886 American snake species, new research


This 2013 video says about itself:

Our encounter with the South American Aquatic Coral Snake, also known as “Micrurus Ssrinamensis” in the Madidi Jungle National Park, Amazon Basin, Bolivia.

Don’t always go with the red to yellow, kill a fellow / red to black friend of Jack rhyme. That is true only for snakes found in North America, in South America Coral Snakes can have different patterns.

The Coral native to this region can be identified by the pattern of a black triad surrounding two yellow bands with red separating each triad. Also the bands should go all around the body.

The Aquatic Coral Snake (Micrurus surinamensis) is found throughout the Amazon including the Guianas, Brazil, Bolivia, Suriname. It is also called the coral “venenosa” in Bolivia, and the “boichumbeguacu” in Brazil. This species is one of the most famous South American coral snakes, and one of the biggest too (80 to 100 cm).

The Surinamensis is a very good swimmer, and spends most of its life in slow-moving bodies of water that have dense vegetation.

Coral Snakes are usually red with black bands bordered by white (or yellow) at intervals, yet not all Coral Snakes are tricolor. The eyes of the venomous tricolor Corals are very small, in contrast with the larger eyes of the nonpoisonous tricolor false corals. Coral snakes are generally not very aggressive snakes, but it would, however, be very dangerous to step on one inadvertently, especially with bare feet.

The venom of all coral snakes is strongly neurotoxic, it affects the nervous system and can cause respiratory paralysis and suffocation. These venoms are among the most potent found in snakes, yet the venom yield per animal is less than that of most vipers or pit vipers. In Mexico Coral Snakes are known as the “20-minute snakes,” for the victim is supposed to be dead 20 minutes after being bitten by one. Corals being burrowing snakes though, few accidents are actually caused by them.

From the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany:

150 years of snake collections: Data bank proves rich snake diversity in the neotropics

November 24, 2017

An international team made up of scientists from Brazil, Australia, USA, Ecuador, Germany and Sweden has published the results of an extensive database constructed for snakes of the American tropics. This database is made up of museum collections from the past 150 years and demonstrates that some Neotropical regions, such as the Cerrado in central Brazil, contain a disproportionately high diversity. Furthermore, some other diverse regions are disproportionally under sampled, such as the Amazon. For the first time all factors, such as distribution patterns, collection records and frequency of occurrence are recorded from a total of 147,515 contributions to 886 snake species. Thus, the database covers 74 per cent of all snake species from 27 countries. The database, which has been so far unique in this form, will serve as a solid basis for conservation concepts, to biodiversity and evolution models in the future, as well as to design research agendas. The study was recently published in the journal “Global Ecology and Biogeography”.

About 10,500 species of reptiles (animals such as lizards and snakes) are found around the world and about 150 to 200 new species are also discovered every year. Snakes make up about 34 percent of this group of animals. “We assume that there are still many snake species that we still do not know. However, the identification of areas poorly-sampled, where probably new species can be found, must come from data and mapping of the known species” explains leading author Dr. Thaís Guedes from the University of Gothenburg and adds: “We realize that the very rich Amazonian area is, for example, one of the least explored areas.

Most of the area is of high inaccessibility, the low investments in local research sum to relative shortage of experts to explore this huge area explain this result. Besides that, the centers of research, as scientific collections, are limited to the geographic area of major cities and universities.”

The international group of scientists have collected data about snake collections of the Neotropics — South and Central America, the West Indies and the southern part of Mexico and Florida — to record the diversity of snake species, their distribution, as well as their threats. The result is a unique database with 147,515 entries for 886 snake species from 12 families. Senior author of the study Alexandre Antonelli from the University of Gothenburg is pleased: “We have published one of the largest and most detailed surveys on the distribution of snakes — one of the most species-rich reptile groups in the world! What an achievement!”

The huge dataset is the result of a merger of a public database, which was examined by experts in the course of this study and the collection data of various international taxonomists.

Another of the study’s authors, Dr. Martin Jansen from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, says: “The review by taxonomic experts has greatly enhanced the data. One could say that the data bank now has a kind of quality mark, something like ‘taxonomically verified’. This is very important, as biodiversity models often lack this in-deepth taxonomic expertise.”

The results from this most comprehensive and novel database also highlight the necessity to better sample, explore, and protect areas of high diversity, as well as rare species. “Our database provides the ideal basis, and it can now be used by other scientists (without taxonomic expertise) as a solid basis for subsequent models, for example, on evolutionary patterns or climate change effects”, explains Guedes.

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Bowhead whale behaviour, new study


This 22 November 2017 video is called Bowhead whales come to Cumberland Sound in Canadian Arctic to exfoliate.

From the University of British Columbia in Canada:

Bowhead whales come to Cumberland Sound in Nunavut to exfoliate

November 22, 2017

Aerial drone footage of bowhead whales in Canada’s Arctic has revealed that the large mammals molt and use rocks to rub off dead skin.

The footage provides one answer to the mystery of why whales return to Cumberland Sound, Nunavut, every summer, and helps explain some unusual behavior that has been noted historically by Inuit and commercial whalers living and working in the area.

“This was an incidental observation,” said Sarah Fortune, a PhD student at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and lead author of a new study based on the findings. “We were there to document their prey and feeding behavior, but we noticed some strange behavior near the shore.”

Fortune and her colleagues — William Koski, a whale biologist with LGL Limited, and local Inuit hunters and fishers from Pangnirtung — watched from a boat as the whales turned on their sides and waved their flippers and tails in the air. It was clear the whales weren’t there just to feed.

When the researchers sent drones up to record the animals from above, they saw large boulders underwater and realized that the whales were rubbing against rocks to remove dead skin.

“We now know that Cumberland Sound serves as a habitat for feeding and molting,” said Fortune. “Very little is known about molting in any of the large whale species.”

The warmer coastal waters of summer might help facilitate molting, Fortune says. Ocean temperatures are expected to rise, and the change could have implications for the timing, duration and energy needed for molting, as well as the whales’ diets.

As oceans change, relatively large-bodied, fatty Arctic crustaceans known as zooplankton the preferred prey of bowhead whales could move to new habitats further north while smaller-bodied, temperate species that are lower in energy are likely to dominate the waters. Scientists don’t know how whales will adapt to the changing environment.

Fortune hopes to conduct further studies to determine whether bowhead whales molt primarily during summer months, and throughout their range.

Bowhead whales are the longest-living marine mammals on the planet, with lifespans up to 200 years.

Zebra finch song and human speech


This video says about itself:

15 November 2012

A zebra finch male sings to a female that he thinks is attractive. She’s just not that into him though. Better luck next time fella.

From McGill University in Canada:

Do birdsong and human speech share biological roots?

Experiments with zebra finches suggest songbirds also have ‘universal grammar’

November 22, 2017

Do songbirds and humans have common biological hardwiring that shapes how they produce and perceive sounds?

Scientists who study birdsong have been intrigued for some time by the possibility that human speech and music may be rooted in biological processes shared across a variety of animals. Now, research by McGill University biologists provides new evidence to support this idea.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that young zebra finches — a species often used to study birdsong — are intrinsically biased to learn to produce particular kinds of sound patterns over others. “In addition, these sound patterns resembled patterns that are frequently observed across human languages and in music”, says Jon Sakata, Associate Professor of Biology at McGill and senior author of a paper published online in Current Biology on Nov. 22.

On the shoulders of Chomsky

The idea for the experiments was inspired by current hypotheses on human language and music. Linguists have long found that the world’s languages share many common features, termed “universals.” These features encompass the syntactic structure of languages (e.g., word order) as well as finer acoustic patterns of speech, such as the timing, pitch, and stress of utterances. Some theorists, including Noam Chomsky, have postulated that these patterns reflect a “universal grammar” built on innate brain mechanisms that promote and bias language learning. Researchers continue to debate the extent of these innate brain mechanisms, in part because of the potential for cultural propagation to account for universals.

At the same time, vast surveys of zebra finch songs have documented a variety of acoustic patterns found universally across populations. “Because the nature of these universals bears similarity to those in humans and because songbirds learn their vocalizations much in the same way that humans acquire speech and language, we were motivated to test biological predisposition in vocal learning in songbirds,” says Logan James, a PhD student in Sakata’s lab and co-author of the new study.

A buffet of birdsong

In order to isolate biological predispositions, James and Sakata individually tutored young zebra finches with songs consisting of five acoustic elements arranged in every possible sequence. The birds were exposed to each sequence permutation in equal proportion and in a random order. Each finch therefore had to individually “choose” which sequences to produce from this buffet of birdsong.

In the end, the patterns that the laboratory-raised birds preferred to produce were highly similar to those observed in natural populations of birds. For example, like wild zebra finches, birds tutored with randomized sequences often placed a “distance call” — a long, low-pitched vocalization — at the end of their song.

Other sounds were much more likely to appear in the beginning or middle of the song; for example, short and high-pitched vocalizations were more likely to be produced in the middle of song than at the beginning or end of song. This matches patterns observed across diverse languages and in music, in which sounds at the end of phrases tend to be longer and lower in pitch than sounds in the middle.

Future research avenues

“These findings have important contributions for our understanding of human speech and music,” says Caroline Palmer, a Professor of Psychology at McGill who was not involved in the study. “The research, which controls the birds’ learning environment in ways that are not possible with young children, suggests that statistical learning alone — the degree to which one is exposed to specific acoustic patterns — cannot account for song (or speech) preferences. Other principles, such as universal grammars and perceptual organization, are more likely to account for why human infants as well as juvenile birds are predisposed to prefer some auditory patterns.”

Sakata, who is also a member of the Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM), says the study opens up many avenues of future work for his team with speech, language, and music researchers. “In the immediate future,” he says, “we want to reveal how auditory processing mechanisms in the brain, as well as aspects of motor learning and control, underlie these learning biases.”

Denise Klein, Director of the CRBLM and neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute, says James’ and Sakata’s study “provides insights on universals of vocal communication, helping to advance our understanding of the neurobiological bases of speech and music.”