Monarch Butterfly Migration May Be Vanishing

The lowest number of monarch butterflies ever recorded in their Mexican winter home has experts worrying about the future of the epic monarch migration.

A new report by the World Wildlife Fund and two Mexican agencies says this year’s precipitous plunge in monarch numbers is due to the loss of the insect’s main food: milkweed.

Loss of the plant’s habitat to urban sprawl and expanding agriculture is said to be literally starving the insects to death. Recent bad weather hasn’t helped.

The black-and-orange iconic butterflies now cover only 1.65 acres in the pine and fir forests of Michoacan state, west of Mexico City.

That’s compared to almost 3 acres last year and more than 44.5 acres at the recorded peak in 1995.

Experts say the long-term decline in the butterfly’s population can no longer be due to brief and unusual weather conditions.

“The main culprit is now [genetically modified] herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA,” which “leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch’s principal food plant, common milkweed,” said Sweet Briar College entomologist Lincoln Brower.

The extreme drought in the U.S. corn belt during the summer of 2012 also wiped out huge numbers of milkweeds. Elizabeth Howard of Journey North says that was a fatal blow to many of the iconic fliers.

Monarchs typically live only four to five weeks, except for the generation that emerges in late summer. That’s the one that migrates the entire way southward to the species’ wintering grounds in Michoacan.



Hundreds of dead animals found at South Africa airport

More than 1,600 animals were discovered crammed into two crates at the OR Tambo International Airport. The survivors are being treated at a local zoo.

The animals, from Madagascar, had been without water and food for at least five days, reports say.

They are believed to have been destined for the exotic pet market in the US.

The animals, which included at least 30 different species of frogs, chameleons, lizards and toads and geckos, had been placed in two crates about half a metre in size – one on top of the other.

The chameleons were tied in small muslin bags, while the other reptiles and amphibians were crammed into small plastic tubs. Some of the animals were so tightly packed together that they were unable to move or turn around.

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Killing Sharks Prompts Australian Outrage

Environmental and wildlife advocates slammed Western Australia’s move to begin killing sharks along the Indian Ocean coast at the southwest tip of the country in the wake of seven fatal shark attacks within the past three years.

The cull comes as marine biologists around the world warn that some shark species are becoming endangered due to overfishing and mutilation for their fins.

The Western Australia government allowed contract fishermen to place baited hooks on drum lines off popular beaches in the state capital of Perth and to the south to kill white, bull and tiger sharks over 10 feet long.

The first shark killed was shot and its carcass dumped at sea.

A new poll by the leading UMR research company finds that 82 percent of Australians don’t think the sharks should be killed and say people enter the water at their own risk.

But Western Australia’s leading politician doesn’t agree.

“When you have sharks that are three, four, five metres long of known aggressive varieties, swimming in the water very close to beachgoers, that is an imminent danger,” said Premier Colin Barnett.

Activists have pledged to interfere with the killings with tactics like removing bait from the drum lines.



See-Through ‘Fish’ Startles New Zealand Fishermen

A northern New Zealand fisherman and his two sons were baffled after pulling in a nearly foot-long translucent marine creature that looked a lot like a see-though fish.

“It felt scaly and was quite firm, almost jelly-like, and you couldn’t see anything inside aside from this orange little blob,” Stewart Fraser told the Daily Mail.

Researchers from the country’s National Marine Aquarium examined photos of the catch and believe it was likely a Salpa maggiore.

“The salp is barrel-shaped and moves by contracting, pumping water through its gelatinous body,” said Paul Cox from the aquarium.

Little is known about them or how the unusually large one caught by Fraser came to be so far from its normal habitats in the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica.



5,500 Siberian Beavers to Be Culled

Several thousand beavers in western Siberia are facing a cull by the summer in a drive to avoid an outbreak of disease.

Gazeta Kemerova news website cited a statement by the Kemerovo Region’s environmental protection department as saying as many as 5,500 beavers could be killed to thin out the ranks of the animal.

Overpopulation of beavers is also reportedly responsible for numerous road-flooding incidents caused by their dams.

No up-to-date information on the beaver population of Kemerovo Region is available. In 2011, the population of beavers stood at 18,000 and was growing steadily.

The Eurasian beaver was hunted to the brink of extinction in the early 20th century, but the population has bounced back enough for it to lose its threatened status.



Plant Virus May Be Behind Massive Honeybee Deaths

Chinese and U.S. researchers say a virus that typically infects plants has been found in honeybees.

The scientists inadvertently found tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV) during routine screening of bees.

“The results of our study provide the first evidence that honeybees exposed to virus-contaminated pollen can also be infected and that the infection becomes widespread in their bodies,” said lead author Ji Lian Li, at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science in Beijing.

He added that the honeybees can also spread TRSV as they move from flower to flower and between plants.

TRSV is particularly dangerous since it produces a flood of mutations that infect in different ways.

Bee colonies found with high levels of various viral strains were less successful in surviving harsh months last winter than those with lower levels of infections.

One-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died off during the winter of 2012-13, a 42 percent increase in fatalities from the previous winter.

TRSV infections could be at least one factor behind colony collapse disorder, which has stumped scientists for years.



Record Year for Rhino Poaching

The number of rhinos illegally slaughtered in South Africa in 2013 reached an all-time high, with an average of three rhinos killed each day, according to new figures released this month by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.


Japanese Fishermen Terrorize Dolphins Before Slaughter

More than 200 bottlenose dolphins spent a second day penned in a cove by Japanese fishermen, U.S. conservationists said Sunday, many of them stressed and bloodied from their attempts to escape.

The dolphins will spend a third night without food or rest in Taiji Cove before the fishermen likely start to slaughter them Monday for meat, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said.

Until now, the fishermen have focused on selecting dolphins to be sold into captivity at marine parks and aquariums in Japan and overseas, the conservation group said. Twenty-five dolphins, including a rare albino calf, were taken on Saturday “to a lifetime of imprisonment,” and another 12 on Sunday, the group said. Two dolphins have died in the process.

Although the hunting of dolphins is widely condemned in the west, Japanese defend the practice as a local custom — and say it is no different to the slaughter of other animals for meat.


Sydney’s Bald Reef Gets a Seaweed Transplant

Seaweed transplants could help revive an underwater forest off the coast of Sydney, Australia, that was wiped out by sewage dumping decades earlier, a new study suggests.

The large brown seaweed species Phyllospora comosa, commonly called crayweed, once thrived off the city’s shores, providing food and shelter for other undersea creatures like fish and abalone. But in 2008, researchers discovered that this macroalgae had disappeared from a 43-mile (70 kilometres) stretch of Sydney’s coastline — and that it had probably been missing for years.

A group of ecologists took fertile crayweed from surrounding coastal areas and transplanted the species onto two barren reef sites off Sydney. At one site off Long Bay, transplanted crayweed individuals survived just well as those left undisturbed, and they even reproduced.

Seaweeds are the “trees” of the ocean, Campbell added; they support life along temperate coastlines, which can help promote biodiversity and sustain fishing and tourism industries.

Seaweed transplant


Mild Scandinavian Winter Stirs Bears and Buds Flowers

The bulge of warm air over Northern Europe, pushed up by the Arctic vortex on the other side of the Atlantic, has caused bears to emerge early from hibernation in Finland and plants to bud earlier than normal in Norway.

While North Americans have shivered in the coldest weather in decades, Nordic residents have experienced one of the mildest winters in a century.

The Norwegian newspaper Sunnmørsposten published reader photographs of daffodils emerging as early as mid-December, along with crocuses, daisies, dandelions and honeysuckle.

“It was very unusual to see no snow in large areas where it is normal in December,” said Ketil Isaksen, a scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

“Only in the mountains and certain parts of Norway could you find snow.” Heavy rainfall, instead of snow, is believed to have flooded bear dens, forcing the animals out of hibernation.



Bats Fall Dead From Sky During Australian Heatwave

A spell of scorching summertime weather in Australia’s southern Queensland state killed as many as 100,000 bats in an environmental disaster officials called unprecedented.

Many of the flying foxes, or fruit bats, fell dead from the sky while the carcasses of others hung on branches.

Local residents said the stench of decay was unbearable as temperatures reached nearly 110° F in Brisbane.

At least 16 people were reportedly receiving anti-viral treatment after coming into close contact with a bat.

The animals sometimes carry lyssavirus, which can cause paralysis and even death in humans.

But wildlife officials say the flying foxes are a key part of the ecosystem, and such a massive loss to their populations will have consequences.

“I don’t necessarily like the bats, but I don’t like seeing them dead,” Dayboro resident Murray Paas told Guardian Australia.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was caring for many young bats left orphaned by the heat disaster.



Lions Face Extinction in West Africa

Lions in West Africa are on the brink of extinction, new research suggests.

Fewer than 250 adults may be left in West Africa, and those big cats are confined to less than 1 percent of their historic range.

The new study, detailed in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that without dramatic conservation efforts, three of the four West African lion populations could become extinct in the next five years, with further declines in the one remaining population, study co-author Philipp Henschel, the lion program survey coordinator for Panthera, a global wildcat conservation organization wrote.

The West African lions are genetically distinct from their brethren in other regions of the continent and are closely related to Barbary lions of North Africa and the few Asiatic lions left in India.

Cubs and mom


Mysterious Silkhenge Spider

About six months ago, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology first spotted a mysterious web unlike anything scientists had seen before: Each one of the weird webs was a tiny sphere surrounded by a circular fence less than an inch in diameter.

Web structure tarp

The student, Troy Alexander, found the mysterious formation underneath a tarp at the Tambopata Research Centre in Peru and had no idea what it was, so he posted photos of the webs on Reddit. Despite consulting with several experts who made several wild guesses, from moths to slide moulds no one knew what built the structure, or for what purpose.

About a month ago, the researchers finally got a chance to go back to the spot where they found the webs. They searched around the area where the first ones were found, eventually spotting 45 to 50 of the weird formations.

They then spent day and night studying the structures to see if they could find any signs of activity.

“We were really hoping to catch something being made or hatching out of it, or interacting in some way,” Torres told LiveScience’s OurAmazingPlanet. And they did.

One of their first hypotheses was that the blobs in the middle were spermatophores, or packages filled with sperm and nutritious food that would attract female spiders. But over the course of a week, they didn’t find any signs of females coming to eat the packages.

Finally, the researchers removed three of the structures from a tree and put them under a glass. After about a week, the mystery was finally solved when two spiderlings came out of two of the structures, and later, a third spiderling hatched from the formation.

During one of their days of observation, they saw an ant approach a tower and then turn back. The web towers are found on Cecropia trees, which have a symbiotic relationship with ants, so one possibility is that the fence defends against ant invaders that live on the tree.

Web structure bark


Polar Birthday

About 5,000 polar bear cubs were born in the Arc- tic around New Y ear’ s Day, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The end of December is typically when the bears give birth — a time when the northern polar region is blanketed by some of the coldest and darkest conditions of the year. WWF celebrates the polar bears’ birthday on Dec. 29 and estimates the global population of the iconic animal is between 20,000 and 25,000. The bears, which can typically live to be about 25 years old, are threatened by poachers, global warming and pollution. They have become the “poster animal” for climate change and the resulting melt of their Arctic ice cap homes.


Locusts Devour Yemen’s Crops: Hunger Looms

Starvation looms for some residents of the Arab nation of Yemen as a plague of desert locusts has devoured vast tracts of crops there.

Unusually heavy rainfall during the past several months has created perfect breeding conditions for the insects, according to agriculture officials.

About 75 percent of Yemen’s population relies on agriculture for a living, and many farmers may not have any crops left to harvest in the aftermath of the swarms.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says that ground spraying has been conducted along Yemen’s Red Sea coast, where new generations of the insects were emerging.

The U.N. agency says that the insects can lay waste to entire farming regions within days.

Yemen’s last severe locust swarms arrived following heavy rainfall in 2007.



Sydney measles outbreak spreads in NZ

AN outbreak of measles linked to a Sydney hip-hop dance festival has spread from Auckland to the New Zealand cities of Turangi and Taupo, with 10 cases confirmed.

West Nile Virus Killing Bald Eagles

An unprecedented wintertime outbreak of West Nile virus has killed more than two dozen bald eagles in Utah and thousands of water birds around the Great Salt Lake.

At least 27 bald eagles have died this month in the northern and central parts of Utah from the blood-borne virus, and state biologists reported that five more ailing eagles were responding to treatment at rehabilitation centres.

The eagles, whose symptoms included leg paralysis and tremors, are believed to have contracted the disease by preying on sick or dead water birds called eared grebes that were infected by the West Nile virus, said Leslie McFarlane, Utah wildlife disease coordinator.

Some 20,000 of the water birds have died in and around the Great Salt Lake since November in an outbreak that may be a record in North America, McFarlane said. Initial testing suggested an infectious bacterial disease such as avian cholera caused the deaths, but findings released on Tuesday showed West Nile virus was the culprit, McFarlane said.

The dead birds do not pose a risk to people, Utah Health Department epidemiologist JoDee Baker said in a statement. Yet Baker urged those who find sick or dead birds to avoid handling them.

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Bottlenose Dolphins Oiled By Deepwater Horizon Spill are Dying

The oil spill resulting from the explosion of the deepwater horizon drilling platform initiated immediate concern for marine wildlife, including common bottlenose dolphins in sensitive coastal habitats according to a new study.

To evaluate potential sublethal effects on dolphins, health assessments were conducted in Barataria bay, Louisiana, an area that received heavy and prolonged oiling, and in a reference site, sarasota bay, florida, where oil was not observed.

Dolphins were temporarily captured, received a veterinary examination, and were then released. Dolphins sampled in Barataria bay showed evidence of hypoadrenocorticism, consistent with adrenal toxicity as previously reported for laboratory mammals exposed to oil.

Barataria bay dolphins were 5 times more likely to have moderate−severe lung disease, generally characterized by significant alveolar interstitial syndrome, lung masses, and pulmonary consolidation. Of 29 dolphins evaluated from Barataria bay, 48% were given a guarded or worse prognosis, and 17% were considered poor or grave, indicating that they were not expected to survive. Disease conditions in Barataria bay dolphins were significantly greater in prevalence and severity than those in sarasota bay dolphins, as well as those previously reported in other wild dolphin populations.

Many disease conditions observed in Barataria bay dolphins are uncommon but consistent with petroleum hydrocarbon exposure and toxicity. The study is the first to confirm that bottlenose dolphins in the areas heavily affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are suffering injuries that are consistent with exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons.

Beached dolphin