Published on Nov 6, 2013
Dr. Annalee Newitz is an editor of i09, was a lecturer at UC Berkeley, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a journalist at Wired, and author of ‘Scatter, Adapt, and Remember’.
The modern platypus is a duck-billed, venomous, semi-aquatic mammal with webbed feet and is covered in short waterproof fur. It is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth.
The new extinct species of platypus, named Obdurodon tharalkooschild, has been described from a unique tooth fossil found at the famous Riversleigh World Heritage Area of Queensland.
The specific name, tharalkooschild, honors an Indigenous Australian creation story about the origin of the platypus.
Unlike the living species, Obdurodon tharalkooschild had fully functional teeth that may have been used to kill and consume a wide range of animals that lived alongside it in ancient pools and lakes. Based on the size of its tooth, it is estimated that Obdurodon tharalkooschild would have been twice the size of the modern platypus, around 3.3 feet (1 m) long.
“Like other platypuses, it was probably a mostly aquatic mammal, and would have lived in and around the freshwater pools in the forests that covered the Riversleigh area millions of years ago,” explained Prof Suzanne Hand from the University of New South Wales, a co-author of the article published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology.
August 28, 2013
The first mammals arose in the Triassic period, more than 225 million years ago, including small shrew-like animals such as Morganucodon from England, Megazostrodon from South Africa and Bienotherium from China. They had differentiated teeth (incisors, canines, molars) and large brains and were probably warm-blooded and covered in fur – all characteristics that stand them apart from their reptile ancestors, and which contribute to their huge success today.
However, new research suggests that this array of unique features arose gradually over a long span of time, and that the first mammals may have arisen as a result of the end-Permian mass extinction – which wiped out 90 per cent of marine organisms and 70 per cent of terrestrial species.
“Mass extinctions are seen as entirely negative. However, in this case, cynodont therapsids, which included a very small number of species before the extinction, really took off afterwards and were able to adapt to fill many different niches in the Triassic – from carnivores to herbivoresm,” said Dr Marcello Ruta, lead author and evolutionary palaeobiologist from the University of Lincoln.
“During the Triassic, the cynodonts split into two groups, the cynognathians and the probainognathians,” added
co-author Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink of the National Museum in Bloemfontein, South Africa. “The first were mainly plant-eaters, the second mainly flesh-eaters and the two groups seemed to rise and fall at random – first one expanding, and then the other. In the end, the probainognathians became the most diverse and most varied in adaptations, and they gave rise to the first mammals some 25 million years after the mass extinction.”
August 06, 2013
If history’s closest analog is any indication, the look of the oceans will change drastically in the future as the coming greenhouse world alters marine food webs and gives certain species advantages over others. For the past million years, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have never exceeded 280 parts per million, but industrialization, forest clearing, agriculture, and other human activities have rapidly increased concentrations of CO2 and other gases known to create a “greenhouse” effect that traps heat in the atmosphere. For several days in May 2013, CO2 levels exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in human history and that milestone could be left well behind in the next decades. At its current pace, Earth could recreate the CO2 content of the atmosphere in the greenhouse world in just 80 years.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, paleobiologist Richard Norris and colleagues show that the ancient greenhouse world had few large reefs, a poorly oxygenated ocean, tropical surface waters like a hot tub, and food webs that did not sustain the abundance of large sharks, whales, seabirds, and seals of the modern ocean. Aspects of this greenhouse ocean could reappear in the future if greenhouse gases continue to rise at current accelerating rates.
The researchers base their projections on what is known about the “greenhouse world” of 50 million years ago when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were much higher than those that have been present during human history. Their review article appears in an Aug. 2 special edition of the journal Science titled “Natural Systems in Changing Climates.”
In the greenhouse world, fossils indicate that CO2 concentrations reached 800-1,000 parts per million. Tropical ocean temperatures reached 35º C (95º F), and the polar oceans reached 12°C (53°F) — similar to current ocean temperatures offshore San Francisco. There were no polar ice sheets. Scientists have identified a “reef gap” between 42 and 57 million years ago in which complex coral reefs largely disappeared and the seabed was dominated by piles of pebble-like single-celled organisms called foraminifera.
“The ‘rainforests-of-the-sea’ reefs were replaced by the ‘gravel parking lots’ of the greenhouse world,” said Norris.
The greenhouse world was also marked by differences in the ocean food web with large parts of the tropical and subtropical ocean ecosystems supported by minute picoplankton instead of the larger diatoms typically found in highly productive ecosystems today. Indeed, large marine animals — sharks, tunas, whales, seals, even seabirds — mostly became abundant when algae became large enough to support top predators in the cold oceans of recent geologic times.
August 01, 2013
A skipper butterfly. Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim and reproduced under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.
Conservationist’s faced a crushing blow last month as two butterfly species native to Florida were declared extinct.
“Occasionally, these types of butterflies disappear for long periods of time but are rediscovered in another location,” said Larry Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife state supervisor for ecological services. We think it’s apparent now these two species are extinct.”
Neither species has been seen in any environment for at least nine years, the latter of the two not being seen since 2000. This calamity is only made worse by the fact that so much could have been done in order to save these creatures. The first species, the Zestos skipper butterfly (Epargyreus zestos oberon), had strong bodies with large black eyes and large wings that were adorned with spots that looked like eyes. While the Zestos skipper was visibly declining in its environment, the subspecies was denied access to the U.S.’s Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of the confusion between it and other skipper species in the Bahamas. In the end, what was thought to be a bountiful reserve in the Bahamas proved to be a completely different species. By the time the mistake was realized it proved too late.
The Rockland grass skipper butterfly (Hesperia meskei pinocayo), an amber golden insect with club like antenna and black eyes, was similarly thought to be making a comeback as the species that had not been seen since the 80’s was spotted back in 2000. But is now believed extinct.
The extinction of these animals “serves as a wake-up call that we really need to intensify our efforts to save other imperiled butterflies,” according to Williams.
Both species vanished almost overnight as conservationists and scientists realized that the abundant populations of these species simply did not exist.
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
There aren’t many among the lantana, the butterfly bushes or the milkweed plants in Joe Derek’s Farmington Hills yard.
Butterflies are strikingly absent this year from his naturally landscaped property off 10 Mile Road, where he grows two acres of native plants known to draw the fluttering beauties.
“Normally, at this time of year, I’d see hundreds,” says Derek, former naturalist for the City of Farmington Hills. “In my life, I’ve never seen a season where we’re not seeing butterflies really of any kind.”
They’re missing from Diane Pruden’s yard in Milford, too.
■ RELATED: If you plant it, the butterflies will come
“It’s just horrible,” says Pruden, a monarch conservationist for the nonprofit group Monarch Watch. “I’ve got plants that should be covered with eggs and caterpillars right now, and there are just none to be seen.”
Butterfly enthusiasts say there’s a dearth of butterflies in Michigan this year. Official data are still being collected by monitoring groups around the state, but anecdotally, at least, the outlook is grim.
Holli Ward, executive director of the Michigan Butterflies Project based in Jenison, near Grand Rapids, says she has seen disappointingly few monarchs this year, the type she studies most.
“We go out and are looking, looking, inspecting thoroughly,” she says. “On a good day, we’re looking at hundreds of milkweed stalks — every week, twice a week since early June. We have not seen a single egg or caterpillar.”
Her group examines milkweed because it is the only plant monarchs use to lay their eggs; it’s also a food source in their early days as caterpillars.
Ward is hopeful it’ll get better later into the season, but she has her doubts.
“This year’s cooler, wetter spring really didn’t help,” Ward says. “Couple that with last year’s extremely hot, extremely dry weather, and it’s a terrible situation for monarchs.”
Besides the weather, part of the problem is development of prairies and grasslands, farming practices that have all but eliminated milkweed and other native plants from corn and soybean fields through the heartland, and suburban landscaping with nonnative plants. Combined, these factors have wiped out huge swaths of habitat that used to lure and feed these delicate insects.
Widespread use of pesticides — especially large-scale spraying for mosquitoes and gypsy moths — also kills caterpillars. Rampant use of herbicides in landscaping also contributes to the problem, destroying many native plants the butterflies need to survive.
■ Learn about the plants that are best for attracting butterflies and make a commitment to add them to your garden, landscaping or even in pots on your patio or porch.
■ Don’t use pesticides in your yard. They kill the butterflies, too.
■ To become a citizen scientist and help the Michigan Butterfly Network with its butterfly counts, go to www.michiganbutterfly.org or call Ashley Anne Wick at 269-381-1574, ext. 12, for details.
■ You can also monitor and check the progress of monarch butterflies through Journey North, a nonprofit group that tracks wildlife migration and seasonal change through field observations. To learn more, go to http://journeynorth.org.
■ If you’re in western Michigan, learn more about the Michigan Butterflies Project counts at http://michiganbutterflies.org or by calling Holli Ward at 616-581-8002 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, experts say.
The number of Monarch butterflies making it to their winter refuge in Mexico dropped 59 per cent this year, falling to the lowest level since comparable record-keeping began 20 years ago, scientists reported Wednesday.
It was the third straight year of declines for the orange-and-black butterflies that migrate from the United States and Canada to spend the winter sheltering in mountaintop fir forests in central Mexico. Six of the last seven years have shown drops, and there are now only one-fifteenth as many butterflies as there were in 1997.
The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, the experts said.
But they differed on the possible causes.
Illegal logging in the reserve established in the Monarch wintering grounds was long thought to contribute, but such logging has been vastly reduced by increased protection, enforcement and alternative development programs in Mexico.
The World Wildlife Fund, one of the groups that sponsored the butterfly census, blamed climate conditions and agricultural practices, especially the use of pesticides that kill off the Monarchs’ main food source, milkweed. The butterflies breed and live in the north in the summer, and migrate to Mexico in the winter.
“The decrease of Monarch butterflies … probably is due to the negative effects of reduction in milkweed and extreme variation in the United States and Canada,” the fund and its partner organizations said in a statement.
Butterfly decline in the US may be getting out of hand. Photo: Getty Images
Butterflies are the essence of cool in the insect world, a favorite muse for poets and songwriters who hold them up as symbols of love, beauty, transformation and good fortune.
But providing good fortune apparently goes only one way. As humans rip apart woods and meadows for housing developments and insecticide-soaked lawns, butterflies across the US are disappearing.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that two brown, moth-like butterfly subspecies are likely extinct in south Florida, which some entomologists say is ground zero for the number of butterfly species on the verge of annihilation.
The rockland grass skipper went missing in 1999, and the Zestos skipper hasn’t been seen since 2004. Several other species, such as the ebony-and-ivory-colored Schaus swallowtail, are listed as endangered, and many others are threatened, including the silvery Bartram’s hairstreak.
“We look at it as a signal that we’ve got a serious problem with butterflies and other insects and pollinators here in Florida,” said Larry Williams, a supervisor for the ecological services program at Fish and Wildlife. “We’re looking at this as sort of a wake-up call that we need to be watching butterflies more closely.”
At least one species of butterfly has vanished from the United States, along with the two subspecies in Florida. Seventeen species and subspecies are listed as endangered nationwide, and two are listed as threatened.
Habitat loss is a major problem, as are insect sprays, especially those used by municipalities and homeowners to control mosquitoes. “We know that it’s becoming increasingly popular for individual homeowners to use misting systems to spray low levels of pesticides. As those become more abundant, we have to evaluate if those are contributing to the decline,” Williams said.
Seen here are the Zestos Skipper and Meske’s Skipper butterflies. The Zestos butterfly is likely extinct, federal wildlife managers say.
Federal wildlife managers on Monday pronounced two South Florida butterflies likely extinct.
The announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came after surveys going back more than a decade failed to find any Zestos skippers or rockland grass skippers.
Larry Williams, the service’s regional supervisor for ecological services, said in a statement that he hoped the loss “serves as a wake-up call that we really need to intensify our efforts to save other imperiled butterflies in South Florida.”
An entomologist at the University of Florida is raising seven immature butterflies belonging to Schaus Swallowtail, a species of butterfly that is critically endangered and just “hanging on.”
Photographer: By: Phil Gast, CNN
(CNN) — At his version of an ICU unit, Jaret Daniels pays extraordinary attention to his young charges.
Each of the creatures is kept in its own plastic cup, isolated to prevent the spread of disease.
Not just any food will do. In their climate-controlled environment, the Schaus swallowtail caterpillars munch voraciously on wild lime.
Daniels, an entomologist at the University of Florida, is raising seven immature butterflies belonging to a species that is critically endangered and just “hanging on.”
The pressure, Daniels said, is enough to keep him up at night.
He and others are trying to save an insect that is on the brink of extinction and in need of human intervention.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an emergency directive in 2012 to collect females in Biscayne National Park and raise their eggs.
While no females were collected last year, officials announced this week that an adult female was snared on the park’s Elliott Key last month, along with six larvae. The female produced one egg.
Federal and state officials say the Schaus’ hopes might depend on a breeding program that may help safeguard a portion of the remaining population.
“I know what I am doing,” Daniels told CNN on Tuesday. “I am going to do the best that I can do.”
The Schaus swallowtail, contained to a relatively small area in southeastern Florida, in 1976 was listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened. It reached the endangered status eight years later.
The colorful butterfly’s numbers have dropped precipitously over the decades. Captive breeding was tried in the 1980s and 1990s, boosting the Schaus numbers for a time.
That didn’t last long.
Rebblogged from: FSP – Microcosm News- Earth Watch Report
by KGW reporter Erica Heartquist
Posted on June 19, 2013 at 5:53 PM
Updated Thursday, Jun 20 at 5:33 AM
WILSONVILLE — It’s a mystery that has prompted an investigation by the State of Oregon. Thousands of dead bumblebees are blanketing a parking lot in Wilsonville.
The plaza, just off Interstate 5 that houses Costco, Target, a Sprint store and Panda Express to name a few, has about 65 European Linden trees.
Since the weekend, dead bumblebees have been falling from the trees. Experts estimate there have been more than 25,000 dead bees. On Sunday, the bees started falling from the trees until shoppers reported them to the various stores.
“They were just evenly spread out over the entire parking lot,” said Mace Vaughan, Pollinator Conservation Program Director with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Monday, the calls flooded The Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat.
“(The were) just telling us that there seemed to be an incredible, awful bumblebee die-off and could we get out here to look and see what was going on,” said Vaughan.
Wednesday, KGW found even more dead or dying bees falling from the trees.
Published on Jan 30, 2013
A song I wrote when I visited the site after 9/11; always thought a little heavy, but it is time to get it out there. All photos taken from the web, if there is any infringement, please contact me, I will include credits. Included on my CD “Renegade of the Light Brigade” during the remix and urging of the late, great Steve Burgh.
The many economical and ecological benefits to using human excrement and urine as fertiliser are not to be sniffed at. Fred Pearce gets to grips with a sorely underused resource.
An hour into their journey from Tung Chung pier, the 20 members of the boat party finally got what they had been waiting for – a close encounter with the remaining pink dolphins who still make their home in Hong Kong waters.
But as the boat edged closer to the dolphins in the Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park and the eager tourists reached for their cameras, their excitement quickly turned to shock and distress.
“There were about four or five dolphins in the water and it seemed at first as if they were trying to get hold of something and support it,” said Ho Tak-ching, 34, a guide with Hong Kong Dolphinwatch. “It really wasn’t normal behaviour.”
The dolphins were trying to help a mother support the body of her dead calf and stop it slipping below the water’s surface.
“I started to film and it was then that I noticed the dead baby calf. From its size and colour, I guessed it was a newborn. It was so depressing and so very sad. While I was taking the video I couldn’t stop myself crying.
“There was a group of four or five dolphins taking turns with the mother to try to keep the baby on the surface of the water. We watched it for about 30 minutes.
“At first, I didn’t want to mention it to the passengers. But then some of them noticed the dead baby. They asked me, ‘How has this happened?’ They seemed very upset. They asked if there was something we could do to help, but I said there was nothing we could do.”
Grieving and unable to accept their calves’ deaths, the mother dolphins will spend up to two weeks trying to keep them on the surface of the water, exhausting themselves and going without food as other dolphins rally to help them.
These displays of epimeletic, or care-giving, behaviour demonstrate the intelligence and compassion of dolphins.
Disturbingly, they have also become an increasingly common sight in Hong Kong waters, where dolphin numbers are already in rapid decline.
The sad scene a week ago – captured on video and widely shared on Facebook – was the third separate incident of a dead calf being supported by its mother and other dolphins in Hong Kong waters last month alone.
In a scenario that paints a bleak picture for the future of the Hong Kong population, the calves are believed to have been killed by polluted water ingested by the mothers and then passed on to their offspring in their milk.
Video: Hong Kong Dolphinwatch
Despite being a protected species and a symbol of Hong Kong, figures to be released next month are expected to reveal a further sharp decline in the number of Indo-pacific humpback dolphins – also known as Chinese white dolphins or pink dolphins because of the change in their skin colour as they grow older.
Their abundance – or the number of them in Hong Kong waters at any given time – fell from 158 in 2003 to 78 in 2011.
Figures for last year are being finalised but will show a further “significant” decline, according to the experts compiling the data.
The death of the calves was almost certainly caused by pollutants in the seawater around Hong Kong, said Dolphinwatch spokeswoman Janet Walker.
“The toxins from pollutants accumulate in body fat because the dolphins can’t metabolise it and I am told dolphin milk is 40 per cent fat,” she said.
“The milk is very rich and fatty so it doesn’t disperse in the water when the mother squirts it out.
“That means all the toxins which are collected in the fat cells over 10 or 11 years of the mother living in polluted water goes straight to the first born.”
Walker described the death of three newborn dolphins in one month as “horrendous”.
She said: “There are not many things that kill babies that little. They are not as likely to get tangled in nets as they used to and I wouldn’t think the deaths were cause by a vessel collision because they stick really close to their mothers. So we think it’s toxins in the mother’s milk.
“Ideally, these dolphins should live 30 to 40 years. But here, if they get into their 20s, they are doing well. Half the dead ones every year are juveniles and babies.
“It is so frustrating. We have known about the problems facing dolphins for a long time, but no one is doing anything.
“The government claims to be doing something but then it is building this bridge to Macau and the third runway at the airport. That is an awful lot of construction in the dolphins’ habitat.”
Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, said he hoped the pitiful video would help people wake up to the reality that Hong Kong is on its way to losing for good the dolphin population first recorded in its waters in the 1600s.
“It is heartbreaking to watch,” he said. “You can feel for the mother. Why is she not giving up on the dolphin? It’s because she cannot accept that it has died. And why did it die? It is not the fault of the mother. It is our fault. We are causing this.
“The dolphin’s mother has to hold the baby the entire time otherwise it will sink to the bottom and she will do this for a week or two weeks, not eating at all. She is grieving.
“And what is causing that grief? It is because of us and everything we have done. I really hope people reflect on that.”
Hung, whose group has monitored and campaigned for the conservation of Hong Kong’s dolphin population since the 1990s, said: “I ‘ve never been so pessimistic about the future of our dolphins as I am now.
“I always tried to think that we could turn things around. We are able to maybe sustain the population with good conservation measures and good monitoring. But I think the pace of development pressure and the unwillingness to deal with threats like vessel traffic and the reluctance to deal with anything that hinders economic development is just too huge.”
In previous years, Hung said, his dolphin group had to deal with two or three threats at a time to dolphin habitat.
“Now we are dealing with seven or eight projects at a time,” he said. “It is crazy. There are so many battles to fight.