British grey heron survey on the Internet, after 87 years


This is a grey heron video from Italy.

From Wildlife Extra:

Britain’s longest-running bird survey hits the web

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has been counting Grey Heron nests since 1928 and now it has made it easier for its army of volunteer surveyors by allowing them to record their observations on the internet.

The Heronries Census has covered 400,000 nests since it began. The survey collects annual counts of ‘apparently occupied nests’ in UK heronries and uses the data to monitor the population sizes of both Grey Herons and Little Egrets.

Counts are made at heronries by the BTO’s volunteers. It is one of the simplest surveys and requires no special skills.

So for 88 years, it has provided an annual estimate of the total UK breeding population of Grey Herons: this is the longest series of such data for any bird species in the world!

Until now, most counts have been mailed to BTO on special cards but, from 25 June, the option of direct online input of data became available to the observers for the first time.

John Marchant, the National Organiser of the Heronries Census for the BTO, says, “Going online is the most important development in the long history of the Heronries Census.

“It will make it easier for existing volunteers to contribute and will open the scheme up for members of the public to report new nesting sites for herons and enter casual counts of nests apparently occupied.”

Online data input is now available for all of the BTO’s major surveys, alongside the submission of paper forms.

Marchant, who has been involved in the Heronries Census for 22 years says: “We hope in due course to expand the concept to cover more species that habitually nest in colonies, such as Rooks and inland nesting Cormorants.”

The results of the Census has revealed the pressures on heronries over the years. The long-term information shows a general increase in numbers, though there has been a strong downturn since 2001, perhaps due to recent cold winter weather and the increasing frequency of spring gales.

The most striking feature in the trend over the last 88 years is the effects of harsh winters which leads to high mortality rates and a clear dip in the population levels.

For more information go to www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/heronries.

Biggest ever Swiss dinosaur skeleton discovered


This video is called My Plateosaurus Tribute + my favorite Plateosaurus Pictures!

From swissinfo in Switzerland:

Triassic park: oldest Swiss dinosaur skeleton found

July 1, 2015 – 18:55

The largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Switzerland has been uncovered in a clay pit in northern Switzerland. The eight-metre skeleton of a plateosaurus is thought to have been around 25 years old when it died.

“This herbivore lived 210 million years ago and was discovered in the Upper Triassic geologic layer,” said Ben Pabst, who has been leader of the dig in Frick, canton Aargau, since 1976. The dinosaur’s head has yet to be found.

Plateosaurus was a bipedal herbivore with a small skull on a long, mobile neck, sharp but plump plant-crushing teeth, powerful hind limbs, short but muscular arms and grasping hands with large claws on three fingers, possibly used for defence and feeding.

Unusually for a dinosaur, instead of having a fairly uniform adult size, fully grown individuals ranged from 4.8-10 metres long and weighed 600-4,000 kilograms.

The site in Frick is known around the world for the density of dinosaur skeletons.

“We have here an unbelievably large site. So far we have been able to determine an area with a diameter of three kilometres,” Pabst explained on Wednesday, adding that one hectare will yield some 500 animals and that for every 100 herbivore dinosaurs there is one carnivore.

Museum

Around 210 million years ago, Frick was flat, very hot, tropical and criss-crossed with rivers. Pabst assumes that at various times a range of dinosaurs, which weighed several tons, got stuck in the boggy land and died of thirst.

Since many complete skeletons of legs have been found, he believes the animals were mummified by the heat.

The theory that the dinosaurs sank in mud was strengthened by the fact that the plateosaurus in question was found with its legs spread.

The Frick site has an annual budget of CHF50,000 ($52,800) and the work is heavily reliant on volunteers. The latest find is too big for the Frick dinosaur museum, so a renovation is being considered.

Songbird migration in Texas, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

Migratory Connectivity Project: Songbirds Return

19 June 2015

Did you know the coast of Texas is the most important spot for migratory birds in the U.S. and Canada? Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center staff journey to this small island annually to study songbirds returning from their tropical wintering grounds and share this experience with local schoolchildren. Understanding these species and teaching the next generation about them is critical to their survival.

Polynesian rare birds news


This 2012 video says about itself:

Polynesian Ground Dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera) filmed on a motu of Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia. Part of a Noble Caledonia Expedition Cruise in French Polynesia on board M/V Clipper Odyssey.

Dr Brent Stephenson (ornithologist on board) organised this trip across the atoll to a rat-free motu (islet) where the Société d’Ornithologie Polynésie (MANU) are making great efforts to monitor, protect and extend the present habitat of this bird. Great efforts are made to make sure no rats are introduced. The Polynesian Ground Dove is critically endangered with only an estimated 100-200 individuals in the world. Nine birds were counted on this motu in 2011.

From BirdLife:

Operation Restoration – island update #4 – Endangered birds found, and sharks

By Shaun Hurrell, Fri, 26/06/2015 – 10:30

The Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove is one of the world’s rarest birds. Named Tutururu by locals, there are only about 100 of these birds left in the world – all found in French Polynesia.

So finding them in good numbers on an invasive predator-free atoll was pretty exciting for our Operation Restoration team – who are working hard to save these birds (and many more native species) from extinction, and restore the natural ecological balance of the islands. It gives a very positive indicator of how these birds will bounce back after we have finished restoring their islands. But these birds still need your help.

With a huge amount of work still to do to restore 6 remote islands in the Acteon and Gambier archipelagos, this would have undoubtedly been a big morale boost for Steve Cranwell and the team, especially when faced with sharks snapping at their heels!

Find out more in the latest update below from Steve Cranwell, Project Leader and invasive species expert:

Steve’s reports via satelite phone 19th June

Sorry for the delay in communications – the magnitude of the practical reality of this operation set in, and we have been extremely busy fulfilling the myriad of tasks for this ambitious restoration effort! Amazingly (given all that could go wrong) we’re on track.

The ground team and helicopter crew, assisted by locals at each site, soon developed a slick and efficient operation for loading, whilst managing to keep loose bags and other paraphernalia potentially catastrophic to the helicopter in check…

This ground effort and precision flying meant that by the time we got to Vahanga and Tenania we were able to complete the operations there in half the time anticipated!

Some of the team spent the first week or so searching for Tutururu [local name for Polynesian Ground-dove] and Titi [local name for Tuamotu Sandpiper] on Vahanga. Despite being elusive, the efforts were rewarded with one male (named Charlie) and female Tutururu, and four Titi.

Some other team members have stayed on Tenararo to complete a census of Tutururu and Titi. This is the first time such a thorough assessment will have been made for this predator-free atoll. Initial reports indicate good numbers of both species.

When a lagoon channel crosses a monitoring transect, as it invariably does, there is a little adventure as overly attentive Blacktip reef sharks make a beeline for any submerged body part! Alertness and a stout stick has proved a sufficient deterrent (so far)…

On Temoe, a seabird census and vegetation survey was completed and a significant increase in Murphy’s petrel (several hundred to over one thousand!) was noted, from a similar survey made several years earlier.

Baseline surveys are being made for all sites which are being augmented with acoustic recorders as a means of tracking changes in the number of calls for species of interest.

More to follow shortly!

On behalf of us all,

Steve

Cambrian fossil spiky worm discovery


Illustration showing the many legs and spikes covering the early Cambrian creature, Collinsium ciliosum. Credit: Javier Ortega-Hernández

From LiveScience:

Armored Spiky Worm Had 30 Legs, Will Haunt Your Nightmares

by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer

June 29, 2015 03:00pm ET

A spiky, wormlike creature with 30 legs — 18 clawed rear legs and 12 featherlike front legs that likely helped it filter food from the water — once lived in the ancient oceans of the early Cambrian period, about 518 million years ago, a new study finds.

The critter is one of the first known animals on Earth to develop protective armor and to sport specialized limbs that likely helped it catch food, the researchers said. This newfound species lived during the Cambrian explosion, a time of rapid evolutionary development, they said.

“It’s a bit of a large animal for this time period,” said one of the study’s lead researchers, Javier Ortega-Hernández, a research fellow in paleobiology at the University of Cambridge. “The largest specimen is just under 10 centimeters [4 inches], which, for a wormy thing, is quite mighty.” [See Images of the Spiky Worm & Other Cambrian Creatures]

The creature likely used its rear clawed legs to anchor to sponges or other penetrable surfaces, and waved its feathery front limbs to and fro in the current to catch nutrients in the water, Ortega-Hernández said. This technique is still used by modern animals, such as bamboo shrimp, that capture passing meals with their fanlike forearms.

But, because the Cambrian critters were “soft and squishy,” it’s likely they waved their limbs in a gentle motion, Ortega-Hernández told Live Science. “I don’t imagine they would have quick muscle control.”

A squishy creature that didn’t move quickly needed a steadfast defense strategy, and that’s likely why it had so many spikes, he said. Other Cambrian wormlike creatures, such as the bizarre Hallucigenia, also sported spines.

Hallucigenia has two sets of spines per leg,” Ortega-Hernández said. “This one has up to five, which means it was a much more heavily armored creature.”

Collins’ monster

Researchers have dubbed the new creature Collinsium ciliosum, or Hairy Collins’ Monster, named after Desmond Collins, a paleontologist who discovered a fossil of a similar Cambrian wormlike creature in Canada in the 1980s. Since then, researchers have found five species of Collins’ Monster (in the family Luolishania), including one from Australia.

But, unlike earlier fossils, the newfound specimens offer researchers a spectacular view of the prehistoric creature. One fossil displays much of Collinsium ciliosum’s body, including its digestive tract and even the delicate, featherlike structures on its front limbs. Based on the fossils, when it was alive, the worm likely didn’t have any eyes or teeth, Ortega-Hernández said.

Over the past three years, scientists at Yunnan University in China and the University of Cambridge have uncovered and studied 29 C. ciliosum fossils from the early Cambrian Xiaoshiba biota, a deposit in southern China that contains a rich collection of fossilized Cambrian creatures, he said.

An analysis of C. ciliosum‘s anatomy indicates it’s a distant ancestor of modern-day velvet worms, also known as onychophorans — a small group (just 180 species) of squishy worms that live in tropical forests, shoot slime at their prey and resemble legged worms.

Interestingly, the Collins’ Monsters were likely a more diverse group that “came in a surprising variety of bizarre shapes and sizes” than today’s onychophorans, Ortega-Hernández said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time that an ancestral group has displayed more diversity than its modern-day relatives. Sea lilies (crinoids) and lamp shells (brachiopods) also follow this trend. But Collins’ Monsters are the first example of this evolutionary pattern playing out in a mostly soft-bodied group, the researchers said. [See Images of Another Bizarre Cambrian Creature]

The study is “a superb description based on absolutely exquisite fossils,” said Greg Edgecombe, a researcher of arthropod evolution at the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved in the new study.

The new finding drives home that Cambrian wormlike animals such as Hallucigenia and the new Collinsium are the ancestors of Onychophora, Edgecombe said.

“That means they are more closely related to Onychophora than to any other living groups (such as arthropods or tardigrades),” Edgecombe told Live Science in an email. “Rather than floating around on the tree of life without an exact home,” these creatures can be pinpointed to a living group, Edgecombe said.

The findings were published online today (June 29) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

See also here.

Gall midges, new Dutch and Belgian discoveries


This video says about itself:

25 August 2014

Gall midge (Cecidomyiidae sp.) oviposits on a fallen beech in a forest near Marburg, Hesse, Germany.

Translated from the Dutch entomologists of EIS Kenniscentrum Insecten:

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Soon a revision of the gall midges of the Benelux, with 11 new species for the Netherlands and 87 ones for Belgium, will appear. Gall midges are among the main producers of galls on leaves of plants. The midge Obolodiplosis robiniae which appeared first in the Netherlands as recently as 2008 proves surprisingly to be the most common species in our country.

Gall midges together with gall wasps, gall mites and gall producing fungi are the major producers of galls. The mosquitoe-like insects lay eggs in plants and the plants respond by making galls. These are fascinating structures of plant tissue, which provide food and shelter for the larvae of the midges.

Saharan silver ants survive 70 degrees centigrade


This video says about itself:

BBC Silver Desert Ant, Cataglyphis, Sahara Desert

19 feb. 2013

Clip from BBCs Africa, episode 5, Sahara 2013, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Includes behind the scenes footage.

From Wildlife Extra:

How tiny Saharan Silver Ants stay alive in 70 degrees Centigrade

Researchers from the University of Zurich and the University of Washington have discovered two key strategies that enable Saharan silver ants to stay cool in one of the hottest terrestrial environments on Earth.

Saharan Silver Ants (Cataglyphis bombycina) forage in the Saharan Desert in the full midday sun when surface temperatures reach up to 70°C (158°F), and they must keep their body temperature below their critical thermal maximum of 53.6°C (128.48°F) most of the time.

In their wide-ranging foraging journeys, the ants search for corpses of insects and other arthropods that have succumbed to the thermally harsh desert conditions.

Being most active during the hottest moment of the day also allows these ants to avoid predatory desert lizards.

The project was initially triggered by speculation over whether the ants’ conspicuously silver coat was important in keeping them cool in the blistering heat.

Nanfang Yu, assistant professor of applied physics at Columbia Engineering, and his team found that the answer to this question was much broader once they realised the important role of infrared light in the ants’ protection.

They are the first people to demonstrate that the ants use a coat of uniquely shaped hairs to control electromagnetic waves over an extremely broad range – from the solar spectrum (the visible and near-infrared) to the thermal radiation spectrum (mid-infrared).

They have also identified in their paper, published in the US’s Science magazine, that different physical mechanisms are used in different spectral bands to realise the same biological function of reducing body temperature.

“This is a telling example of how evolution has triggered the adaptation of physical attributes to accomplish a physiological task and ensure survival, in this case to prevent Sahara Silver Ants from getting overheated,” Yu says.

“While there have been many studies of the physical optics of living systems in the ultraviolet and visible range of the spectrum, our understanding of the role of infrared light in their lives is much less advanced.

“Our study shows that light invisible to the human eye does not necessarily mean that it does not play a crucial role for living organisms.”

Their discovery that that there is a biological solution to a thermoregulatory problem could lead to the development of novel flat optical components that exhibit optimal cooling properties.

“Such biologically inspired cooling surfaces will have high reflectivity in the solar spectrum and high radiative efficiency in the thermal radiation spectrum,” Yu explains. “So this may generate useful applications such as a cooling surface for vehicles, buildings, instruments, and even clothing.”

Using electron microscopy and ion beam milling, Yu’s group discovered that the ants are covered on the top and sides of their bodies with a coating of uniquely shaped hairs with triangular cross-sections that keep them cool in two ways.

These hairs are highly reflective under the visible and near-infrared light, i.e., in the region of maximal solar radiation (the ants run at a speed of up to 0.7 meters per second and look like droplets of mercury on the desert surface).

The hairs are also highly emissive in the mid-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, where they serve as an anti-reflection layer that enhances the ants’ ability to offload excess heat via thermal radiation which is emitted from their hot bodies into the cold sky.

This passive cooling effect works under the full sun whenever the insects are exposed to a clear sky.

“To appreciate the effect of thermal radiation, think of the chilly feeling when you get out of bed in the morning,” says Yu. “Half of the energy loss at that moment is due to thermal radiation since your skin temperature is temporarily much higher than that of the surrounding environment.”

The researchers found that the enhanced reflectivity in the solar spectrum and enhanced thermal radiative efficiency have comparable contributions to reducing the body temperature of silver ants by 5 to 10 degrees compared to if the ants were without the hair cover.

“The fact that these silver ants can manipulate electromagnetic waves over such a broad range of spectrum shows us just how complex the function of these seemingly simple biological organs of an insect can be,” observes Norman Nan Shi, lead author of the study and PhD student who works with Yu at Columbia Engineering.

Yu and Shi collaborated on the project with Rüdiger Wehner, professor at the Brain Research Institute, University of Zürich, Switzerland, and Gary Bernard, electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, who are renowned experts in the study of insect physiology and ecology.

Yu and his team now plan to extend their research to other animals and organisms living in extreme environments, trying to learn the strategies these creatures have developed to cope with harsh environmental conditions.

“Animals have evolved diverse strategies to perceive and utilise electromagnetic waves,” says Yu. “Deep sea fish have eyes that enable them to maneouver and prey in dark waters, butterflies create colours from nanostructures in their wings, honey bees can see and respond to ultraviolet signals, and fireflies use flash communication systems.

“Organs evolved for perceiving or controlling electromagnetic waves often surpass analogous man-made devices in both sophistication and efficiency.

“Understanding and harnessing natural design concepts deepens our knowledge of complex biological systems and inspires ideas for creating novel technologies.”

See also here.