Archive for May, 2008

Family Feuds: Why Close Relatives Keep Their Distance In The Animal Kingdom

May 30, 2008

Mammals cannot share their habitat with closely related species because the need for the same kind of food and shelter would lead them to compete to the death, according to new research out on May 28, 2008 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The team behind the study says this is important because the retreat of natural habitats like rainforests caused by habitat destruction and climate change could inadvertently force closely-related species to live closer together than before.

Lead author of the study Natalie Cooper, a postgraduate student in Imperial College London’s Department of Life Sciences, explains: “Mammal species that share a recent common ancestor have similar needs in terms of food and other resources. Our study shows that this has naturally resulted in closely related species keeping their distance from each other in the wild. Without this separation, one species outcompetes the other.

“The danger is that if mankind’s reduction of natural habitats throws these close relatives together in small geographical areas they could struggle to survive.”

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Earthquake pets: To save or not to save?

May 30, 2008

[…]In the Sichuan earthquake, pets were not just the objects of rescue.

In a few cases, they were the heroes who saved people.

The story of Wang Youqiong, a 61-year-old caught in a landslide in the mountains, is a case in point.

After her lower body was stuck under giant rocks, she survived on raindrops and the help of two dogs for eight days.

They licked her face clean to provide her with much needed moisture on her parched lips.

They also barked vigorously whenever they sensed human movement nearby.

Eventually they were able to attract rescuers.[…]

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Mice Mothers Devote Energies To Offspring When Life Is Threatened

May 30, 2008

An Iowa State University researcher has found that sick female deer mice devote their energy to producing healthier offspring.

Lisa Schwanz, a researcher in the department of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, studied the size of offspring for both infected and healthy mice and found that females that had been infected with a parasite produced larger offspring than healthy females.

This finding was unexpected because most mammals tend to focus on their own survival when they are threatened with sickness or infection.

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Cuddling the class pet is cruel, RSCPA tells schools

May 30, 2008

Clutching the school guinea-pig or charting the growth of tadpoles in a jar has, for generations, been many children’s first encounter with the natural world.

But the practice of keeping animals in school is endangered and may even become extinct if RSPCA guidance is enforced.

Allowing small children, and even smaller creatures, to interact during lessons can be cruel, according to the animal welfare charity.

It says that the shrieks and grabbing hands of affectionate but boisterous pupils make the classroom a frightening and noisy place for pets. The health and wellbeing of animals can suffer even further if they are entrusted to children for the weekend, or over the holidays.

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New Threat To Spotted Owl Exposed

May 30, 2008

A new study provides a baseline distribution of blood parasites and strains in Spotted Owls, suggesting a more fragile immune health than previously understood for the already threatened Northern and California Spotted Owls.

The study, co-authored by San Francisco State University biologists, is the first to show a Spotted Owl infected with an avian malaria (Plasmodium) parasite.

“While Plasmodium parasites have been found in thriving owl species, the detection in a Spotted Owl could further challenge the threatened species’ survival,” said Heather Ishak, an SF State graduate biology student who performed the research with Assistant Professor of Biology Ravinder Sehgal and others.

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EPA aims to keep rat poison from children, animals

May 30, 2008

Ecological and conservation groups are praising a move by the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new restrictions on rat poisons to help reduce the threat of accidental exposure to children and wildlife.

“We are very happy that the EPA has done all it can to get these products off of the consumer market,” said Michael Fry, director of conservation advocacy for the American Bird Conservancy. “By putting these restrictions in place, they are allowing a compromise to be made between themselves and organizations who have been working on this problem for a long time.”

The EPA’s new measures, which were handed down Thursday, require that rat poisons be kept in bait stations above ground and in containers that meet agency standards.

Loose bait, such as pellets, and the four most hazardous types of pesticides, known as “second-generation anticoagulants,” will no longer be sold for personal use.

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World’s Rarest Rhinos Make First Video Trap Appearance — Then Toss Camera

May 30, 2008

After just a month in operation, specially designed video cameras installed to capture wildlife footage in the jungles of South East Asia have twice recorded remarkable images of a mother and child pair of the world’s rarest rhino.

But the success was not without incident as after a short inspection, the rhino mother charged the camera installation in Ujung Kulon National Park and sent it flying.

“With fewer than 60 Javan rhinos left in the wild, we believe this footage was well worth the risk to our equipment,” said Adhi Rachmat Hariyadi, who leads WWF-Indonesia’s project in Ujung Kulon National Park. “It’s very unusual to catch a glimpse of the Javan rhinos deep inside the rain forest. The motion triggered infrared video traps are a useful way to observe them and the ways they use their habitat in a more detailed way.”

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Animals fare better in zoos as experts learn more

May 30, 2008

Scientists are learning more about how zoo animals feel and how a toy or a little training can sometimes help cut the endless pacing and other repetitive behaviours that are often assumed to be signs of distress.

Some big cats want a high perch from which to view visitors, polar bears want to scratch for hidden caches of food, and male barn swallows could use a tail extension to appeal to potential mates, according to experts from zoos and universities meeting on Friday at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo.

Visitors who see a cheetah pacing or a polar bear swimming in circles might assume they are stressed by confinement. But they may simply be expending excess energy or soothing themselves, experts said interviews at the symposium.

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Did Walking On Two Feet Begin With A Shuffle?

May 29, 2008

Somewhere in the murky past, between four and seven million years ago, a hungry common ancestor of today’s primates, including humans, did something novel. While temporarily standing on its rear feet to reach a piece of fruit, this protohominid spotted another juicy morsel in a nearby shrub and began shuffling toward it instead of dropping on all fours, crawling to the shrub and standing again.

A number of reasons have been proposed for the development of bipedal behavior, or walking on two feet, and now researchers from the University of Washington and Johns Hopkins University have developed a mathematical model that suggests shuffling emerged as a precursor to walking as a way of saving metabolic energy.

“Metabolic energy is produced by what an animal eats, enabling it to move. But it is a limited resource, particularly for young-bearing females which have to take care of and feed their offspring. Finding food is vitally important, and an animal needs to save energy and use it efficiently,” said Patricia Kramer, a UW research assistant professor of anthropology and co-author of a recent study.

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Keep your pets’ whistles wet

May 29, 2008

With forecasters predicting a hot summer (despite winter insisting on making curtain calls this year), keeping your pet well-watered is going to be, as important than ever.

And that goes for whether you’re at home, or taking your pet for a walk.

“Dogs, especially in the summer, will play past the point of exhaustion and they get into the danger of being dehydrated,” says Robert Church, owner of Petland Market Mall. “You want to make sure you’re always paying attention and not overworking your dogs.”

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Common Aquatic Animal’s Genome Can Capture Foreign DNA

May 29, 2008

Long viewed as straitlaced spinsters, sexless freshwater invertebrate animals known as bdelloid rotifers may actually be far more promiscuous than anyone had imagined: Scientists at Harvard University have found that the genomes of these common creatures are chock-full of DNA from plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals.

The finding, described May 30 in the journal Science, could take the sex out of sexual reproduction, showing that bdelloid rotifers, all of which are female, can exchange genetic material via other means.

“Our result shows that genes can enter the genomes of bdelloid rotifers in a manner fundamentally different from that which, in other animals, results from the mating of males and females,” says Matthew S. Meselson, Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

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Dognappers take pit bulls from shelter: Police believe animals stolen for dogfights; four arrested

May 29, 2008

Chewie, the tough and nimble pit bull kept for over a year at the county’s animal shelter as evidence in a felony dogfighting trial, got a brief taste of freedom Sunday night.

But it wasn’t the kind that animal welfare advocates, who have been trying to find sanctuaries for Chewie and seven other battle-scarred dogs dubbed the “Great Eight,” had been hoping for.

Four intruders broke into the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service twice over the Memorial Day weekend, stealing two pit bulls Saturday night and nabbing Chewie on Sunday.

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Scientists Announce Top 10 New Species In Last Year

May 28, 2008

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and an international committee of taxonomists — scientists responsible for species exploration and classification — has just announced the top 10 new species described in 2007.

On the list are an ornate sleeper ray, with a name that sucks: Electrolux; a 75-million-year-old giant duck-billed dinosaur; a shocking pink millipede; a rare, off-the-shelf frog; one of the most venomous snakes in the world; a fruit bat; a mushroom; a jellyfish named after its victim; a life-imitates-art “Dim” rhinoceros beetle; and the “Michelin Man” plant.

The taxonomists are also issuing a SOS — State of Observed Species report card on human knowledge of Earth’s species. In it, they report that 16,969 species new to science were discovered and described in 2006. The SOS report was compiled by ASU’s International Institute for Species Exploration in partnership with the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, the International Plant Names Index, and Thompson Scientific, publisher of Zoological Record.

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Extreme Animal Rights Groups: Do They Really Help Animals?

May 28, 2008

More than half of US households own a pet. Most are too busy to research the current politics behind the animal rights versus animal welfare movement.

Animal welfare, AW,  movement wants to improve the conditions of animals, animal rights, AR,  movement, in the long run, is against any and all animal use, even as pets.

The problem is, many animal rights groups are wolf in sheep clothing, pretending to be animal welfare. But upon close inspection it is clear they don’t do anything for the animals, most money is spent in high salaries, fancy offices and lobbying.

These sneaky groups use anything for their agenda to separate honest animal lovers from their money…

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Mind Over Matter: Monkey Feeds Itself Using Its Brain

May 28, 2008

A monkey has successfully fed itself with fluid, well-controlled movements of a human-like robotic arm by using only signals from its brain, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine report in the journal Nature. This significant advance could benefit development of prosthetics for people with spinal cord injuries and those with “locked-in” conditions such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“Our immediate goal is to make a prosthetic device for people with total paralysis,” said Andrew Schwartz, Ph.D., senior author and professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Ultimately, our goal is to better understand brain complexity.”

Previously, work has focused on using brain-machine interfaces to control cursor movements displayed on a computer screen. Monkeys in the Schwartz lab have been trained to command cursor movements with the power of their thoughts.

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Humane Society forced to enthanize animals to combat disease

May 28, 2008

The Humane Society of Hall County was forced to euthanize most of the animals in its shelter Thursday in order to control an outbreak of respiratory disease.

Humane society president Rick Aiken said the illness was a contagious but typically non-fatal virus similar to kennel cough, or bordatella. Ironically, the society recently received a grant to vaccinate incoming animals against bordatella.

“Unfortunately, if an animal comes in and is already incubating the virus, the vaccine doesn’t do any good,” Aiken said. “And as a full-service shelter, we can’t turn animals away. We have to take everything that comes in.”

Even though the illness is not fatal, and the society provided free treatment for any adopted pet who became ill, Aiken said some owners were upset about adopting an animal that turned out to be sick.

“We had to make a decision,” he said. “Three or four days ago, we started isolating new animals that came in, and only one person could take care of them. Then, all the animals that had not been isolated would be euthanized.”

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Ranchers get OK to graze animals on protected land

May 27, 2008

The U.S. Agriculture Department Tuesday announced it would help livestock producers struggling with record feed prices by letting growers, nationwide, plant hay and graze animals on millions of fragile acres set aside in a landmark conservation program.

USDA Secretary Ed Schafer said the initiative could bring up to 24 million acres of land into use. That could provide 18 million tons of feed and forage, worth $1.2 billion. Farmers who participate will still have to protect the most sensitive areas, like wetlands and buffer strips along streambeds.

Further, the program will be available only after primary nesting season for birds who depend on the conservation acreage, particularly in the Prairie Pothole region of the Dakotas and Montana.

“(This) will significantly increase the amount of feed available to the livestock industry,” Schafer said.

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Giant Flying Reptiles Preferred To Walk

May 27, 2008

New research into gigantic flying reptiles has found that they weren’t all gull-like predators grabbing fish from the water but that some were strongly adapted for life on the ground.

Pterosaurs lived during the age of dinosaurs 230 to 65 million years ago. A new study by researchers at the University of Portsmouth on one particular type of pterosaur, the azhdarchids, claims they were more likely to stalk animals on foot than to fly.

Until now virtually all pterosaurs have been imagined by palaeontologists to have lived like modern seabirds: as gull- or pelican-like predators that flew over lakes and oceans, grabbing fish from the water. But a study of azhdarchid anatomy, footprints and the distribution of their fossils by Mark Witton and Dr Darren Naish shows that this stereotype does not apply to all flying reptiles and some were strongly adapted for terrestrial life.

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Jane Goodall urges Nobel prize for sparing lab animals

May 27, 2008

The primatologist Dr Jane Goodall will today propose that a Nobel prize be set up for advancing medical knowledge without experimentation on animals. The scientist, who pioneered research on chimpanzees in the wild, says moving away from animal research is a “goal towards which all civilised nations should be moving”.

She will speak at an event organised by animal rights groups and MEPs to put pressure on the European commission to review directive 86/609, which governs animal research across the EU.

“As we move into the 21st century we need a new mind-set,” she said. “We should admit that the infliction of suffering on beings who are capable of feeling is ethically problematic and that the amazing human brain should set to work to find new ways of testing and experimenting that will not involve the use of live, sentient beings.

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Male Seahorses Are Nature’s Mr. Mom, Researchers Say

May 27, 2008

Male seahorses are nature’s real-life Mr. Moms — they take fathering to a whole new level: Pregnancy.

Although it is common for male fish to play the dominant parenting role, male pregnancy is a complex process unique to the fish family Syngnathidae, which includes pipefish, seahorses and sea dragons. Texas A&M University evolutionary biology researcher Adam Jones and colleagues in his lab are studying the effects of male pregnancy on sex roles and sexual selection of mates and are trying to understand how the novel body structures necessary for male pregnancy evolved. By doing this, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for changes in the structure of organisms over time.

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