Honey bees survive Notre Dame Paris fire


This 19 April 2019 video about Paris, France says about itself:

The bees that live on the roof of Notre Dame are alive and buzzing, having survived the devastating fire that ripped through the cathedral on Monday.

Beekeeper Nicolas Geant told CNN that he received a call from the Notre Dame spokesman saying there were bees flying in and out of the hives. “Which means they are still alive!” Geant said.

“Right after the fire I looked at the drone pictures and saw the hives weren’t burnt but there was no way of knowing if the bees had survived. Now I know there’s activity it’s a huge relief!”

Notre Dame has housed three beehives on the first floor on a roof over the sacristy, just beneath the rose window, since 2013. Each hive has about 60,000 bees. Geant said the hives were not touched by the blaze because they are located about 30 meters below the main roof where the fire spread.

The beekeeper Nicolas Geant settled these three hives on the roof of the sacristy of Notre Dame

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

The bee colony that lives on the roof of Notre Dame also survived the fire. There was still uncertainty about this, but the three hives, in which 180,000 honey bees live, were not affected by the fire. The hives were placed on the roof in 2013 as a contribution to biodiversity in the center of Paris. They stood about 30 meters below the tip of the roof that burned down.

According to the beekeeper of Notre Dame, bees can survive a fire by filling themselves with honey as soon as they detect a fire. Insects have no lungs and cannot choke because of smoke. European bees will never leave their hive and will protect their queen at all times, beekeeper Geant says.

Otters are back in Dutch nature reserve


This April 2019 camera trap video shows that otters are back in the Dutch Reeuwijkse Plassen nature reserve.

Otters had been absent for nearly fifty years in that area.

The Eurasian otter typically eats fish, but amphibians, which are in global decline, are also part of its diet, especially when fish are scarce. In a Mammal Review study, researchers identified bones of amphibians in otter faeces from southern Italy to determine which types of amphibians are typically eaten. They also reviewed 64 studies of otter diet: here.

Aegean sea journey, 18 April


Aegean sea, 18 April 2019

Before telling how we left Kos island in Greece after our 18 April 2019 arrival there, first this photo through an airplane window from just before our arrival: Greek Aegean sea islands to the north of Kos.

All photos of this blog post are made with a cell phone.

This June 2018 about the harbour of Kos island in Greece says about itself:

Kos City is the capital of the island, has the largest port and is the tourist and cultural center. Close to the harbour is the 14th century Neratzia Castle, built in 1315 by the Knights of St. John of Rhodes. In the center of the city is an old market place, an agora. The ancient Asklepieion is located between Kos Town and the Dikeos.

This February 2019 video says about itself:

Island hopping Greece

We had a great trip from Rhodes to Kos. The ferryboat stopped in Chalki, Tilos and Nisyros. All places were amazing. Enjoy!

After our arrival on Kos island on 18 April 2019, our ferry traveled in the opposite direction: from Kos to Nisyros to Tilos.

Kos-Tilos ferry. 18 April 2019

This photo shows our ferry from Kos to Tilos.

I had crossed the Aegean sea once before: from Turkey to Lesvos island. I had seen Scopoli’s shearwaters and bottlenose dolphins then.

What would we see this time?

We did not see as much wildlife as that earlier time. Mainly a yellow legged gull flying just above the sea. This ferry was a catamaran, sailing much faster than the Turkey to Lesvos ferry. It was windy as well, making it harder to use binoculars.

Greek flag, 18 April 2019

The Aegean sea: in ancient times, there were various explanations for the name Aegean. The Athenians said the name referred to their King Aegeus, of 1000 BCE, or longer ago. When Aegeus was king, the son of King Minos of Crete was murdered in Athens. Hand over my son’s murderers to me, Minos demanded. But King Aegeus did not know who had murdered the Cretan prince. Then, King Minos said, once in seven years you have to send seven young men and seven young women to Crete. These young people were fed to the Minotaur, a half-human half-bull monster living in the underground Labyrinth in Crete.

Theseus, Aegeus’ son, wanted to stop this human sacrifice. When the ship to Crete had to sail again, he traded places with one of the seven young men. He told his father: I want to talk to the Minotaur to stop his killing. If the monster is unwilling, then I will try to kill it. If I succeed, and all fourteen young Athenians will be alive, then, when the ship will arrive again in Athens, its sails will be white. If the sails will be black, that will be a sign that the Minotaur has killed me and the others.

When Theseus arrived on Crete, King Minos’ daughter Ariadne fell in love with him. She said: Theseus, you are strong and courageous. Maybe you can kill the minotaur. However, then you and the other Athenians will still die. You won’t be able to find your way out of the Labyrinth. Therefore, I give you this ball of thread.

As Theseus entered the Labyrinth, he tied one end of the string to the door. He found the Minotaur and killed it. Then, he followed the thread out of the Labyrinth. All the young Athenians boarded their ship. So did Ariadne, who had saved Theseus’ life and whom he loved.

The ship landed on Naxos island to get drinking water. As Theseus slept, the goddess Athena woke him up. She said: You must sail early in the morning. And no, you cannot take Ariadne along. Naxos is the island of Dionysus, the god of wine. Dionysus has fallen in love with Ariadne. She will become Dionysus’ wife.

Athena tells Theseus to leave Ariadne

On this Greek vase painting, Athena tells Theseus (left) to go to his ship, leaving Ariadne. Hypnos, the winged god of sleep, makes sure that Ariadne does not wake up.

Theseus obeyed the gods. But he felt so sad that he forgot to change the black sails to white sails. In some versions of the myth, Theseus voluntarily abandoned Ariadne, not really loving her. However, then his forgetting to change the sails to white ones becomes unexplainable.

As the ship approached Athens, King Aegeus was on the lookout on Sounio cliff. He saw the black sails. ‘My son and the thirteen others are dead!’ In despair, Aegeus jumped into the sea and drowned. And that, according to the Athenians, is why we still call it the Aegean sea.

There is also another explanation, based on another person who supposedly drowned long ago. Aegea was said to have been a queen of the Amazons. She supposedly wanted to bring an army of women warriors from Libya to help the Trojans in their war against the Greeks. However, she drowned; and the sea where she died was named after her.

Tilos, 18 April 2019

After about 90 minutes of sailing, our ferry-boat approached Tilos island.

Tilos, on 18 April 2019

We landed in Livadia, the harbour village of Tilos.

Tilos wildlife: see here.

Tony Blair whitewashing Turkish Erdogan’s war crimes


This video says about itself:

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is welcomed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before their meeting at Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on November 18, 2015.

By Phil Miller in Britain:

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Jack Straw gives Erdogan’s wife humanitarian award

Critics say was ‘designed to whitewash Turkey’s war crimes

FORMER Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw has dished out a “humanitarian award” to the wife of Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a ceremony in London.

Tony and Cherie Blair were also keynote speakers at the World Humanitarian Forum, a two-day event ending today that critics say was “designed to whitewash Turkey’s war crimes.”

Rosa Gilbert from the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign (KSC) told the Morning Star: “It is a huge insult to see Jack Straw — complicit in extraordinary rendition and torture, not to mention the disastrous war on Iraq — lecture us on ‘humanitarianism’ while handing awards to a Turkish regime that has aided and abetted jihadists in Syria and used their Nato membership to wage a dirty, murderous war on Kurds both in Syria and Turkey.”

In 2004 when he was foreign secretary, Mr Straw is alleged to have authorised the rendition of a pregnant woman to the torture chambers of Libya’s then dictator Colonel Muammar Gadaffi.

The arch-Blairite bestowed a “Changemaker” award on first lady Emine Erdogan yesterday in recognition of her humanitarian work with Palestinians and the Rohingya.

However, her husband is less keen on supporting national minorities in Turkey and Syria, where he has led a crackdown on Kurdish people.

Ms Gilbert alleged the Turkish state was behind the awards ceremony and said that it was “unsurprising to see disgraced politicians like the Blairs and Jack Straw … whitewash Turkey’s war crimes.”

She recalled Mr Blair’s proscription of the Kurdistan Workers Party under the Terrorism Act 2000, a ban that was opposed by Jeremy Corbyn at the time.

“We hope that under Corbyn, Labour has shifted away from the murderous clutches of Erdogan and will support Kurdish socialists,” Ms Gilbert said.

Flightless birds evolution, new research


This 2016 video is called TOP 10 FLIGHTLESS BIRDS.

From Harvard University in the USA:

Genetics behind the evolution of flightless birds

April 17, 2019

Summary: Based on the analysis of the genomes of more than a dozen flightless birds, including an extinct moa, researchers found that while different species show wide variety in the protein-coding portions of their genome, they appear to turn to the same regulatory pathways when evolving flight loss.

Since Darwin’s era, scientists have wondered how flightless birds like emus, ostriches, kiwi, cassowaries and others are related, and for decades the assumption was that they must all share a common ancestor who abandoned the skies for a more grounded life.

By the early 2000s, new research using genetic tools upended that story, and instead pointed to the idea that flighlessness evolved many times throughout history. Left unanswered, however, were questions about whether evolution had pulled similar or different genetic levers in each of those independent avian lineages.

A team of Harvard researchers believes they may now have part of the answer.

Based on the analysis of the genomes of more than a dozen flightless birds, including an extinct moa, a team of researchers led by Tim Sackton, Director of Bioinformatics for the FAS Informatics Group and Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Scott Edwards found that while different species show wide variety in the protein-coding portions of their genome, they appear to turn to the same regulatory pathways when evolving flight loss. The study is described in an April 5 paper published in Science.

In addition to Sackton and Edward, the study was co-authored by Professor of Statistics and Professor of Biostatistics Jun Liu, Statistics research assistant Zhirui Hu, Alison Cloutier, a post-doctoral researcher working in Edwards’ lab, and teams from New Zealand, University of Texas at Austin, and the Royal Ontario Museum.

“There is a long history in evolutionary biology of converging traits — the idea that there’s independent evolution toward the same kind of phenotype,” Sackton said. “What we were interested in is how does that happen?

“These birds all have a similar body plan,” he continued. “They have reduced forelimbs, to different degrees, and they all have this loss of the ‘keel’ in their breastbone that anchors flight muscles. What that amounts to is a suite of convergent morphological changes that led to this similar body plan across all these species.”

To understand what drove that suite of changes, Sackton, Edwards and colleagues turned to the genomes of the birds themselves.

“We wanted to compare not just the parts of the genome that code for proteins, but also the parts of the genome that regulate when those proteins are expressed,” Sackton said, of the various species examined for the study. To identify those regions, the team used a process that involved aligning the genomes of more than three dozen bird species — both flying and flightless — and then identifying regions that showed relatively few differences in their genetic sequence. These places in the genome that are conserved, but not part of proteins, are likely to have a regulatory function.

“We worked with collaborators in Statistics here at Harvard to develop a new statistical method that allowed us to ask, for each of those regulatory elements, how many of these species showed the same pattern of divergence, suggesting they have changed the same regulatory elements,” Sackton said. “And what we found was that, while there is not much sharing of protein-coding genes, there is for these regulatory regions, suggesting that there are shared developmental pathways that are repeatedly targeted every time this phenotype has evolved.”

While the protein-coding genes appear to be responsible for adaptations in diet, feather function and environment, Sackton said, the regulatory regions seem to play a key role in the body-scaling changes that go along with flight loss.

“What’s interesting about the morphological changes…is they have to preserve their hindlimbs,” he said. “There are lots of ways to stop a limb from forming, but shrinking a forelimb without changing the hindlimb is more difficult.”

And in some ways, Sackton said, that story makes sense — strange as it may seem, it is likely easier to not form a limb versus shrinking one.

“If you think about it, there’s lots of ways to break something,” he said. “There are a bunch of steps early in limb development where, if a protein doesn’t get expressed, it’ll just turn the system off and you don’t get a limb.

“But this is actually a complicated shift in body scaling,” he continued. “You can’t just willy-nilly grow limbs to different sizes, so…the fact that it’s important they maintain functional hindlimbs constrains the system and might be why we see this convergent pattern.”

To prove that theory, the team tagged certain regulatory regions in the birds’ genomes with a gene that would produce green fluorescent protein, and found that — in flightless species, where those regions where believed to have undergone functional changes — the marker gene was effectively turned off.

“To get a limb to start growing, a bunch of things need to happen…so if you can knock out an enhancer and make it harder for those proteins to be expressed you can delay that process,” Sackton said. “This suggests they these regions may have lost some important binding sites that prevent them from acting as an enhancer.”

What it all boils down to in the end, Sackton said, is that birds have a limited number of options to pursue when it comes to the loss of flight, and so various species have gone to the same well again and again.

“That’s is the conclusion we would draw from this work,” he said. “There are a limited number of ways you can get this type of change in scaling, and they center on this regulation of early limb development.”

The study also highlights the power of the multi-disciplinary approach taken by Sackton, Edwards and colleagues.

“One of the things that was exciting about this project, for me personally, was how we were able bring the computational expertise in the Informatics Group to bear on this really important question in evolutionary biology. This joining of computational, statistical genetics with the natural history perspectives is important for getting the full picture of how these birds evolved.”

“It’s exciting what can be done with a research team with diverse skill sets,” Edwards added. “Our group had developmental biologists, computational biologists, morphologists, statisticians, population geneticists — and, of course, ornithologists. Each brings a different perspective and the results, I think, are amazing.”

This research was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.