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Archive for June, 2007

Gator in guinea pig pen



Woman wrangles gator into guinea pig pen


Fri Jun 29, 5:54 PM ET

She had seen it on TV plenty of times, so for Erin Kemp, wrangling a stray alligator that wandered into her yard was no big deal.

She spotted the 2 1/2-foot-long gator Monday night in her suburban Washington neighborhood while taking out the garbage. Kemp told a 9-year-old neighbor to get away. She then grabbed a pen she uses to corral her kids’ guinea pigs and attempted to capture the animal.

“I wasn’t really scared,” she said. “It was kind of exciting.”

Besides, “you see it on Animal Planet,” said Kemp, who watched the late Steve Irwin wrangle such beasts on the “Crocodile Hunter.”

But when Kemp saw the alligator, it had noticed her too.

“It was definitely coming after me; it was not friendly,” Kemp said.

Before she tried to capture the gator on her own, Kemp made sure her family was safely inside the house. She also placed a call to the animal control department.

At first the gator dashed away, but Kemp didn’t give up. She picked up the guinea pig pen again and threw it over the gator.

Three animal control officers finally arrived and took the gator away. They have not determined where the animal came from. It’s unusual — but not unheard of — to find an alligator in the suburbs, staffers at the Fairfax County animal shelter said.

Patricia Rockefeller, a supervisor at the shelter, said it’s best to let authorities handle any stray alligators in the future.

“He is small,” she said of the gator, “but he would definitely create a significant wound.”


Information from: The Washington Post,


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Raphus cucullatus breakthrough


Scientists fly into raptures over flightless Fred

By Ed HarrisFri Jun 29, 11:23 AM ET

The remains of a dodo found in a cave beneath bamboo and tea plantations in Mauritius offer the best chance yet to learn about the extinct flightless bird, a scientist said on Friday.

The discovery was made earlier this month in the Mauritian highlands but the location was kept secret until the recovery of the skeleton, nicknamed “Fred,” was completed on Friday. Four men guarded the site overnight.

Julian Hume, a paleontologist at Britain’s Natural History Museum, told Reuters the remains were likely to yield excellent DNA and other vital clues, because they were found intact, in isolation, and in a cave.

“The geneticists who want to get their hands on this will be skipping down the street,” he said, after bringing the last of the remains to the surface.

Given the nickname “Fred” after the 65-year-old who found them, the remains should provide the first decent specimens of dodo DNA, he said.

“Then you can work out how it actually got to Mauritius, because it must have originally flown here before evolving into flightlessness and the big, fat bird that we know,” he said.

“We know it’s a giant pigeon,” he added.

It the first discovery of dodo remains away from the coastal regions, suggesting that the bird, extinct since the 17th century, lived all over the Indian Ocean island, he said.

Hume said the dodo was almost certainly finished off by animals introduced by Europeans about 400 years ago. Theories that it was hunted to extinction by the Dutch were “total nonsense,” he said, adding that the remains were highly fragile.

“If you try and pick it up, it just falls apart,” he said. “You won’t see a mounted, beautiful thing from this.”

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Iguanas Die to Find Mr. Right


Iguanas Die to Find Mr. Right

Andrea Thompson
LiveScience Staff Writer
Wed Jun 27, 10:35 AM ET

Decisions, decisions. Picking a mate from a long line of suitors is an exhausting process for a female iguana. In fact, it can really kill her.

Scientists have generally assumed that being choosy about a mate carried a low cost for female animals, particularly when those males roam territories that are tightly clustered into groups called leks, because the females don’t have to travel very far to check out their prospects.

But the female Galápagos marine iguana spends a lot of energy choosing her mate, even though all she seems to get from the effort is better genetic material for her young. And visiting the more “attractive? males that provide this high-quality DNA (those that display more often) carries the highest costs in energy for the female because she can lose more weight and therefore produces smaller eggs.

Low body weight can decrease the female’s chances of survival. During El Niño years, marine iguanas have a hard time finding food, so those who start at a low weight are less likely to survive the season.

Further research is needed to determine whether the genetic material the female gets outweighs the costs she pays for finding Mr. Right.

The new study is detailed in the June 27 issue of the online journal PLoS ONE.

Amazing Animal Abilities Men Pay the Ultimate Price to Attract Women Mating Game: The Really Wild Kingdom Original Story: Iguanas Die to Find Mr. RightVisit for more daily news, views and scientific inquiry with an original, provocative point of view. LiveScience reports amazing, real world breakthroughs, made simple and stimulating for people on the go. Check out our collection of Science, Animal and Dinosaur Pictures, Science Videos, Hot Topics, Trivia, Top 10s, Voting, Amazing Images, Reader Favorites, and more. Get cool gadgets at the new LiveScience Store, sign up for our free daily email newsletter and check out our RSS feeds today!

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Alligator in basement


8-foot alligator removed from basement

Mon Jun 18, 5:43 PM ET

Reptile experts removed an 8-foot-long, 170-pound alligator from the basement of a Buffalo home and planned to drive it to a Florida sanctuary in the back of a minivan.

“Jojo” the alligator was removed Sunday from the home where it was raised after its owner called the state Department of Environmental Conservation and said he could no longer care for it.

John and Laura Paner, former Buffalo residents who run the Croc Encounters Reptile Sanctuary in Tampa, agreed to take custody and made plans to pick it up and drive it back to Florida.

It is illegal in New York to own an alligator without a permit, but officials said the man who raised it will not face charges because he turned himself in.

The man had built an indoor pond in his basement. He also owns more than 20 lizards and large snakes.

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Snakes in Gnomes


Snakes alive! Garden gnomes take to smuggling

Tue Jun 19, 6:24 AM ET

The garden gnomes looked innocent when they turned up in the mail, but Australia’s notoriously tough customs officers gave them a good going over — and found they were full of live snakes and lizards.

A total of seven snakes and eight lizards were found in the hollow areas beneath the typically pudgy and cheerful exteriors of three ceramic gnomes and in several pottery figurines sent from Britain, officials said Tuesday.

The packages had been declared as gifts and were destined for two addresses in Sydney, which were raided by customs officers.

Investigations are continuing, the Customs Service said, adding that the maximum penalty for smuggling wildlife is 10 years in jail.

“Such criminal action is a cruel practice which frequently results in the deaths of animals in transit,” said investigations manager Richard Janeczko.

He said the reptiles had been put down because of concerns that they could spread disease.

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Sea turtle surgery


Loggerhead sea turtle has surgery in Ga.

Mon Jun 18, 4:17 PM ET

One of three turtles at the new Georgia Sea Turtle Center had surgery on Monday, only two days after the center opened.

Nick, one of three loggerhead sea turtles at the facility, has been at the center since he was rescued with injuries in May off Cumberland Island.

Dr. J. Melvin Deese Jr. of Brunswick performed the surgery at the Sea Turtle Center. Deese and his surgical team implanted bone screws and attached an external fixation device to stabilize Nick’s head injury.

The center reported Nick is recovering well.

The center is Georgia’s first facility devoted to sea turtle rehabilitation, research and education.

The other turtles at the center are Dylan, who was at Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium before he was moved to the Jekyll Island facility in May, and Golden Boy, who was initially cared for at Orlando’s Sea World.

Dylan is being prepared to be tagged with a transmitter and released into the ocean.

Loggerhead sea turtles are classified as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. An adult loggerhead can weigh up to 350 pounds.


On the Net:

Georgia Sea Turtle Center:

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Young Lizards dress for success


Young LIzards Dressed For Success

Charles Q. Choi
Special to LiveScience
Sun Jun 17, 10:05 AM ET

Mothers know best when it comes to dressing their children for success, at least among side-blotched lizards. Females of this species can apparently trigger different color patterns in their offspring, “dressing” their progeny to help them best avoid predators.

The common side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana) is among the most abundant lizards in the arid western United States. The lizard’s main predator, the coachwhip snake (Masticophis flagellum), is a very effective hunter, so the lizards need just the right combination of traits to avoid being eaten.

Specifically, the lizards need patterns on their backs that match their habitats and behavior.

For instance, yellow-throated males, which sneak into the territories of other males to mate with females, like to hide in the grass and have a pattern of bars stretching from side to side that breaks up the outline of their bodies so they blend in with the background. Orange-throated males of the same species, which are highly aggressive and usurp territory from other lizards, spend a lot of time in the open and employ lengthwise stripes down their backs to help them escape from predators, as stripes on fast-moving prey helps disrupt the outlines of their bodies, making them harder to catch.

Hormone control

The genes that control behavior and back patterns in side-blotched lizards are not linked, so a lizard could end up with a mismatch that would leave it highly vulnerable to predators, such as wearing stripes and trying to hide in the grass.

Now researchers have discovered that female side-blotched lizards can vary the levels of the hormone estradiol they give their eggs to affect their offspring’s back pattern.

“This is the first example in which exposure to the mother’s hormones changes such a fundamental aspect of appearance,” said principal investigator Lesley Lancaster, a behavioral ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “Even more exciting is that the mother has different patterns at her disposal, so she can ensure a good match between back patterns and other traits that her offspring possess.”

Predicting the future

Lancaster began her research by testing eggs from side-blotched lizards captured in the wild and found a wide range of naturally occurring estradiol concentrations in the yolks. She also treated lizard eggs with a variety of different hormones, which revealed the striking influence of estradiol on back patterns.

The scientists also performed breeding experiments with 71 male lizards, each housed with three females. Lancaster analyzed eggs from each female’s clutch for their hormone levels and noted the color patterns of the 1,206 offspring.

The females varied the estradiol levels eggs received based on the throat colors of their mates or the males around them. “The females are responding to cues that predict something about the future environment,” Lancaster said.

For instance, “orange-throated neighbors may indicate a trend in the frequency of orange-throated lizards within the population or in the overall population density,” Lancaster said. Lancaster’s advisor Barry Sinervo, who has studied the lizards for nearly 20 years, explained that at high densities, the aggressive orange-throated males are so busy fighting with other lizards that they are especially vulnerable to predators. As a result, the predators are likely to focus on them, giving a survival advantage to lizards with different patterns.

Human influence?

After Lancaster released the lizards from her breeding experiments into the wild, she found motherly tweaking of back patterns clearly helped their progeny fare better, with the highest survival rates seen in yellow-throated lizards with barred backs and orange-throated males with striped backs. The researchers’ findings were detailed June 10 in an online edition of the journal Ecology Letters.

Lancaster said maternal influences on the appearances of offspring might occur in many species.

“People have already shown maternal hormones can affect behavior of progeny—yolk testosterone levels can affect begging and aggression in many birds, such as canaries,” she explained. “What we see with side-blotched lizards could be going on in pretty much all complex species, maybe even humans. Who knows, maybe what people’s neighbors look like influences the appearance of their children.”

Top 10 Amazing Animal Abilities Image Gallery: Snakes, Frogs and Lizards Colorful Strategy: Why Lizard Tails Change with Age
Original Story: Young LIzards Dressed For SuccessVisit for more daily news, views and scientific inquiry with an original, provocative point of view. LiveScience reports amazing, real world breakthroughs, made simple and stimulating for people on the go. Check out our collection of Science, Animal and Dinosaur Pictures, Science Videos, Hot Topics, Trivia, Top 10s, Voting, Amazing Images, Reader Favorites, and more. Get cool gadgets at the new LiveScience Store, sign up for our free daily email newsletter and check out our RSS feeds today!

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CITES adjourns until 2010 - issues findings



Ivory ban in the bag, UN wildlife body charts its future


by Marlowe HoodFri Jun 15, 2:12 PM ET

The UN body regulating trade in threatened species ratified decisions Friday protecting elephants, eels, and at least one species of shark, as it sought to expand its role in global wildlife management.

In a last-minute about-turn, however, it reversed a decision made two days earlier and removed restrictions on the international trade in coral species severely depleted by commercial exploitation.

“The science was clear on this issue and not debated. This is a political decision,” said Elizabeth Meely of Sea Web, a marine conservation group.

Wrapping up business before reconvening in 2010, the 171-nation Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species laid out a “strategic vision” that it hopes will give it greater clout in regulating the multi-billion dollar exploitation of valuable woods and marine life.

“We have always been kept away from commercial marine and timber species, but that is disappearing,” said CITES secretary general Willem Wijnstekers.

CITES also locked in a landmark nine-year ban on international trade in ivory which seeks to stem a surge in poaching that has killed up to 20,000 elephants per year.

The ban will go into effect after the one-off sale to Japan, and — pending CITES approval — China, of elephant tusks held by four southern African nations.

The agreement, reached after weeks of sometimes fierce debate among African nations, breaks an 18-year deadlock and was hailed by Wijnstekers as “a great step forward for wildlife conservation.”

The UN body, set up in 1973 to ensure that global trade does not threaten species survival, also sent a strong message to China on tigers.

A resolution originally drafted by Beijing but amended during debate turned into a rebuke against the practice of large-scale tiger farming — unique to China — and a warning against lifting a 14-year ban on domestic trade in tiger parts.

China came into the conference saying it was evaluating petitions from domestic businesses to allow in-country sale of tiger-bone tonics.

CITES can ban international wildlife commerce, but is powerless to impose rules on commerce within a given country.

“Tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives,” said the final resolution, which was adopted by consensus after China failed in an attempt to change the wording.

There are twice as many of the big cats on Chinese farms — some 5,000 — as in the wild worldwide, experts say.

In all, dozens of measures were adopted protected fauna and flora ranging from sea cucumbers to cacti to coral.

CITES placed Asias slow loris, prized in Japan as a pet, on its Appendix I, which already outlaws cross-border trade for some 500 animals, including big Asian cats, elephants, sea turtles.

It also voted down a US bid to lift protection of bobcats, and blocked what conservationists decried as a back-door manoeuvre by Japan to reopen commercial whaling.

But the results of CITES efforts to expand its turf into species subjected to large-scale commercial exploitation were mixed.

“The real problems for biological diversity around the world are in the forests and in the oceans,” said German delegate Jochen Flasbarth. “But as soon as you interfere in these regions you are confronted with huge economic interests.”

Historically, CITES has focused mostly on fauna and flora — especially “big charismatic animals,” in the words of its legal officer Juan Carlos Vasquez — that are not the object of commercial harvesting.

The 200-million-euro business in European eels will now have to adjust to sharp restrictions on trade in the species, eaten to the edge of extinction in Europe and East Asia.

Proposals to protect two species of shark, however, did not pass the two-thirds muster required. The porbeagle shark and the spiny dogfish — prized for their fins by Chinese gourmets, and their meat by fish-and-chip lovers — remained on the hook after tight votes.

A measure to protect of South American cedar, proposed by the European Union, was taken off the table under pressure from producer nations before the conference even opened.

Attempts to shield rosewood and a cedar species from unregulated harvesting also failed.


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Causes of bee die-off examined





Scientists examine cause of bee die-off

By GENARO C. ARMAS, Associated Press WriterFri Jun 15, 4:11 PM ET

Scientists investigating a mysterious ailment that has killed many of the nation’s honeybees are concentrating on pesticides and microorganisms as possible causes of the disorder, and some beekeepers are refusing to place their hives near chemically treated fields.

Scientists from Penn State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are leading the research into the disease, which has killed tens of thousands of bee colonies in at least 35 states.

The die-off has threatened the livelihood of commercial beekeepers and strained fruit growers and other farmers who rely on bees to pollinate more than 90 flowering crops, including apples, nuts and citrus trees.

After months of study, researchers cannot tie the ailment to any single factor. But scientists are focused on a new, unnamed pathogen found in dead bees, and on the role of pesticides, said Maryann Frazier, a senior extension associate in the university’s entomology department.

David Hackenberg was the first beekeeper to report the disorder to Penn State last fall after losing nearly 75 percent of his 3,200 colonies.

He has rebuilt his business to 2,400 colonies but now asks growers whether they use the chemicals because he is convinced the bees are being harmed by pesticides, especially a type called neonicotinoids.

“I’m quizzing every farmer around,” Hackenberg said. “If you’re going to use that stuff, then you’re going to have go to somebody else.”

If bees continue to die, he said, Hackenberg Apiaries may have to raise prices to replace dead hives. The business charges about $90 a hive to “lease” bees in fields. Replacing a hive with new bees costs $120.

Neonicotinoids do not contain nicotine — the addictive drug found in tobacco — but they are named after it because they target nerve cells in a similar way.

Bayer Crop Science is one of the nation’s top producers of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been on the market since 1994. But company spokesman John Boyne said neonicotinoids are not the cause of the honeybees’ demise.

“We have done a significant amount of research on our products, and we are comfortable this it is not the cause,” Boyne said. He said “a number of nonchemical causes may be to blame.”

Beekeeper Jim Aucker, of Millville, was left with just 240 of his 1,200 hives earlier this spring after the illness struck. He’s back up to nearly 600 hives now and is convinced pesticides are playing a role after finding chemicals that had been sprayed on crops in the dead hives.

“Whether it’s 100 percent the cause, I’m not sure, but I’m positive it’s not helping,” Aucker said. He doesn’t plan to return to fields where he thinks there might be a pesticide problem.

Daniel Weaver, president of the American Beekeeping Federation, said he is not surprised some beekeepers are avoiding fields with pesticides.

“I try to limit my association to growers that I know will be responsible” he said, referring to farmers who avoid applying pesticide while the bees are flying. “Of course, I can’t escape it completely.”

But he also cautioned that the bees’ immune systems may have been weakened for reasons unrelated to pathogens or pesticides, such as mites.

Reports from other beekeepers varied in mid-June — a time when bee colonies are supposed to be thriving. Some beekeepers said they are losing bees, while others are holding steady or growing colonies again.

Hackenberg said he even tried to disinfect many of his hives by sending them through a giant radiation machine in Mulberry, Fla., run by a private firm that typically treats pharmaceuticals and food products.

But he fears what might happen if his bees fall ill again. As he worked with a thriving hive on a hill above his house, his cell phone rang with a caller asking about lining up bees for 2008.

“Yeah, we sell bees,” he said, “if we’re still in business next year.”


On the Net:

Mid-Atlantic Apiculture:

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Rare turtle hatches in Tennessee



Rare turtle hatches at Tenn. aquarium

2 hours, 51 minutes ago

The newest addition to the Tennessee Aquarium is a recently hatched rare turtle of an endangered species displayed in only a few places in North America.

A rare Beal’s four-eyed turtle, named for two white spots on the back of its head that look like another pair of eyes, hatched from a clutch of three eggs, aquarium officials announced Friday.

“This little turtle in Chattanooga may represent the first successful reproduction of Sacalia bealei in a North American institution,” aquarium herpetologist Enrico Walder said.

The baby turtle weighed only 6 grams and was 38 millimeters long when it hatched June 9.

There are only 18 known Beal’s four-eyed turtles in the United States and Europe. The Dallas Zoo and the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, Calif., are the other two places in the U.S. with the turtles, aquarium officials said.

The turtles were once common in southern China, and researchers believe their numbers will not grow large again because of their low reproductive rates.

“As with many Asian species the Beal’s four-eyed turtle has been over collected for use in the Chinese food and traditional medicine trade,” Walder said.

A male Beal’s four-eyed turtle is currently on display at the aquarium, but the baby will not be exhibited until it is older.


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