New African crocodile species discovered

This is a Nile crocodile video.


Scientists confirm ancient Egyptian knowledge: Nile crocodile is two species

Jeremy Hance

September 20, 2011

DNA has shown that the Nile crocodile is in fact two very different species: a bigger, more aggressive crocodile and a smaller, tamer species that today survives only in West Africa. While the taxonomy of the Nile crocodile has been controversial for over a century, the new study points out that the ancient Egyptians recognized the differences in the species and avoided the big crocodile for its rituals.

While it is not uncommon for DNA to overturn long-established taxonomy, in this case the DNA results of over a hundred living crocodiles across Africa and over fifty museum specimens—including mummified crocodiles from ancient Egypt—found that what has long been considered one species is two distantly related species. In fact the larger Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is more closely related to Caribbean crocodiles than it is to the new cryptic species, dubbed Crocodylus suchus.

At first researchers were dumbfounded by these results.

“I kept on sequencing it because I was convinced I was 100 percent wrong,” Evon Hekkala, lead author, told Nature. “It wasn’t even remotely related to the Nile crocodile samples I had been working on.”

Greek historian, Herodotus, actually pointed this out nearly two thousand years five hundred ago after visiting Egypt. The researchers write that according to Herodotus, who has been dubbed the Father of History, “ancient Egyptian priests were cognizant of two forms [of Nile crocodile] and selectively used the smaller, more tractable form in temples and ceremonies”. DNA tests of mummified specimens bore this out: all of them were of the more docile Crocodylus suchus.

At one time the Nile crocodile and its cryptic species used to share some of the same habitats, including the Nile River, according to the scientists. Now, however, the smaller Crocodylus suchus survives only in West Africa with researchers speculating that the bigger, fiercer crocodile outcompeted it.

The Nile crocodile is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List, meaning it is currently safe from extinction. In some countries it is legal to kill the animal for its skin. However, according to the authors, if the new cryptic species is accepted such trade laws will have to be reconsidered. The new species is likely threatened due to overharvesting, bushmeat trade, and habitat loss.

February 2012: A Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) field team working in a Ugandan national park is finding new areas containing one of the least-known crocodilians in Africa – the pygmy Nile crocodile: here.

Why did ancient Egyptians worship the crocodile? Here.

Crocodile Turns Bright Orange: here.

If you’re squeamish, look away now: Egyptian mummification method resurrected in the UK: here.

Mummies share their secrets: Technology helps scientists understand how the dead once lived: here.

Insights into the Ecology and Evolutionary Success of Crocodilians Revealed through Bite-Force and Tooth-Pressure Experimentation: here.

Sardines video

About this video, from the Monterey Aquarium in the USA:

Our Open Sea exhibit has almost 20,000 sardines. This visitor video shows what it’s like up close.

Sardines fisheries crash: here.

Sardines have organs that sense currents to help them swim as a team, like synchronized swimmers! Here.

Ecuadorean hummingbird video

This video is called Birding Ecuador Part I; the North-West.

From Wildlife Focus about another video:

Velvet-purple Coronet Hummingbird from the

Native to Ecuador and Columbia

Sic; Colombia is meant.

Birding in Costa Rica – Green Violetear (Colibri thalassinus): here.

Costa Rica Trip Report – Stripe-Tailed Hummingbird: here.

New findings suggest birds learn the art of nest-building, rather than it being just an instinctive skill: here.

Italian sparrow, a new species

This is an Italian sparrow video.

From the BBC:

Italian sparrow joins family as a new species

By Victoria Gill

Science reporter, BBC Nature

Scientists in Norway say they have conclusive genetic evidence that sparrows recently evolved a third species.

The Italian sparrow, they argue, is a cross between the ubiquitous house sparrow and the Spanish sparrow.

Whether it is a distinct species has been the subject of a long scientific debate.

The Oslo team say in the journal Molecular Ecology that their evidence resolves the question.

Many bird-watching guides already identify the Italian sparrow as a separate species.

But this study, led by evolutionary biologist Glenn-Peter Saetre from the University of Oslo, is a genetic snapshot that appears to settle the debate.

The researchers studied populations of Italian and Spanish sparrows that share the same habitat in the south-east of Italy.

They took blood samples from the birds in order to extract DNA.

“By examining the genetics, we have shown conclusively that the Italian sparrow is of mixed origin – it is a hybrid of the house sparrow and the Spanish sparrow,” Dr Saetre told BBC Nature.

“Second, and perhaps equally important – it is not reproducing with the Spanish sparrow, even though the two birds live side-by-side.

Tree sparrow, house sparrow photos: here.

‘Extinct’ Ethiopian lark rediscovered?

This video is called Ethiopian Bird Movie.

From Wildlife Extra:

Unidentified lark spotted in Ethiopia

Significant Ethiopian discovery – Heteromirafra larks by David Hoddinott

September 2011. David Hoddinott, while leading a birding tour to Ethiopia, had what may prove to be a very significant sighting.

David writes “I travelled to north-eastern Ethiopia with a group on a reconnaissance birding tour, where we visited the remote area of Jijiga, little visited by foreigners, let alone other birders. On seeing the magnificent grasslands to the east of the town we decided to bird an area of suitable habitat to look for Heteromirafra larks. Three known species exist in this aberrant genus of large-headed, small-bodied and short-tailed grassland larks:

1 – Rudd’s lark

The highly localized and threatened Rudd’s Lark, endemic to South Africa and restricted to several diminishing patches of pristine upland grasslands.

2 – Sidamo lark

The Sidamo Lark, (also known as Liben Lark), restricted to the Liben Plains of southern Ethiopia, critically endangered and recent BirdLife International reports predict it will be mainland Africa’s first bird extinction.

3. Archer’s Lark – Not seen since 1922

Archer’s lark is known from just 2 sites in Somalia and not seen since it was collected in 1922! No living birders or ornithologists have seen this bird!

David continues “After just ten minutes of walking we flushed a Heteromirafra lark and I managed to get decent photographs of this bird. This area appeared similar to the Liben Plains but these grasslands lie 590km northeast of the Liben Plains – some distance indeed. We were also approximately 90km from the type-locality of Archer’s Lark across the border in Somalia.”

Sidamo or Archer’s lark?

If it turns out that this species is Sidamo Lark then this will be fantastic for the conservation of a critically endangered species, and if it’s Archer’s Lark – well then, even better, and another bird has been “rediscovered” for science. An alternative hypothesis is that Sidamo and Archer’s Larks are actually the same species and that several isolated populations exist.

BirdLife International research trip

Whatever the final result will be, this was almost certainly a significant discovery and of major conservation concern. Rockjumper Tours have been in touch with BirdLife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds over this sighting. As a result, a team of researchers made a trip to the site in May 2011 and obtained DNA samples so that these can be compared with the specimens of Archer’s and Sidamo Larks. Their research will hopefully give us a better understanding of north-east Africa’s Heteromirafra larks, their taxonomy, population size, distribution and conservation requirements.

David Hoddinott was leading a birding tour for Rockjumper Birding Adventures.