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Posts in category Science News

New species of tarantula found


Article posted on the Washington Post by Rachel Feltman on February 5, 2016

New species of tarantula found near Folsom Prison named for Johnny Cash

A study published Thursday in ZooKeys announced the discovery of a staggering 14 new species of tarantula.

The researchers were trying to clean up the taxonomy of the genus Aphonopelma, a group of tarantula species native to the Americas. Before the new study from Auburn University and Millsaps College, scientists had identified over 50 different species in the genus. But this record was wrong: Many of the species outlined in the scientific literature were based on just one or two spider specimens, and many of them were based on the description of male spiders alone. Because male tarantulas undergo a lot of changes when they reach sexual maturity, that left room for a lot of accidental redundancy.

But after a decade of hunting for spider specimens all across the Southwest – and studying 3,000 specimens in total, including many from the Auburn University Museum of Natural History – the group suggests that only 29 of those original species are actually unique.

Another 14 were identified that were previously unknown to science.

“We often hear about how new species are being discovered from remote corners of the Earth, but what is remarkable is that these spiders are in our own backyard,” Auburn University’s Chris Hamilton, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “With the Earth in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, it is astonishing how little we know about our planet’s biodiversity, even for charismatic groups such as tarantulas.”

Aphonopelma johnnycashi clearly has the best name of the new bunch. “This species can be found near the area of Folsom Prison in California,” the authors write in the study, “and like Cash’s distinctive style of dress (where he was referred to as “the man in black”), mature males of this species are generally black in color.”

Hamilton says that despite their creepy reputation, tarantulas are harmless to humans. They don’t bite, and the researcher calls them “teddy bears with eight legs.” They’re certainly fuzzy enough to fit the bill.

But the researchers don’t want too many folks to fall in love with these eight-legged teddy bears: While many of the new species seem widespread, there are a few that could easily be threatened by climate change and habitat loss. Hobbyists hoping to get one for themselves could make matters even worse.

“Two of the new species are confined to single mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona, one of the United States’ biodiversity hotspots,” co-author Brent Hendrixson of Millsaps College said in a statement. “These fragile habitats are threatened by increased urbanization, recreation, and climate change. There is also some concern that these spiders will become popular in the pet trade due to their rarity, so we need to consider the impact that collectors may have on populations as well.”

Read original article on the Washington Post website.

Praying mantises get fitted with 3D glasses, watch bug movies

Newcastle University research into 3D vision in praying mantises by Dr. Vivek Nityananda.
Pic: Mike Urwin. 151015

Article posted on CNET.com by Eric Mack January 8, 2016

The 3D-video craze may have died down a bit from a few years ago when every other new flat screen or Hollywood blockbuster seemed to be boasting the tech, but scientists may have found a new group that will be more than happy to wear the specs — praying mantises.

Yes, that’s right. Scientists actually outfitted the odd insects with tiny 3D glasses to confirm that they actually see and hunt in 3D vision. I’ve been staring at the below picture for a while now of the green and blue lenses affixed to a praying mantis’ head with beeswax and I still can’t decide if it’s cute or creepy.

Researchers have suspected for years that mantises see in 3D, but scientists from Newcastle University in the U.K. finally hit on the right design of glasses for the insects.

The idea is the same as the old-school red and blue polarized glasses used at 3D movies, but the researchers used green instead of red because the bugs see that color much better. After being fitted with their new custom specs, the creepy-crawly subjects were shown short videos of tasty bugs in 3D, and they struck out at them. When shown the same images in 2D, they didn’t go for the bait.

Read entire article on CNET.com

This Ancient Creature Shows How the Turtle Got Its Shell


By Rachel Nuwer on Smithsonian.com

The 240-million-year-old “grandfather turtle” may be part of the evolutionary bridge between lizards and shelled reptiles

Turtles are pretty mellow creatures, but they excel at causing strife among paleontologists. Researchers have long been left guessing as to how soft-backed animals somehow transitioned into the shell-carrying creatures we know so well today. Now, they have finally found fossils that help fill in the details of this critical evolutionary period.

The fossils, discovered in an ancient lakebed in Germany, belong to a newly named species called Pappochelys, Greek for “grandfather turtle.” Estimated to be about 240 million years old—putting it smack dab in the middle of the Triassic period—Pappochelys seems to hit the evolutionary sweet spot between older suspected turtle ancestors and more recent and established family members.

Rainer R. Schoch from the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, and Hans-Dieter Sues at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., gleaned knowledge about Pappochelys by studying an assortment of 18 fossil specimens, plus one skull. As they report today in Nature, the living animal would have been about 8 inches long from nose to tail, roughly the same size as a modern-day box turtle.

Pappochelys looked quite different than the turtles and tortoises of today, however. The animal had no shell, but it did have what appear to be the makings of one. Its ribs are broad and sturdy, and they fan out from the spine, a physiological set-up that the researchers suspect evolved not only for protection but also as a “bone ballast”—a way for the animal, which was likely aquatic or semiaquatic, to better control its buoyancy. That wasn’t the only hint of what would eventually become turtles’ trademark feature: Pappochelys also has a line of hard, almost shell-like bones along its belly.

Read the entire article on the Smithsonian Magazine website

These ‘silver’ ants use special hairs to survive the harshest desert heat


Published in the Washington Post by Elahe Izadi

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Saharan silver ants don’t have an easy life, even by ant standards. In order to avoid predators, they have to look for food during the hottest time of the day — when desert surface temperatures can reach 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s almost too hot to live. The ants perish if their internal temperature goes higher than just 128.48 degrees Fahrenheit. But these little guys have developed an ingenious method for keeping themselves cool: It’s all about the hair, basically.

Researchers discovered that the unique structure and organization of the ants’ hair allow the creatures to control a wide range of the solar spectrum and keep cool. They published their findings Thursday in the journal Science.

To the naked human eye, these ants can resemble droplets of mercury as they scamper across the desert sand, said Nanfang Yu, assistant professor of applied physics at Columbia Engineering.

Read article on the Washington Post website

Rare zoo birth: 3 shades of Gray’s monitor lizard


Posted by Ken Stone in Life on MyNewsLA.com

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Reptile specialists said Monday they successfully hatched three Gray’s monitor lizards at the Los Angeles Zoo, which has occurred at only one other zoo in the Western hemisphere.

Births of the species have been rare in captivity. The Dallas Zoo was able to hatch a Gray’s monitor in 1994, but the lizard died soon afterward.
Gray’s monitor lizards had long been considered extinct in the wild until some were discovered in 1975 on islands in the Philippines.

The species is considered one of the largest lizards in Asia, as the reptiles can grow to be 6 feet long and 20 pounds. The tree-dwelling, olive-green lizards usually dine on fruit and invertebrates.

Read full article on MyNewsLA.com

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Mysterious clumps of earthworms appear on Texas road after flooding


Published in The Independent by Kiran Moodley

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In an occurrence similar to trees cocooned in spider webs in post-flooding Pakistan, or the dreaded happening of “spider rain”, mysterious balls of hundreds of earthworms have appeared at Texan park.

Following record rainfall in May and damaging floods that left hundreds homeless, staff at Texas’ Eisenhower State Park noticed the bizarre phenomenon of clumps of worms lined up along the centre of a road running through the park.

Over 30 piles of the worms were left scattered on the tarmac, leaving staff puzzled as to worms’ behavior, as well as why the balls were mainly located in the middle of the road and not elsewhere.

Read full article on The Independent

Tiniest frog ever, just 0.4 inches long, stuns researchers in Brazilian rainforest

Tiny Brazil Frog

Published on Fox News Latino

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Researchers in Brazil have come across seven new species of colorful, miniature frogs deep in the country’s rain forest.

The frogs, part of the genus Brachycephalus, rarely exceed one centimeter (0.4 inches) in length and are believed to be some of the world’s smallest terrestrial vertebrates.

They come in an array of jellybean-like array of bright colors, with their showy hues meant as a warning to predators of the neurotoxins in the frogs’ skin.

Given their tiny size and the fact that they live in isolated mountain regions – making it hard to traverse to other areas – interbreeding is common and have aided in the evolution of completely separate species from the frogs a mountaintop over.

Read entire article on Fox News Latino

Spider venom may hold chemical keys to new painkillers


(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Ralph Boulton)

(Reuters) – Scientists who analyzed countless chemicals in spider venom say they have identified seven compounds that block a key step in the body’s ability to pass pain signals to the brain.

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Part of the search for new pain killing drugs has focused on the world’s 45,000 species of spiders, many of which kill their prey with venoms that contain hundreds and even thousands of protein molecules, some of which block nerve activity.

Read entire article on Reuters

Athens Scientist Aaron Dossey Is Filling Bellies with Bugs


Aaron Dossey thinks crickets could provide life-sustaining protein to malnourished children in developing countries.

By Allison Floyd

Read complete article on Flagpole Magazine