Posts about nature

Ocean Exploration – Live Feed and Highlights

Nautilus Live provides a live view of the E/V Nautilus as it explores the ocean studying biology, geology, archeology, and more. The site also includes highlights such as this video of a siphonophore.

Siphonophores are actually made up of numerous animals even though they look like one animal. These amazing colonial organisms are made up up many smaller animals called zooids, and can be found floating around the pelagic zone in ocean basins. The Portugese Man O’ War is a famous siphonophore.

Each zooid is an individual, but their integration with each other is so strong, the colony attains the character of one large organism. Indeed, most of the zooids are so specialized, they lack the ability to survive on their own.

Related: Giant Star Fish and More in AntarcticaHydromedusae, Siphonophora, Cnidarians, Ctenophores (what are jellyfish?)Macropinna Microstoma: Fish with a Transparent HeadLarge Crabs Invading Antarctic as Waters Warm

Here is another video from Nautilus, showing a large dumbo octopus:

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USA Designates Large Areas of New Mexico and Arizona as Critical Habitat for Jaguars

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 764,200 acres of critical habitat for the jaguar (Panthera onca) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This habitat is found within Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in Arizona, and Hidalgo County in New Mexico.

The final rule reflects the following changes from the July 1, 2013, critical habit at proposal: exclusion of Tohono O’odham Nation lands (78,067 acres) as a result of the Tribe’s efforts working in partnership with the Service to conserve jaguar and other listed species’ habitat on the Nation’s sovereign land. Exemption of Fort Huachuca lands (15,867 acres) due to the conservation benefits to the jaguar provided in Fort Huachuca’s approved Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan.

The revised proposal was based on an updated habitat modeling report that more accurately reflected habitat essential to jaguars in northwestern Mexico and southwestern United States.

Mexico borderlands area is very different from habitat in Central and South America, where jaguars show a high affinity for lowland wet communities. Jaguars have been documented in arid areas of northwestern Mexico and southwestern United States, including thornscrub, desertscrub, lowland desert, mesquite grassland, Madrean oak woodland and pine oak woodland communities. Critical habitat in the United States contributes to the jaguar’s persistence and recovery across the species’ entire range by providing areas to support individuals that disperse into the United States from the nearest core population in Mexico.

Critical habitat is a term defined in the ESA and identifies geographic areas containing features essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, and has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits.

Related: Jaguars Back in the Southwest USA (2006 post)Big Cats in America (2004)Mountain Lions Returning to the Midwest USA for the First Time in a Century (2012)Backyard Wildlife: Mountain Lion

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How Wolves Changed the Yellowstone Ecosystem

A great short video explaining the dramatic changes to the Yellowstone ecosystem with the re-introduction of wolves. Even the rivers changed.

Related: Light-harvesting Bacterium Discovered in YellowstoneFishless FutureThe Sea Otter storyYellowstone Youth Conservation Corps Polar Bears Playing with HuskiesCurious Cat travel photos of Yellowstone National Park

Why Don’t All Ant Species Replace Queens in the Colony, Since Some Do

My response to: There are other species of ants that do replace the queen, so why did some species not do this?

Basically the method they evolved copes well with losing the queen. Out of various ways of dealing with having a dominant Queen some may lead to replacement if she dies.

There are lots of examples of method is very effective at creating lots of successful offspring but happens to be less than ideal in some situations. Natural selection is pretty amazing and awesome at creating effective genes but we certainly can look at the results sometimes and see improvements that would be useful.

Likely if losing the queen was very common a good way of dealing with that would be found (or that species would be disadvantaged and at risk). If the queen happens to evolve to being very reliable coping with her death becomes less important. If they produce lots of useful offspring but have a less than ideal method of coping with their home colony losing her it is entirely sensible to imagine that species could flourish.

I would imagine species with queens that had shorter lifespans, that invested more in the home colony, that were less effective at setting up new colonies… would be more likely to have better queen replacement strategies/results.

Related: Ants, Ants, AntsE.O. Wilson: Lord of the AntsAmazonian Ant Species is All Female, Reproduces By CloningRoyal Ant GenesHuge Ant Nest

Circumhorizontal Arcs – Fire Rainbows – Cloud Rainbows

photo of rainbow in a cloud

Fire Rainbow, Johor Bahru by John Hunter

Yesterday afternoon I spotted this odd, colorful, spectrum seemingly in a cloud in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The colors are similar to a rainbow but the prism effect takes on a bit different form than a rainbow as I learned with a bit of searching online. I added a short post to this blog, about the phenomenon a few years ago.

photo of a large cloud over Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru under a large cloud which is topped with a fire rainbow.

A circumhorizontal arc is an optical phenomenon – an ice-halo formed by plate-shaped ice crystals in high level cirrus clouds. They are also known as “fire rainbows,” if the cloud is at the right angle to the sun, the crystals will refract the sunlight just as when rainbow is created.

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Did a massive comet explode over Canada 12,900 years ago and start an ice age?

I think it is important to increase scientific literacy. One thing that is greatly misunderstood is the process for new scientific explanations being accepted by the scientific community. It is often quite a drawn out process over years (and for the explanation provided in this paper the debate is certainly still ongoing). And for issues that really shake up past explanations it can take decades and be quite contentious. I think posts tagged with “scientific inquiry” are a very interesting collection to explore.

It is important to understand the difficulty in providing evidence that satisfies the overwhelming majority of the scientific experts in any area. And it is important to understand the claims in one (or numerous papers) are not the accepted proven wisdom of the scientific community. Thankfully the process is rigorous. While mistakes can still be made, the evidence needed to substantiate a scientific hypothesis is significant. Their is still plenty of room for position to color accepted scientific wisdom. A respected professor is often able to make a claim that is more readily accepted and even more-so for to insist the new claims do not provide enough evidence in support of them to accept the new claims and have there position accepted (even when it really shouldn’t be looking just at the facts).

Topper site in middle of comet controversy

Firestone found concentrations of spherules (micro-sized balls) of metals and nano-sized diamonds in a layer of sediment dating 12,900 years ago at 10 of 12 archaeological sites that his team examined. The mix of particles is thought to be the result of an extraterrestrial object, such as a comet or meteorite, exploding in the earth’s atmosphere. Among the sites examined was USC’s Topper, one of the most pristine U.S. sites for research on Clovis, one of the earliest ancient peoples.
“This independent study is yet another example of how the Topper site with its various interdisciplinary studies has connected ancient human archaeology with significant studies of the Pleistocene,” said Goodyear, who began excavating Clovis artifacts in 1984 at the Topper site in Allendale, S.C. “It’s both exciting and gratifying.”
Younger-Dryas is what scientists refer to as the period of extreme cooling that began around 12,900 years ago and lasted 1,300 years. While that brief ice age has been well-documented – occurring during a period of progressive solar warming after the last ice age – the reasons for it have long remained unclear.

Related: Why Wasn’t the Earth Covered in Ice 4 Billion Years Ago – When the Sun was Dimmer?Unless We Take Decisive Action, Climate Change Will Ravage Our PlanetMore Evidence Supporting Einstein’s Theory of GravityAncient Whale Uncovered in Egyptian Desert

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A single spot in the Sahara that provides huge amounts of nutrients to the Amazon

The Bodélé depression: a single spot in the Sahara that provides most of the mineral dust to the Amazon forest

About 40 million tons of dust are transported annually from the Sahara to the Amazon basin. Saharan dust has been proposed to be the main mineral source that fertilizes the Amazon basin, generating a dependence of the health and productivity of the rain forest on dust supply from the Sahara. Here we show that about half of the annual dust supply to the Amazon basin is emitted from a single source: the Bodélé depression located northeast of Lake Chad, approximately 0.5% of the size of the Amazon or 0.2% of the Sahara. Placed in a narrow path between two mountain chains that direct and accelerate the surface winds over the depression, the Bodélé emits dust on 40% of the winter days, averaging more than 0.7 million tons of dust per day.

Even understanding how connected the global ecosystem is, research like this provides amazing reminders of those connections.

Related: The Amazon Rainforest Would Not Be Without Saharan Dust (podcast interview)Ancient Whale Uncovered in Egyptian DesertNigersaurusThe Sahara Wasn’t Always a DesertElusive Saharan cheetah and Sandcat

Domestic Cats Remain Successful Predators

House cats kill more critters than thought by Elizabeth Weise

While only 30% of roaming house cats kill prey — two animals a week on average — they are still slaying more wildlife than previously believed, according to research from the University of Georgia.

The cats brought home just under a quarter of what they killed, ate 30% and left 49% to rot where they died.

The carnage cuts across species. Lizards, snakes and frogs made up 41% of the animals killed, Loyd and fellow researcher Sonia Hernandez found. Mammals such as chipmunks and voles were 25%, insects and worms 20% and birds 12%.

Seeking a window into the hidden lives of cats, the researchers recruited 60 owners in the Athens, Ga., area. Each owner put a small video camera mounted on a break-away collar on the cat in the morning and let the cat out, then removed the camera and downloaded the footage each night.

Interesting data. As I wrote about before you can get your very own cat cam and see what your cat is up to. I posted an interview I did with the engineer that designs and sells the cat cams.

Related: Video Cat CameraPhotos by Fritz the CatSumatran Tiger and Cubs Filmed by Remote Wildlife Monitoring Cameras

Backyard Wildlife: 2 Raptors Over Johor Bahru, Malaysia

photo of 2 raptors soaring in the sky

Two raptors soaring by John Hunter.

I see a fair number of birds around my current abode (a condo in a high rise) in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Getting photos of them isn’t easy though. Here are 2 hawks or eagles? If you can identify them please add a comment (if you have a link to authenticate the identification, even better).

I even have some storks that commute past my windows every morning and evening.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: Robins Attack Holly TreeSharpshinned hawk feeding in backyardBig Lizards in Johor Bahru CBD

Mountain Lions Returning to the Midwest USA for the First Time in a Century

Cougars Are Returning to the U.S. Midwest after More Than 100 Years by John Platt

Cougars once lived throughout most of the U.S. and Canada but state-sponsored bounties put in place to protect livestock and humans from what were often deemed “undesirable predators” led to the cats’ extermination in the east and Midwest.

Things started to turn around for the cougar in the 1960s and 70s when, one by one, the bounties were rescinded and states made the animals a managed-game species. Today they are classified as game species in most states and a “specially protected mammal” in California. This allowed their populations first to grow and then to expand their territories.

Cougars are generalist predators, so LaRue says they can select any habitat with enough prey. They have also been shown to walk hundreds of kilometers in search of new habitat. “They have no problem traveling through cornfields or prairies for long distances if they have to,” she says. But cornfields and prairies aren’t suitable habitat for the cougars to settle in. She says they require forest cover, rugged terrain and dispersal corridors (typically rivers) that allow easy migration for both the cats and their prey.

Mountain Lions are very cool animals. So like our pets but with a size that means they can kill us, if they want. They are not much risk to us though. Occasionally their are attacks (now that the numbers of cougars are growing) but an extremely small number.

Data from the city of Boulder, Colorado:

There has been an average of 0.2 annual human deaths in all of North America from mountain lions between 1900 and 2007. This number is very low compared to annual deaths from black widow spiders (1.4 between 1950-1989), domestic dogs (16 between 1979-1998) and car crashes (45,000 between 1980-2005).

Related: Mountain Lion Foundation timelineBackyard Wildlife: Mountain LionJaguars Back in the Southwest USA
(2006)
Big Cats in America (2004)Snow Leopard Playing in the Snow in Ohio

Elephant Underpass in Kenya

photo of elephant preparing to walk under a highway

Elephant Underpass Reuniting Kenya Herds

The first of its kind for elephants, the underpass will ideally provide a safe corridor for the large mammals to move throughout the Mount Kenya region, where highways, fences, and farmlands have split elephant populations…

Without the underpass, animals that try to move between isolated areas often destroy fences and crops—leading to conflicts with people.

Since its completion in late 2010, the underpass has been a “tremendous success”—hundreds of elephants have been spotted walking through the corridor, according to the conservancy.

It is great to see such solutions put into place. Animals that come into conflict with people (whether it is farmers in Africa, ranchers in the USA or villagers in India) often lose. There is a reason humans dominate the globe. We might be easy to beat in a one on one battle when we can prepare. But when we get frustrated and decide it is time to take action, that is bad news for most mammals (bacteria are only in trouble with our scientists and manufacturers get together and even then the bacteria might not lose).

What we need to do is find ways for the animals to live without too severely impacting people. Because if we don’t eventually the people will take action.

I have been to the game parks in Kenya twice, it is amazing.

Related: Monkey Bridge in KenyaInsightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephantunderwater highway bridgeA Group of Wild Mountain Gorillas Strolling Through Camp Observing Humans Observe the Gorillas

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