New snake species discovery in Mexico


This video says about itself:

NEW SPECIES of Pitviper from Mexico

26 December 2015

HERP.MX is proud to introduce two new species of Ophryacus: the Emerald Horned Pitviper, Ophryacus smaragdinus, and the Broad-Horned Pitviper, Ophryacus sphenophrys. The description in Mesoamerican Herpetology is available here: www.herp.mx/pubs/2015-Grunwald-et-al-Oph­ryacus.pdf

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The story starts in the 1850s with Swiss naturalist, Francis Sumichrast in the eastern state of Veracruz. Among Sumichrast’s important reptile and amphibian collections was a series of horned vipers which he sent to various collections around the world – including the Milan Natural History Museum in Italy. Two of these unusual vipers landed in the hands of museum director Georg Jan, who, described them as the new species Trigonocephalus (Atropos) undulatus, now Ophryacus undulatus in 1859 (www.herp.mx/pubs/1859-Jan-Atropos-undul­atus.pdf). Typical of this era, Jan included a brief summary of the two specimens and three simple line drawings – illustrations that would prove critical when the type specimens were later destroyed during WWII.

Dozens of specimens were collected across several states in the decades that followed – including a particularly interesting snake from southern Oaxaca. During the summer of 1949, W. Leslie Burger collected a pitviper that, while superficially similar to other Ophracus undulatus, possessed distinctly wide, wedge-shaped horns, and a lower number of scales between the eyes and on the underside of the tail. Based on these differences, in 1960 Hobart Smith described Burger’s specimen as the new species: Bothrops sphenophrys and inferred a close relationship to B. undulatus (now Ophryacus) (www.herp.mx/pubs/1960-Smith-New-and-Not­eworthy-Reptiles-from-Oaxaca-Mexico.pdf)­.

Fast forward to 1971. Without explanation, W. Leslie Burger, the very same individual who collected the original specimen of Ophryacus sphenophrys, placed the species in synonymy with Ophryacus undulatus in his unpublished PhD dissertation at the University of Kansas. 18 years later, Campbell and Lamar followed his lead but this time noting that most of the distinguishing characters for O. sphenophrys fall within the range of known variation for O. undulatus. Unbeknownst to all parties, this “variation” was contaminated by a third, undescribed species of horned viper.

Fall of 2010 found the HERP.MX Field Team in Sierra Madre Oriental searching for the eastern limit of Crotalus aquilus in the soggy cloud forests of Veracruz. Just before 11PM on the evening of Septemer 16th, Mexican Independence Day, while returning from field work on a windy, pot-holed mountain road, a bright green pit-viper appeared in the headlights. Though similar to specimens of O. undulatus observed elsewhere, several conspicuous differences suggested the snake represented an undescribed form. Subsequent trips, specimens, and reviewing museum specimens began to shed some light on the horned viper puzzle – largely thanks to the horn itself.

Even though Jan’s original specimens had been destroyed in WWII, his drawings were precise enough to determine which snake he’d been studying half a world away, over 150 years ago. The profile view shows a narrow horn immediately above the snake’s eye, typical of Ophryacus undulatus, while these new specimens from east-central Veracruz had rounded horns separated from the eye by other smaller scales. In a stroke of good luck, a search of museum specimens revealed a second Ophryacus sphenophrys at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México – from the same area, and consistent with Smith’s original description. With the range of variation of O. undulatus adjusted to exclude scale counts from the new species from the north, it was apparent that Smith wasn’t off the mark after all, and Burger’s specimen from 1949 did in fact represent a distinct species.

Some time, additional specimens, scale counts, lab work, and writing later —the team is excited and proud to introduce the new species Ophryacus smaragdinus and resurrect Hobart Smith’s O. sphenophrys. Enjoy!

See also here.

Gray whale migration off Oregon, USA


This video says about itself:

Incredible Whale Encounter – Mother Gray Whale Lifts Her Calf Out of the Water! [HD]

14 March 2012

A mother gray whale lifted up her calf, seemingly to help it get a better view of the excited onlookers, and we caught it all on camera.

For in-depth information on the whales of San Ignacio and regulations of the area, see our blog post here.

The gray whales in San Ignacio Lagoon frequently approach small tourist boats, seeking the human interaction. While they could easily avoid the people, whose small boats are not allowed to closely approach whales, they actually seem to enjoy making contact.

Laguna San Ignacio is on the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula and is the destination for hundreds of gray whales, who migrate annually to the region from their feeding grounds in the Arctic. Here, where the water is shallow and warm, they give birth to their young. It lies within El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve and is the gray whale‘s last undisturbed nursing and breeding ground, largely thanks to an environmental victory in 2000 that stopped the development of an industrial salt plant.

Whale watching here is highly regulated, with limits on how many boats can be on the water, how long they can stay, and how close they can get; rather than closely approaching the whales, they must idle their engine and wait for the whales to approach the vessel, which is a common occurrence.

From The Register-Guard in Oregon in the USA:

Whale of a good time begins Sunday in coastal waters

Dec 25, 2015

While much of the state of Oregon seems to be underwater with rain this month, there are some mammals who probably haven’t noticed.

Winter Whale Watch Week on the Oregon Coast officially begins Sunday, and it’s one of the best times of the year to spot gray whales migrating south to Mexico to give birth to their calves, said Luke Parsons, a ranger for Oregon State Parks, in a statement.

Parsons said about 18,000 whales travel 12,000 miles from arctic waters in Alaska to Baja Mexico. The trip takes about three months.

Those who’d like to catch a glimpse of the massive animals can do so at a variety of viewing areas along the coast. Parsons said there are about 40 volunteer-staffed locations where gray whales can be spotted, including the 10th floor of the Inn at Spanish Head in Lincoln City, where visitors can spot the creatures nearly every daylight hour in late December.

There are also 24 viewing spots along the coast marked with “whale watching spoken here” signs. Volunteers at those locations will point out special behaviors such as spy hopping, breaching and spouting.

Volunteers also will discuss whale feeding, courtship and migration patterns.

Volunteers will be available at the locations from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

But if you can’t make it to the coast this coming week, don’t fret, as winter migration typically lasts through mid-January.

For a closer view, Dockside Charters in Depoe Bay offers daily whale-watching excursions.

Loren Goddard of Dockside said in a statement that the trips are popular, and he recommends booking reservations in advance.

“Visitors are curious about whales on the coast. And the whales are just as curious about us as we are of them. The best part is when they come right up to the boat,” Goddard said. “Seeing these mammals up close is a very special experience.”

Saving endangered Mexican plants


This video says about itself:

The creation of the Baja California chapter of the California Native Plant Society

4 February 2015

A talk at the 2015 Conservation Conference by César García Valderrama.

By Michael Way, of Kew Gardens in London, England:

Saving the endemic and endangered flora of Baja California, Mexico

23 November 2015

Michael Way describes the importance of an integrated plant conservation strategy for the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.

For many visitors, the Baja California peninsula and the Sea of Cortés are renowned for their rich marine wildlife, providing the chance to encounter sea lions and the grey whales that breed in these warm waters each winter. So how do the terrestrial habitats compare? Actually the 1,200km length of the Baja California peninsula is remarkably varied in geology, climate, and landform, and may support as many as 4,000 native plant taxa, many of which are still the focus of botanical exploration.

This research is vital because some of the ecosystems of the region are under continuing threat: for example the development of housing and vineyards in the north of the peninsula, and expansion of coastal resorts in the south, could affect the habitat of species not yet fully evaluated for conservation. As part of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, Kew cooperates with local botanists to urgently safeguard seed from these endemic and threatened plants.

Why is the plant diversity of Baja California so precious?

The starting point is an array of igneous rocks which forms a spine along the length of the peninsula, and these formations are complemented by a range of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks that provide a diversity of soil conditions and opportunities for specialised plants. Interestingly, at the shoreline it appears that the extensive shell deposits left from shellfish harvesting by indigenous communities have added a strong calcareous influence, as well as contributing to local flora diversity.

The peninsula extends across ten degrees of latitude, (comparable to the distance from London to Madrid), and spans temperate and tropical climates with contrasting temperature and rainfall regimes. Either side of the US border, the Californian Floristic Province (with Mediterranean climate, and winter rainfall) encompasses one forest type and several shrub communities. The mid zone of the peninsula, centred on the massive Vizcaino Desert, has a Sonoran desert climate. Further south, the Cape receives summer rain storms more typical of the tropics. In combination, 13 ecological regions have been delimited (Rebman & Roberts, 2012) and it is possible that the adjacent cool and stable Pacific Ocean may have facilitated speciation by extending the growth and flowering season for native plants (Vanderplank & Excurra, 2015).

How much progress has been made so far in protecting the flora?

As development has expanded in recent decades, so has the determination of local biologists to preserve and protect key wildlife habitats for future generations to value and enjoy. Some fifteen areas have been given formal protection by Federal government (Excurra in Rebman & Roberts, 2012). These cover over 50% of the land area of the peninsula and islands, and will protect wildlife from some of the most extreme future land-use changes. I fear that the presence of introduced goats and other non-natives on off-shore islands will need an urgent response if the threats are to be confronted. There are encouraging initiatives such as the establishment of the NGO ‘Native Plants of the Californias’ to inform and educate the next generation.

We cannot afford to delay action, and we have therefore been expanding our plant conservation efforts on the peninsula with our partners at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Since January 2014, our fieldwork has accelerated with support of the Marisla Foundation: I am pleased that by working closely with local botanists at the Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC), and with advice from collaborators from San Diego Natural History Museum, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and Botanical Research Institute of Texas, we have already secured 200 collections of seed from the peninsula for long term conservation at UNAM and the Millennium Seed Bank.

The islands of the Sea of Cortes: a fragile paradise

I had the chance in October to join a trip to one of the best preserved islands in the Gulf of California, Isla Espiritu Santo, and to see for myself a wonderful diversity of native plants set in the most dramatic landscapes. On landing at Bonanza beach by a local ‘panga’ boat, we climbed the dunes where Dr Jon Rebman drew our attention to a curious plant Proboscidea althaeifolia in the Martiniaceae family that produces ‘devils claw’ fruits. These have evolved to attach to the lower leg of large animals and thus disperse its seed. Visitors to the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst may have seen massive models of an African ‘devils claw’ species that disperses seed in a similar manner.

Further exploration beyond the coastal mangrove thickets and amongst wind-sculpted rock formations on the sister island of Partida revealed a diversity of cacti: for example, Stenocereus gummosus which produces edible ‘pitahaya’ fruits and the majestic organ pipe cactus Stenocereus thurberi.

What more needs to be done?

Although I am alarmed that many habitats continue to be lost and fragmented on the mainland, my short visit to Isla Espiritu Santo demonstrated the importance of achieving World Heritage Site protection of these fragile environments in 2005. The efforts of the protected area managers combined with the high standards of the eco-tourism operators appear to be effective at present, but continued investment will be needed to control non-native species and to manage appropriate use of the islands in the face of increasing recreational pressure.

On the peninsula and islands, we will continue to target habitats at greatest risk of change, including vernal pools and coastal dunes, and will work alongside NGOs and University collaborators to share botanical information and achieve greatest combined impact of our work. I am pleased that our seed collecting effort will also complement the ‘California Endangered Plant Rescue programme’ which Kew is supporting in the USA through the Center for Plant Conservation.

Through these projects, we can also help mitigate the longer term threats from global climate change and invasive species, specifically by building expertise and ex situ collections that could be part of a targeted response. I am already planning my next visit to this precious region.

I’d like to thank Kew’s partners and my colleagues Dr Tiziana Ulian and Dr Wolfgang Stuppy for their important roles in this project, as well as the Marisla Foundation for providing funding.

Mangrove restoration in Mexico


This video says about itself:

Mangroves – Guardians of the Coast

8 June 2012

Mangroves are among the oldest and most productive wetland forests on our planet. Found in the intertidal zone, they are uniquely adapted to survive highly saline and anoxic conditions. They are ideal habitats for many terrestrial and marine species, carbon sinks and natural barriers against storm surges and coastal erosion. Mangroves provide invaluable services but have been declining worldwide as a result of anthropogenic and other threats.

Guardians of our Coast showcases the fascinating web of life that surrounds these tidal forests. The movie highlights the unique collaboration between governments, regional and local institutions, NGOs and local communities, in efforts to save these vulnerable ecosystems and restore them to their former glory.

India has been a part of the Mangrove for the Future (MFF) regional initiative since 2006. Our programme is guided by the National Strategy and Action Plan with primary focus on research, livelihood security, learnings for policy interventions and knowledge dissemination.

MFF India actively works with the private sector in environmentally sustainable business practices and coastal area development. In addition to continuing our work at a national level, MFF India will play a vital role in future studies/initiatives that develop our capacity to manage coastal ecosystems from a regional approach.

From BirdLife, 2 October 2015, about Mexico:

Over the next three years, Pronatura aims to restore 15 hectares of mangrove and provide economic benefits to local communities using this important habitat.

Pronatura Sur A.C. (BirdLife in Mexico) has been working with local communities on mangrove restoration in the Pacific coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas states for 15 years. The work covers 800 ha in three areas: Mar Muerto, La Encrucijada Biosphere Reserve – both Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas – and Conquista Campesina.

Project leader Marylin Bejarano says the areas could eventually be connected together. “That’s why our work is called the Mangrove and Climate Change Corridor Initiative”.

Mangrove forests are among the highest carbon reservoirs of the tropical forests, and the mangroves in La Encrucijada are among he tallest in the entire Mesoamerican region from Panama to Mexico.” …

The mangroves hold an important population of plants, mammals and birds. As well as the resident species the mangroves are located on the crossroads of migratory bird flyways for the Pacific coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

Mexican blind cave fish, new research


This video is called Astyanax mexicanus.

From Discovery.com:

Blind Cave Fish Traded Eyesight for Energy

Sep 14, 2015 04:55 PM ET // by Danny Clemens

At first glance, the blind cave fish is an example of evolution seemingly moving backward.

Over time, a handful of Mexican tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) living at deep depths have gradually lost not only their eyesight, but also their eyes, while their surface-dwelling counterparts have maintained their vision. Dubbed the “blind cave fish”, the eyeless creature also lost much of its pigmentation, growing to sport a body of fleshy pink scales.

According to new research out of Sweden’s Lund University, however, the blind cave fish’s lost vision is actually a major step forward in adapting the fish to its new environment.

Researchers conclude that a highly developed visual system can suck up to 15% of an animal’s “total energy budget”. For a fish living at deep, dark depths with an irregular food supply, that expenditure simply isn’t worth it.

“This is a tremendously high cost! Over evolution, this morph lost both eyes and visual cortex, without a doubt because of the unsustainable energy cost of maintaining a sensory system that no longer had any significance”, study lead author Damian Moran explains in a news release.

Instead, the blind cave fish has come to rely upon a finely tuned sense of smell and a keen sensitivity to changes in water pressure.

Scientists revealed last year that the fish has also ditched its circadian rhythm as an energy-saving measure.

“These cave fish are living in an environment without light, without the circadian presence of food or predators, they’ve got nothing to get ready for, so it looks like they’ve just chopped away this increase in anticipation for the day,” Plant and Food Research New Zealand scientist Dr. Damian Moran explained when his research was published.

The reduction of traits over time is known as “regressive evolution”, according to a 2007 study from New York University.

Sisi regime kills Egyptian, Mexican terrorists … oops, tourists


This 14 September 2015 video says about itself:

Egypt Police Kill Tourists: At least five Mexicans taken to Cairo hospital.

From the BBC today:

Mexican tourists killed by Egyptian security forces

10 minutes ago

Security forces in Egypt have mistakenly killed 12 people, including Mexican tourists, during an anti-terror operation, the interior ministry says.

Maybe Tony Blair, extremely well-paid adviser to the Sisi dictatorship in Egypt, has advised the Egyptian regime to have a very broad definition of who is a ‘terrorist’? After all, the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘tourist’ both have the letters t, r and i. [sarcasm off]

The tourists were travelling in four vehicles that entered a restricted zone in the Wahat area of the Western Desert, a ministry statement said.

Ten Mexicans and Egyptians were also injured and are being treated in a local hospital.

The ministry said it had formed a team to investigate the incident.

Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto condemned the incident and said he had “demanded an exhaustive investigation by the Egyptian government”.

The Mexican foreign ministry confirmed that at least two of its nationals had been killed and said it was working to confirm the identities of the other victims.

In a statement, it said Mexico’s ambassador in Egypt, Jorge Alvarez Fuentes, had visited the local hospital and spoken to five Mexicans who were in a stable condition.

‘Mistakenly dealt with’

The statement (in Arabic) from Egypt’s interior ministry said the four vehicles the tourists were travelling in were “mistakenly dealt with” during a joint military police and armed forces operation.

It said the incident happened on Sunday in an area that “was off limits to foreign tourists”, but it did not give an exact location.

The group of tourists was preparing to camp out in the vast Western Desert when they came under fire.

According to the interior ministry’s statement, the security forces were pursuing Islamic militants in the desert, and targeted the four vehicles which were away from the main road with an Apache helicopter, which shot and hit the four vehicles.

The tour company transporting the tourists “did not have permits and did not inform authorities”, tourism ministry spokesman Rasha Azaz told the Associated Press news agency.

But a local source – who claims to have spoken to one of the drivers for the tour group – told the BBC that they had liaised with the authorities and even had a police escort.

The vast Western Desert area is popular with foreign sightseers, but is also attractive to militants, reports the BBC’s Orla Guerin in Cairo.

Last month, a Croatian engineer was beheaded there by the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The area – which borders Libya – is a gateway to the long border and weapons are available on the other side, our correspondent adds.

ISIS terrorists are now in Libya (and Egypt) because of NATO’s ‘humanitarian’ war on Libya, as the Tunisian government has remarked. And they are able to get some undeserved support from some people in Egypt because the Sisi dictatorship is not an attractive alternative.

UPDATE: surviving tourists say that the Egyptian air force attacked them with aircraft and helicopters.

An Egyptian government Apache helicopter gunship targeted a convoy of vehicles carrying foreign tourists in Egypt’s Western Desert on Sunday, destroying four vehicles and killing 12 people, including at least eight Mexican nationals. At least one American citizen may also have been among those killed in the incident, according to the US State Department: here.

Sharm el-Sheikh flight from Stansted dodged missile last August. Thomson Airways plane heading to Egyptian resort forced to take evasive action after projectile [probably fired by Egyptian army] spotted by pilot, British government confirms: here.

Soviet filmmaker Eisenstein, new film about him


This video says about itself:

Eisenstein In Guanajuato – Official Trailer

8 February 2015

A film by Peter Greenaway, 2015, Netherlands/Mexico/Finland/Belgium, 105′

On 27 July 2015, I went to see the film Eisenstein In Guanajuato.

In this film, movie director Peter Greenaway reconstructs the stay of his famous Soviet colleague Sergei Eisenstein in Mexico in 1931. Eisenstein then made recordings, intended for a film on Mexico and the Mexican revolution, entitled ¡Que viva México!

In his reconstruction, Greenaway had to consider that some of the facts in this part of Eisenstein’s life are known. Some others are not certain, but maybe, with some fantasy (Greenaway made a feature film, not a documentary), might be deduced from known facts. And many other things about Eisenstein’s Mexican episode are completely unknown.

Greenaway’s film ‘plays fast, loose and salaciously with the facts’, according to film critic David Robinson.

Robinson points out, inter alia, that Eisenstein was a workaholic, while Greenaway depicts him as hardly ever leaving his hotel bedroom. Eisenstein did not drink alcohol, while Greenaway depicts him as drunk.

The central theme in Greenaway’s film is that Eisenstein was a virgin, until his initiation into gay sex in Guanajuato at 33 years of age. Very improbable, according to Robinson.

Was Eisenstein gay? Maybe, we don’t know for sure.

However, there are so many and such obvious inaccuracies in Eisenstein In Guanajuato that, rather than being results of Greenaway’s supposed ignorance or sloppiness, one may suspect that Greenaway included them on purpose to indicate the film is not about the historical Eisenstein, but about an Eisenstein of his own post-modernist imagination.

In post-modernism there is no historical truth.

Eisenstein as a film role in Greenaway’s work speaks about lots of famous filmmakers and other artists he supposedly had met. A list so long that it looks a bit incredible. Is this not really a list of Peter Greenaway’s favourites in film history and art history?

One can see that Eisenstein In Guanajuato is by someone who was originally a visual artist, and an admirer of the imagery of Eisenstein’s films. Greenaway’s imagery in this film is good. So is the acting. However, Greenaway undeservedly makes the issues in Eisenstein’s films, Russian revolution and society, Mexican revolution and society, etc. play a very second fiddle to aesthetics.

At least one review of this film has a historical inaccuracy of its own: Variety magazine in the USA writes that Lenin underwrote Eisenstein’s expenses while in Mexico. Lenin had died in 1924. While the Variety article also spells ‘Guadajuato’ which should have been Guanajuato.