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Madagascar: King Julien's followers facing near extinction
Many of us have seen the famous animation "Madagascar", while King Julien wanders off with Alex and the team, plus a trio of penguins, we may not know what happened to King Julien's remaining lemuzens back in Madagascar but perhaps, they have been sighing. Though the animation is funny, reality may provoke a bitter sense of loss without happy endings.

Mitch Irwin, an anthropologist at Northern Illinois University said that "Since the 2009 political crisis, the situation on the ground has been grim for the Malagasy people, but also for the lemurs, especially in terms of habitat loss. If things don't turn around, lemur extinctions will start happening."

Because of the political commotion, donors all over the globe withdrew funding of Madagascar's environmental programs, where conservation laws were not even enforced.

The  authors of the article detailed in the Feb. 21 issue of the Journal Science, lemurs fulfill crucial roles in maintaining the island's forests, authors further wrote, "Their loss would likely trigger extinction cascades."

An emergency conservation plan for lemurs are being called for by researchers, where attempts of saving lemurs include a community-based, habitat management for protection, a promotion of Madagascar's ecotourism, and the presence of a researcher or a team of researchers in the wildlife area.
Read more on YahooNews.


Researchers build Axolotl shelters in Xochimilco, Mexico

Axolotls or known as "water monsters" are salamander-like creatures that are only found in Xochimilco and its other connected lakes and canals.

Researchers attempted to capture the endangered creatures to save their alarming fall in number. Shelters are built in Xochimilco to help them breed. They are built with sacks of rocks and several plants' stalks for filters where a clean water is pumped in.  Aquariums and water tanks are discouraged due to the possibilities of interbreeding that may result in some mutations and other risks like, spreading fungus infections when released into the wild.
AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

Axolotls are important in scientific research due its tissue regeneration ability. A statement from the Mexican
Academy of Sciences claimed that an average of 6,000 axolotls for every square kilometer were found in a 1998-survey, but in 2003, the figure fell to only a thousand, and by 2008, a survey claimed there are only a hundred. At present, researchers were relieved at the sight of two axolotls in the first three weeks for this year's survey.

Read details here.

Largest Spider Fossil has Mate, with a Catch

Scientists previously unearth a fossil of the largest spider known to man, a female of an extinct and unknown species of spider that died buried in volcanic ash when the dinosaurs still walked the Earth.

Today, researchers report to have found a fossilized male spider to match the female behemoth, but the 
discovery comes with a slight hitch, complicating the initial interpretation of the extinct spider species. The newly discovered extinct spider has been given a new genus—Mongolarachne—by the scientists.

On the other hand, when scientists found the extinct female spider in China, it was given the name Nephila jurassica, lumping it in the same genus as the currently living golden silk orb-weavers, spiders large enough to catch and feed upon birds and bats with their large webs.

According to University of Kansas palaeontologist Paul Selden, the female spider was so similar to the modern golden orb weaver that they couldn’t find a reason not to place the extinct critter in the same genus.

Spiders, which have soft bodies are poor candidates for fossilization, but there are instances when they can be preserved in the rock. Volcanic deposits, for example, have turned up hundreds of spiders, such as those found at the Daohugou fossil beds in Inner Mongolia.

It was here that Selden and a team of researchers discovered another extinct spider, this time a male, that looked very alike to Nephila jurassica. However, clues in the newly discovered fossil show that the extinct arachnid just didn’t belong in the genus Nephila.

The first telltale sign was size. In modern golden silk orb-weavers, males are smaller than females. The extinct arachnid on the other hand, was similar in size to Jurassica.

Read the full story on Discovery News

Penguin Huddles Observed to have Wave-like Movement

Male emperor penguins, which are left to watch over their mates’ eggs while the females go off to hunt in the winter season, have to brave some of the harshest winters in the world. Temperatures during this bleak time in the Antarctic often go down to minus 50 degrees Celsius, with winds of up to 200 km/h.

To survive these insane conditions, these birds act like a school of fish, huddling together and relying on their neighbors’ bodies to keep themselves—as well as the eggs they’re protecting—warm and alive.

While huddling together may not seem like such a difficult thing to do, the huge packs of Emperor penguins observed in the Antarctic are actually more complicated than they look. For instance, scientists have observed that when one penguin makes a single step in one direction, the rest of the penguins in the pack also move to compensate for the gap and stay warm, protecting the incubating eggs.

Previous studies show that each penguin in a huddle actually makes tiny, regular ever 30 to 60 seconds, moving between 2 and 4 inches with every step. Scientists, however, have yet to fully understand the physics of how these small movements come together and affect the huddle as a single unit, until now.

Scientists from Germany’s University of Erlangen-Nuremberg have developed mathematical models based
on timelapse footage of Emperor Penguins, discovering that the huddle actually moves like a wave, started by any penguin in the pack. Perhaps most interesting is that when two ‘waves’ meet, they merge instead of passing each other.

The full story on Discovery News.


Is it Safe to Let your Dog Smoke Pot?

With news about the US state of Colorado legalizing Marijuana, it’s now perfectly legal for people suffering from diseases like cancer to buy pot on a store and relieve their symptoms with it.

Humans are of course, not the only species that suffer from cancer, which raises the question, can weed be beneficial to other animals as well?

The owner of Miles, a 12-year old Labrador retriever mix suffering from cancer and dying slowly because of it, sought to answer this question after seeing that narcotic painkillers like Tramadol had a negative effect on his dog. He turned to medical marijuana, and after administering a tincture he acquired from a dispensary in LA, Miles’ condition drastically improved, with the dog regaining his appetite without vomiting, even walking and running around.

Miles’ owner told the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that the effect of marijuana on his dog must not have been a coincidence.

With restrictions on the formerly banned substance now relaxing, more and more researchers are discovering a plethora of therapeutic uses for marijuana, leading many pet owners to wonder if it also has benefits for pets.

Pot Benefits

Although the National Association for Public Health Policy, American Medical Association, and a huge number of people have pointed out the medicinal benefits of marijuana, veterinarians warn that may not be a good choice for canines, felines, and other domesticated animals. They cite two instances of dogs dying in Colorado after ingesting butter laced with medical marijuana.

For pet owners, the best move would be to wait for ironclad proof of marijuana’s potential benefits on animals before administering the substance on their own.


Cats First Domesticated by the Chinese in Farms

While it’s commonly thought that cats were first made into pets by the ancient Egyptians, new evidence shows that our friendly felines were actually first domesticated in Chinese farms, some 5,300 years ago.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencestraced the domestication of cats to Quanhucun, an early village in China.

According to Fiona Marshall, one of the study’s co-authors, her team took three-pronged scientific approach to investigating the beginnings of cat domestication. Marshall is also a professor of archaeology in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Her data shows that cats were probably drawn towards the small animals that lived in ancient farming villages, so as they preyed on these critters that fed on grain in farms, it was only a matter of time until they interacted with humans.

Marshall adds that their findings indicated that the village of Quanhucun was a food source for cats 5,300 years ago, leading to a symbiotic relationship between humans and cats. The cats could prey on small animals like rodents, and the farmers enjoyed a natural way of keeping pests away from their grain. She also notes that even if the cats were not domesticated, they have enough evidence to show that the animals lived
close to farmers.

Marshall, along with the study’s lead researcher Yaowu Hu and other members of the research team examined eight cat bones of at least two felines excavated from a site in China. From there, the team found that the cats fed on grain millet grown by farmers. Even more interesting is how one cat appeared to have had a diet of human-grown grain, leading to suspicions that it was actually fed by farmers.

Read the full story on Discovery News.


Duck-billed dinosaur had rooster-like cock comb

A stunning discovery is taking our idea of what a well-known dinosaur looked like and turning it on its head. The mummified skeleton of a duck-billed dinosaur, Edmontosaurus regalis, unearthed from beneath a boulder along the Red Willow river in Alberta, Canada, has a never-before-seen crest atop its skull.
Dino mummy
"We're constantly being surprised by the weird and wonderful array of structures that these animals evolved," says palaeontologist Phil Bell of the University of England in Australia. "Animals that were entirely innocuous-looking based on their bones could have been really quite flashy. And there's no reason why similar structures weren't diverse and widespread among the dinosaur kingdom."

Source: Here

Snow monkey leaps into hell

WELCOME to hell. This is the Jigokudani monkey park in Nagano prefecture, Japan. "Jigokudani" means "hell valley" – so called because of the rocky terrain and volcanic springs – although it is actually a rather heavenly place for monkeys.
snow monkey
Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata fuscata) are the only monkeys native to Japan, and live further north than any other non-human primate. Famous for their habit of bathing in hot springs, they can also leap, as can be seen in this shot by US photographer Diane McAllister. The monkeys are strong swimmers, so if the one in this photo didn't make the leap, it would be fine.

Source: Here

Zoologger: Squid snares prey using badly blurred vision

The hunter closes in on its prey. The victim, a small and nondescript prawn, is puttering about in open water above a coral reef. The eyes of its predator, a bigfin reef squid, are locked upon it.
Then the squid starts to bob up and down, as if on an invisible trampoline. Moving forward, it suddenly lashes out with its tentacles and ensnares the hapless prawn.

Source: Here

Satellite-like eyes give mantis shrimp unique vision

Mantis shrimp see the world in a way like no other. Their bug-like eyes are equipped with a unique vision system, which discriminates between colours using a method never seen before.
mantis shrimp
Like many animals, humans have three kinds of photoreceptors in their eyes, each sensitive to a different colour. When we see a colour, our brains determine what it is by comparing how much the three photoreceptors respond.

 Source: Here

Zoologger: Flying snake gets lift from UFO cross section

Why crawl when you can fly? While their relatives slither on the ground, a few snakes take to the air, gliding from tree to tree. The most skilled of them all is the paradise tree snake, and we may finally have worked out why. It gets an aerodynamic lift by shifting its body into an unconventional, yet strangely familiar, form.
flying snake
There are five species of flying snake, all native to south-east Asia. The five are reasonably average in the looks department – at least, until they begin to move. These snakes slither up trees before launching themselves from branches high in the canopy, undulating their bodies from side to side as they glide elegantly – at speeds of about 10 metres per second – to their destination.

Source: Here

Starfish ripper hunted in wake of marine deaths

Starfish, also known as sea stars, are under attack up and down the US Pacific coastline. The perpetrator isn't a predator, but a mysterious and grisly disease known as sea star wasting syndrome that is ripping them apart from the inside. Here's what you need to know – and what you can do to help.
What is sea star wasting syndrome?
It is the name for the mysterious illness that riddles starfish with ulcers and causes their arms to twist and even "crawl" away from their bodies until they tear off. It leaves their innards behind in a mush. Hundreds of thousands of stars, if not more, have already perished from the syndrome since divers and aquarium-goers on the US west coast spotted the disease last June.

Source: Here

Talk is cheep: Do caged birds sing a key to language?

WHEN you watch Kazuo Okanoya on stage, bobbing up and down, chirping, you know he is passionate about his work. His lab at the University of Tokyo is alive with the sound of the birds that inspire his performance – row upon row of cages full of Bengalese finches. You can see why he is so taken by them. They are beautiful and good-natured, and they sing like a dream.
Okanoya was brought up in rural Japan surrounded by farm animals as well as his own menagerie of pet hamsters, turtles, hermit crabs, chipmunks and finches. "As a child, I loved animals more than humans," he says. That he ended up studying birds is hardly surprising. But what he has discovered certainly is. He set out to explore how singing cements the intense bond between pairs of Bengalese finches and underpins their devoted parenting. Instead, his experiments might have implications for one of evolution's most enduring mysteries: the emergence of human language.

Source: Here

Chilled spiky lizard helps Peruvian park nab a record

In Peru's Manú National Park, hundreds of types of snakes, frogs, caimans and turtles crawl along the forest floor.
spiky lizard
One of these is the lizard pictured, a reptile only recently recognised by scientists. This scaly member of the Potamites genus is about 6 or 7 centimetres long. Unlike many other lizards, it lives thousands of metres above sea level, where clouds hug the forest canopy, and braves the cold mountain streams.

Source: Here

Zoologger: Sabre-toothed frog is an evolutionary loner

Any lingering notion that frogs are cute little animals that are only a threat to flies must surely be laid to rest. The Emei moustache toad has a weaponised moustacheMovie Camera, used to gore rivals, and one African species can break its own toe bones to make claws.
saber-toothed frog
To this intimidating list we now add a sabre-toothed frog. This beast is equipped with a pair of powerful fangs, and gets at least some of its food by munching on other frogs.

It sounds like an oddity, and the latest evidence suggests that it really is. This fanged frog belongs to a previously unknown family of frogs, genetically different from all others. Nowadays such discoveries are extremely rare.

Source: Here

Giant pandas receive grand welcome in Brussels

Xing Hui and Hao Hao, a pair of giant pandas from China, get a hearty welcome as they touch down in Belgium.
Two giant pandas arrived in Belgium on a 15-year loan on Sunday, and they got the kind of welcome usually reserved for visiting dignitaries or celebrities.

Source: Here

Indonesia Announces World’s Largest Sanctuary for Manta Rays

One of the world’s largest fishes gets a super-size sanctuary thanks to a decision by the Indonesian government to ban fishing for manta rays within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The move, hailed by conservation organizations and researchers, has resulted in the world’s largest protected area for these migratory animals. Indonesia’s EEZ stretches for almost 2.3 million square miles (6 million square kilometers). (Watch a video to learn more about manta rays.)

Source: Here

SeaWorld Orlando returns rescued sea turtle to wild

ORLANDO -- A juvenile Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle that was rescued in 2012 off the Cape Cod, Mass. Coast was returned to the wild Thursday by the SeaWorld Orlando Animal Rescue Team.
SeaWorld Orlando returns rescued sea turtle to wild
A total of 24 sea turtles were rescued from cold stress by the U.S. Coast Guard in November 2012 and then brought to SeaWorld Orlando for treatment. The turtle released Thursday was the last of the group to be returned to the wild.

Source: Here

Lemurs in danger of extinction

The big-eyed primates from Madagascar are in serious danger of extinction.
The Bristol Zoo reports that 90 percent of the lemur species is in danger of extinction, mainly caused by human interference with their habitats in native Madagascar. There has also been an increase in poaching of the animals, as well as a steep loss in funding for environmental programs that protect lemurs.

Source: Here

Birds of a Feather Counted Together at VINS

Quechee — Birds and humans alike last week took a keen interest in the suet and seed-filled feeders on the woodsy grounds of Vermont Institute of Natural Science. The people had a mission: record as many species as possible for the Great Backyard Bird Count. The birds? They were just plain hungry.
Started by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, the annual four-day event helps scientists study bird populations across the globe.

Source: Here

Banff National Park Bears Use Highway Crossings to Find Mates

Recent studies have found that bears in the Canadian Banff National Park frequently use highway crossings in search of prospective mates. The crossings were originally put in place to allow wildlife to continue travelling in the forest around the fenced highways and reduce the number of wildlife-vehicles collisions.

Banff has a total of 44 highway crossings, consisting of 38 underpasses and six overpasses and since their construction, Parks Canada has found that wildlife-vehicle collisions in Banff National Park were reduced by 80 percent. The Wildlife Collision Prevention Program estimates that in Canada, there are four to eight large animal vehicle collisions every hour. Large animals consist of moose, elk, wolves, lynxes, cougars, deer and coyotes. When collisions between these animals and vehicles occur, it can sometimes be fatal for all parties involved.

Source: Here

Endangered Florida Panther Kitten Rescued by Biologists in Collier County: FWC [VIDEO]

A young male Florida panther kitten was rescued by biologists from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County.
The week-old endangered feline was discovered during a research mission in January. The biologists immediately rescued the 1 pound kitten who was suffering from extremely low body temperature. The panther kitten was then transferred to the Animal specialty Hospital of Florida, Naples, where veterinarians worked hard to save the animal. The kitten was kept under observation for 24 hours, though his conditions improved.
Source: Here

Worker Ants Build Rafts to Escape Floods and Protect the Vulnerable Queen

When hit by floods, ants display an extreme ability to assemble together as a group and form floating rafts using the brood's buoyancy to save themselves as well as the queen.
worker ants
The study led by researchers from University of Lausanne, Switzerland, reveals the strategy used by ants to face floods and protect the queen including the larvae and pupae. The researchers observed that the ants build floating rafts and use the whole brood's buoyancy and the recovery ability to lower the rate of injury and death.  Also they place the queen in the middle of the raft and protect it from all sides.

Source: Here

Dolphins Affected by BP Oil Spill in Grave Health Situation

The year was 2010. The world saw one of history’s worst oil spills, wreaking havoc on all sorts of marine animals in the US gulf coast and to this day, causing problems in the region.

A study conducted over the years that followed the spill shows that dolphins affected by the BP oil spill are now plagued with a host of severe health problems. Close to half of the 32 dolphins observed from Louisiana's Barataria Bay in 2011 were discovered to be in grave condition, this according to the study spearheaded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and recently published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology.

Around 17 percent of the observed dolphin population were categorized as being in grave condition and likely to expire from poor health. A team scientists and researchers from the government, academic and private sector, conducted the study a year after the oil spill as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA).

According to government estimates, the disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill churned out at least 4 million barrels of oil into the Barataria Bay in the Gulf of Mexico.

Among the health problems found in the Louisiana dolphins include extreme lung disease and low levels of adrenal stress-response hormones. One-fourth of the dolphins were also malnourished. Overall, researchers report most of the diseases observed in the Barataria Bay dolphins are rare but have been observed in dolphins exposed to oil and toxicity.

More about this story on Discovery News.

Snowy Owls Make One of Largest Observed Migrations to United States

Large, fluffy, and white as snow, Snowy Owls are usually found in their natural habitats in the Arctic, rarely seen migrating south of the Great Lakes. However, they’ve recently been seen swooping in great numbers down the eastern United States, with one bird expert saying they’ve never seen a migration this huge in the last 50 years. In fact, these winter-loving owls have been spotted as far south as the Carolinas, Missouri, even Bermuda.

Bird expert Kevin McGowan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University notes that a southern migration of snowy owls is called an irruption, with the recent event being the largest of its kind in recent history.

Harry Potter fame

Snowy owls are perhaps most famous thanks to Hedwig, Harry Potter’s messenger owl on the eponymous series of books and films. These majestic birds are not hard to miss, standing magnificently at 3-feet tall, with a wingspan of 5-feet. Their white plumage serves as camouflage in the Arctic Circle, where they’ve adapted to live and spend harsh winters in.

Reason for large numbers down south

So why are these owls migrating in such large numbers to the eastern
United States? Winter migrations naturally occur due to shortages of food, usually rodents like lemmings, in the north. Nobody can quite explain why there’s such a huge migration this year. Theories range from a crash in lemming populations up north, to more snow covering the ground making hunting difficult, to a speculated boom in Snowy Owl populations.

The full story on Discovery News.


Piranhas Attack Dozens in Argentina

It’s like something out of a horror film.

News reports from Argentina tell of piranhas in a feeding frenzy injuring around 60 people in the City of Rosario, Argentina.

Adding insult to injury is how the attack happened on Christmas day.

Most of the reported injuries were minor in nature, but the ferocious fish managed to take part of a finger from a girl, this according to Health Undersecretary Gabriela Quintanilla.

Quintanilla added that the attack occurred on Christmas day off the coast of Rosario, situated 200 miles to the north of Buenos Aires. According to Gustavo Centurion, a medical official, the piranha attack was of a ‘very aggressive’ nature, with some people having small bits of flesh torn away by the fish.

With the region being afflicted by a heat wave, temperatures are soaring to 38 degrees Celsius, causing many people in the area to cool themselves off in the Parana River, which as you may have guessed, is teeming with the carnivorous fish.

The unusually hot weather may have also driven the fish closer to the river’s surface before the attack, making it easy for them to attack the swimmers, this according to the authorities.

More about this story on Discovery News.


Chameleon Colors Indicate Moods

Are you old enough to remember Mood Rings? For those who aren’t they were rings with a kind of liquid crystal that changed their color depending on the wearer’s temperature; they were also marketed to change their color depending on your mood.

A new study published in the journal Biology Letters shows that chameleons actually do the real thing, that is, they change their color not just for camouflage, but to reflect their mood, status, even objectives.
 According to Russell Ligon, lead author of the study from Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, the ability of a chameleon to change its color is controlled by the reptile’s hormonal and nervous system, with other factors such as light and temperature also coming into play.

Chameleon Power

While many animals boast of unique colorations, such as colorful plumage, these are fairly static, having different colors that stay the same shade. Chameleons however, never have a dull moment, changing colors seemingly whenever they please.

Ligon explains that chameleons likely evolved to develop the ability to make rapid and dramatic changes to their color due to the need to communicate with other chameleons while living in their natural habitats: up in the trees. To communicate, other animals tend to make unique behavioral displays, something chameleons have a hard time doing up in the treetops.

Color Changes

Chameleons change their color during confrontations with other chameleons, as Ligon found when observing males. However, they also happen during mating rituals, with both male and female chameleons change their colors dark shades to bright green, blue, and yellow hues throughout the mating process.

More from Discovery News.

The Top Furry Superstars of 2013 – Hachiko

Though Hachiko – as one of last year’s top furry superstars of the internet – was born before the time when the first personal computer as we know it now was made, his legend continues to inspire anyone who comes by it.

Born sometime in the 1920s in Japan, Hachiko is an Akita dog, one who is argued to be the most loyal dog in the world.

His story started with a daily routine, one where he would wait for his master to come home from the Shibuya Train Station in Japan. Hachiko’s master, Hidesaburo Ueno, who worked in a university, had to commute everyday to and from work.

As a loyal dog, Hachiko always took the time to meet his master at the station, “picking him up” from work, so to speak.

This routine went on until one day in 1925, Hidesarubro failed to meet with Hachiko in the station. As it turned out, Hidesaburo passed away in the course of the day, a condition that was brought about from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Hachiko, who went to the station that day, didn’t get to meet with his master, so he came back the day after, and the day after, and the day after… doing so for NINE years.

Understandably, Hachiko’s daily pilgrimage to the station grabbed the attention of everyone who passed through it, which eventually led to the telling of his and his master’s story.

Hachiko’s loyalty has become an international phenomenon, with different books and movies inspired by his story being released over the years, including one which starred Richard Gere.
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