Eastern meadowlarks sing in Florida, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

Eastern Meadowlarks singing two different flute like songs and foraging for food on the vast St John’s Marshland in Florida. These birds are just gorgeous and their song a winter delight – note the blooming mass of swamp sunflowers – filmed on December 4th, 2018 with: Canon SX60 HS.

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New giant salamander species discovery in Florida, USA


This 2016 video from Spartanburg Science Center in the USA is called One of our sirens eating an earthworm.

From National Geographic in the USA:

New species of giant salamander discovered in Florida

Scientists have discovered a two-foot-long salamander species in Florida and Alabama that has the spots of a leopard and the body of an eel.

By Jason Bittel

December 5, 2018

There have been whispers for decades that a creature with the spots of a leopard and the body of an eel lurked in the swamps of Florida and Alabama. Rumor had it the animal was as long as a man’s arm, with glistening gray skin, and frills on either side of its face.

But unlike Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, this animal is real. And today scientists have given it a name: the reticulated siren.

“It was basically this mythical beast,” says David Steen, a wildlife ecologist at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and co-author of a paper officially describing the new species published December 5 in the journal PLOS ONE. Informally, people have called it the leopard eel, though it is clearly not an eel (and zero parts big cat).

Sirens are among the world’s largest salamanders—and this species, also known as scientifically as Siren reticulata, grows up to two feet in length. Like other members of the Sirenidae family, these creatures are completely aquatic, Steen says.

Unlike most salamanders, sirens have lost their hindlimbs through millions of years of evolution. They wear their gills on the outside, which absorb oxygen from water in the murky ecosystems they inhabit. Sirens also lack eyelids and sport tiny, horny beaks instead of teeth.

The new species is one of the largest creatures to be described in the United States in over 100 years. And it could have gone longer. Steen says it took about five years of searching ponds and waterways in the Florida panhandle before they could come up with enough specimens to describe the species.

Black vultures, mates for life


This 30 November 2018 video from Florida in the USA says about itself:

Black Vulture couple spends some quality time behind the Backyard. You can tell by the twinkle in their eyes they are deeply in love. They are monogamous and mate for life but don’t build traditional nests in trees. Another lovely couple is here:

To to see a pair actually mating (Rated R) check out here:

How tropical fish can survive cold water


This January 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

Wild Blue Tilapia Kissing

The wild Blue Tilapia spawn is on in Florida and its time to pucker up! Males are digging nests along the banks of the St. Johns River in central Florida and attracting females. Blue Tilapia are mouth brooders and females keep the eggs in their mouths for safety. Males sometime fight with their mouths, but this is a very gentle and careful mouth to mouth contact between two large Tilapia, if an expert would like to weigh in on what they are really doing I’m all ears. Many birds in the background – these fish are too big to worry about being eaten by big herons, but alligators – that’s another story!

Blue Tilapia: Oreochromis aureus

Widespread and abundant in Florida; found in fertile lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and canals. It is tolerant of saltwater and found in some near shore marine habitats, such as Tampa Bay. Native to north Africa and the Middle East.

From eLife:

Tropical fish adapt to cold temperatures in coordination with their microbiome

November 20, 2018

Scientists have discovered that tropical fish can control their gut microbes to better survive extremes of temperature, a study in eLife reveals.

The results add further weight to the concept of a ‘hologenome’ — where a living organism is not viewed as an individual animal or plant but as a community: the host organism plus all of the microbes that live within it. Within this concept, host-microbe interactions play an important role in the fitness of the host, while microbiome composition may in turn be affected by host fitness.

“One of the most significant environmental pressures that affects the fitness of a host organism is temperature”, explains lead author Fotini Kokou, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. “In this study we wanted to test whether acclimatisation to temperature is facilitated by changes in the host’s microbiome.”

The team used the tropical fish, blue tilapia, which are normally highly sensitive to the cold, but as part of a selective breeding scheme are being bred with increased cold tolerance at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel. This allowed comparison of the microbiomes between the cold-sensitive and cold-resistant fish, at different extremes of temperature.

They first exposed 84 fish with inherited low or high tolerance to the cold to temperatures of 24°C or 12°C and analysed their gut microbiomes using genetic sequencing. They found a dramatic reduction in microbial diversity in both groups of fish exposed to the cold. This suggests that low-temperature conditions are very selective and limit the variety of microbes that can survive in the fish.

Next, they looked at how the inherited temperature tolerance in the fish influences microbiome diversity. When they compared the gut microbes from the cold-sensitive and cold-resistant fish, they found that the innate temperature tolerance of the fish had a pronounced effect on the diversity of its gut microbes to begin with. They also found that the gut microbes in the fish responded differently when exposed to the cold. This led them to conclude that the host genetics has a strong effect on shaping the microbiome.

The researchers next turned attention to the meaning of these changes to the microbiome. Analysis of the types of microbes that were abundant after cold exposure showed that the host tends to select microbes that are themselves tolerant to the cold. Indeed, the microbiomes of the cold-resistant fish appear to have a core group of microbes that are maintained, whereas the core group of microbes living in the cold-sensitive fish was altered dramatically after exposure to low temperatures.

Finally, the team sought to understand the characteristics of the fish gut microbes that flourished in response to cold. They found that during cold exposure, the microbes tended to switch off processes that expend energy (metabolism) and turned on cell processes that were related to a stress-and-defense response. This mirrored the response seen in the genes of the fish themselves, suggesting that exposure to cold triggers a concerted energy-saving, stress-induced adaptive response that involves both the fish host and its microbiome.

“Our study shows that the genetic background of the tilapia fish and its tolerance to temperature-induced stress determines the response of the gut microbiome to temperature”, concludes senior author Itzhak Mizrahi, Associate Professor of Microbial Ecogenomics at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. “Our findings are consistent with the emerging hologenome concept, which suggests that microbes and their hosts work together in a survival of the fittest as part of the natural selection process.”

Stolen elections in the USA?


By Patrick Martin in the USA:

Court battles over ballot counts in Georgia, Florida

14 November 2018

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that local officials in Gwinnett County, Georgia, a heavily populated county outside Atlanta, had violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act in rejecting absentee ballots because of minor technical flaws. In her 17-page ruling, District Judge Leigh Martin May ordered the county to count ballots that had been rejected solely because the voter had omitted or incorrectly marked his or her birth year.

The decision was the second major rebuff to efforts by state and local Republican officials to guarantee victory to Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp over his Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams. Another federal judge ordered election officials to preserve and count provisional ballots cast by voters who in many cases were challenged over minor discrepancies between their names as recorded in voter registration lists and on the identification they presented at the polls, such as driver’s licenses.

District Judge Amy Totenberg barred the Georgia secretary of state from certifying results on Tuesday, the normal deadline, delaying this action until Friday. In the interim, she ordered the state government to “immediately establish and publicize on its website a secure and free-access hotline or website for provisional ballot voters to access to determine whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why.”

Brian Kemp held the office of secretary of state, supervising administration of the vote in which he was the Republican candidate for governor, until he resigned after the election, claiming victory, and was replaced by his deputy.

Kemp holds a lead of nearly 60,000 votes over Abrams, but he is only slightly above the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff under state law, with 50.3 percent of the vote. Tens of thousands of provisional and mail-in votes still remain to be counted, and if Abrams and a third-party candidate cut his margin by 19,000 votes, there would be a runoff election between Kemp and Abrams on December 4.

The ruling by Totenberg not only delays certification of the governor’s race, it may affect the outcome of the state’s closest congressional race, for the 7th Congressional District, in the Atlanta suburbs, where incumbent Republican Rob Woodall leads his Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux by only 901 votes out of nearly 300,000 cast.

In neighboring Florida, at least nine lawsuits have been filed by both Republicans and Democrats while a recount is conducted on three statewide races—for governor, US senator and agricultural commissioner, an important executive position in state government. The recount was ordered Saturday by the Florida secretary of state since in all three races the top two candidates were separated by less than 0.5 percent of the vote: 0.06 for agricultural commissioner, 0.15 percent for senator, 0.41 percent for governor.

Under state law, a machine recount—essentially rerunning the machine tabulations in each precinct—is to be completed by Thursday, November 15. In the event the results are within 0.25 percent of the vote, there would be a manual recount of all ballots deemed to be “undervotes” or “overvotes”—where no vote is recorded for the office in question, or two votes that cancel each other out—to determine whether machine error is involved.

While these procedures are well established under state law, and have been used for lesser offices, they have never before been invoked for statewide contests, let alone both governor and US senator at the same time. The Senate contest is almost certainly headed for a manual recount, which would have a deadline of Sunday, November 18. The final results are to be certified by Tuesday, November 20.

Governor Rick Scott, the Republican candidate for US Senate, has sought to cast doubt over the entire recount procedure, claiming without presenting any evidence that the Democratic Party is seeking to steal the election for incumbent Senator Bill Nelson. Scott leads Nelson by 12,562 votes out of more than eight million cast, a tiny margin that could easily be wiped out by provisional and mail-in ballots not yet counted in the three most populous and most heavily Democratic counties, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.

In the gubernatorial contest, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gillum by a slightly larger margin, 33,684 votes out of eight million. Unless there is a sizeable shift in the machine recount, the governor’s race will be decided in favor of DeSantis without a manual recount.

Lawyers acting for Scott sought court orders Monday to impound ballots and voting machines in Palm Beach and Broward counties, claiming this was necessary to prevent fraud, but they failed to convince judges because they offered no supporting evidence.

Rival lawsuits were filed on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the VoteVets political action committee, seeking a court order that all ballots postmarked by November 6 should be counted, rather than just those received by Election Day.

A separate lawsuit by the League of Women Voters and the watchdog group Common Cause Florida sought to bar Scott from using “the power of his office in any manner related to Florida’s 2018 Senate race as long as he remains a candidate.”

As in the Florida election crisis of 2000, when the US Supreme Court halted vote-counting in the state and awarded its electoral votes, and the White House, to George W. Bush, the Florida recount of 2018 has seen the Republican Party on the offensive against the counting of every vote, while the Democratic Party whimpers and retreats.

Democrat Gillum initially conceded the gubernatorial contest to DeSantis in the early hours of the morning after the polls closed, well before any definitive count, based purely on network projections that he had lost by about one percent of the vote. He rescinded his concession only after more up-to-date figures showed the margin was less than half of one percent, triggering the automatic recount.

Scott has been making strident statements about supposed Democratic theft of the elections, although the election supervisor for Broward County, the main target of right-wing venom, was originally appointed by Republican Governor Jeb Bush before winning re-election several times as a Democrat.

The loudest shouts about “vote fraud” have come from President Trump, who took time out from bullying presidents and prime ministers during his visit to Europe over the weekend to vilify local officials in Palm Beach and Broward counties. He demanded, via Twitter, that the initial vote totals announced last Tuesday night should be accepted as final.

This would mean disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of voters who cast provisional ballots, voted by mail, or whose votes were not tabulated November 6 for other reasons.

In a court hearing on Monday, Broward Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter said that no evidence had been presented of any vote fraud, and he urged Scott and other officials to “ramp down the rhetoric”, expressing concern that the entire electoral system was being discredited.

“If someone in this lawsuit or someone in this county has evidence of voter fraud or irregularities at the supervisor’s office, they should report it to their local law enforcement officer”, the judge said. “If the lawyers are aware of it, they should swear out an affidavit, but everything the lawyers are saying out there in front of the elections office is being beamed all over the country. We need to be careful of what we say. Words mean things these days.”

The overriding evidence is not of “vote fraud” but of systematic voter suppression, directed particularly against minority and poor working class voters. Florida notoriously bars 1.4 million people from voting because of past felony convictions, a lifetime ban that was only repealed November 6 through the passage of a referendum amending the state constitution.

One lawsuit filed with a federal court in Tallahassee notes that mail-in ballots rejected in previous elections, allegedly because the signatures did not match those on file with the state—about one percent of the total, far more than enough to swing the results of a close election—were disproportionately from young and minority voters.

Misogynistic murders in Florida, USA


This 4 November 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Incel Kills 2 In Latest Right Wing Attack

Scott Beierle killed two women at a Florida yoga studio on Friday night. He had posted a series of misogynistic videos and songs online, and appeared to identify as an “involuntary celibate”. This is the second deadly attack by an “involuntary celibate” in 2018.

In Beierle’s YouTube videos, he spoke out against interracial couples, racial diversity, illegal immigration and Obamacare: here.

The man who shot and killed two women at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, on Friday before killing himself was a far-right extremist and self-proclaimed misogynist who railed against women, black people, and immigrants in a series of online videos and songs. Scott Beierle, 40, was named by Tallahassee police as the shooter who opened fire inside the Hot Yoga Tallahassee studio, killing two and injuring four other women and a man: here.

Hurricane Michael in Florida, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

11 October 2018

Florida residents describe their experience of Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to hit the US in more than 25 years and the most powerful on record in the Florida Panhandle.

One woman in Panama City describes the ‘terrifying’ sound of trees cracking, adding: ‘This was my first year living in Florida and trust me when I tell you it’s my last.’

The storm’s 155mph (250km/h) winds at landfall were just 5mph short of category 5 status.

Hurricane Michael made landfall in the panhandle of Florida on Wednesday afternoon as a category four hurricane with winds up to 150 miles per hour. Tens of thousands of Floridians had already lost power before landfall as the storm’s winds lashed the coast. The hurricane is one of the strongest on record to make landfall in Florida and the first ever of that strength to hit the Florida Panhandle. It is projected to move through Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas in the coming days and bring widespread flooding and power outages in those areas. An estimated 375,000 people live in areas under mandatory evacuation. Some 4,000 people had already taken refuge in shelters by Tuesday night, according to the Red Cross: here.

MICHAEL DEVASTATES FLORIDA PANHANDLE Hurricane Michael, the most powerful storm on record to hit the Florida Panhandle, has left widespread destruction and at least two people dead. The monster storm was downgraded as it left the state and crossed into Georgia heading toward the Carolinas, still soggy from Hurricane Florence. [HuffPost]

Here’s what’s unusual about Hurricane Michael. The late-season Gulf of Mexico storm rapidly intensified to a category 4 before making landfall, by Carolyn Gramling. 5:53pm, October 10, 2018.

MICHAEL DEATH TOLL RISES An additional 10 people in Florida have been confirmed dead in the wake of Hurricane Michael, bringing the number of storm-related deaths to at least 29. [Reuters]