Monarch Gains

The Mexican forest reserve where millions of monarch butterflies spend the winter saw deforestation drop by 57 percent this year compared to 2017, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported.

“The forest’s degradation has dropped due to a decrease in large-scale illegal logging operations, the end of the damages caused by the 2016 storms and the absence of weather events,” said Jorge Rickards, head of WWF Mexico.

But small-scale illegal logging in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve saw a slight rise, with about 3.5 acres of forest lost.


Cats vs rats

The first study to look at how talented feral cats are at killing wild rats found that the felines just aren’t very good at that task.

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, lead researcher Michael H. Parsons of Fordham University said the findings add to the growing evidence that any benefit of using cats to control city rats is outweighed by the threat they pose to birds and other urban wildlife.

Earlier studies found that cats prefer smaller, defenseless prey such as birds and smaller native wildlife, which makes cats a threat to urban ecosystems.


Squirrel Scourge

Farmers in New England are vexed by unusually large numbers of squirrels that are gnawing their way through pumpkin patches, corn fields and apple orchards this fall.

Robert Randall, who has a 60-acre orchard in Standish, Maine, told The Associated Press: “They’re raising some hell this year. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen.”

The squirrel population boom appears to have been fueled by a bumper crop of acorns and other food, according to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Growers say one of the more infuriating aspects of the squirrels is that they often take a single bite then move on. But just one bite is all it takes to ruin fruit.

The rodents are now being killed in greater numbers by passing vehicles as they dart to find their next meal.


Invading Crabs

An aggressive breed of green crab is invading Maine’s waters.

The crabs (Carcinus maenas) threaten blue mussels, soft-shell clams and the eelgrass beds off the state’s rocky coast. The crustaceans are also just plain nasty: Researchers who work with the crabs say that instead of hiding from threats, the critters rush forward, pincers waving.

The crabs, which measure about 5 inches (13 centimeters) long, belong to the same species that has long lived in Maine’s waters. But in the past few years, a genetically distinct population of this species has traveled south from Nova Scotia, Canada, according to research led by Markus Frederich, a professor of marine sciences at the University of New England. These non-native crabs chow down on marine animals that are important for Maine’s economy, including mussels and clams, and the invaders shred native eelgrass habitat as they hunt.

Green crabs probably arrived in North America in the 1800s in the ballast water of ships from Europe. In the past decade, Maine’s green crab population has exploded, a cycle probably linked to rising ocean temperatures, according to the marine resources department.

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Nature – Images

Interesting Images

Scientists observed the first-ever evidence of praying mantises hunting fish.

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A family on New Zealand’s North Island were enjoying an early morning walk on Pakiri Beach last week when they came across a monstrous, gooey blob with a gelatinous grape-colored center. The glob was an enormous lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata).

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Nature – Images

Interesting Images

Squirrel Knot

Five infant squirrels that got their tails caught together in a giant knot were rescued and untied by the Wisconsin Humane Society. They were taken to the group’s vets by someone who came across the bizarre scene of their tails caught in what the rescuers called a “Gordian knot” of squirrel tail and nest material. “You can imagine how wiggly and unruly (and nippy!) this frightened, distressed ball of squirrelly energy was, so our first step was to anesthetize all five of them at the same time,” the Humane Society said. The squirrels were frazzled but unharmed by the experience.



Whaling Wins

A nearly two-decade effort to create a whale sanctuary across the southern Atlantic was shot down by pro-whaling nations at the fractious International Whaling Commission meeting in Brazil.

While 39 countries backed establishing a haven for the marine mammals, 25 voted against it, including Russia and pro-whaling Japan, along with commercial whaling nations Iceland and Norway. This caused the vote to fall short of the required three-quarters majority.


Omnivorous Shark Discovered

Ruining the reputation of sharks as bloodthirsty predators, California researchers said they have found a shark that enjoys a side of seagrass with its prey.

Bonnethead sharks not only eat grass while chomping fish and squid – they also digest the plant and gain nutrition from it, scientists at the University of California, Irvine announced.

It turns out bonnetheads have high levels of enzymes that break down fiber and carbohydrates, compared with the low amount carnivores typically have. That makes the bonnethead the first known omnivorous shark, researchers said.


Nature – Images

Interesting Images

Fishermen in Northern Ireland pulled in the catch of a lifetime on Wednesday (Sept. 5), when they caught an enormous Irish elk skull that’s estimated to be more than 10,500 years old. The impressive specimen is about 6 feet (1.8 meters) across and is almost fully intact.

Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus) have been extinct for more than 10,000 years, and were one of the largest deer species to ever roam the Earth.

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Outlaw Whaling

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced that Japan killed more than 50 minke whales in an Antarctic marine protection area this year as it continued to ignore a ruling to halt its “research whaling.”

Fishing is restricted in that part of the Southern Ocean to protect marine life, including blue, humpback, minke and killer whales, along with emperor penguins and Weddell seals. WWF said that Japan killed a total of 333 minke whales off Antarctica this year, including 122 pregnant females.

In 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan should cancel all existing “scientific whaling” permits in the Southern Ocean. But the country continues to issue itself new permits, and plans to do so until 2027.



Tiny beetle is killing SA’s trees – and nothing can stop it

A beetle smaller than a sesame seed is killing huge trees throughout South Africa, and little can be done to stop it.

The polyphagous shot hole borer, a native of southeast Asia no bigger than 2mm, has found its way to South Africa and is infesting trees at an alarming rate.

According to Professor Marcus Byrne, an entomologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, the beetle bores tunnels into tree trunks where it spreads the fungus Fusarium euwallaceae, which effectively cuts off the trees’ vascular system, causing them to die.

“It’s an ambrosia beetle, which means it carries a fungus which it feeds its babies on. When it introduces that fungus into trees that have never experienced it before, it threatens those trees with illness or death.”

Byrne says no one truly knows how the beetles made their way to South Africa.

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Elephant Massacre in Botswana

Ninety elephant carcasses have been discovered in Botswana with their tusks hacked off, a charity said Tuesday, in what is believed to be one of Africa’s worst mass poaching sprees. Most of the animals killed were large bulls carrying heavy tusks, Elephants Without Borders said.

The grim discovery was made over several weeks during an aerial survey by Elephants Without Borders and Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks. The animals were shot with heavy-calibre rifles at watering spots near a popular wildlife sanctuary in the Okavango Delta.

The killing continues at a dizzying pace of about 30,000 elephants a year to meet demand for ivory in Asia, where tusks sell for around $1,000 (R15,200) a kilo. Elephants in Zambia and Angola, north of Botswana, “have been poached to the verge of local extinction, and poachers have now turned to Botswana.

The government was not immediately available to comment on rangers being apparently disarmed earlier this year. Botswana previously had a zero-tolerance approach to poaching, with a “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers. Poachers have also targeted rhino, said Chase, after six white rhino carcasses were found in recent months.


Wildfires – British Columbia, Canada

Hungry and homeless: B.C. wildfires are forcing bears out of critical habitats. While many people across the province have been forced to flee their homes due to wildfires, so too have wildlife. Fires rip through forests, destroying habitats and burning food sources.

When a bear is forced out of its territory, it will move in search of a new home. However, that new home may already be inhabited, at which point the bears will fight each other to lay claim to the patch of land. Usually, the weaker bear will be pushed further away in search of food, creating a ripple effect, according to Langen, until it wanders into an urban area, sniffing out garbage cans for food. This represents a danger to the public and to the bear.

Numerous bears have been treated at wildlife sanctuaries and societies for dehydration and malnutrition caused by the wildfires. A number of animals have also died.

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Bees get hooked on harmful pesticide – study

Bumblebees acquire a taste for food laced with a pesticide known to harm them, according to a study suggesting the chemicals pose an even greater threat to pollinators than previously thought.

In experiments, researchers showed that bees initially put off by sugar water containing neonicotinoids – the most widely-used class of insecticide worldwide – soon started seeking them out to the exclusion of untainted food. The findings were published on Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Neonicotinoids, earlier research has shown, disrupt the ability of bees to reproduce and lower their resistance to disease. Global bee populations are on the decline. And in Southwest China they have become so rare that fruit plantations are no longer being pollinated. Farmers are now doing it themselves.


Extreme Heat ‘Cooks” Fish in California Lagoon

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Some fish just can’t take the heat. And unfortunately, that’s probably why an estimated 2,000 striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) suddenly died in Malibu Lagoon and Malibu Creek in Southern California last week.

The higher-than-average water temperatures in the lagoon: 80 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 28 degrees Celsius) are thought to be the upper limit in which striped mullet can survive, causing the fish to effectively be cooked in the warm water.

A New ‘Brown Tide’ Could Make Florida’s Dangerous Red Tide Worse

The beaches of southwest Florida are once again graveyards for marine life, thanks to a deadly “red tide” algal bloom floating just beneath the surface of the water offshore. The algae bloom has gone on way longer than usual, since November 2017. And it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better, as a separate bloom — this one called a “brown tide” — appears to be on track to intermingle with the ride tide and feed it.

Brown tides are caused by a cyanobacterium called Trichodesmium that derives its energy from the sun, just like Karenia brevis, the alga that causes toxic red tides. While Trichodesmium can produce toxins on its own, the real danger is that the brown tide could become a food source for the red-tide alga if they mix.

Currently, the ongoing red tide threatens wildlife and humans along about 145 miles (233 kilometers) of coastline between Pinellas and Collier counties in southwest Florida. The offshore brown tide is not yet known to have mixed with the red tide.

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