Travelling Elephants

A herd of wayward elephants that has mysteriously trekked about 300 miles across southern China this spring took a break to rest and to wait for an errant youngster to catch up.

State broadcaster CCTV reports that despite repeated calls from the impatient adults, the 10-year-old doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to reunite with the main group. Before the pachyderms’ respite, hundreds of trucks were dispatched to keep the 15 ambling migrants out of populated areas. Officials say they are planning to use food bait and roadblocks to help guide the herd to a new suitable habitat once it is moving again.

The elephants take a snooze during their journey.



Sea of Spider Silk

Many residents of Victoria, Australia, evacuated their homes to avoid disastrous floods last week — and upon their return, they found the land, trees and road signs coated in thick veils of shimmering spider silk.

As the residents of Gippsland evacuated their homes, local arachnids also fled for higher ground. Using a behavior called “ballooning,” spiders clambered atop vegetation and flung fine silk threads into the wind; as the threads caught air, the spiders got plucked from their perches and lifted to safety leaving the remarkable carpet of silk, called gossamer, covering shrubs or fields behind.



Secret population of blue whales discovered in Indian Ocean

Scientists have discovered an entirely new population of pygmy blue whales in the Indian Ocean, near the Chagos Islands which have managed to evade detection for decades despite their enormous size.

Researchers uncovered the secretive cetaceans by analyzing acoustic data collected by an underwater nuclear bomb detection array, which revealed a unique song scientists had never heard before.


Hero Retires

A giant African pouched rat named Magawa is retiring after five years of detecting 71 landmines and 38 other unexploded ordnance. The Belgian charity APOPO says Magawa is “beginning to slow down” after a very successful assignment in Cambodia.

The organization trains the rodents in their native Tanzania to detect the chemicals in explosives. The rats are light enough to scurry across minefields without detonating the explosives, doing in just 30 minutes what a metal detector would accomplish in four days.

APOPO gave Magawa a hero’s medal and says he will retire eating his favorite treats of bananas and peanuts.



24,000-year-old organisms found frozen in Siberia can still reproduce

A microscopic worm-like creature, labelled an “evolutionary scandal” by biologists for having thrived for millions of years without having sex, has now been shown to persist for at least 24,000 years in Siberian permafrost and then reproduce, researchers have found.

Multicellular invertebrates that are solely female, bdelloid rotifers are already renowned for their resistance to radiation and ability to withstand rather inhospitable environments: drying, starvation and low oxygen. They’ve also existed for at least 35m years – and can be found today in freshwater lakes, ponds, streams and moist terrestrial habitats such as moss, lichen, tree bark and soil.

These tough little critters – which have a complete digestive tract that includes a mouth and an anus – are able to survive hostile environments by halting all activity and almost entirely arresting their metabolism.

The rotifers found in the permafrost would have been under the feet of big woolly creatures – such as the woolly rhino – that are now extinct. Once thawed in a lab setting, the rotifers were able to reproduce, the researchers wrote in the journal Current Biology.


Wayward Elephants

A herd of 15 wild Asian elephants that left a Chinese nature reserve in April has destroyed crops, wrecked barns and wandered through communities as it trekked relentlessly for nearly 300 miles toward Yunnan’s provincial capital of Kunming.

No one knows why the pack of pachyderms has made the journey, but elephant expert Chen Mingyong told China’s official Xinhua news agency that the leader possibly “lacks experience and has led the whole group astray.” Officials have been tracking the animals with drones and a task force in 76 cars, and have used roadblocks and tons of food in an attempt to shift the elephants’ course.


Devilish Births

The first Tasmanian devils to be born on the Australian mainland in more than 3,000 years brought hope that the world’s largest surviving marsupial carnivore could reestablish its former habitats.

The animals, notoriously bad-tempered when threatened, were wiped out on the mainland by dingos and have since been confined to the island of Tasmania. But the group Aussie Arc released 26 adults into the wild in late 2020, and they have since produced seven new joeys. Those devils relocated to New South Wales’ fenced-in Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary are free of the contagious mouth cancer that has decimated up to 90% of the wild population on Tasmania.



Madagascar may be a secret stronghold for Coelacanths ‘living fossil’ fish

Madagascar may be a secret stronghold for coelacanths, the “living fossil” fish that were considered extinct until a fisherman caught one in 1938 off South Africa.

Coelacanths of the same species — Latimeria chalumnae — have since turned up off Tanzania, the Comoros (a group of islands off the eastern coast of Africa) and Madagascar. Now, a new review of the Madagascar fishery bycatch, or accidental catch, reveals that at least 34 confirmed specimens have been caught and that many more likely have been pulled up that never reached the attention of biologists or conservationists. Though the overall population numbers remain a mystery, the authors of the new study suspect that Madagascar may be an important habitat for coelacanths and that it may even be their ancestral home.

With 420 million years of history behind them, coelacanths are older than Madagascar, which has had a coastline for 88 million years and has been in its current location for about 40 million years.

These fish evolved 180 million years before the dinosaurs first emerged, surviving even as continents shifted and an asteroid wiped out much of life on Earth, including marine “sea monsters” like mosasaurs. Known first from fossils, coelacanths were believed extinct until a trawler caught one in a gill net in December 1938 near South Africa.


Great white shark population off California’s coast is growing

The great white shark population off Northern California’s coast is healthy and growing, a new study finds.

A survey of the great whites (Carcharodon carcharias) off the northern coast finds a stable adult population and a slight uptick in the number of subadult sharks, totaling 300 individuals. Researchers used a seal decoy to lure the apex predators to their boats so they could photograph and count the sharks. The findings are great for the region.


Dead baby orca reveals harmful chemical levels

A necropsy of a 10-day-old orca that washed up in Norway in 2017 has revealed that even as calves, these iconic whales are full of harmful chemicals, a new study finds.

The young killer whale (Orcinus orca) was one of eight deceased orcas that researchers in Norway examined. Of these, seven (including the calf) had levels of the banned flame retardant polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) that were high enough to cause health problems in the animals, the researchers found. And all had lower levels of some newer pollutants of which little is known and haven’t yet been banned.

Perhaps the most striking finding was that the neonate killer whale was as polluted as the adults. This means that these new pollutants are also being passed on from mother to calf.



Psychedelic Frenzy

Some of the billions of Brood X cicadas that are emerging from the soil in the eastern United States for the first time in 17 years are infected with a fungus that eats away at their abdomens as it increases their sex drive.

The Massospora cicadina fungus lies dormant until the 17-year periodical cicadas begin to stir. It’s laced with the same chemical as in psychedelic mushrooms and causes the males to emit the mating sounds of both males and females. This attracts more potential partners and spreads the fungus.

Since the fungus effectively castrates the males as it eats away at their bodies, it acts as a natural population control, making it impossible for the infected insects to mate successfully.


Deep-sea fish with lightbulb on its head washes ashore in California

A nightmarish fish that typically dwells thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface recently washed ashore on a California beach.

The deep-sea fish, known as an anglerfish, is rather elusive and rarely seen outside of the deep ocean. The bizarre creature is normally found at ocean depths of around 3,000 feet (914 meters), the post said. More than 200 species of anglerfish are found worldwide, and officials determined that the specimen in this case is most likely a Pacific football fish.

The fish’s mouth sports a number of sharp, pointy teeth; and the top of its head features a long, protruding stalk with a bioluminescent bulb at the end, which is used “as a lure to entice prey in the darkness” of the deep ocean.

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Giant Moth

A gigantic moth that is almost never seen by humans was recently found on a building site at a school in Australia. The colossal insect is so heavy that it can’t fly, and reaches its full size just a few days before mating. And then it dies.

Giant wood moths (Endoxyla cinereus) are the largest species of moth in the world. When fully grown, the females, which are around twice the size of the males, can weigh up to 1 ounce (30 grams) and reach a wingspan of 10 inches (25 centimeters).



Adapting Butterflies

Western monarch butterflies from the Pacific Northwest to California may not be going extinct as earlier feared, but are instead changing their breeding habitats and adapting to climate change.

A Washington State University expert says last winter’s count of the colorful insects revealed a sharp drop, especially across much of Southern California, where the number plunged from about 300,000 three years ago to just 1,914 in 2020.

But entomologist David James says large populations were observed by citizen scientists in metropolitan Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, where they had seldom been seen wintering before.


Wandering Whale

A young gray whale, born in California’s coastal waters, has been wandering around the western Mediterranean in recent weeks as the first of its species to ever appear there.

Marine biologists believe it got lost while feeding in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea and eventually wound up in the Atlantic rather than its Pacific home waters.

While apparently healthy, the whale looks unusually thin because the Mediterranean doesn’t have the kind of food it is used to. Experts hope the lost whale can make it down the Spanish coast, through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic, where it has a better chance of survival.

Manatee Deaths

An average of seven manatee deaths have been reported each day in Florida so far this year as the U.S. government and local marine mammal experts try to find what’s behind the spike in fatalities.

About 675 manatee carcasses were found from January 1 to mid-April, compared to 637 in all of last year. Nearly half of the sea cow fatalities occurred around the Indian River Lagoon. Recent algae blooms and pollution have killed off the area’s seagrass beds, which the manatees feed on.

Development and habit loss are also adding stress to the animals, as is chronic exposure to pesticides such as glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup. Red tide outbreaks from the widespread use of fertilizers are also polluting manatee habitats.


Wildfires – California

A giant sequoia has been found smouldering and smoking in a part of Sequoia National Park that burned in one of California’s huge wildfires last year, the National Park Service said Wednesday.

The smouldering tree was found recently by scientists and fire crews surveying the effects of the blaze, which was ignited by lightning last August and spread over more than 270 square miles (699 square kilometers) of the Sierra Nevada. It took five months to fully contain.

Most of California is deep in drought, with severe to extreme conditions in the mountain range that provides about a third of the state’s water. On April 1, when the Sierra Nevada snowpack is normally at its peak, its water content was just 59% of average, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

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Elephant Culling in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is considering the mass killing of elephants for the first tie since 1988 to reduce the 100 000 strong population.

The Government of Zimbabwe, which has the world’s second largest elephant population after Botswana, maintains that the large number of animals is leading to the destruction of habitat needed by other species and an increasing number of dangerous human-elephant interactions.