New flying squirrel species discovery in China

This 2015 video from the USA about southern flying squirrels says about itself:

The Cutest Flying Rodent | Super Squirrel

Wait until you see just how adorable this flying squirrel is – and how far it can glide!

From ScienceDaily:

New species of flying squirrel from Southwest China added to the rarest and ‘most wanted’

July 18, 2019

Described in 1981, the genus Biswamoyopterus is regarded as the most mysterious and rarest amongst all flying squirrels. It comprises two large (1.4-1.8 kg) species endemic to southern Asia: the Namdapha flying squirrel (India) and the Laotian giant flying squirrel (Lao PDR). Each is only known from a single specimen discovered in 1981 and 2013, respectively.

Recently, in 2018, a specimen identifiable as Biswamoyopterus was unexpectedly found in the collections of the Kunming Institute of Zoology (KIZ), Chinese Academy of Sciences by in-house expert Quan Li. It had been collected from Mount Gaoligong in Yunnan Province, Southwest China.

Initially, the individual was considered to belong to the “missing” Namdapha flying squirrel: a species considered as critically endangered due to hunting and habitat loss. The latter had not ever been recorded since its original description in 1981 and was already listed as one of the top 25 “most wanted” species in the world by the Global Wildlife Conservation.

However, a closer look at the specimen from KIZ made it clear that the squirrel exhibited a colouration, as well as skull and teeth anatomy, distinct from any of the previously known species in the genus.

Subsequently, joined by his colleagues from China (Xuelong Jiang, Xueyou Li, Fei Li, Ming Jiang, Wei Zhao and Wenyu Song) and Stephen Jackson from Australia, the team of Quan Li conducted a new field survey. Thus, they successfully obtained another specimen and, additionally, recorded observations of two other flying squirrels. As a result, they included a third member to the enigmatic genus: Biswamoyopterus gaoligongensis, also referred to as the Mount Gaoligong flying squirrel. This new to science species was described in a paper published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

“The morphological features of B. gaoligongensis are closer to the critically endangered and missing Namdapha flying squirrel, but is still readily identifiable as a distinct species,” explains Quan Li.

“The new species was discovered in the ‘blank area’ spanning 1,250 km between the isolated habitats of the two known species, which suggests that the genus is much more widespread than previously thought. There is still hope for new Biswamoyopterus populations to be discovered in between or right next to the already known localities,” he says.

As for the conservation status of the newly described species, the researchers note that it inhabits low-altitude forests which are in close proximity to nearby human settlements. Thereby, they are vulnerable to anthropogenic threats, such as agricultural reclamation and poaching.

“Therefore, there is an urgent need to study the ecology, distribution, and conservation status of this rare and very beautiful genus,” concludes the lead author.

New frog species discoveries in Ecuador

This 7 March 2017 video says about itself:

In the Pui Pui Protected Forest, Peruvian Andes, researchers discovered a new species of terrestrial-breeding frog. The species was named Pristimantis attenboroughi, Attenborough’s Rubber Frog, in honour of Sir David Attenborough.

Now, two yeas later, more relatives of that frog species.

From the University of Central Florida in the USA:

New frog species discovered

July 18, 2019

Summary: An international team of researchers have identified and described two new frog species.

UCF student Veronica Urgiles has helped describe two new frog species discovered in Ecuador, and she named one of them after one of her professors.

Urgiles and an international team of researchers just published their findings in the journal ZooKeys.

“Frogs are by far my favorite”, said Urgiles, who is pursuing a master’s degree in biology. “So, getting to describe and name two of them is terrific. I have been looking at these frogs for years now, so going over the whole process of observing them in their habitats and then analyzing them and comparing them under the microscope, to finally naming them is a long, but very satisfying journey.”

Urgiles, a 2017 Fulbright scholar and the lead author, said she chose to attend UCF for its integration of genetics and genomics in biodiversity research and the emphasis on real-world application. She works with Assistant Professor Anna Savage who specializes in species diversity based on molecular analyses.

“One of the things that I found most interesting about these guys is that they don’t have metamorphosis like a regular frog, but instead they develop entirely inside eggs that adult females deposit in the ground,” Urgiles said. “They really don’t need water bodies for their development. Both of the new frog species inhabit high elevation ecosystems in the mountain range over 8,000 feet, so even though we are right there in the equator, it’s very cold and windy most of the year.”

The team of researchers has been studying frogs in Ecuador the past few years. In 2017, Urgiles found the first new species and named it Pristimantis quintanai, after one of her biology professors — Pedro Quintana-Ascencio. She and Savage found the second species — Pristimantis cajanuma — in 2018. Both were found in the Paramo and montane forest of the southern Ecuadorean Andes.

The frogs are tiny, measuring .8 inch. Pristimantis quintanai females are brown and black and Pristimantis cajanuma are green and black, both easily blending into the foliage. They have a distinct call that is sharp and continuous, sounding like tik-tik-tik-tik.

Urgiles examined DNA samples collected by the international team back in Savage’s lab at UCF, generated genetic sequences, and constructed the phylogenetic analysis. Other team members also worked the morphological diagnosis and comparisons with other frogs and an acoustic analysis of the frogs’ calls.

“In these analyses, we use all of the genetic similarities and differences we find to build phylogenetic trees, and when we find that a ‘branch’ on the ‘tree’ has strong support and contains all of the individuals that share the same morphological characteristics, then we have good evidence to describe it as a new species,” says Savage, whose expertise includes describing species diversity based on molecular analyses. “We used this method, along with vocalization and location data, to conclude that the two species we describe are distinct from any other species that have ever been characterized.”

The work is critical because of the vast diversity that has yet to be discovered in the tropical Andes of South America, Urgiles says. In 2018, 13 new species of frogs were documented in the tropical Andes of Ecuador and so far in 2019 five new frogs have been documented.

There are potentially thousands of new plants and animals in the area that may hold the key to other discoveries. It’s important to know what is there, to better understand the threats to habitat loss and disease so conservation methods can be established to protect the resources.

US Trump administration dog whistle anti-Semitism

This 16 July 2019 PBS TV video from the USA says about itself:

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway asked a reporter to tell her what his ethnicity is after he asked about Trump’s comments telling four minority Congresswomen to go back to their countries. “What’s your ethnicity?” Conway said in response to the question. The reporter, Breakfast Media’s Andrew Feinberg, asked why his ethnicity was relevant to his question.

By Patrick Martin in the USA:

Trump aide demands of Jewish reporter: “What’s your ethnicity?”

18 July 2019

In a televised incident that gave a moment of insight into the fascistic atmosphere inside the Trump White House, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway reacted to a reporter’s question about Trump’s racist vilification of four Democratic congresswomen by demanding to know his ethnicity.

Conway was speaking with reporters outside the White House Tuesday morning, when Andrew Feinberg, a White House reporter for Breakfast Media, asked her a follow-up question on a previous comment she had made about Trump’s tweets against the congresswomen. Conway had denied that Trump was telling them to go back to their countries of origin when he told them to “leave the country”.

“If the president was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, to which countries was he referring?” Feinberg asked.

Conway replied, “What’s your ethnicity?”

Reporters were visibly staggered by the implications of the question, and Feinberg, who is Jewish, asked her why his ethnicity was relevant to his question.

“Because I’m asking you a question”, Conway said, without any evident effort to actually explain herself. She continued, “My ancestors are from Ireland and Italy.”

Suggesting that her white European ancestry was supposedly more ‘American’ than Feinberg’s East European Jewish ancestry.

Ms Conway ‘forgets’ that early in the twentieth century, racist United States ‘Anglo-Saxons’, including in the United States Congress, used to consider Italian and Irish people to be not really fit to become ‘American’.

This comment appeared to suggest that an official whose ancestry was European has an edge on a reporter—or four congresswomen—whose ancestry might not be. But the sheer non sequitur character of the responses appeared to leave reporters fumbling for words.

There was no attempt by other reporters to pursue the matter, and Conway then began to rant about Trump’s reasons for
targeting the four congresswomen, saying, “He’s tired, a lot of us are sick and tired of this country—of America coming last, to people who swore an oath of office.”

The exchange involving Conway has been hailed by neo-Nazi groups in the US, including the fascist Daily Stormer, which declared her comments, which it directly linked with anti-Semitism, as “almost too glorious to even be real.”

In a subsequent appearance on Fox News, Conway vented more racist poison, describing the four congresswomen—all from racial or ethnic minorities—as “a dark underbelly of people in this country”. She added, in a further suggestion that opposition to Trump was tantamount to treason, “We are sick and tired of people denigrating that American flag, the American military, veterans and America.”

Andrew Feinberg later tweeted, “By asking about my ethnicity … in response to my question, @KellyannePolls inadvertently confirmed that @realDonaldTrump was telling @IlhanMN, @RashidaTlaib, @AOC, @AyannaPressley to return to Somalia, Gaza, Puerto Rico, and somewhere in Africa.”

Interviewed on CNN, Feinberg added, “I have been a journalist in Washington for about 10 years, and I have never had any government official speak to me that way or ask such an inappropriate question.”

There are undoubtedly multiple factors behind this explosion. Conway’s own husband, George, a prominent attorney who was considered for a top Justice Department position in the Trump administration, has become a vociferous public opponent of Trump, despite his right-wing politics. In an op-ed column published Tuesday in the Washington Post —only a few hours before his wife’s outburst—Conway described how his mother, born in the Philippines, had occasionally been accosted by racists who demanded that she “go back where you came from.”

Conway may have issues with Feinberg himself. He has written several pointed articles on Conway’s blatant violation of the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in partisan politics. A report issued last month by the Office of Special Counsel, the executive branch agency that vets political appointees, recommended that Conway be fired for multiple violations of the Hatch Act.

Conway was free to continue her public attacks on Democrats, the OSC said, but she should be employed by the Trump reelection campaign or the Republican Party, not the White House. The White House has refused to allow Conway to testify about this issue before a House committee, defying a congressional subpoena.

But whatever the peculiarities of her personal situation, Conway’s bizarre and semi-deranged response to a predictable press question gives a glimpse of the mood within Trump’s inner circle.

The fascist ranting of the president is not merely a matter of his individual psychology, however odious, but expresses the sentiments of a definite political grouping that shares these sentiments and, when challenged in public, automatically reaches for the clubs of racism and authoritarianism to hit back.

New York GOP [Republican party] Chapter Defends Anti-Semitic Campaign Ad Despite Deleting Video: here.

How puffins catch their food

This 2009 video says about itself:

Puffins | National Geographic

In Iceland’s remote Westman Islands, warming weather is threatening a beloved mascot: the Atlantic puffin.

From the University of Liverpool in England:

How puffins catch food outside the breeding season

July 17, 2019

Little is known about how seabirds catch their food outside the breeding season but using modern technology, researchers at the University of Liverpool and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology have gained new insight into their feeding habits.

Seabirds, including puffins, are often elusive and spend much of their lives at sea, feeding exclusively there. The period outside of the summer breeding season is particularly mysterious as the birds spend their time far away from land.

Using depth recorders, researchers compared the feeding behaviour of puffins with two closely related species, guillemots and razorbills, to find out how deep and how long they dive for during the non-breeding period.

They fitted data logger to seabirds breeding on the Isle of May National Nature Reserve in south-east Scotland. These birds were then recaptured the following breeding season, when they returned to land again after months away at sea.

Puffins are excellent divers and, in a similar way to penguins, use their wings to “fly” underwater to catch their prey.

Yet the study found that despite this great diving ability, both common guillemots and razorbills can dive for even deeper and longer than puffins can and continue to do so outside the breeding season. As well as these important species differences, the study also found that the diving of all three species changed over the course of the year.

Lead author of the study, Ruth Dunn, a PhD student in the University’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “Whilst we already knew that these birds are able to dive to great depths during the breeding season, in this study we found that after they left the breeding colony they didn’t dive as deeply as expected, often reaching depths of less than 15 meters, possibly because they were catching different prey.

“Despite these shallow dives, birds were very busy, particularly in in mid-winter when they were working harder than in the autumn and spring.”

Researchers also found that some birds were busier than others. Immediately after leaving the breeding colony, guillemot and razorbill fathers both dived more than their female partners.

This is because male parents accompany their chicks to sea and continue to feed it for several weeks after the breeding season has ended. Male birds therefore had to dive more frequently in order to catch enough fish to not only feed themselves, but to also meet the nutritional demands of their growing chicks.

In contrast with the other species, puffin chicks go to sea on their own. Therefore, the adults dive at a similar intensity throughout the post-breeding period, because there is not another hungry seabird beak to feed.

Francis Daunt of CEH, a co-author on the study, said “These insights into the winter feeding behaviour of puffins are extremely valuable since this species has shown marked declines in recent years, linked to higher mortality rates of adult birds in certain winters. These data show that the middle of winter is when birds are working hardest, which suggests that over-winter survival may be closely linked to the ability to find sufficient food.”

Free United States political prisoner Chelsea Manning

This 29 August 2018 Australian ABC TV video says about itself:

Rosa Parks was essentially a criminal”: Chelsea Manning responds to being labelled a criminal

Transgender activist and whistleblower Chelsea Manning speaks to Stan Grant about her activism.

By Niles Niemuth in the USA:

The vindictive campaign against Chelsea Manning, America’s political prisoner

18 July 2019

Whistleblower and political prisoner Chelsea Manning has now been confined to a federal detention center in Alexandria, Virginia for more than four months and is being subjected to punitive fines which could ruin her financially.

Manning is not being punished for any crime, nor has she been charged with a crime. Rather, she is being held in contempt of court for refusing—on principle and courageously—to testify before a star chamber grand jury impaneled to railroad journalist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange into a US prison, or worse.

Daily fines placed on Manning by Federal District Judge Anthony Trenga for refusing to testify doubled from $500 to $1,000 on Tuesday, with the total now standing at $18,000. The unprecedented financial penalties against Manning threaten her with personal bankruptcy and have already resulted in her losing her apartment in June.

Manning’s attorneys have warned that she will be saddled with more than $440,000 in fines if the grand jury sits until its term expires in October 2020, an amount which they say would violate the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on excessive fines.

Assange is being pursued by the Trump administration for his role in publishing the war logs, diplomatic cables and “Collateral Murder” video which Manning leaked in 2010. He is currently being held in the maximum security Belmarsh Prison in London, England, on a bogus bail jumping conviction while he awaits extradition to the United States on charges which carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

The fact that Manning is still in jail means that further charges are still being considered, possibly including those which carry the death penalty. They will only be unsealed once Assange is securely in the clutches of the Trump administration.

Despite the government’s vindictive campaign against her, Manning has been steadfast in her principled refusal to testify against Assange or before any other grand jury. She told Judge Trenga in May, when he jailed her for a second time after a week’s respite, that she would “rather starve to death than to change my opinion in this regard,” adding “And when I say that, I mean that quite literally.”

Even though she served seven years out of a 35-year sentence in a military prison for leaking evidence of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, during which time she was subjected to conditions that a UN agency said amounted to torture, Manning has never been forgiven by the US political establishment or their toadies in the corporate media.

While she sits behind bars, Eddie Gallagher, who committed war crimes in Iraq, and killer cops like Daniel Pantaleo, who choked Eric Garner to death in 2014, walk free, having received backing from the highest levels of the state. Fascist elements in the federal immigration forces carry out brutal crimes against immigrants with impunity, tearing parents from their children and cramming men and women into concentration camps.

The authors of the war crimes which Manning and Assange exposed, hands dripping with the blood of millions, continue their careers without fear of prosecution.

The outrageous persecution of Manning has gone virtually unmentioned, let alone opposed, within the entire political establishment. It has elicited no statements from major political figures. It has not been the subject of comment from the media commentators and columnists who, if similar conditions were imposed on a whistleblower in Russia or China or other countries targeted by American imperialism, would spare no ink in pontificating about the violation of democratic rights and due process.

The mainstream media and the Democratic Party support the persecution of Manning. They cannot abide Manning’s refusal to turn on Assange, slandered by the Democrats as a “Russian agent” who helped elect Donald Trump by publishing true information about Hillary Clinton’s corrupt subservience to Wall Street.

Manning is a heroic figure who deserves the unconditional support of all who are concerned with the defense of democratic rights in the United States and around the world. The demand for her freedom must be raised in conjunction with the fight for Assange’s freedom: the two are inextricably linked.

The five-day strike this week by workers, peasants and students in Ecuador against the right-wing policies of the government of Lenin Moreno pointed the way by including opposition to the rendition of Assange to the United States as one of the official demands. In violation of international law, Moreno gave Assange up to a British police snatch squad in April when he opened the doors of the Ecuadorian embassy in London where the journalist had been living for seven years after being granted asylum.

The fight for Manning and Assange’s freedom must be taken up by workers all over the world. If it is to be effective this struggle must be connected to the fight for the social and political rights of the working class as a whole and the fight against war and capitalism.

It is for this purpose that the World Socialist Web Site and the Socialist Equality Parties affiliated with the International Committee of the Fourth International have called for the formation of a Global Defense Committee to organize and coordinate the mobilization of the working class on an international scale in order to stop Assange’s extradition to the US and win his and Manning’s unconditional freedom.

Sign up now to join the fight to defend Manning and Assange!

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s lawyer Nancy Hollander this week unequivocally rebutted accusations that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange enticed or collaborated with Manning to obtain the thousands of secret documents that WikiLeaks published in 2010, revealing the war crimes and other abuses committed by the US and its allies around the world. Interviewed for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Four Corners” program, Hollander emphasised that Manning, then a 21-year-old US military intelligence private, had initiated the contact with WikiLeaks after no corporate media outlet would even return her calls about the damning information she had obtained: here.

Chelsea Manning faces $441,000 in fines and another year in jail for refusing to testify against WikiLeaks: here.

Imprisoned information activist Jeremy Hammond—who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for hacking the private intelligence firm Stratfor in 2011—has been called before a secret federal grand jury, most likely in an effort to force him to testify against WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange. In a statement released Tuesday, the Jeremy Hammond Support Committee said: “It’s with great sadness and anger we announce that Jeremy Hammond is being brought to the Eastern District of Virginia in an effort to compel him to testify before a grand jury. Given the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, we don’t know the nature or scope of the grand jury’s investigation. However, our assumption is that this is the same grand jury that Chelsea Manning is currently being incarcerated for refusing to testify before”: here.

London house sparrows in trouble

This 3 March 2019 video from England is called Feeding House Sparrows – London – I do this every day – Passer domesticus.

From the Zoological Society of London in England:

Avian malaria behind drastic decline of London’s iconic sparrow?

July 16, 2019

London’s house sparrows (Passer domesticus) have plummeted by 71% since 1995, with new research suggesting avian malaria could be to blame.

Once ubiquitous across the capital city, the sudden, and unexplained decline of the iconic birds led a team from ZSL (Zoological Society of London), the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the University of Liverpool to investigate if parasite infections were involved.

Researchers collected data between November 2006 and September 2009 at 11 sites across London. Each site was centred around a single breeding colony and spaced at least four kilometres apart to ensure that birds from different groups didn’t mix. The team estimated changes in bird numbers by counting the mature males and took tiny blood and faecal samples from sparrows, carefully caught and soon released, to monitor infection rates and severity.

Of the 11 colonies studied, seven were declining. On average 74% of sparrows carried avian malaria — a strain that only affects birds — but this differed between groups with some as high as 100%. However, it was infection intensity (i.e. the number of parasites per bird) that varied significantly and was higher on average in the declining colonies.

Former ZSL Institute of Zoology researcher and lead author Dr Daria Dadam, now of the BTO, said: “Parasite infections are known to cause wildlife declines elsewhere and our study indicates that this may be happening with the house sparrow in London. We tested for a number of parasites, but only Plasmodium relictum, the parasite that causes avian malaria, was associated with reducing bird numbers.”

Professor Andrew Cunningham, Deputy Director of Science at ZSL said: “Although we found that nearly all sparrows carry Plasmodium, there was no association between the number of carriers and local sparrow population growth. Infection intensity, however, was significantly higher in young birds in the declining populations with fewer of the sparrows monitored in those groups surviving from year to year.”

The malaria strains the study identified are widespread and infect multiple bird species. They are, therefore, likely to have been native to the UK, and to house sparrows, long before their numbers started to fall. The parasite is spread by mosquitoes, which transfer it when they bite to feed. It has been suggested that avian malaria will become more common across Northern Europe due to climate change as higher temperatures and wetter weather favour mosquito reproduction, and more mosquitoes will help the disease to spread. Researchers think this could be behind the sudden change.

Dr Will Peach, Head of Research Delivery at RSPB said: “House sparrow populations have declined in many towns and cities across Europe since the 1980s. This new research suggests that avian malaria may be implicated in the loss of house sparrows across London. Exactly how the infection may be affecting the birds is unknown. Maybe warmer temperatures are increasing mosquito numbers, or the parasite has become more virulent.”

ZSL works to protect wildlife health and understand how animal diseases spread between populations and habitats. Diseases, like avian malaria, are a significant cause of wildlife decline, a direct threat to a number of endangered species and can infect domestic animals too. Only by understanding the mechanisms of infection and the effect that these diseases have can we can put in place strategies to mitigate them.

House sparrows

House sparrows (Passer domesticus) are small, grey-brown birds native to much of Europe and Asia but now widely introduced elsewhere. They are opportunistic feeders and found in a range of habitats, often living closely with people. House sparrows were once one of the most abundant birds in the UK, but their numbers have fallen drastically. Their current UK population is estimated to be 5,300,000 breeding pairs.

Avian malaria

Avian malaria is most commonly caused by a parasite called Plasmodium relictum. In a similar way to human malaria, it is spread only by mosquitoes which transfer the parasite to healthy birds when they feed. The parasite reproduces in red blood cells and other tissues, and in severe cases can be fatal. Avian malaria is not a danger to people.