Hammerhead sharks, new research


This 2016 video from Mexico is called Face to face with huge smooth hammerhead in Cabo San Lucas.

From Nova Southeastern University in the USA:

New shark research targets a nearly endangered species

September 15, 2020

They are some of the most iconic and unique-looking creatures in our oceans. While some may think they look a bit “odd”, one thing researchers agree on is that little is known about hammerhead sharks. Many of the 10 hammerhead shark species are severely overfished worldwide for their fins and in need of urgent protection to prevent their extinction.

To learn more about a declining hammerhead species that is data-poor but in need of conservation efforts, a team of researchers from Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center (SOSF SRC) and Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI), Fisher Finder Adventures, the University of Rhode Island and University of Oxford (UK), embarked on a study to determine the migration patterns of smooth hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna zygaena) in the western Atlantic Ocean. This shark, which can grow up to 14-feet (400 cm), remains one of the least understood of the large hammerhead species because of the difficulty in reliably finding smooth hammerheads to allow scientific study.

To learn about smooth hammerhead behavior, the research team satellite-tagged juvenile hammerhead sharks off the US Mid-Atlantic coast and then tracked the sharks for up to 15 months. The sharks were fitted with fin-mounted satellite tags that reported the sharks’ movements in near real-time via a satellite link to the researchers.

“Getting long-term tracks was instrumental in identifying not only clear seasonal travel patterns, but importantly, also the times and areas where the sharks were resident in between their migrations,” said Ryan Logan, Ph.D. student at NSU’s GHRI and SOSF SRC, and first author of the newly published research. “This study provides the first high resolution, long term view of the movement behaviors and habitats used by smooth hammerhead sharks — key information for targeting specific areas and times for management action to help build back this depleted species.”

The researchers found that the sharks acted like snowbirds, migrating between two seasonally resident areas — in coastal waters off New York in the Summer and off North Carolina in the Winter. Their residency times in these two locations coincided with two environmental factors: warmer surface water temperatures and areas with high productivity — indicative of food-rich areas.

“The high-resolution movements data showed these focused wintering and summering habitats off North Carolina and New York, respectively, to be prime ocean “real estate” for these sharks and therefore important areas to protect for the survival of these near endangered animals,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., director of NSU’s GHRI and SOSF SRC, who oversaw the study.

Identifying such areas of high residency provides targets for designation as “Essential Fish Habitat” — an official title established by the US Government, which if formally adopted can subsequently be subject to special limitations on fishing or development to protect such declining species.

The tracking data also revealed a second target for conservation. The hammerheads spent a lot of resident time in the winter in a management zone known as the Mid-Atlantic Shark Area (MASA) — a zone already federally closed for seven-months per year (January 1 to July 31) to commercial bottom longline fishing to protect another endangered species, the dusky shark. However, the tracking data showed that the smooth hammerheads arrived in the MASA earlier in December, while this zone is still open to fishing.

“Extending the closure of the MASA zone by just one month, starting on December 1 each year, could reduce the fishing mortality of juvenile smooth hammerheads even more,” said Shivji. “It’s particularly gratifying to see such basic research not only improving our understanding of animal behavior in nature but also illuminating pathways for recovery of species and populations that have been overexploited so we can try and get back to a balanced ocean ecosystem.”

The tracks of the smooth hammerheads (and other shark species) can be found here.

How giraffes, elephants impact the African environment


This 2019 video from South Africa says about itself:

Beautiful interaction between Elephant, Impala, Kudu and Giraffe at a waterhole in Kruger National Park.

From the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute:

How do giraffes and elephants alter the African Savanna landscape?

September 14, 2020

Summary: Through their foraging behavior across the diverse topography of the African savanna, megaherbivores may be unknowingly influencing the growth and survival of vegetation on valleys and plateaus, while preserving steep slopes as habitat refugia.

As they roam around the African savanna in search for food, giraffes and elephants alter the diversity and richness of its vegetation. By studying the foraging patterns of these megaherbivores across different terrains in a savanna in Kenya, scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and collaborating institutions discovered that these large mammals prefer to eat their meals on flat ground, potentially impacting the growth and survival of plant species on even savanna landscapes, such as valleys and plateaus.

Megaherbivores are more concerned about eating as much food as possible while expending the minimum amount of effort, than about avoiding potential predators. Elephants may consume as much as 600 pounds of vegetation in a day; giraffes, about 75. This drove scientists to wonder about the impact of these megaherbivores on vegetation across a range of landscapes in the savanna.

“Previous studies have demonstrated that megaherbivores adjust their movement patterns to avoid costly mountaineering,” said co-author David Kenfack, STRI staff scientist, coordinator of the ForestGEO network forest monitoring plots in Africa and recently elected Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences. “We wanted to know the extent to which fine-scale variations in topography may influence browsing damage by these charismatic megaherbivores and evaluate whether seasonal shortages in food availability would force the megaherbivores to venture into areas with rugged terrain.”

Their observations conducted within a 120-hectare Smithsonian ForestGEO long-term vegetation monitoring plot located at Mpala Research Center in Kenya confirmed that giraffes and elephants prefer flat ground while foraging. They compared the damage on Acacia mellifera trees, which grow all over the savanna landscape and are a common meal for megaherbivores. They found that the trees growing on steep slopes were taller and had fewer stems than those in valleys and plateaus, suggesting that elephant and giraffes tend to avoid feeding in these less accessible habitats.

This behavior did not change during the dry season, when resources become scarce, indicating that these two species would rather disperse to new areas with more favorable conditions than climb up a nearby slope to feed.

For the authors, these feeding patterns may help preserve steep slopes as habitat refugia, with a greater diversity and density of vegetation than more frequently visited areas. Their findings support this argument: the number and variety of trees encountered on the steep slopes was higher than in the valleys and plateaus.

“This study has broadened our understanding of the role of topography in explaining diversity patterns of plants,” said Duncan Kimuyu, a Smithsonian Mpala postdoctoral fellow, lecturer at Karatina University in Kenya and main author of the study. “Further research is warranted to understand how other factors such as differences in soil properties may interact with topography and megaherbivores to influence the growth and survival of vegetation in the African savanna.”

Members of the research team are affiliated with STRI, Karatina University, Mpala Research Center and Wildlife Foundation and the National Museums of Kenya. Research was funded by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, ForestGEO and the International Foundation for Science (D/5455-2).

How male, female leopards live in Tanzania


This 2019 video says about itself:

Pula, a female leopard, hunts and takes down an impala for a meal.

From the University of Copenhagen in Denmark:

The surprising rhythms of Leopards: Females are early birds, males are nocturnal

September 10, 2020

Summary: After 10 months of camera surveillance in the Tanzanian rainforest, researchers have concluded that female and male leopards are active at very different times of the day. The discovery contradicts previous assumptions and could be used to help protect the endangered feline, whose populations have dwindled by 85 percent over the past century.

Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains are carpeted by dense rainforest, making the area impossible to reach by jeep or other vehicles. As such, the leopards in this area have never been subject to the prying eyes of researchers. Until now.

After covering 2,500 square kilometers on foot, setting up 164 game camera traps and collecting more than 5000 days worth of footage from the area, the Natural History Museum of Denmark’s Rasmus W. Havmøller has discovered new and surprising knowledge about these spotted predators.

“I’m the first person to study leopards in this area, simply because it is so inaccessible. It took several pairs of good hiking boots, let me put it that way,” says Havmøller, who never actually got to see one of the shy leopards with his own eyes. Instead, he had to “settle” for buffalo and elephants.

While Havmøller never caught a glimpse of a leopard himself, his 164 camera traps most certainly did. Using motion sensors, the cameras captured the leopards, as well as forest antelopes, baboons and other leopard prey on film. Camera observations revealed leopard behaviour that contradicts previous assumptions.

“In the past, leopards were thought to be most active at dusk. Very surprisingly, the study shows that leopards hunt and move around at very different times of the day depending on whether they are females or males,” says Rasmus W. Havmøller, who adds:

“Females are typically active from early through late morning, and then a bit before sunset, while males only really wake up at night.”

This is the first time that differences in activity patterns between male and female leopards have been studied.

Differences between male and female leopards have only recently begun to be studied, so there is still much to learn about the animal. But researchers need to hurry. Rapidly growing human populations in Africa and India are the greatest threat to these animals, which are forced from their habitats and shot when they near livestock.

“Globally, things are going awfully for leopards, with sharp declines in their populations over the past 100 years. Furthermore, these animals aren’t monitored all that well. In part, this is because it is difficult. But also, because there has been a greater focus on species that are even more endangered, including lions, tigers and cheetahs. Therefore, it might be that the leopards in Udzungwa present the last chance to study these creatures in a diversified environment, one that has only been lightly impacted by humans, before they end up becoming highly endangered” explains Rasmus W. Havmøller.

The researcher believes that the results will provide a better understanding of the lives of wild leopards — an understanding that may help prevent their complete extinction.

“The fact that female leopards are active well into the morning makes them more vulnerable to human activities, since this is when we as humans are most active. To protect something, one needs to have some knowledge about it. During my study, we also discovered that a leopard from the rainforest doesn’t move into semi-arid areas or onto the savannah, or vice versa. It’s very strange. Why they don’t is the next big question,” concludes Havmøller.

Planet Venus, life discovered?


This 14 September 2020 video from Columbia University in the USA says about itself:

Did We Just Detect Life on Venus?

The announcement of the detection of a possible biomarker in the atmosphere of Venus has shook up the field of astrobiology and grabbed headlines across the world. Today, we explore why Venus could plausibly host life, how this detection was made, and whether it really means that we’ve finally found extraterrestrial life. Written and presented by Prof Kipping, featuring guest Dr Caleb Scharf.

From National Geographic today:

BREAKING NEWS

An ‘extraordinary’ find in the clouds of Venus could point to the presence of life

Scientists say they’ve detected a gas called phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus—a gas thought to be impossible to make on planets like Earth or Venus without the presence of life. If this finding is confirmed, one of two possibilities could exist on the planet long considered Earth’s twin: an exotic chemistry we don’t understand; or life.

LIFE ON VENUS? Astronomers have found a potential sign of life high in the atmosphere of neighboring Venus: hints there may be bizarre microbes living in the sulfuric acid-laden clouds of the hothouse planet. Two telescopes in Hawaii and Chile spotted in the thick Venutian clouds the chemical signature of phosphine, a noxious gas that on Earth is only associated with life, according to a study in Monday’s journal Nature Astronomy. Several outside experts — and the study authors themselves — agreed this is tantalizing but said it is far from the first proof of life on another planet. [AP]

Alfred Wallace and Taiwanese butterflies, new research


This 2007 video says about itself:

Seen at the butterfly garden at Waalre, the Netherlands: Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).

From ScienceDaily:

Over a century later, the mystery of the Alfred Wallace’s butterfly is solved

September 10, 2020

An over a century-long mystery has been surrounding the Taiwanese butterfly fauna ever since the “father of zoogeography” Alfred Russel Wallace, in collaboration with Frederic Moore, authored a landmark paper in 1866: the first to study the lepidopterans of the island.

Back then, in their study, Moore dealt with the moths portion and Wallace investigated the butterflies. Together, they reported 139 species, comprising 93 nocturnal 46 diurnal species, respectively. Of the latter, five species were described as new to science. Even though the correct placements of four out of those five butterflies in question have been verified a number of times since 1886, one of those butterflies: Lycaena nisa, would never be re-examined until very recently.

In a modern-day research project on Taiwanese butterflies, scientists retrieved the original type specimen from the Wallace collection at The [Natural] History Museum of London, UK. Having also examined historical specimens housed at the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, in addition to newly collected butterflies from Australia and Hong Kong, Dr Yu-Feng Hsu of the National Taiwan Normal University finally resolved the identity of the mysterious Alfred Wallace’s butterfly: it is now going by the name Famegana nisa (comb. nov.), while two other species names (Lycaena alsulus and Zizeeria alsulus eggletoni) were proven to have been coined for the same butterfly after the original description by Wallace. Thereby, the latter two are both synonymised with Famegana nisa.

Despite having made entomologists scratch their heads for over a century, in the wild, the Wallace’s butterfly is good at standing out. As long as one knows what else lives in the open grassy habitats around, of course. Commonly known as ‘Grass Blue’, ‘Small Grass Blue’ or ‘Black-spotted Grass Blue’, the butterfly can be easily distinguished amongst the other local species by its uniformly greyish-white undersides of the wings, combined with obscure submarginal bands and a single prominent black spot on the hindwing.

However, the species demonstrates high seasonal variability, meaning that individuals reared in the dry season have a reduced black spot, darker ground colour on wing undersides and more distinct submarginal bands in comparison to specimens from the wet season. This is why Dr Yu-Feng Hsu notes that it’s perhaps unnecessary to split the species into subspecies even though there have been up to four already recognised.

Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, biologist and illustrator, was a contemporary of Charles Darwin, and also worked on the debates within evolutionary theory, including natural selection. He also authored the famed book Darwinism in 1889, which explained and defended natural selection.

While Darwin and Wallace did exchange ideas, often challenging each other’s conclusions, they worked out the idea of natural selection each on their own. In his part, Wallace insisted that there was indeed a strong reason why a certain species would evolve. Unlike Darwin, Wallace argued that rather than a random natural process, evolution was occurring to maintain a species’ fitness to the specificity of its environment. Wallace was also one of the first prominent scientists to voice concerns about the environmental impact of human activity.

New Great Barrier Reef coral species discovered


This video is called Great Barrier Reef [National Geographic Documentary HD 2017].

From the Schmidt Ocean Institute:

New corals discovered in deep-sea study of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

September 9, 2020

For the first time, scientists have viewed the deepest regions of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, discovered five undescribed species consisting of black corals and sponges, and recorded Australia’s first observation of an extremely rare fish. They also took critical habitat samples that will lead to a greater understanding of the spatial relationships between seabed features and the animals found in the Coral Sea.

The complex and scientifically challenging research was completed aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor, on its fourth expedition of the year, as part of the Institute’s Australia campaign. Using a remotely operated underwater robot to view high-resolution video of the bottom of the ocean floor, some 1,820 meters deep, the science team examined deep-sea bathymetry, wildlife, and ecosystems. The collaborative mission brought together scientists from Geoscience Australia, James Cook University, University of Sydney, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), Queensland Museum Network, and Queensland University of Technology, to answer a range of questions about the geological evolution and biology of the deep-sea canyons and reefs.

“This included the most comprehensive midwater robotic dive survey series to ever have been conducted in the South Pacific,” said Dr. Brendan Brooke, the expedition’s lead scientist from Geoscience Australia. “Research vessel Falkor has integrated a range of technologies that have allowed us to work across the full range of ocean depths in the Coral Sea and to provide data for multiple disciplines including geology, biology, and oceanography.”

During the expedition, researchers took the deepest samples ever collected of soft coral and scleractinian coral in the Coral Sea. They also collected the first sample of ancient bedrock beneath the Great Barrier Reef, estimated to be between 40 and 50 million years old. Scientists made the first recorded observation in Australia of the extremely rare fish Rhinopias agroliba, a colorful and well-camouflaged ambush predator in the scorpionfish family. The cruise also included the most comprehensive survey of midwater jellyfish in the South Pacific.

In addition to the underwater dives, high-resolution mapping of the seafloor was conducted and covered 38,395 square kilometers, an area three times greater than Sydney. The maps include all the major coral atolls on the Queensland Plateau within the Coral Sea Marine Park and an 80-kilometer section of canyons off the northern Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“These maps, samples, and images are fascinating and provide a new understanding of the geological diversity and biological wealth of a region that is already world-renowned for its natural beauty,” said Dr. Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. “The data will help marine park managers to protect these ecosystems that are so vital for our global biodiversity and human health. ”

Live streaming of the 18 underwater robotic dives via Schmidt Ocean’s channel on YouTube and 112 hours of high definition underwater video during the month-long expedition, which ended August 30, allowed the science team to share their knowledge and excitement of the voyage’s discoveries with the world. Through the livestreams, the scientists could interact directly with the public via chat and commentary.

“Schmidt Ocean Institute and the technology that it has brought to Australia is a huge enabler in better understanding our marine resources from a lens of diverse disciplines,” said Dr. Scott Nichol, one of the lead expedition scientists from Geoscience Australia. “This work brings new understanding and will keep the scientists busy for years.”

Prehistoric big shark Megalodon, how big?


Palaeoartist reconstruction of a 16 m adult Megalodon. Credit: Reconstruction by Oliver E. Demuth

From the University of Bristol in England:

True size of prehistoric mega-shark finally revealed

September 3, 2020

To date only the length of the legendary giant shark Megalodon had been estimated. But now, a new study led by the University of Bristol and Swansea University has revealed the size of the rest of its body, including fins that are as large as an adult human.

There is a grim fascination in determining the size of the largest sharks, but this can be difficult for fossil forms where teeth are often all that remain.

Today, the most fearsome living shark is the Great White, at over six metres (20 feet) long, which bites with a force of two tonnes.

Its fossil relative, the big tooth shark Megalodon, star of Hollywood movies, lived from 23 to around three million years ago, was over twice the length of a Great White and had a bite force of more than ten tonnes.

The fossils of the Megalodon are mostly huge triangular cutting teeth bigger than a human hand.

Jack Cooper, who has just completed the MSc in Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, and colleagues from Bristol and Swansea used a number of mathematical methods to pin down the size and proportions of this monster, by making close comparisons to a diversity of living relatives with ecological and physiological similarities to Megalodon.

The project was supervised by shark expert Dr Catalina Pimiento from Swansea University and Professor Mike Benton, a palaeontologist at Bristol. Dr Humberto Ferrón of Bristol also collaborated.

Their findings are published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

Jack Cooper said: “I have always been mad about sharks. As an undergraduate, I have worked and dived with Great whites in South Africa — protected by a steel cage of course. It’s that sense of danger, but also that sharks are such beautiful and well-adapted animals, that makes them so attractive to study.

“Megalodon was actually the very animal that inspired me to pursue palaeontology in the first place at just six years old, so I was over the moon to get a chance to study it.

“This was my dream project. But to study the whole animal is difficult considering that all we really have are lots of isolated teeth.”

Previously the fossil shark, known formally as Otodus megalodon, was only compared with the Great White. Jack and his colleagues, for the first time, expanded this analysis to include five modern sharks.

Dr Pimiento said: “Megalodon is not a direct ancestor of the Great White but is equally related to other macropredatory sharks such as the Makos, Salmon shark and Porbeagle shark, as well as the Great white. We pooled detailed measurements of all five to make predictions about Megalodon.”

Professor Benton added: “Before we could do anything, we had to test whether these five modern sharks changed proportions as they grew up. If, for example, they had been like humans, where babies have big heads and short legs, we would have had some difficulties in projecting the adult proportions for such a huge extinct shark.

“But we were surprised, and relieved, to discover that in fact that the babies of all these modern predatory sharks start out as little adults, and they don’t change in proportion as they get larger.”

Jack Cooper said: “This means we could simply take the growth curves of the five modern forms and project the overall shape as they get larger and larger — right up to a body length of 16 metres.”

The results suggest that a 16-metre-long Otodus megalodon likely had a head round 4.65 metres long, a dorsal fin approximately 1.62 metres tall and a tail around 3.85 metres high.

This means an adult human could stand on the back of this shark and would be about the same height as the dorsal fin.

The reconstruction of the size of Megalodon body parts represents a fundamental step towards a better understanding of the physiology of this giant, and the intrinsic factors that may have made it prone to extinction.

New freshwater crustacean species discovery in Iran


This 2019 video from Spain is called Phallocryptus spinosa en las Salinas de Roquetas de Mar.

From ScienceDaily:

New species of freshwater crustacea found in the hottest place on Earth

September 3, 2020

A new species of freshwater Crustacea has been discovered during an expedition of the desert Lut, known as the hottest place on Earth.

The newly identified species belongs to the genus Phallocryptus of which only four species were previously known from different arid and semiarid regions.

Dr Hossein Rajaei from the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History and Dr Alexander V Rudov from Tehran University made the discovery during an expedition of Lut to better understand the desert’s ecology, biodiversity, geomorphology and paleontology.

Further scientific examinations of the specimens by co-author Dr Martin Schwentner, Crustacea specialist from the Natural History Museum of Vienna, stated that they belong to a new species of freshwater Crustacea.

Publishing their findings in Zoology in the Middle East, the biologists name the new species Phallocryptus fahimii, in honor of the Iranian conservation biologist, Hadi Fahimi, who took part in the 2017 expedition and sadly died in an airplane crash in 2018.

Dr Rajaei, an entomologist from State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, who actually found the species in a small seasonal lake in southern part of the desert says the discovery is “sensational.”

“During an expedition to such an extreme place you are always on alert, in particular when finding water. Discovering crustaceans in this otherwise hot and dry environment was really sensational.”

The team’s study explains how Phallocryptus fahimii differs in its overall morphology and its genetics from all other known Phallocryptus species.

Dr Schwentner, who has worked with similar crustaceans from the Australian deserts in the past, adds: “These Crustaceans are able to survive for decades in the dried-out sediment and will hatch in an upcoming wet season, when the aquatic habitat refills. They are perfectly adapted to live in deserts environments. Their ability to survive even in the Lut desert highlights their resilience.”

The Lut desert — also known as Dasht-e Lut — is the second largest desert in Iran.

Located between 33° and 28° parallels and with its 51,800 km2 larger than Switzerland, this desert holds the current record for the highest ever-recorded surface temperature. Based on 2006 satellite measurements, the NASA reported a record surface temperature of 70.7°C, which more recently has been increased to even 80.3°C. Dark pebbles that heat up are one of the causes of these record temperatures. Mean daily temperatures range from -2.6°C in winter to 50.4°C in summer with annual precipitation not exceeding 30 mm per year.

Almost deprived of vegetation, the Lut desert harbors a diverse animal life, but no permanent aquatic biotops (such as ponds).

After rain falls, non-permanent astatic water bodies are filled including the Rud-e-Shur river from north-western Lut.

Here a diverse community of Archaea has been described but aquatic life in the Lut remains highly limited, which makes this find particularly rare.

Burrowing frogs, new research


This 2019 video from India says about itself

Why a Burrowing Frog is called a burrowing frog? See this video. Indian Burrowing Frog (Sphaerotheca breviceps).

Burrowing frogs have digging implements on the side of their back feet. In the dry season, they dig down backwards into the sand in search of a moist spot where they can sleep until heavy rain awakens them from their slumber. A short burst of activity then follows. They climb up to the surface, feed and reproduce in monsoon before the dry season starts.

Taken at At BNHS Nature Reserve, BNHS Conservation Education (Cec Bnhs), Goregaon, Mumbai.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

How to get the upper body of a burrowing frog

September 1, 2020

You might think the buffest frogs would be high jumpers, but if you want shredded pecs, you should train like a burrowing frog. Though famously round, these diggers are the unsung bodybuilders of the frog world. We bring you tips from frog expert Rachel Keeffe, a doctoral student at the University of Florida, and physical therapist Penny Goldberg to help you get the burrowing body of your dreams.

But first, a caveat: According to Keeffe, no workout regimen can help you train your way into a highly specialized frog physique honed by 200 million years of evolution. To better understand burrowing frog anatomy, Keeffe and her adviser David Blackburn, Florida Museum of Natural History curator of herpetology, analyzed CT scans from all 54 frog families to show these frogs boast a robust and quirky skeleton that is more variable than previously thought.

“People think about frogs as being clean and smooth and slimy, or the classic ‘green frog on a lily pad,’ but a lot of them are dirty — they like to scoot around and be in the dirt,” Keeffe said. “Burrowing frogs are really diverse and can do a lot of cool things. And when you look at the skeletons of known burrowers, they’re very different from what you would call a ‘normal frog.'”

Burrowing frogs are found all over the world from deserts to swamps, but their underground lifestyle makes them difficult to study, Keeffe said. Most tunnel hind end-first with their back legs. But a few species are forward burrowers, using pointed snouts and powerful forelimbs bolstered by strong pectoral muscles to scrabble into the earth.

Keeffe’s sample of 89 frog species revealed radical differences in burrowing bone structure, from clavicles the size of eyelashes to other bones that are unusually thick.

“They’re so diverse that it’s challenging to think about even comparing them. It’s almost a black hole of work that we can do with forward burrowers because we tend to focus on the legs,” she said.

Some burrow to seek refuge, whether from arid temperatures or predators, and underground habitats can be hunting grounds or secluded hiding places. Other burrowing frogs can spend months at a time as deep as 3 feet belowground, surviving on a high-protein diet of termites and ants. The takeaway: If you want to compete for resources with the pros, don’t be afraid to put in the work.

Get the burly burrowing body

To train like a burrowing frog, Goldberg, assistant director of ReQuest Physical Therapy in Gainesville, recommended dedicating time to strengthening your upper back.

“In humans, the most important muscle group to focus on if you were to train like one of these frogs would be the scapular stabilizers,” she said. “These include 17 muscles, such as the lats and rotator cuff, with attachments all the way down to the pelvis that allow the upper back to generate power. To burrow like a forward burrower, you need to strengthen this entire region.”

One strengthening move Goldberg recommended is the “Prone W.” Lie facedown with elbows bent and palms on the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and toward your spine as you lift your arms to the ceiling for a couple seconds at a time.

Like any elite athlete, burrowing frogs also maintain an optimal form. They’re often orb-shaped to improve their ability to hold water.

“Personally, if I were a sphere, I think it would be hard for me to dig, but it doesn’t seem to affect these frogs at all,” Keeffe said. “However, frogs with stumpy legs are definitely worse at jumping, and they tend to stagger when they walk.”

For these frogs, time away from the tunnels might be spent swimming instead, Keeffe said. To compete here, Goldberg recommends the breaststroke, adding that her top training tips for getting the upper back and pecs of a forward burrower would include pullups and pushups to develop the shoulder blade area.

“In my world, we would use resistance bands and pushing or pulling motions to train this area,” Goldberg said. “Anything focusing predominantly on building strength in the upper back region.”

If resistance bands are part of your workout routine, try grasping one with both hands and extending your arms while keeping your elbows straight. For best results, Goldberg recommended starting with three sets of 10.

Burrowing frogs might also hold key answers to gaps in scientists’ understanding of amphibian evolution at large. Keeffe’s analysis also found that forward-burrowing behavior evolved independently at least eight times in about one-fifth of frog families, and the trait’s persistence in the frog family tree suggests it’s a beneficial adaptation. Keeffe also found that forward burrowers tended to have a highly contoured humerus, the bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow in humans.

Understanding how bone shape relates to musculature can help scientists identify which frogs, both modern and extinct, are forward burrowers, a helpful tool given their covert behavior.

“Even though it can be frustrating, I like them because they’re secretive,” Keeffe said. “But the whole thing underlying this study is that frogs can do a lot of cool things — they don’t just jump and they’re not just green.”

CT scans were generated from the National Science Foundation-funded oVert project.

Black sea spider crab re-described at last


This 2015 video is about a Macropodia sp. spider crab.

From ScienceDaily:

Neglected for over a century, Black sea spider crab re-described

September 1, 2020

Even though recognised in the Mediterranean Sea, the Macropodia czernjawskii spider crab was ignored by scientists (even by its namesake Vladimir Czernyavsky) in the regional faunal accounts of the Black Sea for more than a century. At the same time, although other species of the genus have been listed as Black sea fauna, those listings are mostly wrong and occurred either due to historical circumstances or misidentifications.

Now, scientists re-describe this, most likely, only species of the genus occurring in the Black Sea in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

The spider crab genus Macropodia was discovered in 1814 and currently includes 18 species, mostly occurring in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The marine fauna of the Black Sea is predominantly of Mediterranean origin and Macropodia czernjawskii was firstly discovered in the Black Sea in 1880, but afterwards, its presence there was largely ignored by the scientists.

After the revision of available type specimens from all available collections in the Russian museums and the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt-on-Main, as well as newly collected material in the Black Sea and the North-East Atlantic, a research team of scientists, led by Dr Vassily Spiridonov from Shirshov Institute of Oceanology of Russian Academy of Sciences, re-described Macropodia czernjawskii and provided the new data on its records and updated its ecological characteristics.

“The analysis of the molecular genetic barcode (COI) of the available material of Macropodia species indicated that M. czernjawskii is a very distinct species while M. parva should be synonimised with M. rostrata, and M. longipes is a synonym of M. tenuirostris,” states Dr Spiridonov sharing the details of the genus analysis.

All Macropodia species have epibiosis and M. czernjawskii is no exception: almost all examined crabs in 2008-2018 collections had significant epibiosis. It normally consists of algae and cyanobacteria and, particularly, a non-indigenous species of red alga Bonnemaisonia hamifera, officially reported in 2015 at the Caucasian coast of the Black Sea, was found in the epibiosis of M. czernjawskii four years earlier.

“It improves our understanding of its invasion history. Museum and monitoring collections of species with abundant epibiosis (in particular inachid crabs) can be used as an additional tool to record and monitor introduction and establishments of sessile non-indigenous species,” suggests Dr Spiridonov.