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Archive for December, 2007

World’s largest spitting cobra species identified


World’s largest spitting cobra species found in Kenya: study


by Bogonko BosireFri Dec 7, 4:56 PM ET

A new giant species of spitting cobra — about 2.6 metres long and with enough venom to kill up to 20 people in one bite — has been discovered in Kenya, a study said Friday.

The large brown spitting cobra, initially included under the black-necked spitting cobra species, was discovered at a snake farm in June 2004, but confirmed as a separate species this year.

The black-necked species grows to a maximum two metres, with an average of 1.5 metres, scientists said, making the new species the largest in the world.

The new Naja Ashei species, named after James Ashe who founded the Bio-Ken snake farm in Watamu on the Kenyan coast, produces 6.2 millilitres of liquid venom, which is the among the largest amounts of venom ever extracted from a snake at a single milking.

It confirms Ashe’s fears that the Naja Ashei was a different kind of snake that was classified under the wrong species, yet it was qualified to form its own species.

Herpetologist Wolfgang Wuster and Donald G. Bradley in a study said the new species was found in the dry lowlands of northern and eastern Kenya, northeastern Uganda, southern Ethiopia and southern Somalia.

“But the most common area you can find this species is along the Kenyan coast,” said herpetologist Royjan Taylor, who manages the Bio-Ken snake farm.

The discovery brings to six the number of African spitting cobra species, the study said.

Although cobras have the highest public profile among venomous snakes, “our understanding of the taxonomy of the group has until recently remained woefully inadequate, particularly in terms of understanding the species limits within different well-differentiated groups,” the experts said.

But after observing morphological variations between the brown and black cobras, the pair concluded that the “differences are indeed a result of the population being different evolutionary lineages.”

The discovery appears to resolve the status of the eastern and northeastern Africa species, which was the remaining puzzle in the systematics of the African spitting cobras, which were lumped into a single species in the 20th century, the experts said.

Effectively, the massive, combative and venomous Naja Ashei takes its position among the dozens of known cobra species, including the King Cobra, the longest snake in natutal habitat known to produce prodigious amounts of neurotoxin.

Experts have witnessed the new species successfully swallowing a rabbit, a two-and-half long foot monitor lizard and five-foot-long puff adder.

Taylor explained that although the new species is not listed as endangered, conservation efforts must be increased since the reptile is threatened by human activities and encroachment.

“Although I am a naturalist and conservationist who is passionate about all wildlife, my heart goes out to the reptiles that are often misunderstood — especially snakes,” he added.

Because of this discovery, he said, he would help develop anti-venom for Naja Ashei bites.

“More research work needs to be done on their venom and its implication to snakebite treatment and anti-venom manufacture,” said Taylor, whose contribution led to the new discovery.

World-renowned conservationist Richard Leakey said the discovery of the giant species was “exciting.”

“There have to be many other unreported species but hundreds are being lost as their habitats disappear under the continued mismanagement of our planet,” said Leakey.


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Kangaroo farts may prevent global warming


Information too good to pass up…

Eco-friendly kangaroo farts could help global warming: scientists


1 hour, 12 minutes ago

Australian scientists are trying to give kangaroo-style stomachs to cattle and sheep in a bid to cut the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, researchers say.

Thanks to special bacteria in their stomachs, kangaroo flatulence contains no methane and scientists want to transfer that bacteria to cattle and sheep who emit large quantities of the harmful gas.

While the usual image of greenhouse gas pollution is a billowing smokestack pushing out carbon dioxide, livestock passing wind contribute a surprisingly high percentage of total emissions in some countries.

“Fourteen percent of emissions from all sources in Australia is from enteric methane from cattle and sheep,” said Athol Klieve, a senior research scientist with the Queensland state government.

“And if you look at another country such as New Zealand, which has got a much higher agricultural base, they’re actually up around 50 percent,” he told AFP.

Researchers say the bacteria also makes the digestive process much more efficient and could potentially save millions of dollars in feed costs for farmers.

“Not only would they not produce the methane, they would actually get something like 10 to 15 percent more energy out of the feed they are eating,” said Klieve.

Even farmers who laugh at the idea of environmentally friendly kangaroo farts say that’s nothing to joke about, particularly given the devastating drought Australia is suffering.

“In a tight year like a drought situation, 15 percent would be a considerable sum,” said farmer Michael Mitton.

But it will take researchers at least three years to isolate the bacteria, before they can even start to develop a way of transferring it to cattle and sheep.

Another group of scientists, meanwhile, has suggested Australians should farm fewer cattle and sheep and just eat more kangaroos.

The idea is controversial, but about 20 percent of health conscious Australians are believed to eat the national symbol already.

“It’s low in fat, it’s got high protein levels it’s very clean in the sense that basically it’s the ultimate free range animal,” said Peter Ampt of the University of New South Wales’s institute of environmental studies.

“It doesn’t get drenched, it doesn’t get vaccinated, it utilizes food right across the landscape, it moves around to where the food is good, so yes, it’s a good food.”

It might take a while for kangaroos to become popular barbecue fare, but with concern over global warming growing in the world’s driest inhabited continent, Australians could soon be ready to try almost anything to cut emissions.


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Arctic reptile fossil discovered


Check it out:


The largest fossil excavation in the Arctic -
Svalbard 2-21 August 2007


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Monster Arctic reptile fossil found


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Dinosaur “mummy” found


From National Geographic: 

“Dinosaur Mummy” Found; Has Intact Skin, Tissue

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Amazing Dinosaur Find Unveiled


Dinosaur-hunters unveil mummified ‘Holy Grail’ of paleontology


by Jean-Louis Santini 33 minutes ago

Scientists revealed Monday a partly “mummified” dinosaur, complete with fossilized skin and muscles, an incredibly rare find that sheds new light on the species that once ruled the Earth.

The remains of the duck-billed Hadrosaur were first discovered in 1999 by a schoolboy in a treasure trove of fossils called Hell Creek, in North Dakota, and were brought to the attention of British paleontologist Phil Manning.

After two years of excavation work, Manning and his team unveiled the exceptionally well preserved “dino-mummy” at Washington’s National Geographic Society, describing this sort of discovery the “Holy Grail” of paleontology.

“Paleontology is used to finding single bones. Occasionally we find a few bones together, articulated, but very, very rarely do we find a complete skeleton,” Manning, who is based at the University of Manchester, told AFP.

“This comes off the scale. This is a remarkable find, a breathtaking find that defies logic,” he said.

The herbivore Hadrosaur, nicknamed Dakota, lived 67 million years ago. It measured about seven to nine meters (23 to 29 feet) in length and weighed 8,000 pounds (3.6 tonnes).

Dakota remained so intact because it was quickly buried in a layer of muddy sediment, and preserved its shape once its soft tissue turned to fossil, the scientists said.

Hell Creek, which stretches into the badlands of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming, has yielded several Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons including what Manning claims to be the world’s first known T. rex footprint.

But Matthew Carrano, dinosaur curator at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, said Dakota was one of less than 10 “mummified” dinosaur specimens discovered so far worldwide.

Helped by funding from the National Geographic Society, which has produced a television documentary and book about the find, Manning is taking a detailed look at the remains in a giant Boeing scanner normally used to test aircraft.

Armed with that three-dimensional insight into Dakota’s muscle mass, the scientists have estimated that its backside was 25 percent larger than previously thought for a Hadrosaur.

With a larger rear end, it could have reached top speeds of 45 kilometers per hour (28 miles per hour) — quick enough to outrun a T. rex.

Dakota’s skin envelope also suggested evidence of stripes that would have produced a camouflage pattern, also handy for evading predators.

Because the Hadrosaur was so well preserved, the researchers could more accurately estimate the spacing between its vertebrae, giving a gap of about one centimeter (0.4 inches) between each bone.

In contrast, most natural history museums display their dinosaur fossils with the bones stacked tightly together. Manning’s research suggested therefore that some dinosaurs were at least a meter longer than previously thought.

Commenting on the abundant clues yielded by Dakota, the British scientist said: “It is quite fair to say that our dinosaur mummy makes many other dinosaurs look like road kill.

“Simply because the evidence we’re getting from our creature is so complete compared to the disjointed sort of skeletons that we usually have to draw conclusions from,” he said.

Tyler Lyson, the 16-year-old fossil hunter who unearthed Dakota on his uncle’s farm in North Dakota, is now 24 and a graduate student in paleontology at Yale University.


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