Smaller than a pencil tip... but this baby frog could one day save your life

By Daily Mail Reporter

The miniature frog grips a pencil tip at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Portsmouth, where dozens of the rare but lethal species have been bred

He is less than a centimetre long and is gripping for all its worth to the tip of a pencil. But don't be fooled by the size of this baby 'poison dart' frog, its skin is 200 times more toxic than morphine.

The frogs, among the most poisonous amphibians on the planet, are found only in the wild on the western slopes of the Andes in Ecuador, South America.

But now dozens of the rare species have been bred at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Portsmouth, Hampshire.

When adult they turn bright red with three usually greenish fluorescent stripes, but grow to only a centimetre in length.

Aquarium spokeswoman Jenna MacFarlane said: 'These beautiful frogs are under increasing threat in the wild due to loss of habitat and pollution and we are delighted to have been able to breed them successfully here.

'It's imperative we are able to mimic exactly their wild environment in order for the species to thrive in captivity and it's a real achievement they are breeding so successfully.

'They've passed the critical stage of development from tadpoles into froglets and they now look like perfect miniature replicas of their parents.'

Dwarfed by a ten pence piece, the frog's skin has 200 times more toxin than morphine

The World Conservation Union considers the phantasmal poison frog to be endangered, which means that it faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

The species is now thought to survive in only seven sites on mountains in parts of Ecuador.

Ms McFarlane said: 'Despite their deadly status, it is hoped that the phantasmal poison frog could one day help save lives.

'Scientists have discovered that an extract from the skin of the phantasmal poison frog Epipedrobates tricolor can block pain 200 times more effectively than morphine, and without addiction and other serious side effects.'

source: dailymail

Soaring sparrowhawk population 'leads to shock decline in humble sparrow'

Sparrowhawks, left, have increased dramatically in numbers, but scientists have blamed the birds of prey for the 65 per cent drop in sparrow populations

Their alarming decline has been blamed on everything from gardeners' pesticides to mobile phone masts.

But it seems one of the sparrow's oldest enemies could be the real culprit behind its shocking fall in numbers.

Soaring numbers of sparrowhawks have been killing the sparrows off, say scientists.

A report claims to show the strongest evidence yet that the birds of prey are to blame for the 65 per cent fall in Britain's sparrows since the 1970s.

But the finding has angered other bird experts, who say it will lead to the unfair persecution of sparrowhawks.

The hawks themselves were wiped out over much of Britain in the 1950s because of organochlorine pesticides such as DDT.

These weakened the birds' eggshells, causing the chicks inside to die - which led to populations plummeting.

But since the chemicals were banned in the 1970s, their numbers have quadrupled.
Dr Christopher Bell, anr Bell, an
ecologist who led the research with colleagues from Cambridge University and the British Trust for Ornithology, said the research overturned previous assumptions that sparrowhawks had no effect on sparrow populations.

He said urban sparrows were easily picked off because of their bold behaviour. The study, published in The Auk, the journal of the American Ornithologists Union, also explains why urban sparrows have disappeared from richer parts of cities - while continuing to thrive in poorer areas.

Dr Bell said: 'This is because the affluent parts of cities provide safe nesting places for sparrowhawks in the large gardens of grand houses, and in private grounds and restricted areas of parkland, whereas no such nesting opportunities occur in poorer districts.'

Sparrowhawks started to move into urban areas in the late 1980s and 1990s, which coincides with urban sparrow declines. However,
bird charities such as the RSPB say there is no evidence they are to blame for songbird populations falling.

Instead, they blame changes in farming - such as the switch from spring to autumn sowing crops, the loss of stubble over winter and the increased use of selective pesticides.

source: dailymail

Revealed: How our pet cats, dogs and even fish are right or left 'handed'

By Fiona Macrae

Paw preference: Female dogs favour their right front paw and males choose their left, according to the study

Cats, dogs, parrots and even fish are right or left-handed, scientists have revealed.

The discovery was made by psychologists from Queen's University Belfast, who as part of their research played with 42 pet cats for weeks on end.

They found that females are 'right-handed' while toms favour the left.

Dogs are the same - until they are spayed or neutered, when the difference disappears, suggesting hormones play a role in left or right-handedness

The scientists also reported that parrots will pick up objects with their 'dominant' foot, toads are mostly right-handed and fish will have a preference to left or right when they dodge a predator - and even humpback whales prefer the right side of their jaws when feeding.

And dogs wag their tails to the right when relaxed and to the left when agitated, this week's New Scientist reports.

The experts said: 'Male and female cats differ in their behavioural patterns, for example hunting styles and parental care, and it is possible that these place different demands on motor functioning.'

Female felines use their right paw while toms tend to use their left

Dr Culum Brown, a behavioural ecologist, said they also tested the theory with parrots: 'Anything they are interested in they will pick up with their dominant foot.'

Curiously, those parrots that favour their left or right rather than liking both equally, have been shown to be brainier.

With goldfish, the way they dodge predators is likely to allow them to use a specific eye and side of the brain to deal with the threat.

To test it out, place an unfamiliar object in the centre of your fish tank and watch which way your pet swims round it.

Toads, however, prefer their right, and pounce more quickly on morsels of food that enter their line of vision from their right.

Humpback whales prefer to use the right side of their jaws to scape up sand eels from the ocean floor.

While there are advantages in following the crowd, it can also be good to be different.

For instance, those humans or animals that are left-handed, or pawed, in a right-handed world, have the surprise on their side when they launch an attack.

New Scientist says: 'Numerous studies have found that left-handers have an advantage in many sports involving a direct opponent, such as tennis or boxing, and the advantages may run to more serious encounters: many sports are forms of ritualised conduct, after all.'

source: dailymail

The extraordinary moment hungry lions realised they had bitten off more than they could chew... when 300 buffaloes charged to save calf

By Mail Foreign Service

When buffalo attack: The three lions manage to bring down the calf - but are charged by the herd of buffalo

After tracking a herd of Cape buffalo through the scorched African bush, these three young lions finally managed to bring down a calf and were prepared to strike the killer blow.

But they had reckoned without their prey's furious relatives... all 300 of them.

These incredible pictures show how the 1,500lb buffalo charged the lions away from the calf and then tried desperately to revive it.

But with ferocious roars the lions returned, charging their massive adversaries as the calf changes hands nearly 11 times in 35 minutes.

Eventually the herd realised the calf has been killed and gave up their fight to save its life.

The incredible scenes were captured on camera by Kent Lawson, 65, who was on safari with his wife at Kings Camp in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, near Kruger National Park, South Africa.

The software entrepreneur said his party was so close to the action the lions actually used their open-topped Land Rover to hide behind when the buffalo charged.

Mr Lawson said: 'We felt that this whole thing was going on right on top of us, the lions would hide at the back of the Land Rover when they were charged, it was kind of amazing.

'It really was a sense of awe, I have been to Africa before but this was the first time I have seen anything like this. It was such a jaw-dropping experience and I was just trying to take it all in.

'One minute we were watching these lions hunting quietly and slowly and majestically and then all Hell broke loose.

'We came across this scene of incredible violence and tension and confrontation.'

Mr Lawson and other tourists had been tracking the three lions through the African bush before the action unfolded.

He said; 'These three males are well-known to the park because they are unusual in the way they cooperate so well together.

'Usually a male will try to acquire a pride and use that to hunt, but these three are working together to hunt kind of like a group of bachelors.

Desperate battle: After driving the lions away, the buffalo attempt to revive the calf by nudging it

'There were eleven changes of control of the calf and there was even a time when the lions went for another Cape buffalo.

'It was all faints back and forth between the lions and the buffalo and there was such an amazing amount of power demonstrated by both.

'It sounds bad but we believe for most of the time the calf was still alive and that's why the herd was trying to rescue it.

'At the end some very large buffalo that came up and saw the lions off before seeing the calf was dead.

'Our guide said these were the big enforcers of the herd and if they had been there at the start the calf could have been saved.

'They were frightfully large, the size of their horns is just absolutely massive, and both the lions as well as the buffalo would run right up to the Land Rover.

'Buffalo are thought to be the most dangerous animal in Africa, they kill more people than any other.

'They are pretty smart and if they feel they are being abused by the humans they will circle around and attack the humans from the rear.'

Kent, who lives in Connecticut and New York with his wife Carol said she hopes to capture the moment herself in a painting.

He said: 'She said to me at the time 'this is going to be a painting', she is an artist and has painted great scenes before from Africa of giraffes and elephants at a watering hole.

'Before the hunt these lions were so majestic in the way they were standing and then incredibly playful, gentle and affectionate with each other.'

Snatched back: The buffalo eventually abandoned the calf after realising it was dead, leaving the lions to their feast

source: dailymail

Does Pansy's death prove chimps really do grieve?

By Michael Hanlon

The eyes have it: Chimps are complex creatures

Captures on camera, it was a tender scene of love and loss.

As the ailing matriarch slipped gently away, she was tended by a small gathering of friends and relatives.

They fondly stroked her head, held her hand and gently fussed around her, ensuring she was comfortable in her final hours.

And when she finally passed, they staged a moving vigil beside her body.
So far, so touching. But what makes the sad death of fiftysomething Pansy truly extraordinary is that she was a chimpanzee.

And so were those so devotedly tending and mourning her.

Indeed, the footage of Pansy’s death from old age at a Scottish safari park in 2008, which was released by scientists for the first time this week, amounts to an extraordinary - and deeply unsettling - insight into the inner world of humankind’s closest living relative.

It is often claimed that while we share 99 per cent of our DNA with chimpanzees, they are incapable of feeling the complex emotions we humans so often take for granted. This new footage, however, will force us to reconsider.

For the recording reveals that as Pansy, the oldest chimpanzee in the UK, started to weaken - and was given a shot of pain-killers by her human keepers at the Blair Drummond Safari Park - her fellow apes huddled around, and stared intently at her face.

As she grew weaker, the three other chimps - her daughter, and an unrelated male and female - gently lifted her head and shook her shoulders to see if she was dead. The apes kept her clean and comfortable, and looked to see if she was still breathing.

One was filmed gently shaking Pansy, as if to revive her, and they all took turns to affectionately caress her. One clutched her hand. ‘It is difficult to avoid thinking that they were checking for signs of life,’ says Dr Jim Anderson, an animal behaviour scientist at Stirling University.

Alasdair Gillies, a zookeeper at the park, said that observing the dying ape was ‘one of the most moving experiences of my life... they behaved just like a group of human friends would if a friend died’.

Tender: Pansy's friends gather around her as she dies

After Pansy died, her clearly distraught daughter spent a long, restless night lying next to her late mother’s corpse. And in the days that followed, the whole group was visibly depressed and subdued, and avoided the place where Pansy had passed.

The footage of Pansy’s serene - and scientifically astonishing - death formed the basis for a report published in the journal Current Biology. In the same edition, another extraordinary sequence is described, this one filmed in the wild, in the Bossou forest of Guinea, West Africa.

Pansy the chimp, shortly after she died. Footage taken at a wildlife park showed the animals apparently comforting terminally ill chimp

Here, Dr Dora Biro, an Oxford University scientist, witnessed the harrowing demise of two infant chimpanzees. And how, after their death, their mothers carried them around for several weeks.

‘We observed the deaths of two young infants,’ says Dr Biro. ‘In each case, our observations showed a remarkable response by chimpanzee mothers to the death of their infants: they continued to carry the corpses for weeks, even months, following death.’

Naturally, in the fierce West African heat, the babies’ corpses deteriorated rapidly, and in time mummified - drying out completely

Despite this, the mothers cared for them as if they were still alive; they carried them everywhere during the day, groomed them and took them into their nests. But this did not seem to be a case of demented grief or fantasy.

Instead, says Dr Biro, the ape mothers appeared to be using this extended period to ‘let go’ of the infants gradually. They were essentially ‘mourning’.

And it seemed to work. For as the period of grieving went on, the mother chimps gradually became more willing to be apart from the bodies of their dead babies.

Eventually, they appeared to come to terms with the deaths and even allowed other chimps to carry off the corpses.

‘How they perceive death is a fascinating question,’ Biro says, ‘Our observations confirm the existence of an extremely powerful bond between mothers and their offspring which can persist, remarkably, even after the death of the infant.’ This research, she goes on to suggest, may even shed light on the evolution of human grief

Sad: Chippy the chimp looks downcast while clutching a banana in an enclosure

The heart-rending behaviour of these chimpanzees - both in the wild and in captivity - surely goes some way beyond what is often labelled as ‘instinct’ and forces us, yet again, to confront the true nature of animal minds and their possible sentience - self-awareness, a knowledge of their own existence and of the plight of others.

The fact that chimps are clever, of course, is not news. They are closely related to humans, share most of our genes and have big brains. They use tools, can pick up the rudiments of human language (via signing) and have even been trained to communicate using computer touch-screens.

BUT it is only now becoming clear just how extraordinary and advanced the chimp mind is - and how many other species may have brains not entirely unlike our own as well.

In fact, grief, which even a decade ago was thought to be a purely human trait, may not be confined to primates, nor even to mammals.

Earlier this year, for example, evidence was published that magpies, members of the highly intelligent crow family, not only appear to grieve for their dead, but also carry out what can only be described as funeral rituals.

Chippy and Rosie (back) on chimp island. They showed a level of self-awareness, a knowledge of their own existence and of the plight of others

In one case, a group of four magpies took it in turns to approach the corpse of their dead comrade. Two even flew off to fetch pieces of grass, which they then carefully laid beside their comrade, as if they were funereal wreaths of flowers.

Elephants will also spend weeks guarding a fallen comrade, gently prodding the corpse with their trunks and appearing lost in grief.

Suggesting animals grieve, even animals as clever as chimpanzees, would have been dismissed as hopelessly sentimental just 30 years ago.

But since then, a whole plethora of studies, especially of apes, has forced us to completely reappraise our understanding of the animal mind.

Dr James Anderson (right) from Stirling University with PHD student Louise C Lock (left) and head keeper from Blair Drummond Safari Park Alasdair Gillies (centre). They wrote a report about Pansy's death

Indeed, the more we learn about them, the more we discover that animals are more, not less, like us. Not only are they cleverer than we once believed, they are also more emotional, even self-aware.

They can use tools, language, recognise themselves in mirrors - an important test of cognitive ability - and comprehend the notion of past, present and future (it was once almost the definition of the animal mind that it lived only in the present).

Now, it seems, we have discovered that they may also be able to comprehend, in quite a profound way, the concept of death. And that brings us and our fellow creatures closer together than ever before.

source: dailymail

Don't even think about it! The fearless squirrel who fights off crows determined to eat his dead friend

Don't mess with me: The squirrel eyeballs the crow which towers over him as he stands over his friend's dead body

Loyalty among the larger creatures of the animal kingdom is well documented.
But faithfulness and friendship from a squirrel?

A remarkable video has appeared showing just that, with one scaring off several crows as he protects the dead body of his little mate.

His stand against overwhelming odds and the formidable devotion shown by such a small animal has been acknowledged by over half-a-million hits on the video-sharing website YouTube.

The clip begins with him tentatively edging towards a solitary crow which is preparing to feast on the carcass which lies on a road.

Unsettled by the squirrel's approach the crow backs off and, emboldened, the rodent edges forward until he is standing over his friend's body.

When the crow lurches forward to take a peck, the squirrel jumps and frightens it off.

The squirrel continually waves his tail in warning but then another crow steps up fancying its chances. The plucky rodent then stands on its hind legs, poised for a stand-off.

With its adversaries retreating, the brave animal takes the opportunity to wash its paws in preparation for the next bout.

Three against one: A group of crows, collectively known as a 'murder', get increasingly frustrated as the squirrel refuses to back down

As the film progresses another crow appears and then another. The collective term for a crow is a 'murder' and it seems that is what they have in mind for the feisty character as he frustrates their every move.

Squirrels have a reputation for displaying an admirable fighting streak.

The Daily Mail revealed last year how a dog seemed to have got more than it bargained for after pouncing on a baby squirrel it found on the ground.

Moments before the hapless baby would have been torn apart, its mother appeared to leap off a nearby tree, attacking the surprised dog.

Using its sharp teeth and claws, the squirrel tore into its canine opponent and distracted it so the baby could escape to freedom.

Which just may go to show - never mess with a squirrel.

source: dailymail

How caring chimps mourn the death of a loved one just like humans

By David Derbyshire

Tender: Pansy's 'friends' and family crowd around her - top left in this view - in the final stages of her illness

Anyone who has peered into the eyes of a chimpanzee knows that our closest relatives in the animal kingdom are intelligent and thoughtful creatures.

And now an extraordinary study has shown just how alike we are.

For the first time, scientists have captured on video a group of captive chimps caring for a dying elderly female, Pansy

The researchers say the studies show that chimps - who share 98.5 per cent of their DNA with humans - have a 'highly developed' awareness of death.

They even believe the research sheds light on the origins of our own attitudes to dying

When the keepers realised that Pansy - who was thought to have been in her sixties - was close to death, they gave her painkillers and filmed the group.

As Pansy grew weaker, the three other chimps gently lifted her head and shook her shoulders to see if she was dead.

Some stroked her head and made her comfortable. Others kept her clean and checked her regularly to see if she was still breathing.

Staying close: The chimps remain with Pansy - seen at bottom left in these pictures - stroking her head and making her comfortable. They also kept her clean and checked her regularly to see if she was still breathing

Zookeeper Alasdair Gillies, who published an account of the mourning with colleagues from Stirling University, said: 'On the day she died, she crawled across into her daughter's nest, which was an incredible feat considering she was close to death.

'I decided to let the other chimpanzees in so that they could be together and she could die with dignity. It felt like the right thing to do.

'What followed was incredible. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It looked like they were comforting her by grooming her intently.

'They behaved just like a group of human friends would if a friend died.'

Rosie (back), Pansy's daughter, seen here with Chippy, lay beside her mother after she died, holding her body tight

Chippy the chimp in one of the enclosures. Footage taken at a wildlife park in Scotland showed the animals apparently comforting terminally ill chimp Pansy in the hours before she died

Sharing our DNA: Researchers believe the behaviour of chimps like Chippy shed light on the origins of our own attitudes towards death

Once they discovered she had stopped breathing, the three left the enclosure.

Pansy's daughter, Rosie, later returned, lay down and slept face to face with her mother for the night.

For four weeks the chimps were clearly depressed. They slept badly and demanded attention from their keepers. And they refused to sleep on the platform where Pansy had died for five nights.

Mr Gillies added: 'It was astonishing. When we opened the door after Pansy died, the atmosphere was eerie, you could cut it with a knife.'

The elderly chimpanzee arrived at the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park in Stirlingshire in 1979 and lived at the zoo with another mother and child - 60-year-old Blossom and her 22-year-old son Chippie.

Sad moment: Pansy the chimp, shortly after she died - her family were seen to be mourning for weeks afterwards

Dr Jim Anderson of Stirling University, a co-author of the paper in Current Biology, said: 'We found it very difficult to avoid seeing parallels between how we know human's respond to losing a close companion or family members, and what the chimps were doing.'

'This is shedding light on the origins of how humans respond to death today.'

A second study shows how chimpanzees cope with a baby's death.

Researchers, led by Dr Dora Biro of Oxford University, watched two mothers carry the bodies of their dead infants with them for weeks - caring and tending for them like real babies.

The researchers believe the mothers - studied in the forests surrounding Bossou, Guinea - used the time to adapt to the death of the infant.

This behaviour shows just how strong the bond is between chimpanzee mothers and their offspring, that it carries on even after death.

The mothers groomed their babies and took them into the nests. Eventually they allowed others in the group to handle them and tolerating longer and longer periods of separation.

After a few weeks they allow other infants and young chimps to carry off and play with the mummified corpses.

source: dailymail

Three-day-old pinto stallion named Einstein born at Tiz a miniature Horse Farm

Three-day-old pinto stallion named Einstein born at Tiz a miniature Horse Farm Friday feeds with its mother Tiz Fenisse in Barnstead, N.H. , Sunday, April 25,2010. The diminutive horse born in New Hampshire could lay claim to the world record for lightweight foal. The pinto stallion named Einstein weighed just 6 pounds and measured 14 inches in height when he was born Friday in Barnstead, N.H. Those proportions fit a human baby just about right but are downright tiny for horse, even a miniature breed like Einstein.

*** Scroll down to watch Video ***

Dr. Rachel Wagner watches a holds a ruler next to her three day old pinto stallion named Einstein in Barnstead, N.H. , Sunday, April 25,2010. The diminutive horse born in New Hampshire could lay claim to the world record for lightweight foal. The pinto stallion named Einstein weighed just 6 pounds and measured 14 inches in height when he was born Friday in Barnstead, N.H. Those proportions fit a human baby just about right but are downright tiny for horse, even a miniature breed like Einstein.

Four-year-old Garrett Mullen pets three-day-old pinto stallion named Einstein in Barnstead, N.H. , Sunday, April 25,2010. The diminutive horse born in New Hampshire could lay claim to the world record for lightweight foal. The pinto stallion named Einstein weighed just 6 pounds and measured 14 inches in height when he was born Friday in Barnstead, N.H. Those proportions fit a human baby just about right but are downright tiny for horse, even a miniature breed like Einstein.

source: daylife

Let osprey! RSPB use decoy nests and 2ft polystyrene birds to attract more of rare species

By Daily Mail Reporter

Decoy: Mark Singleton of the RSPB puts the finishing touches to the fake Osprey nest, complete with plastic birds, in the Arne nature reserve in Dorset

A nature reserve in Dorset is the first to employ the unusual method of using fake osprey nets, complete with life-size polystyrene birds, to boost the numbers of the rare birds of prey in Britain.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) came up with the novel idea of putting 'show homes' at the top of a number of high trees in a bid to attract more ospreys, which migrate to Africa for the winter and return for the British summer.

Ospreys, which have a wingspan of 7ft, have been known to stop off for a rest on the south coast of England and it is hoped they will see the decoy site as they fly past and set up home there.

Officials even splashed the 6ft wide nests with flecks of white paint to mimic bird droppings to make them appear as real as possible.

Mark Singleton, the RSPB visitor manager at Arne, who had the heady task of installing the five nests on the top of the 40ft high trees, along with the 2ft tall model birds, said: 'This is a really exciting experiment and one that has worked at other locations in Europe.

'We are hopeful that before long we might just have some breeding ospreys of our own.'

Experiment: It is hoped the decoy nests and fake birds will encourage ospreys to settle in England

Roy Dennis, a leading osprey expert, has helped get the project off the ground.

He said: 'The birds and the nests will act as an attraction for ospreys.

'A bird flying at 500 or 1,000ft will see the model birds and they may come down for a look rather than fly straight past.'

The Arne nature reserve was chosen as the first test location for the nests because of its close proximity to Poole harbour, which is packed full of fish - the ospreys' favourite food.

If the experiment works and ospreys are encouraged to breed, then it is likely the project will be expanded to other areas of the country.

Ospreys became extinct in the UK in the early 20th century but were re-introduced in Scotland in the 1950s.

source: dailymail

Baffling death of rare Siberian tiger Malyshka at zoo

By Daily Mail Reporter

Mysterious death: Malyshka drowned in her enclosure at Banham Zoo

One of the world's rarest tigers has died in mysterious circumstances at a zoo.

Malyshka, a Siberian tiger which was pregnant with three cubs, drowned in her enclosure at Banham Zoo, near Diss, Norfolk - even though the predators are excellent swimmers.

The five-year-old - mother to 17-month-old cubs Vasya and Kuzma - was found by keepers in shallow water.

She also shared her enclosure with 15-year-old male tiger Mischa, described as 'good natured and placid'.

Zoo director Martin Goymour said a post mortem examination had confirmed Malyshka had drowned, but the cause of the accident was a mystery.

He said: 'Malyshka was such a strong and healthy tigress and showed no signs of external or internal injuries.

'The pool in the enclosure is not deep or considered hazardous

Motherless: Malyshka's 17-month-old cubs Vasya and Kuzma

'All the zoo staff, particularly her keepers, are very much saddened by her loss.
'We are professional in what we do in animal care at all times, but something like this hits home.

'We need to understand whether there was any medical condition that may have caused her to drown.'

Malyshka was among the top five most crucial breeding females in Europe.

There are believed to be no more than 450 adult Siberian tigers left in the wild. Tigers in captivity typically live for 16 to 20 years.

Malyshka showed no signs of injury.

Mr Goymour said the zoo would look to bring another female into the enclosure to continue its commitment to the survival of the breed.

source: dailymail

Whale droppings 'combat global warming by allowing oceans to absorb more carbon dioxide'

By Daily Mail Reporter

Whale droppings naturally fertilise surface waters with iron-rich excrement, allowing the whole eco-system to send more carbon down into deep waters, scientists believe

Whale droppings have emerged as a natural ocean fertiliser which could help climate change by allowing the Southern Ocean to absorb more carbon dioxide, scientists have found.

Whales naturally fertilise surface waters with iron-rich whale excrement, allowing the whole eco-system to send more carbon down into deep waters, new research from the Australian Antarctic Division suggests.

'The plants love it and it actually becomes a way of taking carbon out of the atmosphere,' Antarctic scientist Steve Nicol said, adding the droppings appear as a plume of solids and liquids.

A larger population of baleen whales and krill would boost the productivity of the whole Southern Ocean ecosystem and could improve the absorption of carbon dioxide, blamed for global warming.

Iron is a limited micro-nutrient in the Southern Ocean, but recent experiments have found that adding soluble iron to surface waters helps promote much-needed phytoplankton algal blooms.

Iron is contained in algae in the surface waters where plants grow, but there is a constant rain of iron-rich particles falling into deep waters.

When krill eat the algae, and whales eat the krill, the iron ends up in whale poo, and the iron levels are kept up in surface waters where it is most needed.

Dr Nicol said: 'We reckon whale poo is probably 10 million times more concentrated with iron than sea water.

'The system operates at a high level when you have this interaction between the krill, the whales and the algae and they maintain the system at a very high level of production. So it's a self sustaining system.'

Dr Nicol said the idea to research whale droppings came from a casual pub chat among Antarctic scientists in Australia's island state of Tasmania. He said it was not yet known how much poo it would take have a significant impact on the Southern Ocean.

source: dailymail

Caught in the act: The baboon bag-snatcher seen craftily raiding British tourists' car

By Mail Foreign Service

Sneaky monkey: The cunning male baboon Fred clutches Hazel Murray's handbag at Miler's Point, South Africa

Here's one cheeky monkey in definite need of an Asbo (that’s an Anti-Social Baboon Order).

This cunning adult male, known as Fred, strolled up to a car, opened the door and hopped in the back before making off with a handbag - to the shock of the British tourists inside.

Light fingered: Fred opens the rear door of the tourists' car...

The bag belongs to Hazel Murray, 71, who was on holiday with her brother George Cox and his wife Jacqueline in South Africa.

They were visiting Miller’s Point, near Cape Town, when Fred - who has become so used to humans that he has learned how to get into their vehicles in search of food - swung into action

and pilfers Mrs Murray's bag and looks round while she and her brother George stand either side of the car

Disappointment: After his daring theft, Fred learns the bag contains no food and allows the Millers to retrieve it

‘I looked in the rear view mirror and this huge baboon was sitting on the back seat next to my sister,’ said Mr Cox, 60, from Bridport, Dorset. ‘It was massive and its teeth were huge.’

Luckily for Mrs Murray, she was reunited with her bag after Fred inspected the contents and then discarded it after deciding there was nothing worth eating.

source: dailymail

Owl loved up: Feathered Romeo woos his Juliet

By Mail Foreign Service

Nice to meet you: The male owl makes his first advance

Meet the real lovebirds: The two great grey owls who were so smitten with one another they did not even notice the photographer nearby.

This feathered Romeo did not need to pull out all the stops to woo his Juliet, as the pair tenderly touched heads and even appeared to 'kiss'.

Courtship between this species of owl usually sees the male typically approaching the female holding food in its beak, which is passed with both birds closing their eyes.

She's in to you: He quickly simmers down as he realises the female is already interested

But this great grey owl obviously didn't need the lure of food to get his lady in a flap.

Things started hotting up when the birds nestled closely together in the snow.

After some nuzzling the male seemed to have sealed the deal when both birds started batting their wings at each other.

Photographer Christopher Dodds caught the touching display of affection after waiting hours crouched in the snow near Bracebridge, Ontario.

Love at first sight: The owls touch heads and appear to kiss

Cuddles: The pair snuggle together in the snow

He explains: 'I have shot many birds in different environments but this is one of my favourite moments.

'The two birds seemed very affectionate and were quite happy to be nuzzled up in the cold snow.

'They obviously enjoyed touching heads and at one point even appeared to look deep into each other's eyes.'

They may have been being spied upon by Chris, but they obviously didn't give a hoot.

source: dailymail

Revealed: The secret of how worms re-grow amputated body parts... and how humans could one day do the same

By Daily Mail Reporter

Research into how Planarian worms can re-grow body parts could one day make it possible to regenerate old or damaged human organs and tissues

Scientists have discovered the gene that allows a worm to regenerate its own body parts after they are amputated, it was announced today.

The research into how Planarian worms can re-grow body parts - including a whole head and brain - could one day make it possible to regenerate old or damaged human organs and tissues, the University of Nottingham said.

The research, led by Dr Aziz Aboobaker, a Research Councils UK Fellow in the university's School of Biology, shows a gene called 'Smed-prep' is essential for correctly regenerating a head and brain in Planarian worms.

The worms have the unusual ability to regenerate body parts, including a head and brain, following amputation.

They contain adult stem cells that are constantly dividing and can become all of the missing cell types.

They also have the right set of genes working to make this happen as it should so that when they re-grow body parts they end up in the right place and have the correct size, shape and orientation, the research showed.

The study is published today in the open access journal PLoS Genetics.

Dr Aboobaker said: 'These amazing worms offer us the opportunity to observe tissue regeneration in a very simple animal that can regenerate itself to a remarkable extent and does so as a matter of course.

'We want to be able to understand how adult stem cells can work collectively in any animal to form and replace damaged or missing organs and tissues.

'Any fundamental advances in understanding from other animals can become relevant to humans surprisingly quickly.

'If we know what is happening when tissues are regenerated under normal circumstances, we can begin to formulate how to replace damaged and diseased organs, tissues and cells in an organised and safe way following an injury caused by trauma or disease.

'This would be desirable for treating Alzheimer's disease, for example.

'With this knowledge we can also assess the consequences of what happens when stem cells go wrong during the normal processes of renewal - for example in the blood cell system where rogue stem cells can result in Leukaemia.'

The researchers said Smed-prep is necessary for the correct differentiation and location of cells that make up a Planarian worm's head, as well as for defining where the head should be located.

They found although the presence of Smed-prep is vital so the head and brain are in the right place, the worm stem cells can still be persuaded to form brain cells as a result of the action of other unrelated genes.

But even so, without Smed-prep these cells do not organise themselves to form a normal brain, the researchers said.

Daniel Felix, a graduate student who carried out the experimental work, today added: 'The understanding of the molecular basis for tissue remodelling and regeneration is of vital importance for regenerative medicine.

'Planarians are famous for their immense power of regeneration, being able to regenerate a new head after decapitation.

'With the homeobox gene Smed-prep, we have characterised the first gene necessary for correct anterior fate and patterning during regeneration.

'It has been a really exciting project and I feel very lucky to have had this study as the centre piece of my thesis work.'

source: dailymail

Evolution explained? Colourful Caribbean fish could answer the mystery of why life on Earth is so diverse

By Daily Mail Reporter

Caribbean Hamlet fish: Scientists now believe that the evolution of new species does not depend on location

Although evolution has been studied for nearly two hundred years, the process by which new species arise is still not fully understood.

Now British scientists believe colourful Caribbean hamlet fish could provide some answers to why life on Earth is so diverse.

Hamlet fish have evolved into ten species with their own distinct colour patterns over several hundred thousand years.

Scientists had once believed hamlet fish evolved into different colours because of their specific locations - such as the blue hamlet which is found in the Florida region.

It was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then when levels increased the differently evolved species were thrown back together.

But on some reefs as many as seven varieties are found in one place, calling into question the theory that geographical separation was the key to their diversity.

Since different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently.

Instead a new study from the University of East Anglia has shown ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist.

Lead author Dr Ben Holt said the most fascinating aspect was that despite their different colours all the hamlets had more or less identical DNA.

This means the splitting of the species is likely to be at a very early stage - giving scientists a unique opportunity to monitor the hamlets as they continue to evolve.

Although evolution is a well-documented process, the nuts and bolts of speciation - how we have ended up with such diversity on Earth - is still a relative mystery

Dr Holt said: 'A lot of stuff is fairly well known about evolution but speciation - the evolutionary process by which new species arrive - is pretty unknown.

'Everything is either one type of species, or evolved into a different species millions of year ago.

'Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process.

'The interest in these type of fish is that they all look so different, but their DNA has shown they are almost the same.

'This suggests there is an ecological reason for why they are evolving apart even though they are clustered together in some areas.

'They are not just like people with different hair colour, they could be the beginning of a new species.

'The interesting question which needs more work is why this happening. It could be to do with the ecology, where they live, what they eat, a number of things.'

The study used data from around 5,000 different surveys taken at roughly 1,000 coral reef sites by volunteer scuba divers working on the REEF project.

Dr Holt's findings will be published online today by the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography

source: dailymail

Nature's best: The natural environment's greatest ever images brought to together for 'green auction'

By Daily Mail Reporter

Playful: This image of male polar bears play fighting at Cape Churchill, Canada, was taken by Thomas D. Mangelsen and is among 40 selected for a 'green auction' today

Dancing polar bears and giant tortoises gathered at dawn in the Galapagos are among the images selected for a collection of the greatest nature photographs of all time.

The collection of 40 pictures, many of which will be on sale as part of Christie's first 'Green Auction' in New York to mark Earth Day, stretch across more than 100 years of photography.

They include underwater images of water lilies, sea lions, a thresher shark caught in a fishing net and a herd of elephants reflected in a lake at twilight.

There are also black and white images of landscapes and wildlife, an image of the Earth viewed from space over the horizon of the moon and a picture of a chimpanzee reaching out its hand to famed conservationist Jane Goodall.

The images assembled in an online gallery include shots by black and white landscape artist Ansel Adams, National Geographic magazine editor-in-chief Chris Johns, Pulitzer Prize-winning landscape photographer Jack Dykinga and underwater specialist Brian Skerry.

Twilight of the giants: Photographer Frans Lanting captured elephants gathering by a lake in Botswana

Force of nature: Water lilies captured at midday by Frans Lanting in the Okavango Delta in Botswana

They were chosen by members of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) on the basis of factors such as aesthetics, uniqueness, historical significance and contribution to conservation efforts.

Funds raised from the green auction will go to four conservation organisations - Conservation International, Oceana, the Natural Resources Defence Council and the Central Park Conservancy.

The ILCP's executive director Justin Black, said it was 'no easy task' to select just 40 images for the collection.

Graceful: David Doubilet's photograph of Australian sea lions playing the the sea grass beds off Little Hopkins Island

Helpless: A thresher shark caught in a net in Mexico's Gulf of California, by Brian Skerry

'No doubt, there are other notable and worthy photographs that could have secured a spot in the top 40 gallery.

'But this diverse cross-section clearly demonstrates the power of photographs to educate, enlighten, inspire, and stir us into action to protect our limited natural resources.'

The organisation's president Cristina Mittermeier said: 'One of the brightest contributions of photography to the preservations of special landscapes and creatures around the world is that images are able to shed light on some of the darkest, most remote corners of our planet.

'I've seen first-hand how photographs like these arrest the eye, invite reflection, provoke emotion and become a shared experience that gifts us with a larger vision of the world.'

Tranquil: Tortoises at dawn in the Galapagos Islands, another of Frans Lanting's images

Powerful: Peter Dombrovskis's photograph shows the morning mist at Rock Island Bend, Franklin River in Tasmania, Australia


A lung-less frog and a slug that shoots love darts: Just two of the 123 new species found in Borneo rainforest since 2007

By Daily Mail Reporter

No lungs: Known as the Barbourula kalimantanensis and discovered in 2008, this flat-headed frog breathes entirely through its skin. It is among 123 new species found in Borneo since 2007

A lung-less frog, a frog that flies and a slug that shoots love darts are among 123 new species found in Borneo since 2007 in a project to conserve one of the oldest rainforests in the world.

The global conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has called for protecting the threatened species and equatorial rain forest on Borneo, the South China Sea island that is the world's third-largest and is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

'The challenge is to ensure that these precious landscapes are still intact for future generations,' said a WWF report released today

The search for the new species was part of the Heart of Borneo project that started in February 2007 and is backed by the WWF and the three countries that share the island.

The aim is to conserve 85,000 square miles of rain forest that was described by Charles Darwin as 'one great luxuriant hothouse made by nature for herself'.

Explorers have been visiting Borneo for centuries, but vast tracts of its interior are yet to be biologically explored, said Adam Tomasek, leader of WWF's Heart of Borneo project.

He said: 'If this stretch of irreplaceable rain forest can be conserved for our children, the promise of more discoveries must be a tantalizing one for the next generation of researchers to contemplate

Dendrelaphis kopsteini: This snake has an almost flame-like neck colouration that gradually fuses into a vivid blue, green and brown pattern. When threatened it flares its nape, revealing bright orange colours

Ibycus rachelae: This slug uses 'love darts' made of calcium carbonate to pierce and inject a hormone into a mate to increase the chances of reproduction

The scientists' discoveries include the world's longest known stick insect at 56.7cm, a flame-coloured snake and a frog that flies and changes its skin and eye colour.

In total, 67 plants, 29 invertebrates, 17 fish, five frogs, three snakes and two lizards and a brand new species of bird were discovered, said the report.

Borneo has long been known as a hub for monster insects, including giant cockroaches about 10cm long.

Flying frog: The Rhacophorus Penanorum changes colour at night

Notable among the species discovered are:

A snake that has a bright orange, almost flame-like, neck colouration that gradually fuses into an extraordinary iridescent and vivid blue, green and brown pattern. When threatened it flares its nape, revealing bright orange colours

A frog that breathes through its skin because it has no lungs, which makes it appear flat. This aerodynamic shape allows the frogs to move swiftly in fast flowing streams. Although the species was discovered in 1978, it was only now that scientists found the frog has no lungs

A high-altitude slug found on Mount Kinabalu that has a tail three times the length of its head. They shoot calcium carbonate 'love darts' during courtship to inject a hormone into a mate. While resting, the slug wraps its long tail around its body.

The Heart of Borneo, the core island area the conservation effort targets, is home to ten species of primate, more than 350 birds, 150 reptiles and amphibians and a staggering 10,000 plants that are found nowhere else in the world, the report says.

Phobaeticus chani: Now officially the world's longest stick insect, it measures 56.7cm long with a body of 35.7cm). Only three have ever been found, all discovered near Gunung Kinabalu Park

Crystal-clear fins: Another new discovery is the Eirmotus insignis

source: dailymail