An orphaned polar bear cub named Kali is leaving May 14, via UPS, from the Alaska Zoo for his new home at the Buffalo Zoo. Kali was rescued from the Point Lay section of Alaska back in March, after his mother was shot and he was left to fend for himself.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service handled the rescue and arranged for Kali a temporary home at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. While he was there, Kali more than tripled in weight and size.
With the move to Buffalo Kali will be able to join Luna, a young female cub. There, the idea is that the two will not get too attached to their human caretakers and instead will enjoy each others’ company and grow up with their bear instincts more wholly intact.
“Operation Kali,” as the 14-hour journey has been dubbed, is set to conclude May 15 with the cub’s early-morning arrival in Buffalo. Kali and Luna will be exhibited together once Kali arrives at the Buffalo Zoo, which is in the midst of building a new polar bear habitat called Arctic Edge.
“The red structure in the middle is the midgut — part of the digestive system, which is also the dark structure you see in the X-rays of the chrysalis,” Garwood shared. “Early in the development this is quite large, like the one we see in the caterpillar, but as it develops it shrinks and moves backwards, and then changes shape over the next few days to the structure we find in the adult form.”
“On day 13,” he said, “the yellow things you can see are structures called malpighian tubules, which help clear waste out of the adult’s body (a bit like kidneys).”
The most comprehensive guide to primates, released this week, names the “five funniest faces” in the monkey world. The massive guide, “Handbook of the Mammals of the World” (Lynx Edicions, 2013), contains information on the 16 families, 77 genera, 479 species and 681 taxa of primates.
Number one on the book’s list of funniest faced monkeys is the emperor tamarin. Editors Russell Mittermeier, Anthony Rylands and Don Wilson mention that this monkey was “named after Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.” Members of the species “have a white curved ‘mustache’ hanging down as far as their chest.” The mustache is thought to aid in visual communication.
American alligators have a smile that only a mother could love, but new research finds that these huge meat-loving reptiles could help to revolutionize tooth replacement in humans.
The statistics about alligator teeth are remarkable. Most individuals go through around 3,000 teeth in a lifetime. It’s estimated that a 13-foot-long alligator replaces each of its 80 teeth about 50 times throughout the animal’s existence.
Now the light bulb moment for scientists is that alligator teeth are not all that dissimilar from human ones. The main difference is that when an adult human loses a tooth, it’s gone forever.
(That offers an interesting clue as to what kind of diet our early human ancestors had. It couldn’t have been too hard or tough, or else we would have evolved a better tooth replacement system.)
For this latest study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cheng-Ming Chuong of National Taiwan University and colleagues studied repetitive tooth formation in American alligators. Detailed imaging of gator teeth determined that at the early tooth development stage, the alligator’s dentine bone-like material forms a bulge at its tip. The tip houses what are believed to be dormant stem cells.
When the gator loses a tooth, certain types of proteins are released that activate these stem cells. The proteins quickly go into action, initiating growth of a new tooth. This happened even when researchers pulled out alligator teeth.
By identifying the individual types of “activator” proteins and the stem cells, the scientists can likely apply the tooth renewal process to humans with missing teeth.
As Chuong and colleagues wrote, “Based on our study, it may be possible to identify the regulatory network for tooth cycling. This knowledge will enable us to either arouse latent stem cells in the human dental lamina remnant to restart a normal renewal process in adults who have lost teeth or stop uncontrolled tooth generation in patients with supernumerary teeth.”
Clinical trials on humans are underway, after researchers successfully caused teeth to regrow in mice and monkeys.
As for stopping uncontrolled tooth generation, this refers to a condition known as hyperdontia — which basically means that the person has more teeth than they should. This might seem like a problem we’d all want to have, but people with the condition can suffer from dental problems, jaw pain, headaches and other troubles tied to the extra teeth.
Hopefully future dentists will be able to fully control tooth growth, either initiating or stopping it at their will. Dentures could then be the carbon paper of the future — rare and obsolete.
Image: Wikiimedia Commons
Scientists still don’t know why hundreds of baby southern right whales are turning up dead around Patagonia, a decade after observers first saw signs of the worst die-off on record for the species, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
With no evidence of infectious diseases or deadly toxins in whale tissue samples, scientists are scrambling to determine a cause of death. Some are even pointing a finger at blubber-eating birds.
The whales come to the peaceful Atlantic bays around Peninsula Valdes along Argentina’s Patagonian Coast to give birth and raise their young. At least 605 dead right whales have been counted in the region since 2003, WCS officials say. Of those, 538 were newborn calves. Last year, the mortality event was especially severe, with a record-breaking 116 whale deaths, 113 of them calves. [Whale Album: Giants of the Deep]
“In 2012 we lost nearly one-third of all calves born at the Peninsula,” said Mariano Sironi, scientific director of the Instituto de Conservacion de Ballenas in Argentina. “Southern right whales have their first calf when they are nine years old on average. This means that it won’t be until a decade from now that we will see a significant reduction in the number of calves born, as all of the female calves that died will not be contributing any new offspring to the population,” Sironi, who is also an advisor to the Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, added in a statement.
Sironi and colleague Vicky Rowntree, who is co-director of the monitoring program, have studied a strange phenomena that could be stressing southern right whales. They say kelp gulls at Peninsula Valdes land on the backs of the cetaceans to eat their skin and blubber.
“The attacks are very painful and cause large, deep lesions, particularly on the backs of young 2-6 week-old calves,” the researchers said in a statement from WCS. “This harassment can last for hours at a time. As a result, right whale mothers and their calves are expending much precious energy during a time of year when mothers are fasting and at a site where little to no food is available to replenish fat reserves.”
The situation is discouraging for a species that had made a significant comeback since its population was depleted by the whaling industry.
“The southern right whale population is still only a small fraction of its original size, and now we have reason to worry about its recovery,” Rowntree said.
Though the southern right whale is not listed as endangered, conservationists warn that the species’ sister populations could go extinct if hit with a mysterious die-off on this scale. For instance, there are thought to be just about 500 North Atlantic right whales remaining.
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- White Whale Speaks Human | Video
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The CIA once recruited a feline agent to spy on enemies, according to a new book that sheds light on the elite cat and its abysmal failure during “Operation Acoustic Kitty.”
Emily Anthes, author of the new book “Frankenstein’s Cat”, told Discovery News that felines weren’t the only non-human field agents.
There were “cyborg insects as well as cyborg rats (called ratbots),” she said, adding that “there’s a long history of using dogs in military and police operations” with some of the dogs “outfitted with cameras and other sophisticated technological equipment.”
The U.S. military has also tried to use implants to control shark movements.
Operation Acoustic Kitty, however, is one of the more memorable attempts to turn an animal into a spy. It took place in the 1960s.
“In an hour-long procedure, a veterinary surgeon transformed the furry feline into an elite spy,” Anthes explains, “implanting a microphone in her ear canal and a small radio transmitter at the base of her skull, and weaving a thin wire antenna into her long gray-and-white fur.”
The goal was to transform the female feline into “a living, walking surveillance machine.” Anthes said the CIA hoped to train the cat to sit near foreign officials, in order to eavesdrop on their conversations.
Amazingly, the poor cat lived through the operation.
“For its first official test,” Anthes wrote, “CIA staffers drove Acoustic Kitty to the park and tasked it with capturing the conversation of two men sitting on a bench.”
“Instead,” she continued, “the cat wandered into the street, where it was promptly squashed by a taxi.”
The road kill kitty seemed to end all hope that a cat could be transformed into a James Bond-type spy.
For three quarters of an hour a giant swarm of locusts streams across the sky above southwest Madagascar.
Along National Route Seven, normally an artery for tourists enjoying breathtaking views of the island’s vast open spaces, a 15-kilometer-long (9-mile) swarm clouds the sky.
Travelers today see little more than a natural disaster in progress — a plague of locusts which has already destroyed half of the Indian Ocean island’s crops.
Madagascar’s worst locust plague in 60 years has infested about half of the island, destroying crops and raising concerns over food shortages.
“There’s already little rice. Not many people have more than 10 hectares of crops, so after the locusts, there’s nothing left for our women and children to eat,” said local farmer Zefa Vilimana.
“The cattle have nothing left to eat either, so we’re left with nothing once the locusts have been here.”
In Ranohira, a village further to the south, Joseph Rakoto has lost half his rice crops since the swarms came.
“We buy pesticides against rice parasites ourselves but it doesn’t work against locusts. The government doesn’t give us anything,” he said.
According to experts, there are currently 100 swarms across Madagascar, made up of about 500 billion ravenous locusts.
They get through around 100,000 tonnes of vegetation every single day.
“They can create a lot of damage, they eat the pastures, and then also the rice and the corn, which is about to be harvested,” said Tsitohaina Andriamaroahina from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Andriamaroahina headed a joint scout mission into the plague with UN food agency FAO, ending in April.
“The facts drive me to my knees,” he said, frustrated with the scale of the destruction.
Locals often eat the hoppers, which usually occur in moderate numbers in the southern and southwestern parts of the country.
To catch Antarctic toothfish, you must bait your hook with Peruvian squid and cast it into the depths of the Ross Sea. This is what a team of Ukrainians did on a fishing trip near Antarctica. But sometimes, Mother Nature trips you up. Sometimes, you catch a hopbeard plunderfish.
In 2009-2010, Ukrainian mariners happened to pull up three fish that looked unfamiliar. Further analysis found that they were a previously undiscovered species, dubbed the hopbeard plunderfish and described in a study published online April 29 in the journal ZooKeys. The fish bear the scientific name Pogonophryne neyelovi.
The strange-looking denizens of the deep have brownish-splotched bodies and are shaped somewhat like tadpoles, especially when young, according to the study. They have sharp dorsal fins that extend along the top of their bodies and strange “barbels,” which resemble dirty Q-tips, that extend from their chins.
The longest of the three specimens measured 14 inches (35.5 centimeters). And they really like to live in the deep — they were pulled from depths of up to 4,560 feet (1,390 meters).
The fish have large livers, which fill up to 35 percent of their abdomen. Whether or not that means these sea creatures could drink like, well, fish, is unknown.
If you’re fond of the hopbeard, just wait until you meet its cousins. The genus Pogonophryne, also known as the short-barbeled plunderfish, has a total of 22 species. These fish also live in the frigid waters surrounding Antarctica. Some of them live in the Ross Sea, like the hopbeard, which is found offshore of Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf.
Currently, next to nothing is known about their behavior, diet or what they do down there in the depths.
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- Image Gallery: Freaky Fish
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Everything is bigger in Texas, even the invasive species and the health fears surrounding them.
Recently, a gardener discovered a giant African land snail (Achatina fulica or achatina) in her yard in Houston. News outlets raised an alarm about health risks from the supersized snails.
The menacing mollusks can host the parasitic rat lungworm, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, which can infect humans if the snails are eaten raw or undercooked, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The parasitic infection sometimes leads to a rare type of meningitis, known as eosinophilic meningitis.
“The parasite dies over time, even without treatment,” according to the CDC’s website. “Even people who develop eosinophilic meningitis usually don’t need antibiotics. Sometimes the symptoms of the infection last for several weeks or months, while the body’s immune system responds to the dying parasites.”
Angiostrongylus cantonensis infections are rare in the U.S., noted the CDC. One reported case in 1993 resulted from a boy swallowing a slug on a dare. The boy won the bet, but also caught the parasite. He was ill for about two weeks, but his body fought off the infection without treatment.
Other species of mollusks, including native slugs and snails, and some frogs and crustaceans can host the parasite as well. Mollusks pick up the parasite if they eat infected rat feces.
Doctors don’t know if the giant African land snails invading the U.S. carry the parasite. The Michigan Department of Agriculture warns that even if the snails don’t carry A. cantonensis they should still be handled with care. The snails, like many other animals, can harbor salmonella or other bacteria.
While the health risks from the snails may be relatively small compared other dangers Americans face everyday, such as automobile accidents, the ecological and economic risks equal the gigantic proportions of the snail.
The supersized snails threaten Texas vegetation and crops, since the voracious pests will eat just about any plant and will even chow down on stucco and other building materials.
The snails are prolific breeders and don’t need to mate with others of their kind since they carry both male and female genitalia. The hungry hermaphrodites can lay more than 1,000 eggs per year. Their indiscriminate diet and fecundity has made the snails a serious and well-established pest in the Caribbean, Florida, and parts of Asia.
IMAGE: Giant African land snail, Achatina fulica (Drajay1976, Wikimedia Commons)
Meerkats have one of the animal kingdom’s most efficient security operations. A sentinel stands guard, watching for any potential threats. Should an intruder approach, an entire clan — from elderly grandmas to younger dads — mob the unwelcome visitor.
“Non-dangerous terrestrial animals most often ran away when they were approached and mobbed by the meerkats,” explained Beke Graw and Marta Manser of the University of Zurich. More threatening animals, such as poisonous snakes, were also mobbed, but the meerkats often had to back down and leave, knowing they might be safer doing so.