Earth ChangesS


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.


Update: 42 injured in Indonesia earthquake

Indonesia earthquake
© AP Photo/Tatan SyuflanaAn Indonesian geologist stands near LCD screens displaying one of the aftershocks following a 7.2-magnitude quake that struck Talaud islands in eastern Indonesia, at Meteorology and Geophysics Agency in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009.
Jakarta - A powerful earthquake off eastern Indonesia briefly triggered a tsunami warning Thursday, causing a stampede of residents to higher ground. Hundreds of building were damaged and at least 42 people were injured, some seriously.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 7.2-magnitude quake struck at 1:34 a.m. (1734 GMT; 2:34 p.m. Wednesday EST) and was followed by nearly a dozen aftershocks.

The temblor was centered approximately 195 miles (320 kilometers) from Manado, the northernmost city on Sulawesi island, and 12 miles (20 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor.

The Talaud island chain, in waters just south of the Philippines, felt the quake most intensely, said Rustam Pakaya, a government crisis center official, adding that the number of injuries and extent of damage was increasing steadily as rescue workers reached remote areas.


Millions of animals dead in Australia fires

Kangaroo corpses lay scattered by the roadsides while wombats that survived the wildfire's onslaught emerged from their underground burrows to find blackened earth and nothing to eat.

Wildlife rescue officials on Wednesday worked frantically to help the animals that made it through Australia's worst-ever wildfires but they said millions of animals likely perished in the inferno. Scores of kangaroos have been found around roads, where they were overwhelmed by flames and smoke while attempting to flee, said Jon Rowdon, president of the rescue group Wildlife Victoria.

Kangaroos that survived are suffering from burned feet, a result of their territorial behavior. After escaping the initial flames, the creatures - which prefer to stay in one area - likely circled back to their homes, singeing their feet on the smoldering ground.

Bizarro Earth

Earthquake shakes Colombia-Venezuela border region

Caracas -- An earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale on Wednesday rocked the Colombian region of Norte de Santander, which borders Venezuela, the seismological authorities reported.

The Geology and Mining Institute (Ingeominas) said the earthquake also affected cities like Bogota, Bucaramanga in the northeast and Manizales in central east.

So far there has been no report of casualties or severe property damages.