New praying mantis species discovered in Peru


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

Dr. Gavin Svenson, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Director of Research & Collections and Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, discovered a new species of praying mantis on an insect survey expedition in the Amazon Rainforest. The mantis, named Vespamantoida wherleyi, is brightly colored and mimics wasps in an effort to ward off predators—a combination that has never been seen before. The discovery and analysis have had widespread implications for the Mantoididae family.

From the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Scientists discover new species of wasp-mimicking praying mantis

Peruvian mantis represents the first known example of a praying mantis species conspicuously mimicking a wasp

October 17, 2019

Cleveland Museum of Natural History Director of Research & Collections and Curator of Invertebrate Zoology Dr. Gavin Svenson and former Case Western Reserve University graduate student, Henrique Rodrigues, have discovered a new species of praying mantis, described as the first known mantis species to conspicuously mimic a wasp. In addition, the new species joins one previously described species within a newly erected genus Vespamantoida. The results of the team’s findings were published today in the online journal PeerJ.

The new species, named Vespamantoida wherleyi, was discovered near the Amazon River in Peru in 2013 during a general entomological survey of the field site. The male specimen was attracted to a light trap, and its bright coloration and wasp-like shape and behavior immediately caught the team’s eye.

“Typically, the majority of species differentiation is discovered and confirmed within a lab or collection setting,” explains Dr. Svenson. “To have that rare eureka moment where you know you have found something new in the field is incredibly exciting.”

The mantis exhibited a bright red-orange coloration, as well as the body structure, erratic locomotion patterns, and even antennae behavior typically associated with most wasp species. This apparent style of mimicry, known as Batesian mimicry, is a strategy in which a mostly harmless organism adopts the appearance, and occasionally the behaviors, of an organism known to pose a greater threat to would-be predators.

“In nature, when you are intentionally conspicuous, you are advertising something,” says Dr. Svenson. “When you are a species that can be easily taken as prey, you advertise because you want predators to think that you are poisonous, or could injure them, or any combination of unpleasant factors that tell the predator to think twice before pursuing you.”

In the mantis world, mimicry of vegetation is a fundamental strategy, but wasp mimicry in adults is unique, and limited to just one family, of which Vespamantoida is now a part. Until the discovery of V. wherleyi, however, mantis mimicry strategies were theorized to aid the mantis primarily in hiding from predators, and occasionally in luring prey. The conspicuous appearance and behavior of V. wherleyi represent a novel form of defensive mimicry whereby the mantis imitates a harmful organism’s natural defense signals to warn predators away. It is a strategy that is unique among known mantises.

“There are about 2,500 species of mantises described,” says Dr. Svenson. “I’d put a bet on there being about 5,000. So, I think we’re just halfway there. I think the most interesting thing about this family of mantises is the fact that most of the adults do mimic wasps, and that is quite unique for praying mantises. I think the next natural thing is to study the evolutionary biology of the lineage. If wasp mimicry is successful in this lineage, why has it not evolved in the other lineages as well? Why have no other species within the family evolved brightly colored wasp mimicry? We’re just not sure.”

How burrowing owls help desert plants


This 2014 video says about itself:

We are on the vast plains of Venezuela. Burrowing owls are fond of lizards, rats and frogs, but they’ll hunt just about anything as long as it’s not too big.

From Science News today:

Burrowing birds create pockets of rich plant life in a desert landscape

Mounds of sand dug out by nest-digging birds are microhabitats where seeds can germinate

In the rain-starved deserts of coastal Peru, tiny patches surprisingly rich in plant life dot the landscape. Burrowing birds may be responsible, scientists say.

Mounds of sand shoveled out by nest-digging burrowing owls and miner birds harbor more seedlings and exclusive plant varieties compared with surrounding undisturbed soils, researchers from the National University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru report in the October Journal of Arid Environments. Although the mounds hold fewer seeds, the structures may provide a sheltered and moist germination environment at the start of the growing season — unlike adjacent crusty soils carpeted with cyanobacteria, lichen, moss and algae.

“The ability of seeds to germinate in the desert is a daunting task,” says Jayne Belnap, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist based in Moab, Utah, who wasn’t involved in the study, “especially if you have a crust.”

That crust inhibits seed growth in two ways. Seeds stranded on top are exposed to the harsh environment, and may not be able to sprout at all. And the crust itself can act as a barrier for water to reach buried seeds, and for seedlings to emerge.

But when burrowing birds break the crust and dig up sand, seeds can mix into the sand, and water may pool between the tossed sand and crust, the researchers say. That allows seeds to become buried and accumulate moisture needed to germinate.

While it’s known that burrowing mammals can break compacted soils and create nutrient-rich hot spots ideal for plant establishment, this study is the first to document similar ecosystem engineering done by dryland birds.

In 2016, Maria Cristina Rengifo-Faiffer, an ecologist now at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, collected soils in the National Reserve of Lachay in Peru. The area lies in a part of the Atacama Desert (SN: 2/27/18) where lomas, or mist oases, exist. It rarely rains there and most plants rely on three months of winter fog to complete their life cycle.

Samples came from 61 mounds dug up by three bird species — burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), coastal miner (Geositta peruviana) and greyish miner (G. maritima) — as well as from adjacent undisturbed areas. She watered the soil and allowed seeds to sprout in a greenhouse, using that as a proxy for how many viable seeds there were in the soils.

The bird mounds, on average, held 1,015 seeds per square meter, while the same-sized soil crust areas housed 2,740 seeds, Rengifo-Faiffer and ecologist Cesar Arana found.

But a catalog of natural germination out in the desert found that the bird-tossed soil was much more fertile than the crust: On average, 213 seedlings sprouted out of the bird mounds compared with 176 that emerged from adjacent crusty soils.

The team also found that five plant species appear exclusively in the bird-disturbed areas, including Amaranthaceae and Malvaceae species. These “microhabitats” created by burrowing birds are important to maintain plant diversity, Rengifo-Faiffer says.

“To me, that’s the coolest part of this study,” Belnap says. “You’re facilitating the presence of other species by having this burrowing happen.”

Contrary to the long-held belief that plants in the natural world are always in competition, new research has found that in harsh environments mature plants help smaller ones — and thrive as a result: here.

United States sport stars protest against racism


This 23 March 2019 video from the USA is called Gwendolyn Berry Hammer Throw Skills.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio:

US American sports people protest again during national anthem

American athletes have again protested against abuses in their country. What started three years ago with a kneeling protest by American Football player Colin Kaepernick against police violence in America, was followed by two athletes at the Pan-American Games in Lima [in Peru] last weekend.

On Friday, fencer Race Imboden knelt when the American national anthem was played after receiving a gold medal. The next day, Gwendolyn Berry, who won gold in the hammer throw, raised her fist when the national anthem was heard.

United States gold medal winner Gwendolyn Berry raises her fist in protest, C.Cruz/AP photo

Ex-athlete Carl Lewis backs equal pay in sports and attacks ‘racist’ Donald Trump. Olympic legend supports US women’s [soccer] team lawsuit. Calls US president ‘prejudiced, and misogynistic’: here.

This 11 August 2019 video says about itself:

Race Imboden takes a knee and joins tradition of US athlete protests

United States gold medal-winning fencer Race Imboden may face sanctions for taking a knee during the medal ceremony at the 2019 Pan-American Games. Imboden’s gesture preceded a similar protest on Saturday by American hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning gold.

US athletes have a long history of staging such protests, dating back to the 1960s civil rights movement, but they have grown in recent years following NFL player Colin Kaepernick‘s decision to start taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016.

US Olympics body may sanction athletes for Trump protests. Athletes are facing possible sanctions for protesting Donald Trump at the Pan American Games. Gwen Berry and Race Imboden tried to draw attention to social issues in the US that they feel are spiraling out of control: here.

The NOS article continues:

The protests are remarkable, thinks sports journalist Maarten Kolsloot, given the success of the two American athletes. “Berry is a record holder and Imboden has already been world champion”, he says in the NOS Radio 1 News. “So they really send a signal.”

That signal is extra strong, Kolsloot thinks, because today it is exactly two years ago that a young woman was killed in a car attack in Charlottesville. In that American city, extreme right-wing demonstrators and counter-protesters stood opposite each other. A man deliberately drove into the counter-protesters; one was killed and dozens injured.

“Long list of problems”

On Twitter, Imboden, who is also a DJ and model, wrote that he protests for “a long list of problems, on which racism, gun control, mistreatment of immigrants are at the top”. He also called on others to follow his example.

“Imboden is next to footballer Megan Rapinoe one of the few white athletes participating in the protest,” says Kolsloot. “But precisely because fencing is a fairly white, elitist sport, Imboden indicated it was important to participate.”

The action of the two athletes is daring, since participants in the Pan-American Games must sign a document stating that political statements are out of the question. “Moreover, Trump reacted with disapproval when Kaepernick was the first to kneel during the national anthem three years ago,” says Kolsloot. “He thought demonstrating athletes should be fired and called them sons of bitches.”

It cost Kaepernick dear: because of the fuss he ended up without a club and was forced to leave the sport.

Trump has not yet responded to the action by Berry and Imboden. …

A spokesperson for the American Olympic committee reacted strongly to the action by the two athletes. “They are both big contenders for going to the Tokyo Games in 2020”, says Kolsloot, “but it is unclear whether the protest will have an impact on that.” Berry is said to have had a meeting with the Committee, but what came out of it is unknown.

Kolsloot considers it unlikely that the two will be suspended for a long time. “Both athletes are medal candidates, with even the chance of gold. Moreover, the protests will only get bigger. It is waiting for the next kneeling athlete.”

Protesting US athletes get suspended sentence: here.

South American bears need water


This 2016 video says about itself:

The Andean bear, also known as the spectacled bear, is sometimes called the Paddington bear, after the fictional bear in children’s books written by Michael Bond. The spectacled bear is the only bear species in South America, and its numbers are dwindling. In Peru, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, has set aside land as a rescue center for the bears.

From San Diego Zoo Global in the USA:

Bear necessities: New study highlights importance of water resources for Andean bears

January 15, 2019

A new study is shedding light on the importance of one critical resource for Andean bears living in the dry mountain forests of Peru: water. The study — a collaboration between the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and San Diego Zoo Global, with assistance from the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society-Peru — found that Andean bears focus much of their tree-rubbing behavior on shrubs and trees that are located on trails near water holes. Bears typically bite, claw and rub their body parts on trees, which is believed to be an important form of communication with other bears in the region. The discovery that this behavior occurs near water holes could have implications for future conservation programs.

“It may seem obvious that water holes would be an important resource for Andean bears living in tropical dry forests — however, these results suggest that water holes are significant not just as sources of drinking water, but also as important sites where bears communicate with one another,” said Russ Van Horn, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo Global scientist. “Because water holes are often the focus of activity by humans and their livestock, conservation planners will need to balance the interests of people and Andean bears in future programs.”

A paper detailing results of the study, recently published in the journal Ursus, reported that while Andean bears didn’t show a particular preference for tree-rubbing species, the locations of rubbed trees and shrubs were concentrated on trails near water holes. In the tropical dry forests of Peru, water is a relatively rare, albeit critical resource. Consequently, since livestock in the area also make use of water resources, conflicts may result between humans and bears.

This study is part of a larger effort by San Diego Zoo Global researchers and local partners to better understand Andean bear behavior and ecology. Andean bears are considered an umbrella species in the region, meaning that conservation programs aimed at protecting Andean bears will indirectly benefit other species in the Andes Mountains.

Andean bears are listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. They are native to the Andean countries of South America, and are sometimes known as spectacled bears because of white or light fur around their eyes. San Diego Zoo Global has been working with local partners to research and protect Andean bears in Peru. Andean bear habitat is being lost at a rate of about 2 to 4 percent per year as it is destroyed for mining operations, farming and timber harvest. The construction of new roads also fragments bear habitat. In addition, climate change is altering the bear’s habitat in unpredictable ways. Andean bears now primarily live in dense mountain forests, making the species difficult to study. The dry tropical forest where this study occurred is more open than other kinds of Peruvian forests, making field research easier.

Giant otters and piranhas in Peru


This 22 July 2018 BBC video says about itself:

Giant otters love fishing and eating piranha – but how do they catch them without being bitten?

Giant otters are one of the toughest creatures in the Amazon jungle. Not only are they living in a lake in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon, but they are also surrounded by three hundred black caiman, anaconda, jaguar and puma. Diablo the giant otter also has six unruly pups to keep from harm, and educate in the ways of the jungle. This otter dad certainly has his paws full. Leading wildlife cameraman Charlie Hamilton-James follows the family in their remarkable location over the course of a whole season, through their ups, downs, and the start of a new generation of otters.

LED lights can save seabirds’ lives


This 2016 video sdays about itself:

This mini-documentary explores the astounding seabird colonies of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The tiny islands of the Chagos Archipelago are havens for nesting birds, and a precious resource in the vastness of the Indian Ocean. Stewart McPherson was given rare access to visit several islands of the Territory to document the astounding diversity of birds that call this remote corner of the Indian Ocean home. In this film, we follow conservation efforts that aim to clear the islands of invasive rodents and coconut palms to allow the natural bird numbers to recover.

From the University of Exeter in England:

LED lights reduce seabird death toll from fishing by 85 percent

July 11, 2018

Illuminating fishing nets with low-cost lights could reduce the terrible impact they have on seabirds and marine-dwellers by more than 85 per cent, new research has shown.

A team of international researchers, led by Dr Jeffrey Mangel from the University of Exeter, has shown the number of birds caught in gillnets can be drastically reduced by attaching green battery-powered light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

For the study, the researchers compared 114 pairs of gillnets — which are anchored in fixed positions at sea and designed to snare fish by the gills — in fishing waters off the coast of Peru.

They discovered that the nets fitted with the LEDs caught 85 per cent fewer guanay cormorants — a native diving bird that commonly becomes entangled in nets — compared with those without lights.

Coupled with previous research conducted by the same team, that showed LED lighting also reduced the number of sea turtles caught in fishing nets by 64 per cent, the researchers believe the lights offer a cheap, reliable and durable way to dramatically reduce the capture and death of birds and turtles, without reducing the intended catch of fish.

The research is published in the Royal Society journal Open Science on Wednesday, July 11 2018.

Lead author Dr Mangel, from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University’s Penryn Campus, said: “We are very encouraged by the results from this study.

“It shows us that we may be able to find cost-effective ways to reduce bycatch of multiple taxa of protected species, and do so while still making it possible for fishers to earn a livelihood.”

Peru’s gillnet fleet comprises the largest component of the nation’s small-scale fleet and is conservatively estimated to set 100,000km of net per year in which thousands of turtles and seabirds will die as “bycatch” or unintentionally.

The innovative study, carried out in Sechura Bay in northern Peru, saw the LED lights attached at regular intervals to commercial fishing gillnets which are anchored to the bottom of the water. The nets are left in situ from late afternoon until sunlight, when the fishermen collect their haul.

The researchers used 114 pairs of nets, each typically around 500-metres in length. In each pair, one was illuminated with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) placed every ten metres along the gillnet floatline. The other net in the pair was the control and not illuminated.

The control nets caught 39 cormorants, while the illuminated nets caught just six.

A previous study, using the same LED technology, showed they also reduced the number of sea turtles also caught in gillnets. Multiple populations of sea turtle species use Peruvian coastal waters as foraging grounds including green, olive ridley, hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback.

For that study, the researchers found that the control nets caught 125 green turtles while illuminated nets caught 62. The target catch of guitarfish was unaffected by the net illumination. They are now working with larger fisheries in Peru and with different coloured lights to see if the results can be repeated and applied with more critically endangered species.

Professor Brendan Godley, who is an author of the study and Marine Strategy Lead for the University of Exeter, said: “It is satisfying to see the work coming from our Exeter Marine PhDs leading to such positive impact in the world. We need to find ways for coastal peoples to fish with the least impact on the rest of the biodiversity in their seas.”