Thursday, October 16, 2008

Birds of Prey

I was walking by the beach one day when of the Brahminy kites swifty scooped a fish with its sharp claws. It was too fast and amazing and the fish may not even have noticed the last few minutes before it got itself caught.

Mother nature has a way of distributing attributes to flora and fauna to make them survive in the wild. For instance, birds of preys have extremely sharp eyesights. Owls and hawks have very good eyesight such that even if they miles high up in the air, they could still see their potential food the size of a rabbit or a rat. Their eyes can keep track of every movement of the prey.

Birds of prey also have a great power of flight compared to other kinds of birds like the dove. They are usually the bigger kinds of birds with larger wingspan.

These birds of preys are the most endangered among the different kinds of birds due to habitat loss. Because much of the forested lands are degraded or simple scraped to give way to housing, small mammals and other animals that are the source of food for these birds are slowly getting lost too.

Everything in this world is interconnected. Whether the birds up in the sky or the fish deep in the ocean; or a mouse in Asia and a forest fire in California, there is a connection that cannot be broken. Some people don't know this even though it is not hard to find out.

More information here.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Study: Exotic pets may be risky for children

While perusing the paper this morning, I came across the lifestyle section of the paper that shows a study concluding that exotic pets, which are increasingly becoming popular as household pets, may pose risk to children at home.

Some psychologists have concluded that children who have pets develop positive characters but there are some kinds of animals that parents should be wary of. For instance, tortoises are known to be carriers of salmonella that can easy be transferred to kids.

Some exotic pets such as iguanas and monkeys can cause scratches or may bite children can can cause allergies or transfer bacteria.

The study pointed out that almost all of American households have more than one pets. The study recommends that families having kids aged less than five should not keep exotic animals as pets.

It was also pointed out in the study that salmonella in kids that came from contacts with lizards and other reptilian pets constitute 11 percent of all cases recorded.
The study says that "Exotic animals imported to the United States have been associated with the introduction of infectious agents otherwise not present in the United States."

Now, I am thinking of just sticking to having traditional dogs and cats as pets. They are very kid friendly and its not a problem looking for veterinarians specializing in caring for them.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A trip to the zoo

I applaud teachers and schools that teach kids about kindness to animals. There are so much to be learned about animals and that one of the best places to learn about them is the zoo.

The last time I went to the zoo was six months ago when I brought my 6 year old son. I can see how amazed my son was looking at the monkeys hanging and playing from branch to branch. He loved the giraffe and their long necks. In fact my son enjoying feeing leaves to them that he fed and watched them eat for 30 minutes. The roar of the lions shocked my son a bit but later he learned it was a normal sound that those cats make.

My point here is that the zoo could be a good learning place for people to get a close encounter with the animals. But it is also a good place to teach people how not get animals from their natural habitats and place them in enclosures.

I know there is a price to pay for learning but there should be a balance. Zoo management should make sure that the environments of these wild animals are correctly simulated in their enclosures.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Swift Bird

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For more animal information, click here.

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Sheep in Mud

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Is this a goat?

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Giraffe Tongue

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Worm-eating Gecko?

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Cute animals

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More Cute Animals

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For more animal information, click here.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

My brother loves exotic pets

Last Christmas, my 13 year old younger brother got an exotic gift from his hippie godfather. It was a nice exotic animal: green iguana.

My brother was ecstatic about it because the green iguana will be an addition to his menagerie of exotic pets that include an albino snake, a mexican scorpion, an african frog and many more.

For some reason, my brother loves reptiles. Although his collection includes birds and some mammals, there are more reptiles compared to other kinds of animals.

I have always advised my brother to be a responsible animal keeper. I told him that he should study and research as much as he can about the pets he is caring for. The animals needs should be met and proper housing and exercise should be given.

As for the green iguana, my brother told me that he has done an intensive research. He learned the green iguana is a special reptile and therefore needs special reptile food. He told me an iguana diet should be composed of dark leafy vegetables and other greens containing rich calcium like mustard green and dandelion greens.

I feel so happy that my brother will really grow up to be a responsible man. Keeping pets can really be a great hobby that develops discipline and responsibility.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Animals Dressing Up for Holloween

Here are some cute and funny pictures of animals:

For more animal pictures, visit this Pets Website.

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Friday, September 5, 2008


Concerns over the makeup of the climate agreement to succeed the Kyoto
Protocol - and the likelihood of a worsening worldwide credit crunch -
is slowing the development of carbon funds to offset greenhouse gas

Kyoto will expire after 2012 and, without a suitable replacement,
there will be a further slowing in the number of carbon offsetting
projects submitted to the UN Climate Change Secretariat for approval
that could adversely affect the long-term supply of offset credits for
the carbon funds market.

The outcome of next year's US presidential election will determine
what direction America takes with emissions trading, which will
influence the decision-making of many non-European nations.

Both Obama and McCain advocate cap-and-trade schemes but neither
candidate has spelled out any details of how a national carbon
emissions market would function.

But despite the uncertainty the global carbon markets are poised to
double in value again to more than $100 billion in 2008, market
observers told Daily Planet Media.

Globally carbon funds have grown by 33 percent during 2008. Most
purchases have been related to offset credits issued under the Kyoto
Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and involve clean-energy
projects like wind farms and hydro dams in developing countries.

Funds are selling carbon credits to companies and governments so that
nations can meet designated emissions targets.

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The Canadian government has delivered a working model for how the
entire far north Arctic region can be sustained.

The model comes in the form of a pact between the Canadian government
and Inuit native groups which shelters the habitat of polar bears,
bowhead whales and other animals in the country's northern Nunavut

Under the deal there will be co-management between the government and
Inuit groups of two existing wildlife areas and eight existing
migratory bird sanctuaries across Nunavut in an area as large as
western Europe.

"This is a new deal . It's an action plan that offers environmental
protection," Environment Minister John Baird told Daily Planet Media
in Ottawa.

Canada will spend C$8.3 million on the agreement that creates three
new national wildlife areas on and around Baffin Island - the largest
of Canada's islands.

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Extreme floods and typhoons across greater Asia over the last three
months have severely affected tens of millions of people from the
Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Far East China, Korea and Japan.

Since June the Asian southwest monsoon has claimed 1,500 lives and
caused damage worth many billions of dollars.

Much of Asia's poor are still living in low-lying areas prone to
flooding and in houses incapable of withstanding strong winds.

August has been a horror month for savage weather and natural
disasters, according reports sent to Daily Planet Media.

The following is a summary of what happened:

* Typhoon Olga flooded much of Southeast Asia before striking the
Korean peninsula.
* Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and three surrounding
provinces were declared "a state of calamity" on August 2 after 300
millimeters of rain fell in two days. The death toll across the
Philippines is estimated at more than 90.
* In Vietnam the heaviest rainfalls in 20 years resulting in severe
flooding to the southern central provinces of Binh Thuan, Lam Dong and
Dac Lac.
* The major arterial highway that links Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City was
cut for three days.
* Floods in southern Cambodia cut off the main port town of
Sihanoukville from the capital Phnom Penh and the main highway was two
meters under water for several days.
* Severe flooding inundated much of Thailand's Chantaburi province
east of Bangkok leaving 90,000 homeless.
* Typhoon Olga brought savage storms to Korea and heavy floodings to
southern Japan.
* North Korea that is the grips of a four-year famine lost 40,000
hectares of farming land from Olga's storms.

The month's most severe flooding, described as the "worst in living
memory", ruined much of the Indian subcontinent as well as valuable
Chinese rice lands.

Hit hard was China's Yangtze River system, which is home to 400
million people. The floods have directly affected over 66 million people.

The Yellow River districts have been issued with warnings that much
higher than average rainfalls are likely to cause more flooding and
overwhelm the inadequate flood protection along the river.

Torrential rains since late June caused major flooding along the
tributaries of the Ganges River, and swathes of the Bihar state were
devastated when more than 400,000 hectares of land submerged and 7,000
homes destroyed.

The Bangladesh Department of Environment estimates two million people
in the capital city of Dhaka have this year lived in flooded
conditions for up to 65 days. Health officials estimate that the
fouling of the city's water by sewerage created conditions caused over
115,000 people to contract severe diarrhea and caused the death of 178

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A solar powered plane has set a new world endurance record for a
flight by an unmanned aircraft.

British-built Zephyr-6 stayed in the air for more than three days
flying through the night on batteries it had recharged in sunlight.

The Zephyr flew non-stop for 82 hours, 37 minutes and beats the
current official world record for unmanned flight set by the US robot
plane Global Hawk - of 30 hours, 24 minutes.

The flight took place between 28 and 31 July flown on autopilot and
via satellite communication.

The plane flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon solar
arrays no thicker than sheets of paper that are glued over the
aircraft's wings. The propellers are powered from lithium-sulphur
batteries, which are topped up during the day.

The designers of the Zephyr successfully overcame a major problem of
having sufficient power storage with the light-weighting systems.
Lithium sulphur had been found to have double the energy density of
lithium polymer batteries.

Engineers from the Farnborough- based company are now collaborating
with the American aerospace giant Boeing to build the biggest plane to
take to the sky powered by the sun and capable of carrying a 450-kilo

US commanders said the plane would be able to maintain its position
over a particular spot on the Earth's surface uninterrupted for five

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pictures of Cute Animals Batch 2

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Pictures of Cute Animals

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Monday, September 1, 2008


Zero emission hydrogen fuel cell technology took a giant step forward
when nine different types of hydrogen cars finished a 13 days road
trip across United States last weekend.

California Fuel Cell Partnership Executive Director Catherine Dunwoody
told Daily Planet Media there was a lot of curiosity about the
hydrogen vehicles with people lining up to cheer the cars and their

The first-ever cross cross-country trip for hydrogen powered vehicles
highlighted the need for more hydrogen fueling stations as there are
just 60 hydrostation in US and - and only two open to the public.

Along the cross-country circuit there were stretches where the
hydrogen vehicles had to be carried on the back of trucks due to a
lack of fuel stops from Rolla to Missouri and from Albuquerque to New
Mexico. But for the record the event ran from Portland, Maine, to the
Los Angeles Coliseum.

One of purposes of the Hydrogen Road Tour '08 was to demonstrate the
need to build more fuelling stations if the new technology is to develop.

The tour stopped in 31 cities in 18 states with the California Fuel
Cell Partnership as the major supporter.

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Big Dogs Batch 2

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Big Dogs

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Big House Cat

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Cute Baby Chimps

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I dunno what this animal is called

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Scorpion-looking animal

They say this is a vinegaroon (Uropygid sp.).

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008



Rising acidification of the world's oceans - caused by imploding
climate change - will significantly reduce the successful
fertilization of many species this century, according to a report by
Swedish and Australian scientists.

Species facing extinction due to high sea acidity include colonies of
sea urchins, lobsters, mussels and oysters, the study stated.

The study revealed that rising acidity was hindering marine sperm from
swimming to and fertilizing eggs in the ocean.

According to projected rates of acidity by the year 2100 there will be
a 25 percent reduction in fertilization.

Jane Williamson from Macquarie University explained to Daily Planet
Media that the surface of the ocean absorbs up to 30 percent of the
world's yearly emissions of carbon dioxide - the reason behind the
rising acidity of oceans.

Higher than normal acidity levels of 7.7 were already occurring parts
of the ocean off the west coast of the United States.

Meanwhile the "dead zones" in regions of the ocean floor that are
deprived of oxygen were spreading fast, leading scientists wrote in a
study report for the journal Science.

The cause of acute oceanic oxygen depreciation is the nitrogen and
phosphorous from chemical agricultural fertilizers that reach coastal
waters after flowing off farm fields and into streams and rivers.

Nitrogen compounds from burning fossils fuels, particularly from power
plants and cars, are washing into coastal waters, the study report

Already this decade the number of coastal dead zones had risen by
about a third to 405 worldwide. Dead zone clusters on the coasts of
the United States and Europe had taken up a combined area of least
95,000 square miles.

Dead zones began doubling every 10 years in the 1960s and there are
now large areas of sea floor with insufficient oxygen to support most
marine life.

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The long stretch of the Mekong River waterway from northern Thailand
to central Cambodia remains higher than in 2000 when the worst floods
in four decades struck southern Vietnam, according to The Mekong River

The Vietnamese government has rescue forces on full alert to move
people from dangerous areas in southern Vietnam where the Mekong River
reaches the South China Sea.

Cambodian disaster management officials have alerted villagers of
rising waters and 4,000 boats are on stand-by in flood prone areas in
the eastern provinces of Kampong Cham and Kratie.

Landslides and flooding killed four people in Laos when the Mekong
River hit its highest level in at least 100 years after several months
of unusually heavy rain.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Chances of a world deal to cut emissions enough to curb any severe
implosion of global warming climate change has widened considerably
following the failure of world trade talks in Geneva.

The World Trade Organization' s gathering of nations was abandoned
after the US and India failed to compromise on a dispute over tariffs
on farm products.

The abrupt ending of the trade talks has put a dark cloud over next
year's climate summit in the Danish capital of Copenhagen when the
international community of developed and developing countries will
discuss an agreement for binding emissions curbs.

While there is no direct link between trade and climate change the
abandonment of the world trade talks is seen a major setback for an
emissions agreement and a carbon trading system that will require the
support of all nations.

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Two public polls released this week show that 8 out of 10 Australians
support the government's decision to introduce the world's biggest carbon
trading schemes in 2010.

The Labor Party won power with a strong anti-emissions policy and set up
the first-ever Ministry for Climate Change.

While Australia produces about 1.5 percent of the world's carbon emissions
its dependence on coal for producing electricity makes it the world's biggest
per-person polluter.

One of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's first actions after winning office was to
sign the Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding limits on emissions from
developed countries, and to cut emissions by 60 percent of 2000 levels by

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The Arctic sea ice is unlikely to recover from last year's record low,
according to latest figures from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre.

This year's Arctic melt is already showing sea ice to be well below
average as the summer meltdown peaks.

The extent of the current year's ice melt will not be known until
mid-September. "A race has developed between the waning sunlight and
the weakened ice," the US Snow and Ice Data Centre's July report stated.

Many climate scientists now believe that over the next five years the
Arctic will be completely ice-free in the summer.

The Arctic meltdown is so unusual that the US Army's Cold Regions
Research and Engineering Laboratory released a statement citing
historical evidence that shows there has been summer ice in the Arctic
for at least 16 million years.

The Arctic region is warming twice as fast elsewhere on the planet and
the more the ice melts the more the Arctic absorbs sunlight that adds
another spur to global warming.

A Daily Planet Media survey of scientific opinion found there was no
certainty of what the absence of Arctic sea ice would have on the
planet, but many climate scientists on the UN International Panel of
Climate Change forecast more extreme storms, floods and droughts.

What concerns Arctic ice specialist Erin Clark is that the ice at the
entrance of the Northwest Passage this July was mostly young ice
frozen over from last year and prone to much fast melting.

Last year's record melt was a combination of unseasonal weather
patterns and rising temperatures attributed to human-made global warming.

The International Arctic Research Centre in Fairbanks, Alaska, claims
that unpredictable natural cycles and global warming caused by burning
fossil fuels are crucial to understanding the reasons for the
unprecedented Arctic sea ice melt.

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Evidence of a fast cooling of Earth's climate almost 13 thousand years
ago has added more evidence to the scientific viewpoint that the
planet is likely to have a swift and severe climate change if the
composition of the atmosphere is rapidly altered.

Climate scientists have discovered that the last ice age occurred
exactly 12,679 years, apparently due to a shift to icy winds over the

A study of built-up layers at the bottom of Lake Meerfelder Maar in
Germany indicates a sudden chill on the planet occurred over just one

And an abrupt increase in storms during the autumn to spring seasons
coincided with drastic climate changes throughout Europe, a report on
the research stated.

Scientists have long known about the sharp chill towards the end of
the last Ice Age but the latest study strongly suggests that a shift
in wind strength represented an abrupt change in the North Atlantic
westerly winds.

The wind shift might seems to have been triggered by factors such as a
slight southwards shift of sea ice in the North Atlantic caused by
some other natural factors, researches stated.

The latest research adds more credibility to contemporary climate
science, which blames short-term human made greenhouse gasses for
global warming and an unprecedened melting of both polar ice caps that
have already brought more extreme floods and droughts.

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Another day of clear skies over Beijing has given Olympic Games
officials some confidence that air pollution won't spoil the world's
premier athletic event and grand opening.

Meteorologists said recent rain had washed away the city's smog -
alleviating organizer's concerns that contingency backup plans would
be need to be activated if the air quality further deteriorated.

Air conditions were described by visiting athletes last week as poor,
and there is still some anxiety as to how long the clear skies will last.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mutated Lobster

Here is one picture i got from

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rare male sea dragon pregnant

After setting the mood with lighting and finessing, the Georgia Aquarium's attempts to coax rare sea dragons to mate have finally worked -- just in time for Father's Day.

The pregnant male weedy sea dragon is now only the third of its kind in the United States to successfully become pregnant outside of its natural habitat.

The sea dragon, found in nature only in the waters off southern Australia, became pregnant Tuesday when a female transferred her eggs onto his tail.

Dennis Christen, assistant manager of animal care and husbandry, said that male sea horses, sea dragons and pipe fish all carry the eggs instead of the female.

Christen said that recently the staff took steps to try to assist in mating.

They altered the mood by adjusting the lighting and thinning the plants, Christen said.

But so much is unknown about the creatures, including their mating routines, that a lot about the pregnancy remains a mystery, Christen said.

When the animals finally do mate, the sea dragons arch their tails and swim side by side until they latch onto each other before swimming vertically together during their version of a "date."

"When they're courting they do a really ritualistic dance," he said.

What little is known about that dance could hold a key to problems with breeding the animals in small tanks similar to those at the aquarium.

"Some people think that problems are if the tank isn't deep enough they don't have enough time to swim vertically," Christen said.

Of the 70 small pink eggs wrapped around the male's tail, nobody knows how many are viable and could actually hatch. Christen said that they are relying on other experiences with breeding, where about 60 percent of the eggs survived, to estimate how things may go.

At the Georgia Aquarium, children and teachers were abuzz about the pregnant dragon and circled around the tank trying to pick it out.

"Which one is the mommy?" one little boy shouted before a guide corrected him and said the male was carrying the eggs.

When the eggs hatch, Christen said they will essentially be miniature versions of the adults.

And unlike many animals the weedy sea dragons will not spend their first days, weeks and months shadowing their parents to learn.

"They basically hatch and are on their own," he said. "There's no real parental training."

The eggs are expected to hatch in four to six weeks.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ugly Looking Animals (But are nevertheless our friends still)

Here are pictures of some of the world's weirdest and ugliest looking animals from :

Vampire Sea Spiders From Antarctica

The Naked Mole Rat

Pookie, The Most Sinister Cat On Earth

Sam, The Eternal Ugliest Dog On Earth

Called the “Grim Reaper of the Animal World” by locals, Sam was the 3 time champion of being the world’s ugliest dog. Legend holds that if a man spites his woman one too many times, this makeup-less fate shall be his eternal morning wake up call for years to come.

Though Sam passed away a little over a year ago, his owner keeps an active site up for the crown champion with various pictures of the canine.

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Our beloved pets website
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Snake eating a kangaroo

Here are pictures i got from

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Strange Brazilian Creature

Scott Corrales has sent to Cryptomundo the photographs you see here, labeled "Strange Brazilian Creature," with this following message:

These images were just forwarded to me from Spain regarding (and I quote): "a strange creature found by the Servicio de Aguas (Water Authority) of the town of Sorcaba, Brasil. It was taken to a biologist at the zoo (no name given) was was stunned and believed it to be a mutation of a smaller creature."

What Scott is being shown is not cryptozoological, not a mutation of a smaller creature, but represent images of the giant isopods, which are usually found in deep sea explorations.

The giant isopods are crustaceans in the genus Brahynomus. They were first described to science in 1879, and are related to pill bugs and wood lice. They are unusual but otherwise commonly known within marine biology.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Soft-Shelled Cantor’s Giant Turtle.

A 24-pound female Cantor’s giant turtle — known for its rubbery skin and jaws powerful enough to crush bone — was captured and released by researchers in March, U.S.-based Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund said in a statement. …

The species can grow up to 6 feet in length and weigh more than 110 pounds. It was last spotted by scientists in the Cambodian wild in 2003. It also was found in small numbers in Laos, but appears to have disappeared from Vietnam and Thailand.

The turtle has a rubbery skin with ribs fused together to form a protective layer over its internal organs. It protects itself from predators by spending 95 percent of its life hidden in sand or mud with only its eyes and nose showing.


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Sunday, June 1, 2008

National Geographic: Rare "Prehistoric" Shark Photographed Alive

This serpentine specimen may look like a large eel, but its six slitlike gills help mark it as a cousin of the great white, the hammerhead, and other sharks. But this isn't your average fish.

Believed to have changed little since prehistoric times, the frilled shark is linked to long-extinct species by its slinky shape and by an upper jaw that is part of its skull. Most living sharks have hinged top jaws.

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More weird animals from the National Geographic Website

Photo Gallery: Rare "Prehistoric" Shark Photographed Alive

Flaring the gills that give the species its name, a frilled shark swims at Japan's Awashima Marine Park on Sunday, January 21, 2007. Sightings of living frilled sharks are rare, because the fish generally remain thousands of feet beneath the water's surface.

Spotted by a fisher on January 21, this 5.3-foot (160-centimeter) shark was transferred to the marine park, where it was placed in a seawater pool.

"We think it may have come to the surface because it was sick, or else it was weakened because it was in shallow waters," a park official told the Reuters news service. But the truth may never be known, since the "living fossil" died hours after it was caught.

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British move to protect rare mammals

LONDON — It isn't often that the northern hairy-nosed wombat, the finger-sized slender loris, and the mountain pygmy possum share the spotlight. But these odd creatures are the focus of a conservation program launched Tuesday to safeguard some of the world's rarest mammals.

The Zoological Society of London's program highlights 100 species selected because of the peculiarity of their genetic backgrounds and the degree of danger they face. The species' lack of close relatives make their preservation particularly urgent, society scientist Jonathan Baillie said. He described them as natural masterpieces.

"Would we just sit there and watch the Mona Lisa disappear?" he said. "These are things that are just irreplaceable."

Many of the species are the only representative of groups that have otherwise died out. West Africa's pygmy hippopotamus, known for its thick, oily "blood-sweat," is the only member of its genus.

Others, like the Yangtze River dolphin, are thought to represent an entire genetic family. The dolphin, may already be gone, like some others on the list.

Those that remain act as living fossils, offering glimpses into how the animal world looked millions of years ago. That's the case of the Andean mountain monkey, the only marsupial in an otherwise extinct lineage which dates back more than 40 million years. New Guinea's long-beaked echidnas, anteater-like creatures that lay eggs like reptiles, are even older, remaining unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs.

Donors are invited to sponsor a species, and track its conservation progress through blogs and discussion groups on the website, Half a million pounds (about $1 million, euro750,000) is needed to fund the conservation projects, Baillie said.

Researchers hope the catalog of bizarre creatures might attract younger donors unimpressed by more charismatic seals or pandas.

"The younger generation is more interested in the weird and wonderful," he said.

There's no lack of either. Many are freakishly large, or small, or just long-lived. The hairy-nosed wombat can grow bigger than a dog, while the slender loris's 12 cm (4.7 inch) frame is dominated by a pair of huge night vision eyes. Mountain pigmy possums can live 12 years, a remarkable age for a 30 gram (one ounce) creature.

Others, like Madagascar's aye-aye, are just weird. The oddly-shaped primate sports an unsettlingly long, skeletal middle finger it uses to scrape insect larvae from holes in trees.

Still, some have undeniable charm, like the 2 gram (0.07 ounce) bumblebee bat or hairy-eared dwarf lemur, the world's smallest primate.

"There's nothing like them when they go," Baillie said.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Neuroscientist studies bizarre mammals

Ken Catania studies the brains of some of the strangest-looking mammals alive: the star-nosed mole and the naked mole rat.

"I used to be a little defensive about studying such weird-looking animals," the assistant professor of biological sciences acknowledges. "But then I realized that what makes these animals so strange is their extreme specialization and, for that very reason, there is a great deal that we can learn from studying them.

"This research strategy appears to be paying off. Catania has just been awarded one of only 15 fellowships given annually by the Searle Foundation, a highly competitive honor that will provide him with $240,000 to use on his research for the next three years. In addition, his latest paper appeared as the cover article in this month's issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

It was Catania's interest in the sense of touch that led him initially to the community of moles. In their underground world there is little light, so vision is not very important. Also, sounds are attenuated and hearing is not that valuable either. That leaves the senses of touch and smell pre-eminent. His first research subject was the star-nosed mole-an animal that looks very much like an ordinary mole except that has a peculiar star of fleshy appendages ringing its nose. More recently he has begun studying the naked mole rat, an animal famous in animal behavior circles because it lives in insect-like colonies organized around single breeding females, or queens.

Catania got acquainted with the star-nosed mole when he was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland. He worked at the National Zoo, where his job was to collect small mammals, including star-nosed moles. "I learned where to find star-nosed moles and how to collect them, which is a skill not many people have," he explains. Although they range from Canada, down through the Eastern United States as far as Georgia, people rarely see these unusual-looking creatures because they are the only mole that lives in marshes and wetlands.

As its name implies, the star-nosed mole has a very unusual snout, ringed with 11 pairs of pink appendages that form a fleshy star. There have been a lot of different ideas about the function of this distinctive feature. Some have proposed that it is a super-sensitive olfactory organ that helps the nearly blind moles to sniff there way around underground. Others have suggested that serves as an extra "hand" for grasping prey or other objects. Still others have argued that it serves as an antenna that detects electric fields as the moles swim through muddy marsh water.

It was not until Catania studied this structure in detail as part of his doctoral thesis at the University of California, San Diego that the star's true function came to light. Working with noted neuroscientist Glenn Northcutt, he showed that these appendages serve as an extraordinary touch organ, covered with more than 25,000 microscopic sensory receptors, called Eimer's organs, that allow the hamster-sized mole to literally feel its way around its subterranean environment.

"I just showed some pictures of the nose around the lab and everybody got very excited," he recalls.

Catania was able to generate equally high levels of interest in this unusual creature when he came to Vanderbilt as a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Centennial Professor of Psychology Jon Kaas. He and Kaas determined that more than 100,000 nerve fibers run from the moles star nose to its brain, more than six times the number that connect the human hand and brain.

"Given this structure, it is possible that the mole can feel distinctive differences in the textures of different materials at a microscopic level," Catania speculates.

He and Kaas also discovered that the mole's fleshy nose rays develop in a way unlike any other animal appendage. The basic strategy employed to make everything from human fingers, insect legs, fish fins, and porcupine quills is to start as an outgrowth of the body wall and grow directly outward. By contrast, the rays develop first as fleshy ridges along the side of the nose. Then they become little cylinders that separate from the body beginning at the ends farthest from the nostrils. These ends move forward to become the tips of the freed appendages.

Next, Catania took a closer look at the how the nerve connections between the star-nosed mole's brain and appendages develop. The region connected to each of the appendages is clearly marked on the mole's cortex, which makes it very easy to study, Catania says. The mole's star is made up of two different kinds of appendages. The central, lowermost pair is much shorter than the other ten and contains a much higher number of nerve fibers per touch receptor than do the longer pairs. The area of the cortex that is connected to this pair is also much bigger than that devoted to the others, the neuroscientist has found.

"This organization has surprising parallels to that of the human visual system," Catania observes.

Humans, like most animals that rely primarily on sight, continually shift their eyes. When an interesting or important image enters their peripheral vision, a person instinctually shifts his or her eyes to move the image into the central part of the retina, called the fovea. The fovea has a much higher concentration of nerve fibers than the periphery of the retina, which allows it to provide the brain with a more highly defined image.

Similarly, active star-nosed moles continually wave their nose appendages around. When one detects something of potential interest, such as an unfortunate earthworm, then the mole moves its nose quickly to bring one of the central rays into contact, giving it a superior tactile image of the object so it can determine whether it is something good to eat. For small prey the entire process from first touch to complete ingestion takes about a fifth of a second.

In the April issue of Nature Neuroscience, Catania set out to determine whether the central appendages gain control of larger regions of the cortex because they have been genetically programmed to do so or because they are used more intensively. By looking at the development of the mole's nose and brain, he was able to determine that the central appendages get a head start in the development process. Largely because they get their major growth earlier in development than do the peripheral appendages, the central rays establish a larger number of nerve connections and interconnect with a larger area of the cortex than its fellow appendages, he reports.

In his application to the Searle Foundation, Catania emphasized his desire to study the organization of the brains of highly specialized animals like the star-nosed mole. "When you stop and think about it, most scientific research is concentrated on just a handful of species, so I got the idea of looking at other, non-traditional species," he says.

In pursuit of this goal, he recently arranged to obtain a colony of naked mole rats. The mole rats have a much different tactile system than do the star-nosed moles. Instead of putting the vast majority of their touch-sensors in one organ, the mole rat has sensory hairs spread all over its body, including its tail.

"The mole rats are known for their ability to travel rapidly backward through tunnels. The sensory hair on their tails probably allow them to do this," Catania says.

Mole rats also have an exceptional set of front teeth. They have four incisors that are located entirely outside of their mouth so they can close their mouth tightly when they are using their teeth for digging. The moles also have the ability to move each front tooth independently. For example, they can spread them apart or move them together. An indication of just how important these teeth are to the animal is the fact that fully 30 percent of its cortex is devoted to processing information from the region where the teeth are located, Catania says.

"Are these just super-sensitive chop sticks, or do they have other functions as well?" Catania asks. That is just one of a number of questions that he hopes further study of these unusual animals will help answer.


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Hairless Ferret

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

$10,000 Reward for World’s Rarest Animal

The Pinta Island tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus abingdoni), one of the few species of Giant Galapagos tortoises, is indisputably the rarest animal in the world - because there is only one left alive.

Ravaged by whalers, buccaneers and finally feral animals, the wretched Pinta Island Tortoise was thought extinct until 1971, when a lone, forlorn example was located by rangers. Christened “Lonesome George” by his discoverers, he was evacuated to the sanctuary of the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) on the neighbouring island of Santa Cruz.

For over thirty years, a search has been under way for a female Pinta tortoise. Believing one may still exist in captivity somewhere, the CDRS even posted a US$10,000 reward. Additionally, wardens still scour the dense vegetation of Pinta Island in the hope of locating any fugitive females.

Named after the famous British naturalist, Charles Darwin (1809-82) who spent five weeks on the islands in 1835, the research station runs a successful captive breeding program the has restored many of the previously threatened populations. But not the Pinto Island variety as “Lonesome George” will not mate with any of the “foreign” species. The CDRS also welcomes visitors and “Lonesome George” is the highlight of many tours.

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