ValueAquatics The world’s rarest snake back from the brink of extinction

Fifteen years ago, the future looked bleak for the Antiguan racer (Alsophis antiguae), the world’s rarest snake. In 1995 just 50 of the creatures survived on the isolated 8.4-hectare Great Bird Island off of Antigua in the Caribbean. Introduced mongooses had wiped out the species on Antigua itself; invasive rats almost did the same trick on Great Bird.

Black rats came to the Caribbean on ships. Plantation owners released the mongooses in the 1890s to kill snakes in their fields.

But today there is good news. Six conservation groups teamed up to boost the population of the Antiguan racer, and now the snake’s population has grown 10-fold to 500 individuals. Its habitat, meanwhile, has expanded to other islands and a total of 63 hectares.

Achieving this required efforts on multiple fronts: The snakes required a captive-breeding program as well as another program to reintroduce them into new habitats. Locals had to be convinced not to fear and kill the harmless snakes. Most of all, conservation groups needed to rid the island of the invasive black rats, a feat they accomplished not just on Great Bird Island but 11 other offshore islands.

“Many people have contributed over the years, but special credit must go to the local volunteers” who monitor the snakes and help keep the islands rat free, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) senior conservation biologist Jenny Daltry said in a prepared statement. “This success is a testament to their dedication.”

Almost all of the racers in the wild are implanted with microchips to help monitor their health.

Removing the rats has done more than help the Antiguan racer—it has also benefited Great Bird Island’s other wildlife. According to FFI, which founded the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project, the number of birds on the island has increased more than 500 percent, sea turtle and lizard populations are on the rise, and even plant species have recovered.

The Antiguan racer isn’t out of the woods yet. They are still severely inbred, making them prone to infection, and conservationists need to keep circulating the snakes among their population groups to help expand their genetic diversity. Meanwhile, Great Bird Island, like many of the racers’ new habitats, is just a tiny cay—a sandy island on the surface ofcoral reefs, which could disappear if global sea levels rise. But for now, at least, this is a rare case of an endangered species that has a chance at survival, thanks to the efforts of the people determined to save it.

Ladybird spider back from brink

Ladybirdspider [pic: Natural England]

The ladybird spider spends most of its life underground

A rare spider has crawled its way back from the brink of extinction in the UK through a captive breeding programme.

Numbers of the ladybird spider, named because of bright red and black markings on the male during mating season, dipped to 56 at a Dorset site.

But since that count in 1994, a fresh web count showed numbers have risen to about 1,000 at the same site.

Conservation efforts, such as heathland management and scrub clearance, have been credited for the revival.

Conservation has focused on captive breeding and relocation of small numbers of ladybird spiders to suitable heathland in Dorset.

Natural England carried out conservation efforts with the Ministry of Defence, Herpetological Conservation Trust, the Forestry Commission, Dudley Zoo and members from the British Arachnological Society.

Dr Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England, said: “Heathland habitats have become increasingly fragmented and degraded in recent decades, placing the fate of many of our species in the balance.

“There is nothing inevitable about this and no reason why we should simply accept biodiversity loss as an unfortunate price of 21st Century life.

“The success of the ladybird spider recovery programme shows what can be done and we are delighted at the very hopeful signs that England’s most elusive spider is on the road to recovery.”

The small spider spends most of its life underground, living a solitary existence in a silk-lined burrow.

They eat a range of large beetles, bees and wasps.

The unmanaged fragmentation of heathland during the past 100 years had been blamed for the spider’s decline in numbers.

Story from the BBC News Monday, 16 February 2009

Crews detach snake from bitten boy in Stoke-on-Trent

29 July 2010

Ambulance crews called out after a boy was bitten by his pet snake arrived to find the reptile still attached to him.

The 5ft 6in (1.7m) snake was coiled around Callum Walters’ arm when crews arrived at his Stoke-on-Trent home.

Ozzy, a non-venomous California King, was attached to the 11-year-old’s thumb. His arm had been submerged in water in a bid to free the pet.

Emergency care assistant Shaun Smith “managed to gently prise open Ozzy’s jaw freeing Callum”, the service said.

Callum, of Lightwater, was treated for multiple puncture wounds to his thumb and taken to hospital.

Headquarters visit

He is keeping the pet after last month’s incident.

A spokeswoman for West Midlands Ambulance Service said Callum’s family had submerged his arm in water in an attempt to free the reptile.

“After a while it became apparent to Callum’s family and the crew that the snake wasn’t going to give up that easily,” she said.

“There was only one thing for it – someone would have to physically attempt to release Callum from the snake.”

She added that after Mr Smith’s intervention, Callum was now “fighting fit”.

He is planning to visit the ambulance service’s Staffordshire headquarters to be re-united with the crew and the person who took the emergency call

Losing the race: Illegal trade devastating Madagascar’s radiated tortoise

Armed bands of poachers are illegally collecting Madagascar’s radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) by the truckload for the lucrative pet and meat trades, according to a report from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). As a result of this rampant overexploitation the once-common species could be driven into extinction in the next two decades. Radiated tortoises, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful of all turtles, and therefore highly valued in the pet trade, are only found in Madagascar.

“Areas where scores of radiated tortoises could be seen just a few years ago have been poached clean,” James Deutsch, director of the WCS’s Africa Program, said in a prepared statement. The organizations say they have discovered poaching camps with the remains of thousands of radiated tortoises.

“I can’t think of a tortoise species that has undergone a more rapid rate of decline in modern times, or a more drastic contraction in range, than the radiated tortoise,” said Rick Hudson, president of the TSA.

Already listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the radiated tortoise is the only member of its genus.

Madagascar has been in a state of political unrest for the past several years, which has allowed wildlife crime to expand dramatically. The situation has been worsened, according to the WCS and TSA, by years of drought that make it difficult to grow crops, so wild-caught meat is a more important food source for the poverty-stricken populace.

John

www.alueaquatics.co.uk/

ValueAquatics News Indonesian worker bitten by Komodo dragon

An Indonesian worker freed himself from an attacking Komodo dragon by punching the reptile’s snout until it released him and ran away, a national park official said.

Agustinus Jenaru, 20, was working inside an unfinished wooden bungalow on Rinca island when the lizard entered and bit onto his left hand on Saturday, said Komodo National Park official Daniel Bolu Ngongo.

Mr Jenaru hit the jaws of the giant lizard for several seconds until it freed him. Jenaru was taken to a clinic for treatment of lacerations and a puncture wound.

Komodo dragons can be found in the wild only on the eastern Indonesian islands of Komodo, Padar and Rinca.

 The lizards – thought to number fewer than 4000 – can grow longer than 3 meters and weigh 70kg.

Mr Jenaru was the second victim bitten by a giant lizard this year.

In 2007, an 8-year-old boy was killed by one of the lizards on Komodo Islana

ValueAquatics News Lizard discoveries in the Pilbara Australia

The newly described northern Beak-faced Gecko.

Two new species of lizard have been discovered in the Pilbara Australia.

The reptiles were found during recent field trips led by the Department of Environment and Conservation, the WA Museum and two eastern state’s universities.

Reptile expert Paul Doughty believes the Mosaic Desert Skink and Northern Beak-faced Gecko are previously unknown and are not found anywhere else in the world.

“When you get out there in a place like the Pilbara you can actually pick up brand new species if you know what you’re looking for.

“The Northern Beak-faced gecko, this is a very cute lil’ fella. He is 6-8 centimetres long, has a very sharp face. They’re red with white pale yellowy spots.

“The Mosaic Desert Skink is a pretty skink with sort of fine checkerboard pattern with yellow and brown along the back and it’s got sort of bands around the tail and a yellowy head and it’s quite a handsome beast.”

The WA Museum says the new species are found in a wide enough area that mining activities should not threaten their survival.

Python Predation: Big snakes poised to change U.S. ecosystems

ValueAquatics News    Big snakes poised to change U.S. ecosystems

Brought to the U.S. as pets, Burmese pythons have made headlines with their uncontrolled spread in the Florida Everglades and willingness to challenge alligators for the position of top predator. A report released by the U.S. Geological Survey last fall delivered more bad news: two other constrictor species, also former pets, are thriving in the area, and six others could pose similar threats. Researchers fear that reproductive populations could spread and eat native animals into extinction.

See the full article here.

John

ValueAquatics NEWS – Losing the race

Losing the race: Illegal trade devastating Madagascar’s radiated tortoise

Armed bands of poachers are illegally collecting Madagascar’s radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) by the truckload for the lucrative pet and meat trades, according to a report from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). As a result of this rampant overexploitation the once-common species could be driven into extinction in the next two decades. Radiated tortoises, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful of all turtles, and therefore highly valued in the pet trade, are only found in Madagascar.

“Areas where scores of radiated tortoises could be seen just a few years ago have been poached clean,” James Deutsch, director of the WCS’s Africa Program, said in a prepared statement. The organizations say they have discovered poaching camps with the remains of thousands of radiated tortoises.

“I can’t think of a tortoise species that has undergone a more rapid rate of decline in modern times, or a more drastic contraction in range, than the radiated tortoise,” said Rick Hudson, president of the TSA.

Already listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the radiated tortoise is the only member of its genus.

Madagascar has been in a state of political unrest for the past several years, which has allowed wildlife crime to expand dramatically. The situation has been worsened, according to the WCS and TSA, by years of drought that make it difficult to grow crops, so wild-caught meat is a more important food source for the poverty-stricken populace.

To see the report in Scientific America use this link.

John

           ValueAquatics

The Komodo Dragon is an Ozzy

ValueAquatics News  – Komodo dragon is an ozzy

By Sarah Clarke ABC News

A team of scientists has overturned the theory that the world’s largest lizard evolved on the islands of Indonesia.

Weighing around 70 kilograms and growing up to three metres long, the Komodo dragon is regarded as the world’s largest lizard.

But the discovery of an array of fossilised bones at three different sites across Queensland has triggered a new theory – that Australia was a hub for lizard evolution.

The research, which involved scientists from Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia and led by Dr Scott Hocknull of the Queensland Museum, is published today on the science journal website PLoS ONE.

Once reputed to be the origin of the Chinese dragon myth, the Komodo dragon is now in such small numbers it is considered a vulnerable species.

The remaining 5,000 or so live on a handful of isolated islands in eastern Indonesia, which many scientists always believed was their birthplace.

Dr Hocknull says the fossilised bones discovered at three different sites across Queensland are identical to the komodo dragon.

“It was a particular set of fossils that were found at Mount Etna in Queensland that were dated around 300,000 years old that really sparked my interest, because I was the person that helped find the material,” he said.

“I was figuring out what on earth they were and my assumption was that it was just going be another species of lizard that lived in Australia, and still does.

“Say for example a lace monitor or something – but it was much much bigger.

“The fossils that were found in Queensland, in eastern Australia, show that the komodo dragon had its origins here in Australia about four million years ago and persisted in Australia until at least 300,000 years ago and perhaps even younger than that.

“What it shows is that again, Australia is home to some very strange and very peculiar animals that now no longer live on our continent and have found a home elsewhere.”

Island of hobbits

The researchers believe the komodo dragon dispersed westward, reaching the island of Flores around 900,000 years ago.

But the size of the fossils found in Australia suggest it was always a large land-based lizard and it spent four million years here before it became extinct.

The question is, what caused its extinction?

The 300,000-year record is the youngest record that we have,” Dr Hocknull said.

“We can assume that the Komodo may have kicked along in Australia right up until human arrival. There’s no reason to assume not.

“Perhaps humans were the cause of their extinction; perhaps it was climate change, perhaps a combination of both.

“What the record on Flores shows in Indonesia is that the Komodo dragon was there for over a million years kicking along quite nicely.

“Big faunal changes, volcanic eruptions, all these amazing things happening on that island and yet the komodo dragon existed without any major issues. ”

According to Dr Hocknull that changed about 2,000 years ago, when its range retracted to the coast lines of where it is now found.

“The only thing you can link that to is habitat destruction and persecution by modern humans,” he said.

The Komodo dragon is well-known as a man eater and would have no doubt put up a good fight against modern man.

So why did it survive and thrive on the tiny isolated Indonesian island of Flores?

Palaeontologist Professor Tim Flannery of Macquarie University in Sydney has a theory.

“It became extinct – we think about 50,000 years ago – about the time that humans arrived in Australia, and of course it disappeared from every other island in Indonesia except Flores,” he said.

“The one interesting thing about Flores is that it is home of the hobbit.

So the hobbit was there for about two million years and maybe hobbit hunting was a bit like pre-school for the komodo dragon, they learnt how to deal with human-like hunters.

“Whereas in Australia and the rest of the islands the first thing that turned up was fully modern humans and they seem not to have been able to cope with that.”

 John

ValueAquatics

Toads can predict earthquakes

Toads can predict earthquakes – study 

We have been looking for a way of predicting earthquakes since we could stand upright. Well a scientific paper has confirmed that we might have found one at last.

The best hope yet of an earthquake predictor could lie in a small, brown, knobbly amphibian, it suggests.

The male common toad (Bufo bufo) gave five days’ warning of the earthquake that ravaged the town of L’Aquila in central Italy on April 6, 2009, killing more than 300 people and displacing 40,000 others, the study says.

Biologist Rachel Grant of Britain’s Open University embarked on a toad-monitoring project at San Ruffino Lake 74km north of L’Aquila, 10 days before the 6.3-magnitude quake struck.

Her two-person team observed the site for 29 days, counting toad numbers and measuring temperature, humidity, wind speed, rainfall and other conditions.

By March 28, more than 90 male toads had gathered for the spawning season, but two days later, their numbers suddenly fell, Grant reports.

By April 1 – five days before the quake – 96% of the males had fled.

Several dozen ventured back on April 9 for the full moon, a known courtship period for toads, although the tally was some 50-80 per cent fewer than in previous years.

After this small peak, the numbers fell once more, only picking up significantly on April 15, two days after the last major aftershock, defined as 4.5 magnitude.

Also, the number of paired toads at the breeding site also dropped to zero three days before the quake. And no fresh spawn was found at the site from April 6 until the last big after-tremor.

Ms Grant said the toads’ comportment is a “dramatic change” for the species.

Once male toads gather at a breeding site, they usually never leave until the annual spawning season is over.

Eager to answer the riddle, Ms Grant obtained Russian measurements of electrical activity in the ionosphere, the uppermost electromagnetic layer in the atmosphere, which was picked up by very low frequency (VLF) radio receivers.

The toads’ two periods of exodus both coincided with bursts of VLF disruption.

Previous research has attributed perturbations in the ionosphere to releases of radon, a radioactive gas generated underground, or to gravity waves prior to a quake, although much about this phenomenon is unclear.

In the quest to find an earthquake predictor, elephants, horses, wolves, snakes and fish have all been previously put forward.

This study, though, is exceptional. It puts the flesh of data and first-hand observation on the bones of anecdotal evidence, even if there is no confirmed explanation as to why the toads bolted as they did.

“Our study is one of the first to document animal behaviour before, during and after an earthquake,” Ms Grant said.

“Our findings suggest that toads are able to detect pre-seismic cues such as the release of gases and charged particles and use these as a form of early warning system.”

The paper is published in the Journal of Zoology by the Zoological Society of London.

John

ValueAquatics