Alpine newt embryo growing, video


This 12 February 2019 video, called Becoming, by Jan van IJken in the Netherlands, is about the growth of an Alpine newt embryo inside its egg; finally, leaving its egg and swimming away as a young newt.

Advertisements

New frog species discovery in Ethiopia


This 2010 video is called Ethiopia Welo Opal Frog Carving.

From New York University in the USA:

New frog species found on remote Ethiopian mountain

February 12, 2019

Summary: A new species of puddle frog (order: Anura, family: Phynobatrachidae, genus: Phrynobatrachus), has just been discovered at the unexplored and isolated Bibita Mountain in southwestern Ethiopia. The research team named the new species Phrynobatrachus bibita sp. nov., or Bibita Mountain dwarf puddle frog, inspired by its home.

In summer 2018, NYU Abu Dhabi Postdoctoral Associates Sandra Goutte and Jacobo Reyes-Velasco explored an isolated mountain in southwestern Ethiopia where some of the last primary forest of the country remains. Bibita Mountain was under the radars of the team for several years due to its isolation and because no other zoologist had ever explored it before.

“Untouched, isolated, and unexplored: it had all the elements to spike our interest,” says Dr. Reyes-Velasco, who initiated the exploration of the mountain. “We tried to reach Bibita in a previous expedition in 2016 without success. Last summer, we used a different route that brought us to higher elevation,” he added.

Their paper, published in ZooKeys journal, reports that the new, tiny frog, 17 mm for males and 20 mm for females, is unique among Ethiopian puddle frogs. Among other morphological features, a slender body with long legs, elongated fingers and toes, and a golden coloration, set this frog apart from its closest relatives.

Phrynobatrachus bibita female“When we looked at the frogs, it was obvious that we had found a new species, they look so different from any Ethiopian species we had ever seen before!” explains Dr. Goutte.

Back in NYU Abu Dhabi, the research team sequenced tissue samples from the new species and discovered that Phrynobatrachus bibita sp. nov. is genetically different from any frog species in the region.

“The discovery of such a genetically distinct species in only a couple of days in this mountain is the perfect demonstration of how important it is to assess the biodiversity of this type of places. The Bibita Mountain probably has many more unknown species that await our discovery; it is essential for biologists to discover them in order to protect them and their habitat properly,” explains NYU Abu Dhabi Program Head of Biology and the paper’s lead researcher Stéphane Boissinot, who has been working on Ethiopian frogs since 2010.

Big cave salamander discovery in Tennnessee, USA


This June 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

On this episode of Breaking Trail, Coyote and the crew hike deep into the West Virginia hills in search of the rare and cryptic Cave Salamander!

However, locating the cave is the only the first obstacle. Once the cave is found they must go spelunking deep into the mountain braving the darkness, cold and giant spiders until the beams of their flashlights illuminate one of these beautiful amphibians…or so they hope!

From the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in the USA:

Record-breaking salamander

January 25, 2019

Researchers at UT have discovered the largest individual of any cave salamander in North America, a 9.3-inch specimen of Berry Cave salamander. The finding was published in Subterranean Biology.

“The record represents the largest individual within the genus Gyrinophilus, the largest body size of any cave-obligate salamander and the largest salamander within the Plethodontidae family in the United States,” said Nicholas Gladstone, a graduate student in UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, who made the discovery.

The find is making scientists reexamine growth limits of these animals in harsh environments and how hospitable underground environments really are.

Salamanders can be found in a variety of habitats across Tennessee. Some species have adapted to live in cave environments, which are thought of as extreme and inhospitable ecosystems due to the absence of light and limited resources.

Salamanders are one of only two vertebrate animal groups to have successfully colonized caves. The other is fish, said Gladstone.

The record-breaking specimen had some damage to the tail, leading researchers to believe that it was once nearly 10 inches long.

The Berry Cave Salamander can be found in only 10 sites in eastern Tennessee, and in 2003 it was placed on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Candidate Species List for federal protection.

“This research will hopefully motivate additional conservation efforts for this rare and vulnerable species,” said Gladstone.

How an ancient amphibian moved, video


This 16 January 2019 video says about itself:

Watch researchers re-create how an early tetropod moved | Science News

To examine possible gaits for Orobates pabsti, a creature that lived 290 million years ago, researchers used a robot (dubbed the OroBOT) as well as digital simulations of different walking styles. Here, scientists watch as OroBOT struts its stuff, moving forward without much side-to-side undulation and with relatively erect legs that hold its belly off the ground. Using a digital simulation (top) and the OroBOT (bottom), the researchers [reconstruct] the footprint pattern left by O. pabsti using an erect, non-undulating gait.

By Carolyn Gramling, 1:27pm, January 16, 2019:

A four-legged robot hints at how ancient tetrapods walked

Orobates pabsti may have had a more developed gait that previously thought

Orobates pabsti lived between 280 million and 290 million years ago, but it was pretty advanced at doing the locomotion.

Using computer simulations, re-created skeletons, fossil trackways and a walking robot dubbed the OroBOT, scientists found that this ancient four-footed creature had a surprisingly efficient gait. The result suggests that developing a more advanced way of walking may not have been as closely linked to the later diversification of tetrapods as once thought, the researchers report January 17 in Nature.

Scientists care about how O. pabsti might have moved because the animal was one of the earliest amniotes,

There is disagreement among scientists whether Diadectids, the family to which Orobates belonged, were ‘already’ amniotes or ‘still’ amphibians.

a group that arose around 350 million years ago and includes both reptiles and mammals. Unlike amphibians, which have aquatic young, amniotes can live entirely on land. Protective membranes surrounding embryos allow amniotes to bypass a tadpole-type life stage in water: Reptile (including bird) eggs can be laid on land in nests; mammal embryos stay within the mother.

The amniotic membrane “is regarded as a key evolutionary innovation, to be able to colonize different habitats,” says John Nyakatura, a paleontologist at the Humboldt University of Berlin who led the new study.

Understanding how early amniotes walked on land could help scientists better understand the origins of amniotes themselves, and how they eventually diversified across the continents, Nyakatura says. “Orobates, our focus fossil in this story, is a very close cousin to the last common ancestor of mammals and reptiles,” he says.

Researchers first described O. pabsti in 2004, following the discovery of beautifully preserved fossils of the creature at a site in central Germany known as the Bromacher locality. “The preservation is phenomenal,” says Stuart Sumida, a vertebrate paleontologist at California State University, San Bernardino who was not involved in the new study. “These are things preserved from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tails,” Sumida says. “They are so well preserved that we can generate hypotheses about how they moved.”

Then, a few years later, researchers linked the creatures to a series of footprints, called a trackway, found at the same locality, offering more clues to how the animal might have walked.

STEP BY STEP In 2007, scientists determined that these fossil trackways were made by Orobates pabsti. Both a fossil skeleton and these trackways were essential to a new study’s analysis of how O. pabsti might have walked. Photo Sebastian Voigt/Urweltmuseum Geoskop Thallichtenberg

In 2007, scientists determined that these fossil trackways were made by Orobates pabsti. Both a fossil skeleton and these trackways were essential to a new study’s analysis of how O. pabsti might have walked.

But there’s more to visualizing walking than knowing where an animal put its feet. Various approaches are used to study the locomotion of extinct animals, including examining their anatomy from fossils, studying trackways (SN: 1/30/10, p. 9) or even building robots, says study coauthor Kamilo Melo, a bioroboticist at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. But what’s different about the new study, Melo says, is that the scientists have combined several of these tactics to get the best possible approximation of an ancient creature’s gait.

The researchers first re-created the skeleton of the creature and used it to constrain the possible ranges of motion of arms and legs, called a kinematic simulation. “You create a marionette, and see what amount of angle each joint can move,” Melo says. And the scientists created a dynamic simulation, which included factors such as gravity, friction and balance, to really examine how the animal might have walked.

The team also looked to modern four-footed species, including salamanders, skinks, caimans and iguanas, to examine possible ranges of motion for tetrapods. Skinks and salamanders, for example, hold their bodies lower with their limbs more sprawled out to the side while caimans tend have more erect limbs.

Finally, the scientists created a tetrapod robot, dubbed the OroBOT, to act out potential gaits and match the prints they’d create to the fossil tracks. The researchers ultimately considered 512 different possible types of movement, scoring them on scales such as energy consumption, balance and precision — how well the gait reproduces the fossil tracks without slipping or sliding. (The researchers have also put their digital simulation online; try out different gaits here.)

The data suggest that O. pabsti had a relatively advanced style of walking, one that researchers previously thought would have belonged to later tetrapods. It held its belly off the ground, and had a stable, efficient gait without a lot of side-to-side, salamander-like undulations. That style of walking probably helped the animal conserve energy.

Sumida praises the study’s multipronged design, which allowed the scientists to test their findings in multiple ways, from fossil to digital simulations to robot. Furthermore, he notes, the team’s biomechanical analysis has confirmed something that previously was strongly suspected only by the fossil’s finders: that O. pabsti was indeed a fully terrestrial animal that probably had a relatively modern gait.

Sumida and others have demonstrated that amniotes from the same locality were using a range of different walking styles. Some had erect limbs like O. pabsti, some sprawled, and at least one animal walked on two legs. “What these studies are showing is that when amniotes first showed up, they were doing lots of things more quickly than we ever realized,” he says.

The findings are just a start, Nyakatura says. The researchers hope their multipronged approach will be a jumping-off point, not only for scientists to better understand O. pabsti, but also to examine other ancient locomotive puzzles, such as the evolution of active flight, bipedal locomotion in human ancestors and the transition from terrestrial to aquatic in marine mammals. “We have a whole bag of interesting things to study,” he says.

Bolivian frogs saved from extinction?


This 15 January 2019 video says about itself:

A team from Global Wildlife Conservation and the Museo D’orbigny Alcide in Bolivia embark on a search for [a mate for] Romeo, the last known Sehuencas Water Frog, in a bid to save the species from extinction.

By David Moye, 15 January 2019:

Romeo, The World’s Loneliest Frog, May Have Finally Found His Juliet

Bolivian biologists spent 10 years looking for a mate for a lovelorn frog they feared was the last of his kind.

A frog that had been believed to be the last of its kind may finally find love before he, uh, croaks.

Romeo, a Sehuencas water frog captured 10 years ago in Bolivia, has spent the past decade in isolation at Bolivia’s Cochabamba Natural History Museum, sometimes making unanswered mating calls. Staff biologists have been trying to find him a mate in hopes of boosting the species’ numbers, according to the BBC. 

It’s been a lonely decade for Romeo, and the matchmaking biologists attempted some unusual methods, including creating a Match.com profile last year, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

But unlike Shakespeare’s human Romeo, this lovelorn amphibian may get his happy ending.

Scientists who recently searched a remote Bolivian cloud forest managed to find five other Sehuencas water frogs, including a female that has been named ”Juliet”, according to Yahoo.

Expedition leader Teresa Camacho Badani of the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Cochabamba City admitted this may be a case of opposites attracting.

“Romeo is really calm and relaxed and doesn’t move a whole lot,” Camacho Badini told the BBC. Juliet, she said, is “really energetic, she swims a lot and she eats a lot and sometimes she tries to escape.”

Romeo and Juliet haven’t actually gone out on the frog equivalent of a first date. Currently, Juliet and the other recently captured frogs are being quarantined so they acclimate to their new home, according to ZMEScience.com.

In addition, the froggy yentas want to make sure none of them are affected by chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease that has claimed most of the wild population.

“We do not want Romeo to get sick on his first date! When the treatment is finished, we can finally give Romeo what we hope is a romantic encounter with his Juliet”, Camacho Badani said.

This rediscovered Bolivian frog species survived deadly chytrid fungus. The species was feared to be extinct, except for one lonely male. By Jeremy Rehm, 6:00am, January 17, 2019.

Texas salamanders, new species discovered, threats


This 2012 video from the USA says about itself:

Texas Blind Salamander in the Edwards Aquifer

The first ever video of the rare Texas Blind Salamander in the wild.

From the University of Texas at Austin in the USA:

Central Texas salamanders, including newly identified species, at risk of extinction

January 14, 2019

Biologists at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered three new species of groundwater salamander in Central Texas, including one living west of Austin that they say is critically endangered. They also determined that an already known salamander species near Georgetown is much more endangered than previously thought.

Writing today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team, which includes one of the scientists who identified the endangered Barton Springs salamander, warns that more severe droughts caused by climate change and increasing water use in Central Texas have left groundwater salamanders “highly vulnerable to extinction.”

The groundwater salamanders of Central Texas — just 2 to 3 inches long — swim in springs, underwater caves and channels deep within limestone rock and are keystone species in the local Edwards and Trinity aquifers. As top predators, they help maintain the health of aquifer ecosystems, meaning they are key for preserving water quality in the aquifers that local residents depend on for nearly all the fresh water supplying nearby cities, industries and agriculture. The loss of these salamanders would compromise the delicate aquifer systems of which they are a critical part, the biologists said.

“Even if people do not care about salamanders, they care about maintaining the quality of the aquifer systems that provide most of Texas with its fresh water”, said David Hillis, professor of integrative biology and senior author of the paper. “Fortunately, what’s good for the salamanders is also really good for the people. What we need to do to protect these salamanders also happens to be the exact same things we need to do to protect the water resources that ranchers, cities, homeowners and everybody else depend upon.”

For years, Central Texans have worked toward preserving several threatened or endangered salamanders, many of them discovered because of research by Hillis and his colleagues. The new paper adds to this body of work, which has led to protections for the Barton Springs salamander, the Austin blind salamander, the San Marcos salamander and the Georgetown salamander through entities such as the Edwards Aquifer Authority, which addresses an aquifer segment that supplies water to San Antonio.

One of three newly identified species, which is yet to be named, is critically endangered: a tiny, golden-colored salamander that lives only in a small area near the Pedernales River west of Austin. The scientists also discovered that the Georgetown salamander, which lives in springs near Lake Georgetown and already has federal protection as a threatened species, has a much smaller range than previously thought and, thus, is far more endangered.

“I think the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should review the status of all these salamanders in light of the new evidence,” Hillis said, referring to the process for assessing the conservation status of species under the Endangered Species Act. “They are part of the rich biological heritage of Texas, and losing these groundwater salamanders would be a huge loss for our state’s biodiversity. Importantly, protecting these salamanders also means protecting the quality and quantity of fresh water that Texans rely upon.”

For the new study, Hillis and other researchers delineated the geographic ranges of more than a dozen Central Texas groundwater salamander species by studying the genetics of preserved specimens, collected over several decades and stored in the University of Texas Biodiversity Collections. First author Tom Devitt, currently an environmental scientist with the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, carried out the genetic analyses while still a postdoctoral researcher at UT Austin working with Hillis, helping to identify the three species previously unknown to science.

Found nowhere else in the world and difficult to study due to the inaccessibility of their underground habitats, these salamanders, Devitt explained, represent a kind of mystery and rare beauty, a legacy of wildness that lives on despite a rapidly changing landscape.

“There’s a whole underground ecosystem all the way from Salado to West Texas that many people don’t even know about,” Devitt said. “Within it are these endemic species that are found nowhere else on Earth.”

New treefrog species discovery in Ecuadorian Andes


Variation in life of Hyloscirtus hillisi sp. n. from Reserva Biológica El Quimi. A QCAZ 68649 (adult female, holotype, SVL = 65.78 mm) B QCAZ 68646 (subadult female, SVL = 48.55 mm) C not collected

From ScienceDaily:

Extraordinary treefrog discovered in the Andes of Ecuador

January 3, 2019

Summary: A dazzling new species of treefrog was discovered at a remote tabletop mountain in the Ecuadorian Andes. The new species has an extraordinary characteristic, the presence of claw-like appendages at the base of the thumbs.

A new treefrog species was discovered during a two-week expedition to a remote tabletop mountain at Cordillera del Cóndor, a largely unexplored range in the eastern Andes.

“To reach the tabletop, we walked two days along a steep terrain. Then, between sweat and exhaustion, we arrived to the tabletop where we found a dwarf forest. The rivers had blackwater and the frogs were sitting along them, on branches of brown shrubs similar in color to the frogs’ own. The frogs were difficult to find, because they blended with their background,” Alex Achig, one of the field biologists who discovered the new species comments on the hardships of the expedition.

Curiously, the frog has an extraordinary, enlarged claw-like structure located at the base of the thumb. Its function is unknown, but it could be that it is used either as a defence against predators or as a weapon in fights between competing males.

Having conducted analyses of genetic and morphologic data, scientists Santiago R. Ron, Marcel Caminer, Andrea Varela, and Diego Almeida from the Catholic University of Ecuador concluded that the frog represented a previously unknown species. It was recently described in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The species name, Hyloscirtus hillisi, honors Dr. David Hillis, a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, who discovered three closely related frog species in the same genus in the 1980s, while conducting a series of field trips to the Andes of southern Ecuador. Throughout his career, Dr. Hillis has made significant contributions to the knowledge of Andean amphibians and reptiles.

Despite being newly described, Hyloscirtus hillisi is already at risk of extinction. It has a small distribution range near a large-scale mining operation carried out by a Chinese company. Habitat destruction in the region has been recently documented by the NGO Amazon Conservation.