's Web site.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Endangered northern bald ibis shot

One of only five northern bald ibis in the Middle East has been killed by hunters as the last surviving population of the birds outside Morocco heads towards extinction.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Published: 7:00AM BST 25 Sep 2009

Photograph of the Bald Ibis taken by the hunter who shot it.
The bird later died of its injuries. Photo: RSPB

The bird used to be found across parts of southern and central Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and even features in the hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt.

However hunting and loss of habitat mean there are just over 200 birds left in Morocco in addition to the handful struggling to survive in Syria.

A female bird, that was tagged in a satellite tracking project led by BirdLife International, was migrating across the deserts of Saudi Arabia to North-east Africa when it was illegally shot.

Eng Ali Hamoud, of the Syrian Desert Commission, said the species could now be wiped out in the Middle East.

"We were excited that tagging a sub-adult bald ibis may have helped us to solve the mystery of where young ibises spend the winter, but now we may never know. The shooting of a young bird from such a tiny population is devastating news and it shows that hunting is a major threat to this species.”

"Bownessie" - The Search for The Windermere Monster

September 20,2009

By Ian Brockwell

After many years of searching for the Loch Ness Monster without success, attention has been directed to what has been called a "distant relative" to Nessie, perhaps aptly named "Bownessie" because of the bow wave it produces and the similarity to the mysterious sightings in Loch Ness.

The first public sighting of "Bownessie" in Lake Windermere was in 2006, and the number of people who claim to have seen something continues to grow.

A recent video certainly seems to support the possibility of some kind of creature in the lake, which created a bow wave of around 20 meters in length.

Other sightings have estimated the size of the creature at anything from 20 to 50 feet long. One witness, who claimed the "creature" passed below him, said the movement in the water was so powerful he thought it was a submarine.

Bownessie has been described as a giant eel or sturgeon, but others claim they have seen a creature with humps (much like some of the reports on the Loch Ness Monster).

The most recent sighting of the creature was in July of this year, when a local hotelier was hit by a three foot wave while swimming.

This weekend saw the launch of a new investigation on the lake, using state of the art equipment and a specially chartered yacht. The team includes Linden Adams, a photographer who gave the creature its name and psychic Dean Maynard.

The odds of finding something in the lake seems reasonably good, but what remains to be seen.

It could of course be a hoax, a giant eel or sturgeon, or even some alien creature (many people have reported seeing UFO's entering lakes in the past). Maybe this is one mystery that might be solved shortly, we shall have to wait and see.

Is Bownessie out there?

11:17am Tuesday 22nd September 2009

By Lizzie Anderson

AN UNUSAL water disturbance and a possible sighting have given further credence to the legend of Windermere’s mysterious monster.

Lakes TV’s joint director, John McKeown captured the strange ripples measuring around 20ft, while filming a documentary about “Bownessie.”

“I had gone up to the view point just before the Beech Hill Hotel to get some establishing shots of the lake,” he said. “As I was filming I saw this long white disturbance in the water so I zoomed in on it. It was quite striking but I figured it must have been caused by the cables of the Windermere Ferry.”

However, when he discovered the ferry was a mile and a half north of the area, his curiosity returned.

“When I got home I uploaded the footage on to my lap top and not only was the disturbance very clear but something actually breaks the surface,” said Mr McKeown, who describes himself as being naturally sceptical. “Essentially, it was a strange pattern in the water, it wasn’t a wave or anything like that. I shot the footage at 8.10am on a Saturday morning and there were no boats on the lake.”

There have been numerous reported sightings of a mysterious creature in the lake over the years, the most recent being in July when Lake District hotelier Thomas Noblett was hit by a three-foot wave while swimming.

In 2006, The Westmorland Gazette reported how Huddersfield University journalism lecturer Steve Burnip, of Hebden Bridge, saw a 20ft serpent-like creature emerge from the waters as he stood at Watbarrow Point across from Waterhead.

Keen to gather more evidence, last weekend, celebrity and sports psychic Dean Maynard and local photographer Linden Adams, who photographed and christened Bownessie in 2007, led a team of investigator out on to England’s longest lake.

Using state of the art equipment, a specially chartered yacht and a sonar boat, the team scoured the depths of Windermere hoping for a glimpse of Bownessie.

Freelance Journalist, Kim Inglis, was one of the passengers on board.

“I was looking at a flock of seagulls that were circulating above the lake about 100 metres,” she said. “All of a sudden something came out of the water and before I could say anything it disappeared.”

Her sighting was confirmed by a passenger on the sonar boat, who also witnessed a head emerge from the lake.

“I would describe it as a head but I wouldn’t go beyond that as you start imagining things,” said Ms Inglis. “I definitely saw something. I believe it was probably just a big fish but I still think the idea of Bownessie is fascinating and it has put the region on the map, which is a good thing.”

To watch Mr Mckeown’s footage, which has since been broadcast on Sky News, visit

Mythical beast is ‘spotted’ in Windermere

15:19, Wednesday, 23 September 2009

TALES of a mythical creature rumoured to be lurking in the depths of South Lakeland waters have been causing a stir.

Click here to see the footage

The so-called “Bownessie” is fast becoming part of modern Lake District folklore, as reported sightings of the fabled creature continue to be made.

Footage that some people believe appears to show the creature causing ripples in the surface of Windermere was shot by Lakes TV cameraman John McKeown on Saturday.

It has since appeared on Sky News on Sunday evening and American TV network giant CBS is also interested in the story.

People in Windermere are not convinced Bownessie actually exists.

But they believe it could be good for the town’s tourist economy if the legend can capture the imagination of visitors in a similar way to the Loch Ness monster.

Councillor Bill Smith, mayor of Windermere, said: “If they believe it’s actually there, I’m sure it will attract them to come and see.

“Anything that draws interest and awareness to the Lake District has to be a positive opportunity.

“I don’t think the term monster is the best expression of an animal living in the lake that could be of interest.

“It suggests something nasty, not something that could be attractive and positive.

“Bownessie conjures up something that’s a bit more cute.

“The people that have seen it believe genuinely they have seen something, even if there is no real proof yet.

“But let’s be honest, it’s far better for Loch Ness that they’ve never located it because it helps perpetuate the belief.”

Paul Holdsworth, Windermere town centre manager, says the Bownessie phenomenon is the latest in a long line of Lake District mythologies.

He said: “Probably the longest standing one is Tizzie Wizzie, which was first spotted by a Bowness boatman around 1900 and he used to tell stories of this extraordinary creature.

“It was said to have the body of a hedgehog, tail of a squirrel and a pair of bee-like wings and was a shy, water-loving creature.

“So, for the sceptics who think Bownessie is something to get the tourists in, this tale has already been around for over a hundred years. There is nothing new under the sun perhaps.”

Jacqui O’Connor, press officer for Windermere Lakes Cruises, said: “Our vessels sail up and down the lake 364 days a year and we have never seen anything unusual.

“However, our skippers remain alert as always.”

Windermere myth and legend

GYLPIN’S wild boar – A wild boar is said to have terrorised pilgrims who entered the woods between Kendal and Windermere in the 12th century.

Richard de Gylpin killed the boar and was rewarded with the manor of Kentmere.The white horse of Windermere – It is said a ghostly white horse walks on the water from shore to shore when harm is about to come to the homes around the lake.

The Crier of Claife – Centuries ago, ferrymen at Ferry Nab often heard strange calls for the boat to come across the water, but were too afraid to go. A monk exorcised the ghost and confined it to the quarry and woods. But there are still tales of walkers being followed by a hooded figure at Claife.

'Monster of the deep' is filmed

Published: 26 Sep 2009

SCIENTISTS believe this incredible footage could show a mysterious monster lurking beneath one of the deepest lakes in the British Isles.

Jonathan Downes, 50, spotted the "creature" thrashing around in one of the Lakes of Killarney in County Kerry, Ireland, while on holiday last week.

His eerie sighting was in the Upper Lake one of three interlinked lakes that make up the area.

The mystery comes just a few years after bizarre unexplained sonar recordings showing a large body were made in the adjoining Muckross Lake.

Along with his wife and friends who also had cameras, Mr Downes, from Crediton, Devon, managed to capture shapes moving across part of the lake.

Mr Downes, who is director at the Centre for Fortean Zoology, said that he had heard of the sonar reading before visiting the lake, but was "ridiculously" lucky to see anything.
He said: "I was actually there with my wife and a friend on holiday.

"All I knew is what I've read and having spent an hour on Thursday night looking down on it.

"What we saw was a thing about nine to 10ft long.

"I'd love to say I saw long necks and humps and things but I didn't."

Mr Downes, who studies cryptozoology - which investigates unknown species of animals, described seeing what he see described as appearing to be "a long thin eel-like creature appearing about 10ft long".

"I believe it must be a large eel," he said. "It was a pale colour.

"What I saw didn't actually really come out on the picture as well."

Pat Foley, deputy regional manager of National Park and Wildlife Service, which oversees Killarney National Park, said that there has been some unusual readings taken about six years ago, which indicated an unknown figure in Muckross Lake.

"I think it was about 2003 there was a survey taken," he said.

"They were getting some sort of strange picture coming back.

"The image was a large and dark blob which I presume, for economic reasons, was described as a monster."

The Lakes of Killarney have much in common with Loch Ness - home of the world's most famous monster - just across the Irish Sea in Scotland.

Both are large very deep lakes with similar fish species including Arctic char.

Loch Ness is the deepest lake in Britain, whilst Muckross Lake measures up to 70m deep, is along with Lough Leane, Ireland's deepest lake.

At the time of the sonar findings in Muckross Lake in Paddy O'Sullivan, Killarney National Park manager for the National Parks and Wildlife Service said: "I am very excited by these findings and am delighted that the ancient fish community of these lakes are being examined by the Irish Char Conservation Group and scientists from around the world.

"These interesting findings can only be good for Killarney from a public awareness and a tourism point of view.

"Whatever the thing turns out to be it will be afforded our fullest protection under EU law as the Muckross forms part of a Special Area of Conservation."

Mysterious shape that looks a loch like Nessie

By Jason O'Brien
Saturday September 26 2009

IS THAT a monster's tail, or might it be more accurately described as a tall tale?

An English zoologist is in little doubt. Jonathan Downes (50) believes that he has pictorial evidence of something very much out of the ordinary lurking in one of Ireland's most picturesque lakes last week.

Mr Downes, a cryptozoologist who investigates unknown species, was holidaying in Killarney when he captured the ambiguous shapes as he looked down on one of the area's famous lakes from a nearby hill.

The scientist maintained yesterday that he had previously heard of bizarre sonar recordings made in the adjoining Muckross Lake about five years ago, adding that he was "ridiculously" lucky to see anything.

"I was actually there with my wife and a friend on holiday," Mr Downes said.

"What we saw was a thing about 9ft to 10ft long.

"I'd love to say I saw long necks and humps and things but I didn't."

Mr Downes, who is director at the Centre for Fortean Zoology in Devon, went on to describe the object as "a long, thin eel-like creature" that was pale in colour.

"I believe it must be a large eel," he said. "What I saw didn't actually really come out on the picture as well."

The shape was spotted in the Upper Lake 10 days ago by Mr Downes and his wife, Corinna, who were almost a quarter of a mile away at a popular beauty spot.

"It was really sort of a calm day -- not much breeze or anything," she said.

"All of a sudden there were these swirls on the water.

"It looked like something was breaking the water on top, you could see a torpedo-like trail."

But not everybody is buying into the Killarney Lake Monster theory.

Pat Foley, deputy regional manager of the National Park and Wildlife Service (NPWS) which oversees the national park, told the Irish Independent that there had been a similar story in 2003.

"That brought about great excitement in the area, and certainly didn't do the local economy any harm," Mr Foley said.

"A survey came back with some strange pictures of a large blob near the lake floor, and pretty soon we had a 'monster' on our hands.

"But it turned out to be a little bit more mundane than that. It was a shoal of Arctic char."
- Jason O'Brien

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Butterfly 'GPS' found in antennae

Friday, 25 September 2009

By Judith Burns
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

North America's Monarch butterflies use a 24-hour "clock" in their antennae to help navigate the 4,000km to overwinter in Mexico, say scientists.

Every autumn about 100 million Monarch butterflies migrate to the south.

The insects navigate according to the position of the Sun, adjusting their calculations as it appears to move across the sky.

A paper in the journal Science shows the location of the clock is the antennae rather than the brain.

Scientists say the finding is a surprise as it has always been thought that the butterflies used a 24-hour clock in their brains in conjunction with their "Sun compass" when they migrated.

But some observations from 50 years ago indicated that when the butterflies' antennae were removed the insects no longer flew in the right direction.

A research team from University of Massachusetts Medical School, US, was also interested in studying the role of the antennae in butterfly social reactions as Monarchs are extremely gregarious when they migrate.

Flight Simulator

They removed the antennae from a group of butterflies and compared the way they flew with a control population in a flight simulator.

The intact butterflies all flew southwest, as normal, but the insects without antennae, although they flew strongly, headed off in random directions.

Co-author, Dr Steven Reppert, told BBC News: "This then perked up our interest more and set up a whole series of experiments, which essentially led us to discovering that the antennae, really we think, are the major site of the circadian clock that compensates for the movement of the Sun."

The researchers tested the molecular cycles of the circadian clock in the brains of the insects without antennae and discovered that they were still functioning normally.

Dr Reppert said: "So this suggested that: Wow! Maybe there's a clock in the antennae that's more important for the time compensated component of the insects' Sun compass orientation... It was a total surprise."

What they did next was to show that the molecular control of the clock in the antennae is identical to the way it is in the brain. They also showed that the antennal clock can sense light independently from the brain and can function independently.

Dr Reppert said: "What's so cool about what we did is it suggests that these clocks have a function that is directly related to the brain itself, that it is really regulating a central brain process."

In order to prove that the antennae contain both a light sensor and a clock, the scientists painted the antennae of one group of insects with black enamel paint and compared their behaviour with that of a group whose antennae were coated with transparent paint.

Skewed orientation

The group with the black painted antennae all flew together in the wrong direction, while those with the transparent paint were unaffected.

According to Dr Reppert: "This strongly suggested that the timing of the clocks was still apparent but since the antennae were painted black the internal clocks couldn't adjust their 24-hour oscillation to the prevailing light-dark cycle.

"So that's why their orientation was skewed. This brought everything together and really pointed towards the antennae as the major source of this time compensation mechanism."

"I think the take home message is that this really emphasises the importance of this appendage, the antenna of the butterfly.

"I think it's becoming more and more clear that the antennae have a number of functions that are independent from being odour detectors. They can function as ears, sensing sound and changes in barometric pressure, and now we can add to the list this function as a timepiece."

The paper also suggests that other insects such as foraging honeybees and ants may use their antennae in a similar way.

Britain Braced For Huge Spider Invasion

Friday September 25, 2009

Kat Higgins, Sky News Online

There is bad news for arachnophobes this autumn with conservationists predicting an increase in spiders in our homes and gardens.

The charity Buglife said breeding conditions are perfect this year for British spiders like the daddy longlegs (or cranefly) and house spider.

Nature-lovers may be pleased with the news but it is likely to send spider-haters running.
Autumn is typically the season when arachnids turn up in houses and garages, often causing dramatic reactions in home-owners.

Arachnophobe Gemma Christian, 24, told Sky News Online she is worried already.

"I'm going to have to spend more time at my boyfriend's house where there will be a house full of men to deal with them," she said.

"I'm also considering having hypnotherapy otherwise I won't be able to sleep at night."

Chief executive of Buglife, Matt Shardlow, explained to Sky News Online the cause of the spider invasion: "A warm, long summer with no long periods of cold or wet weather means there are plenty of bugs for them to feed on."

There is also plenty of decaying material around for the critters to feed on after last year's wet autumn.

Mr Shardlow hopes it will slow the recent decline in spider species in the UK.

He said the eight-legged critters play a "critically important role in ecosystems" and added that he is "hopeful there will be a boost for populations of other invertebrates."

It could also be a bumper season for animals that feed on the creepy-crawlies, including birds and small mammals.

But Mr Shardlow is urging home-owners not to kill spiders - but to pick them up and put them outside.

He told Sky: "They are almost all harmless and do good work in your house eating flies and other pests."

"Buglife would like people to tolerate spiders and even grow to love them if they can," he added hopefully.

The charity is also asking householders to poke around in their sheds and in dark corners in their homes to see if they can spot 10 species over this weekend or the first weekend in October.

The idea is part of its annual Spider Hunt where they hope to gain information on the health of the invertebrates and how many of them are around at the moment.

UK warned as plague of bee-eating hornets spreads north in France

  • Pesticides and traps fail to halt steady colonisation
  • British summer could be their downfall, says expert

Lizzy Davies in Paris, Friday 25 September 2009 21.35 BST

For five years they have wreaked havoc in the fields of south-western France, scaring locals with their venomous stings and ravaging the bee population to feed their rapacious appetites. Now, according to French beekeepers, Asian predatory hornets have been sighted in Paris for the first time, raising the prospect of a nationwide invasion which entomologists fear could eventually reach Britain.

Claude Cohen, president of the Parisian region's apiculture development agency, said a hornet nest had been found this week in the centre of Blanc Mesnil, north-east of the capital.

If confirmed by further testing, the find will raise fears that the spread of the bee-eating Vespa velutina is no longer limited to the Aquitaine region near Bordeaux, where it is believed to have arrived on board container ships from China in 2004, and the surrounding south-west.

Denis Thiery, a specialist at the National Institute for Agricultural Research, said the hornets were likely to push on with a relentless colonisation of their adopted country until they become a common sight in vast swaths of France – and ultimately in other European states.

"We are seeing a real geographical expansion," he said, adding that an eventual invasion of southern England, which has a relatively mild climate the hornets would enjoy, could not be ruled out.

Biologists insist that this variety of Asian hornet, which can grow to an inch long, is no more ferocious than its European counterpart, although its stings, which contain more poison than those of wasps, can be very painful and can require hospital attention.

This summer swarms of the insects were reported to have attacked a mother and baby in the Lot-et-Garonne department, as well as pursuing passersby and tourists on bikes.

But the hornet's menace to human beings pales into insignificance in comparison with the destruction it wreaks on its chosen habitat. In south-western France, where its population surges each year, beleaguered beekeepers claim that they are being driven into the ground by the insect's destructive eating habits.

"We have literally been invaded," said Raymond Saunier, president of the Gironde department's beekeeping union. "In the past two to four years we have lost 30% of our hives. All it takes is two or three hornets near your hive and you've had it."

He added: "It's not just about us trying to make honey. What's even more serious is the effect they have on the pollination process [by killing so many bees]. It's really a disaster."

Faced with a demographic explosion which Thiery said had seen thousands of nests documented last year in the city of Bordeaux alone, entomologists are unsure of the best way to halt the hornets' seemingly unstoppable advance. Neither pesticides nor traps have proved particularly effective, largely because the creatures nest high off the ground in trees. The Vespa velutina has no natural predator on European soil.

Because of this, and a gradual shift in climate which experts believe could encourage the hornets to move north, many experts are adamant that the French scourge will at some point cross the Channel.

But the threat is not immediate, said Stuart Hind, head of the Natural History Museum's centre for biodiversity in London. "[A UK invasion] is very likely," he said. "It is entirely plausible. But it could be 10 to 15 years before they come knocking on our door."

But, he added, "If anything were to stop them it would be the good, old-fashioned British summers. They wouldn't cope well with heavy rain."

Insect invasions

March 2002
The pelargonium brown, a butterfly native to South Africa, was found to be eating its way through France by environmental research group Cemagref. It was considered a harmless addition to French insect life, although experts worried that it could oust local species. Thought to have ventured north because of warmer winters.

July 2005
Huge swarms of locusts ravaged the southern French region of Aveyron after a drought helped thousands of eggs to hatch. They wreaked havoc on hundreds of farms.

September 2009
In Britain's south-west, environmentalists were delighted by a surge in the population of one of the UK's most endangered butterflies. Experts recorded the second highest count of marsh fritillaries since weekly recording began in 1994.

See also:

Mutations Make Evolution Irreversible: By Resurrecting Ancient Proteins, Researchers Find That Evolution Can Only Go Forward

ScienceDaily (Sep. 24, 2009) — A University of Oregon research team has found that evolution can never go backwards, because the paths to the genes once present in our ancestors are forever blocked. The findings -- the result of the first rigorous study of reverse evolution at the molecular level -- appear in the Sept. 24 issue of Nature.

The team used computational reconstruction of ancestral gene sequences, DNA synthesis, protein engineering and X-ray crystallography to resurrect and manipulate the gene for a key hormone receptor as it existed in our earliest vertebrate ancestors more than 400 million years ago. They found that over a rapid period of time, five random mutations made subtle modifications in the protein's structure that were utterly incompatible with the receptor's primordial form.

The discovery of evolutionary bridge burning implies that today's versions of life on Earth may be neither ideal nor inevitable, said Joe Thornton, a professor in the UO's Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

"Evolutionary biologists have long been fascinated by whether evolution can go backwards," Thornton said, "but the issue has remained unresolved because we seldom know exactly what features our ancestors had, or the mechanisms by which they evolved into their modern forms.

We solved those problems by studying the problem at the molecular level, where we can resurrect ancestral proteins as they existed long ago and use molecular manipulations to dissect the evolutionary process in both forward and reverse directions."

Thornton's team, which included UO research scientist Jamie Bridgham and collaborator Eric A. Ortlund, a biochemist at Atlanta's Emory University, focused on the evolution of a protein called the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), which binds the hormone cortisol and regulates the stress response, immunity, metabolism and behavior in humans and other vertebrates.

"This fascinating study highlights the value of studying evolutionary processes," said Irene Eckstrand, who oversees evolution grants at the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences. "By showing how molecular structures are finely tuned by evolution, Dr. Thornton's research will have a broad impact on basic and applied sciences, including the design of drugs that target specific proteins."

In previous work, Thornton's group showed that the first GR evolved more than 400 millions ago from an ancestral protein that was also sensitive to the hormone aldosterone. They then identified seven ancient mutations that together caused the receptor to evolve its new specificity for cortisol.

Once Thornton's team knew how the GR's modern function evolved, they wondered if it could be returned to its ancestral function. So they resurrected the GR as it existed soon after cortisol specificity first evolved -- in the common ancestor of humans and all other vertebrates with bones -- and then reversed the seven key mutations by manipulating its DNA sequence.

'We expected to get a promiscuous receptor just like the GR's ancestor, but instead we got a completely dead, non-functional protein," Thornton said. "Apparently other mutations that occurred during early GR evolution acted as a sort of evolutionary ratchet, rendering the protein unable to tolerate the ancestral features that had existed just a short time earlier."

To identify the mutations, Thornton's team prepared crystals of resurrected ancient GR proteins and took them to the particle accelerator at the Advanced Photon Source outside Chicago, where they used powerful X-rays to determine the protein's atomic structure before and after the shift in function. By comparing the precise atomic maps of each protein, they identified five specific mutations in the later version of the GR that clashed with the architecture of the earlier protein.

"Suppose you're redecorating your bedroom -- first you move the bed, then you put the dresser where the bed used to be," Thornton said. "If you decide you want to move the bed back, you can't do it unless you get that dresser out of the way first. The restrictive mutations in the GR prevented evolutionary reversal in the same way."

When Thornton's group set the five mutations back to their ancestral state, the protein could now tolerate having the seven key changes reversed, which then transformed it into a promiscuous receptor just like the its ancestor.

Despite their powerful role as a ratchet preventing reversal, the five restrictive mutations had little or no direct effect on the protein's function when they occurred. And although they must be reversed before the protein can tolerate the ancestral state, reversing them first does absolutely nothing to enhance the ancestral function. "This means that even if the ancestral function were suddenly to become optimal again, there's no way natural selection could drive the protein directly back to its ancestral form," Thornton said.

GR's evolutionary irreversibility suggests that the molecules that drive our biology today may not be inevitable products of the evolutionary process. "In the GR's case, restrictive mutations erased the conditions that previously opened up the ancestral form as an evolutionary possibility. It's likely that throughout history other kinds of restrictive mutations have taken place, closing off innumerable trajectories that evolution might otherwise have taken," Thornton speculated.

"If we could wind back the clock and allow history to unfold again, different sets of mutations, apparently inconsequential at the time, would almost certainly occur, opening up some potential paths and blocking others -- including the one that leads to the present that actually evolved in our world," he said. "If what we observed in GR evolution is a general phenomenon, then the biology we have is just one of many possible rolls of the evolutionary dice."

The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute supported the research.

Journal reference:

  1. Jamie T. Bridgham, Eric A. Ortlund & Joseph W. Thornton. An epistatic ratchet constrains the direction of glucocorticoid receptor evolution. Nature, 2009; DOI: 10.1038/nature08249
Adapted from materials provided by University of Oregon.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Feathered dinosaur fossils find has Chinese scientists all aflutter

New discovery unearthed in rock formations in north-eastern China confirms birds evolved from dinosaurs, scientists claim

Steven Morris, Thursday 24 September 2009 20.19 BST

The discovery of five remarkable new fossils has confirmed that birds evolved from dinosaurs, Chinese scientists said last night.

Because the fossils, unearthed in north-eastern China, are older than previous discoveries of similar creatures, the find adds weight to the theory that birds descended from predatory dinosaurs.

The fossils all have feathers or feather-like structures. The clearest and most striking of the specimens can be seen to have four wings, extensive plumage and profusely feathered feet.
One of the scientists who made the discovery, Xu Xing, will reveal details of his find in Bristol at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology.

"These exceptional fossils provide us with evidence that has been missing until now," Xu said. "Now it all fits neatly into place and we have tied up some of the loose ends."

The finds date back to between 151m and 164m years ago, which suggest they are older than archaeopteryx, previously thought to be the oldest undisputed bird.

Xu, who is based in Beijing, said: "The fossils provide confirmation that the bird-dinosaur hypothesis is correct, and supports the idea that birds descended from theropod dinosaurs (the group of predatory dinosaurs that includes allosaurus and velociraptor)."

The fossils were found in Liaoning province. Xu told the Guardian he was shocked when he first saw the best of the specimens. "This was really unexpected. One thing that would shock you is that this is covered with feathers everywhere except the beak and the claw," he said. "It is the first feathered species known so far; the earliest known feathered species."

There have been fakes before. A creature that came to be known as archaeoraptor, with the body of the bird and the tail of a dinosaur, sent the world of palaeontology into a flutter after apparently being found in China. It was later proved a fake, not unearthed by scientists, but bought at a rock show in the US. China is an increasingly important centre for palaeontology because so much of the country's rocks remain unexplored. A sizeable contingent from China is attending the conference in Bristol, one of the largest gatherings of palaeontologists ever.

Xu said: "The first question we wanted to know was is it fake or real? We checked in detail and convinced ourselves there was no problem. We are 100% sure we are looking at a real species, not a fake one. It's one of the most important for understanding the origin of birds."

Feathers cover the arms and tail, but also the feet, suggesting that a four-winged stage may have existed in the transition to birds. The fossils will also help scientists work out the mechanics of how early birds flew. The specimens have been identified as types of Anchiornis huxleyi. The details of the find will also be announced in Nature.

Snap catches out 'bigfoot'

Published: 24 Sep 2009

THIS grainy snap of a mystery beast lurking in a garden could finally prove the existence of the mythical bigfoot.

Kenny and Margaret Mahoney set up a motion camera in their grounds after their home-grown vegetables began to mysteriously disappear earlier this month.

And when they watched back the footage they were stunned to see a creature resembling a ghostly Dementor from the Harry Potter films prowling at the bottom of their land.

Puzzled by the spooky black shape, Kenny and Margaret, sent the image to their local news station in Kentucky, US.

The couple were asked to appear on the show and soon found themselves at the centre of a bigfoot scandal.

Margaret said: "After we appeared on television we were swamped with phone calls and emails from crypto-zoologists and bigfoot hunters wanting to talk.

"They all think that we may have stumbled on to something important."

A team from the History Channel have now even filmed a segment for their show, Monster Quest, with the Mahoneys.

The worried couple also sent off the pictures to a wildlife expert pal fearing the beast was a bear.
Excited Margaret, 47, said: "We initially suspected a deer or a racoon of stealing our green beans.

"However when my husband produced the pictures of the shape at the bottom of our land we must admit to being surprised.

"We worried that it might be a bear, so we sent off the picture to a good friend who is an expert in that field.

"She said in her opinion it looked like fur, but she could not confirm it."

Margaret added: "Our greatest fear is that it is indeed a bear.

"However, bears do not live in Kentucky so we are still at a loss as to what this figure could be." The Only Free Weekly Electronic Newsletter That Reports on The Latest News on Herpetological Conservation and Science The Only Free Weekly Electronic Newsletter That Reports on The Latest News on Herpetological Conservation and Science
Volume # 9 Issue #43- 09/25/09
Publisher/Editor- Allen Salzberg __________________________________________________________________

New Book


Carl J. Franklin, and David C. Killpack with foreword by C. Kenneth Dodd
Just published. 260 Pages Over 300 full color photos and illustrations.
Hardcover, Eco/Serpent's Tales

Only $49.95 plus $7.50 S&H, lowest price on net
Not even Amazon who are offering it for $59.95.

And updated version of classic book on North American box turtles by C. Kenneth Dodd, but with information on husbandry.

To order see below


Table of Contents

1) Bronx Zoo Herpetology Department Collections Manager Position
2) House GOPer Seeks Co-Sponsors For Pet Health Care Tax Benefit
3) Snakes Not Shy About Sex
4) Study Examines Use Of Toad Venom In Cancer Treatment
5) Man-Made Turtle Platforms Float At State Parks
6) Why Do People Make Snakes Pets? -Snake Lovers Say Reptiles Not Vicious Nor Violent
7) Too Many Snakes To Catch Them All (As In Released Or Escaped Ex-Pets)

8) Conservative Republicans Suddenly Take A Strong Interest In Reptile Conservation, FOX News Wire Service, Washington DC , 9/24/09.
________________________________________________________________________> Also Available



Or order them individually

GO TO WWW.HERPARTS.COM (under books and calendars)TO ORDER AND SEE PHOTOS.

The Frog, Snake and Lizard calendars are 18 month calendars starting at 9/09 so you can start using them now. Very limited supply. Imported from UK. Months and Days of Week in 5 languages, Even includes astrological dates.


1) Bronx Zoo Herpetology Department Collections Manager Position

The Wildlife Conservation Society's Department of Herpetology at the Bronx Zoo invites qualified persons to apply for the Collections Manager position. The Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society seeks an enthusiastic professional to join our 110-year-old Department of Herpetology! We are currently seeking a qualified individual with demonstrated interest and expertise in herpetology and management of living collections to become our Collections Manager.

Responsibilities include supervising the daily husbandry, enrichment, training, observation, and record keeping for animals in the collection in addition to assisting in the supervision of the maintenance and construction of exhibits or support services.

Minimum Qualifications: A minimum of five years of work experience in a zoological park or related institution. Preference will be given to candidates with a degree in zoological or biological sciences. Candidate must be motivated and energetic, possess management and strong interpersonal skills, and the ability to accept direction, and must be able to express ideas and work as part of a team for the betterment of the department. Individuals with a broad background in crocodilians, squamates (venomous and non-venomous), turtles, and amphibians will be seriously considered. The successful candidate also must possess a working knowledge of computers and basic programs and a valid driver's license.

Please apply online by October 16th at:

2) House GOPer Seeks Co-Sponsors For Pet Health Care Tax Benefit
Sam Stein, 9/23/09, The Huffington Post

Even as his party blocks Democratic attempts to expand health insurance for humans, a Republican congressman is trying to round up support for a bill that would provide a $3,500 annual tax deduction for Americans to pay for the medical care of their pets.

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter on Tuesday asking fellow members to co-sponsor his Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (HAPPY) Act, despite the upsurge in concern over the rising cost of health care coverage for actual humans.

"Dear Colleague," the letter reads.

"According to the 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey, 63% of United States households own a pet. Indeed, the human-animal bond has been shown to have a positive effect upon people's emotional and physical well being. In families with children, pets help to create a nurturing environment and provide ample educational opportunities. For people in later stages of life, pets offer important companionship. No matter the age of the owner, pets have been shown to reduce stress, safeguard against depression, improve social skills, and even ease loss.

"In light of this, please join me in becoming a cosponsor to H.R. 3501, the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (HAPPY) Act. If enacted, H.R. 3501 would amend the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) to allow an annual tax deduction of up to $3500 for qualified pet care expenses. Specifically, "qualified pet care expenses" would be defined as funds spent in connection with providing care (including veterinary care) for a legally owned, domesticated animal."

McCotter's proposed legislation has, not surprisingly, been praised by pet's rights advocates who say it will help provide proper care for animals and ensure that people suffering from the recession don't abandon their pets.

But considering the political context in which the bill is being pushed, it's hard not to scratch one's head. It has become a mantra within the GOP that health care reform legislation (for humans) being considered by Democrats would drain the government of money at a time when the deficit is already out of control. Moreover, as pointed out by the site, Blogging for Michigan, the congressman's legislation would result in many Americans having a greater financial incentive to provide health care coverage to their pets than to themselves.

The IRS only allows me to deduct medical and dental expenses that exceed more than 7.5% of my adjusted gross income. Here's an example from their website:

'Your adjusted gross income is $40,000, 7.5% of which is $3,000. You paid medical expenses of $2,500. You cannot deduct any of your medical expenses because they are not more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.'

But apparently I could deduct up to $3500 that I spend on my dog!

McCotter has defended the introduction of his legislation by arguing that Congress can, in fact, do more than "one thing at a time." Introduced at the end of July, the bill currently has no cosponsors.

3) Snakes Not Shy About Sex
by Jannette Parke, 9/21/09 Australia

LOVE is in the air at the Rodwell's farm out Kenilworth way.

Vicki Rodwell of Kenilworth took this amazing photograph of red-bellied snakes, just outside of her house yard.

LOVE is in the air at the Rodwell's farm out Kenilworth way.

Vicki Rodwell says they've had plenty of snakes at their place, but she's never seen anything quite like this display of spring fever.

Two red-bellied blacks were so totally absorbed in their "special cuddle" last Saturday that they took no notice of Vicki or her rottweiler dog.

Vicki captured the image after her dog started barking and growling in a particular way.

"We've had lots of snakes around, mostly browns, but nothing ever like this," she said.

"They were mating right outside the house yard. I thought I've got to get a photo of this and raced up the hill to get my camera and they were still at it when I got back."

The keen photographer said her camera is not usually too far away.

"I'm a camera person; I've always joked that I put on my camera before I put on my undies!"

Just to confirm that it was a mating pair and not two males having a "biffo", The Gympie Times emailed the photo to snake-catcher and herpetologist John Keady.

John confirmed it was a male and female doing what comes naturally this time of year, not two males fighting for mating rights, which can look similar.

"Two fighting males entwine differently and stand up. You can see these two are mating because they're being very gentle, and he's holding her there. The female is on the left and the male is entwined around her."

John urges people to never attempt to catch, corner or kill a snake, as this is when 90 per cent of bites are inflicted.

"These are two beautiful, healthy specimens," John said of the subjects in Vicki's photo.

Photos of snakes at:

4) Study Examines Use Of Toad Venom In Cancer Treatment
September 24th, 2009,

Huachansu, a Chinese medicine that comes from the dried venom secreted by the skin glands of toads, has tolerable toxicity levels, even at doses eight times those normally administered, and may slow disease progression in some cancer patients, say researchers from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The results from the Phase I clinical study, a collaborative research project between M. D. Anderson and Fudan University Cancer Hospital in Shanghai, are reported in the online Early View feature of the journal Cancer. The study marks the first time a formal clinical trial has examined the relationship between huachansu dose and toxicity, although the drug is common in China and approved by the Chinese Food and Drug Administration.

Huachansu is widely used to treat patients with liver, lung, colon and pancreatic cancer at oncology clinics in China. Chinese clinical trials conducted since the 1970s have demonstrated the anti-cancer properties of huachansu, citing total response rates of 10 percent and 16 percent observed in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma and lung cancer, respectively1,2.

"Studying traditional Chinese medicine such as huachansu is new to American research institutions, which have been skeptical and slow to adopt these complementary treatments. However, it is important to understand its potential role in treating cancer," says Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., one of the paper's authors and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M. D. Anderson. "We wanted to apply a Western medicine-based approach to explore the role of the toad venom compound in cancer patients and test if it is possible to deliver a more potent dose without raising toxicities or side effects."

The clinical trial was conducted at the Fudan University Cancer Hospital while M. D. Anderson provided training and ongoing consultation. The institutions collaboratively designed the trial that was approved by both institutional review boards. M. D. Anderson and Fudan University Cancer Hospital signed a sister institution agreement in 2003, creating a framework for research, educational and clinical collaboration.

The typical dose of huachansu used in China is approximately 15 milliliters of drug per meter squared of body mass (mL/m2). In the study, 15 patients with stage III or IV hepatocellular (liver) carcinoma, nonsmall cell lung cancer or pancreatic cancer received one of five dose levels ranging from 10 mL/ m2 up to 90 mL/m2 from January 2005 through July 2006. The treatment was repeated daily for 14 days followed by seven days off (one cycle). After two cycles, most patients received other treatments. Quality control methods were put in place to ensure huachansu of a uniform and consistent lot. _____________________________________________________________________

5) Man-Made Turtle Platforms Float At State Parks
by leslie Richardson (staff writer
Published: September 21, 2009

BARNESVILLE - People aren't the only ones who like to bask in the sun at area state parks.

Turtle basking habitat platforms were placed in the waters of Locust Lake and Tuscarora state parks last week so the turtles living there have a place to sun themselves.

Ben Page and Mike Swartz, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission habitat managers, Robin Tracey, environmental education specialist at both parks, and several volunteers built and placed the platforms in the water Wednesday.

The turtles will climb onto the platforms to bask in the sun as a means of thermal regulation.

Some turtles, like the painted, slider and diamondback varieties, will leave the water to dry out in the midday sun. They usually cling to vegetation or floating logs or lie on rocks. They use the sun to raise their body temperatures, since they cannot generate heat or regulate their own internal temperatures.

"They will be used mainly by painted turtles. We have a healthy population of them," Tracey said. "They need the platforms since we do not have enough natural structure for them to hang on to."

Four of the hemlock lumber and PVC pipe structures were pulled by canoe into the spillway pond at Locust Lake, while 10 went into the cove and dam areas at Tuscarora.

"They will act like a broad base, just like a floating log," Page said.

Tracey said the parks usually team up with the fish and boat commission each year on a project, sometimes involving fish, other times turtles.

"We put six of these in Tuscarora about 10 years ago, but we haven't seen them since the flood of 2006," Tracey said.

Once saturated, the platforms, anchored in the shallow water by concrete blocks tied with steel cable to the underside, will rise about one inch above the water.

Tracey said the platforms will make it easier for campers and others using the state parks to view the turtles.

"I am hoping for a late Indian summer so the turtles will make use of them before going underground," Tracey said. "They will be great for the kids to see."

Page said the platforms have about a 20-year life span, and similar structures used for pan fish that were placed in the water at Yellow Creek State Park in 1988 still exist.

"I really wanted these," Lew Williams, parks manager, said. "I am all for improving the habitat of our reptilian friends."

Williams said the fish and boat commission bore the cost of the project and similar projects like the fish structures installed last year at Tuscarora. _____________________________________________________________________________

6) Why Do People Make Snakes Pets? -Snake Lovers Say Reptiles Not Vicious Nor Violent
WESH.COM, Orlando, September 22, 2009,

DELTONA, Fla. -- Snake owners say they love reptiles.

The slithery creatures have made local headlines lately after an 18-foot Burmese python was found in the back yard of an Apopka home.

But why do people make the potentially dangerous creatures as pets?

A group of snake owners in Deltona said they just can't get enough of the reptiles.

They're cold-blooded, sometimes poisonous, and depicted as evil, but Ron Doria, a white-collar medical sales director, can't get enough of his snakes.

"They have such a bad rap of being something so vicious and so violent. It's not like that. It's just, it's false," Doria said.

Doria keeps over 40 snakes in his Deltona home. He shares his passion with a friend, Brian Radenberg, who owns over 100 snakes. Radenberg made the news when the city of Deltona tried unsuccessfully last year to force him to get rid of his venomous snakes.

There's also Scott Quint, a software engineer who owns 35 snakes. Why do these men have such a fascination with the animals?

For Quint, it's the science.

"They're beautiful animals. I think, evolutionally speaking, they're one of the most unique animals," Quint said.

For Radenberg, it's the way they feel.

"They just kind of crawl around on you, and I don't know, they're comfortable," Radenberg said.

And for Doria, who owns rattlesnakes, it's the thrill.

"I like the risk, a little bit, of knowing we have something ... control something that doesn't want to be controlled," Doria said.

The men said because they have the proper caging, proper licenses, and the experience to handle snakes, it mitigates any danger. They get frustrated by the negative stereotypes assigned to snake owners.

"There's still a belief that, if you keep snakes, you're somehow different. You're weird or you're not like everybody else, and admittedly, there are plenty of people who can give that appearance, but there also are plenty who do not," Quint said.

While snake owners may love their snakes, do their snakes love them back?

"They won't show affection, of course, like a dog or a cat. They don't have a brain large enough to do that, and everything is basically instinct for a snake," Chaz Hanna said.

Hanna sells snakes. He believes they're popular pets simply because they're fascinating to watch and easy to care for.

For many people, a learned fear of snakes makes the thought of owning one repulsive.

To help ensure the safety of others, both Radenberg and Doria have posted warnings on the entrances to their homes stating that venomous snakes live inside.

That way, if emergency personnel such as firefighters or police ever have to enter, they'll be forewarned. __________________________________________________________________________

7) Too Many Snakes To Catch Them All (As In Released Or Escaped Ex-Pets)
Monday, 21 Sep 2009,

DURANT - A giant snake is on the loose in eastern Hillsborough County, but wildlife officials say they are not going after it.

They say so many people have dumped pet snakes, they don't have the resources to go after them all.

Carol St. Pierre discovered the 10-foot boa constrictor next her to home in Durant.

"We're seen snakes out here, but that was the biggest one I have ever seen," she said. "I think it's in the woods across the street," St. Pierre said.

Even though it has been a while since she saw the snake, she says she is still shaken up. News reports about potentially dangerous Burmese pythons showing up in the Tampa Bay area have made her feel even more uncomfortable about her close encounter with the scaly beast.

St. Pierre was walking across her yard, and thought she saw a pile of dirt. Then it hit her. The pile of dirt was alive, reptilian, and very big. As she ran into to her house the snake began slithering away. But before it disappeared into the dense underbrush, she snapped half a dozen photos of it.

After seeing the pictures, wildlife officials say it is a common boa, a pet that escaped, or was dumped.

Officials say they are usually not a threat to people, but pets can be another story.

"The main staple of their diet is small mammals," said Breanne Stripina with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "So any small mammals would be venerable, that would include small pets like dogs and cats."

Even though boas generally don't look for trouble, just knowing that the snake might come back gives St. Pierre the willies. Her husbandsays he isn't even fazed at all.

"If you don't go playing around with them, they usually leave you alone," he said.

If you have a snake , or other exotic pet you don't want any more, you can hand it over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission during one of its amnesty days -- no questions asked.

They are held at different locations around the state several times a year.

For a list of dates and locations:

A giant snake is on the loose in eastern Hillsborough County, but wildlife officials say they are not going after it.

They say so many people have dumped pet snakes, they don't have the resources to go after them all.

Carol St. Pierre discovered the 10-foot boa constrictor next her to home in Durant.

"We're seen snakes out here, but that was the biggest one I have ever seen," she said. "I think it's in the woods across the street," St. Pierre said.

Even though it has been a while since she saw the snake, she says she is still shaken up. News reports about potentially dangerous Burmese pythons showing up in the Tampa Bay area have made her feel even more uncomfortable about her close encounter with the scaly beast.

St. Pierre was walking across her yard, and thought she saw a pile of dirt. Then it hit her. The pile of dirt was alive, reptilian, and very big. As she ran into to her house the snake began slithering away. But before it disappeared into the dense underbrush, she snapped half a dozen photos of it.

After seeing the pictures, wildlife officials say it is a common boa, a pet that escaped, or was dumped.

Officials say they are usually not a threat to people, but pets can be another story.

"The main staple of their diet is small mammals," said Breanne Stripina with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "So any small mammals would be venerable, that would include small pets like dogs and cats."

Even though boas generally don't look for trouble, just knowing that the snake might come back gives St. Pierre the willies. Her husband says he isn't even fazed at all.

"If you don't go playing around with them, they usually leave you alone," he said.

If you have a snake , or other exotic pet you don't want any more, you can hand it over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission during one of its amnesty days -- no questions asked.

They are held at different locations around the state several times a year.

For a list of dates and locations: _______________________________________________________________________


8) Conservative Republicans Suddenly Take A Strong Interest In Reptile Conservation.
FOX News Wire Service, Washington DC , 9/24/09.

For the last several weeks the aids of several prominent Republican Senators have been preparing a number of position papers on the positive effects of climate change for the upcoming G-20 summit. This one, the first to be released, only concerns sea turtles, but it gives us a preview of what is to come. These will be regarded as landmark documents in that they are the first attempt by the Republican leadership to show any interest at all in our nation's conservation concerns. A spokesperson for the Senators said this is just one of a number of up coming attempts by the Republicans to work with the Senate majority on topics they know will have the full support of Congress and the current administration. One key Democrat brushed this off as nonsense and saying that the Republicans were simply trying to divert attention away from the negative press they are now getting regarding their stand on health reform.

"In order to expand the Bush administration's effort to make people aware of the benefits of global warming we thought it might be informative to show how it will also benefit many species of wildlife, in this case marine turtles. Currently there is some misinformation going about that global warming is detrimental to sea turtles. Irrational fears, unfounded rumors and hysterical exaggerations set forth by various so-called environmental groups have no place in conservation. Its time to address this and to start thinking positive," the aids announced to a gathering of reporters at one of the Capital's local nightspots. A number of recognized national conservation organizations have already applauded today's announcement. Most sea turtles have remained on the Endangered Species Lists for decades, so it is important to recognize that they are now getting some long overdue help from a quite unexpected source." If we can't do away with the ESA then by God we have the power to fix it so these species are no longer endangered," one outspoken aid was overheard to say to a local TV reporter.

Ten reasons why Global Warming will be important to sea turtle conservation:

1) As primarily tropical and sub tropical species sea turtles will be able to expand marine forging areas as ocean temperatures increase. Changing oceanic currents and shifting frontal boundaries will allow all species to explore new warm water areas in their quest for food and nesting sites.

2) Rising sea levels will eliminate many of their lower elevation nesting sites, forcing the turtles to nest in fewer places, thus, making it easier to track and protect ALL remaining nesting rookeries.

3) Increased cyclone activity will displace all ages of marine turtles, often bringing them near shore, or even on shore where they can be seen, enjoyed and brought back to health by concerned people. The increased levels of awareness will help with regional conservation efforts for all species. A number of species will become less common making them more desirable must-see targets for amateur naturalists, this in turn will have a positive economic impact on coastal ecotourism as well as awareness for their conservation needs.

4) Melting of polar ice will increase the total volume of the world's seas diluting standing pollution loads to more acceptable levels.

5) Longer nesting seasons for sea turtles nesting on temperate beaches will increase egg production as turtles can produce additional clutches. Emerging hatchlings will no longer need to negotiate cool inshore waters in the fall.

6)Reduced need for migration, and less time spent on hostile "wintering" grounds will eliminate an important stress factor for nearly all species. Additionally, the hatchlings will not be required to travel as far to get back to the sea. Adults will not need to swim or crawl as far to nesting sites, there by not needing to store all those layers of body fat. Obesity is believed to be one of the major mortality factors for marine turtles. Trimmer turtles will he more efficient in their marine foraging.

7) Warmer ambient temperatures of nesting beaches will produce more female sea turtles per nest because of sex determination by incubation temperatures. Additional females in the population will quickly increase global stocks.

8) Competition with fisheries, and by catch issues will all but be eliminated as most coastal-based fishing centers will be underwater, commercial fishing activity will become a thing of the past.

9) Ghost crabs, coastal populations of raccoons and foxes and other nasty, land-based nest predators are expected to all but disappear as a result of drowned beach dunes and barrier island habitats. Permanently submerged beaches should eliminate the negative impact of four-wheel drive beach vehicles on the turtle's nests.

10) Rising sea levels will result in expanding foraging areas for coastal sea turtles and rooftops of abandoned buildings may provide predator free, island-like, nesting sites for several species. Continental shelf waters will cover larger areas of the earth's surface, while the pelagic waters will not decrease in size. This should be a tremendous benefit to inshore species and at the same time will not negatively affect any of the pelagic marine turtles.

A well-known radio talk-show host had but a single comment when he announced this over the air. "Like, HELLO; they are sea turtles, rising sea levels-- less land equals more open sea. DUHA! What's so complicated about that you eco-freaks? "

The prestigious international conservation organization of the Associated Sea turtle Scientists (ASS) followed up with a quick press release stating that this is a major first step in the right direction but a lot more important research remains to be done. Just last week the organization received a major four-year grant from a major oil company to further study the thermal regulatory needs of marine turtles. When asked for a comment, the company's VP remarked "We don't mind supporting good research, it the wasting of money by throwing it away at helping the turtles themselves that bothers us. In a decade when our profits are only up by 130% we need to watch our spending."

HerpDigest Inc. is a non-profit, 501 (c) (3), corporation that publishes the electronic weekly newsletter called HerpDigest and runs the website under the URL

The editor reserves all rights to decide what should be included in these publications. Publication does not indicate endorsement or accuracy of any article or book included, sold or mentioned. It is up to the reader to make that determination. All copyrighted material is rewritten or excerpted to pass the fair use law or permission has been given for HerpDigest to use. Since the editor can't guarantee the accuracy of the articles, HD, Inc. is not liable for anything said in an article. Documented corrections of an item included in HerpDigest will be considered for posting as a "Letter to the Editor. No Back Issues are available. No issues in print are available. If you have any suggestions, articles or announcements you wish to see posted in HerpDigest please contact the editor at __________________________________________________________________

You are receiving HerpDigest because through your own request, which was confirmed by HerpDigest by email. If you wish to stop receiving HerpDigest just contact and your subscription will be terminated immediately
If you have any questions or complaints please send them directly to us at And you'll receive a response or acted on immediately. ________________________________________________________________________
Sales From All Items Advertised In HerpDigest Goes Directly To Keep Free, Alive And An Independent Voice In The World Of Herpetology. Is A 501 © 3 Non-Profit Organization. So Donations Are Of Course Gratefully Accepted.
Carl J. Franklin, and David C. Killpack with foreword by C. Kenneth Dodd
Just published. 260 Pages, Over 300 full color photos and illustrations. Hardcover, Eco/Serpent's Tales

Only $49.95 plus $7.50 S&H, lowest price on net
Not even Amazon who are offering it for $59.95.

The natural follow-up to Dr. Dodd's now classic, "North American Box Turtles," A Complete Natural History,

With the latest information on N. American Box turtle natural history and conservation, and what was not in Dodd's book husbandry,

This is a beautiful book with excellent design, photos and wonderful drawings by David Killpack.

This book is a compilation of work of Carl Franklin and David Killpack's over 30 years of field experience,

An amazing resource for anyone interested in the natural history and husbandry of all species of North American Box turtles


TURTLES OF THE US & CANADA BY Carl Ernst and Jeffrey Lovich
List price $95.00 autographed - Not Autographed Reduced to $75.00-S&H for both
$ 7.50 shipping media mail.

by Don Moll and Edward O. Moll. Considered by turtle scientists, and conservationists as one of the best books on turtle conservation. 420 pages; 90 halftones & 3 line illus.; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4; List price $80, now $30.00 plus $7.50 S&H.

The first and only guide to the identification, distribution, natural history and conservation of the reptiles and amphibians of New York State. Paperback. By Gibbs, Breisch, Ducey, Johnson, Behler and Bothner. 422 pages. Over 55 color plates. Once $35.00, now $25.00 plus $6.00 S&H.

New Book by MacArthur Genius Award winner David M. Caroll,
author of the now classics, "The Year of the Turtles," Self-Portrait with Turtles, and Swampwalker's Journal (3 Autographed Copies Left..) $24.00 plus $7.50 for S&H.

LIZARDS OF THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST, (Includes 5 Mexican States) edited by Lawrence Jones and Robert Lovich, Last of autographed copies on way from publisher. Still an amazing bargain at only $24.95 Plus $5.00 for shipping and handling in the U.S.

"THE FROGS AND TOADS OF NORTH AMERICA" is an amazing book. It contains: A CD of all 101 species found in US & Canada./Almost 400 great color photos 101 color location maps /In just 344 pages. Books this comprehensive usually go for at least $ &75.00. Or just $19.95 for the CD. But the publisher is offering it JUST FOR $19.95 Plus 7.50 S&H.

For more information on books and how to order see below


1) Send a check to Herpdigest/Allen Salzberg/67-87 Booth Street -5B/Forest Hills, NY 11375. Make the check out to Herpdigest.

2) By Paypal - our account is

3) By credit card, Master or Visa only, send us your credit card number, expiration date, billing and shipping address to (Though I haven't heard of this happening, a credit card number stolen from an email, I'm told to prevent this send ccard number divided into two emails.)

4) By phone, call us at 1-718-275-2190 Eastern Standard Time (NYC) - Any Day Of The Week, 10 A.M.- 8 P.M. If not in, leave message and we'll call back. ______________________________________________________________________

FOR THE TRUE HERP NEWS JUNKIE> > HerpDigest is back on Facebook at

Just go to the above URL and become a fan. Get links to latest articles and photos on herps everyday. (Sometimes up to 5 links a day) For the true herp junkie who wants his herp news now.> Please join, rejoin, and spread the word. Word of mouth is very important to our success on Facebook.
Related Posts with Thumbnails