Earth ChangesS


Tree Lizard's Quick Release Escape System Makes Jumpers Turn Somersaults

If you've ever tried capturing a lizard, you'll know how difficult it is. But if you do manage to corner one, many have the ultimate emergency quick release system for escape. They simply drop their tails, leaving the twitching body part to distract the predator as they scamper to safety. According to Gary Gillis from Mount Holyoke College, USA, up to 50% of some lizard populations seem to have traded some part of their tails in exchange for escape. This made Gillis wonder how this loss may impact on a lizard's mobility and ability to survive. Specifically how do branch hopping, tree dwelling lizards cope with their loss.

Teaming up with undergraduate student Lauren Bonvini, the pair began encouraging lizard leaps to see how well the reptiles coped without their tails and publish their results on 13th February 2009 in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Constructing a jumping arena from boxes and fine sandpaper, the duo gently encouraged arboreal Anolis carolinensis (anole) lizards to launch themselves from a 11cm high platform as they filmed the animals' jumps. The animals performed well, launching themselves by pushing off with their back feet and landing gracefully, covering distances ranging from 14.9-29.9 cm.


Animals Successfully Re-learn Smell of Kin After Hibernation

© UnknownThe research on how animals recognize kin is vital to helping plan conservation programs for endangered species, Mateo says.
Animals can re-establish their use of smell to detect siblings, even following an interruption such as prolonged hibernation, research at the University of Chicago on ground squirrels shows.

Smell is an important animal survival tool. Female ground squirrel sisters, for instance, bond in groups for protection and use smell to recognize each other. Animals also need to recognize siblings to avoid inbreeding, which would have a negative effect on their genetic fitness, said Jill Mateo, Assistant Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University.

The research on how animals recognize kin is vital to helping plan conservation programs for endangered species, Mateo said in the presentation, "Sex and Smells: Kin Recognition, the Armpit Effect and Mate Choice," Friday, Feb. 13 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Understanding kin recognition memory systems, or templates, is important to studying habitat selection, food choice, social bonds and mate preferences. It also is important to understand the degree of plasticity in these templates," she explained.


Strange Owl Scares Family

© UnknownFace of mystery owl that was captured.
Ankobea Hemaa, Abena Nana Annorbea of Obosomase Akwapim in the Eastern region who recently returned home from Italy must have been happy to escape the severe winter weather there.

What she did not bargain for, however, was the haunting sound of footsteps on the rooftop of her present home. The strange footsteps which she said are loudest over the kitchen area, would usually begin around 6:30pm and continue throughout the night.

Nana Annorbea told Daily Guide that after several fruitless efforts to trace the source of the noise, she engaged the services of a young man to climb the roof of the apartment complex and uncover the mystery.


Ancient virus gave wasps power over caterpillar DNA

wasp lays its eggs into a caterpillar
© Alex Wild/myrmecos.netA parasitic wasp lays its eggs into a caterpillar, at the same time delivering a hybrid virus.

A historical viral infection gave some insects genes that allow them to parasitise their caterpillar hosts, a new study finds.

Many species of wasps lay their eggs inside caterpillars. To make this possible, the wasps' have a secret weapon in the form of a dose of virus-like particles that are injected along with the eggs.

Not only do these disable the caterpillars' immune system to stop it attacking the eggs, they also cause paralysis and keep the host from pupating - turning the caterpillar into an eternally youthful larder and nursery for the wasp grubs.

A closer look at these particles reveals that, although they look like viruses, they contain genetic material from the wasp, which is transcribed into the caterpillars' DNA - causing production of the very toxins that bring about their downfall.


Australia: Bondi swimming banned after a new shark attack

Second shark attack
© Photographer: Daniel Shaw - The surfer has serious injuries to his left arm
Swimming has been banned at Sydney's Bondi Beach this morning after the city's second shark attack in two days.

A 33-year-old surfer was mauled at the southern end of Bondi Beach about 7:30pm (AEDT) yesterday, in the first shark attack at the beach in 80 years.

The Dover Heights man was taken to St Vincent's Hospital, where he is in a serious but stable condition in intensive care after undergoing emergency surgery for serious injuries to his left arm.


Kelp genetics reveals Ice Age climate clues

Ice berg

Sea ice extended further north in the Southern Ocean during the last Ice Age than previously thought, a New Zealand research team has found in a study that could improve predictions of climate change.

The team from the University of Otago, led by PhD student Ceridwen Fraser, delved deep into the genetic code of modern-day bull kelp from samples taken from many sub-Antarctic islands, as well as New Zealand and Chile.

The findings showed that southern bull kelp, Durvillaea antarctica, had only recolonised the sub-Antarctic islands in the past 20,000 years after the retreat of sea ice.


Winds knock out power to thousands on East Coast

Wild winds with gusts topping 60 mph blew from the Great Lakes to the East Coast on Thursday, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers, disrupting travel and killing at least five people.

The high winds, attributed to a strong low pressure system, started Wednesday night and moved east overnight, kicking up gravel and sand from construction sites and hurling garbage cans onto busy New York City streets on Thursday.

"I got more sand in my eyes than a beach, and I almost got blown over backwards," said electrician Michael Lazzaro, who ducked into a bar on his way home from work in New York.

Better Earth

Backpack-toting songbirds reveal pace of migration

female purple martin
© Timothy J MortonA female purple martin wearing a miniaturized geolocator backpack and leg bands. The bird was one of 34 songbirds outfitted with the devices so that York University researchers could track their fall and spring migration for the first time. A colour-coded band helps researchers identify the bird on her return.

A novel way of fixing tiny recorders to songbirds has revealed how they dawdle on their migration south to their wintering grounds, then race northwards again in the spring. And birds that breed together may winter together too - a finding that may have profound implications for the conservation of dwindling songbird species.

Biologists have long wondered about the details of migratory songbirds' intercontinental wanderings, but tracking the tiny birds has proven nearly impossible.

Now Bridget Stutchbury, an ornithologist at York University in Toronto, Canada, and colleagues have found a way to do it.

In Pennsylvania during the summer of 2007, the researchers fitted 14 wood thrushes and 20 purple martins with fingernail-sized "backpacks" that record the time of sunrise and sunset each day.

Bizarro Earth

US: Variety of Chemicals Found in Waters Flowing into Lake Champlain

A variety of man-made chemicals has been found in the streams and wastewaters that discharge into Lake Champlain. The chemicals found include pesticides, fire retardants, fragrances, detergent degradates, and caffeine. These findings were released today by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The chemicals were found at extremely low concentrations, measuring a few parts per billion. The concentrations were highest in waters released by sewage treatment plants, combined sewer overflows and small urban streams. The lowest concentrations were in larger rivers, an undeveloped stream, and the lake.

Although the concentrations were low, the significance of such a mixture in the environment is unknown. How these chemicals affect fish and human health at the levels found is not well understood and an area of ongoing research.

"What we found in the Lake Champlain basin is similar to what has been found in other areas of the United States and Europe where these chemicals have been studied," said Patrick Phillips, USGS hydrologist and lead author of this study. "Some of the chemicals are more common in small urban streams and waters of combined sewer overflows, indicating untreated sewage may be contaminating these waters. Other chemicals are more common in treated wastewater, meaning that they are not effectively removed by wastewater treatment operations," said Phillips.


Green Ideas Must Take Blame for Deaths

Cartoon of Aragon
© Unknown
It wasn't climate change which killed as many as 300 people in Victoria last weekend. It wasn't arsonists. It was the unstoppable intensity of a bushfire, turbo-charged by huge quantities of ground fuel which had been allowed to accumulate over years of drought. It was the power of green ideology over government to oppose attempts to reduce fuel hazards before a megafire erupts, and which prevents landholders from clearing vegetation to protect themselves.

So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

Governments appeasing the green beast have ignored numerous state and federal bushfire inquiries over the past decade, almost all of which have recommended increasing the practice of "prescribed burning". Also known as "hazard reduction", it is a methodical regime of burning off flammable ground cover in cooler months, in a controlled fashion, so it does not fuel the inevitable summer bushfires.