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Archive for August, 2007

Snake survival


How Snakes Survive Months Without Food

Jeanna Bryner
LiveScience Staff Writer
Wed Aug 29, 8:50 AM ET

Snakes can lower their metabolic rates by up to 70 percent, allowing them to survive prolonged periods without food while growing longer nonetheless, a new study shows.

“These animals take energy reduction to a whole new level,? said lead author Marshall McCue, a biology graduate student at the University of Arkansas.

The research, detailed in the September issue of the journal Zoology, is an extension of McCue’s past studies that revealed biochemical changes in the western diamondback rattlesnake.

McCue withheld food from 62 snakes belonging to one of three different species (ratsnake, western diamondback rattlesnake and ball python) for about six months and observed their metabolic rates. It is typical for snakes in the wild to go without food for this long. He found that snakes reduced their standard metabolic rates, some by up to 72 percent.

“Snakes already had low energy demands. We didn’t know they could go lower,? McCue said.

Despite the lack of food, the snakes continued to grow in length. “To me, this suggests that there must be a strong selective advantage to growing longer,? McCue said. He added evolution has led to snakes that are extremely efficient at frugal use of available resources which come from within their own bodies.

During the first stages of starvation, all the snakes burned up selected fat stores. The next energy source to go differed among the snake species. The ratsnakes, which live in an environment with abundant rodent prey, began to break down proteins faster than the pythons or rattlesnakes.

“The protein use was higher in the snakes less well-adapted to starvation,? McCue said.

Understanding how snakes can succeed in food-scarce environments will add to the overall picture of snakes’ evolution.

VIDEO: How a Snake Swallows a Larger Snake IMAGE GALLERY: Snakes of the World Top 10 Amazing Animal Abilities Original Story: How Snakes Survive Months Without FoodVisit 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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Snake on a Plane


Snake rattles solo pilot in Mississippi

Fri Aug 24, 10:57 PM ET

It was no movie moment when a physician, flying himself across Mississippi in a one-seat plane, discovered a stowaway — a gray rat snake.

Dr. Ed Carruth discovered the snake-on-a-plane when it began “licking” his arm Thursday, he told The Daily Leader of Brookhaven.

“I’ve been flying planes for 50 years and over 14,000 hours, and this is the most unusual in-flight emergency I’ve encountered,” he said. “I guess it wasn’t exactly an emergency, but I did almost hurt myself when I saw it.”

Needing to fly the plane and lacking tools to get rid of the snake, “I did some aerobatics,” Carruth said. “And once he got oriented, he went to the back of the plane.”

When Carruth arrived at Brookhaven Municipal Airport after his flight from Meridian, officials called a snake expert to remove the reptile. It’s not uncommon for snakes to live in airplane hangars, said Joey Pradillo, the expert.

“The snakes are in there after the mice. And the hangar is cool on the inside, and that’s why he was in there in the first place,” he said. Pradillo released the snake into the wild.

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Another Tragic Story


Pythons have been on our earth over 50 million years - they do not deserve this kind of treatment:

Man accused of biting girlfriend’s snake

Fri Aug 24, 12:54 PM ET

A Northern Ireland man bit his girlfriend’s pet snake in half during a fight and remarked that it “tasted lovely,” lawyers testified Friday.

Shane Cooke, a 33-year-old bricklayer, was arraigned in Belfast High Court on charges of assaulting his girlfriend, Coleen McGleenon, and fatally torturing her royal python Aug. 4.

McGleenon’s lawyers said he headbutted her twice and picked up her pet, put it in his mouth, and threw its severed head at her. “Your snake tasted lovely,” he was quoted as saying.

Cooke’s lawyer, Adrian Higgins, said his client admitted both offenses and had attacked the snake because he knew his girlfriend loved it. He said Cooke, from the border village of Keady, had been consuming alcoholic drinks for several hours before the attack.

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Frog-Saving Efforts Begin


From: Cheryl Wittenauer, Associated Press
Published August 24, 2007

Group to Meet, Launch Frog-Saving Effort


ST. LOUIS — Kermit the Frog might be recruited, along with governments, corporations, and philanthropists, to help in a worldwide effort to stem the deaths of frog populations around the world.

Next week, leaders of the world’s zoos and aquariums meeting in Budapest, Hungary, will discuss the logistics of the frog-saving effort, dubbed Amphibian Ark.

Members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums will discuss who’s going to take which species for safekeeping and breeding.

The plan calls for 500 frogs of 500 species to be held in biosecure facilities around the world. The frogs’ temporary digs would be regulated for temperature, humidity and other living conditions.

At the Budapest meeting, zoo and aquarium leaders also will be presented with a strategy for raising global awareness of the crisis and the initial $50 million needed to avert it.

“We’ll need Kermit and everybody we can get to make this the thing that people talk about,” said Jeffrey Bonner, chairman of the Amphibian Ark initiative, who also heads the Saint Louis Zoo.

“Protective custody has got to happen now, or within a year or two. Otherwise, it’ll be too late. Extinction is forever.”

A mysterious killer fungus is wiping out frog populations around the globe, and scientists have a plan to isolate hundreds of frogs at the world’s zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens until they can be released in the wild safely.

Scientists say they have to figure out a way to get the killer fungus, called chytrid fungus, out of the environment or help the frogs develop a resistance. They can be cured with a fungicide, more easily than a person can shake athlete’s foot, Bonner said. But they’ll be affected again upon re-entry.

Because the species are dying rapidly, scientists want to put the frogs in safe environments while they figure out long-term solutions.

The deadly fungus causes frogs to suffocate. Since the late ’90s, it has spread around the world rapidly, wiping out 80 percent of frogs in its reach within 12 months.

“The remainder can’t find each other to reproduce,” Bonner said.

Frogs consume a huge volume of insects, and they also are prey for birds.

The extinction of frog species, Bonner said, “may unbalance the ecosystem in a way that global warming could only hope to.”

Amphibians also serve important biomedical purposes. Some species produce a chemical used as a pain reliever for humans; one species is linked to a chemical that inhibits the virus that causes AIDS.

St. Louis-based Fleishman-Hillard, an international marketing firm, developed Amphibian Ark’s communications and fundraising plan.

It will be kicked off with worldwide events on New Year’s Eve, leading into 2008, which conservationists have declared The Year of the Frog.

Feb. 29, or Leap Day, will be International Frog Day, when some of the amphibian rescues may occur.

Major corporate sponsors are being courted now.

TV naturalist and prominent conservationist Sir David Attenborough is patron of the 2008 Year of the Frog campaign.

—-On the Net:

Amphibian Ark: http://www.amphibianark.orgSource: Associated Press

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Sad and kind of scary…


In all the years I’ve been doing educational programs with reptiles, I’ve never encountered anything like what’s described in this article. I once had a grade school student ask what the Burmese python would do if “I kicked him;” in reply I asked the entire class why anyone would want to hurt the snake. I’ve been careful over the years to set up my presentations to provide adequate safety for participants and animals.

Boy really really doesn’t like snakes…


Thu Aug 23, 4:44 PM ET

A man who shows snakes and other reptiles at schools, festivals and libraries says a boy who told the man he hated snakes stomped and killed the man’s 10-foot-long python. Scott Braunstein said he was showing Popcorn, a nonpoisonous albino Burmese python, Sunday at the St. Bernadette Festival near Cincinnati.

“The next thing I know … the kid raises his leg and stomps down on the snake’s head,” Braunstein said. “The snake started convulsing.”

Braunstein said he saw a man grab the child and say, “This is why I don’t take you anywhere,” before disappearing.

“I’ve never, never, had anything like that happen,” said Braunstein, who operates House of Reptiles, based in Dry Ridge, Ky.

Braunstein’s collection includes alligators, lizards, spiders and frogs. For two years, Braunstein’s animals have been featured in a petting zoo at the festival.

“Scott’s business is to educate people about reptiles, and his goal is for people to learn to appreciate rather than fear the reptiles that share this planet with us,” said Dan Meakin, who founded All Creatures Animal Hospital in Amelia, Ohio.


Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer,


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T-Rex in running shorts…



T-rex versus Beckham? Sorry, David, you’re lunch


By Michael KahnTue Aug 21, 8:20 PM ET

The smallest dinosaur could reach speeds of nearly 40 mph (64 kph) and even the lumbering Tyrannosaurus rex would have been able to outrun most modern-day sportsmen, according to research published on Wednesday.

Scientists using computer models calculated the top speeds for five meat-eating dinosaurs in a study they say can also illustrate how animals cope with climate change and extinction.

The velociraptor, whose speed and ferocity was highlighted in the film “Jurassic Park,” reached 24 mph while the T-rex could muster speeds of up to 18 mph, the study published in the Royal Society’s Biological Sciences showed.

“Our research, which used the minimum leg-muscle mass T-rex required for movement, suggests that while not incredibly fast, this carnivore was certainly capable of running and would have little difficulty in chasing down footballer David Beckham, for instance,” said Phil Manning, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester, who worked on the study.

The smallest dinosaur — the Compsognathus — could run nearly 40 mph, about 5 mph faster than the computer’s estimate for the fastest living animal on two legs, the ostrich.

A top human sprinter can reach a speed of about 25 mph.

The researchers used a computer model to calculate the running speeds of the five dinosaurs that varied in size from the 3-kg (6.6 pound) Compsognathus to a six-tonne Tyrannosaurus.

They fed information about the skeletal and muscular structure of the dinosaurs into the computer and ran a simulation tens of millions of times to see how fast the animals moved, said William Sellers, a zoologist at the University of Manchester, who led the study.

They checked their method by inputting data of a 70-kg human with the muscle and bone structure of a professional sportsman and found the computer accurately spat out a top running speed just behind T-rex’s pace.

“People have estimated speeds before but they have always been indirect estimates and hard to verify,” Sellers said. “What we found is they were all perfectly capable of running.”

Looking at how these ancient animals lived and died out is also important in trying to predict how modern day species may cope with future climate change, Sellers added.

This study helps to build a biological picture that scientists can use to better understand how dinosaurs adapted to changes in the weather just before they went extinct some 65 million years ago, he said.

“Knowing how these animals coped over the past millions of years will give us clues to what is going to happen over the next thousand years,” he said. “That is why there has been more recent interest in biology of these animals.”


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Murder by snake plot foiled


Men accused of murder-by-snake plot

Sat Aug 18, 3:03 PM ET

Two men who allegedly tried to use rattlesnakes as deadly weapons to collect on a debt have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, authorities said.

The Lakewood men were allegedly trying to kill Matthew Sowash, owner of Amateur Poker Tour in Wheat Ridge, because he owed them $60,000, Jim Shires of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office said. Arrest affidavits say Sowash’s company stages Texas Hold’em-style poker games in Denver area bars.

Herbert Paul Beck, 56, was arrested Thursday in Raton, N.M., and Christopher Lee Steelman, 34, was arrested Wednesday in Lakewood.

Bail for each suspect was set at $500,000 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and extortion.

Investigators said Steelman told them the two men discussed ways to kill Sowash and Beck suggested rattlesnakes. Beck allegedly told investigators he invested $36,000 in the company last December, and with interest was due $60,000.

The plan was to build a wooden box to hold the snakes and “the lid was to be built to allow Sowash’s legs to be put inside but not pulled out.”

“The final and most disturbing method to Steelman was Beck wanting to kidnap Sowash’s children and use them as leverage to get the money from Sowash,” according to the affidavits.

Sowash contacted the Colorado Bureau of Investigation after getting threatening e-mails.

Both defendants have extensive arrest records. Shires didn’t know if they had lawyers to speak for them.

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Tortured Tortoise Back Home


Tortured Calif. tortoise returns home

Sat Aug 18, 12:04 AM ET

A 42-pound pet tortoise that was slashed and mutilated after being stolen from a family’s yard is home following more than a month in a rehabilitation center.

The tortoise, Bob, heartily ate a meal of hibiscus flowers and roses — its first since having a feeding tube pulled from its neck, owner Dorothy Sullivan said Friday.

“He’s eating like a pig,” she said. “He’s doing great and we’re pretty excited.”

The 25-year-old African spurred tortoise was snatched from Sullivan’s yard on July 7. Police, following an anonymous tip, found the injured animal behind an apartment complex several days later.

The tortoise’s hind legs were badly cut, a toe was cut off, its neck was slashed and its shell was punctured with a sharp object. The attacker tried to cut the animal out of its shell and threw it against a wall, police said.

Jose “Tony” Mosqueda, 18, of Ventura, was arrested and charged with animal cruelty. He pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison, prosecutors said.

Sullivan said Bob is a friend to her 6-year-old autistic son William, who rarely spoke to people but chattered to the animal. She said the boy was withdrawn during the tortoise’s stay at Turtle Dreams, a Montecito rehab center, but has started talking again since Bob’s return.

“It’s made a good impact on our son. He’s sleeping through the night and he’s opening up,” Sullivan said.

A benefit concert was planned for Sunday at a Ventura night club to raise money to help pay the animal’s veterinary bills.

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Problematic pythons


From time to time articles appear describing pythons in “problematic” situations…This is one such article…

Python kills 3 parrots at Budapest Zoo


1 hour, 14 minutes ago

A python that apparently was smuggled into the Budapest Zoo has killed three rare Kea parrots, officials said Friday.

It was unclear whether a visitor released the tiger python into the Keas’ cage or whether someone released the 6-foot, 6-inch snake elsewhere in the zoo and it found the cage by itself, zoo spokesman Zoltan Hanga said.

Hanga said the zoo owned several pythons, but they had implanted microchips and all had been accounted for.

The Kea is a sharp-beaked parrot native to the high country of New Zealand’s South Island. It is considered a vulnerable species — an estimated 1,000-5,000 survive in the wild and another 140 in zoos.

The Keas — a female and two males — were very playful birds and came to Budapest from zoos in Austria and Germany. They were each valued at $7,800.

The zoo reported the incident to the police in the hope of finding the python’s owner.

“Clearly the python is not to blame,” Hanga said. “It only did what came naturally. Its owner should be held responsible.”

If the owner is not found, the python likely will remain in the zoo, Hanga added.


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Dodo DNA


Bones Could Yield Dodo DNA

Andrea Thompson
LiveScience Staff Writer
1 hour, 47 minutes ago

A newly discovered dodo skeleton has raised hopes for extracting some of the legendary extinct bird’s DNA.

The dodo, a flightless bird related to pigeons and doves, once thrived on the small island of Mauritius, located off the coast of Africa to the east of Madagascar.

Dodos, Raphus cucullatus, stood about three feet tall and laid their eggs on the ground, which made them easy targets for predators such as rats and pigs introduced to the island by European explorers. Humans also destroyed the dodos’ habitat. The dodo became extinct in the late 1600s, just 80 years after the arrival of explorers.

Fred the dodo

Late last year, biologists looking for cave cockroaches accidentally discovered a dodo skeleton in the highlands of Mauritius.

Nicknamed “Fred” after one of its discoverers, the skeleton’s bones were badly decomposed and fragile, but there is still a good chance of extracting some dodo DNA because of the stable temperature and dry to slightly humid environment (keys to DNA preservation) of the cave.

(Scientists think Fred ended up in the bottom of the cave because he sought shelter from a violent cyclone but fell down in a deep hole and could not climb out.)

Dodo DNA would be of great scientific value because scientists know very little about the genetics of the dodo. Also, it would allow scientists to figure how long the skeleton was lying in the cave.

Mass marsh grave

Fred isn’t the only chance for finding DNA of the extinct bird though, as dodo remains have been found before (but Fred’s remains were the first found outside of coastal areas).

In 1865, a teacher named George Clark found numerous bones of dodos and other extinct animals in a coastal marsh called Mare aux Songes on Mauritius.

A team of researchers excavated the same marsh in 2005 and 2006 and found a bevy of dodo bones, including rare items such as a dodo beak and dodo chicks. This mass grave of dodos is thought to be at least 2,000 years old.

The find was deemed “of huge importance” by zoologist Julian Hume of the Natural History Museum in London in a 2005 press release announcing the discovery.

“[It] will give us a new understanding of how dodos lived,” he said, including clues about how many dodos lived on the island, what they ate, how they bred and what their parenting style was before man showed up.

Unlike Fred’s remains, the mass grave bones were well preserved, but no DNA has been successfully collected from them yet.

Video: Extraordinary Birds Bird Extinctions More Rapid Than Thought Images: Rare and Exotic Birds Original Story: Bones Could Yield Dodo DNAVisit 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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