Newly discovered hermit crab shelters in corals, not shells


Left: Diogenes heteropsammicola and its coral house. Right: the hermit crab without its coral house. Image: Momoko Igawa

By Mariah Quintanilla, 2:57pm, September 20, 2017:

This newfound hermit crab finds shelter in corals, not shells

Symbiotic find is surprising as these corals already pal up with another critter: marine worms

A new species of hermit crab discovered in the shallow waters of southern Japan has been enjoying the perks of living like a peanut worm. Like the worms, the 7- to 8-millimeter-long hermit crab uses corals as a covering, researchers report September 20 in PLOS ONE.

Other kinds of hermit crabs live in coral reefs, but typically move in and out of a series of mollusk shells as the crabs grow. Diogenes heteropsammicola is the first hermit crab known to form a mutually beneficial relationship with two species of mobile corals called walking corals. The host coral grows with the crab, providing a permanent home for the crustacean. In exchange, the crab helps the coral “walk.”

Walking corals are already known to be in a symbiotic relationship with a different sea creature — flexible, marine peanut worms called sipunculids. A symbiotic shift between such distantly related species as the worms and the crab is rare because organisms in a mutualistic relationship tend to be specialized and completely dependent on one other, says study coauthor Momoko Igawa, an ecologist at Kyoto University in Japan.

But similar to the worms, D. heteropsammicola appears to be well-adapted to live in the corals. Its extra slim body can slip inside the corals’ narrow cavity. And unlike other hermit crabs — whose tails curve to the right to fit into spiral shells — D. heteropsammicola’s tail is symmetrical and can curl either way, just like the corals’ opening.

“Being able to walk around in something that is going to grow larger as you grow larger, that’s a big plus,” says Jan Pechenik, a biologist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., who was not involved in the study. A typical hermit crab that can’t find a larger shell to move into “really is in trouble.”

D. heteropsammicola’s relationship with walking corals may begin in a similar way as it does with sipunculan worms, Igawa says. A walking coral larva latches onto a tiny mollusk shell containing a juvenile hermit crab and starts to grow. When the hermit crab outgrows the shell, the crustacean moves into the readily available host coral’s crevice, and the shell remains encapsulated in the coral.

By observing the hermit crab in an aquarium, Igawa and coauthor Makoto Kato, also an ecologist at Kyoto University, determined that the crab provides the corals with the same services as the worms: transportation and preventing the corals from being overturned by currents or buried in sediment.

Igawa hopes to search for this new hermit crab in Indonesia, a region where walking corals are normally found. Plus, because walking coral fossils are easy to come by in Japan, she also wants “to reveal the evolutionary history of the symbioses of walking corals [with] sipunculans and hermit crabs by observing these fossils.”

See also here.

Japanese Deputy Prime Minister claims Hitler had ‘good intentions’


This 1 August 2013 video is about Japanese Deputy PM retracting remarks defending Hitler’s genocidal policies.

That was then. And now …

While United States President Donald Trump whitewashes United States neonazis, a Japanese right-wing colleague of Trump whitewashes old German nazi Adolf Hitler.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Deputy Prime Minister of Japan makes Nazi remark again (and that’s not a coincidence)

Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso did not raise dust for the first time with a remark about World War II. During a seminar on politics, 76-year-old Aso said that Adolf Hitler had “good intentions”.

“Hitler, who killed millions of people, was wrong, although he had good intentions,” said the Japanese. There was a storm of criticism in Japan and abroad. Aso, who is also Finance Minister, retracted his words. …

According to correspondent Kjeld Duits, the retraction of controversial words is typical of Aso. “He is familiar with this, and the Japanese language is also good for expressing vague expressions,” said Duits. “You say something that can mean several things and everybody knows you mean one thing, but then you say afterwards that you meant something different.”

Aso did something similar in 2013 when he suggested that Japan had to follow the example of the Nazis in changing the pacifist constitution. “We can do it secretly, as the Weimar constitution suddenly changed into the Nazi constitution, without anyone being aware of it. Why do we not learn from that tactic?”

Later, Aso corrected his words, but he refused to resign. The fact that he mentions the Nazis several times is not a coincidence, Duits thinks. “You have groups, including supporters of Aso, who think that Japan – and thus their German ally – was not wrong in the war.

“So this is what they want to hear. They are happy with it,” said Duits. And that’s nice for Aso, because he may be in the race to become Prime Minister of Japan. From 2008 to 2009, the Liberal Democrat [euphemistic name of this right-wing party] was also prime minister and elections will be held again by the end of 2018.

‘Just dangerous’

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which monitors anti-Semitism worldwide, reacted to Aso’s words. “We are disappointed. This is just the latest of a troubling list of ‘misstatements’ and are downright dangerous. These words are harmful to Japan.”

Earlier this week, the center was also critical of a famous Japanese plastic surgeon. This Katsuya Takasu had stressed that he had learned at the university in Germany how beautiful Nazism was.

Also, the surgeon doubts on Twitter if the Holocaust really happened. “Jews were certainly prosecuted, but we know about it only second-hand and based on declarations from the Allies.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center has called on the association of plastic surgeons to investigate Takasu. …

And I know of two fashion shows at fashion colleges where students in this kind of [SS] uniform walked on the catwalk and did Hitler salutes” says Duits.

According to Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad (translated):

Aso studied economics and led the family corporation Aso Cement and other corporations, before becoming a politician in 1979, with a career in the LDP in parliament and various government posts.

This business has a remarkable wartime past. In the mines of Aso Cement during World War II, three hundred allied prisoners of war are said to have worked, including Dutch people. Apologies for this have never been made.

Pictures from Japanese neo-Nazi Kazunari Yamada’s website show him posing with Shinzo Abe’s internal affairs minister, Sanae Takaichi, and his party’s then policy chief, Tomomi Inada

These pictures from Japanese neo-nazi leader Kazunari Yamada’s website show him posing with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s internal affairs minister, Sanae Takaichi, and Abe’s party’s then policy chief, Tomomi Inadalater minister of war … sorry for forgetting to use the euphemism ‘defence’ … of Japan.

Amid the escalating danger of war on the Korean Peninsula, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a sudden election Monday evening, stating he would dissolve the lower house of parliament on Thursday. Campaigning will begin October 10 and the election will take place on October 22. It is the first general election since December 2014. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) already has sizable majorities in both houses of the Japanese Diet or parliament. Abe has called the snap poll, above all, to whip up a climate of fear and panic over North Korea so as to intensify his push for Japan’s remilitarization: here.

Dinosaur age diving bird discovery in Japan


This video says about itself:

Hesperornis Tribute

3 May 2009

Hesperornis is an extinct genus of flightless aquatic birds that lived during the Santonian to Campanian sub-epochs of the Late Cretaceous (89-65 mya). One of the lesser known discoveries of paleontologist O. C. Marsh in the late 19th century Bone Wars, it was an important early find in the history of avian paleontology. Famous locations for Hesperornis are the Late Cretaceous marine limestones from Kansas and the marine shales from Canada, but the genus had probably a Holarctic distribution.

Hesperornis was a large bird, reaching up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length. It had virtually no wings, and swam with its powerful hind legs. The toes were probably lobed rather than being webbed, as in today’s grebes; like in these, the toes could rotate well, which is necessary to decrease drag in lobed feet but not in webbed ones such as in loons, where the toes are simply folded together.

Like many other Mesozoic birds such as Ichthyornis, Hesperornis had teeth in its beak which were used to hold prey (most likely fish). In the hesperornithiform lineage they were of a different arrangement than in any other known bird (or in non-avian theropod dinosaurs), with the teeth sitting in a longitudinal groove rather than in individual sockets, in a notable case of convergent evolution with mosasaurs.

The first Hesperornis specimen was discovered in 1871 by Othniel Charles Marsh. Marsh was undertaking a second western expedition, accompanied by ten students. The team headed to Kansas where Marsh had dug before. Aside from finding more bones belonging to the flying reptile Pteranodon, Marsh discovered the skeleton of a “large fossil bird, at least five feet in height”. The specimen was large, wingless, and had strong legs—Marsh considered it a diving species. Unfortunately, the specimen lacked a head. Marsh named the find Hesperornis regalis, or “great ruling bird” [Western ruling bird].

Hesperornis hunted in the waters of such contemporary shelf seas as the North American Inland Sea, the Turgai Strait and the prehistoric North Sea, which then were subtropical to tropical waters, much warmer than today. They probably fed mainly on fish, maybe also crustaceans, cephalopods and mollusks as do the diving seabirds of today. Their teeth were helpful in dealing with slippery or hard-shelled prey.

On land, Hesperornis may or may not have been able to walk. They certainly were not able to stand upright like penguins as in the early reconstructions. Their legs attached far at the back and sideways, with even the lower leg being tightly attached to the body. Thus, they were limited to a clumsy hobble at best on land and would indeed have been more nimble if they moved by sliding on their belly or galumphing. Indeed, the leg skeleton of the hesperornithids was so much adapted to diving that their mode of locomotion while ashore, as well as where it laid its eggs and how it cared for its young is a matter of much speculation.

Some have even pointed out that it cannot be completely ruled out that these birds were ovoviviparous instead of incubating their eggs. In any case, young Hesperornis grew fairly quickly and continuously to adulthood, as is the case in modern birds, but not Enantiornithes. More young birds are known from the fossil record of the more northernly sites than from locations further south. This suggests that at least some species were migratory like today’s penguins which swim polewards in the summer.

Hesperornis were preyed upon by large marine carnivores. Tylosaurus proriger specimen SDSMT 10439 contains the bones of a Hesperornis in its gut, for example.

Now, a relative of Hesperornis has been discovered.

From the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in the USA:

Amateur collectors in Japan discover country’s first and oldest fossil diving bird

August 8, 2017

Summary: Two brothers from a small town in Hokkaido, Japan, made the discovery of their lives — the first and oldest fossil bird ever identified in their country. Identified as a new species, it has been named Chupkaornis keraorum.

During a walk near a reservoir in a small Japanese town, amateur collectors made the discovery of their lives — the first and oldest fossil bird ever identified in their country.

After sharing their mysterious find with paleontologists at Hokkaido University, brothers Masatoshi and Yasuji Kera later learned the skeletal remains were that of an iconic marine diving bird from the Late Cretaceous Period, one that is often found in the Northern Hemisphere but rarely in Asia. The remarkable specimen — which includes nine skeletal elements from one individual, including the thoracic vertebrae and the femoral bones — is being heralded as the “best preserved hesperornithiform material from Asia” and to be “the first report of the hesperorinthiforms from the eastern margin of the Eurasian Continent.”

Identified as a new species, it has been named Chupkaornis keraorum — Chupka is the Ainu word used by indigenous people from Hokkaido for ‘eastern,’ and keraorum is named after Masatoshi and Yasuji Kera, who discovered the specimen. The bird would have lived during the time when dinosaurs roamed the land.

The scientific paper describing the find, entitled “The oldest Asian Hesperornithiform from the Upper Cretaceous of Japan, and the phylogenetic reassessment of Hesperornithiformes,” has been posted on the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology website.

“This amazing find illustrates the special relationship paleontologists and other scientists have with ordinary citizens who come upon interesting and unusual objects,” said Tanaka. “Thanks to the wisdom and willingness of Masatoshi and Yasuji Kera to share their discovery with us at Hokkaido University, they have made a major contribution to science, and we are very grateful.”

The bones, estimated to be anywhere from 90 million to 84 million years old, were unearthed from the Upper Cretaceous Kashima Formation of the Yezo Group in Mikasa City, Hokkaido. The fossil bird consists of four cervical vertebrae, two thoracic vertebrae, the distal end of the left and right femora, and the middle part of the right fibula. The specimen is currently housed in the collection of the Mikasa City Museum in Hokkaido, Japan.

“Hespeornithiforms is the oldest group of birds that succeeded to adapt for diving in ocean. This study provides better understanding in the early evolution of this group and the origin of diving in birds,” added Tanaka.

Chupkaornis has a unique combination of characteristics: finger-like projected tibiofibular crest of femur; deep, emarginated lateral excavation with the sharply defined edge of the ventral margin of that the thoracic vertebrae (those vertebrae in the upper back); and the heterocoelous articular surface of the thoracic vertebrae. Phylogenetic analysis of this study revealed that Chupkaornis is one of the basal hesperornithiforms, thereby providing details of the evolution of this iconic group of diving birds.

“In Japan, many important vertebrate fossils have been discovered by amateurs because most of the land is covered with vegetation, and there are few exposures of fossil-bearing Cretaceous rocks. This research is a result of collaboration with amateurs, and I am thankful to their help and understanding of science,” said Kobayashi.

Hesperornithiformes were toothed, foot-propelled diving birds and one of the most widely distributed groups of birds in the Cretaceous of the northern hemisphere. These birds had extremely reduced forelimbs and powerful hind limbs, suggesting that they were flightless sea-going predatory birds. Most of hesperornithiform fossils have been discovered from North America so far. The discovery of Chupkaornis, the oldest Asian hesperornithiform, suggests that basal hesperornithiform had dispersed to the eastern margin of Asia no later than 90 million to 84 million years old.

The discovery has broader aspects — and that’s why Dr. Fiorillo, curator and vice president of research and collections at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, is involved. Dr. Fiorillo is considered one of the world’s preeminent experts on arctic dinosaurs for his decades of research in Alaska. He has deep interest in the Beringia land bridge that connects North America to Asia. He was asked to collaborate on this discovery because several of the co-authors of the paper, including Kobayashi and lead-author Tanaka, have been members of his field team during past Alaska expeditions.

“This study not only tells important new information about the evolution of this unusual group of birds, it also helps further our understanding of life in the ancient northern Pacific region, more specifically what was going on in the ocean while dinosaurs walked the land” said Fiorillo.

Japan’s nazi-friendly war minister resigns


Pictures from Japanese neo-Nazi Kazunari Yamada’s website show him posing with Shinzo Abe’s internal affairs minister, Sanae Takaichi, and his party’s then policy chief, Tomomi Inada

These pictures from Japanese neo-nazi leader Kazunari Yamada’s website show him posing with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s internal affairs minister, Sanae Takaichi, and Abe’s party’s then policy chief, Tomomi Inadalater minister of war … sorry for forgetting to use the euphemism ‘defence’ … of Japan.

The latest news is that Ms Inada has resigned as war minister. Not because of her nazi scandal, but because of other scandals.

By Ben McGrath:

Japan’s defense minister resigns in wake of scandal

29 July 2017

Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada resigned Friday, ostensibly for her role in the cover-up of Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) documents damaging to the Abe government’s militarist agenda. Her departure is an attempt to prevent further falls in public support for the government and Abe’s plans to force through pro-war constitutional revisions by 2020.

The cover-up involved daily logs that revealed Japanese troops participating in a so-called peacekeeping operation in South Sudan were at risk of being pulled into a military conflict in July 2016. One of the five legal requirements for the Japanese military to take part in such a mission is that a ceasefire agreement be in place, a condition that the GSDF daily logs clearly showed had been violated.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga painted Inada’s resignation as an attempt to take responsibility for the cover-up, rather than being forced out in a planned cabinet reshuffle on August 3. Suga apologized for the scandal as well and claimed the government “will work hard to win back the public’s trust.”

A close ally of the prime minister, Inada is known for her nationalist and militarist views and regular visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of Japanese militarism. The shrine is where those who died in Japan’s wars, primarily World War II, are symbolically interred, including 14 class-A war criminals.

Inada has largely been a liability during her tenure in office. She was appointed defense minister last August as Abe pushed his cabinet even further to the right. A Jiji news agency survey earlier this month found support for Abe’s cabinet had fallen to 29.9 percent, with many people citing a lack of trust in the government.

At a press conference yesterday, Inada revealed more behind her decision to step down. She stated: “Not only has the log controversy highlighted inappropriate handling of information disclosure, but the fact that there were numerous instances of what appeared to be information leakage from within our organization [that] has risked eroding public trust in our governance system.”

In other words, her de facto removal is not so much due to her role in a cover-up, but in allowing it to go public.

The scandal began last September when journalist Yujin Fuse made an information disclosure request to see the GSDF daily logs from South Sudan for July, the month fighting broke out between government and rebel troops. The Japanese soldiers were taking part in the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), supposedly aiding construction projects in the oil-rich African country.

The government initially claimed in December that the logs had been discarded, but then announced on February 7 that a wider search had uncovered the documents in digital form at the Joint Staff office, which oversees the GSDF, the Air SDF, and Maritime SDF, the formal names for Japan’s military branches.

The logs contained reports such as, “Fierce gun fighting at five, six o’clock (reference to direction) of the camp,” and “Fierce fighting involving tanks and trench mortars.” They also contained a map of the GSDF camp and a red area adjacent with the words, “Fighting broke out.”

In total, 300 people were killed in the conflict and 36,000 were displaced in July last year. Abe’s government pulled the GSDF troops out of South Sudan in May, but denied that the decision was related to unstable military conditions.

At the time of the fighting, the government downplayed what was happening in South Sudan. On top of securing access to oil and minerals, the [South] Sudan deployment provided Abe’s government with the pretext for employing its new security legislation that allows SDF troops to take part in battles alongside allied countries, ostensibly by coming to their defense. Last November, the cabinet formally authorized the SDF to operate under the laws, which were passed in September 2015 and enacted the following March.

By March this year, however, Japan’s state-run broadcaster NHK reported that the GSDF also had digital copies of the logs and had met in February to decide what to do with them, opting to delete them in order to preserve the lie that only the Joint Staff had the documents.

Defense Minister Inada appeared before the Diet’s Lower House Security Committee that month to point fingers at GSDF figures for the cover-up and claimed to have no knowledge of what had transpired. She assigned the in-house Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance to investigate.

This month, however, it was revealed that Inada had been present at the meeting in February and was well aware that the digital logs existed and were being deleted. Yet the Inspector General’s Office cleared Inada of wrong-doing.

That whitewash became untenable on July 25. Fuji News Network reported that it had a two-page memo from an anonymous senior Defense Ministry official, showing that Inada had been present at a February 13 meeting to discuss the cover-up. It quoted a conversation between Inada and Lieutenant General Goro Yuasa, who reportedly said: “We have only confirmed we don’t have the paper (version of the log). But (electronic) data does exist.”

Inada responded, according to the note, by asking: “What should I say in answering [questions] tomorrow?” Two days after that meeting, Inada allegedly endorsed the decision to prevent the public from learning that the GSDF also had retained the daily logs, leading to their deletion.

Only weeks ago, Prime Minister Abe rejected calls for Inada’s dismissal after she angered voters by urging them to back the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidate in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections in order to “support” the SDF. The opposition to her comments reflected broader anti-war sentiment in Japan and hostility to the Abe government’s agenda of remilitarization.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP), sensing an opportunity to score political points, attacked Inada on July 19, saying she “has repeatedly given false responses in the Diet and it is very egregious.” It called on Abe to dismiss her.

The leaks from within the Defense Ministry reveal an internal conflict over how to push forward with the remilitarization plans in the face of popular opposition. Sections of the ruling LDP have been critical of Abe’s proposed revisions to the constitution, demanding he adopt an even more right-wing, pro-war position. This includes Shigeru Ishiba who is considering challenging Abe for the LDP presidency in next year’s leadership vote.

Japanese leeches against invasive slugs


This video is about Limax maximus slugs mating in their native Norway.

From Hokkaido University in Japan:

Native leech preys on invasive slug?

July 21, 2017

Summary: Citizen science has revealed the spread of the invasive giant slug Limax maximus

aka leopard slug

and its potential native predator in Japan, providing new insights into predator-prey dynamics between introduced prey and native predators.

The giant slug Limax maximus is native to Europe and Asia Minor but has spread widely, being found in North America, South America, North Africa, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and other regions. The slug is recognized as a notorious pest because it eats agricultural and garden crops.

In Japan, L. maximus was first found in Ibaraki Prefecture in 2006 and its population has rapidly spread throughout the country, making it difficult for scientists and local governments to monitor the slug’s occurrence and behavior.

Yuta Morii of Hokkaido University and Takafumi Nakano of Hiroshima University investigated the habitat range of L. maximus in Hokkaido, Japan, by recruiting ordinary citizens as “citizen scientists” through a local newspaper and a television program.

A total of 38 observations were reported by the citizen scientists from February 8 to October 18 in 2016, including 29 reports accompanied by a photograph, the exact location and the date of the observation. The team analyzed these 29 records along with previously published records about the species.

At least 16 naturalized populations of L. maximus were found in Hokkaido, 14 of which were previously unknown. Four sites were more than 30 kilometers from Sapporo, where the species was first detected in 2012, and were distant from each other.

Notably, one observer submitted a photo of an L. maximus individual being preyed on by a microphagous leech, Orobdella kawakatsuorum. Orobdella leeches are known to inhabit Japan and adjacent regions, and were thought to feed on only earthworms, not slugs. “It was a surprise to see this specialist predator might have changed its prey to include the newly appeared resource,” says Morii.

“Citizen science has proven to be a powerful tool for revealing the spread of recently introduced species, and could even provide significant data to better understand predator-prey dynamics. This study also revealed that L. maximus feeds on cucumber, sweet potato, lettuce and Chinese cabbage, which emphasizes the importance of controlling their populations,” Morii said.