New Species for 2012 Includes a Sneezing Monkey.
In the jungles of Burma, a sneezing sound can be heard by the villagers when it rains.
It’s not an allergy ridden human but a new monkey species up to now unknown to science.
Rhinopithecus strykeri is a species of snub nosed monkey that has an extreme upturned nose and
is apparently sensitive to getting it wet. When it rains, the monkey, which has black fur and a
stark white beard, buries its head between its legs and sneezes loudly. The species is believed to
be critically endangered.
More at Planet Save.
Look Before You Launch.
In Illinois, a new law is about to go into effect that hopefully will protect the lakes in that
state from invasive aquatic plants. Boaters will pay a fine if their boats are found to be harboring
any weed-like plant material. A rash of invasive seaweeds, including even one from Brazil,
have been threatening the natural environmental balance of Illinois’ lakes. The problem is
becoming so widespread that several other states have adopted similar legislation.
More at the Daily Herald.
Zoos Around the World Face a Sophie’s Choice.
The number of animal and insect species that are disappearing increases every year. In the
past, zoos have acted as a last refuge for the protection and propagation of a small number of
these species, in a last-ditch effort to avoid extinction. The New York Times reports on how
that effort is failing. Faced with limited budgets and resources, many zoos are being forced to
give up on one species in order to save another equally endangered one. And the choices are
often not scientifically informed — after all, zoos are primarily places of entertainment and some
species simply are more popular with visitors than others.
Ticks March on To New Territories.
Health professionals are becoming aware that ticks, linked to diseases such as Lyme disease
and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, are spreading throughout the United States into areas where
they are usually not seen. It is possible that climate change is driving animals that carry ticks
into new regions of the country. For example, in North Carolina, one nurse collected 37 ticks off
her own and her husband’s body during the course of walking the dogs for a couple of months.
The expected uptick in diseases has not yet appeared, but the ever-increasing tick sighting in
new areas portends an ever-increasing health risk.
More at CBS Charlotte.
Fish Smell Fear.
Many animals seem to sense when danger is present. In a recent study of zebrafish,
sugar-related molecules called chondroitins are released into the water when a fish’s skin is
broken due to an injury. The chondroitins provoke an immediate flight response from other fish,
and that strengh of that response is directly proportional to how much of the chemical is released
into the water. Of course, many other animals, especially insects, respond to the release of
chemicals from their neighbors and respond to it as an early warning system. So far, if such a
mechanism exists for humans, it has not yet been confirmed.
More at the New York Times.
Predators Battle It Out in Bitterroot Mountains.
On the border of Idaho and Montana lie the Bitterroot Mountains. There, three predators,
cougars, wolves and bears, compete for food, mostly deer and elk. Surprisingly, cougars have
taken the competition personally and have killed an unusually high number of wolves, their main
rivals. Of the three, cougars seem to be more effective at killing elk while bears kill the fewest.
Controlling the deer and elk population by adding predators such as these gets complicated
because while they are each effective, they nonetheless compete with each other for real estate,
and so a proper balance is hard to achieve.
More at Wildlife News.
Guilty Dog or Wary Owner.
Most dog owners believe that they can detect guilty behavior in their dogs even before they
discover the dirty deed.. Lowered head and eyes and a “guilty dog” expression are clues that
owners insist they can detect. In order to test the theory that dogs actually experience guilt
before the discovery of their “crime,” scientists conducted a somewhat elaborate experiment
involving dogs and their owners. The results suggest that the answer is more complicated than
appreciated. A dog’s guilt or fear in response to a scolding appears to be well established.
However, owners who believe they can detect their dog’s guilty behavior before discovering
the infraction are owners who are much more likely to believe, in general, that their dog is
likely to violate a rule. Hence the confusion between expectation, perception and reality.
More at Scientific America.
Pacific Ocean No Obstacle for Harvestmen Spiders.
Not even the Pacific Ocean could act as a barrier for the spread of the harvestman spider.
Originating in Brazil, the spider managed to cross the Pacific long before human beings were
ocean faring. Indeed, after DNA analysis, scientists believe that the diaspora happened some
82 million years ago — after the separation of the continents. Today, the spiders are found in
the South Pacific islands and Australia. While the exact form of dispersal is unknown, it is
suspected that the harvestman hopped a ride on rafts of vegetation.
More at Nature.
Gorilla Sanctuary A Success.
The Deng Deng National Park in Cameroon was created in 2010 as a sanctuary
for “critically endangered” lowland gorillas, which have been decimated by outbreaks of ebola
virus infections on the African mainland. Now it appears that between 300 and 500 gorillas
are thriving in the park. The only caveat is that they are close to a logging operation and a
road that could facilitate poachers. The park also successfully protects chimpanzees, buffaloes
and bongos, a kind of antelope.
More at Discovery.
Tomato or Tomato … However You Say It, It’s A Genetic Bounty.
The latest living thing to have its DNA unraveled and recorded is the tomato. Teams
of scientists have concluded the decoding process and so far have learned that the seemingly
simple vegetable (or fruit) has almost 32,000 genes, many more than human beings. The
tomato appears to have its deep origins in Peru, and it has a close relative, the potato, with
which it shares 92% of its genome. Besides providing insights into the tomato’s origins, the
genetic deciphering is likely to be followed by efforts to improve the plant in matters of taste,
productivity and immunity to diseases.
More at the New York Times.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.