Rare ghost orchids and their pollinators, video


This 6 August 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Rare Ghost Orchid Has Multiple Pollinators | Short Film Showcase

Deep in remote Florida swamps, a team of researchers and photographers have made a new discovery that upends what we thought we knew about the ghost orchid, one of the world’s most iconic flowers, and how it reproduces.

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Egg-sucking sea slug discovery in Florida, USA


This 2012 video is about Sacoglossa, mostly vegetarian relatives of the recently discovered species.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Egg-sucking sea slug from Florida’s Cedar Key named after Muppets creator Jim Henson

June 18, 2019

Feet from the raw bars and sherbet-colored condominiums of Florida’s Cedar Key, researchers discovered a new species of egg-sucking sea slug, a rare outlier in a group famous for being ultra-vegetarians.

Named Olea hensoni in honor of Muppets creator Jim Henson, the slug belongs to the sacoglossans, a group of more than 300 species that are such enthusiastic eaters of plants that many of them turn green and some resemble leaves. A few species, nicknamed “solar-powered slugs“, have even developed the ability to keep algae alive inside their bodies to photosynthesize their food for them, becoming a fusion of plant and animal.

But O. hensoni has gone rogue, joining two other sacoglossan species — Olea hansineensis from the northeast Pacific and Calliopaea bellula in the Mediterranean — that abandoned a diet of seaweed to prey on the eggs of their fellow slugs and snails.

“In the middle of this group of super-herbivores, there are a couple of species that have rebelled in ‘The Hills Have Eyes‘ kind of way and have gone almost full-blown cannibal,” said Patrick Krug, professor of biological sciences at California State University. “These are like the Venus fly traps of the slug world. They’ve switched from being harmless, friendly creatures to predators.”

In 2017, Cedar Key’s waterfront still bore wreckage from Hurricane Hermine when Gustav Paulay, Florida Museum curator of invertebrate zoology, slipped on divers boots and walked onto a sand flat exposed by the low tide. He was scouting for nudibranchs, worms, sea snails and crabs to show his students. Picking up a Jell-O-like egg mass, he spotted a sea slug about the size of a grain of rice inside.

“I assumed it was a well-known species,” he said. “I know its relative from the northeast Pacific quite well, so I figured, ‘Okay, good, we got an Olea’ and put it in the bag.”

It wasn’t until he contacted Krug, a sacoglossan expert, that he realized how unique the slug was.

“I sent it to Pat, and he was like, ‘Oh my God! You got something weird that’s not known from the western Atlantic,'” Paulay said. “What I found interesting was that this was the third example in the world of this feeding mode in this lineage of animals. I thought there were a lot more of them. I was tickled that we got one in Florida.”

Krug said finding an egg-sucking slug in the Gulf of Mexico was “crazy.”

“It was really surprising that a member of this group would show up in the waters around Florida because the other two species are from cold, northern waters”, he said.

Even odder, O. hensoni is far more closely related to the Pacific egg-sucking slug than the Mediterranean one.

“That makes no sense at all,” Krug said. “But that’s what the DNA and the anatomy tell us. It’s just a relic of a very old lineage that presumably got trapped in the Caribbean a long time ago and became isolated from its Pacific relatives.”

Paulay said O. hensoni is a prime example of how much marine life remains to be discovered, even in the aquatic equivalent of a backyard.

“Cedar Key is a well-studied area, and it’s still yielding new species,” he said. “You don’t need a scuba tank to find them. You just need to walk out in your flip-flops and look under your feet.”

Although O. hensoni is only the third documented species of egg-eating slug, Paulay recalled seeing other slugs preying on egg masses during his fieldwork in the Indo-Pacific.

“They’re probably in quite a few places, but nobody has ever looked,” he said. “One of the things I’m pretty bummed about is I’ve seen sucking slugs elsewhere, but I’ve never bothered to go after them.”

The researchers are not sure when the slugs made the plant-to-egg dietary switch or why, but speculate that egg capsules offer a nutritious and largely untapped food resource. Slugs and snails protect their eggs by encasing them by the thousands inside a mucous ball, an effective barrier against many would-be predators. But egg-sucking slugs have successfully developed a way to bulldoze their way inside, Krug said.

“Unlike the switchblade-like tooth of its plant-eating relatives, Olea has a tooth nubbin, which it can punch into jelly-like egg masses to suck out the eggs or embryos like someone sucking up boba from bubble tea,” he said.

Like other sea slugs, O. hensoni is hermaphroditic, having both male and female reproductive parts. Because genitalia can be useful for identifying slug species, the researchers coated the slug’s penis with gold and imaged it with a scanning electron microscope. Krug and Paulay did not observe O. hensoni reproducing in the lab, but the needle-like shape of its male genitalia may indicate that it engages in the “penis fencing” reproductive behavior seen in some sacoglossans and flatworms.

“It’s pretty extreme as penial stylets go, so it looks like it’s used for hypodermic insemination or for anchoring inside a sperm receptacle organ,” Krug said. “It’s a lot bigger than a lot of stylets I see in species that engage in some pretty dramatic fencing behaviors.”

Naming the slug after Jim Henson was an idea that came to Krug as he was thinking about O. hensoni’s creamy brown to yellow coloring — a standout in a group that is iconically green.

“It made me think of Kermit the Frog’s song ‘It’s not Easy Being Green'”, he said. “That made me laugh because I remember being a kid, eating eggs for breakfast and watching ‘Sesame Street.'”

As far as Krug knows, this is the first animal named after Henson.

“Jim Henson was one of those people who created things that were educational, positive and impactful and made the world a better place. That’s something that should be honored.”

Hilton de Castro Galvão Filho, who began the research in Krug’s lab and is now at the University of São Paulo, is the study’s lead author.

The sea slug Elysia rufescens fights predators by wielding toxic chemicals that it acquires from eating algae. A team has discovered that these chemicals are made by bacteria living inside the algae, highlighting a surprising three-way dependence among sea slugs, algae and bacteria: here.

Saving butterflies with computer games


This 26 June 2014 video from the USA says about itself:

UF/IFAS entomologists are trying to save an endangered butterfly found only in Florida by breeding a captive colony of Schaus’ Swallowtail Butterflies. The goal is release these captive butterflies back into wild to breed and help bring this insect back from the brink of extinction.

From ScienceDaily:

Living room conservation: Gaming and virtual reality for insect and ecosystem conservation

Players explore and search for butterflies using knowledge gained through gameplay

April 18, 2019

Gaming and virtual reality (VR) could bridge the gap between urban societies and nature, thereby paving the way to insect conservation by the means of education, curiosity and life-like participation.

This is what Florida International University’s team of computer scientist Alban Delamarre and biologist Dr Jaeson Clayborn strive to achieve by developing a VR game dedicated to insect and plant species. Focused on imperiled butterflies, their innovative idea: Butterfly World 1.0, is described in the open-access journal Rethinking Ecology.

This February 2019 video is called Butterfly World 1.0 Intro Video.

Butterfly World 1.0 is an adventure game designed to engage its users in simulated exploration and education. Set in the subtropical dry forest of the Florida Keys (an archipelago situated off the southern coast of Florida, USA), Butterfly World draws the players into an immersive virtual environment where they learn about relationships between butterflies, plants, and invasive species. While exploring the set, they interact with and learn about the federally endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly, the invasive graceful twig ant, native and exotic plants, and several other butterflies inhabiting the dry forest ecosystem. Other nature-related VR experiences, including conservation awareness and educational programs, rely on passive observations with minimal direct interactions between participants and the virtual environment.

According to the authors, virtual reality and serious gaming are “the new frontiers in environmental education” and “present a unique opportunity to interact with and learn about different species and ecosystems.”

The major advantage is that this type of interactive, computer-generated experience allows for people to observe phenomena otherwise impossible or difficult to witness, such as forest succession over long periods of time, rare butterflies in tropical dry forests, or the effects of invasive species against native wildlife.

“Imagine if, instead of opening a textbook, students could open their eyes to a virtual world. We live in a time where experiential learning and stories about different species matter, because how we feel about and connect with these species will determine their continued existence in the present and future. While technology cannot replace actual exposure to the environment, it can provide similar, near-realistic experiences when appropriately implemented,” say the scientists.

In conclusion, Delamarre and Clayborn note that the purpose of Butterfly World is to build knowledge, reawaken latent curiosity, and cultivate empathy for insect and ecosystem conservation.

Young nuthatches help baby siblings


This is a 2014 brown-headed nuthatch video from the USA.

From Florida State University in the USA:

Why fly the coop? With shortage of mates, some birds choose to help others raise offspring

March 14, 2019

It’s not uncommon for young adults to pitch in and help out with the care of younger siblings. But it turns out that sometimes birds choose to become avian au pairs rather than raise their own brood.

After a five-year experiment, researchers from Florida State University and the Tallahassee-based Tall Timbers Research Station found that when fewer mates were available for brown-headed nuthatches, these small pine-forest birds opted to stay home and help their parents or other adults raise their offspring.

The study is published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Associate Professor of Biological Science Emily DuVal and Jim Cox, a vertebrate ecologist from Tall Timbers and a courtesy faculty member at FSU, had long been interested in how these tiny birds showed cooperation — that is often having non-breeding young adults hang out and help raise chicks. After all, bypassing the chance to reproduce is not typically how nature works.

Researchers have often thought that a shortage of males might be one reason for this behavior. To test this idea, they manipulated the ratio of adult males and females throughout Tall Timbers to see exactly how that might affect breeding and cooperation.

Aided by graduate student Jessica Cusick, Cox and DuVal swapped the chicks among 72 nests to create two areas that had an overabundance of either male or all female nuthatches. They also left some areas in between untouched. After two years of observation, they had a year with no manipulation and then reversed the treatments for each area and drove the ratio of males and females in the opposite direction.

“We’re trying to understand cooperation from perspective of mate limitations,” DuVal said. “Cooperative breeding is a complex social interaction. The idea that you could change such a complex social behavior with a relatively simple manipulation was something we wanted to explore.”

The team found that in these areas where the potential mating population was skewed by the manipulation, more of these birds opted to become helpers rather than live on their own or disperse to the buffer zone where there may be more potential mates.

The helper bird engages in activities such as feeding the young or helping feed the mother while she is nesting. The helper might also help defend the nest.

Typically, male birds are more likely to function as a helper in raising chicks, but in the population affected by the manipulation, researchers found an uptick in cooperation by both sexes.

“We saw a slight increase in female helpers,” said Cox, who is the study’s first author. “It didn’t look like a good year for finding mates when young females emerged from their nests and encountered lots of other females nearby. Instead, they stayed and helped out the birds who did mate.”

This was the first large-scale, experimental evidence that the sex ratio of males and females could affect cooperative breeding, the researchers said.

Not all birds breed cooperatively, but it is commonly found among crows and jays. Birds with such complex social behavior are often long-lived, and this work built on nearly a decade of careful population monitoring by Cox and his Tall Timbers Research Station team to identify nests and breeding pairs.

The researchers also found that many of the nests took on additional helpers. While there is usually only one bird acting as a helper each year, in this case, some nests had three.

This research was funded primarily by donations to Tall Timbers, with additional support from the Florida State University Brenda Weems Bennison and Robert B. Short Scholarships.

Children in hellish Florida, USA prison for immigrating


This 17 February 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Children Confined In Inhumane Detention Center

Trump doubled the capacity of this center. Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.

“At a detention center in Homestead, Florida, a group of immigrant teens are packed into cold rooms that can hold 70 to 250 kids, given a substandard education and detained for more than six months, according to interviews done by five legal and child psychology experts.

On Feb. 6 and 7, the team spoke with roughly two dozen children to assess the Homestead shelter’s compliance with the Flores settlement, the 1997 agreement in a landmark lawsuit that outlines child welfare standards in government-run detention centers. They told HuffPost the conditions inside the ‘temporary’ shelter at Homestead are troubling and not suitable for any child, especially over a long period of time. ‘These children are in perhaps the most restrictive and least family-like setting possible,’ said Neha Desai, the director of immigration at the National Center for Youth Law, in an email to HuffPost. ‘I spoke with youth that slept in rooms with 100 other kids at night. Some of them have been there for months on end, with no freedom of movement, no privacy, no human contact.'”

Read more here.

“An excessive amount of violence, sexual abuse, and prisoner deaths”. Federal report exposes horrific levels of abuse in Alabama prisons: here.

Colourful birds in Florida, USA


This 9 February 2019 video from Florida in the USA says about itself:

Male Northern Cardinal and Painted Buntings maxing out on primary colors and getting along and the Blue Jays and Squirrels playing mind games with each other – it is a good day in the Backyard!