Slow worm discovery on Ameland island


This video says about itself:

20 April 2014

A baby female Adder Vipera berus berus is shown curling up alongside an adult male Slow-worm Anguis fragilis. The tiny snake would have been born during the previous year and it is just as venomous as an adult.

Translated from the press agency of Ameland island in the Netherlands:

Slow worm seen on Ameland

July 25, 2015

HOLLUM – This Saturday, Annelies Lap from Hollum village saw on the horse trail near the Duck Pond a slow worm. She immediately photographed it.

It is a remarkable observation, because slow worms do not live on the Wadden Sea islands. In 2014 one was reported in a garden on Texel island. Ecomare museum on Texel suspects the animal lifted to the island, eg it made the sea crossing with compost or straw. Probably also the Ameland individual arrived like this as a stowaway on the island.

First four-legged snake fossil discovery


This video says about itself:

Tetrapodophis amplectus – A four-legged snake from the Early Cretaceous of Gondwana

24 July 2015

Tetrapodophis amplectus appears to be a four-legged snake from the Early Cretaceous of Gondwana. Dr. Dave Martill, from the University of Portsmouth, says that this discovery could help scientists to understand how snakes lost their legs.

From the BBC:

Four-legged snake ancestor ‘dug burrows’

By Jonathan Webb Science reporter, BBC News

24 July 2015

A 113-million-year-old fossil from Brazil is the first four-legged snake that scientists have ever seen.

Several other fossil snakes have been found with hind limbs, but the new find is estimated to be a direct ancestor of modern snakes.

Its delicate arms and legs were not used for walking, but probably helped the creature to grab its prey.

The fossil shows adaptations for burrowing, not swimming, strengthening the idea that snakes evolved on land.

That debate is a long-running one among palaeontologists, and researchers say wiggle room is running out for the idea that snakes developed from marine reptiles.

“This is the most primitive fossil snake known, and it’s pretty clearly not aquatic,” said Dr Nick Longrich from the University of Bath, one of the authors of the new study published in Science magazine.

Speaking to Science in Action on the BBC World Service, Dr Longrich explained that the creature’s tail wasn’t paddle-shaped for swimming and it had no sign of fins; meanwhile its long trunk and short snout were typical of a burrower.

“It’s pretty straight-up adapted for burrowing,” he said.

When Dr Longrich first saw photos of the 19.5cm fossil, now christened Tetrapodophis amplectus, he was “really blown away” because he was expecting an ambiguous, in-between species.

Instead, he saw “a lot of very advanced snake features” including its hooked teeth, flexible jaw and spine – and even snake-like scales.

“And there’s the gut contents – it’s swallowed another vertebrate. It was preying on other animals, which is a snake feature.

“It was pretty unambiguously a snake. It’s just got little arms and little legs.”

Deadly embrace?

At 4mm and 7mm long respectively, those arms and legs are little indeed. But Dr Longrich was surprised to discover that they were far from being “vestigial” evolutionary leftovers, dangling uselessly.

“They’re actually very highly specialised – they have very long, skinny fingers and toes, with little claws on the end. What we think [these animals] are doing is they’ve stopped using them for walking and they’re using them for grasping their prey.”

That comparatively feeble grasp, which may have also been applied during mating, is where the species gets its name. Tetrapodophis, the fossil’s new genus, means four-footed snake, but amplectus is Latin for “embrace”.

“It would sort of embrace or hug its prey with its forelimbs and hindlimbs. So it’s the huggy snake,” Dr Longrich said.

In order to try to pinpoint the huggy snake’s place in history, the team constructed a family tree using known information about the physical and genetic make-up of living and ancient snakes, plus some related reptiles.

That analysis positioned T. amplectus as a branch – the earliest branch – on the the very same tree that gave rise to modern snakes.

Neglected no more

Remarkably, this significant specimen languished in a private collection for decades, before a museum in Solnhofen, Germany, acquired and exhibited it under the label “unknown fossil”.

It was there that Dr Dave Martill, another of the paper’s authors, stumbled upon it while leading a student field trip. He told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 they were principally visiting to see the museum’s famous Archaeopteryx fossil.

“All of a sudden my jaw absolutely dropped, when I saw this little fossil like a piece of string,” said Dr Martill, from the University of Portsmouth.

As he peered closer, he managed to spot the four tiny legs – and immediately asked the museum for permission to study the creature.

Dr Bruno Simoes, who studies the evolution of snake vision at the Natural History Museum in London, told the BBC he was impressed by the new find because the snake’s limbs are so well preserved, and appear so well developed.

“It’s quite a surprise, especially because it’s so close to the crown group – basically, the current snakes,” he said.

“It gives us a good idea of what the ancestral snake was like.”

Dr Simoes suggested that alongside several other recent findings, this new fossil evidence had clinched the argument for snakes evolving on land.

“All [the latest findings] suggest that the ancestor of all snakes was a terrestrial animal… which lived partially underground.”

Boa constrictors don’t suffocate rats, new research


This video from the USA says about itself:

Myth Busted: How Boa Constrictors Kill

22 July 2015

New research disproves the long-held belief that boa constrictors kill by suffocating their prey. Researchers at Dickinson College found that the powerful snakes actually inflict a very different cause of death.

From the Journal of Experimental Biology:

Snake constriction rapidly induces circulatory arrest in rats

Received February 21, 2015.
Accepted May 8, 2015.

ABSTRACT

As legless predators, snakes are unique in their ability to immobilize and kill their prey through the process of constriction, and yet how this pressure incapacitates and ultimately kills the prey remains unknown. In this study, we examined the cardiovascular function of anesthetized rats before, during and after being constricted by boas (Boa constrictor) to examine the effect of constriction on the prey’s circulatory function. The results demonstrate that within 6 s of being constricted, peripheral arterial blood pressure (PBP) at the femoral artery dropped to 1/2 of baseline values while central venous pressure (CVP) increased 6-fold from baseline during the same time.

Electrocardiographic recordings from the anesthetized rat’s heart revealed profound bradycardia as heart rate (fH) dropped to nearly half of baseline within 60 s of being constricted, and QRS duration nearly doubled over the same time period. By the end of constriction (mean 6.5±1 min), rat PBP dropped 2.9-fold, fH dropped 3.9-fold, systemic perfusion pressure (SPP=PBP−CVP) dropped 5.7-fold, and 91% of rats (10 of 11) had evidence of cardiac electrical dysfunction. Blood drawn immediately after constriction revealed that, relative to baseline, rats were hyperkalemic (serum potassium levels nearly doubled) and acidotic (blood pH dropped from 7.4 to 7.0). These results are the first to document the physiological response of prey to constriction and support the hypothesis that snake constriction induces rapid prey death due to circulatory arrest.

Stolen Rodin sculpture found after 24 years


Rodin's Young Girl With Serpent

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Rare Rodin sculpture stolen during $1 million Beverly Hills heist recovered in London

Young Girl With Serpent has been missing for 24 years

Matilda Battersby

Thursday 09 July 2015

A rare Auguste Rodin sculpture stolen nearly 25 years ago as part of a $1 million Beverly Hills art heist has been recovered after it turned up in London.

The 1991 theft was facilitated by the “trusted” housekeeper of a Los Angeles art collector who, after bragging about his employer’s wealth a local bar, was paid $5,000 by art thieves to give them copies of his house keys.

The bronze statue, titled Young Girl With Serpent, by French sculptor Rodin, is believed to be worth around $100,000.

A number of other valuable artworks, including an important early sketch of Rodin’s most famous work, The Kiss, and another sculpture, The Eternal Spring, were also taken and remain missing and total assets taken were valued at more than a million dollars at the time.

The thieves had considerable access to the Beverly Hills property while its owner was away at another residence for several weeks and used the copied key to rob it over several visits.

The unnamed Beverly Hills art collector, who is now in her Eighties, described returning to her house after the burglary to find it looking “as though it had been hit by an earthquake”.

The housekeeper had skipped town and a warrant was issued for his arrest by the Beverly Hills Police Department.

A six month manhunt followed after which the housekeeper was located and arrested in Miami, Florida while sunbathing next to a hotel pool.

The collector is said to be “delighted” at the recovery of the statue which turned up at Christie’s auction house in New York and was transferred to London for sale in 2011 having being missing for more than two decades.

Christie’s were alerted to the fact that the sculpture was stolen and “assisted all involved parties during the investigation” according to Chris Marinello, CEO of Art Recovery International.

There was a four year deadlock in negotiations between lawyers for the possessor of the artwork who offered it to Christie’s and the Beverly Hills victim, but following intervention by Marinello the work has now been released unconditionally back to her.

The housekeeper claimed to know nothing of the artwork’s whereabouts after his arrest and later attempted to contact the family where he’d worked as “a trusted member of staff” to apologise.

He served time for his role in the theft in the US and was later extradited to prison in Switzerland over an unrelated crime.

Marinello credits the resolution of this case to one particular officer from Beverly Hills Police Department, Detective Michael Corren, who kept the case open for 24 years – even after he had retired.

“Detective Corren was very impressive in the way he pursued the case. He was kind of like Moby Dick and the White Whale,” Marinello told The Independent.

“The police department tracked down the caretaker in Florida by the swimming pool and got an arrest and Corren pursued it to solve it. It’s rare that you get an officer today who is so single-minded.”

The victim has asked Art Recovery International to continue pursuing the other lost artworks.

However, it seems there is quite a market for stolen Rodins on the black market and also fears that thieves might melt the statues down. “Sadly, many of these bronze items are sold for scrap, as horrific as that may sound,” Marinello said previously.

Rodin’s The Thinker was stolen and damaged along with six other bronze statues from the garden of the Singer Laren Museum, Netherlands in 2007. It was recovered two days later “pretty worse for wear” and had to undergo considerable and expensive restoration.

A nude bronze of French novelist Honore de Balzac was stolen from the Israel Museum while it was undergoing renovation in 2011 – one of a series of four studies that Rodin cast for a monument to Balzac on display in Paris – and has yet to be recovered.

In 2012 portrait in bronze of Rodin by his artist lover Camille Claudel worth a reported £800,000 was recovered in the truck of an antique dealer 13 years after it was taken from the Guéret art and archaeology museum in France.

Young Girl With Serpent will be consigned for sale later this year as part of a deal between the victim and her insurance company.

Many garter snakes mating, video


This video says about itself:

If You’re Scared of Snakes, Don’t Watch This

26 June 2014

Every year, thousands of snakes gather at the Narcisse Snake Dens in Manitoba, Canada. It’s billed as the largest gathering of snakes anywhere in the world. Manitoba’s climate and geology make it the perfect place for red-sided garter snakes to live and mate. It has become a tourist attraction, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Sunbathing grass snakes traffic sign


Sunbathing snakes traffic sign

This is a sign in the Kuinderbos nature reserve in Flevoland province in the Netherlands, warning traffic about grass snakes sunbathing here.

Barn owl defends her young against snake


This video from the USA says about itself:

Barn Owl Attacks Snake Entering Nest Box. May 6, 2015

Watch this incredible footage of Dottie the female Texas Barn Owl defending her young against a Texas Rat Snake that attempted to enter the nest box.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA about this:

Earlier this month, we witnessed a reminder that the Texas Barn Owls aren’t the only ones hunting for food during the night. Despite extensive predator guards installed around the owls’ box, a Texas rat snake gained access to the rafters. Our cameras captured the ensuing showdown as the snake approached the nest box entrance. Despite the midnight darkness, Dottie (the female owl) evicted the snake from the box, then, moments later, gathered her nestlings back to safety beneath her. Watch video [above].

It’s not just other predators that make raising a family of Barn Owls tough. The breeding ecology of Barn Owls can be boom-or-bust. They can be prolific breeders, often laying six or more eggs during a single breeding attempt, but if there’s not enough prey to support all of the nestlings, many can perish. One 16-year study in Utah found that, on average, only 63 percent of eggs hatched and 87 percent of hatchlings survived to fledging. This year, only 5 of 6 eggs hatched in the Texas Barn Owl nest and the youngest owlet (hatched nearly 11 days after the oldest) did not survive. The four remaining owlets appear healthy and well, and we are hopeful that they will survive to fledge. Watch cam.