Save Pacific petrels

This video says about itself:

Murphy’s Petrel (chick), 7th September 2013, Henderson Island, SE Pacific

There were many chicks on Henderson and Oeno.

From BirdLife:

Pacific’s Petrels in Peril: a new initiative to save these iconic birds

By Mike Britton, Wed, 07/10/2015 – 02:24

For generations of sailors and those who love the sea, seabirds have been their companion, entertainment and shared the times when the seas turn angry. They can be majestic, funny, noisy, mysterious and spectacular. Sprinkled across the tropical Pacific, the innumerable islands of Oceania are home to some of the most unusual bird communities on the planet. The Pacific is the sea-bird capital of the world.

But these companions of travellers, fishers and visitors to the coast are in trouble, especially in the Pacific. They are more threatened than any other comparable group of birds. And their status has deteriorated faster over recent decades. Many of the birds that live in this region are endangered. Many more have become extinct as a result of human activity, in both recent and prehistoric times. And some really special sea birds are right on the brink of joining the legions of ghosts of past birds.

Over the years BirdLife and its partners have taken actions to protect (and find) different species but the problem is so big we want a Pacific wide strategy for the conservation of this critically endangered group of seabirds. We are calling it ‘Pacific Petrels in Peril’.

The petrels, which conventionally include the petrels, shearwaters and storm-petrels belonging to the families Procellariidae, Oceanitidae and Hydrobatidae, have lost far more populations in Oceania than any other bird family. That is why this new programme gives emphasis to this group – the ‘Petrels’. Specific projects that are being developed as part of the strategy for different flagship petrel species will also help other seabird species.

Priority actions will be to find the breeding sites of Fiji Petrel, Beck’s Petrel and Heinroth’s Shearwater. Overall there are more than 18 species for whch action is needed including Vanuatu Petrel, Collared Petrel, Polynesian Storm-petrel, Tahiti Petrel, Phoenix Petrel and Tropical shearwaters. And probably more.

Most islands in Oceania have not had systematic surveys of breeding seabirds. While there are some threats at sea for seabirds breeding in the region, the primary threats are on land. Until we can eliminate predation pressure and the degradation of nesting/roosting colonies and establish these as secure sites there will be no improvement in their conservation status.

The help of sea bird lovers the world over is needed to develop the first coherent and comprehensive plan for the conservation of Pacific seabirds. With your support we will find the breeding sites to allow conservation action to make them safe, confirm the population status of species and develop conservation plans for each of them. We will also improve the current conservation work, and where we need to start new actions. This intiative is bigger than BirdLife and we will work with other organisations, develop networks for improved communication, resource sharing, capacity building and further project development.

New grasshopper species discovery on Texel island

This is a video from Switzerland about the Phaneroptera falcata grasshopper.

Warden Jitske Esselaar reports from Texel island in the Netherlands about the discovery of a grasshopper species, new for Texel.

In the sand dunes near the North Sea, a Phaneroptera falcata grasshopper was seen.

This is a species of the southern part of the Netherlands. However, it is expanding to the north.

Hog-nosed rat discovery in Sulawesi, Indonesia

This 1 October 2015 is about a newly discovered rat species in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

From the Journal of Mammalogy:

A hog-nosed shrew rat (Rodentia: Muridae) from Sulawesi Island, Indonesia

Jacob A. Esselstyn, Anang S. Achmadi, Heru Handika, Kevin C. Rowe

29 September 2015


We document a new genus and species of shrew rat from the north peninsula of Sulawesi Island, Indonesia. The new taxon is known only from the type locality at 1,600 m elevation on Mt. Dako, in the district of Tolitoli.

It is distinguished from all other Indonesian murines by its large, flat, pink nose with forward-facing nares. Relative to other Sulawesi murines, the species has extremely large ears (~ 21% of head and body length), very long urogenital hairs, prominent and medially bowing hamular processes on the pterygoid bones, extremely long and procumbent lower incisors, and unusually long articular surfaces on the mandibular condyles.

Morphologically, the new taxon is most similar to a group of endemic Sulawesi rats known commonly as “shrew rats.” These are long faced, carnivorous murines, and include the genera Echiothrix, Melasmothrix, Paucidentomys, Sommeromys, and Tateomys. Our Bayesian and likelihood analyses of DNA sequences concatenated from 5 unlinked loci infer the new shrew rat as sister to a clade consisting of Melasmothrix, Paucidentomys, and Echiothrix, suggesting that Sulawesi shrew rats represent a clade.

The Sulawesi water rat, Waiomys mamasae, was sister to the shrew rats in our analyses. Discovery of this new genus and species brings known shrew rat diversity on Sulawesi to 6 genera and 8 species. The extent of morphological diversity among these animals is remarkable considering the small number of species currently known.

Colourful cephalopods, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

Science Today: Colorful Cephalopods | California Academy of Sciences

1 June 2015

Learn how and why octopus, squid, and cuttlefish change colors.

Extinct horse with fossil uterus discovery

A skeleton of a Eurohippus messelensis mare is shown with its fetus (white ellipse). (photo: Sven Traenkner)

From the Los Angeles Times in the USA:

Oldest preserved uterus found in ancient horse-like fossil

Deborah Netburn

October 7, 2015

Talk about a mother of a discovery: Researchers in Germany have found the fossil of a 48-million-year-old pregnant horse relative, her fetus and bits of her preserved uterus as well.

It is the oldest and only the second fossil uterus ever described, according to Jens Franzen of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany.

Franzen and his colleagues described the find in a paper published Wednesday in PLOS One.

Less than 2% of fossil mammal finds have yielded anything more than fragments of jaw material and other bones, which makes this discovery particularly unexpected.

The primitive horse relative is known as Eurohippus messelensis. It was much smaller than modern-day horses. Even fully grown, the ancient equine was about the size of a fox terrier — about 12 inches high at the shoulders. It was discovered in Grube Messel, near Darmstadt, Germany.

In the picture above, you are looking mostly at the fossilized remains of the mare. The fetus is located in the white oval.

Franzen and his colleagues report that the 48-million-year-old uterus looks nearly identical to those found in modern horses. This suggests that the uteral system was already well developed by the Eocene period (56 to 34 million years ago), and may date back to the Paleocene era (66 million to 56 million years ago) or even earlier.

Grube Messel is a former shale quarry that is famous for its complete vertebrate skeletons. Back in the time when Eurohippus messelensis roamed, it was a freshwater lake, surrounded by a tropical rainforest.

Animals that fell in the lake were preserved thanks to an interaction between bacteria in the lake and iron in the water.

After a dead animal was submerged in the lake, bacteria gathered on its soft tissue and started producing CO2. The CO2 reacted with the iron in the lake to form iron carbonate minerals. This material hardened on the bacteria, creating a fixed bacterial mat that exactly followed the lines of the decomposing soft tissue.

“The bacteria petrified themselves,” Franzen said.

The preserved bit of uterus was not immediately obvious, however. The researchers said they first noticed a “conspicuous gray shadow” between the fetus and the lumbar vertebrae of the mother, after taking a micro X-ray of the fossil.

They eliminated the possibility that the shadow was an artifact of preparation or an abdominal muscle. Eventually, they concluded that they were looking at the oldest bit of fossilized uterus ever seen.

The authors are still not sure what killed the mother Eurohippus messelensis, but it is unlikely that childbirth was to blame. Although the fetus was near term when its mother died, it was not yet positioned to enter the birth canal.

See also here. And here.

Conference on owls in the Netherlands

This video from Texas in the USA is called Great Horned Owl Hooting; Territorial Evening Call At Sunset.

On Saturday 10 October 2015, there will be a conference about owls, in Schouwburg Ogterop, Zuideinde 70 in Meppel town in Drenthe province in the Netherlands.

This conference will start at 9:30.

There will be lectures on about all owl species living in the Netherlands, including barn owls, little owls and eagle owls.

Romke Kleeftstra will speak about short-eared owls and common voles.

Bart Ebbinge will lecture about snowy owls in the Arctic.

Karla Bloem will tell about great horned owls in North America.

The complete program is here.

Extinct human Homo naledi’s hands and feet, new study

This video says about itself:

10 September 2015

Paleoanthropologist and explorer Lee Berger has made an important new discovery in the human family tree: a new species called Homo naledi. In this interview with journalist Bill Blakemore, Berger gives the details of the find, how it came about, the difficulty in recovering the fossils, and why it’s such an important find.

From Nature Communications:

The foot of Homo naledi

6 October 2015


Modern humans are characterized by a highly specialized foot that reflects our obligate bipedalism. Our understanding of hominin foot evolution is, although, hindered by a paucity of well-associated remains.

Here we describe the foot of Homo naledi from Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, using 107 pedal elements, including one nearly-complete adult foot. The H. naledi foot is predominantly modern human-like in morphology and inferred function, with an adducted hallux, an elongated tarsus, and derived ankle and calcaneocuboid joints. In combination, these features indicate a foot well adapted for striding bipedalism.

However, the H. naledi foot differs from modern humans in having more curved proximal pedal phalanges, and features suggestive of a reduced medial longitudinal arch. Within the context of primitive features found elsewhere in the skeleton, these findings suggest a unique locomotor repertoire for H. naledi, thus providing further evidence of locomotor diversity within both the hominin clade and the genus Homo.

Also from Nature Communications:

The hand of Homo naledi

6 October 2015


A nearly complete right hand of an adult hominin was recovered from the Rising Star cave system, South Africa. Based on associated hominin material, the bones of this hand are attributed to Homo naledi.

This hand reveals a long, robust thumb and derived wrist morphology that is shared with Neandertals and modern humans, and considered adaptive for intensified manual manipulation.

However, the finger bones are longer and more curved than in most australopiths, indicating frequent use of the hand during life for strong grasping during locomotor climbing and suspension. These markedly curved digits in combination with an otherwise human-like wrist and palm indicate a significant degree of climbing, despite the derived nature of many aspects of the hand and other regions of the postcranial skeleton in H. naledi.