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Archive for July, 2007

Dinosaur bones eaten in China



Chinese villagers eat dinosaur bones


Thu Jul 5, 1:56 AM ET

Villagers in central China spent decades digging up bones they believed belonged to flying dragons and using them in traditional medicines. Turns out the bones belonged to dinosaurs, and now scientists are doing the digging.

Until last year, the fossils were being sold in Henan province as “dragon bones” at about 25 cents a pound, scientist Dong Zhiming said Wednesday.

The calcium-rich bones were sometimes boiled with other ingredients and fed to children to treat dizziness and leg cramps. Other times they were ground up and turned into a paste applied directly to fractures and other injuries, he said.

Dong was part of a team that recently excavated in Henan’s Ruyang County a 60-foot-long plant-eating dinosaur that lived 85 million to 100 million years ago. The find was shown to the public Tuesday.

Dong said that when the villagers found out last year the bones were from dinosaurs, they donated 440 pounds to him and his colleagues for research. Over the last two decades, the villagers had dug up an estimated 1 ton of bones.

“They had believed that the ‘dragon bones’ were from the dragons flying in the sky,” said Dong, a professor with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


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Hawksbill turtles released from Malaysia



Malaysia to release thousands of hawksbill turtles


Wed Jul 4, 11:43 PM ET

About 30,000 hawksbill turtles are expected to be released into the sea this year from a conservation programme that collected eggs along the coast of Malacca state, a report said Thursday.

“Last year, a total of 24,800 turtles were set free and this year we expect to free about 30,000,”, said Sukarno Wagiman, head of resources rehabilitation at the Fisheries Department.

“We started releasing the turtles in stages from April,” he was quoted as saying in The Star.

About 40 percent of the eggs were found on Upeh Island, off the Malacca coast.

The state government is taking back the island — which was sold to national utility company Tenaga Nasional in 2003 — to turn it into a research and management centre for the turtles.

“The government wants to protect the island to help preserve the hawksbill turtles,” Malacca chief minister Mohamad Ali Rustam said.

Separately, the paper also reported that leatherback turtles — the most endangered of Malaysia’s turtles — have not nested in the eastern state of Terengganu so far this year.

“We are just keeping our fingers crossed, hoping that the reptiles will visit us as the nesting season is up to September,” said Kamaruddin Ibrahim from the Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Centre.

There were five nestings last year but none of the eggs hatched, he added.

Leatherback turtles are the largest turtles in the world and frequently nested in Teregganu in the 1960s but now the sighting of even one turtle is rare.

The turtles were a big draw for tourists who came to the state — famed for its exotic islands and coastline — to watch the egg-laying as well as the emergence of hatchlings.

Turtles are hunted in Malaysia for their meat and shell, but many die after getting entangled in fishing nets in open seas.

The World Conservation Union lists the hawksbill turtle and the leatherback turtle as critically endangered.


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Wireless turtles



Turtles to test wireless network


By ADAM GORLICK, Associated Press WriterWed Jul 4, 1:02 PM ET

From the way he thrashed his head, kicked and tried to make a getaway, M16 made it clear he didn’t like human contact. But the researchers wrangling with him could be helping to save his species.

Despite his best efforts to escape the clutches of two scientists from the University of Massachusetts and get back to the swamp he was just lifted from, the 40-pound snapping turtle finally gave up and let Mike Jones and Matt Garber do their jobs.

Using a combination of orthodontic cement and duct tape, the students attached a postcard-sized waterproof computer to the turtle’s shell. After christening the 16th male turtle he found in the area as “M16,” Jones scribbled some information about the turtle’s shell markings into a field book and set the snapper free.

Knowing where M16 goes could help scientists protect him.

In an experiment taking place along the Deerfield River in western Massachusetts, two otherwise unrelated groups of researchers are working together: computer engineers like Garber who are testing a new wireless communication network, and biologists like Jones who are tracking snapping turtles — a species they worry may be headed for decline as land development shrinks their habitat.

The idea behind the technology is to create a network of constantly moving devices that record and store information, transmit data from one device to another, then relay all the saved information to a central location while running on self-charging batteries.

“A lot of the existing technology works great as long as you’re not moving around and you have stable networks and people who could recharge batteries,” said Jacob Sorber, a doctoral candidate in computer science who designed the network he calls TurtleNet, a project funded by grants from the National Science Foundation.

The solar-powered computers are light enough so they don’t weigh the turtles down, and they don’t interrupt their mating habits, Jones said.

Stuck to the shells of about 15 turtles found in spots near the Deerfield swamp, the gadgets will take periodic readings of the reptiles’ location and body temperature.

When one computer-carrying snapper gets within a tenth-of-a-mile of another, the machines swap information.

The series of short-distance transmissions allows for long battery life in each computer, and the solar panels attached to the units are expected to constantly keep the batteries charged. Without a relay system, a longer transmission would require a larger battery that would drain too quickly or be too big for a turtle to carry.

The turtle-to-turtle relay ends when one of the snappers passes near a single base station that receives all the accumulated information. While Jones thinks the snappers may roam up to 10 miles from the Deerfield swamp they know as home, he says it’s in their nature to return to the bog where the base station is.

Working like a cell phone sending a text message, the base station zaps the data to the UMass-Amherst campus about 15 miles away, where biologists are charting each turtle’s whereabouts.

“We’re trying to get a better idea of their range, the routes they take and where they hibernate,” said Jones, who is working on a doctoral degree in biology. “If you have that information for a good number of turtles, you can predict what their patterns will be for the next 50 years or so.”

Booming land development and an increase in natural predators has landed seven of Massachusetts’ 10 freshwater turtle species on the state’s endangered species list. Snappers aren’t there yet, but Jones and other biologists are concerned they’re on their way.

“People think they’re a nuisance, they’re aggressive and they’re smelly,” he said. “And you see a lot of dead snappers on the side of the road. But most of the turtles that people are running over are mothers trying to get somewhere to nest.”

By mapping where and how the snappers move, they’re trying to generate enough information that could be used to help protect turtle habitats.

Until now, tracking turtles has been a difficult — and messy — business.

Jones has been following turtles around New England by attaching radio receivers to their shells. When he goes looking for them, he has to carry a radio receiver while wading through swamps and bushwhacking through woods hoping to pick up a signal. And the radio batteries are good for only about two years.

If TurtleNet — which was launched in June — works, he’ll be able to spend less time hunting for his subjects. The computers should let him know where the turtles are at any time.

Researchers from Princeton University have been using a similar technology during the past five years to track zebras in Kenya. Unlike TurtleNet, the Princeton project uses computers with larger batteries that could be more easily carried on collars attached to the strong, fast-moving zebras.

Still, the end result is the same, and the Princeton scientists say their studies have shed new light on the animals’ migratory patterns.

“These are early examples of using computer engineering to answer questions about biology,” said Margaret Martonosi, a professor of electrical engineering at Princeton. “If you know where these animals are going and how they’re moving, you could take steps to better preserve the land and their habitat.”

While the turtles may not be covering as much ground as the zebras, their interaction with people is increasing. And that puts them in more peril.

“You see a lot of them up the road this time of year,” said Les Jackson, who works on a farm adjacent to the swamp where M16 was found.

Early summer is when turtles nest, and finding a place to lay their eggs often means crossing busy roads. The snappers Jackson was referring to were the ones he’s seen crushed by cars.


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Thylacine maybe not extinct!



Is the Mysterious Tasmanian Tiger Really Extinct?


Jeanna Bryner
LiveScience Staff Writer
Wed Jul 4, 12:45 PM ET

Wildlife scientists have re-opened the cryptic case of a carnivore that resembled a striped coyote and vanished from its Australian haunt nearly 80 years ago.

While the scientists think chances are slim that the so-called Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) still roams the island off the coast of Australia, they can’t help but turn over every possible leaf to look for evidence of the elusive animal.

The last wild Tasmanian tiger was killed between 1910 and 1920, and the last captive one died in 1936 at the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania, Australia. In 1986, the creature was declared extinct. The extinction marked the demise of the only member of its family, Thylacinidae, and the world’s largest marsupial (pouched) carnivore. It weighed about 65 pounds and had a nose-to-tail length of six feet.

However, rumored sightings of the creature continue to emerge from the island’s ancient forests.

Now zoologist Jeremy Austin of the Australian Center for Ancient DNA and his colleagues are examining DNA from animal droppings found in Tasmania in the late 1950s and 1960s, which have been preserved in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Eric Guiler, a thylacine expert who found the scats, said he thought the droppings probably came from the Tasmanian tiger rather than a dog, Tasmanian devil or a quoll, according to Austin.

“If we find thylacine DNA from the 1950s scats it will be significant,? Austin said. “This would prove that either the thylacine produced the scat or a [Tasmanian] devil ate a thylacine and dropped the scat. Either way that is proof that the thylacine was there at the time.?

If they were to find evidence the Tasmanian tiger was alive between its last sightings in the wild (between 1910 and 1920), that would mean the beast was hidden from humans for 40 to 50 years.

“If they could survive this long with no real physical proof, then it does add a little more hope to the possibility that they could survive another 50 years without ever being caught, killed [or] hit by a car,? Austin told LiveScience. “This chance is of course not great, but the glimmer of hope is ever so slightly brighter.?

Top 10 Creatures of Cryptozoology Images: The World’s Biggest Beasts Pleistocene Park Could Solve Mystery of Mammoth’s Extinction Original Story: Is the Mysterious Tasmanian Tiger Really Extinct?Visit 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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You can’t make this stuff up…


Pig parts spill closes Chicago highway

7 minutes ago

A busy section of highway was closed for seven hours Sunday after a truck tipped over and spilled pig ears, pig feet and grease.

The greasy pig parts created slippery conditions and forced the closure of northbound lanes of the Edens Expressway in Chicago. The lanes were reopened Sunday afternoon.

A sudden shift in the truck’s load caused it to tip onto its side, said Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey.

Hassan Ware, 39, of the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, was cited for driving too fast for conditions and spilling his load on a highway, according to state police.

Transportation department workers used sand to absorb the grease, Claffey said. They also sprayed a foam usually used in hazardous materials situations and spread rock salt to provide more traction.

“This is obviously something that’s really hard to clean up,” Claffey said.

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Stupid people category


It speaks for itself:

Man beats peacock he says was vampire

Sun Jul 1, 5:12 PM ET

A peacock that roamed into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant was attacked by a man who vilified the bird as a vampire, animal-control authorities said.

Beaten so fiercely that most of his tail feathers fell out, the bird was euthanized, said Richard Gentles, a spokesman for the city’s Center for Animal Care and Control.

“It’s just unbelievable that someone would do something to a poor, defenseless animal and do it in such a cruel fashion,” he said.

The peacock, a male several years old, wandered into a Burger King parking lot in the New York borough of Staten Island and perched on a car hood Thursday morning. Charmed employees were feeding him bread when the man appeared.

He seized the iridescent bird by the neck, hurled it to the ground and started kicking and stomping the creature, said worker Felicia Finnegan, 19.

“He was going crazy,” she said.

Asked what he was doing, she said, the attacker explained, “‘I’m killing a vampire!’”

Employees called police, but the man ran when he saw them. Authorities were looking for the attacker, described as in his teens or early 20s.

It was not clear how the bird made his way to the Burger King, but a Staten Island resident who raises peacocks said he had given some to a person who lives near the restaurant.

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Longshot search for mate


Search for “Lonesome George” mate is “long shot”

By Alonso Soto2 hours, 36 minutes ago

While scientists search for a mate for “Lonesome George” — the last known survivor of a species of Galapagos tortoise — some say the effort to fend off extinction may be in vain.

Even if a mate is found, George has not been interested in reproducing in the past and may not know how, former keepers and others who have worked with him said.

“The search is a long shot,” said Linda Cayot, a science adviser for the Galapagos Conservancy and former keeper of George. “George may be physiologically incapable of reproducing.”

Until recently, George was thought to be the last member of a species of giant tortoise found only on Pinta, one of the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador.

Earlier this year, however, scientists at Yale University in Connecticut said they had found a male tortoise on the island of Isabela, another Galapagos island, that was the offspring of a Pinta male and an Isabela female. That suggests there may be Pinta island tortoises on Isabela.

But even if a potential mate is found, George has shown little interest in reproducing with the female tortoises who are kept with him in his pen at the Darwin Research Center.

“He has problems … he probably never saw a female and male of his own species reproducing,” said Swiss biologist Sveva Grigioni, who worked with George 13 years ago.

Even when younger males were introduced to the females in the pen, George failed to get the idea.

Grigioni, now back in Switzerland, said she could normally get tortoises to ejaculate within minutes, but spent months manually stimulating George and never extracted semen from him.

Age is not George’s problem. He is estimated at between 60 and 90 years old, and could live to be 200 and still reproduce, scientists say.

The visual differences in tortoises from different islands were among the features of the Galapagos that helped 19th Century British naturalist Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution.

Since then, the tortoises have been hunted by pirates for their meat and their habitat eaten away by goats introduced onto the islands. George, who weighs 198 pounds (90 kilograms), was found on Pinta in 1971.


The possibility that he is not the last of his kind has drawn international notice. The New York Times expressed a fear George could lose his kudos as “the world’s rarest creature,” a feature that wins him donations from across the world.

“Until now he has been the main tourist draw at the Darwin Research Station, the prime example of what fund raisers call charismatic megafauna.”

But for Henry Nicholls, the author of “Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon,” a partner would bring more attention to the long-time bachelor and his home.

Ecuador has declared the islands at risk and the United Nations says efforts to protect them should continue. Although George was feared to be last of his particular species, some 20,000 giant tortoises now live on the islands.

“Any findings will show that rather than being a static story with a dead-end this is an ongoing novel,” Nicholls said. “Nobody will forget he was and will continue to be Lonesome George.”

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