Madagascar whirligig beetles, from the Triassic till now


This video says about itself:

This video shows the Malagasy striped whirligig beetle (Heterogyrus milloti) in its habitat in Ranomafana National Park, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar, during the 2014 expedition.

From the University of Kansas in the USA:

Meet Madagascar‘s oldest animal lineage, a whirligig beetle with 206-million-year-old origins

October 4, 2017

Summary: A new study suggests the Malagasy striped whirligig beetle Heterogyrus milloti boasts a genetic pedigree stretching back to the late Triassic period.

There are precious few species today in the biodiversity hotspot of Madagascar that scientists can trace directly back to when all of Earth’s continents were joined together as part of the primeval supercontinent Pangea.

But a new study in the journal Scientific Reports suggests the Malagasy striped whirligig beetle Heterogyrus milloti is an ultra-rare survivor among contemporary species on Madagascar, boasting a genetic pedigree stretching back at least 206 million years to the late Triassic period.

“This is unheard of for anything in Madagascar“, said lead author Grey Gustafson, a postdoctoral research fellow in ecology & evolutionary biology and affiliate of the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas. “It’s the oldest lineage of any animal or plant known from Madagascar.”

Gustafson and his co-authors’ research compared the living striped whirligig found in Madagascar with extinct whirligig beetles from the fossil record. They then used a method called “tip dating” to reconstruct and date the family tree of whirligig beetles.

“You examine and code the morphology of extinct species the same as you would living species, and where that fossil occurs in time is where that tip of the tree ends,” he said. “That’s how you time their evolutionary relationships. We really wanted the fossils’ placement in the tree to be backed by analysis, so we could say these are the relatives of the striped whirligig as supported by analysis, not just that they looked similar.”

Gustafson noted one major hurdle for the team was the “painful” incompleteness of the fossil record for establishing all the places where relatives of the striped whirligig beetle once lived.

“All of the fossils come from what is today Europe and Asia — we don’t have any deposits from Madagascar or Africa for this group of insects,” he said. “But they likely were very widespread.”

Today, whirligig beetles are a family of carnivorous aquatic beetles with about 1,000 known species dominated by members of a subfamily called the Gyrininae. But the Gyrininae are young upstarts compared with the striped whirligig beetle, the last remaining species of a group dominant during the time of the dinosaurs. This group according to Gustafson was decimated by the same asteroid impact that cut down the dinosaurs and caused the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event.

“The remoteness of Madagascar is what may have saved this beetle,” Gustafson said. “It’s the only place that still has the striped whirligig beetle because it was already isolated at the time of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event — so the lineage was able to persist, and now it’s surviving in a marginal environment.”

Even today, the ageless striped whirligig beetle keeps its own company, preferring to skitter atop the surface of out-of-the-way forest streams in southeastern Madagascar — not mixing with latecomers of the subfamily Gyrininae who have become the dominant whirligig beetles on Madagascar and abroad.

Indeed, Gustafson is one of the few researchers to locate them during a 2014 fieldwork excursion in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park.

“This one is pretty hard to find,” he said. “They like these really strange habitats that other whirligigs aren’t found in. We have video of them in a gulch in a mountain range clogged with branches and debris — there are striped whirligigs all over it.”

Unfortunately, the KU researcher said the remote habitats of the striped whirligig beetle in Malagasy national parks were threatened today by human activity on Madagascar.

“It’s a socioeconomic issue,” Gustafson said. “In the national park where first specimens of the striped whirligig beetle were discovered, there are local people who use the forest as a refuge for zebu cattle because they’re concerned about zebu being robbed. Their defecation can disturb the nutrient lode in aquatic ecosystems. Part of the problem is finding a way for local people to be able to make their livelihood while preserving natural ecosystems. But it’s a hard balance to strike. A lot of original forest cover also has been slashed and burned for rice-field patties to feed people.”

Gustafson hopes the primal origins of the striped whirligig beetle can draw attention to the need for protecting aquatic habitats while conceding that conservation efforts usually are aimed at bigger and more cuddly species, like Madagascar’s famous lemurs, tenrecs and other unique carnivorans.

“One of the things that invertebrate species suffer from is a lack of specific conservation efforts,” he said. “It’s usually trickle-down conservation where you find a charismatic vertebrate species to get protected areas started. But certain invertebrates will have different requirements, and right now invertebrate-specific conservation efforts are lacking. We propose the striped whirligig beetle would make for an excellent flagship species for conservation.”

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World’s strongest spider web


This video says about itself:

Spider Shoots 25 Metre Web – The Hunt – BBC Earth

25 June 2017

Which marvel of nature can build a 2 metre orb web with silk that ranks as the world’s toughest natural fibre? – The answer is the Darwin’s Bark Spider and this real life “Spider Woman” no bigger than a thumbnail has baffled scientists with her web of steel.

These spiders live in Madagascar.

New unique Madagascar lizard discovery


This video says about itself:

7 February 2017

In Ankarana National Park, Antsiranana Province, north Madagascar, researchers discovered a new species of fish-scale gecko: Geckolepis megalepis. To escape from predators, the gecko can lose its scales at the slightest touch. The scales grow back, scar-free, in a matter of weeks.

From Science News:

Detachable scales turn this gecko into an escape artist

Newly discovered lizard leaves predators with a mouth full of the largest scales yet

By Elizabeth Eaton

7:00am, March 17, 2017

Large, detachable scales make a newly discovered species of gecko a tough catch. When a predator grabs hold, Madagascar’s Geckolepis megalepis strips down and slips away, looking more like slimy pink Silly Putty than a rugged lizard.

All species of Geckolepis geckos have tear-off scales that regrow within a few weeks, but G. megalepis boasts the largest. Some of its scales reach nearly 6 millimeters long. Mark Scherz, a herpetologist and taxonomist at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and colleagues describe the new species February 7 in PeerJ.

The hardness and density of the oversized scales may help the gecko to escape being dinner, Scherz says. Attacking animals probably get their claws or teeth stuck on the scales while G. megalepis contracts its muscles, loosening the connection between the scales and the translucent tissue underneath. The predator is left with a mouthful of armor, but no meat. “It’s almost ridiculous,” Scherz says, “how easy it is for these geckos to lose their scales.”

From BirdLife:

Some places are so rich in natural wonders, so extraordinary, so important for people, and yet so threatened, that we must pull out all the stops to save them. Madagascar, the “island continent”, with its flora and fauna so unlike any other, is one such place. Tsitongambarika, then, is even more special: forest unique even within Madagascar, with bizarre-looking Ground-rollers, local species of lemur, and species known only from this site. It is no wonder that this highly-threatened Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA) – the only remaining area in the south of the country that supports significant areas of lowland rainforest, but with unprecedented rates of deforestation – has inspired a magnificent donation from Birdfair.

Birdfair, the annual British celebration of birdwatching, raised an incredible £350,000 last year at its 2016 event, and now this special funding is now going to the protection of IBAs in danger in Africa. This money will not only go towards the immediate protection of Tsitongambarika, through supporting national BirdLife Partner, Asity Madagascar, and local communities; but the future of other threatened sites in Africa will be bettered thanks to capacity building of other BirdLife Partners to advocate their protection, and to a new awards scheme.

Madagascar conservation update


This 2013 video is called Madagascar -­‐ Biodiversity Hot Spot, Part 1.

From BirdLife:

Forests, wetlands and people: celebrating 20 years of Malagasy success

By Rosa Gleave, 3 Nov 2016

BirdLife Partner Asity Madagascar today celebrates its 20th anniversary, a milestone that marks years of conservation success for birds, forests and wetlands.

Named after one of the island-continent’s most fascinating endemic bird families, Asity’s founding members met at a BirdLife workshop in the 1990s.

Asity was created at a time when much of the conservation work in Madagascar was controlled by expatriates and international conservation NGOs.

“The founders of Asity wanted a Malagasy way of doing things. Their vision and dedication to create a national conservation organisation for Madagascar is at the heart of BirdLife’s principles and structure”, said Roger Safford, Senior Programme Manager who has been working with Asity for more than 15 years.

Dedication and hard graft have produced tangible results. Asity Madagascar secured full protection for three important sites: the Mahavavy-Kinkony Wetland Complex, Mangoky-Ihotry Wetland Complex and Tsitongambarika Forest. Representing 800,000 ha of Madagasy habitat, these are co-managed in partnership with local communities and supporting their livelihoods.

Securing the future of the Tsitongambarika Forest has been in progress since 2005 as part of BirdLife’s global Forests of Hope programme. Overlapping with Tsitongambarika IBA, the area hosts threatened bird species such as the Scaly Ground-roller Brachypteracias squamiger, Madagascar Red Owl Tyto soumagnei and Red-tailed Newtonia Newtonia fanovanae.

Both Madagascar Sacred Ibis Threskiornis bernieri and Sakalava Rail Zapornia olivieri depend on the now-protected wetland sites, which may be the most important in the world for these species.

Significant challenges have hampered Asity’s progress: the development of the Protected Areas programme was frozen for 5 years until 2014 by political instability.

Despite these setbacks, it is now a highly respected national NGO working alongside local and national bodies, raising its own funds from a range of government agencies, foundations, trusts, BirdLife Partners, other NGOs, corporations … and individual donations.

Asity Madagascar is strong in own right, but also forms more than the sum of its parts when strengthening the BirdLife family.

With congratulations flooding in from across the BirdLife Partnership, we look forward to another 20 years working for forests, wetlands and people across Madagascar.

Saving Madagascar’s wildlife


This video says about itself:

Birds & More: Madagascar Safari

Extraordinary place. 80 % of the species are endemic. 6 endemic families of birds. The lemurs were wonderful, so different from monkeys, probably because of a lack of predators. The “spiny” forests are well named and feature the most fascinating baobab trees. The people came from Africa and Southeast Asia and have merged incredibly well. The politics do not seem to be racially based. Away from “Tana”, the capital city, it is an attractive country; 10/2009.

From BirdLife:

Conserving Madagascar‘s forest of hope

By Roger Safford, 20 Oct 2016

Developing the confidence of local communities and a BirdLife Partner to work together to protect their environment has brought encouraging changes for nature and people.

Some places are so rich in natural wonders, so extraordinary, so different from any other, so important for people, and yet so threatened, that we must pull out all the stops to save them. Madagascar is one such: an ‘island-continent’ almost as big as France, with wildlife so unlike even nearby Africa’s that it can hardly be bracketed with it, or any other region of the world. Within this vast area are a multitude of astonishing sites, and right up among the most remarkable of these is Tsitongambarika Forest. Most of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed over a long period, and in particular the lowlands have suffered, being the most accessible areas.

The rainforests of Madagascar form a chain extending down the east side of the great island, much of it on steep slopes and at high altitude. In a few places, mostly in the North, forest survives down on the hills, and very occasionally plains, by the coast; but in the South, forest in such places has virtually all gone. It is no wonder, then, that Tsitongambarika, as the only remaining area in southern Madagascar that supports significant areas of lowland rainforest, is such a treasure. Scaly and Short-legged Ground-rollers (Geobiastes squamiger and Brachypteracias leptosomus), once impossible dreams for visitors and still highly prized finds, are common.

Scaly Ground-roller is a particularly bizarre-looking creature, confined to Madagascar’s lowland rainforest, with markings unlike any other bird: subtle rufous, green and brown hues set off by black and white ‘scales’, and quite unexpectedly sky-blue patches revealed when the tail is spread. Like most other ground-rollers (an entire family restricted to Madagascar), they live on the ground, rummaging in the leaf litter or rotting wood, picking out animal prey. Its close relative, the Short-legged Ground-roller, looks somewhat similar, but is the exception, living mainly in the trees.

More in the ‘small brown job’ category – but on closer inspection a pleasing mixture of pastel shades of grey, brown, pink and rufous – the Red-tailed Newtonia Newtonia fanovanae was lost to science from 1930 to 1989, when it was rediscovered very close to Tsitongambarika; we now know it to be common there but there are very few if any other places where this can be said. Another species once lost is the elusive Madagascar Red Owl Tyto soumagnei; this is also increasingly frequently observed at Tsitongambarika.

However, it is arguably for the other fauna and flora that Tsitongambarika is most extraordinary. Being able to fly, birds tend to spread around the island’s forests (although not beyond them), whereas these other species have evolved and remain in situ as unique forms confined to tiny areas. Sometimes it seems that almost everything is endemic, not just to Madagascar, but to South-East Madagascar, and many species are known from no other site. Nearly all the lemurs are represented by local species, like the beautiful collared lemur Eulemur collaris, along with Fleurette’s sportive lemur Lepilemur fleuretae (Critically Endangered, with a tiny range), southern woolly lemur Avahi meridionalis, southern bamboo lemur Hapalemur meridionalis and others.

The reptile and amphibian fauna is almost unbelievably rich: among around 130 species in total, no fewer than 11 have been observed that simply are ‘not in the book’ and so appear, based on the views of highly experienced herpetologists, to be new to science, and recorded only at Tsitongambarika. Giant and dwarf chameleons abound, alongside cryptically coloured lizards (one gecko bearing a startling resemblance to Gollum from the Lord of the Rings stories), brilliantly coloured tree-frogs and snakes. The flora is, of course, just as extraordinary, with new species being found at such a rate that botanists have, like the zoologists, been unable to keep pace in describing them.

The bad news is that deforestation rates at Tsitongambarika have been among the highest in Madagascar. As in much of the country, deforestation is mainly a result of shifting cultivation by poor subsistence farmers lacking alternative land to grow food-crops and desperate to lay claim to land, which they can do by clearing forest. Further threats are from logging of precious hardwoods and hunting of wildlife in the forest.

But there is hope. Since 2005 the national NGO Asity Madagascar (BirdLife Partner), has been working to save Tsitongambarika Forest, as part of the BirdLife’s global Forests of Hope programme. Local people, as aware as anyone of the forest’s value, are also keen to conserve it, but need help to maintain and improve their precarious livelihoods without clearing forest; any change to their circumstances and the resources they need can be disastrous for them. Too often portrayed as the villains of tropical deforestation, local people can be the best conservationists, so long as their needs are properly considered and they take part in and benefit from management.

As one of the first steps in developing the forest conservation programme, Asity Madagascar carried out a comprehensive social and environmental assessment for the whole forest, which identified people most affected by protected area establishment and specified actions to meet their needs. Asity Madagascar then helped to establish a local organisation, KOMFITA, as an ‘umbrella’ body of community associations which, together with Asity Madagascar and supervised by the government, manage the forest.

KOMFITA ensures that the forest-edge community is consulted in all aspects of the project, the benefits are determined and shared fairly, and local people are properly involved (as ‘co-managers’) of the forest. The communities themselves define the Dina or resource management rules for the forest. These can include some controlled and agreed use of forest products, limited to certain zones so that other areas are left completely intact; they may also benefit from income related to forest conservation such as tourist guiding, or be supported to take up new ways of making a living by growing food for sale or subsistence away from the forest. Remarkable improvements have been made, for example through supporting simple composting methods in the cultivation of cassava, the local staple, or improved water management to grow rice close to the villages.

In April 2015, 600 square kilometres at Tsitongambarika, including the whole forest, was protected by the Government of Madagascar, in recognition of the progress made by Asity Madagascar working with local communities as well as of its overall importance. Problem solved? Sadly not, although a crucial step forward, which blocks many potentially damaging developments and helps to direct conservation support to the site. The Government of Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, can neither fund nor manage and enforce conservation plans for its many extraordinary sites; it needs, and has asked for, help. This is where the project comes in. Asity Madagascar and local communities have jointly been made managers of the new Tsitongambarika Protected Area, supervised by the Government and supported by many other organisations.

With support of the BirdLife, will allow Asity Madagascar and local communities to carry out longterm conservation plans for Tsitongambarika. It will strengthen their ability to conserve the forest while improving their livelihoods outside the forest, providing them with opportunities that, based on trials, they readily accept. But there must be rules, and the project will support enforcement, by local communities themselves but supported by Government authorities where necessary. Finally, the project will identify and secure long-term financing sources for conservation of Tsitongambarika.

Thirteen years ago, BirdLife launched a wetland conservation programme in Madagascar with the team that is now Asity Madagascar. Back then, the capacity of national (Malagasy) organisations to conserve big sites was minimal, and the country’s wetlands were on hardly anyone’s agenda. With BirdLife’s help, Asity has grown into a proficient protected area manager and advocate for conservation, and have secured protection for both of the huge wetland sites; no wetland species has been lost from the sites. Conservation work there continues as it will always have to, but so much has been achieved that it is time to look again at the forests. Let us all rally round to save them.

Researchers Discover “Ghost Snake” in Madagascar


Quiet Kinetic

Malagasy cat-eyed snake The Malagasy cat-eyed snake (Madagascarophis meridionalis) is a relative of the ghost snake. Photo: Shutterstock

It might seem that, by 2016, it would be pretty rare to discover new species of animals. But a team of researchers from Louisiana State University have done just that.

They were looking for specimens of a different species when they found a snake they’d never seen before: Madagascarophis lolo, the ghost snake.

This snake’s very pale coloration and the fact that only one has ever been discovered earned it the name “ghost snake.” Lolo means ghost in the local Malagasy language.

The ghost snake belongs to a group of “cat-eyed snakes,” which have slit pupils like cats and are most active at night. They’re among the most common kinds of snake in Madagascar, but the closet relative of the ghost snake is found about 100 kilometers away, and it has only been…

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Madagascar dwarf lemurs, sleep and hibernation


This video from the USA says about itself:

2 May 2013

Two new species of dwarf lemurs have been found hibernating during the lean months of winter in Eastern Madagascar. Scientific Reports, May 2, 2013. An interview with researcher Marina Blanco, PhD, with footage from field research and still images from the Duke Lemur Center. See story here.

From Science News:

Dwarf lemurs don’t agree on sleep

Fat-tailed species dozes during hibernation, but latest tests find different twist in relatives

By Susan Milius

10:00am, September 5, 2016

Contrary to many adorable children’s stories, hibernation is so not sleeping. And most animals can’t do both at the same time.

So what’s with Madagascar’s dwarf lemurs? The fat-tailed dwarf lemur slows its metabolism into true hibernation, and stays there even when brain monitoring shows it’s also sleeping. But two lemur cousins, scientists have just learned, don’t multitask. Like other animals, they have to rev their metabolisms out of hibernation if they want a nap.

Hibernating animals, in the strictest sense, stop regulating body temperature, says Peter Klopfer, cofounder of the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, N.C. “They become totally cold-blooded, like snakes.” By this definition, bears don’t hibernate; they downregulate, dropping their body temperatures only modestly, even when winter den temperatures sink lower. And real hibernation lasts months, disqualifying short-termers such as subtropical hummingbirds. The darting fliers cease temperature regulation and go truly torpid at night. “You can pick them out of the trees,” Klopfer says.

The fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Cheirogaleus medius, was the first primate hibernator discovered, snuggling deep into the softly rotting wood of dead trees. “You’d think they’d suffocate,” he says. But their oxygen demands plunge to somewhere around 1 percent of usual. As trees warm during the day and cool at night, so do these lemurs. When both a tree and its inner lemur heat up, the lemur’s brain activity reflects mammalian REM sleep.

Klopfer expected much the same from two other dwarf lemurs from an upland forest with cold, wet winters. There, C. crossleyi and C. sibreei spend three to seven months curled up underground, below a thick cushion of fallen leaves. “If you didn’t know better, you might think they were dead because they’re cold to the touch,” Klopfer says.

Unlike the tree-hibernators, the upland lemurs take periodic breaks from hibernating to sleep, Klopfer, the Lemur Center’s Marina Blanco and colleagues report in the August Royal Society Open Science. The lemurs generated some body heat of their own about once a week, which is when their brains showed signs of sleep (REM-like and slow-wave).  “My suspicion is that sleep during torpor is only possible at relatively high temperatures, above 20º Celsius,” Klopfer says. Sleep may be important enough for cold-winter lemurs to come out of the storybook “long winter’s nap.”