Sunday, December 31, 2006

Meg 4?

For those keeping up with modern day cryptofiction, Variety reports that the movie based on the original novel Meg, by Steve Alten, is being pushed back due to budgetary increases:

"New Line picked up the rights last year and put the pic on the fast track for a 2006 release. At the time, it was hoping to make 'Meg' for $75 million, with a significant chunk financed by selling off foreign distribution rights. But when the estimated budget came in much higher -- some put the figure at $150 million, mostly due to costly f/x -- New Line began scaling back.
"According to an outsider who's seen the script, the CGI work for 'Meg' would itself cost $40 million to $70 million. Aside from aquatic challenges (CGI waves, thousands of species of fish), the giant shark attacks ships and a helicopter.
"Now, the pic is looking to shoot this spring for a summer 2008 release, at the earliest." ...

"Alten, too, is playing the waiting game. He says he won't begin 'Meg 4: Hell's Aquarium' until the pic is greenlit.
"'I need the movie to generate publicity for that book,' he says."


I'm not a big fan of the first three Meg novels, but Alten's Loch was better. Hopefully, that means we can look forward to Meg 4 with something other than trepidation. And, if Alten is relying on the movie to push sales of the next book, there's a chance we might be spared any viral ad hoaxes with this one.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Livestock Predator Still a Mystery

From news reports, the Montana livestock killer is still undetermined, but genetic tests suggest it may be a hybrid:

"Even after wolves were hunted, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of Montana, lone predators continued to haunt sheepherders. There was the White Wolf of the Judith Basin, hunted for 15 years, and the Ghost Wolf of the Little Rockies.
"'These things became mythological,' said Ed Bangs, the Fish and Wildlife Service recovery coordinator for the Rocky Mountains. 'Some people said they had supernatural powers.'
"They were, however, wolves. Wildlife officials are not sure what the latest phantom livestock killer was.
"For 10 months, ending in November, an elusive animal that federal officials assumed was a feral dog went on a killing spree in remote north-central Montana, slaughtering dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sheep and injuring many more. It was shot and killed from an airplane Nov. 2 by federal wildlife officials. Nearly two months later, the biological evidence is inconclusive." ...

"Ranchers in Dawson, Garfield and McCone Counties who saw the animal say they have no doubt it was a wolf, and they suspect it migrated hundreds of miles from large wolf populations in the Yellowstone region or in Canada.
"It is not just a question of taxonomy. If the animal is a wolf, the ranchers could be paid tens of thousands of dollars by conservationists for their losses. If it is a dog or a hybrid, they are probably not eligible for reimbursement.
"Federal trappers first assumed the animal was a feral dog because a wolf has not been seen in this area since the early 1920s. The animal also attacked and wounded the sheep in many places, which is characteristic of dogs, not wolves." ...

"At 105 pounds, however, the animal was much larger than a dog, closer to the size of the gray wolves that inhabit the Northern Rockies. Yet the feet were small, and the face pointed, uncharacteristic of wolves. The gray-and-cream-colored fur, with flecks of orange, was also unusual. Western wolves are usually gray or white, but never brown.
"Tests have shown some similarity to coyote DNA but have been inconclusive. State officials say they are waiting for more DNA testing before making a determination. It could be a number of things: a wolf-dog cross; a very unusual hybrid of a gray wolf and a coyote; a coydog, a coyote-dog cross; or a wolf from Minnesota or Wisconsin.
"A state biologist who picked up the carcass of the animal said he believed it was a pet because of its teeth.
"'The teeth were perfect,' said the biologist, Jon Trapp, a wolf management specialist for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 'Not even a chip. And there was tartar buildup.' Wolves often have broken teeth and no tartar because they chew up bones.
"Ranchers who experienced losses are skeptical of the talk of hybrids. 'There’s no doubt it was a wolf,' said Jim Whiteside, a rancher near Jordan, Mont. 'It’s a matter of trying to evade the burden of damage.'"


If nothing else, we can note that the ethnozoology of the ranchers is skewed in this case: a large canine will be called "wolf" regardless of its true taxonomic status. And, there does not appear to be any basis for referring to it as any specific cryptid canine.

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Friday, December 29, 2006

And Another PDF

Craig forwarded another PDF, now up on the Archive. This one is a 1953 paper from the Wilson Bulletin on the "Bird of Washington."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Additions to PDF Archive

Craig passed along a couple historical journal articles, which have been added to the BioFortean Review PDF Archive. These include:

A Last Remnant of Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers in Cuba, by John V. Dennis
The Auk, 65(4), 1948

A Remarkable Case of External Hind Limbs in a Humpback Whale, by Roy Chapman Andrews
American Museum Novitates, 1921

California Bigfoot

In a retrospective on 1974 in the Santa Clarita Valley, a reporter notes reports of a Bigfoot-like creature seen at the time:

"Back in August of 1974, Saugus resident Bob Curasi made a plaster of paris model of a Bigfoot spotted locally. Curasi had been curious after a series of reported Sasquatch sightings in the SCV, including one by a pair of boys staying at a remote hog farm up Lost Creek Canyon. Of course, the teens were ridiculed after perfectly describing a 9-foot-tall Bigfoot, adding that he had been wearing a blue bell. But then, the boys' story (save for the bell) was corroborated by a pair of young lovers who were parked up Plum Canyon and making out by the full moon. The young woman screamed when she opened her eyes in the front seat and saw a hairy face the shape of a bullet staring in through the windshield. The creature, she estimated, was between 9 and 10 feet tall. It ran away when she screamed. Curasi went out to where the couple had been parked and that's where he found the bare footprint. However, it was only 10 inches long and 6 inches wide - unusually small for other reported Bigfoot tracks of creatures being reported as the same size."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Song of the Gibbon

The full Open Access paper is available at:
http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0000073

Please see: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061221074623.htm for an abbreviated news entry, excerpted herein.

Singing For Survival: Gibbons Scare Off Predators With 'Song'Science Daily — It is well known that animals use song as a way of attracting mates, but researchers have found that gibbons have developed an unusual way of scaring off predators -- by singing to them.
The primatologists at the University of St Andrews discovered that wild gibbons in Thailand have developed a unique song as a natural defence to predators. Literally singing for survival, the gibbons appear to use the song not just to warn their own group members but those in neighbouring areas.

They said, "We are interested in gibbon songs because, apart from human speech, these vocalisations provide a remarkable case of acoustic sophistication and versatility in primate communication. Our study has demonstrated that gibbons not only use unique songs as a response to predators, but that fellow gibbons understand them."

"This work is a really good indicator that non-human primates are able to use combinations of calls given in other contexts to relay new, and in this case, potentially life-saving information to one another. This type of referential communication is commonplace in human language, but has yet to be widely demonstrated in some of our closest living relatives - the apes."

Gibbons are renowned amongst non-human primates for their loud and impressive songs that transmit over long distances and are commonly used in their daily routine when mating pairs 'duet' every morning. Songs in response to predators -- mostly large cats, snakes and birds of prey -- have been previously noted, but no extensive research into its purpose or understanding by other gibbons has been done until now.

Two Geckos from Vietnam


A couple new geckos have been described in the latest Russian Journal of Herpetology:

"A Vietnamese biologist has recently discovered two new lizard species in Ba Den mountain, Tay Ninh province. They are of the Gekkonidae, Cyrtodactylus family.
"Mr. Nguyen Ngoc, who found of the creature, is now working at HCM City’s Institute of Tropical Biology. Mr Ngoc, together with his Russian colleagues, named the two new species as Cyrtodactylus nigriocularis and Cyrtodactylus badenensis. Both of these creature live in caves or cliffs of 100 – 500 metres high.
"The typical characteristics of the Cyrtodactylus badenensis are white dots in its back and tail, yellow brown head and living on cliffs. Meanwhile, the Cyrtodactylus nigriocularis is of bigger size but more difficult to find as they often live inside the caves. Commonly, Cyrtodactylus nigriocularis has a brown body, which, in some case, can change in accordance with the light, temperature and habitat."

Monday, December 25, 2006

Thailand: New Lizard

New lizards and other small vertebrates are fairly common, and most never make it to the public's attention, but a recent news posting from Thailand is worth pointing out, if only to make a correction. The news posted is:

"New species of salamander founded in Chaiyaphum

"Researchers working in the Biodiversity Research and Training (BRT) programme have discovered a new species of salamander featuring a short tail with thornlike scales.
"The Huai Hang Nam salamander was found living in a seasonal rain forest near Tevada Mountain in Chaiyaphum's Phu Khieo Wildlife Reserve, the park's forestry official, Monkol Khamsuk, said Monday.
"The salamander is among 37 species found for the first in the time in wildlife reserve during a study of its amphibians and reptiles sponsored by the BRT programme. Fifteen of the species were amphibians and 22 reptiles. However, only the Huai Hang Nam salamander, whose scientific name is Tropidophorus hangnam, sp nov, is entirely new to the world.
"Monkol said its discovery was accidental because the salamanders are hard to spot.
"They often stay in holes underneath stones, whereas other salamander species crawl around on the forest floor and riverbanks.
"He urged that a study of Huai Hang Nam salamanders' environment and population in other parts of the country be undertaken to enable conservation of the species."

What is actually being described is a lizard, not a salamander. Tropidophorus is a genus of keeled skinks (thus the mention of thornlike scales, which salamanders don't have).

Dholes Rebounding in Vietnam


The dhole, Cuon alpinus, is one of the few wild dog species still living on this planet. It is considered endangered throughout its range, including India, Russia, mainland southeast Asia, Sumatra, and Java. (A good basic information site on dholes can be found here.) A news report from Vietnam notes that villagers in Cam Chinh Commune, Cam Lo District, are seeing more of them:

"Cam Chinh Commune is no longer a secluded outback town. A new paved road replaced the rough red-clay path that made travelling to the area difficult. During a visit, Nguyen Van Luong, who was a hunter but has since stopped due to legal prohibitions, told me that he had seen a dhole pack barking as they surrounded their prey.
"At first sight, a dhole may look like an ordinary dog, but its large size and hair colour distinguish it from other breeds. It grows up to a metre long, about the size of German shephered, with blazing red hair along its back. Their stomach fur is usually a lighter reddish hue, while their muzzle and tail are black.
"The dog’s legs are especially long and its ears are always perked." ...

"While spending several days in the Cua, I picked up various pieces of gossip from residents that reportedly saw dholes. The locals didn’t understand why the red dogs had chosen the province’s forests as their new home.
"Woodsmen had also grown fond of the dogs because dholes are often very friendly. Normally, when they capture their prey dholes only disembowel the animal, leaving the flesh and bone mostly intact.
"According to locals, the dogs race to seek men’s approval for their work after feasting.
"Once they find somebody, dholes yap fiercly in a peculiar way. Woodsmen have become accustomed to the various yelps and barks employed by the dogs to garner attention, which has led forest workers to declare the sounds as signs of good news to come.
"To be honest, I found the tales doubtful at first and it wasn’t until hearing Nguyen Van Nghia, a woodsman living in Cam Chinh Commune, tell his stories on tracking dholes’ footsteps leading to dead animals that I began to believe.
"One day while working in the forest, Nghia abruptly heard some loud barking. He was so astonished to hear such sound in the forest that he tracked the noise through the foothills. When he reached the third hill, the woodsmen found a dead spotted deer, which the dholes had killed and eaten the viscera.
"Only when the red dogs witnessed Nghia take the dear away did they stop barking." ...

"Leaving Ha Noi, a group of experts from the Institute for Ecology and Biological Resources, lead of Professor Pham Trong Anh and two other foreign scientists, made their way to Quang Tri Province to investigate.
"When they arrived, they had their doubts about the dhole’s existance.
"'I don’t think dhole can survive in this hilly environment,' proclaimed a visiting Russian scientist, and there was a growing fear among conservationists that the evidence gathered during the first search was not from dholes but another species of pack dogs.
"After being persuaded by the conservationists to stay a bit longer, the scientist visited the house of Cam Chinh Commune resident who claimed to have accidently trapped a dhole just a few days prior. The Russian scientist still held some disbelief.
"He assumed that the trapped animal belonged to another species and asked his host to provide proof. The man hastily gave the hard-to-please expert four dhole legs and a fur pelt taken from the dog’s red abdomen.
"The evidence was convincing, even for the Russian. Several days later, the appearance of dhole in Quang Tri Province was officially recognised by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which published the news on their website."


[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Australia`s deep ocean frontier to be explored

Source: "http://www.zeenews.com/znnew/articles.asp?aid=344017&ssid=26&sid=ENV">

Sydney, Dec 24: Marine scientists will for the first time explore Australia's deep sea territories, a pitch-black frontier one kilometer below the surface that is home to giant squid and other mysterious creatures of the deep.

Starting in late 2007, the three-year "Deep Australia" project led by researchers at the University of Queensland will use a pair of two-man submersibles to study marine life and, hopefully, discover new species.

"We only have a very limited idea of what really lives down in the depths around Australia," lead researcher Justin Marshall from the University of Queensland told a news agency.

"The only time we get to look at examples of what lies deep down is when a dead specimen, like a giant squid, floats to the surface or on deep-water trawling expeditions."

More than 80 percent of Australia's sea territory lies below 200 meters (660 feet). Previous explorations have relied on divers who are limited to a depth of 100 meters.

The specially designed submersibles will be able to explore one kilometer below the surface for six hours at a time.

"Deep Australia" will search for the elusive giant squid that can grow to 20 meters, as well as pygmy blue whales and big sharks that are known to live in the deep ocean.

"We expect to see species we've never seen before, that's a certainty," said Marshall.

The submersibles will use mechanical arms to examine samples of marine life and cameras to film the deep ocean creatures. A mother ship will have a cool room to store deep sea creatures at their natural ocean temperature.

The "Deep Australia" project will explore sites on the outer slopes of the Great Barrier Reef, Osprey Reef off the far north coast, deep sea canyons off the south and west coast and sea mountains off the east and southeast coasts.



Additional Notes: What can we expect from the region? New fish most likely, anything larger? Could a serpentine creature be found? Time will tell, 2007 is but a week away.

Craig Heinselman
Peterborough, NH

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Socorro Doves Reintroduction

The Socorro Dove, extinct on its native island in the Pacific, is soon to be reintroduced there thanks to a captive breeding program. From the news:

"The Socorro Dove became extinct more than 30 years ago in its home in a remote Pacific island chain known as Mexico's Galapagos.
"Fewer than 100 adult birds now exist in captivity around the world. But in 2007 it is to be reintroduced to Socorro, 600 miles west of the Mexican coast, following a successful breeding programme involving Edinburgh Zoo." ...
"Around 20 of the small brown doves will be released first into specially constructed aviaries to adapt to island conditions. Once acclimatised they will be set free to attempt to form a new breeding colony." ...
"The uninhabited island was discovered in the 16th century by Spanish explorers, but the dove was first described by a 19th-century American naturalist, Andrew Jackson Grayson, at work in the Pacific about 20 years after Charles Darwin began logging the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, which is thousands of miles to the south.
"The bird was spread across the 157-square-mile island, but flocks of sheep introduced in 1869 started destroying the natural habitat of the ground-nesting species.
"Then, in 1957, the Mexican Navy moved in, setting up a base and building an airstrip. The 250 personnel brought their families and pet cats, which bred and spread into the wild.
"The last sighting of a Socorro Dove was by a scientific expedition in 1972. It was declared extinct in the early 1980s." ...

"It is hoped the return of the dove will mark a turn in the island's ecological fortunes. Several other species from there are endangered, including the Socorro Mockingbird, which number fewer than 400, the Socorro Parakeet, the Socorro Elf and the Townsend's Shearwater."

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Abstracts from J. Zoology

Looking over the contents of the latest Journal of Zoology, per that Kouprey article, I see there are a few other interesting articles about the stranger side of biology. A few additional abstracts from December 2006, Vol. 270, Issue 4:


Dissociation between mane development and sexual maturity in lions (Panthera leo): solution to the Tsavo riddle?
T. P. Gnoske, G. G. Celesia & J. C. Kerbis Peterhans


The mane characteristics of lions Panthera leo in the greater Tsavo ecosystem (GTE) were compared with those of lions from the equatorial middle-elevation plains (EMEP). Contrary to popular belief, most full-grown GTE lions are not maneless; 87% had manes, with 49% possessing good manes. The manes of GTE lions, however, were poorer on average, relative to age, than the manes of EMEP lions. For both groups, there was a significant relationship between age and mane type. In EMEP lions, mane development started early and grew to a full mane by age 4–5. In GTE lions, mane development began later and developed more slowly. Delayed onset and a slower rate of development are correlated with the consistently hot Tsavo climate. Poorly maned but fully mature lions mated actively, showing dissociation between mane development and sexual maturity. The correlation between climate and mane development suggests that climatic adaptation results in the inhibition and/or delay in the development of a secondary sexual character without compromising reproductive viability.


A new genus and species of 'giant hutia' (Tainotherium valei) from the Quaternary of Puerto Rico: an extinct arboreal quadruped?
S. T. Turvey, F. V. Grady & P. Rye


A large incomplete rodent femur from a Quaternary cave deposit near Barahona, Puerto Rico, is established as the holotype of Tainotherium valei, a new extinct genus and species. Although biogeographic and body size similarities suggest that it may be related to the Puerto Rican giant hutia Elasmodontomys, the Antillean large-bodied rodent family Heptaxodontidae is now interpreted as invalid, and it is impossible to assign Tainotherium to a particular caviomorph family in the absence of associated craniodental material. Tainotherium differs from other West Indian species in possessing a large femoral head, a proximally angled femoral neck, a short greater trochanter and a medially positioned lesser trochanter unconnected by an intertrochanteric crest, and a transversely flattened, anteroposteriorly bowed shaft lacking well-defined ridges. These characters are all associated with arboreal life habits in other mammal groups. The Puerto Rican land mammal fauna was dominated by a rodent radiation occupying a wide variety of niches before human arrival in the West Indies, but although arboreality is correlated with increased likelihood of survival in Quaternary mammalian extinction events, all of this fauna is now extinct. It is unlikely that decreasing aridity and the reduction of Puerto Rican savanna-type environments at the end of the Pleistocene contributed to the extinction of the arboreal Tainotherium, and habitat destruction by pre-Columbian Amerindians may instead have been responsible.



How much fruit do fruit-eating frogs eat? An investigation on the diet of Xenohyla truncata (Lissamphibia: Anura: Hylidae)
H. R. da Silva & M. C. de Britto-Pereira


This paper presents the results of a 22-month survey and the examination of the intestinal content of 356 specimens of Xenohyla truncata (Anura: Hylidae) from Restinga de Maricá, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Our results confirm prior observations that fruits are intrinsic to the diet of these frogs. In addition, these new data increase our understanding of the relationship between frogs and the plants they feed upon. Plant consumption follows availability of fruits in the area, indicating that the diversity of fruits consumed by the frogs does not represent choice, but rather plant phenology and fruit availability.

More on Kouprey Demotion

The recent genetic study on the kouprey, and the argument that it is only a feral ox population rather than a distinct species, is citable as:

Journal of Zoology
Vol. 270 Issue 4 Page 561 December 2006

Genetically solving a zoological mystery: was the kouprey (Bos sauveli) a feral hybrid?
G. J. Galbreath, J. C. Mordacq, F. H. Weiler

The abstract is:
A famous zoological discovery of the 20th century was that of the kouprey Bos sauveli, a medium-sized ox inhabiting Cambodian forests. The kouprey was suspiciously intermediate between banteng oxen and domestic zebu cattle in its structure. Mitochondrial DNA sequences of mainland banteng are compared here with a published kouprey sequence, and the comparison demonstrates a close relationship. Either the kouprey derives partly from banteng or (less likely) these particular banteng acquired kouprey DNA via recent genetic introgression. The kouprey may have been a feral hybrid form, a descendant of domestic oxen, rather than a natural species.

From a recent press release on the topic:

"It was one of the most famous discoveries of the 20th century. Shrouded in mystery since its recognition as a new species in 1937, the kouprey -- an ox with dramatic, curving horns -- has been an icon of Southeast Asian conservation. Feared extinct, it’s been the object of perilous expeditions to the region’s jungles by adventurers, scientists and journalists.
"Now, in a paper published by the Journal of Zoology (London), Northwestern University biologists and a Cambodian conservationist present compelling genetic evidence that the kouprey may never have existed as a wild, natural species.
"The researchers compared a published DNA sequence from the kouprey with sequences obtained from a true Cambodian wild ox, the banteng. The researchers had predicted, based on a study of kouprey anatomy, that the kouprey was a hybrid form and would show mitochondrial DNA similar to that of the banteng. The prediction was confirmed by their analysis.
"The kouprey, which is now the national animal of Cambodia, may have originated as a domestic hybrid, between banteng and zebu cattle, that later became wild. ('Kouprey' means 'forest ox' in the Khmer language.)
"'The kouprey has acquired a rather romantic, exotic reputation,' said Gary J. Galbreath, senior author of the paper and associate director of Northwestern’s Program in Biological Sciences. "'Some people would understandably be sad to see it dethroned as a species.'
"But, added Galbreath, 'It is surely desirable not to waste time and money trying to locate or conserve a domestic breed gone wild. The limited funds available for conservation should be used to protect wild species.' Galbreath has been traveling to Southeast Asia studying its animals since 1999.
"Ironically, Galbreath initially began his work in Southeast Asia in hopes of identifying a new species of bear. It turned out to be an undescribed golden color phase of the moon bear. He also was involved in the debunking of another alleged new species of hoofed animal, the 'khting vor,' that was only known to science from specimens of its horns. Galbreath and others showed that these horns were the work of human artisans -- the 'khting vor' was a fake.
"Instead of finding new species, Galbreath said, 'I’ve been involved in showing that two named species of large mammal may never have existed as such.' But, he notes, 'In the end, good science is about what is true, not what is desired to be true.'
"Galbreath hopes the paper will serve to focus conservation time, dollars and attention on real species that need saving. 'The definitely real wild oxen of mainland Southeast Asia -- Banteng, Gaur, wild Water Buffalo -- could soon become extinct if more is not done to protect them from rampant poaching,' Galbreath said. 'I hope that the publicity from the kouprey story can help make people aware of this problem.'"

Friday, December 22, 2006

Some Mammals Sniff Underwater


According to a new study, there are a few mammals that can smell underwater:

"The 22-digit proboscis that gives the star-nosed mole its name is one of the most sensitive organs of touch in all mammals, the Vanderbilt University neurobiologist said. Catania knows the mole well and his earlier research on the animal already has earned him one of the so-called 'genius grants.'
"But while filming the mole in slow motion underwater he noticed something weird. The animal was using its unusual nose not only to touch the objects it encountered, but also to blow air bubbles at them that it sucked back in rapidly." ...

"Catania had never thought to question the common scientific assumption that mammals are totally unable to smell underwater." ...
"But as he studied the video on slow motion, the star-nosed mole appeared to be sniffing. Catania devised a very simple way to test this: He laid down an underwater scent trail leading to little bits of food.
"His moles were able to follow the trails with great accuracy, and he was convinced they were using the air bubbles to smell.

"Then, to be sure this was not just a fluke of what he acknowledges is a very unusual creature, Catania decided to test another semi-aquatic mammal. The water shrew also was able to follow a scent trail.
"His discovery appeared Thursday in the scientific journal Nature.
"Catania likened the behavior of the mole and shrew to that of mice and rats, which also exhale and then inhale when sniffing for food.
"Watching a video of the mole blowing and inhaling bubbles on his office computer screen, Catania said, 'What's so weird about it is you usually don't get to see a sniff, because air in air ... you can't see that. And here we're basically seeing a sniff.'" ...

"The study suggests that other semi-aquatic mammals, like seals and otters could have this ability, something Catania hopes to research in the future, he said. And the studies could have greater significance as they progress."

[Full text in StrangeArk archive.]

Japanese Scientists Film Giant Squid


Following the earlier release of photos of a live giant squid, Japanese scientists now offer live footage of a giant squid while they were capturing it. From the news release:

"Images of the squid -- a relatively small female about 3.5 meters (11 ft 6 in) long and weighing 50 kg (110 lb) -- were the ultimate prize for zoologists at the National Science Museum, who have been pursuing one of the ocean's most mysterious creatures for years.
"'Nobody has ever seen a live giant squid except fishermen,' team leader Tsunemi Kubodera of the museum's zoology department said in an interview on Friday. 'We believe these are the first ever moving pictures of a giant squid.'" ...

"The Japanese research team tracked giant squid by following their biggest predators -- sperm whales -- as they gathered to feed near the Ogasawara islands, 1,000 km (620 miles) south of Tokyo between September and December.


"They succeeded in taking the first still photographs of a living giant squid in 2005, observing that it moved around in the water more actively than previously thought, and captured food by entangling prey in its powerful tentacles.
"The latest specimen, whose formalin-preserved carcass was displayed at a news conference at the museum in Tokyo, was caught on a baited hook laid 650 meters (2,150 ft) under the sea off the Ogasawara islands, on December 4, the scientists said.
"A squid about 55 cm (21.65 inches) in length had been attracted by the bait and the giant squid was hooked when it tried to eat the smaller squid, the scientists said."


[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Heaviest Golden Eagle?


Interesting raptor news from Wyoming:

"A female golden eagle captured as part of a research project in Buffalo Valley might weigh more than any other scientists have found in the United States.
"The bird, captured Nov. 13 by Beringia South researchers, weighed 18.5 pounds. Female golden eagles in America typically weigh 8 to 13 pounds.
"Bryan Bedrosian, one of the researchers who captured the bird, said the animal’s crop, a muscular pouch in a bird’s throat used to temporarily store food, was 'about the size of a softball' and full of meat at the time of capture, which may have contributed an extra 1.5 pounds.
"But even without the full crop, the animal still has a shot at the record books." ...
"The large female, estimated to be more than 5 years old, was the first golden eagle the team had captured in a couple of years, though it has captured more since.
"Beringia South, a research group based in Kelly, is collecting blood samples from eagles and ravens to find out if the birds have lead poisoning. The scientists think birds that feed on gut piles may ingest bullet fragments, causing elevated lead in the blood." ...
"The strange thing, Bedrosian said, is that the measurements of the bird, other than the weight, were fairly typical for a large female golden. An average-sized female is 32 inches long with a wingspan of 78 inches. Female golden eagles, like most raptors, weigh more than males.
"For Bedrosian, the next step is to confirm the record and then, if no bigger birds are found, publish the results in a scientific journal. Researchers took a blood sample from the bird, attached an aluminum leg band and released her back to the wild."

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Rare Beaked Whales Spotted


News from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research:

"On the 17th of December, Meike Scheidat & Linn Lehnert, the whale watchers on board of Polarstern, made a remarkable cetaceans sighting: Four Arnoux's Beaked Whales (Berardius arnuxii), observed from the helicopter.
"The Arnoux's Beaked Whales is one of the least known species of the Beaked Whales family (Ziphidae), itself poorly known in general. Arnoux's is one of the biggest species amongst beaked whales. The ones observed were probably 9 metre long. These deep-sea feeding whales are particularly sensitive to underwater acoustic disturbances. The pictures showed a whole array of scars on their skin, which are already under investigation. Some of these scars could have been inflicted by orcas, their potential predators, or by squids, their most common preys, as proposed by Elaina Jorgensen one of our cephalopod specialist onboard. Other scars could be caused by cookie-cutter sharks, which would imply big migration between the subtropical waters where these sharks are found and the ice-edge (64°06 S) where they were observed."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nanoorganisms

A new study notes the discovery of what may be the smallest living organisms on Earth:

"For 11 years, Jill Banfield at the University of California, Berkeley, has collected and studied the microbes that slime the floors of mines and convert iron to acid, a common source of stream pollution around the world.
"Imagine her surprise, then, when research scientist Brett Baker discovered three new microbes living amidst the bacteria she thought she knew well. All three were so small - the size of large viruses - as to be virtually invisible under a microscope, and belonged to a totally new phylum of Archaea, microorganisms that have been around for billions of years.
"What made Baker's find possible was shotgun sequencing, a technique developed and made famous by Celera Corp., which used it to sequence the human genome in record time." ...

"Banfield, Baker and their UC Berkeley and University of Queensland, Australia, colleagues report their findings in the Dec. 22 issue of Science." ...
"The organisms in the mine drainage, which live in a pink slick on pools of acidic green water, obtain energy by oxidizing iron - that is, generating rust -- and in the process create sulfuric acid and dissolve pyrite (iron sulfide or fool's gold) to release more iron and sulfur. This self-sustaining process creates the acidic drainage that pollutes creeks and rivers, including those around the researchers' study site, the Richmond Mine at Iron Mountain, Calif. The mine is one of the largest Superfund sites in the country.
"Banfield has been trying to understand how the extremophiles - microbes that live in extreme environments - live together and generate the acid drainage that makes such mines toxic hazards. The green runoff from the mine, captured and treated by the Environmental Protection Agency, is a hot 108 degrees Fahrenheit, as acidic as battery acid, and loaded with toxic metals - zinc, iron, copper and arsenic.
"In 2004, Banfield collaborated with the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute to shotgun sequence a drop of the slime. This type of sequencing involves homogenizing the organisms in the sample, isolating the combined DNA and breaking it into lots of random strands. Each strand is then sequenced, and a powerful computer is used to find overlaps so that the pieces can be properly reordered.
"This process identified five separate genomes that corresponded to five bacteria and Archaea - four of them uncultivated at that time, though closely related to known microbes.
"Baker probed the gene fragments more thoroughly to turn up three Archaea from a totally unknown group, probably representing a new phylum among the several dozen known phyla of Archaea. They fall within a large class of microbes known as thermophiles, which are Archaea that live in warm and even scalding conditions. Many of these thermophiles have been recovered from hydrothermal vents in the deep mid-ocean ridges, where lava boils up between continental plates.
"Once Baker had found gene segments (ribosomal RNA) from three Archaea, he was able to fish the microbes out of the slime soup and found that they were extremely small, around 200 nanometers in diameter, the size of large viruses. Bacteria average about five times this diameter.
"These therefore could be the smallest organisms ever found, though Baker needs to culture them before confirming this. Because they're so small, however, they may not be free-living." ...

"Baker now is trying to find the right conditions for these Archaea to thrive in a culture dish. For now, he has dubbed them ARMAN-1, -2 and -3, for Archaeal Richmond Mine Acidophilic Nanoorganisms."

Jackson's Mongoose Found in Tanzania

Here's a report about a paper published in Oryx describing the first confirmation of Africa's least-known carnivore, Jackson's Mongoose (Bdeogale jacksoni), from anywhere outside Kenya:

"The Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced today that a camera-trap study in the mountains of Southern Tanzania has now recorded Africa's least-known and probably rarest carnivore: Jackson's mongoose, known only from a few observations and museum specimens. The findings, reported in the latest issue of the journal Oryx, mark not only a range extension for the bushy-tailed carnivore, previously known to exist only in Kenya, but also another species for the Udzungwa Mountains, a veritable 'lost world' of rare and unique wildlife.
"WCS scientist Dr. Daniela De Luca--together with Dr. Francesco Rovero from Italy's Trento Museum of Natural Sciences--captured several images of the Jackson's mongoose in Matundu Forest within the Udzungwa Mountains National Park. Most of the photos were taken between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., indicating that the animal is largely nocturnal.
"'These mongooses may represent a separate subspecies from the one that exists in Kenya,' said Dr. De Luca of WCS' Tanzania Program. 'Given the fragmentation and small sizes of the forest patches in which they live, full protection of nearby forests would improve conditions for conserving this species.'
"In 2004, WCS conservationists working in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania discovered a new species of primate--the kipunji monkey--which in 2006 they described as a new genus as well. The kipunji turned out to be present also in the Udzungwa Mountains. A few years prior, WCS researchers working in the same area 'photo-trapped' a Lowe's servaline genet, the first of its kind recorded in 70 years.
"Jackson's mongoose has round, broad ears, with yellow fur on the neck and throat, and a white bushy tail. It is a close relative of the bushy-tailed mongoose, and is poorly known; previous records for the Jackson's mongoose are limited to forests in Kenya over 900 kilometers (559 miles) to the north. There are 14 museum specimens in existence from Kenya, and next to nothing is known about its biology."

Moth Mimicry


A new study published in the inaugural issue of PLoS ONE (an online open-access journal of science) notes the discovery that metalmark moths (Brenthia) mimic jumping spiders. There are other insects that mimic jumping spiders (a certain zebra-winged fly comes to mind), and we know that there are other moths out there with mimicry phenotypes (large "eyes" on the wings, etc.), so the discovery isn't completely surprising, but it is interesting. From an interview:

"Scientists have now discovered that metalmark moths in Costa Rica use mimicry to escape hunters as well, by mimicking the very predators that might normally eat them.


"Intriguingly, the predators in question—so-called jumping spiders—may also get mimicked by a variety of flies and butterflies. Ironically, some jumping spiders mimic ants to avoid getting devoured by them.
"'Crazy things happen with mimicry and this is another such example,' said researcher Jadranka Rota, a lepidopterist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
"Rota was exploring the forests of Costa Rica when metalhawk moths perching on leaves near her suddenly flared their wings 'in a really strange way, and then they jumped around,' she told LiveScience.
"Jumping spiders are common predators in these habitats. These territorial hunters track prey with their eyes, and their vision is sharp, capable of making out details 40 body lengths away. The spiders often move in short, rapid, jerky motions.
"In experiments, when metalhawk moths were cooped up with jumping spiders, Rota and her advisor David Wagner found the spiders only caught the moths only about six percent of the time. On the other hand, when normal moths and jumping spiders were caged together, the spiders caught the moths roughly 60 percent of the time."

Crocodile Tourism


An odd situation in Ghana, Africa. From ABC Travel News:

"There is something strange going on in the small village of Paga in northern Ghana in West Africa. It appears to defy the laws of nature, and certainly the laws of fear.
"Most of the outside world is unaware of the special but bizarre relationship that exists here between humans and crocodiles, animals that anyone with an ounce of common sense would run from.
"But the people of Paga swim joyfully and wash clothes in the same village pond that 110 crocs use as their home — and their dining room.
"No one seems to know how long the crocodiles have lived in the pond, or how they got to this land-locked area. But Yahaya Ahasan, the head crocodile keeper, told ABC News that no one from the village has ever been harmed by the crocs. That's extraordinary, considering that crocodiles are notoriously nasty if you get in their way, or if you resemble food.
"But Ahasan said the crocs don't feel threatened by humans here. 'We believe that they are the souls of relatives of this town,' he said. 'They are sacred animals, so we don't hate them, we don't kill them, we don't harm them.'" ...

"One secret to the coexistence may be that the crocs here are some of the best-fed animals on the planet. They have lots of frogs and fish to snap at or gobble up in the water.
"And for 10 specially trained crocs, there is a steady diet of tasty live chickens. The chickens are paid for by tourists who come from around the world to sit on the crocs backs, pet them and wag their tails, which could well slice them in two if not attached to a creature so happily digesting a bountiful buffet of birds." ...

"It may seem cruel to sacrifice all these chickens, but the people of Paga point out that if the crocodiles didn't have this feathered fast food, they would kill the town's livestock, enter homes looking for food, and even mistake small children for supper.
"Besides, according to the the handlers, the crocs have earned their keep because they helped pay for the village day care center through money raised from the hundreds of tourists who visit each month."


[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Komodo Parthenogenesis


Scott Maruna (BioFort) passes this along. A zoo in the UK has a female Komodo dragon that is about to lay eggs without having been bred:

"Flora, a pregnant Komodo dragon living in a British zoo, is expecting eight babies in what scientists said on Wednesday could be a Christmas virgin birth.
"Flora has never mated, or even mixed, with a male dragon, and fertilized all the eggs herself, a process culminating in parthenogenesis, or virgin birth. Other lizards do this, but scientists only recently found that Komodo dragons do too." ...
"Parthenogenesis has occurred in other lizard species, but Buley and his team said this was the first time it has been shown in Komodo dragons -- the world's largest lizards.
"Scientists at Liverpool University in northern England discovered Flora had had no male help after doing genetic tests on three eggs that collapsed after being put in an incubator.
"The tests on the embryos and on Flora, her sister and other dragons confirmed that Komodo dragons can reproduce through self-fertilization." ...

"The scientists, reporting the discovery in the science journal Nature, said it could help them understand how reptiles colonize new areas. A female dragon could, for instance, swim to another island and establish a new colony on her own.
"'The genetics of self-fertilization in lizards means that all her hatchlings would have to be male. These would grow up to mate with their own mother and therefore, within one generation, there would potentially be a population able to reproduce normally on the new island,' Buley added."


[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

A Blue Green Treefrog


An interesting color mutation was found in a green treefrog in Florida: it's blue. From the News-Press:

"A green treefrog recently discovered and captured at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Collier County is an amphibian of a different color — blue.
"The extremely rare blue green treefrog was found the weekend before Thanksgiving and has been an object of fascination for sanctuary staff and photographers." ...
"In scientific terms, the blue frog is axanthic, which means it lacks yellow pigment.
"Green treefrogs produce a layer of yellow pigment and a layer of blue pigment, and the two combine to make green.

"Something happened genetically to this frog: The genes that produce yellow are absent, and the genes that produce blue — that would be the blue genes — are present, so the frog is normal in every way except color." ...
"Somehow the frog survived and now lives in a terrarium, eating crickets and being blue, until Corkscrew officials decide what to do with their rare find — options include release."

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Book: Experimental Design for Biologists


Experimental Design for Biologists
David J. Glass
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
ISBN 0879697350, Retails $59.00

A recently published book may appeal to cryptozoology enthusiasts interested in philosophy of science and the framework of scientific experimentation. While cryptozoology is certainly discovery science, there are still ways in which experimental biology can take place (see Dr. Meldrum's recent Sasquatch book for examples). How to properly frame experiments is often an overlooked subject, and this text should provide a good introduction. I did a quick search in the book, and it looks readable. Chapters include:

The Hypothesis as a Framework for Scientific Projects: Is Critical Rationalism Critical?
Scientific Settings in Which a Hypothesis is not Practical
The Problem/Question as a Framework for Scientific Projects: An Invitation for Inductive Reasoning
What Constitutes an Acceptable Answer to an Experimental Question?
How Experimental Conclusions are used to Represent Reality: Model Building
Designing the Experiments: Definitions, Time Courses, and Experimental Repeats
Validating a Model: The Ability to Predict the Future

It's geared for graduate studies in biology, so is a little expensive, but might be worth checking out through inter-library loan.

The Tule Man

Hmmmmm... from the CattleNetwork:

"The inhabitants of southern Oregon are resilient folks and just because the government is trying to depopulate the area doesn’t mean they’re going to tuck tail and run. Charley is a good example of the resourceful people who live there and he took the fed’s advice and tried to come up with something to stimulate the tourist trade. He didn’t own enough earth moving equipment to create a Bryce or a Zion and an Old Faithful-like attraction would require using some of the sucker fish’s water. He realized that the idea of creating a Civil War Battlefield was nuttier than Jamoca Almond Fudge and his hand-drawn Indian cave paintings looked a little phony. Then an idea hit him like a falling sack of spuds: Britain has Nessy, their Loch Ness Monster and the far North has Sasquatch, so why couldn’t Charley give the Klamath Basin their own Big Foot-like creature? Charley called him 'Tule Man' and ordered up lots of ash trays and T-shirts to sell to all the tourists traps that would soon be springing up.

"Luckily for Charley there’s plenty of raw material to work with in the wild tules that grow in the marshes all over the Klamath basin. He tied tules to every appendage of his body. They stuck out two feet above his head and made his arms six feet long. He attached the tules with orange fluorescent hay bale twine and chinked it all with mud. His entire body was covered in tules except for two small slits for him to see through. When Charley was done transforming himself into Tule Man he smelled worse than a wet coyote, but he was willing to make the sacrifice in order to save his community.

"Next, Charley hid in a ditch alongside a two lane country road on a night that was so dark even the bats and raccoons stayed home. And then he waited. Finally he heard a car. PERFECT! It was Mrs. O’Toole. No one had a better social network than her.

"The elderly driver swerved to miss the hideous creature that lumbered across the road, making threatening gestures with its long stalks. After a brief glimpse in her headlights the monster disappeared from whence it came... into the tule marsh. If Mrs. O’Toole survived the experience she would surely spread the sighting of Tule Man far and wide. It wouldn’t be long before satellite trucks from all the major news networks would be camped out in Klamath Falls. Motels would be full of reporters and tourists.

"Charley got rid of the evidence and went home to watch for reports of Tule Man but there was nothing on the morning news or the nightly news. The local newspaper carried not one word about the creature. In fact, Charlie heard nothing until he ventured into town to pick up a barrel of oil from his distributor.

"As he was loading the barrel the fella on the dock said, 'Mrs. O’Toole was in the other day and she said she saw you the other night crossing the road and you didn’t even wave or say hello.'

Arkansas Cougar

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission say that a big cat reported near Searcy is probably a former pet. From the news report:

"The sightings and incidents have taken place in an area three miles south of Panther Creek.
"Gary Lovitte said his daughter, Angela, came face to face with the animal, also called a mountain lion or cougar.
"'She was outside talking on the phone just after dark and saw a brown cougar sitting in her yard,' Lovitte said. 'It seen her and started after her, and she liked to have killed herself getting in the house.'

"A few days after that, James Johnson, who lives and raises cattle on Bostic Road in the area, had a close encounter with the animal. One day as Johnson rode his tractor through a pasture to check on his cows, the panther attacked the vehicle, leaving superficial scratch marks.
"Johnson thinks the animal was not trying to kill him but attempting to make him leave. His dogs had already left the area before the animal, which had a long tail and was not solid brown, appeared.
"'It was a good thing his tractor didn’t die,' Lovitte said.
"Johnson found one of his calves killed under some trees just before the incident. When Lovitte went out to see the calf’s body, it had been moved in broad daylight.
"Lovitte said another resident had an experience similar to that of his daughter.
"'It was just before dusky dark and she had her dog on a leash,' Lovitte said. 'It came down the road and meowed a couple of times, and the dog pulled her back inside. It screamed, and they sound just like a woman screaming.'
"Another calf, owned by Steve King, was also killed, Lovitte said, and two gas exploration workers recently spooked two panthers from a thicket as they went about their work."

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bats and Moths

A new study published in Current Biology finds that the Yellow Underwing moths, a prey species for bats, are capable of modifying the sensitivity of their ears in response to the ultrasonic calls bats produce while hunting:

"Previously it was thought that these ears were only partially sensitive to the sound frequencies commonly used by bats and that bats would make their hunting calls inaudible to moths.
"But now it appears that even though moth ears are among the simplest in the insect world – they have only two or four vibration sensitive cells attached to a small eardrum – moths are not as deaf as previously thought.
"As a bat gets closer to the moth, both the loudness and frequency (pitch) of the bat's calls increase. Surprisingly, the sensitivity of the moth's ear to the bat's calls also increases. This occurs because the moth's ear dynamically becomes more sensitive to the frequencies that many bats use when attacking moths." ...

"And in case there is another attack, the moth's ear remain tuned in for several minutes after the calls stop."

Clouded Leopard: Two Species

Kevin Stewart passes along this intriguing paper. The citation is:

Kitchener, A. C., Beaumont, M. A., and D. Richardson. 2006. Geographical variation in the clouded leopard, Neofelis nebulosa, reveals two species. Current Biology 16: 2377-2383.

Over the last decade, we've seen many species being split, usually due to genetic distinctions, most significantly a few species of whales. The recognition of a new feline ranks just as high. The clouded leopard is a moderate-sized cat ranging through the rain forests of southern and southeastern Asia, into the Indonesian archipelago. Differing physical characteristics had been the basis for the traditional separation of Neofelis nebulosa into four subspecies. By sampling specimens throughout its range, the authors in this study argue that there are actually two species involved in this complex: Neofelis nebulosa of mainland Asia, and Neofelis diardi of Indonesia (including Borneo and Sumatra).
Neofelis nebulosa is diagnosed as: "On shoulders, large cloud-like markings, which extend the full depth of the flank and slope back from the dorsal midline, with mostly few spots within the clouds; a partially double dorsal stripe; pale, often tawny ground coloration."
Neofelis diardi is diagnosed as: "On shoulders, small irregular cloud-like markings, which form two or more rows that are arranged vertically from the dorsal midline on the flank, with frequent spots within clouds; ground coloration that is overall grayish yellow or gray hue; a double dorsal stripe."
A separate study (molecular analysis) published in the same issue of Current Biology strongy supports the distinction of these two species.
The authors also address the question of zoo conservation: does this mean that the global zoo population of clouded leopards is actually hybridized? Turns out, most zoo specimens (and all in non-Asian zoos) are from mainland populations, so that really isn't a problem. Conservations efforts should now be taken with the Indonesian species, of course, given the current rate of habitat destruction in Sumatra and Borneo.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

White Deer Herd


There's a community rift in New York, where developers are clashing with a group that wants to preserve a herd of white deer. White deer are not that rare (being bred in captivity), but this apparently is a unique wild herd of about 300. From the news report:

"White because of a recessive gene, there is an extraordinary herd is tucked away in Seneca County, New York. Most people don't even know the deer exist because they live on a former army depot, surrounded by a 24-mile fence meant to keep intruders out – and the deer in." ...
"But the herd is caught in a modern day dilemma. A business group wants to develop 7,500 acres of the former depot while Dennis Money's white deer group wants to turn the land into a nature preserve." ...
"Seneca County is an area that's hurting economically – still trying to recover from massive job losses over the past two decades. That's why local business developers see this army depot as a gold mine for economic development." ...
"'We're looking to preserve the deer, but also pursue other activity that won't compromise their viability here,' Glenn Cooke says. 'We feel we can do both.'"

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Yowie Review

Craig's review of the new Healy and Cropper book, The Yowie, can now be viewed at BioFortean Review.

Missouri Cougar


From the expanding edges of the cougar's officially acknowledged range, comes the report of a confirmed game trail camera that photographed one of these felines in Missouri. From the report:

"Joe Neis isn’t a photographer, but he managed to capture the best photo to date of a wild mountain lion in Missouri.
"An avid deer hunter, Neis bought a motion- and heat-detecting camera about two years ago to scout for deer and find their trails near his home in Chillicothe. After checking on his camera in the tree where he had set it up, he made a surprising discovery.
"It was a digital photograph of the 10th mountain lion confirmed in Missouri since 1994." ...

"Neis’ image, recorded on Dec. 7, was the second confirmed evidence of a mountain lion in the state this year, the other coming a month earlier in Shannon County. There was no picture of that animal, but conservation agency investigators determined that a deer carcass on private property had been partially devoured by a big cat." ...
"The last confirmed sighting of a mountain lion - also known as a cougar - in Missouri previously was in 2003."

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ivory-Bill's Could Recover

There is an interesting National Geographic article on Ivory-Bill's, particularly focusing on the Suwanee river area. Some quotes:

"The Suwannee region may have been where the species made its last substantial stand.
"There were once so many woodpeckers there, book author Jackson said, that about half of the 400 specimens now in museums were collected in the vicinity." ...
"If a few birds do survive, they may be poised for a comeback. The forests have been regrowing for 50 or 60 years, opening the door for ivory-bills to repopulate their old range.
"And the Suwannee is a prime location for a boom, as long as the river region can withstand the latest threat: real estate development."


[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

More on Canadian Sasquatch

Further news:

"A woman from northern Saskatchewan says she saw the legendary sasquatch, and it left behind evidence described by an expert as 'the find of the century.'
"Shaylane Beatty thought she saw a bear by the side of the road on her drive to Prince Albert on Saturday. But as she drove closer, the animal was walking on two legs.
"'I've heard the stories before and I didn't believe them. Then I saw the sasquatch,' Beatty said.
"Driving from Deschambault Lake to do some Christmas shopping on a bright afternoon, the 20-year-old noticed the creature walking along the forest's edge near Torch Lake. It stopped by the side of the road and turned to look at Beatty as she drove by.
"About two and half metres tall and muscular with long, floppy arms attached to broad shoulders and covered in dark brown hair, the creature isn't like anything Beatty's seen before, she said.
"The shock of seeing such an enormous beast caused a momentary lapse in concentration and her car swerved and nearly hit the ditch.
"'My heart was beating real fast. I was getting dizzy and was short of breath. I kept repeating, "I can't believe I'm seeing this." So I pulled over and called my aunt,' Beatty said.
"Returning to the area the next day, Beatty and her two uncles found in deep snow hundreds of footprints measuring 50 centimetres in length, she said.
"'My uncles were struggling to walk through the same snow the sasquatch just breezed through,' Beatty said.
"Even by jumping, the two men couldn't match the creature's stride, she added.
"The tracks were followed until the evening, when darkness prevented further investigation." ...

"Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy at Idaho State University and author of Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, said three sasquatch sightings have been recorded in Saskatchewan.
"'As long as there's forest cover and an area is sparsely populated, there is space to harbour any number of creatures,' Meldrum said.
"After viewing pictures taken by Beatty's uncles, Meldrum said the length of the footprints are in the range of others already found in North America, but the lack of detail leaves unanswered questions about their validity.
"'Given the quality of the photographs, it's impossible to render any meaningful analysis,' he said.
"But the combination of a personal sighting and physical evidence is intriguing and if samples of scat or urine are found along the trail of footprints, that would be compelling evidence, Meldrum said.
"'Hoaxers only have so much energy and dedication before the joke wears thin,' Meldrum said."


[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

White Bison Boom


Interesting news note:

"Janesville, Wis. - When a white buffalo was born on their farm a few months ago, Dave and Val Heider managed to keep it a secret for about two weeks.
"Dave even tried to convince a neighbor the little white animal trotting with the shaggy herd in their pasture was a dog that had been adopted by a buffalo cow.
"But when word leaked out, Val Heider sighed and said: 'Here we go again.' For more than a decade, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visited the Heiders' 45-acre farm on the outskirts of Janesville to see and pay homage to Miracle, a rare white buffalo who died in 2004 at age 10. The visitors included Indians from North America, Inuit from northern Canada, Aborigines from Australia and even Tibetan monks. " ...

"After Miracle died, visitors still came, although fewer and fewer as the months passed." ...
"That all changed Aug. 25, when another white buffalo calf, named Miracle Second Chance, was born.
"'We both decided that we're not going to let things get as bad as with the first one,' Dave Heider said, adding that he's relieved that hordes of people aren't showing up this time.
"One reason, perhaps, is an outbreak of white pigmentation among the approximately 600,000 bison living in North America. In the past decade, at least two dozen white buffalo calves have been born in captivity. Like the two Miracles at the Heider farm, the calves are not albinos and their coat inevitably changes to a more normal buffalo color as the animal ages." ...

"'We try to maintain a good record of where our breeding stock comes from for the purpose of expanding the genetic pool,' said Gail Griffin, who heads the Minnesota Buffalo Association in Winona and is vice president of the Colorado-based National Bison Association.
"'There's nothing to point to exactly why the white calves are showing up,' Griffin said."

Thursday, December 14, 2006



You never know where an article on cryptozoology will pop-up.

The Monadnock regional newspaper in New Hampshire, Monandnock Ledger Transcript printed an article by Jane Eklund on December 14, 2006. This article is entitled Zoologist investigated Yeti and appeared in a flashback type of entry in the paper.

The zoologist in question was Leon Hausman, who passed away on February 2, 1966. Hausman retired to the Monadnock region, namely the town of Fitzwilliam, in 1952 after working for both Cornell University and Rutgers University.

Hausman was a well known zoologist, who was especially acknowledged for his work on mammalian hair analysis. Though he did also write upwards of 20 books on various zoological topics.

Hausman was involved with the early analysis of the Yeti scalps, which have been well documented elsewhere (the scalp history, not so much Hausman’s work). However, he also did some additional work that is of interest in cryptozoology.

One of these earlier works was in 1955, and involved the analysis of potential mountain lion hairs and flesh from November of 1954. The hairs were from a feline style animal reportedly shot at, but not killed, in Missouri by a hunter. It was deemed the “Whatsit” at the time. Hausman, according to newspaper accounts, thought the hairs represented a feline and were from a mountain lion.

Craig

Sasquatch in Saskatchewan

From the latest news reports:

"Sightings of a large hairy creature walking upright in Saskatchewan and Manitoba have sparked renewed interest in the legendary sasquatch.
"CBC Saskatchewan radio host Tom Roberts said he's talked with people from the northern community of Dechambault Lake who say a resident saw a sasquatch-like creature on Saturday.
"They say a woman from the village was driving to Prince Albert on Saturday afternoon when she saw a creature near the side of the highway at Torch River.
"'She slowed down, thinking maybe a bear,' Roberts said. 'She stopped and watched … and saw it going alongside the hill and knew it was not a bear.'
"The woman continued driving until she was in cell phone range, then stopped to call home. She described seeing a large, 'very hairy' creature that walked upright.
"Later, several men from the village drove down to the area and found footprints, which they tracked through the snow. They found a tuft of brown hair and took photographs of the tracks, Roberts said." ...
"On Wednesday, following reports of the Saskatchewan incident, a man in Flin Flon, Man., reported that he had seen something similar in the summer."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

South American Amphibian


Someone passed this news article along to me. It's in Spanish, so I'll just note a rough paraphrasing of the highlights:

Strange aquatic animal found in lagoon of Santa Catalina (Bolivar)

A fish, or hybrid amphibian, was caught in a fisherman's nets last Thursday.
It measured about 35 centimeters, with an oversized round head. It is white, transparent, and has a pair of frog-like legs.
Miguel Hernandez, president of the local Meeting of Communal Action, stated that he had never seen anything similar.
'I believe it is amphibious, but the strange thing is that the toes are webbed,' and noted that William Blanco, the fisherman who found the animal, is keeping it refrigerated.
No scientist has yet visited the area, but the animal is available for study.

It is indeed an odd photograph, but clearly represents an amphibian's transformation from larval stage to adult stage, caught in the middle. I do not know what species it is, but it is possible that it represents a malformation - gigantism in tadpoles has been documented due to hormonal problems. Or, perhaps it is related to Pseudis paradoxa (which is South American), the paradoxical frog, with a giant tadpole that transforms into a moderate-sized frog.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Memphis Manatee Found Dead

Sadly, the wandering manatee of the Mississippi was found dead, according to latest news:

"A manatee that traveled 720 miles up the Mississippi River to Memphis in October and eluded his would-be rescuers was found dead today on the banks of a lake.
"Police said the manatee was discovered around 1:30 p-m at Lake McKellar, a slackwater lake off the Mississippi River south of Memphis.
"The manatee was first spotted in October in the Wolf River harbor just north of the densely populated downtown area. But the animal disappeared a few days later and wasn't seen again until its body was found today."

New Zealand Fossil Mammal

From New Scientist:

"Fossil bones of a mouse-sized creature that died between 16 million and 19 million years ago have been discovered on the South Island of New Zealand. It is the first hard evidence that the islands once had their own indigenous land mammals.
"Today the only land mammals that live in New Zealand are animals like Australian possums – which have arrived since human settlement – although the country does have its own species of bats, seals and sea lions.
"The find, by Trevor Worthy of Adelaide University, Australia, and colleagues, includes two jawbones, and one thigh bone, from at least two of the creatures, says team member Suzanne Hand. 'The amazing thing is, it is unlike any other fossil mammal found anywhere else,' she says.
"The shape of the fossil bones suggest a very primitive mammal that would have evolved before the mammal-line split into placental mammals and marsupials, 125 million years ago, says Hand of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. As the fossil bones are only around 16 million to 19 million years old, it appears the mammal managed to survive for at least 100 million years before going extinct."

"The lack of fossils of New Zealand land mammals had long been considered a major mystery. There are plenty of fossils of land mammals in Australia that date from 125 million to 100 million years ago. During that time New Zealand and Australia were both part of the same landmass, which suggests that land mammals also lived in New Zealand, and were perhaps driven to extinction at a later date.
"The new discovery suggests that land mammals did indeed roam New Zealand, but have simply proved difficult to find."


The research will be published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (vol 103, p 19419).

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Herp Discoveries

Discoveries of new small species are fairly common (despite any media pronouncements to the contrary), but it is still interesting to see what's being collected. Chris Austin of the Louisiana State University's Museum of Natural Science and colleagues discovered a skink in Borneo that is awaiting description in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of Herpetology. From the press release:

"'We actually found four specimens at once,' said Austin. 'One of the best methods for finding lizards in the rainforest is to look under logs. We found two individuals of the new species under one log and two more under another.' With more than 15 years of fieldwork experience behind him, Austin knew immediately that he had found a new species. After collecting the lizards, he and Das began the difficult work of proving what they already knew.
"'Determining that a species is new to science is a long and laborious process,' said Austin. "'Natural history museums and their invaluable collections are critical in that they allow scientists to examine known biodiversity in order to determine a species is new.' He and Das examined specimens from a slew of museums around the world.
"Natural history collections, such as the more than 80,000 specimens in the LSUMNS reptile and amphibian collection, are important because taxonomy – the science of describing, naming and classifying organisms – has implications for basic and applied fields of science. 'We can't conserve what we don't know we have. It is imperative that we know what species exist in order to preserve them for future generations,' said Austin.
"He used the cutting-edge molecular genetics lab at the LSUMNS to decipher the genetic code of the lizards. 'We sequenced the DNA of this new species and several other closely related species in order to help our diagnosis,' he said. 'Using DNA to help describe new species is becoming one of the most important tools for scientists to use in documenting and describing biodiversity.' The global decline of biodiversity has become a major public issue recently, and the use of modern molecular methods is proving to be fundamental in gaining a better understanding of the situation." ...

"Austin spent the entire summer of 2006 in New Guinea, his geographical area of expertise, conducting fieldwork with graduate students. He is currently working on research funded by the National Science Foundation to understand why New Guinea, called a megadiverse region, has such a high level of biodiversity.
"'While we were there, we collected what we think is a new species of snake, a new species of lizard and probably two or three new species of frogs,' he said. 'But the process of certifying a new species takes so long that it will be awhile before we're certain.'"

Historical Sea-Serpent Articles

Craig has forwarded a couple of classic sea-serpent articles, which can now be viewed within the BioFortean Review historical notes section. One is a discussion by Charles Lyell, the other is a review of sea-serpent reports and advancement of the zeuglodon theory by J. G. Wood.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

2006 Ocean Census Highlights


Lots of interesting discoveries during the 2006 Census of Marine Life (with 19 ocean expeditions). Here are some highlights:

"Hottest - At a thermal vent 3 km below the surface in the equatorial Atlantic, Census researchers found shrimp and other life forms on the periphery of fluids billowing from Earth’s core at an unprecedented marine recording of 407ºC, a temperature that would melt lead easily. Although the species resemble those around other vents, scientists want to study how, surrounded by near-freezing 2ºC water, their chemistry allows them to withstand heat pulses that approach the boiling point – up to 80ºC. Shrimp were seen on the walls of the vent chimney. Others in the habitat include mussels and clams. All somehow tolerate an environment of extreme temperature changes within a few centimeters and high concentrations of heavy metals from the vent fluids.
"Darkest - Southern Ocean census takers revealed an astonishing community of marine life shrouded beneath 700 meters of ice – 200 km from open water. Equally remarkable, sampling of this most remote ocean’s depths during three lengthy cruises yielded more new than familiar species.
"Most - Census fish counters' observation off the New Jersey coast of 20 million fish swarmed in a school the size of Manhattan Island qualifies as most new abundance found. Sound emitted by a new ship-based technology illuminates life in an oceanic area tens of thousands times larger than previously possible. It updates instantaneously and continuously, revealing the extension and shrinking, fragmentation and merging of the island-sized swarms as a person might watch schools of minnows swimming in a brook beneath a bridge.
"Deepest - Sampling 5 km below the surface in the Sargasso Sea, deploying a unique trawl configuration that filtered large volumes of water for rare-but-diverse zooplankton living in the ocean’s deepest depths, Census experts from 14 nations caught these drifting, often soft and elusive animals in a sophisticated net, the MOCNESS. They collected more than 500 species, including 12 likely new species, eating each other at the great depths or living on organic matter falling like snow from above.

"Oldest - Census seamount researchers found a shrimp, believed extinguished 50 million years ago, alive and well on an underwater peak in the Coral Sea. Neoglyphea neocaledonica was nicknamed "Jurassic shrimp" by its discoverers, who say it rivals the find in South Africa and Indonesia of the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish previously known only through fossils." ...
"Largest - Among the many new species discovered by Census participants during 2006, a 1.8 kg (4 lb) rock lobster that Census explorers found off Madagascar may be the largest. Named Palinurus barbarae, the main body spans half a meter. " ...
"Macro microbe - The protozoan that Census explorers of the continental margins discovered in the Nazare Canyon off Portugal differs from the usual protozoans seen swimming in a drop of water under a microscope. The single cell of this fragile new species of Xenophyophore, found at 4,300 m depth, is enclosed within a plate-like shell, 1 cm in diameter, composed of mineral grains.
"Furry crab - Near Easter Island, Census researchers discovered a crab so unusual it warranted a whole new family designation, Kiwaidae. Beyond adding a new family to the wealth of known biodiversity, its discovery added a new genus, Kiwa, named for the mythological Polynesian goddess of shellfish. Its furry or hairy appearance justified its species name, hirsuta.
"A squid that chews - Among the 80,000 organisms – encompassing 354 families, genera and species – that Census deep-sea investigators collected from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was the reference specimen or holotype for a new species of squid: Promachoteuthis sloani. Although collection easily damages the soft cephalopods, the hard beaks are unique to each species, including that of the new squid, which looks quite capable of chewing its food."...

"Scarce in time - An expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge captured 300 fish species, several of them not seen since a 1910 expedition, while others considered rare were found common. The change in abundance could reflect removal of predators, limited sampling in the past, or a change in the weather.
"Absent in space - Census researchers discovered 70 percent of the world’s oceans are shark-free. In an extensive study of the vast abyss below 3,000 m, deep-sea scientists found sharks were almost entirely absent and sought physiological and other explanations. Although many sharks live down to 1,500 m, they fail to colonize deeper, putting them more easily within reach of fisheries and thus endangered status."

The Lost World







With the Animal Planet premier of The Real Lost World on December 10, 2006 (see http://www.gryphonproductions.com ) it is time to remember a few things.

The original Lost World was a novel by the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote this novel, about the search and journey for a lost plateau in South America, in 1912 (first appearing as a serial, then as a book in the same year). The synopsis of the book is straightforward, and has been an inspiration for authors since as it is a classic “boy’s story” of the time, with adventure, some romance and exotic locations.. It was, and still remains, a pivotal piece of what many call cryptofiction now.

The inspiration for Doyle’s work has been likened to expeditions to the Monte Roraima, a plateau that rises approximately 9000 feet in South America. While characters have been linked to real life scientisits from the time period.

The new show takes real life scientists, explorers, researchers and at least one “mystery beast” hunter in a real life repeat of the Doyle trek. How it turns out, what they find, this is something we will all need to watch for. But, when watching, remember the linkage and the heritage to a classic the finctional realm.

But, we have the real life “lost worlds” as well searched for in the early 20th century, and made popular in the newspapers. While sensationalism was prominent, these entries remain classic in-and-of themselves for their stylistic representations and connections to continuing mystery beasts.

Enjoy the opening four (4) snippets from the 1910-1930. There are others out there, look for them, they can be as fascinating as the recent work being done, both on and off the camera.

Craig

Saturday, December 09, 2006

PolarGrizz Taxidermy


From the Edmonton Journal:
"The stuffed carcass of the world's first known cross between a polar bear and a grizzly is on its way to the Idaho home of a wealthy American hunter who killed the animal this spring.
"Jim Martell shot the bear in April on a remote Arctic island. The trophy is now en route to Martell's home to join the five bighorn sheep, two brown bears and a black bear he already has.
"The bear left Yellowknife this week, after a taxidermist spent the last seven months stuffing and mounting it in preparation for its journey to a tiny Idaho town of 1,400 people." ...

"Martell didn't realize the bear's significance when he shot it during a hunt on the southern tip of Banks Island in the Northwest Territories, about 2,000 kilometres north of Edmonton. He thought he had killed a polar bear, which he had a licence for.
"But he and his Inuit guides noticed something peculiar when they approached the white bear.
"The thick fur seemed like that of a polar bear, but the long claws, humped back and dished face did not.
"Its eyes were surrounded with rings of black and its hide was marked with small patches of brown on its nose, back and one foot.
"DNA tests confirmed the six-year-old male had a polar bear mother and a grizzly bear father." ...

"Is Martell's animal the only one of its kind?
"Ian Stirling, Canada's leading expert on the species, said polar bear cubs typically come in pairs, although whether there is a sibling still running free is unknown."


[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Friday, December 08, 2006

I Saw a Sea Monster

I noted previously (regarding the sea monster report in Men, Fish and Tackle) that Ralph Bandini had published an account of his own sightings of the San Clemente Sea Monster. Kevin Stewart tracked this article down for me, and I've posted the text to BioFortean Review. It's an interesting report; Bandini had one long-distance sighting and one within 300 yards or so (with binocular help), both times with a second witness. The characteristic that pops out: saucer-shaped eyes, perhaps a foot across, slightly bulging, and "dull and lifeless." (I'm wondering if he means dark-colored eyes, but it is difficult to determine.)

Plight of the Vaquita

News from an article published in Mammal Review:

"Research published in the academic journal Mammal Review has uncovered the missing link in the depleting population of the vaquita. With a body less than 1.5 m long, the vaquita is the smallest living cetacean (the order Cetacea consists of whales, dolphins and porpoises). It also has one of the smallest ranges (c. 2235 km2) and one of the smallest populations (Mammal Review, the authors from Mexico and Canada reviewed the scientific issues, described previous and ongoing conservation efforts, and identified remaining obstacles, established priorities, and provided recommendations.
"The vaquita is endemic to the north-western corner of the Gulf of California (north of 30º45'N and mainly west of 114º20'W), an area rich and diverse in marine mammals. It is somewhat surprising that the porpoises are limited to such a small area when there are no obvious physical barriers to prevent them from moving into the rest of the Gulf. However, there is no evidence that the vaquita’s overall range has changed in historic times. Acoustic surveys suggest that vaquitas are not only limited to the north-western Gulf all the year-round, but also that their current distribution is more restricted than previously thought – confined to a small area off the eastern coast of the Baja California Peninsula.
"What is driving the vaquita towards extinction? It is not, as is so often the case, degradation of its habitat. A risk factor analysis discounted pollution or the drastic reduction of freshwater flow from the Colorado River as primary culprits. It is also not a genetic problem. Genetic analyses and population simulations suggested that the vaquita has always been rare and that its extreme loss of genomic variability occurred over evolutionary time rather than recently owing to human-caused mortality. Instead of those factors, the 'smoking gun' in this instance is accidental mortality in fishing gear, something popularly known as 'bycatch.'" ...

"For the first time since 1958, when the vaquita was scientifically described and named as a species, the Mexican Government has finally taken specific actions to try to prevent its extinction. On 29 December 2005 the Ministry of Environment declared a Vaquita Refuge that contains within its borders approximately 80% of all verified vaquita sighting positions. In the same decree, the State Governments of Sonora and Baja California were offered $(US)1 million to compensate affected fishermen. Another big step will be to convince the relevant State Governments of the Upper Gulf to support actions proposed by an international vaquita recovery team. These Governments have argued that no action should be taken until a second survey for a new abundance estimate shows definitively that the population is declining."

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Wyoming: Wolf or Hybrid?

News of a mystery predator shot and revealed to be a wolf may have been premature. Latest report notes characteristics which might point to a hybrid canine:

"The mysterious, sheep-killing predator shot and killed a month ago between Jordan and Circle was initially thought to be a wolf.
"But now, wildlife officials aren't so sure.
"'Frankly, it has mixed characteristics,' said Carolyn Sime, head of the wolf program for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
"Some clues indicate that it's not a wolf from among the 1,200 or so that live in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The animal shot in Garfield County in early November had shades of orange, red and yellow in its fur, unlike the Northern Rockies wolves, which tend more toward browns, blacks and grays.
"The orangish coat may be more indicative of wolves that roam the upper Great Lakes region, Sime said.
"The animal also had long claws and teeth in good condition, somewhat unusual for a 4-year-old wolf, raising the possibility it might be a hybrid that had spent some time in captivity, Sime said.
"On the other hand, the wolf was fairly large at 106 pounds with a big head and hunting skills, which may suggest it was wild, Sime said." ...
"Whatever it was, it had landowners in McCone, Garfield and Dawson counties on alert for months. About 120 sheep were killed and others were hurt in a series of attacks that started about a year ago." ...
"Muscle tissue has been sent to the University of California Los Angeles, where scientists have been analyzing DNA from the Northern Rockies wolf population and putting together a sort of family tree.
"The animal's carcass was sent to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Ore., for genetic analysis."


[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jaws Under Ice

A Univ. BC publication reports on a UBC marine biologist's study of Greenland sharks:

"In the frigid, murky waters of the St. Lawrence River in Québec, UBC marine biologist and veterinarian Chris Harvey-Clark is painting a clearer picture of a mysterious predator that could be the longest-lived vertebrate on the planet.
"The Greenland shark typically inhabits the deep, dark waters between Greenland and the polar ice cap. At over six metres long and weighing up to 2,000 kilograms, it is the largest shark in the North Atlantic and the only shark in the world that lives under Arctic ice. Once heavily harvested for its vitamin A-rich oil -- as many as 50,000 were caught annually according to a 1948 estimate -- little is known about the animal." ...

"In 2003, after tracking the enigmatic animal for five years, Harvey-Clark and fellow diving enthusiast Jeffrey Gallant followed leads to Baie-Comeau, a small town about 400 kilometres northeast of Québec City. There, the pair documented -- for the first time under natural conditions -- Greenland sharks reveling in shallow water." ...
"By tagging the sharks and tracking them in real time, the team has learned that some females remain in the area, in extreme depths, while males travel up-river towards Québec City, where marine mammals are abundant." ...
"Another major finding is that almost none of the sharks observed in this area have parasites on their eyes, a disease that affects 98.9 per cent of Arctic sharks and severely affects their vision, virtually blinding them."

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Eclipse of the Saola?

Latest article from Dwight G. Smith and Gary Mangiacopra for BioFortean Review: Eclipse of the Saola? The article reviews conservation efforts being taken to protect the highly endangered saola, as highlighted in a recent issue of Science, and notes the increasing recognition afforded to cryptozoology within mainstream science.

Bats Use Magnetic "Compass"

Another interesting bat story:

"Some bats find their way home using an internal 'compass' that senses Earth's magnetic field—similar to those believed to be used by migrating birds—researchers say.
"Princeton University biologist Richard Holland in New Jersey and colleagues found that exposure to artificial magnetic fields confused such bats, causing them to fly in the wrong direction.
"The finding, reported in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature, is the first of its kind in bats and helps fill in a gap in scientists' understanding of how the animals navigate." ...
"The new study suggests that a magnetic sense may help bats navigate over longer distances, such as when returning to nightly roost sites."
"Holland theorizes that the bats, like some birds, also use sunset as a directional marker. This may let the animals fine-tune their internal compasses and adjust for the difference between magnetic and true north.
"'It is interesting that our bats, which usually fly only a few miles, appear to use the same mechanism as migratory birds that fly thousands of miles,' Holland said." ...
"Scientists know of two kinds of magnetic orientation. In one, a simple compass sense is based on particles of a mineral found in many organisms known as magnetite.
"Some birds can also 'see' changes in light intensity in different locations within Earth's magnetic field.
"This more sophisticated sensory apparatus provides an internal 'map sense' of where the birds are on the globe.
"'We don't know if bats have a light-dependent compass,' Holland said. 'But they do have magnetite in their bodies.'"

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Bat has Longest Tongue

A rare South American bat discovered in 2003 has, proportionally, the longest tongue of any mammal, at up to 150% its own body length.
From New Scientist:

"The bat appears to have evolved its incredible tongue in order to feed exclusively from a tubular flower found in the "cloud forests" of Ecuador.
"Nectar bats’ tongues have tiny hairs on the end, which they use to mop up nectar and pollen from within flowers. The plants gain from this relationship by depositing pollen on the bat’s head, which it spreads from flower to flower.
"Anoura fistulata is only the size of a mouse, but its tongue is around 8.5 centimetres long – more than double the tongue-length of similar nectar bats. Compared with its body, a tongue of this size is second only to the chameleon in terms of vertebrates, and it is the longest of all the mammals.
"'It’s like a cat being able to lap milk from two feet away,' says Nathan Muchhala of University of Miami, Florida, US, who first discovered the species in 2003." ...

"It turned out that the tongue extends down into the bat’s chest, and its base is between the heart and sternum. When extended, it stretches by up to three times its stored length.
"Muchhala measured the bats’ tongues by training them to drink sugared water from a tube, which was approximately the diameter of a McDonald’s drinking straw. The straws resemble a flower from the region, called centropogon nigricans, which has a funnel-like neck called a corolla, at the base of which is its nectar."

"This flower is unique because it relies exclusively on fistulata to pollinate it. Most plants in the region have evolved so all nectar bats can feed from them, but this flower’s neck is too long for other bats to reach down with their tongues."

A photo of the bat and tongue can be found at National Geographic's site.

A paper appears in Nature, vol. 444, p. 701.

Green Tree Pythons

Australasian Green tree pythons, popular in the pet trade, are well known for the brightly colored yellow or red juveniles that eventually transform into the bright green adults. A new report suggests that a habitat shift accompanies the ontogenetic change:

"The mystery surrounding a snake that undergoes a spectacular colour change has been solved by ANU ecologists who have found that the skin of the green python – which begins life either bright yellow or red – transforms to blend into a new habitat as the snake gets older.
"Dr David Wilson and Dr Robert Heinsohn from the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at ANU, with Professor John Endler of Exeter University, solved the mystery after a three year study radio-tracking the green python at Cape York Peninsula." ...
"For the study, published this week in the scientific journal Biology Letters, the researchers radio-tracked a large number of juvenile and adult pythons and analysed their colours using advanced spectrophotometry.
"To their surprise, they found that the brightly coloured youngsters live in a completely different habitat to the older snakes. The juveniles remained outside the rainforest where they hunted small prey such as skinks and cockroaches, whereas the adults moved into the rainforest canopy to hunt rodents and birds.
"The juvenile yellow and red colour allows them to blend in remarkably well with the multi-coloured leaves and grass at the forest edge. The adult green allows them to hide from their predators as they hunt for birds and rodents in the canopy." ...
"'It takes a year before the young ones are large enough to catch bigger prey like birds. They then shed their skins, change to green, and move inside the rainforest to try their luck off the ground.'"

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

BioFortean PDF Archive

A new section under the BioFortean Review is now up: the BioFortean PDF Archive. This is intended as a repository of published articles of interest to cryptozoology and bioforteana. Articles will be either public domain (primarily 1963 or earlier for U.S. published journal articles), or published with the written permission of the author or copyright holder.
If you have historical articles of possible interest and would like to contribute, please contact me directly (ChadArment @ verizon.net). (There are some minimum dpi requirements for scans, etc.) If you have published a relevant paper and are willing/able to give permission for inclusion, let me know, as well.

Interview with an Underwater Photographer

Spiegel Online has an interview with Bill Curtsinger, a nature photographer well-known for his polar and underwater work. One excerpt:

"Curtsinger: One of my most memorable moments under water was when I was following rough-toothed dolphins off Hawaii. I saw a long line of dolphins swimming in the same direction, sweeping the ocean in search of prey. Then I saw them all come together. They had collectively captured a Mahi-Mahi, also called a dolphin-fish or dorado. That fish is one of the fastest in the ocean, but together, the dolphins captured it. What they did afterwards was unbelievable. There was a group of 10-12 rough-toothed dolphins, and they shared the fish. One would take the fish in its mouth and bite it, exactly like a dog would bite a large chunk of meat. When it had its fill, the dead Mahi-mahi would slowly sink. Then another dolphin would approach very slowly and do exactly the same thing, and then another. It was amazing, because it was a shared meal. They didn't feast in a frantic way as sharks would. It was a social unit that cleverly captured that fish and they were sharing it. That was an amazing moment for me."

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Scientists Dive for New Species

A cooperative research team will be using manned submersibles in the ocean depths around Australia in an attempt to find both rare and new species. (From the Australian.)

"As part of the project, known as Deep Australia, scientists will use special submersibles to travel one kilometre beneath the waves." ...
"The submersibles have special mechanical arms which can be used to collect specimens, and state-of-the-art cameras will record every detail of the underwater adventure.
"Lead researcher Professor Justin Marshall said today that they would be hunting the giant squid and deep sea jellies, which can grow to the size of a bus.
"They also expected to discover a range of new species." ...
"The first of a number of expeditions is expected to get underway in late 2007, with Osprey Reef off the coast of far north Queensland and the outer slope of the Great Barrier Reef tipped to be the first areas to be explored.
"Other potential sites include deep sea canyons off the South Australian and West Australian coasts, and sea mountains off New South Wales and Victoria."

[Full news posted to StrangeArk archive.]

Groupers and Morays Hunting Together

A study published with the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Biology Journal notes some fascinating cooperative hunting behavior in the Red Sea:

Interspecific Communicative and Coordinated Hunting between Groupers and Giant Moray Eels in the Red Sea

Redouan Bshary, Andrea Hohner, Karim Ait-el-Djoudi, Hans Fricke

"Cooperative hunting, i.e., the increase in successful prey capture observed when two or more individuals engage in a hunt, has been demonstrated in a wide variety of species [1–4]. In many cooperatively hunting species, hunts can best be described as opportunistic, simultaneous individual hunts [4], in which each animal tries to maximise the probability of catching the prey for itself. True coordination, as defined in [5], exists only if individuals play different roles during a hunt. Role differentiation implies that individuals will adopt roles that have a lower probability of personal success or a higher risk of injury than other roles would offer, e.g., hunts where some individuals act as chasers while others block the escape routes of prey. Such coordination is known for only a handful of species [5–8], all of which are mammals or birds. Individual role specialisation within coordinated hunts is even more rare and has only been observed in two studies to date [7,8]. Communication between group members to initiate a coordinated search for suitable prey (for which the term “intentional hunting” has been used) is known only from a single population of chimpanzees [5]. The same population of chimpanzees is also well known for respecting prey ownership, where the successful individual shares with cohunters [5]. While simultaneous feeding on a prey carcass may also occur in carnivores, access in these species is best predicted by individual rank and/or nepotistic toleration of related lower ranking individuals [4].
"Here we describe interspecific and communicative hunting between the grouper, Plectropomus pessuliferus, and the giant moray eel, Gymnothorax javanicus, observed in the coral reefs of the Red Sea. Groupers are diurnal predators, whereas the morays are nocturnal hunters and usually rest in crevices during the day. The hunting strategies of the two predators are also very different. Groupers are semi-benthic piscivors, which hunt in open water. In order to avoid predatory groupers, reef fish hide in corals (apart from pelagic prey like fusiliers). Moray eels, in contrast, sneak through crevices in the reef and attempt to corner their prey in holes. Consequently, the best strategy for prey to adopt in order to avoid moray predation is to swim into open water. The hunting strategies of the two predators are therefore complementary, and a coordinated hunt between individuals of the two species confronts prey with a multipredator attack that is difficult to avoid [9]; prey are not safe in open water because of the grouper hunting strategy but cannot hide in crevices because of the moray's mode of attack.
"Here we first provide some descriptive information on the interactions between the two predators (i.e., frequency, duration, and distance between partners during a joint hunt) and use a simplified version of Waser's gas model [10] to show that associations are not due to random encounters. Second, we describe the signals produced by the groupers that serve to elicit joint hunting. Third, we present experimental evidence that the production of these signals is inhibited if the grouper is satiated. Finally, we present observational evidence that both partners increase their hunting success when they are in association. We then discuss the selective conditions that might promote such an unusual interspecific cooperation."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Chimpanzees

There is news coming out from West Africa about the rapid decline of chimpanzees in that region:

"Reuters quotes Pepe Soropogui, head of the chimpanzee investigation at the Bossou Environmental Research Institute, as saying their are no more than 12 West African chimpanzees in southeast Guinea, down from 30 in 2002. Apparently no one knows why they have disappeared."

What is particularly interesting is a quote from a primatologist:

"'There are theories that some chimpanzees have contracted a sort of bronchitis or pneumonia probably transmitted by man, but we are not sure because chimpanzees have funeral rites and take away the bodies after death,' Reuters quoted Marie Claude Gauthier of the Jane Goodall Institute for wildlife research and conservation as saying. 'Nothing has been ruled out. It is a mystery,' she added."

Nests and Masks

Thinking about a posting on Scott Maruna's BioFort blog, regarding the semantics involved in naming cryptids (and how we then perceive those mystery animals), it's probably worth restating the convoluted nature of cryptozoology.
Because cryptids are ethnozoological, their descriptions and names are based on intangible (unconfirmable) evidence. (What do I mean by ethnozoological? Cryptids are not part of a scientific hierarchy—instead, they take a place within a cultural folkloric classification, where perceptible similarities and differences are viewed from a localized perspective rather than a global systematic viewpoint.) So, cryptids cannot be completely described from the limited evidence available, and even should an unrecognized species be confirmed and described that matches most aspects of a reported cryptid, that discovery will not necessarily prove that any and all prior or post-discovery reports are of that new species.
In other words, a cryptid both nests, umbrella-fashion, multiple potential explanations (misidentification, mythology, unknown species, etc.) and masks itself in multiple identities (perceptions and descriptions vary with different individuals or cultures). Any of the nested explanations may, in certain situations, be correct, or may never be correct. Any perceived identity may correctly describe the mystery animal, or be close, or none of them may correctly describe it.
Unlike the Linnaean system of binomial nomenclature, where a species is named and stays in that position (or changes or is removed according to systematic rules), a cryptid has no strict parameters in classification. Bigfoot may be cultural myth, or the composite of multiple cultural myths; it may be the result of numerous misidentifications of known species; it may be the result of numerous deliberate hoaxes; it may be an unrecognized species of primate; it may be a composite of multiple species of unrecognized primates; it may be an amalgamation of any or all. Even nesting these explanations, Bigfoot does not present an explicit confirmable descriptive identity throughout North America. For some, it is mythical. For others, it is physical. Size varies; toes vary; color differs; stride, bulk, behavior, facial features may change from witness to witness. Any of these may be the "correct" characteristic if Bigfoot is a physical creature, but we have no reliable method for determining that, so the boundary of what "Bigfoot" is is nebulous. Some cryptids may even be noted with remarkably disjunct appearances from one individual to another. It is then part of an investigator's duty to determine what factors may influence perception.
This is one of the main obstacles in cryptozoology. I've seen investigators too quickly, or without enough evidence, focus on one particular explanation as the explanation. (And, once you have an explanation, any additional evidence can be manipulated into supporting it.) Sometimes, an investigator may focus too quickly on one particular identity (e.g., long-necks vs. elongated bodies). There are a few cases where an investigator, while claiming to present possible explanations, deliberately excludes those which don't meet personal preference. So be thoughtful—when you meet with theorizing, be careful before making conclusions. I'd rather see cryptozoology enthusiasts recognize that multiple explanations exist, and (moreso) why those explanations exist, without making unsupportable conclusions, than just jump on the latest speculations to be promoted over the Internet.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Get ready for the big 'Christmas Bird Count'

Rich Eldred outlines a tradition at Christmas time, the "Christmas Bird Count".

The Cap Codder on Townline.com - December 1, 2006

Get ready for the big 'Christmas Bird Count'

Christmas time's a Coming, as Bill Monroe sang many years ago, and while that turns many folks' thoughts to gift wrap, carols, chestnuts on the fire and three wise men visiting the manger, it also means hot coffee, frigid mornings, frozen fingers and listening for the call of the saw-whet owl for others.
For 105 years dedicated birders have sallied forth around Christmas time for the biggest event of the year, the annual Christmas Bird Count.
We've placed in a box the nearby counts, dates and leaders. These are just six of roughly 2,000 counts that will be done across the continent over the next few weeks involving well over 50,000 birders.
"It's once a year and we look forward to it a lot," declared teacher Tom Lipsky, leader of the Truro bird count. "We're all birders so we love birding anyways. It's kind of special, you can compare the data year to year and there are always changes and new species. You're seeing trends. Part of the excitement is to find something unusual and it's just fun being with good friends."
The first friendly count was on Christmas Day 1900, when 27 birders tabulated 18,500 birds representing 90 species. On Christmas, there was a traditional "side hunt" during which people split into "sides," collected their shotguns and whichever "side" shot the most birds or wild game was the victor. Frank Chapman of the Audubon Society created the count as an alternative.
Most counts that day had only one counter and counts were held at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Belmont and Cambridge, Keene, N.H., and as far afield as Scotch Lake, New Brunswick and Pacific Grove, Calif.
"Anyone can get involved," said count leader Jeremiah Trimble. "The leaders concentrate on the task at hand. Birders in general are very good at sharing and helping people see birds and making it more fun."
Trimble, a curator in the bird department of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, runs the Buzzards Bay and Mid-Cape counts along with his father, Peter, a former teacher at Sandwich High School.


More information can be found at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/ and the rest of the Eldred article is at
http://www2.townonline.com/brewster/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=627732


Additional Notes / Thoughts:

While the article deals with the New England area, it is not the only place these counts take place. They occur across North America, including Canada, during the middle of December to the start of January.

One wonders, with so many birders watching the skies, bushes and trees, what else may they spot? An Ivory Bill? Thunderbird? Washington Eagle? Something Else......

These watchers are fascinating as they encompass a nearly complete volunteer survey of the avian populace and sightings occurrences on a wide spread geographical area.