Flying fish fossil discovery

From the BBC:

31 October 2012 Last updated at 09:45

New flying fish fossils discovered in China

Potanichthys xingyiensis fossil

New flying fish fossils found in China provide the earliest evidence of vertebrate over-water gliding strategy.

Chinese researchers have tracked the “exceptionally well-preserved fossils” to the Middle Triassic of China (235-242 million years ago).

The Triassic period saw the re-establishment of ecosystems after the Permian mass extinction.

The fossils represent new evidence that marine ecosystems re-established more quickly than previously thought.

The Permian mass extinction had a bigger impact on the earth’s ecological systems than any other mass extinction, wiping out 90-95% of marine species.

Phenomenal flying fish

Previous studies have suggested that Triassic marine life developed more quickly than was once thought and that marine ecosystems were re-established more rapidly than terrestrial ecosystems.

The new research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal, was carried out by scientists from Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History.

The study shows that the new flying fish, named Potanichthys xingyiensis, was 153mm long and had the “unusual combination of morphological features” associated with gliding strategy in fishes.

The fossils show an asymmetrical, forked caudal (tail) fin and a “four-winged” body formation: a pair of enlarged pectoral fins forming “primary wings”, and a smaller pair of pelvic fins acting as “auxiliary wings”, according to the study.

The fossils were discovered in Guizhou Province in south-west China. They represent the first record of the extinct Thoracopteridae family of fishes to be found in Asia.

Potanichthys xingyiensis reconstruction illustration

A reconstruction of what Potanichthys xingyiensis would have looked like

Previous Thoracopteridae fossils have been confined to the Upper Triassic of Austria and Italy, but the new discovery extends the group’s geographical distribution from the western to the eastern rim of the Paleo-Tethys Ocean (an ocean that closed during the Jurassic period).

The Triassic Thoracopteridae family belongs in the same Neopterygii group of animals as today’s flying fishes, of which there are around 50 species belonging to the Exocoetidae family.

Gliding has evolved many times in animals, such as in frogs, lizards and mammals but has “evolved only twice among fishes”, according to the study: once in the Triassic Thoracopteridae fishes and again in the modern-day Exocoetidae family.

Scientists suggest both families of flying fishes evolved so that they could escape marine predators by “gliding” over-water to safety.

Dutch 16th century book on fish by Adriaen Coenen: here.

Birds and hurricanes like Sandy

This video from the USA says about itself:

Bird’s Nest Survives Hurricane Winds

Oct 30, 2012

As the winds from Hurricane Sandy begin to pick up, hundred foot trees bend in the wind, but the large bird’s nest is not affected. An engineering wonder of nature. Taken in East Northport, NY.

From eNature in the USA:

How Do Birds Deal With Hurricanes Like Sandy?

Posted on Monday, October 29, 2012 by eNature

Hurricane Sandy has, rightfully, dominated the news the past week or so, even pushing the election to the back pages.

While Sandy’s wind, rain and storm surge have certainly affected many people, some folks are also wondering about the effects its had on birds in the places the hurricane passed through.

Numbers are hard to come by, but it’s clear that many birds are killed outright by hurricanes. This is especially true of seabirds, which have nowhere in which to seek shelter from these storms. Beaches may be littered with seabird carcasses following major storm events. Most Atlantic hurricanes occur in late summer and early fall—and fall storms coincide with bird migration and may disrupt migration patterns severely.

Many birds get caught up in storm systems and are blown far off course, often landing in inhospitable places or simply arriving too battered and weakened to survive. Others, while not killed or displaced by storms, may starve to death because they are unable to forage while the weather is poor. The number of birds that die as a result of a major hurricanes may run into the hundreds of thousands.

Healthy bird populations are able to withstand such losses and have done so for eons. However, hurricanes can have severe impacts on endangered species, many of which occur on tropical islands, often among the places hardest hit by hurricanes. For example, Hurricane Hugo in 1989 killed half of the wild Puerto Rican Parrots existing at that time. The Cozumel Thrasher, found only on Mexico’s Isla Cozumel, was pushed to the edge of extinction by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Hurricane Iniki may have wiped out the last survivors of as many as three bird species when it hit Hawaii in 1992.

Apart from the direct, physical effects hurricanes may have on birds, they also can have detrimental effects on bird habitats. Cavity-nesting species can be especially hard hit because the trees in which they nest often are blown down or snapped off at the cavity. Hurricane Hugo, which hit the Carolinas in 1989, destroyed most of the area’s nest trees of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker; one forest lost 87 percent of its nest trees and 67 percent of its woodpeckers. Only through the installation of artificial nest boxes have these populations been restored to pre-storm levels.

Although birds blown out of their normal haunts by storms often don’t survive, bird-watchers by the hundreds may flock to see them. Usually, such sightings involve seabirds blown inland and appearing on lakes and reservoirs. First state records of many species have been obtained in this way. Some birders even head into hurricanes to see lost birds.* Others raptly study weather maps to try to predict where hurricane-swept birds will wind up. A few years back, during Isabel, birders were staked out in an organized fashion around New York’s Cayuga Lake to see what showed up. Land birds blown out to sea typically perish unnoticed.

It’s important to remember that the long-term effects of hurricanes on birds aren’t necessarily negative. Every disturbance event is bad for some species but good for others. For instance, hurricanes create gaps in forests, creating habitat for species that require a brushy understory. Birds blown off course occasionally establish entirely new populations; such events may be responsible for much, if not most, colonization of remote islands by birds. Furthermore, hurricanes have been around for a long time and are part of the system in which birds evolved. It is only when they have impacts on species already pushed to the brink by humans, or if hurricane activity is increased by global climate change, that there is cause for concern.

*Epitaph for a hurricane-chasing birder (not original):
Here he lies
A little wet
But he got
His lifelist met.

Have you noticed changes in bird or other animal populations in the wake of hurricanes or other disturbances?

We’re always interested to hearing (or read) your experiences and stories.

Arthur Kill Oil Spill: Hurricane Sandy’s Surge Dumps Diesel Into New Jersey Waterway: here.

Storm wiped out NYU lab mice, a big blow to medical research: here.

AS New Scientist goes to press, north-east North America is reeling in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. People are dead, millions are without electricity and damage estimates top $20 billion. And that is far from the full impact. Over the next few weeks, the true extent will become clear to millions of people who must now clean up. Whether the implications are clear to their leaders is another question: here.

Sarah Seltzer, AlterNet: Income inequality runs rampant in New York, and – as Hurricane Sandy demonstrated – storms are always more dangerous for the poor: here.

Mass social events that impact tens of millions of people, especially those such as Hurricane Sandy that leave devastation in their wake, inevitably expose fundamental economic and social contradictions at the very heart of American society: here.

Nine new taruntula species discovered in Brazil

This video is called Giant Tarantula.

From Wildlife Extra:

9 unusual new species of Tarantula discovered in Brazil

9 colourful and endangered tree-dwelling tarantulas discovered in Brazil

October 2012. Arboreal tarantulas are known from a few tropical places in Asia, Africa, South and Central America and the Caribbean. These tarantulas generally have a lighter build, thinner bodies and longer legs than their ground living cousins, and are much better suited for their arboreal habitat. They have increased surface area at the ends of their legs, allowing them to better climb different surfaces, while their light build makes them more agile.

Their core area is the Amazon, from where most of the species are known and are normally very common, living in the jungle or even in house’s surroundings. Now, nine new species were described from Central and Eastern Brazil, including four of the smallest arboreal species ever recorded.

‘Resurrected genus’

“Instead of the seven species formerly known in the region, we now have sixteen”, said Dr Bertani, researcher at the Instituto Butantan in Sao Paulo. “In a resurrected genus with a mysterious single species known from 1841, we have now five species”. “These are the smallest arboreal tarantulas in the world, and their analysis suggests the genus to be very old, so they can be considered relicts of a formerly more widely distributed taxon”.

Other discoveries include new species of tarantulas living inside bromeliads. “Only a single species had been known to live exclusively inside these plants, and now we have another that specialized in bromeliads as well”. A further species was found at the top of table mountains where trees are rare. “This species also inhabits bromeliads, one of the few places for an arboreal tarantula to live that offer water and a retreat against the intense sunlight” he says.

All discovered outside the Amazon

The discovery of all these new species outside the Amazon was unexpected and illustrates how little we know of the fauna surrounding us, even from hot spots of threatened biodiversity like the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest and the Cerrado (a kind of savannah vegetation).

Highly endemic

These species are highly endemic and the regions where they live are suffering high pressure from human activities. Therefore, studies for their conservation are necessary. Furthermore, all these new species are colourful, which could attract the interest for capturing them for the pet trade, constituting another threat.

The study was undertaken by Dr Rogério Bertani, who is a tarantula specialist and a researcher at the Instituto Butantan in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His results have been published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

See also here.

Photos are here.

USA: Tarantulas Are Busy Around Halloween, But They’re Not Trick or Treating: here.

The world’s largest spider is the Goliath Birdeater, a tarantula that has some scary dimensions to rival its frightening name. It can grow up to nearly a foot across, weighing in at more than six ounces, with fangs that are over an inch long. The largest individual, according to Guinness World Records, had legs that spanned 11 inches – large enough to cover a dinner plate: here.

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Children’s wildlife writing competition in Britain

This video is called British Wildlife Photography Awards 2012 – Highlights.

From Wildlife Extra:

Children’s wildlife writing competition launched by RSPCA

Children’s short story competition launched

October 2012. Young people are being encouraged to go wildlife spotting to get inspiration for a new children’s short story competition – Wild About Britain – run by the RSPCA.

The wildlife-themed contest is inspired by classic bedtime tales such as Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit and Fantastic Mr Fox – which a recent survey showed still top the list of the nation’s favourite wildlife stories and characters.

Under 11 and 12 – 16 year olds

The rules are that it must be no more than 500 words long and feature an animal or animals from British wildlife. There will be two age categories – 11 years and under and 12 to 16 year-olds and a judging panel will award a gold, silver and bronze for each category and people can also vote for their favourite story online.

Chris Packham, RSPCA Vice President and ambassador for the competition, said: “What could be a more perfect this autumn than go out into our autumnal woods and search out signs of animals like hedgehogs, foxes and badgers – then go home and write about them.

“Characters like Mrs Tiggy Winkle, Fantastic Mr Fox and Badger from Wind in the Willows have thrilled children and got them excited about the wild world around them for generations. Now we are looking for a new family of inspiring wildlife personalities and think there may well be some budding young writers out there who may help us. With the Olympics, Paralympics and Jubilee it has been an incredible year for Great Britain – now it is time to remember that our wildlife is great too.

Fantastic Mr Fox is favourite book

A survey, commissioned by the RSPCA, found that Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox was the nation’s favourite wildlife book, followed by the Beatrix Potter series and then Kenneth Graeme’s Wind in the Willows. Peter Rabbit was named the favourite wildlife character, followed by Fantastic Mr Fox and Badger from Wind in the Willows.

Ophelia Dahl, Roald Dahl‘s daughter and chair of Roald Dahl’s literary estate, also comments, “I am thrilled that Fantastic Mr Fox has been voted the nation’s favourite wildlife story. I recall my dad trying out the tale on my sister Lucy and I, as a bedtime story. We’re delighted that clever Mr Fox is still a favourite across the country. I hope that such classic tales and memorable characters will inspire a generation of budding writers to get involved in Wild About Britain which I am delighted to be supporting. This is a brand new and hugely exciting competition for children where they can explore Britain’s great outdoors for inspiration and create their very own adventure.”

The closing date for the competition is midnight on Monday 10 December 2012 and the winner will receive a selection of books from Random House publishers and be published on the website. The full judging panel is to be confirmed but will include Chris Packham.

Click here for more details and to enter.

Oldest Dutch dog fossil discovery

Fossil canine jaw, Oosterschelde, 2012

Dutch natural history museum Naturalis reports (translated):

Often, in a 37.5 meters deep well in the Oosterschelde, researchers find remains of animals from the Early Pleistocene, about 1.9 million years ago. On 1 September 2012, for the first time, a fossil of a canine was fished up. This makes it the oldest dog ever found in the Netherlands.

The primeval landscape of the Oosterschelde 1.9 million years ago was a subtropical forest with swamps, rivers and open grazing areas. Mammoths, mastodons, rhinoceros, deer and zebra-like ungulates lived there. This canine is, after the saber-toothed tiger, and the hyena the third carnivore now known from that era.

The fossil dog’s jaw is now on show in Naturalis museum.

Three tough mammals — a huge “bear dog” and two saber-toothed cats — were among Europe’s top predators 9 million years ago, according to a new study: here.

US mercenary corporations recruit child soldiers

This video is called Ugandans flock to Iraq for security jobs – 2 July 09.

By Sybille Fuchs in Germany:

US employs former child soldiers as mercenaries

31 October 2012

The US is increasingly using private security forces to wage its wars and maintain its occupation of countries after the withdrawal of regular troops. Both in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of mercenaries and dozens of private security companies are being deployed to this end.

The utterly ruthless and cynical methods employed by American companies and endorsed by Washington were graphically illustrated in a German documentary television program broadcast last week. “Weltspiegel” showed how US companies were recruiting former child soldiers from Uganda to risk their lives as mercenaries for miserly pay in Iraq and other war zones.

The journalists, Marcel Kolvenbach and Daniel Satra, followed the path of young men from Uganda who were hired by Ugandan private security companies. These companies then pass them on to US firms that are commissioned by the American army to guard their camps in Iraq and other areas of the world where the United States is waging war.

In many cases, the young recruits had fought as child soldiers for the Christian fundamentalist rebel group of Joseph Kony against the Ugandan government led by President Museveni. In the course of fighting they have both experienced and committed horrible massacres.

In March of this year there was widespread media hype in the US surrounding the thirty-minute video “Kony 2012.” The video denounced the plight of Ugandan children who were used as soldiers by Kony. As the World Socialist Web Site warned at that time, this campaign was also supported by President Obama in “a cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion in favor of American intervention.”

The reality is that the traumatized child soldiers in Kony’s force are being systematically used by the US as cheap cannon fodder in Iraq. Ugandan security companies and their American partners are quite prepared to exploit the dire and traumatic situation of the child soldiers.

The Ugandan journalist Rosario Achola reported: “Most of these former child soldiers do not know how to make ends meet when the war is over. They cannot find work and find themselves adrift. So a job as a security guard in Iraq or Afghanistan is practically the only choice they have.”

She continued: “It’s ironic that the nation which expressed the most outrage about Kony and child soldiers is now exploiting these former child soldiers to fight their battles and protect them in a war which has nothing to do with Uganda.”

The young men who have learned nothing other than how to kill are required to risk their lives for a few dollars to make profits for local companies operating throughout the country. They are assured they are carrying out a safe job, but once in the field the reality is very different. Many of the returnees report of fatalities or injuries. Many are themselves injured.

On behalf of Weltspiegel, Rosario Achola interviewed Ssali Twaha, a mercenary who was told that he would be carrying out a safe mission in Iraq in the Green Zone. But then a ricochet hit his camp. He recalls: “Suddenly I heard my comrade above breathing heavily and blood dripped down on me through the mattress. It was pitch dark, I thought he had wet the bed. I wanted to wake him up. But when I touched him everything was full of blood with foam coming from his mouth.”

A US attorney reports on the case of a seriously injured Ugandan, paralyzed on one side of his body, who was deported back to his home country and then just left to his fate. “When I met him he had neither a disability pension nor medical care. He was just wasting away.” The attorney took the case to court. A further 60 victims then came forward who had suffered the same fate.

The companies that receive large sums from the US government to insure soldiers against such injuries refused to pay out. “Three of our clients have received death threats—in Uganda and Iraq. They received threatening calls such as: ‘If you do not drop your lawsuit, we will kill you.’ The attorney also reported on another injured soldier who was told by his employer, ‘If you report it you will arrive home in a body bag.’”

One security company that offered the US Army mercenaries for $1,000 per man per month was undercut by another that demanded just $400. As a result the soldiers employed by the first company were forced to return home.

The former child soldier Dibya Moses also had to leave Iraq after an illness and return to Uganda. He was dismissed without any compensation or severance pay. In an interview with Achola, he explained: “The people here are desperate for a job in Iraq because they see it as an opportunity to earn an extra few dollars. In the end it is like modern-day slavery.”

Both the US Defense Department and the State Department refused to comment on this practice. The Ugandan security contractors are not allowed to contact the US authorities. “It is a subcontractor agreement. If the US company finds out that Ugandan companies have contacted the US Defense Department or State Department then their contract will be terminated immediately,” declared an employee of a Ugandan security company. Many now fear for their jobs because the US companies are increasingly recruiting in Pakistan.

For US security firms, the hiring and deployment of mercenaries is a billion dollar business with high profit margins. The US government is prepared to pay out huge sums in order to “outsource” death and injury, thereby reducing the number of US military casualties. Journalist Sarah Stillman has established that currently in Afghanistan, more members of private security companies are killed in action than US soldiers.

A video in German about sending Ugandans to Iraq is here.