Egyptian fossil relatives of Madagascar bats discovered


This video from the USA says about itself:

26 Sep 2012

Dr. Nancy Simmons specializes in the morphology and evolutionary biology of bats (Chiroptera). Together with several collaborators, she is developing a data set of morphological characters scored in species representing all major clades of bats. These data include new information gained from high-resolution CT scans of rare bats and are being combined with DNA sequence data to develop a robust higher-level phylogeny for Chiroptera.

With collaborators, she is doing an in-depth study of the evolution of megabats — flying foxes and their relatives — using both molecular and morphological data. Dr. Simmons is also working with an expert on echolocation behavior to develop a method for coding features of echolocation calls for phylogenetic analysis.

From the American Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Sucker-Footed Bat Fossils Broaden the Bat Map

by AMNH on 02/04/2014 05:00 pm

Today, Madagascar sucker-footed bats are found only on their island home, but new research from the American Museum of Natural History and Duke University shows that wasn’t always the case. The discovery of two extinct relatives in northern Egypt suggests the unusual creatures, which evolved sticky footpads to roost on slick surfaces, are primitive members of a group of bats that evolved in Africa and ultimately went on to flourish in South America.

A team of researchers described the two bat species from several sets of fossilized jawbones and teeth unearthed in the Sahara. The findings, reported on February 4 in the journal PLOS ONE, represent the first formal description of the family in the fossil record and show the sucker-footed bat family to be at least 36 million years older than previously known.

“We’ve assumed for a long time that they were an ancient lineage based on DNA sequence studies that have placed them close to very old groups in the bat family tree,” said Nancy Simmons, co-author on the study and a curator in the Department of Mammalogy.

But until now, scientists lacked any fossil evidence to confirm it.

Today, the sucker-footed bats consist of two species, Myzopoda aurita (see images of these bats here) and M. schliemanni, endemic to Madagascar. In contrast to almost all other bats, they don’t cling upside-down to cave ceilings or branches. Sucker-footed bats roost head-up, often in the furled leaves of the traveler’s palm, a plant in the bird-of-paradise family. To stick to such a smooth surface, the bats evolved cup-like pads on their wrists and ankles. Scientists previously suspected the pads held the bats up by suction, but recent research has demonstrated the bats instead rely on wet adhesion, like a tree frog.

The two extinct species, Phasmatonycteris phiomensis and P. butleri, date to 30 and 37 million years ago, respectively, when the environment was drastically different. Northern Africa was more tropical, said Dr. Simmons, and home to a diverse range of mammals, including primates and early members of the elephant family.

“The habitat was probably fairly forested, and there was likely a proto-Nile River, a big river that led into the ancient Tethys Ocean,” said Gregg Gunnell, director of the Duke University Lemur Center‘s Division of Fossil Primates and a co-author on the paper.

The fossilized teeth imply that, like their living relatives, the ancient bats fed on insects. It’s impossible to know from the fossils if the extinct species had already evolved their characteristic sucker-feet, but the teeth shed light on another aspect of bat evolution. The presence of sucker-footed bats in Africa at least 37 million years ago supports the theory that this family is one of the most primitive members of a lineage that now dominates South America.

From vampires to fruit- and nectar-eaters to carnivores, the majority of South America’s bats belong to one large superfamily, known as Noctilionoidea.

“We think that the superfamily originated in Africa and moved eastward as Gondwana was coming apart,” Gunnell said. “These bats migrated to Australia, then actually went through Antarctica and up into South America using an ice-free corridor that connected the three continents until about 26 million years ago.”

According to this hypothesis, the sucker-footed bat fossils showed up right where scientists expected to find them: at the literal and figurative base of the Noctilionoidea family tree.

“Now, we can unambiguously link them through Africa,” Simmons said.

You can read the scientific paper here.

Like Darwin’s Finches, But Weirder, Bat Faces Showcase Amazing Adaptations: here.

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Prehistoric frog’s anti-dinosaur armour?


This video is called The Evolution of Amphibians.

From LiveScience:

Primeval ‘Devil Frog’ May Have Sported Anti-Dinosaur Armor

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer

January 29, 2014 10:00am ET

An ancient, predatory creature known as the devil frog may have looked even scarier than previously thought.

The monster frog, Beelzebufo ampinga, lived during the Cretaceous Period in what is now Africa, and sported spiky flanges protruding from the back of its skull and platelike armor down its back, almost like a turtle shell.

“We knew it was big; we knew it was almost certainly predatory,” said study co-author Susan Evans, a paleontologist at the University College London. “What the new material has shown us is that it was even more heavily armored than we imagined.”

The massive frog’s spiked body armor may have helped it fend off the dinosaurs and crocodiles that prowled during that time. [See Photos of the Devil Frog and Other Freaky Frogs]

Elusive lineage

The researchers first discovered a few bone fragments from a mystery frog in Madagascar in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2008 that they had enough pieces to identify the species, which they dubbed the devil frog, or Beelzebufo ampinga. The massive frog lived between 70 million and 65 million years ago.

When the team analyzed the frog’s morphology, they found that physically, it fit in with a family of horned frogs called the Ceratophryidae, which are now found only in South America.

But to reach Madagascar from South America, the frogs would have needed to hop along a passageway, possibly through Antarctica, that linked the two landmasses. But that route was submerged underwater by 112 million years ago, Evans said.

That would mean that devil frogs must have diverged from their South American cousins prior to that submergence, pushing back the origin of Ceratophryidae by more than 40 million years, Evans said.

More specimens

Over the course of the next five years, the team found several more bone fragments of Beelzebufo ampinga. In the new study, they combined all of the fragments to do a much more complete reconstruction of the devil frog.

The new analysis confirms the frog’s lineage in the Ceratophryidae family. It also downgrades the amphibian’s size — instead of being the biggest frog that ever lived, it may be closer to the size of an African bullfrog, which grows to about 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) across.

Even so, the analysis reveals that the devil frog was even fiercer-looking than previously thought. Past studies had suggested it had a huge, globular head; sharp teeth; and short back legs, but the spiky flanges and the plates embedded in its skin were a surprising discovery.

The frogs may have hunted like African bullfrogs, hiding before pouncing on a small mammal.

It’s not clear what the frogs used the body armor for, but one possibility is that the sculptured bones may have been an adaptation to a dry environment that allowed the frogs to burrow underground, where they were less likely to bake in the hot sun, Evans said.

But the armor may also have been protection.

“There were an awful lot of things roaming around that would have liked a bite out of a big, juicy frog,” such as dinosaurs, crocodiles and even strange mammals that once lived on the Gondwana supercontinent, Evans told LiveScience.

The findings were published Jan. 28 in the journal PLOS ONE.

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Lemurs’ love life, new research


This video from the USA is called SIFAKA at DUKE LEMUR CENTER.

From Duke University in the USA:

Lemur lovers sync their scents: Strength of a lemur couple’s bond is reflected in the similarity of their scents

January 31, 2014

Summary:

Mating pairs of lemurs mirror each other’s scent-marking behavior and even start to smell alike after they have reproduced. Matched scents are possibly a way to combine territory defenses or to advertise their relationship status to the rest of their group, according to researchers. Couples who haven’t had kids yet spend the most time scent-marking and investigating each other’s odors.

The strength of a lemur couple’s bond is reflected by the similarity of their scents, finds a new study.

“It’s like singing a duet, but with smells instead of sounds,” said Christine Drea, a Duke University professor who supervised the study.

Duke researchers sampled and analyzed scent secretions produced by lemurs known as Coquerel‘s sifakas living at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC. The researchers also monitored the animals’ scent-marking and sniffing behavior across the breeding season.

They found that lemur lovers mirror each other’s scent-marking behavior, and that lemur couples with kids give off similar scents — possibly as a way to combine territory defenses or to advertise their relationship status to the rest of their group, the researchers say.

The lemurs spend the most time scent-marking and investigating each other’s odors before they have kids. After they reproduce, they smell more like each other.

The findings appear in the February 2014 edition of Animal Behaviour.

Coquerel’s sifakas are white-furred lemurs with chocolate-brown patches on their chests, arms and legs. They have glands on their throats and genital areas that produce a sticky goo that is dabbed on branches and tree trunks as the animals move through the forest.

To collect the data, the researchers used cotton swabs to sample scent secretions from the genital regions of eight males and seven females across different phases of the reproductive season.

Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry tests to identify the chemical ingredients in each animal’s unique aroma showed that sifaka scent secretions from the genital area alone contain more than 250 odor compounds.

The researchers also followed the behavior of six pairs of potential mates, measuring how often the animals smeared their scents on their surroundings — a behavior known as scent-marking — as well as how often they sniffed, licked, or marked over the scents left by other members of their group.

The animals mirrored the scent-marking behavior of their partners. “When one member of a pair started sniffing and scent-marking more often, their mate did too,” said Lydia Greene, a research associate in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology who conducted the study as a Duke undergraduate.

The couples without offspring that spend more time on scent-marking and investigating each other’s odors may be in a ‘getting-to-know-you’ period, the researchers say.

“If two animals have never reproduced, the male doesn’t necessarily know what the female smells like when she’s in heat, because they’ve never gone through this before. They might need to scent mark a lot more to figure out when it’s time to mate,” Greene said.

Sifaka couples with kids spent less time scent-marking and investigating each other’s odors, but their odor profiles were more similar than those of couples without kids, possibly due to the exchange of odor-producing bacteria during mating, grooming, or other forms of physical contact.

Surprisingly, the number of years a couple had lived together made no difference to their mating success or the similarity of their scents. “Some of the sifaka couples had been living together for quite a while, but hadn’t managed to produce an infant, whereas others had been living together for a really short period of time and had already successfully reproduced,” Greene said.

Figuring out what the sifakas‘ chemical messages mean will take more time. The scent secretions of other lemur species contain hundreds of odor compounds that help the animals distinguish males from females, mark the boundaries of their territories, even tell when a female is fertile or sniff out the best mates. By sharing similar scent signals, sifaka couples could be jointly defending their territories, or advertising their bond to other lemurs in the group.

“It could be a signal that they’re a united front,” Drea said.

“[They could be saying] we’re a thing. We’ve bonded. Don’t mess with us,” Greene added.

This work was supported by Molly H. Glander Memorial Undergraduate Research Grants, Duke University Undergraduate Research Support grants, and by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

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Frog conservation in Madagascar


This video is called Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) Calling.

From Wildlife Extra:

Silicone implants could play a part in saving one of the world’s smallest and most spectacular frogs

January 2014: Conservationists are trialling a technique to tag a population of 80 golden mantella frogs with a tiny amount of fluorescent silicone gel under the skin on their legs. The hope is that the implants will ultimately enable the identification and tracking of wild populations in their native Madagascar – a move which could help to protect the species.

Dr Gerardo Garcia, Chester Zoo’s curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates said: “The technique of injecting a small coloured implant under the skin has never been attempted on these tiny golden mantella frogs before. However, if it works successfully on our captive animals in the UK, then we’ll be replicating this in the wild in Madagascar.

“In the short-term we hope these tags will allow us to identify each of the groups of frogs – something that’s currently very, very difficult given that they are all about the size of a thumb nail and look the same. At Chester, we need to be able to tell them apart for our own conservation-breeding purposes.”

The 20mm-long frogs are classed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meaning they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

A programme devised to protect golden mantellas and all other amphibians in Madagascar was set up in 2006. The strategy aims to equip local conservationists with the skills needed to establish safety-net populations of amphibians in captivity, out of the reach of a killer fungus that has devastated amphibian populations worldwide.

Madagascar is one of the only places in the world where the deadly chytrid fungus – a disease which thickens the frogs’ skin and prevents the movement of fluids, causing a chance of heart failure – does not currently exist. However experts believe it is only a matter of time before the fungus arrives there.

Dr Garcia said: “Amphibians already face lots of threats, most notably from the destruction of their habitat. However the chytrid fungus could be the last nail in the coffin. It threatens most of the wild amphibian species around the globe with extinction and it’s probably the first time ever that a disease has threatened to wipe out an entire class of animals.

“That’s why it’s vitally important to buy more time and give the species a lifeline until the threat of chytrid can be resolved.

“Once we’ve assessed how effective the tagging method is on the zoo’s ambassador group, if it proves to be the success that we think it will be, we’ll deploy this method in Madagascar with wild populations.

“We have already collaborated with organisations in Madagascar to help to set-up captive-breeding centres which are now successfully promoting the species. If we can tag groups of frogs in this way before we release them, then we’ll be able to track where they go and what their survival rate is.

“This process could play a very important part in their long-term survival.”

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Butterfly migration from South Africa to Madagascar


This video is called Butterfly Epidemic, Johannesburg, South Africa 2012/3.

From Sapa news agency in South Africa:

Clouds of butterflies descend on Joburg

January 11 2014 at 04:11pm

By Meggan Saville

Johannesburg -

Swarms of white butterflies have descended on Johannesburg during their annual migration from South Africa’s west coast to Madagascar, lepidopterist Earle Whiteley said on Saturday.

Whiteley, a director of Conservation of Butterflies in SA, said that the spectacle was an annual event, but that the clouds of Belenois aurota, commonly known as brown veined white butterflies, did not always follow exactly the same route.

“They start hatching along the entire coast from Cape Town towards Namibia, then migrate inland in a north-easterly direction.”

Whiteley said that the initial batch of butterflies were joined by more and more along their migratory route, over the Eastern Cape, which had now reached Gauteng.

The butterflies would then head toward Mozambique before crossing the sea to Madagascar.

“As they are going further north, some die and more join. Eventually, there are massive clouds of butterflies, reaching up to a kilometre into the air.”

Along the route, the female butterflies laid eggs, which would begin the life cycle of the next generation.

The timing of the migration was dependant on weather conditions, but usually ran from late November to mid-February. The brown veined white butterflies were often joined by other butterflies of the same Pieridae family, which had shades of yellow or orange in their colouration.

The butterflies travelled from sunrise to dusk and needed to replenish themselves with nectar every 20 minutes or risk dying from dehydration. They favoured long grass and were particularly attracted to grass nectar, Whiteley said.

The butterflies roost overnight, and it was possible to tell whether a butterfly was awake or asleep by looking at their feelers.

“If the feelers are touching, then they are sleeping.”

Whiteley was working towards establishing the Gauteng Butterfly Sanctuary, which is expected to open in December.

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‘Extinct’ fish rediscovery in Madagascar


This video from London, England says about itself:

19 Feb 2012

A short clip from a tank in the Aquarium at the ZSL London Zoo. The tank contains the following Madagascar cichlids: Pinstripe Menarambo (Paretroplus menarambo), Kotsovato (Paretroplus kieneri), Mangarahara Cichlid (Ptychochromis insolitus) and Damba Mipentina (Paretroplus maculatus).

From Wildlife Extra:

Worldwide appeal finds last remaining Madagascan fish

ZSL London Zoo’s international campaign finds lost Mangarahara cichlids in the wild

December 2013: Aquarists at ZSL London Zoo are celebrating the success of a worldwide appeal to find a female mate for a critically-endangered fish species – after a small population was found in remote Madagascar.

The Mangarahara cichlid (Ptychochromis insolitus) was believed to be lost in the wild due to intense deforestation and river diversions created for rice farming and agriculture drying up its native habitat of the Mangarahara River in Madagascar, and two of the last known individuals – both male – were residing in ZSL London Zoo’s aquarium.

After launching a desperate appeal in May 2013, hundreds of private aquarium owners, fish collectors and scientists got in touch with the zoo’s aquarium curator, Brian Zimmerman, to offer advice, support and suggestions – including a farm and business owner in Madagascar, who recognised the fish as one he’d seen in a secluded north-Madagascan town. An exploratory expedition was arranged with support from HM Ambassador in the British Embassy of Madagascar, so that, along with aquarists from Toronto Zoo in Canada, Zimmerman and Kienan Parbles from ZSL London Zoo could head off to Madagascar to search for the Mangarahara cichlid.

With help from local villagers, areas of a now-disconnected tributary from the Mangarahara River were cordoned off using nets to mark the search areas. Initially finding only other native species, the team were ecstatic when they finally found the first one of the last remaining Mangarahara cichlids in existence. Brian Zimmerman said: “We weren’t holding out much hope of finding any fish in the wild, as so much of the Mangarahara River now resembles the desert because of deforestation and intensive agricultural use.

“These cichlids have shown remarkable survival skills. We’re now doing all we can to protect these remaining fish.” As part of ZSL London Zoo’s Fish Net conservation project, which focuses on protecting freshwater species, Zimmerman and the team moved 18 of the Mangarahara cichlids to a private aquaculture facility in Madagascar, where they will receive specialist care while conservation plans are made to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.

8 Species We Thought Were Extinct But Are Actually Still Alive: here.