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Psycho Punk
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PostPosted: 05-11-2013 14:06    Post subject: Reply with quote

'Platypus-zilla' fossil unearthed in Australia
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC World Service

The giant platypus would have measured more than 1m (3ft) in length

Part of a giant platypus fossil has been unearthed in Queensland, Australia.

Scientists have dubbed the beast "platypus-zilla" and believe it would have measured more than 1m long (3ft).

Writing in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the researchers say the creature lived between five and 15 million years ago.

The discovery suggests the evolutionary back-story of today's platypus is more complicated than was thought.

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It probably would have looked like a platypus on steroids”

Prof Mike Archer
University of New South Wales
Prof Mike Archer, from the University of New South Wales, said: "Suddenly up pops 'playtpus-zilla' - this gigantic monstrosity that you would have been afraid to swim with.

"It indicates there are branches in the platypus family tree that we hadn't suspected before."

Bizarre looks
Today, all that survives of this platypus is a single fossilised tooth, which was unearthed in the Riversleigh fossil beds in northwest Queensland.

Based on its size, the researchers have estimated that the new species (Obdurodon tharalkooschild) would have been at least twice as large as today's platypus.

Bumps on its teeth and other fossil finds nearby suggest that the creature feasted on crustaceans, turtles, frogs and fish.

Although the area where the molar was found is a desert, millions of years ago it would have been covered in forest. The researchers think the beast would have spent its time in and around freshwater ponds.

Giant platypus tooth
The platypus is described from a single molar that was found in Queensland
Prof Archer said that with just one tooth, it was difficult to work out exactly what this species would have looked like.

However other fossils suggest that it could have shared the same bizarre appearance as today's platypuses, with their duck-like bills, large webbed feet and poisonous spurs. But this would have been on a much larger scale.

"I guess it probably would have looked like a platypus on steroids," said Prof Archer.

Fossil platypus finds are in short supply, with just a few fragments found throughout the southern hemisphere.

As a result, there are many gaps in our understanding of the creature's past.

Prof Archer said: "We have been naively led to suspect that maybe it was just one lineage of strange animals bumbling its way through time and space at least for the last 60 million years.

"The discovery of this new one was a bit of a shock to us. It was a wake-up call that the platypus's story, the more we know about it, is increasingly more complicated than we thought."

The researchers are now hoping to find more platypus fossils in the same area to try to shed more light these enigmatic Australian animals.

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PostPosted: 13-11-2013 11:25    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oldest big cat fossil found in Tibet
By James Morgan
Science reporter, BBC News

Life reconstruction of Panthera blytheae based on skull CT data; illustrated by Mauricio Anton

Panthera blytheae was similar to modern snow leopards, palaeontologists say

The oldest big cat fossils ever found - from a previously unknown species "similar to a snow leopard" - have been unearthed in the Himalayas.

The skull fragments of the newly-named Panthera blytheae have been dated between 4.1 and 5.95 million years old.

Their discovery in Tibet supports the theory that big cats evolved in central Asia - not Africa - and spread outward.

The findings by US and Chinese palaeontologists are published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

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This ties up a lot of questions we had on how big cats evolved and spread throughout the world”

Dr Jack Tseng
University of Southern California
Find out more about big cats on BBC Nature
They used both anatomical and DNA data to determine that the skulls belonged to an extinct big cat, whose territory appears to overlap many of the species we know today.

"This cat is a sister of living snow leopards - it has a broad forehead and a short face. But it's a little smaller - the size of clouded leopards," said lead author Dr Jack Tseng of the University of Southern California.

"This ties up a lot of questions we had on how these animals evolved and spread throughout the world.

"Biologists had hypothesised that big cats originated in Asia. But there was a division between the DNA data and the fossil record."

Surprising find
The so-called "big cats" - the Pantherinae subfamily - includes lions, jaguars, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, and clouded leopards.

DNA evidence suggests they diverged from their cousins the Felinae - which includes cougars, lynxes, and domestic cats - about 6.37 million years ago.

But the earliest fossils previously found were just 3.6 million years old - tooth fragments uncovered at Laetoli in Tanzania, the famous hominin site excavated by Mary Leakey in the 1970s.

Fossil skull of Panthera blytheae
It is rare for such an ancient carnivore fossil to be so well preserved
The new fossils were dug up on an expedition in 2010 in the remote Zanda Basin in southwestern Tibet, by a team including Dr Tseng and his wife Juan Liu - a fellow palaeontologist.

They found over 100 bones deposited by a river eroding out of a cliff, including the crushed - but largely complete - remains of a big cat skull.

"We were very surprised to find a cat fossil in that basin," Dr Tseng told BBC News.

"Usually we find antelopes and rhinos, but this site was special. We found multiple carnivores - badgers, weasels and foxes."

Among the bones were seven skull fragments, belonging to at least three individual cats, including one nearly complete skull.

The fragments were dated using magnetostratigraphy - which relies on historical reversals in the Earth's magnetic field recorded in layers of rock.

They ranged between 4.10 and 5.95 million years old, the complete skull being around 4.4 million years of age.

"This is a very significant finding - it fills a very wide gap in the fossil record," said Dr Manabu Sakamoto of the University of Bristol, an expert on Pantherinae evolution.

"The discovery presents strong support for the Asian origin hypothesis for the big cats.

"It gives us a great insight into what early big cats may have looked like and where they may have lived."

However, Prof William Murphy of Texas A&M University, another expert on the evolutionary relationship of big cats, questioned whether the new species was really a sister of the snow leopard.

"The authors' claim that this skull is similar to the snow leopard is very weakly supported based on morphological characters alone, and this morphology-based tree is inconsistent with the DNA-based tree of living cats," he told BBC News.

"It remains equally probable that this fossil is ancestral to the living big cats. More complete skeletons would be beneficial to confirm their findings."

Dr Tseng and his team plan to return to the fossil site in Tibet next summer to search for more specimens.
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PostPosted: 28-11-2013 11:43    Post subject: Reply with quote

New species of wild cat identified in Brazil
By Jeremy Coles
Reporter, BBC Nature

Newly recognised southern form of the tigrina (Leopardus guttulus)
Genetic analysis reveals new insights into wild cat taxonomy

A new species of wild cat has been identified in South America using molecular markers, researchers claim.

By comparing DNA sequences, the team revealed that two populations of tigrina in Brazil do not interbreed and are evolutionarily distinct.

Results also show the two populations have contrasting interactions with the closely related pampas cat and Geoffroy's cat.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

There are at least seven species of small wild cat in the genus Leopardus in Central and South America, which are thought to have first colonised the region during the late Pliocene (2.5 - 3.5 million years ago).

A team of researchers led by Dr Eduardo Eizirik from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil collected samples of DNA from pampas cats (Leopardus colocolo) in the north of the country, Geoffroy's cats (L. geoffroyi) from the south and two separate populations - north eastern and southern - of tigrina (L. tigrinus).

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A jaguar
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"We used several different types of molecular markers to investigate the evolutionary history of these species," explained Dr Eizirik.

"These [molecular markers] evolve at different rates, which helps in the sense that they provide information on different time frames," he said.

By comparing these different chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA marker sequences the scientists could track patterns of interbreeding - or hybridisation - between the cat species and populations.

The markers revealed that the southern population of tigrina were actively breeding with Geoffroy's cat in areas where the two species came into contact. In contrast, they found evidence for ancient hybridisation between the north eastern tigrina and the pampas cat.

But what surprised Dr Eizirik and his colleagues most was the lack of evidence for recent mating between the north eastern and southern tigrinas.

"This observation implies that these tigrina populations are not interbreeding, which led us to recognise them as distinct species," Dr Eizirik told BBC Nature.

"This species-level distinction between the tigrina populations we really did not expect to find," he said.

A tigrina from the north east population (Leopardus tigrinus)
The rules of zoological nomenclature mean the north eastern tigrinas (pictured) remain Leopardus tigrinus
It is the rarer north eastern populations that will keep the original scientific name of Leopardus tigrinus because they live geographically closer to the type locality and the more common southern form that will acquire the newly recognised scientific name of Leopardus guttulus.

"Recognising a distinct tigrina species in Brazil highlights the need for urgent assessment of its conservation status...and it may be found to be threatened," Dr Eizirik told BBC Nature.

"[These results] illustrate how much is still unknown about the natural world, even in groups that are supposed to be well-characterised, such as cats," he explained.

"In fact there are many basic aspects that we still don't know about wild cats, from their precise geographic distribution and their diets to even species-level delimitation, as in this case."

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PostPosted: 17-12-2013 21:39    Post subject: Reply with quote

Four New Mammal Species Discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo

Dec. 16, 2013 — Julian Kerbis Peterhans, a Roosevelt University professor and adjunct curator at The Field Museum who has conducted extensive studies on mammals in Africa, has announced the discovery of four new species of small mammals in the eastern section of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The mammals were found during an expedition to the Misotshi-Kabogo highlands led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and in another nearby forest with the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN) Lwiro -- areas that were previously unexplored. "Our discoveries demonstrate the need for conserving this isolated reservoir of biodiversity," Kerbis said.

"Three new species from a single forest (with a fourth from a nearby forest) is quite unique," Kerbis added. "More often such finds would be made on island ecosystems. However, the highlands in which these species reside are isolated from adjacent forests and mountains by savannah habitats and low elevation streams."

In two new papers published in the German journal Bonn Zoological Bulletin, Kerbis and his colleagues describe the two new species of shrews and the two new species of bats.

WCS and CRSN scientists together with Trento Science Museum in Italy are in the process of describing three new frog species and possibly a new chameleon from the same area from these surveys. The team also confirmed the presence of a unique squirrel and monkey whose existence had been recorded in historical surveys and collections dating from the 1950s.

Remarkably, all of these species were found during the course of a short survey of less than 30 days in 2007. "Given the clear importance of this site, we are working closely with the local communities and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect this unique area," reported Dr. Andrew Plumptre, director of WCS's Albertine Rift Program. "The local community has elected to create a new national park here to protect these unique species, but concerns over mining concessions that have been granted in the area are hampering its creation."

Kerbis' colleagues included scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York) the Centre de Recherché des Sciences Naturelles (Lwiro, Democratic Republic of Congo) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
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PostPosted: 28-12-2013 10:07    Post subject: Reply with quote

Deep sea creatures found off Rockall 'new to science'

Four animals previously unknown to science have been discovered in deep water off Scotland, the Scottish government has said.
New species of large sea snail, clam and marine worm were found during surveys by Marine Scotland.
The clams and worm were at a suspected cold seep, an area where hydrocarbons are released from the seabed.
All were discovered around Rockall, the remains of a volcano 260 miles (418km) west of the Western Isles.

If confirmed, the cold seep would be the first to be discovered near Rockall. Some types of commercial fishing could be banned in the area to protect the habitat.

The new sea snail Volutopsius scotiae and clam Thyasira scotiae have been named after the research vessel MRV Scotia.
The sea snails were discovered over an area at depths of up to one mile (1.6km).
Another clam, Isorropodon mackayi, was named after mollusc expert David Mackay.

The new species of marine worm Antonbrunnia has still to be named. It is currently being examined at the National Museum Wales.
The worm was discovered by Dr Graham Oliver inside one of the clams he was confirming as a new species at his laboratory at the museum.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said it was surprising how the creatures had eluded scientists until now.
He said: "Our oceans are often called Earth's final frontier and these new species prove just how much we still have to learn about this rich marine habitat."
Mr Lochhead added: "The area where these species were found is not currently fished and the confirmation of a cold seep is likely to result in the region being closed to bottom contact fishing."

Jim Drewery, from Marine Scotland Science, oversaw the research on the deep water invertebrates.
He said: "The discovery of these new species is absolutely incredible, especially when you consider that the sea snail measures a relatively large 10cm yet has gone undetected for decades."

Rockall is a rock in the North Atlantic just 30m (100ft) wide and 21m (70ft) high.
Its remoteness and size attracts adventurers.
Earlier this year, Nick Hancock, from Ratho, near Edinburgh, was thwarted by bad weather in his attempt to spend 60 days on the rock.
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PostPosted: 30-12-2013 21:00    Post subject: Reply with quote

Images and vid at link.

New Species Abound
A look at 2013’s noteworthy new species
By Jef Akst | December 26, 2013

The Spectacular Guyane False-form beetle, Guyanemorpha spectabilis, which was discovered this year in French Guiana The Spectacular Guyane False-form beetle, Guyanemorpha spectabilis, which was discovered this year in French Guiana

The Spectacular Guyane False-form beetle, Guyanemorpha spectabilis, which was discovered this year in French Guiana The newly discovered skeleton shrimp, Liropus minusculus, was collected off the California coast. Hochstetter's butterfly orchid, a newly recognized and very rare plantrecently discovered on the Azorean island of São Jorge. Polyergus mexicanus, one of the newly reinstated species of "slavemaker" ants found in St. Louis A new species of leaf-tailed gecko, Saltuarius eximius sp. nov., found in northeastern Australia Body parts from a new scorpion species, Euscorpius lycius sp. n., found in Turkey An artist's rendition of a new tapir species, Tapirus kabomani, formally described this year. Australian humpback dolphins leaping out of the water along the east coast of Queensland, Australia A phylogentic map of a suite of new dwarf gecko species found in the West Indies
New Species Abound Image Gallery

In October, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published a list of 441 new species that have been discovered in the Amazon in the last four years: 258 plants, 84 fish, 58 amphibians, 22 reptiles, 18 birds, and one mammal. That’s “an average of two new species identified every week for the past four years,” read a WWF press release, and “[t]his doesn’t even include the countless discoveries of insects and other invertebrates.”

The findings are a welcome break from news of impending extinctions, and the new species are a reminder of the importance of continued vigilance and conservation. Of course, the Amazon is not the only place where new life is popping up. Thousands of new species are described each year, hailing from nearly every continent and diverse branches of life. In May, The Scientist covered the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University’s annual Top 10, with favorites chosen for their unexpected features or their unique habitats. Here are a few of candidates for the 2013 lineup:

The big one

A pair of Kobomani tapirs caught on camera trap
This month, researchers described what is likely to be this year’s biggest new species: the Kobomani tapir (Tapirus kabomani), which roams the open grasslands and forests of Brazil and Colombia. Though it’s the smallest of the tapirs, it’s one of the largest animals in South America. Published in the Journal of Mammology, discovery of the tapir makes it the first new Perissodactyla species, which includes rhinos and horses, discovered in more than 100 years, according to

The new tapir species isn’t so new to local tribes, however, who regularly hunt the “little black tapir,” as they call it. “[Indigenous people] traditionally reported seeing what they called ‘a different kind of anta [tapir in Portuguese].’ However, the scientific community has never paid much attention to the fact, stating that it was always the same Tapirus terrestris,” lead author and paleontologist Mario Cozzuol of Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
Belo Horizonte told “They did not give value to local knowledge and thought the locals were wrong. Knowledge of the local community needs to be taken into account and that's what we did in our study, which culminated in the discovery of a new species to science.”

Mammal in the trees

Wild olinguito at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, Ecuador
The olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) was this year declared to be a distinct species from its close relative, the onlingo, a member of the raccoon family. The new species was first discovered in a drawer, at Chicago’s Field Museum. Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, found a collection of skin, skulls, and bones that “stopped me in my tracks,” he told BBC News. “The skins were a rich red color and when I looked at the skulls I didn’t recognize the anatomy . . . right away I thought it could be a species new to science.”

On the basis of a grainy video of an olinguito-like animal in the Andes, Helgen and his colleagues headed to Colombia and Ecuador to find the mammal in the trees of cloud forests. Furry, orange, and weighing less than a kilogram, the olinguito is solitary and nocturnal. It is smaller than the olingo, and the two species have differences in their teeth and tails. Helgen’s team published its findings August 15 in ZooKeys, noting that the olinguito is threatened; construction and farming and destroyed nearly half of its forest habitat. “This reminds us that the world is not yet explored and the age of discovery is far from over,” Helgen told BBC News.

City bird

Cambodian tailorbird
A little bird by the name of the Cambodian tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk), first seen during routine checks for avian flu in 2009, is finally recognized by science, according to a study published in the Oriental Bird Club journal. Belonging to the warbler family, the Cambodian tailorbird can be found living in and around the country’s capital city of Phnom Penh. It resembles other tailorbirds, the researchers report, but its plumage, song, and genes support its reclassification as its own species—something that is rare in urban ecosystems.

“The modern discovery of an undescribed bird species within the limits of a large populous city—not to mention 30 minutes from my home—is extraordinary,” study coauthor Simon Mahood of the Wildlife Conservation Society told BBC News. “The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations.”

Once again, however, as the bird’s small habitat continues to shrink, prompting the researchers to recommend that it be listed as “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Fish giant

Arapaima sp.
Sleek, eel-like fish known as arapaima have, for some time, been considered to comprise a single species, but new evidence suggests that a classic division of the group into four species is actually more accurate. Moreover, researchers claim to have found a distinct fifth species of arapaima, according to a study published by SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Donald Stewart in the March issue of Copeia.

“Everybody for 160 years had been saying there’s only one kind of arapaima,” Stewart said in a press release. “But we know now there are various species, including some not previously recognized.”

A common target of Amazonian fisherman, arapaima are commercially important fish. Curious about the recognition of four species of arapaima in the mid-1800s, Stewart closely examined original specimens and found that they were indeed four species after all. One specimen, held at the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia in Manaus, Brazil, even represents a fifth species (A. leptosoma), Stewart concluded. The sensory cavities on its head have a unique shape, and the fish has a sheath over part of its dorsal fin that other arapaima don’t have. It also has a distinctive color pattern.

Unfortunately, arapaima have been overfished in the Amazon Basin for more than a century, bringing their current populations to near zero.

Year of the sharks

Scalloped hammerhead sharks
Off the coast of South Carolina roams another new species discovered in 2013, the Carolina hammerhead (Sphyrna gilbert), close cousin of the scalloped hammerhead. According to study published in August in the journal Zootaxa, the new shark species is genetically distinct, and has about 10 fewer vertebrae that the scalloped hammerhead.

The Carolina variety was discovered by University of South Carolina fish expert Joe Quattro, who gathered what appeared to be 80 young scalloped hammerheads. Genetic and anatomical analyses proved otherwise, however. In the end, 54 of the 80 sharks belonged to the new species.

Quattro expects that, like the dwindling populations of the scalloped shark, the Carolina shark is rare. “Outside of South Carolina, we’ve only seen five tissue samples of the cryptic species,” Quattro said in a release. “And that’s out of three or four hundred specimens.”

You might think that finding a new species of the largest fish in the ocean is uncommon, and it is, but this year boasts another new shark species: Hemiscyllium halmahera, a shark that “walks” along the sandy bottoms surrounding a remote Indonesian island (see video). Publishing in July in the Journal of Ichthyology, marine biologist Mark Erdmann of Conservation International and his colleagues describe the species. The animals can grow up to 70 centimeters (27 inches) in length, and as with other walking—or epaulette—sharks, females lay their eggs under reef ledges.

And many more

With so many new species populating this year’s scientific literature, there simply isn’t room to cover them all. But suffice it to say that diversity is not what this list is lacking: a new orchid from volcanic islands west of Spain, a tiny crustacean found in an offshore reef cave near California’s Catalina Island, the Spectacular Guyane False-form beetle of the French Guiana rainforests, five species of “slavemaker” ants that steal the young of other ants, a humpback dolphin, two gecko species, and a Turkish scorpion. Plus many more just waiting to be found.

Thumbnail image credit: Wikimedia, Dan McKay
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PostPosted: 23-01-2014 08:13    Post subject: Reply with quote

Brazil dolphin is first new river species since 1918
By Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC News

Scientists in Brazil have discovered the first new river dolphin species since the end of World War One.
Named after the Araguaia river where it was found, the species is only the fifth known of its kind in the world.

Writing in the journal Plos One, the researchers say it separated from other South American river species more than two million years ago.
There are believed to be about 1,000 of the creatures living in the Araguaia river basin.

River dolphins are among the world's rarest creatures.
According to the IUCN, there are only four known species, and three of them are on the Red List, meaning they are critically endangered.

These dolphins are only distantly related to their seafaring cousins, tending to have long beaks which let them hunt for fish in the mud at the bottom of rivers.
One of the best known species, the Yangtze river dolphin or baiji is believed to have gone extinct in about 2006.

South America though is home to the Amazon river dolphin, also known as the pink dolphin or boto, said to be the most intelligent of all the river species.

The new discovery is said to be related to the Amazonian, although scientists believe the species separated more than two million years ago.
"It is very similar to the other ones," said lead author Dr Tomas Hrbek, from the Federal University of Amazonas.

"It was something that was very unexpected, it is an area where people see them all the time, they are a large mammal, the thing is nobody really looked. It is very exciting."

The scientists say there are some differences in the number of teeth and they suspect the Araguaia river species is smaller, but most of the clues to their separate nature were found in their genes.
By analysing DNA samples from dozens of dolphins in both rivers, the team concluded the Araguaia river creature was indeed a new species.
They acknowledge though that some experts may question whether or not the discovery is in fact, wholly distinct.

"In science you can never be sure about anything," said Dr Hrbek.
"We looked at the mitochondrial DNA which is essentially looking at the lineages, and there is no sharing of lineages.
"The groups that we see, the haplotypes, are much more closely related to each other than they are to groups elsewhere. For this to happen, the groups must have been isolated from each other for a long time.
"The divergence we observed is larger than the divergences observed between other dolphin species," he said.

The researchers propose that the new species be called the Araguaian Boto, or Boto-do-Araguaia.
They estimate that there are about 1,000 of these creatures living in the river that flows northward for more than 2,600km to join the Amazon.

The researchers are concerned about the future for the new dolphin, saying that it appears to have very low levels of genetic diversity.
They are also worried because of human development.

"Since the 1960s the Araguaia river basin has been experiencing significant anthropogenic pressure via agricultural and ranching activities, and the construction of hydroelectric dams," the authors write in their study.
"The dolphins are at the top of the line, they eat a lot of fish," said Dr Hrbek.
"They rob fishing nets so the fishermen tend to not like them, people shoot them."

They believe that as a result of the threats that it faces, the new species should be categorised as Vulnerable on the Red List.
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PostPosted: 06-02-2014 23:17    Post subject: Reply with quote

Giant jellyfish found on Australia beach

Scientists in Australia are working to classify a new species of giant jellyfish that washed up on a beach in Tasmania.
A family found the 1.5m (5ft) jellyfish on a beach south of Hobart last month.

Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin, of Australia's CSIRO government agency, said that scientists had known about the species for a while but had not yet classified it. She described the specimen as a "truly magnificent animal".

Experts at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) were alerted to the discovery by Josie Lim and her family, who came across it.
"She and her children found the jellyfish and took this amazing photo that just boggles the mind," jellyfish expert Dr Gershwin said.

This species was part of the Lion's Mane group, she said.
These jellyfish "look like a dinner plate with a mop hanging underneath - they have a really raggedy look to them", she said.
The Tasmanian discovery was found stranded belly-up, Dr Gershwin explained.
It was one of a "species I've known about for a while but it's not yet named and classified", she said. "We're very eager to know more about it."
It is one of three new species of Lion's Mane in Tasmania which the scientist is currently working to classify.

Recent years had seen "huge blooms" of jellyfish in Tasmanian waters, she said, but scientists were not sure why.
"We're very keen to find out why jellyfish are blooming in such super-abundances in these southern waters," she said.

The world's largest jellyfish shares the same genus - Cyanea - as the Lion's Mane. Found in the North Atlantic and Arctic, the Cyanea Arctica can grow up to 3m (10ft) across the body, Dr Gershwin said.
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PostPosted: 07-03-2014 00:12    Post subject: Reply with quote

New bird family discovered in Asia
By Ella Davies
Reporter, BBC Nature

Elachura, a unique bird family

The spotted wren-babbler has a new title

A unique family of birds containing just one species has been discovered by researchers.

Scientists investigating families within the Passerida group of perching birds identified 10 separate branches in their tree of life.

The analysis also revealed that the spotted wren-babbler sat on its own branch and was not related to either wrens or wren-babblers.

Experts recommend the distinctive bird should now be referred to as Elachura.

Continue reading the main story
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The discovery is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

"This single species is the only living representative of one of the earliest off-shoots within the largest group of [perching birds], which comprises [around] 36% of the world's 10,500 bird species," said Prof Per Alstrom from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, who undertook the study alongside researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

Elachura formosa is a small perching bird - or passerine - that is found from the eastern Himalayas to southeast China.

Prof Alstrom describes it as "extremely secretive and difficult to observe, as it usually hides in very dense tangled undergrowth in the subtropical mountain forests."

"However, during the breeding season, when the males sing their characteristic, high-pitched song, which doesn't resemble any other continental Asian bird song, it can sometimes be seen sitting on a branch inside a bush."

He suggests the bird had previously been overlooked because it looks "strikingly similar" to wrens and wren-babblers.

"This similarity is apparently either due to pure chance or to convergent evolution, which may result in similar appearances in unrelated species that live in similar environments - some wren-babblers can be neighbours to the Elachura," Prof Alstrom explained.

The biologists made their discovery by analysing the molecular differences in the DNA of the birds to understand what they had inherited, and thus reveal their evolutionary heritage.

This method has been widely used in recent years and is responsible for a number of surprising discoveries including the revelation that a peregrine falcon is more closely related to a bullfinch than a sparrowhawk.

"Molecular analyses have been instrumental in resolving the relationships among birds, and have revealed multiple totally unexpected relationships, such as between flamingos and grebes, between falcons, parrots and passerines, and between larks and the bearded tit," explained Prof Alstrom.

"It is possible that more such cases will be discovered in the future, as more and more species are being analysed. However, I doubt that there are many - if any - such unique species as the Elachura left to be identified."

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PostPosted: 17-03-2014 21:23    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lurking in the darkness of Chinese caves, five new species of armored spiders come to light
Date: March 14, 2014 Source: Pensoft Publishers

This image shows the male holotype of Sinamma oxycera, one of the newly described species.
Credit: Shuqiang Li; CC-BY 4.0

Armored spiders are medium to small species that derive their name from the complex pattern of the plates covering their abdomen strongly resembling body armor. Lurking in the darkness of caves In Southeast China, scientists discover and describe five new species of these exciting group of spiders. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The common name armored spiders is given to the engaging family Tetrablemmidae. Distinguished by their peculiar armor-like abdominal pattern, these tropical and subtropical spiders are mainly collected from litter and soil, but like the newly described species some live in caves. Some cave species, but also some soil inhabitants, show typical adaptations of cave spiders, such as loss of eyes. The genus Tetrablemma, for example, to which two of the new species belong, is distinguished by having only 4 eyes.

All these new spiders are collected from the South China Karst, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The South China Karst spans the provinces of Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan. It is noted for its karst features and landscapes as well as rich biodiversity. UNESCO describes the South China Karst as "unrivalled in terms of the diversity of its karst features and landscapes."

Colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences under the leadership of Professor Shuqiang LI have investigated more than 2000 caves in the South China Karst. Several hundred new species of cave spiders are reported by Shuqiang Li and colleagues. As a result, the total known spider species of China increased from 2300 species to 4300 species in the last 10 years.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Pensoft Publishers. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
Yucheng Lin, Shuqiang Li. New cave-dwelling armored spiders (Araneae, Tetrablemmidae) from Southwest China. ZooKeys, 2014; 388: 35 DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.388.5735
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PostPosted: 18-03-2014 00:56    Post subject: Reply with quote

ramonmercado wrote:
Lurking in the darkness... armored spiders

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PostPosted: 18-03-2014 01:14    Post subject: Reply with quote

kamalktk wrote:
ramonmercado wrote:
Lurking in the darkness... armored spiders


Have to admit I found it a tad disturbing as well. I don't have arachnophobia but I detest the blighters.
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PostPosted: 31-03-2014 18:12    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dracula ants! Great name.

Six new Dracula ants from Madagascar: Minor workers become queens in Mystrium
March 31st, 2014 in Biology / Plants & Animals

This image shows a living Mystrium species. Credit: Brian Fisher

Six new species of Dracula ants from the Malagasy region have been discovered by scientists at the California Academy of Sciences. The discoveries, by postdoctoral fellow Masashi Yoshimura from Japan and curator of entomology Brian L. Fisher, represent a completely new twist in the typically rigid caste system of ants, where anatomy is typically destiny. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

"The genus Mystrium is the most mysterious group within the bizarre Dracula ants," said Yoshimura.

Mystrium species have unique features such as long, spatulate mandibles that snap together (Gronenberg et al. 1998); wingless queens that in some undetermined species are even smaller than workers (Molet et al. 2007); and large, wingless individuals intermediate between workers and queens, which behave like queens (Molet et al. 2012).

"Mystrium was a difficult group to identify because of the remarkable variation within each species." Yoshimura said.

"Our team has explored Madagascar and its surrounding islands for 20 years and collected thousands of specimens to solve the mysteries of Mystrium," said Fisher, an expert on Malagasy ants.

Different pattern of 'reproductive castes' can be seen in a single genus Mystrium. Credit: Dr. Masashi Yoshimura

Fisher explained why Mystrium poses such a fiendish problem Mystrium to taxonomists, who identify new and different species. "Mystrium has three different styles in reproduction within a single genus, and the role of an individual in a colony is not always obvious by its appearance. Ants that look similar may be minor workers in one species but queens in another species." This makes classifying the Dracula ants extremely difficult, he said.

"The discovery of the division of females into major and minor forms were the key to solving this complicated puzzle," explained Yoshimura. "We found that all species in Mystrium share a common original components consisting of male, usual large queen, and major and minor workers.
Furthermore, the major or minor workers develop as reproductives in some species and even take over queen's position. They are revolutionaries finding in the anatomy-is-destiny world of ants! Taxonomists usually compare the anatomy of ants of the same caste to find differences between species. But in the case of the genus Mystrium, we need to compare individuals from the same original phenotype, not on the their current functional role (caste)," he said.

The authors have reclassified all species into three subgroups based on the reproductive styles, and developed a new taxonomic framework for this complicated group featuring innovative pictorial keys to the species. The illustrations include color photographs showing every hair in focus (produced using a computer-assisted method called auto-montage), and drawings for all castes. The paper looks more like a picture book than your average scientific treatise. "I learned drawing techniques from Japanese manga," Yoshimura says.

Six new Dracula ants from Madagascar: Minor workers become queens in Mystrium

This is a pictorial key combining full-focused color images and drawing. Credit: AntWeb and Dr. Masashi Yoshimura

"To name three of the species we chose words that evoke the air of mystery around this genus, calling them Mystrium labyrinth, Mystrium mirror, and Mystrium shadow." Yoshimura said.

More information: Yoshimura M, Fisher BL (2014) A revision of the ant genus Mystrium in the Malagasy region with description of six new species and remarks on Amblyopone and Stigmatomma (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Amblyoponinae). ZooKeys 394: 1-99. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.394.6446


Gronenberg W, Hölldobler B, Alpert GD (1998) Jaws that snap: control of mandible movements in the ant Mystrium. J Insect Physiol 44: 241-253. doi:

Molet M, Peeters C, Fisher BL (2007) Winged queens replaced by reproductives smaller than workers in Mystrium ants. Naturwissenschaften 94: 280-287. doi:

Molet M, Wheeler DE, Peeters C (2012) Evolution of Novel Mosaic Castes in Ants: Modularity, Phenotypic Plasticity, and Colonial Buffering. Am Nat 180: 328-341.

Provided by Pensoft Publishers

"Six new Dracula ants from Madagascar: Minor workers become queens in Mystrium." March 31st, 2014.
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PostPosted: 31-03-2014 18:16    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pilbara study uncovers unique fly community
March 31st, 2014 in Biology / Plants & Animals

A fly from the same family (Dolichopodidae) as the 19 newly described species found in the Pilbara. Credit: Sam Fraser-Smith

A Sydney-based entomologist has described a new single-species fly genus, found only at Millstream near Karratha.

Pilbara octava is a member of the family Dolichopodidae, and one of 19 new species that Australian Museum expert Dr Daniel Bickel described during a survey of Pilbara flies.

He says it helps tell the tale of a time when much of central Australia was moist and forested and the various species he found in the Pilbara were widely-distributed across the continent.

"As it gets drier a lot of these species can only survive in areas where there's like permanent water," he says.

"Places like Millstream, which is an old river system that has permanent water holes, certainly might be a sort of place where you would find these sort of things."

He also recorded 25 flies already described.

"One of the things that also came through in how many species are actually not only just Australian but they are actually found in New Guinea and some even go out to the Solomons," he says.

Dr Bickel says he found only one species (Parentia vulgaris) that is not of a "tropical" genus.

"It's from a group that otherwise is only [found in] southern Australia and New Zealand and something which is much more of a typical Gondwanan cool-adapted group," he says.

"It also gets into the Queensland tropics.

"Often what you find in these genera, you find most of the genus are often tied to a certain habitat or a certain climatic region.

"And yet there's always a few that break out and sort of adapt — that's the way that these things get around and expand their ranges."

While Dr Bickel did some collecting of his own near Cape Range and further inland, he says most of the survey involved studying unclassified material already preserved in collections at CSIRO Canberra, the Australian Museum in Sydney, and the WA Museum.

"I didn't do any DNA bar coding on this," he says.

"I'm just doing very basic description, morphologic description.

"A lot of the specimens that are used, these are the old dried specimens.
"You can't get good DNA barcodes out of them."

He says Chevron agreed to fund the whole-of-Pilbara study when it asked him for an inventory of Barrow Island flies.

"We can now say what's on the island and if there's any change that occurs there we can say we had a baseline set of data to begin with."

Provided by Science Network WA

"Pilbara study uncovers unique fly community." March 31st, 2014.
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