Tunisian ex-dictator now a wanted criminal

Tunisia has issued an international arrest warrant for ousted autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who decamped to Saudi Arabia earlier this month in the face of a popular uprising: here.

Uprisings in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt — America Is Paying the Price for Supporting Corrupt Dictators: here.

Bats rest in carnivorous plants

This is a video about a tree shrew eating nectar of a Nepenthes lowii carnivorous plant, while defecating, thus providing food for the plant.

From Not Exactly Rocket Science blog:

Flesh-eating plant doubles as bat-cave

The world’s worst flesh-eating plant lives in the jungles of Borneo. It’s called elongata and it’s one of several strains of Raffles’ pitcher plant. Like its relatives, it has distinctive pitcher-shaped leaves that can lure insects into a watery grave. But unlike other strains, elongata is strangely incompetent at catching insects. Instead, it lures bats into its pitchers, and lives off their poo.

Pitcher plants grow in soils that lack the vital nitrogen that plants depend on. The pitchers make up for this shortfall by harvesting nitrogen from the flesh of animals. Their pitchers are traps, baited with nectar, enticing colours, or tempting smells. If an insect approaches and falls in, it is doomed. It can’t clamber up the slippery side of the pitcher, and it soon drowns in the pool of liquid at the bottom. This fluid contains a suite of enzymes that breaks down the plant’s prey, releasing its valuable cache of nitrogen and other nutrients.

Elongata looks much like other pitcher plants, except for its giant traps. They’re around four times larger than those of its relatives, they don’t contain much fluid, and they don’t emit any noticeable smell. At such a size, you’d expect the pitchers to be swimming in insects. But when Ulmar Grafe from the University of Brunei Darussalam looked inside the giant pitchers, he found six to seven times fewer insects than in other pitchers. Instead, he found small bats.

Grafe spent a year trekking through Bornean swampland to inspect a group of 400 elongata pitchers. In that time, he found 32 Hardwicke’s woolly bats, nestled inside. By fitting them with radio-trackers, Grafe found that these bats are exclusive tenants. They nest nowhere else besides these meat-eating plants.

Their green apartments are roomy affairs, adapted to suit their hosts. There’s not a lot of fluid inside, so the bats don’t inadvertently drown. There’s a thickened “girdle” half-way up, which gives them purchase against the slippery sides. And there’s enough space for two – on two occasions, Grafe found youngsters snuggling with their parents.

In the pitchers, the bats get shelter from predators and the elements. But what does the plant get in return for providing a living bat-cave? In a word: faeces. The bats defecate into the pitchers, providing the plant with at least a third of its nitrogen, packaged in neat dollops.

This is just the latest in a long line of alliances between pitchers plants and animals. Three species turn their pitchers into latrines for tree-shrews. They produce nutritious nectar that the tree-shrews can only reach if they position their backsides over the mouth of the pitcher. Tree-shrews often mark valuable resources with poo, and when they do so into the pitcher, they provide it with fertiliser. One of these – the king pitcher – has the largest pitchers in the world. They need to be, to double as suitable toilets.

That’s just the mammals. The leafy traps can actually house entire communities of creatures and some of these residents are found nowhere else on the planet. Small invertebrates swim within the fluid, including the larvae of various mosquitoes, midges and flies. The black-spotted sticky frog uses the liquid as a nursery for its tadpoles. By eating the animals that die within the pitcher, these residents speed up the release of nutrients. They may be tenants, but they double as part of the plant’s digestive system.

And some predators have taken to raiding the pitchers for food. A type of carpenter ant called Camponotus schmitzi nests solely in the tendrils of the pitchers, and it risks life and limb by actually diving into the fluid to grab drowned prey. A red crab spider can do the same; it spends its life in the pitchers, picking off drowned insects and hauling itself to safety with lifelines of silk. Strangest of all, a small red land crab also raids the pitchers for food. They might be death-traps, but the pitcher plants can also be havens for life.

See also here. And here. And here.

“The notion that bats have high rates of rabies is not true,” says Brandon Klug, a graduate student at the University of Calgary and the lead author of a paper published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases: here.

Killer plant [Nepenthes] ‘eats’ great tit at Somerset nursery: here.

Oscar nominations in the USA

This video is about one of the rather rare instances when United States governmental crimes were mentioned during the Oscar awards ceremony in Hollywood: Michael Moore attacking George W. Bush because of the Iraq war in his Academy Award acceptance speech.

By David Walsh in the USA:

The 83rd Academy Awards nominations—the worst of times, the best of times

26 January 2011

The Academy Award nominations for 2010 were announced Tuesday morning at a press conference in Los Angeles. The 83rd Academy Awards ceremony will take place February 27 at the Kodak Theatre, also in Los Angeles, co-hosted by actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper and featuring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush, gained the most nominations for 2010, 12, including nominations in nearly all the leading categories.

The Coen brothersTrue Grit [see also here] gained recognition in ten categories, while Christopher Nolan’s Inception and David Fincher’s The Social Network were each nominated for eight awards.

Two films that provided some sense of contemporary American life, The Fighter [see also here] and Winter’s Bone, received seven and four nominations, respectively.

The Academy Awards process, like a good many social events in the US at this point, has a largely ritualistic character. Very little is left to chance, either in the nomination process or the ceremony itself.

The last time controversy was permitted to rear its head came in March 2003, only days after the launching of the US-led assault on Iraq, when documentary filmmaker Michael Moore denounced George W. Bush, calling him a “fictitious president,” and declared, “We are against this war.” Since that time, the awards ceremony has run as smoothly and tediously, sometimes as unendurably, as clockwork.

Let the Academy know what you think. Vote now in our 2011 Documentaries Oscar Opinion Poll! Here.

94% of Oscar voters are white, 77% are male: here.