Bermuda bluebirds in trouble


This video from Maine in the USa is called Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebird.

From the University of Chicago in the USA today:

Bluebirds struggle to find happiness on island paradise

55 minutes ago

Island plants and animals are often different from their mainland relatives. In general, the lack of top predators and large herbivores on isolated oceanic islands influences traits of island organisms. Consider, for example, the dodo: this island-dwelling, flightless bird was so fearless that it was hunted to extinction by humans within 200 years of first contact. Human interaction is just one threat to conservation. Differences in the threats posed by pathogens and parasites may also be important for conservation of today’s extinction-prone island populations.

Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) are familiar to many people living in the eastern United States, and also to residents and tourists in Bermuda, an archipelago with a total area of about 54 square kilometers that lies in the North Atlantic about 1,100 km off the East Coast of the United States. Although the current outlook for the bluebirds in the U.S. is good, their Bermuda relatives have been designated as threatened and vulnerable.

Comparisons of island and continental bird populations can offer new insights to people interested in conserving island birds. We compared island (Bermuda) and continental (Ohio, U.S.) populations of the Eastern bluebird, studying these birds from egg to adult. We investigated how nestlings and adults differed in growth, size and shape, immune function, numbers of eggs and nestlings that pairs produce, and how frequently parents deliver food to their young. We also attempted to identify differences between continental and island birds that, either individually or as part of a broader phenomenon, might intensify the risks of decline typically associated with small and geographically isolated populations, such as the Bermuda bluebirds.

Our study showed that bluebirds in Bermuda differed in a variety of ways from bluebirds in Ohio. For example, adults in Bermuda were lighter weight and had longer wings than the Ohio birds. These differences contrast with the usual changes associated with small animals living on isolated islands. Parents fed their nestlings at equal rates throughout the season in both locations. However, island nestlings grew slower and, as the breeding season progressed, more chicks died in their nests in Bermuda, though no similar seasonal pattern was observed in Ohio. Overall, our results suggest that the Bermuda bluebirds may be adjusted to certain aspects of the island environment but not to others.

Efforts to conserve Bermuda bluebirds may be improved by focusing on the intraseasonal patterns in nestling mortality and, more generally, the survival rates of birds of all ages. Furthermore, conservation planners in Bermuda may benefit by considering the consequences of (1) introduced mammalian and avian predators and competitors and their removal and (2) human-driven changes in populations of the insects that bluebirds eat and feed their chicks. These factors may not only affect survival and mortality rates but may also shape bluebird physiology and reproduction. Ultimately, our study highlights the value of considering the match between an organism, its environment, and its evolutionary history on a population-specific scale. Without this context, identifying detrimental trends is a more challenging proposition.

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Botched death penalty in Ohio, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

16 Jan 2014

A condemned Ohio inmate appeared to gasp several times and took more than 15 minutes to die Thursday as he was executed with a combination of drugs never before tried in the U.S.

Death row inmate Dennis McGuire made several loud snorting or snoring sounds during one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999.

In attempting to halt his execution with the new method, McGuire’s attorneys had argued last week he was at substantial risk of “agony and terror” while straining to catch his breath as he experienced a medical phenomenon known as air hunger.

By Nick Barrickman in the USA:

Ohio prisoner suffers horrific death in botched execution

17 January 2014

An execution carried out Thursday morning, using an experimental two-drug mixture, resulted in 53-year-old Ohio death row inmate Dennis McGuire writhing in agony for 25 minutes before being pronounced dead.

McGuire’s lawyers last week sought to halt the execution. They argued that the use of an untried lethal combination of drugs could lead to a medical condition known as “air hunger” and cause McGuire to suffer “agony and terror” while struggling to breathe. That is apparently what happened, as the prisoner made loud snorting noises before finally succumbing.

At a January 12 hearing on the new execution procedure, the state’s expert, Dr. Mark Dershwitz, said, “I truly don’t know how many minutes it will take the inmate to stop breathing.” He added, “There is no science to guide me on exactly how long this is going to take.”

In opposing the prisoner’s motion, Assistant Ohio Attorney General Thomas Madden argued that while the US Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment, “you’re not entitled to a pain-free execution.”

US District Judge Gregory Frost ruled in favor of the state, allowing the execution to go forward as scheduled.

Allen Bohnert, McGuire’s public defender, called the convicted man’s execution a “failed, agonizing experiment,” and added, “The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their name.”

McGuire had been on death row for several decades after being found guilty in the 1989 rape and murder of 22-year-old Joy Stewart. The victim was pregnant at the time of the attack. He was recently denied a stay of execution by Republican Governor John Kasich. McGuire’s lawyers argued that the prisoner had been mentally, physically and sexually abused as a child and had impaired brain function.

Authorities suspect that the cause of the botched procedure was the state’s decision to use a two-drug serum consisting of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller. The standard three-drug combination of potassium chloride, pancuronium bromide and pentobarbital had been discontinued by the state after drug manufacturers began refusing to provide substances used for executions.

Witnesses said that after the initial dosage was given, no visible motion from McGuire could be noted until, after ten minutes had passed, he began making “several loud snorting or snoring sounds.” He was pronounced dead at 10:53 a.m.

A local reporter said McGuire’s family, present at the procedure, was “crying and visibly upset.” Amber McGuire, the daughter, cried out, “Oh my god,” as her father writhed in his final moments.

Ohio has five more executions scheduled this year, with the next set for February 19.

Nearly all 32 US states that administer the death penalty rely on lethal drug combinations for executions. “In the old three-drug combination, each drug was being used for what it was designed for,” said Dr. Jonathan Groner, a lethal injections expert who teaches clinical surgery at Ohio State University, speaking to the Nation magazine. “Ohio is taking drugs that are normally used for things like a colonoscopy, and they’re giving massive overdoses to kill people. They’re using them for their toxic side effects,” he added.

There are 138 inmates on death row in Ohio. Despite a general decline in the number of people being put to death by authorities across the US, Ohio has increased its use of capital punishment. Its six executions in 2013 and six planned for this year are surpassed only by Texas and Florida.

The first four US executions this year are all employing never-before-tried compounds. Last week in Oklahoma, Michael Lee Wilson was quoted by newspapers as exclaiming, “I feel my whole body burning,” as he was administered the fatal mixture that ended his life.

Republican Senator Bruce Burns of Wyoming in a comment to the press this week said he would propose legislation to re-introduce firing squads as a means of execution.

Fueling these fascistic sentiments is an effort by states to find cheaper ways of administering lethal drugs to prisoners. Many states have turned to using federally unregulated compounding pharmacies to mix their concoctions. Ohio had reportedly purchased its drugs from one such vendor.

The proper response to the atrocity committed Thursday in Ohio is to criminally prosecute and convict all of the state officials responsible for McGuire’s execution, and to impeach and prosecute the federal judge who denied the prisoner’s motion for a stay of execution.

The family of a death row inmate is planning a lawsuit against the state of Ohio following his botched execution. Dennis McGuire was put to death using an untested combination of medical drugs that appeared to cause him prolonged distress, in violation of the US Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment: here.

Dennis McGuire, 53, was put to death on Thursday, January 16, in the execution chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. News of McGuire’s execution—and details of the gruesome manner in which authorities carried out his death sentence—have evoked disgust and revulsion in the US and internationally: here.

In the face of numerous manufacturers’ refusal to produce drugs used in executions, many US states, in efforts to continue the grisly ordeal of capital punishment, have begun relying on chemicals formulated in unregulated compounding facilities: here.

Texas executes Mexican national in defiance of international law: here.

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Snowy owl’s escape from death


This video from Pennsylvania in the USA says about itself:

15 Dec 2013

Snowy owl in Lancaster City

View article here.

By Jim McCormac in Ohio in the USA:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A very lucky Snowy Owl, and an owl in prison

With well over 100 Snowy Owls thus far reported in Ohio – biggest irruption in many decades – interesting stories are bound to arise. These birds draw lots of attention, and nearly everyone who has the fortune of seeing one is suitably impressed. An upshot of the owls’ conspicuousness and popularity is that we get lots of reports from people that aren’t in the birding network. That allows a better tally and more thorough documentation of an invasion (to use a much overused descriptor) that we aren’t likely to see on this scale for decades, if history is a guideline.

One downside, for the owls, is that nearly all of them are juveniles, and utterly unfamiliar with vehicles. Couple that naiveté with their propensity to hunt near roads, and fly close to the ground, and owl-vehicle strikes will happen. I’ve heard of at least four cases of Snowy Owls killed in collisions with vehicles so far, and some say that this is the biggest cause of mortality for owls south of the breeding grounds, at least in populous areas.

Snowy owl

So, when I first saw these photos, I was bummed – another owl gets grilled. But a quick skim of the email they were attached to reveals a happy ending, it seems. The gentleman was driving along a rural Wood County road when the owl came out of nowhere and bashed into the front of his pickup truck.

Snowy owl

The collision was hard enough to crack one of the slats in the grill – these birds can weigh 4-5 lbs, or more – and the owl popped right through and was stuck between the grill and the engine compartment. But it is still alive, and fortunate indeed that the right guy was driving the truck.

Snowy owl

The driver quickly worked the owl free, and placed it on the passenger seat in the warm cab of the truck. While the bird was undoubtedly a bit dazed and confused, and some feathers appear out of place, it doesn’t look too worse for the wear. Anyway, while the guy was no doubt pondering what to do with the animal, it shook itself off, and darted out the door. The driver reports that it flew strongly across the fields, and out of sight. Here’s hoping it suffered no lasting damage. If it had to collide with a vehicle, it’s probably good that it happened to be this one, as many people probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with the situation rapidly, and successfully extricate the bird.

UPDATE: This same owl, apparently, is doing well and hunting in the same area, at least as of January 1. Look for it near the junction of South Dixie Highway and State Route 281 in Wood County, not far south of the town of Rudolph.

This video comes from one of Ohio’s prisons, and offers an interesting choice of habitats. The person who made the video reports that there are plenty of fields and wide-open habitats around the facility, and they are hopeful that the bird will stay for a while. It’s pretty cool to see the big white owl cruise right over the concertina wire.

Snowy Owls continue to turn up in new spots about every day, with at least 113 reported in 39 counties to date. An update and map are RIGHT HERE.

Meanwhile, another snowy owl is today still on Vlieland island in the Netherlands.

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Prothonotary warbler nest boxes in the USA


This video from the USA is called Prothonotary Warbler singing in a tree.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Ohio Young Birders Club and the Prothonotary Warbler Nest Box Service Project

By Kimberly Kaufman and Darlene Sillick

Under the guidance of one of Ohio’s leading bird conservationists, Darlene Sillick, student members of the Ohio Young Birders Club (OYBC) conducted a service project to install Prothonotary Warbler nest boxes at the Hoover Nature Preserve (HNP) near Columbus, Ohio. The Prothonotary Warbler Nest Box Project was the result of the commitment of the OYBC’s Central Ohio Chapter to doing more service projects. They learned that a severe wind storm in late June caused significant wind damage to the trees supporting up to 50 Prothonotary Warbler nest boxes at Hoover Nature Preserve. They discussed what they could do to help and decided to get involved by raising funds to buy wood and supplies to build boxes, and then installing the boxes. In early October, the OYBC Central Ohio Chapter built 40 boxes. They suggested that participants at the annual Ohio Young Birders Conference could complete the remaining boxes. They also felt participating in this project would help educate people about the plight of this lovely warbler. The students wanted to make sure these beautiful birds find a place to call home when they return in April 2013.

On Saturday, November, 3, 2012, Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm in Dayton, Ohio, hosted the Sixth Annual Ohio Young Birders Conference. A crowd of nearly 140 people were treated to 11 outstanding student presentations. Topics included camps and career opportunities for young birders, the value of citizen science, and why bird conservation matters. The keynote speaker was Benjamin Van Doren, a freshman at Cornell University. In addition to the presentations, conference attendees also built the remaining 40 Prothonotary Warbler nest boxes for the project. On November 11, OYBC student members and adult volunteers installed dozens of the new boxes at Hoover Nature Preserve. Dedicated volunteer Charlie Bombaci, whose many years of service have made Hoover Nature Preserve a model of success for the Prothonotary Warblers, reports being thrilled that the young birders have decided to take on this project and “pay it forward” for the good of the species.

The Ohio Young Birders Club was founded in 2006 by Black Swamp Bird Observatory. For more information, visit the OYBC website at www.ohioyoungbirders.org. For more information about the Central Ohio Chapter, visit Columbus Audubon Society at www.columbusaudubon.org.

Ant slave ‘rebellions’


This video from the USA says about itself:

Acorn ant (Temnothorax longispinosus) larva close-up and a worker feeding a larva.

Courtesy of Jo­han­nes Gu­ten­berg Uni­vers­ity Mainz in Germany and World Science staff:

Slave ant “rebellions” found to be common

Sept. 27, 2012

Ants held as slaves in nests of oth­er ant spe­cies of­ten dam­age their op­pres­sors through acts of sab­o­tage, ac­cord­ing to new re­search.

Ant re­searcher Su­sanne Foit­zik of Jo­han­nes Gu­ten­berg Uni­vers­ity Mainz in Ger­ma­ny said she in­i­tially not­ed the “re­bel­lion” be­hav­ior three years ago, in find­ings re­ported in the April 2009 is­sue of the jour­nal Ev­o­lu­tion. More re­cent re­search, she said, has re­vealed that the phe­nomenon—seen among ants that are en­slaved in or­der to raise their mas­ters’ off­spring—is wide­spread.

In three ant popula­t­ions in West Vir­gin­ia, New York, and Ohio, Foit­zik ex­plained, en­slaved work­ers of the ant spe­cies Tem­notho­rax long­i­spin­os­us have been ob­served ne­glect­ing and kill­ing the off­spring of their slave­mak­ers rath­er than car­ing for them. As a re­sult, only 45 per­cent of the slave­mak­ers’ off­spring sur­vived on av­er­age—lit­tle over half the sur­viv­al rate of the slave spe­cies’ brood in its own free-liv­ing nests.

The Amer­i­can slave-making ant Pro­to­mog­nathus amer­i­canus is a “so­cial par­a­site” of an an­cient line­age that de­pends en­tirely on oth­er ant spe­cies, called the host spe­cies, to sur­vive. Slave work­ers care for the brood in par­a­site nests, br­ing food to their mas­ters and feed them, and even de­fend the nest.

The ants be­come slaves when work­ers from the slave-making ant col­o­ny at­tack the nests of the spe­cies T. long­i­spin­os­us, kill the adults, and steal the brood. Back in the mas­ters’ nest, which can be in hol­low acorns, nut­shells, or twigs, the slave­mak­ers ex­ploit the nat­u­ral brood care be­hav­ior of the emerg­ing slave work­ers. The slaves feed and clean the lar­vae, the maggot-like off­spring of their mas­ters.

“Probably at first the slaves can­not tell that the lar­vae be­long to anoth­er spe­cies,” said Foit­zik. As a re­sult, 95 per­cent of the brood sur­vives the lar­val stage. But the situa­t­ion changes when the lar­vae be­come pu­pae, or un­dergo their met­amor­phosis in­to the adult stage. “The pu­pae, which al­ready look like ants, bear chem­i­cal cues on their cu­ti­cles [shell-like skele­tons] that can ap­par­ently be de­tected. We have been able to show that a high frac­tion of the slave­maker pu­pae are killed by slave work­ers.”

The pu­pae are ei­ther ne­glected or ac­tively killed by be­ing at­tacked and torn apart, the re­search­ers found. Sev­er­al slaves at once may as­sault a pu­pa, which can­not move or de­fend it­self dur­ing the pu­pal stage and is al­so un­pro­tected by a cocoon—P. amer­i­can­us be­ing one of a num­ber of ant spe­cies which, for un­clear rea­sons, don’t make co­coons.

In par­a­site nests in West Vir­gin­ia, only 27 per­cent of the pu­pae sur­vived, and in the New York col­o­nies, only 49 per­cent, Foit­zik said. In Ohio, the sur­viv­al chances of the Amer­i­can slave-making ant was a bit high­er at 58 per­cent—but this was still well be­low the sur­viv­al rate of 85 per­cent for pu­pae of the “slave” spe­cies when in their own free-liv­ing nests.

A ques­tion is pre­cisely what mem­bers of the “slave” or host spe­cies achieve by re­belling.

“The en­slaved work­ers do not di­rectly ben­e­fit from the kill­ings be­cause they do not re­pro­duce,” said Foitzik. But their free rel­a­tives in the sur­round­ing area—which might very well be their sisters—indi­rectly ben­e­fit, she not­ed, as slave­maker col­o­nies weak­ened by re­bel­lions are less capa­ble of suc­cess­fully launch­ing new raids.

In­ter­est­ingly, Foit­zik added, ge­o­graph­ic dif­fer­ences in the slave spe­cies’ re­sponses fit pre­dic­tions of ev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry that popula­t­ions will evolve dif­fer­ent traits in re­sponse to dif­fer­ent pres­sures from their lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment. An ex­am­ple: while host ants in New York are very ag­gres­sive and of­ten suc­cess­fully thwart slave raids, West Vir­gin­ian hosts prof­it more from the slave re­bel­lion be­cause, as ge­net­ic anal­y­ses in­di­cate, the neigh­bor­ing col­o­nies are more of­ten close rel­a­tives to the “re­bels.”

Prehistoric mollusk re-created by computer technology


Protobalanus spinicoronatus

From National Geographic:

Prehistoric “Movie Monster” Mollusk Re-created With 3-D Printer

Creature lived about 390 million years ago.

Ker Than

for National Geographic News

Published September 18, 2012

A spiky, well-armored mollusk that lived in the ocean 390 million years ago has been brought back to life with the help of 3-D printers.

Less than an inch long, the oval-shaped creature—a species of so-called multiplacophoran dubbed Protobalanus spinicoronatus—was previously known from only a few rare and incomplete specimens, which made for inaccurate reconstructions.

“The original reconstruction was made where the plates were arranged in a long row, almost like a long worm with 17 plates down its back,” said study co-author Jakob Vinther, a paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin.

The latest P. spinicoronatus model is based on the most complete known fossil of a multiplacophoran, discovered in 2001 in northern Ohio. Partially covered in rock, the animal’s shell and spikes had become fragmented as it decayed. …

The new model also reveals that P. spinicoronatus was more heavily armored than other mollusks living at the time, and in fact resembled some modern chitons, which live in shallow, exposed environments where there are a lot of predators—as the team believes was the case for the prehistoric mollusk too.

Multiplacophoran’s hunters would likely have included jawed fish and beaked cephalopods similar to squid and octopuses—both of which had recently evolved.

“It was a really exciting time,” Vinther said, “because there was a lot going on.”

The new mollusk model is detailed in the September 18 issue of the journal Paleontology.

See also here.

September 19, Shenzhen, China – An international research team, led by Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences and BGI, has completed the sequencing, assembly and analysis of Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) genome—the first mollusk genome to be sequenced—that will help to fill a void in our understanding of the species-rich but poorly explored mollusc family. The study, published online today in Nature, reveals the unique adaptations of oysters to highly stressful environment and the complexity mechanism of shell formation: here.