Large hawk moth discovery in China

This is a Langia zenzeroides video.

From Xinhua news agency in China:

Hawk moth found in Sichuan is largest ever discovered

2015-05-13 09:35 (GMT+8)

A hawk moth found in a mountainous area in the southwest province of Sichuan is believed to be the largest of its species ever discovered, local experts said Monday.

Zhao Li, head of the Insect Museum of West China in the provincial capital Chengdu, said the hawk moth was discovered by a team from the museum during an expedition to Qingcheng Mountain. The moth’s wingspan is 17.5 centimeters long. Previously, the largest hawk moth found had a wingspan of 15.6 centimeters.

The newly discovered hawk moth belongs to the species of Langia zenzeroides, the largest hawk moth species. Wing spans of L. zenzeroides are generally 12 to 15 centimeters long.

According to Zhao, these moths usually live in northern India, northern Thailand, northern Vietnam, as well as southern and eastern China. They have been known to take up residence in mountainous areas with an altitude of 1,000-2,000 meters in western Sichuan province in April and May.

New bird species discovery in China

This video says about itself:

Sichuan bush warbler – Locustella chengi – Singing in a distinctive voice

2 May 2015

The Sichuan bush warbler was discovered after its insect-like song attracted the notice of researchers. 19 years on, it has finally been relocated and confirmed as a new species

A new bird species has been discovered in central China by an international team of scientists. This shy brown bird, named the Sichuan bush warbler, Locustella chengi, breeds in the mountainous region of the Sichuan Basin at 1000-2300 m elevation. Its winter home is currently unknown. This bird was first noticed whilst singing its distinctive song in May 1992 by two members of the research team, who thought it might be something new. After nearly two decades of searching, they found the bird again. Extensive analyses of the bird’s DNA, physical measurements, plumage colour and vocalisations confirmed their hunch that this is indeed a new bird species to science.

From the BBC:

Song heralds arrival of new bird species

By Mark Kinver, Environment reporter, BBC News

1 May 2015

The distinctive song of a secretive and elusive bird in central China has helped researchers to identify it and deem it to be a new species to science.

Scientists first heard the harsh call of the Sichuan bush warbler in 1987, but they only recently gathered enough data to formally describe it.

The new species, Locustella chengi, has been named after Prof Cheng Tso-hsin, a distinguished Chinese ornithologist.

The details have been published in the Avian Research journal.

“These birds are almost impossible to see when they are not singing,” explained one of the scientists to describe the new species, Per Alstrom from the Swedish Species Information Centre, based at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

“If the species had not been singing when we first heard it back in 1987, we would never have seen it.

“They are incredibly difficult to see because they are so secretive, sneaking around in the dense vegetation, close to or on the ground. But when they are singing, you can hear them from quite a long distance.

He told BBC News: “By being patient or using tapes to attract them, you can see them – although they will stay in the dense habitat.”

Harsh tones

The song of the new species is harsher than that of its closest relative, the russet bush warbler, and consists of a “drawn-out note followed by a shorter note that are repeated in series”.

The team of researchers, from Sweden, China, Vietnam, the UK and US, carried out DNA analysis that showed the two birds were very closely related and were probably separated from a common ancestor about 850,000 years ago.

Prof Alstrom explained that the publication of the paper formally describing the Sichuan bush warbler came after a search lasting almost 30 years.

“I have been trying to find this bird ever since we first heard it back in 1987,” he said. We suspected that it was something different, something new (to science).

“Last year, we had received information from colleagues that both these birds – the unknown species and the Russet Bush warbler – were present on the same mountain.

“We had not found both of them together previously, so we went there specifically to get more information on how they interacted together; whether they occurred in different habitats, etc, to see if they were actually ecologically and reproductively isolated in these areas.”

Although the two species have slight differences in proportions, it is the the birds’ songs that mark a clear distinction.

Prof Alstrom suggested that was probably the result of random processes that had resulted in the two species evolving different vocalisation patterns.

“It is probably a combination of chance factors, such as individuals undergoing vocal “mutation’, and also sexual selection,” he suggested.

“Songs are used to attract females and to deter other males from their territory, so there is probably a factor of strong sexual selection evolution involved in these differences.”

Dinosaur with feathers and bat-like wings discovered

This video says about itself:

A new dinosaur: Flying without feathers

29 April 2015

Birds evolved from dinosaurs – but it wasn’t a smooth transition. Plenty of creatures tried different ways to get into the air – like this newly discovered dinosaur species, Yi qi, unearthed in China. This pigeon-sized creature had elongated fingers that held a membrane wing, more like a bat than a bird. In this Nature Video, we look at what makes this fossil so special, and consider what this dinosaur may have looked like.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Is it a bird? Is it a bat? Meet Yi qi, the dinosaur that is sort of both

Incredible new find from China has both feathers and bat-like wings

Dr Dave Hone

Wednesday 29 April 2015 18.01 BST

Researchers today announced the discovery of a stunning new dinosaur fossil: a glider with wings similar to both birds and bats. It has been named Yi qi (meaning ‘strange wing’) and is a small feathered dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic age fossil beds of China that have yielded a host of important fossils in recent years. Yi qi, like so many other small dinosaurs, is preserved with a full coating of feathers and was a close relative of the lineage that ultimately gave rise to birds.

However, what sets this animal apart from numerous other dinosaurian gliders and proto-birds is the composition of its wings. In addition to some unusual feathers that are positioned on the long arms and fingers, there is a truly gigantic bone on each wrist that extends backwards, and between this bone and the fingers is preserved a membrane-like soft tissue that would have given the animal something of a wing, like that of bats.

Yi qi is not a direct ancestor of birds, and more particularly has nothing to do with the origins of the mammalian bats, but its wings are an excellent example of convergent evolution. At various times a great many animals have evolved a similar arrangement of a large bone in the wrist or hand and a supporting membrane, most obviously in numerous gliding mammal lineages. In addition to the bats that are capable of active powered flight, various passive gliders like flying squirrels, sugar gliders and the so-called “flying lemurs” have all independently evolved some extension that that helps to support a membranous wing. At some level then, this is a quite common feature, but it is a real shock to see it in such a dinosaur.

Professor Xu Xing, lead author of the study from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing said “It definitely evolved a wing that is unique in the context of the transition from dinosaurs to birds.”

There are a number of feathered dinosaurs close to the origins of birds that are thought to have been some form of glider. All were small and light and had extensive feathers that would have formed the flight surface and allowed them to move effectively through the air. Yi qi is from a very odd group of small dinosaurs called scansoriopterygids, who are known from only two other specimens and little is known about their biology or lifestyle, so there is not much to go on. However, it is clearly remarkable that such an animal that had numerous other relatives with large feathers on their arms and would apparently “experiment” with different forms of flight at various times (not least ultimately producing birds) would take such a dramatically different route towards gliding, even if it was one commonly explored by other [sic] mammals.

The evolutionary implications are therefore quite incredible. There have already been suggestions that perhaps powered flight evolved multiple times in the dinosaurs and early birds, with perhaps several different groups making the final jump from gliding to a more active form of movement in the air. Given how few and far between the scansoriopterygids are as fossils, this implies that they never really got going as a group – certainly they are much more restricted in both time and space than their near relatives, so at first approximation the bat-bird combination of Yi qi did not lead to a major new radiation of dinosaurs.

However, quite how the animal may have flown is most unclear. The incomplete preservation of the wings and the uncertain position of the long wrist bone means that it could have had a very broad wing or a narrow one, and the flattened nature of the skeleton makes it hard to tell if this animal might have had the muscles and joints needed for powered flight. Professor Xu notes that “We don’t know if Yi qi was flapping, or gliding, or both”, but it does seem clear that the small size of the animal and large surface area of the wings and feathers would have permitted some form of aerial locomotion.

Dr Mike Habib of the University of Southern California, who was not involved in the study, said “All told, this is an unexpected, exciting specimen that changes our views on the evolution of flight in dinosaurs. It appears that multiple types of wing surfaces evolved within the relatives of birds, making the origins of avian flight potentially more complicated than previously thought.” That alone makes the origins of birds, already an area of intense study, a little more complicated and rather intriguing. The pathway to both birds and powered flight from small feathered dinosaurs, though with a few bumps and oddities on the way shows a relatively consistent progression but Yi qi adds a new twist with one evolutionary branch taking a dramatically different route into the air.

Xu et al., 2015. A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran theropod with preserved evidence of membranous wings. Nature. DOI: 10.1038

Rare Chinese sturgeons released in Yangtze river

This National Geographic video says about itself:

The “Underwater Panda”

23 July 2009

Zeb Hogan traverses Asia in search of the the giant Chinese sturgeon and the world’s largest trout that’s known to eat mice and ducks.

From Wildlife Extra:

Captive bred rare sturgeon released into the wild in China

Researchers in China have released 3,000 captive-bred Chinese sturgeons, a rare fish that dates back to the dinosaurs, into the country’s longest river, the Yangtze, to save the species from extinction reports the Global Times.

Estimates by experts say that due to development in and around rivers, heavy boat traffic and water pollution, the number of wild Chinese sturgeons which migrate to Gezhouba, Hubei Province, to breed has fallen from about 1,000 in 1982 to about 50.

In this latest release, staff at the Chinese Sturgeons Research Institute transferred 500 fish born in 2011 and with a body length of 80cm, and 2,500 fish born in 2013, which had reached about 40cm in length from their holding pens to the river.

According to Gao Yong, the Deputy Head of the Research Institute, they are also employing advanced methods to track the two age groups simultaneously to monitor their progress and see which group fares best.

This was the Institute’s 57th release of the rare fish, which scientists have nicknamed ‘aquatic pandas‘, as they are highly endangered and are listed as a ‘wild creature under State protection’. They have not been detected reproducing naturally in the Yangtze River for more than two years.