Surfing The Wierd

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Madagascar Extinct Great Elephant Bird elephant bird
Animal Classification: Elephant birds


Class: Aves

Order: Struthioniformes

Suborder: Aepyornithes

Family: Aepyornithidae

Thumbnail description Extinct, large, flightless birds of massive build, known only from fragmentary fossil remains

Size Some species probably 10 ft (3 m), 880 lb (400 kg)

Number of genera, species 2 genera; 7 species

Habitat Thought to have inhabited woodland and forest in southwest Madagascar

Conservation status Extinct

Distribution Madagascar

Evolution and systematics

Elephant birds belong to the group of large, flightless birds known as ratites. Ratites had a distinctive palate, and a sternum (breastbone) with no keel, so there was no anchor for the strong musculature needed for powered flight.

The origin of these birds has recently been clarified by the discovery of numerous good fossils in North America and Europe. Ratites were once thought to have a southern origin in the ancient continent of Gondwana, but new fossil evidence shows that flying ratites inhabited the Northern Hemisphere in the Paleocene and Eocene, 40–70 million years ago. The present Southern Hemisphere distribution of ratites probably resulted from the spread of flying ancestors of the group from the north.

Another indication that ancestors of elephant birds reached Madagascar as flying birds is that no fossils of ratites or elephant birds are found in India. In the process of separation of Gondwana into multiple continents, Madagascar and India remained joined for millions of years after breaking away from Gondwana. If elephant birds had walked to Madagascar, they would surely also have reached India. On the other hand, numerous remains of birds from genera such as Mullerornis and Aepyornis are known from the Quaternary period of Madagascar. They were found in rock strata that are at most two million years old.

Elephant birds seem most closely related to present-day ostriches. Two fossil birds, Eremopezus eocaenus and Stromeria fajumensis, from the lower Tertiary of Egypt are sometimes placed in the Aepyornithidae, but opinion is divided about their relationships and they are omitted from the family in this treatment.

Seven separate species of elephant bird are known to have existed: Mullerornis betsilei, Mullerornis agilis, Mullerornis rudis, Aepyornis maximus, Aepyornis medius, Aepyornis hildebrandti, and Aepyornis gracilis.

Physical characteristics

No precise estimate can be made of the size and weight of these birds. Some were very large, up to 10 ft (3 m) tall, and weighed 880 lb (400 kg). Others were probably smaller, but more fossil material is needed to give good size-range estimates. When x-rayed, some eggs reveal embryonic elephant birds, giving clues about the form of the whole bird, or at least its chick. The middle bone of the leg, the tibia, is longer than the lowest bone, the tarsus, indicating the birds were not fast runners. They had no need to run because other animals on Madagascar were no larger than a cat.


Most early reports and recent fossil material have come from southwestern Madagascar. Two intact elephant bird eggs were found on the beaches of western Australia, on the far side of the Indian Ocean from Madagascar. It was concluded that these eggs were laid near the sea, washed into the sea by rivers or brought to the coast by human inhabitants of Madagascar, and floated to western Australia. Their survival on a journey of at least 5,000 mi (8,000 km) is remarkable.


Étienne de Flacourt, the first French governor of Madagascar, was the first to report to scientists about elephant birds. He stated that a giant bird called "vouron patra" was still frequently found in the southern half of the island in the mid-seventeenth century. It is thought that elephant birds lived in the forests and woodlands of southwestern Madagascar. When human inhabitants arrived on the island about 2,000 years ago, they fragmented and burned these environments, causing the birds to lose their livelihood and become extinct soon after Flacourt's report.


Nothing is known of the behavior of these birds. An account by Marco Polo in which large birds seized elephants, flew into the sky, then dropped the elephants to kill them and feast on them is a delightful fairy tale that may have given elephant birds their name.

Feeding ecology and diet

Elephant birds are thought to have fed on forest fruits. They may have been important in the dispersal of some fruit-bearing plants on the island—plants that are now known only from a few very old individual trees.

Reproductive biology

It is likely that elephant birds laid small clutches, perhaps of only one egg, and therefore reproduced slowly. The first scientific data on elephant birds was a report on their eggs made when a traveler named Sganzin sent a sketch of one of the giant eggs to collector Jules Verreaux from Madagascar in 1832. The eggs would have weighed about 13 lb (6 kg) and would be some of the largest single cells ever known.

Conservation status


Significance to humans

Flacourt reported that the natives used remains of elephant bird eggs as vessels. The shells are several millimeters thick; they may be more than 12 in (30 cm) long, and their volume is given as more than 1.6 gal (6 l). This corresponds to more than six ostrich eggs or more than 150 chicken eggs. Even today, many broken eggshells litter the beaches of southwestern Madagascar. The eggs and the birds that laid them must have been a great food resource for local people.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Javan Rhino - Soon Extinct?

Javan Rhinoceros

Javan Rhinoceros[1]
A European hunter with a dead Javan Rhino in 1895
A European hunter with a dead Javan Rhino in 1895
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Rhinocerotidae
Genus: Rhinoceros
Species: R. sondaicus
Binomial name
Rhinoceros sondaicus Desmarest, 1822[3]
Javan Rhinoceros Range[4]
Javan Rhinoceros Range[4]

Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus Rhinoceros sondaicus inermis (extinct) Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus

The Javan Rhinoceros (Sunda Rhinoceros to be more precise) or Lesser One-horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is a member of the family Rhinocerotidae and one of five extant rhinoceroses. It belongs to the same genus as the Indian Rhinoceros, and has similar mosaicked skin which resembles armor, but at 3.1–3.2 m (10–10.5 feet) in length and 1.4–1.7 m (4.6–5.8 ft) in height, it is smaller than the Indian Rhinoceros, and is closer in size to the Black Rhinoceros. Its horn is usually less than 25 cm (10 inches), smaller than those of the other rhino species.

Once the most widespread of Asian rhinoceroses, the Javan Rhinoceros ranged from the islands of Indonesia, throughout Southeast Asia, and into India and China. The species is now critically endangered, with only two known populations in the wild, and none in zoos. It is possibly the rarest large mammal on earth.[5] A population of at least 40–50 live in Ujung Kulon National Park on the island of Java in Indonesia and a small population, estimated in 2007 to be no more than eight, survives in Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam. The decline of the Javan Rhinoceros is attributed to poaching, primarily for their horns, which are highly-valued in traditional Chinese medicine, fetching as much as $30,000 per kilogram on the black market.[5] Loss of habitat, especially as the result of wars, such as the Vietnam War, in Southeast Asia, has also contributed to the species's decline and hindered recovery.[6] The remaining range is only within two nationally-protected areas, but the rhinos are still at risk from poachers, disease and loss of genetic diversity leading to inbreeding depression.

The Javan Rhino can live approximately 30–45 years in the wild. It historically inhabited lowland rain forest, wet grasslands and large floodplains. The Javan Rhino is mostly solitary, except for courtship and child-rearing, though groups may occasionally congregate near wallows and salt licks. Aside from humans, adults have no predators in their range. The Javan Rhino usually avoids humans, but will attack when it feels threatened. Scientists and conservationists rarely study the animals directly due to their extreme rarity and the danger of interfering with such an endangered species. Researchers rely on camera traps and fecal samples to gauge health and behavior. Consequently, the Javan Rhino is the least studied of all rhino species.

Click here for remainder of article.


Chimps Use Tools - Have Culture

Chimps use tools: Breaking into a bee hive for honey >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Researchers See How Chimps Use Tools

Researchers See How Chimpanzees Use Tools

Yes, we know they're cute, and, yes, we knew they were smart. But new research shows African chimpanzees to be smarter than anyone thought.

It has long been known that they use sticks as crude tools — but now there is proof that they switch tools, something that had never been seen before. Scientists say that is a remarkably advanced concept for a primate.

"An analogy is, say, a human goes into the garage and picks, among a set of screwdrivers, a flathead instead of a Phillips head," said Augustin Fuentes, an associate professor of anthropology at Notre Dame. "This shows us that chimpanzees are incredibly intelligent, incredibly cognizant of their surroundings, and do very complex things."

Chimps Carrying Tool Sets

With sponsorship from the National Geographic Society and New York's Wildlife Conservation Society, a team of researchers went to the Goualougo Triangle, a remote forest in the Republic of Congo.

There, they set up remote-controlled video cameras and left them running for six months.

The chimps learned to ignore them — and went on to the much more interesting business of catching termites for lunch.

"I can't even tell you the surprise that we had [when viewing] that first video clip," said Crickette Sanz, the anthropologist from Washington University who led the expedition. "They [the chimps] arrive at these nests and they are carrying their tool sets with them. So they know the location that they're going to. And they're prepared. They've gathered the appropriate materials. And they arrive there ready to extract the termites from that underground nest or that elevated nest."

Sanz and her partner, David Morgan, have been camping in the Congolese forest to study the chimpanzees.

"To see it — the chimps using tools — and then to see it so clearly, it was a window into their lives that we had thought an awful lot about," Morgan said by satellite telephone. "But to be able to see it and to describe it and understand it a little bit better was amazing."

Sanz, Morgan and a third researcher, Steve Gulick, have just reported their findings in The American Naturalist, an academic journal.

Time and again, they say, the video, from six different locations in the forest, would show much the same thing: a chimpanzee using a sturdy stick to make a hole in a termite nest.

That done, the chimps would switch to a much thinner twig. They would flatten out the end with their teeth and use it to scoop out termites to eat.

The chimps would sometimes leave their stick tools in place to share with other chimps from their group. Other times, said Sanz, they would take the tools with them, apparently to reuse them elsewhere.

Line Is Blurring

Why does it matter if a chimp changes tools? Fuentes, the Notre Dame anthropologist who approved the publication of the study, says that until now, we've only known of one other species smart enough to do such a thing: human beings.

"We're not going to see chimpanzees flying airplanes; we're not going to see chimpanzees opening bank branches," said Fuentes with a smile. "We are, however, going to see chimpanzees doing the kinds of stuff we think our ancestors did."

So don't worry, say the scientists, we humans are still smarter; for one thing, the chimps depend on us to protect their forests.

But the line between human and animal, says Fuentes, just got a little murkier.


Chimpanzees make and use spears

Category: mammalogy Posted on: February 22, 2007 7:11 PM, by Darren Naish


By now you've probably heard the news: chimpanzees have been reported manufacturing, and using, spears (Gibbons 2007, Pruetz & Bertolani 2007). I'll say that again. Chimps Pan troglodytes make and use spears....

Specifically, the chimps concerned are of the subspecies P. t. verus, a taxon that some researchers (Morin et al. 1994, 1995) have tentatively elevated to specific status. As reported in Current Biology by Jill Pruetz of Iowa State University and Paco Bertolani of the University of Cambridge, the observations concern the 35 chimps of the Fongoli site in Senegal. On more than 20 occasions between March 2005 and July 2006 the Fongoli chimps were observed to fashion wooden spears and then use them in hunting concealed bushbaby prey that were hiding in cavities in trees and branches. Unlike many of the tool-using chimps we are familiar with, such as the Gombe and Tai National Park chimps, the Fongoli chimps are not rainforest animals, but inhabit a grassland-woodland mosaic.


Tool use in chimps has been known about for several decades, and over the years the sorts of tools that chimps have been observed using have become increasingly sophisticated. Termite fishing was reported by Jane Goodall in the 1960s and the use of hammers and anvils to break open nuts became well known in the 1990s (Goodall 1968, Boesch et al. 1994). The adjacent image shows one of the Gombe chimps using a tool to catch termites: those who've read any of Goodall's research will know the significance of the chimpanzee individual shown in the photo [image from here]. While there is one account in which a Tanzanian chimp was reported to use a tool to rouse a squirrel that was then killed and eaten (Huffman & Kalunde 1993), the manufacture and use of spears* is something very, very new. The chimps would break off a live branch, remove its twigs and leaves, and then form a sharpened point with their incisor teeth. The resultant tools averaged 60 cm in length.

* Some primatologists have already noted that use of the term 'spear' implies that the objects are thrown at prey, whereas the tools used by the Fongoli chimps are apparently used as stabbing weapons. There may, then, be some dispute over terminology.

The tools were deployed, not simply as probing devices as is the case when the chimps fish for termites, but as stabbing weapons that were thrust forcefully into the cavities. The spears were not used to extract the prey: from the description that Pruetz & Bertolani (2007) provide it seems that the bushbabies were killed within the cavity by the spear tip, and then extracted by hand. Only one successful kill was observed, and even in that case it could not be determined with certainty whether the spear was responsible for the death of the bushbaby. However, the evidence still looks pretty good.


The fact that chimps manufacture spears raises the possibility that such tools appeared much earlier within hominid history than we've thought until now. This ties in with recent work on archaeological sites, showing that chimps in what is now the Tai National Park have been using stone tools for thousands of years: a discovery which supports antiquity of tool use within hominids [adjacent image shows exacavated chimpanzee stone hammer, from here]. Pruetz & Bertolani (2007) draw attention to the fact that the Fongoli chimps are savannah-woodland inhabitants, apparently frequenting environments similar to those favoured by australopithecines and other close relatives of modern humans. It seems increasingly likely that the diversity of tools manufactured and used by australopithecines and other fossil hominids was higher than we can demonstrate from the fossil record, and the fact that female and immature chimps seem to be the primary makers and users of these tools suggests, significantly, that these are the animals that play the most important role in the early development of some tools.

This is pretty amazing stuff, and time constraints prevent me from writing more about it. National Geographic features the story here, and includes video clips of the chimps using their spears. The image at the top of the article is borrowed from National Geographic.

Hunting (even if chimps do not use tools for this) can be a social innovation. ... A 2006 research shocked when it found chimps using tools for hunting. ...

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Strange Fishes

Symbiotoc Fishes ...................................... Mouth Fighting Cichlids ................................ Parent Cichlids Protect Eggs From Hungry Terrapin >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Mouth Brooding Cichlids >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Bizzare Huge Sunfish ................................................. Flasher Fish ............................................................ Mudskipper- a land fish ..................................................


Ain't Nature Grand? Huge StingRay


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cheetahs - videos

Video-Cheetahs .......................................................................... Mother Cheetahs ..................................................


Holy Grail of Palaeontology - Partially Intact Dinosaur Mummy

Fossil Skeleton of Hadrosaur

Academic uncovers Holy Grail of palaeontology

December 3rd, 2007

Palaeontologist Dr Phil Manning, working with National Geographic Channel has uncovered the Holy Grail of palaeontology in the United States: a partially intact dino mummy.

Named Dakota, this 67-million-year-old dinosaur is one of the most important dinosaur discoveries in recent times - calling into question our conception of dinosaurs' body shape, skin preservation and movement.

The find is documented in the UK premiere of Dino Autopsy on Sunday 9 December at 9pm on National Geographic Channel. The special follows leading palaeontologists in the UK and United States as they uncover the rocky tomb of one of the most complete dino mummies ever found and carry out a CT scan on the specimen. Most of our understanding of dinosaurs is based on fossilised skeletal remains - from bones and teeth, usually the only tissue durable enough to fossilise. Dakota includes an uncollapsed skin envelope on many parts of the body and limbs that offers a degree of insight impossible from just bone structure. Fossilised skin and tendons have allowed us to reconstruct major muscle sizes - with many body parts offering a tantalising glimpse of a 3-D dinosaur. "It is quite fair to say that our dinosaur mummy [Dakota] makes many other dinosaurs look like road kill. Simply because the evidence we're getting from our creature is so complete compared to the disjointed sort of skeletons that we usually have to draw conclusions from", said Dr Manning, a palaeontologist from The School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Studies (SEAES) at The University of Manchester. Post excavation, Dakota was transported to the Black Hills Institute in the United States, where it was revealed to be a Hadrosaur, more commonly called a duck-billed dinosaur. A team of UK-based scientists then tested skin samples, examining the fossilised skin to determine how Dakota might have looked, and measuring muscle mass to determine how it might have moved. With the aid of a giant CT scanner provided by the Boeing Company, technology usually reserved for testing aircraft and spacecraft parts for NASA, the team also attempted to peer inside Dakota's preserved body and tail. The scan of the 3,600-kilogram body was of the one of the largest CT scans ever undertaken. Dino Autopsy reveals what the scans showed and examines the extent to which the results could change our understanding of Hadrosaurs forever. Dakota may contribute some significant findings to the field of palaeontology, altering our comprehension of how dinosaurs looked and moved: * The Hadrosaur's backside appears to be approximately 25 percent larger than previously thought; a surprising conclusion that could change our image of the dinosaur for the last 150 years. * With a larger backside, the Hadrosaur would have been able to reach top speeds of 45 kilometres an hour - 16 kilometres faster than the T. Rex. * The skin envelope also shows evidence that the Hadrosaur may have been striped and not block coloured, producing an almost striped camouflage pattern on some parts of the dinosaur. * With its body so well preserved, researchers are able to more accurately estimate the spacing between vertebrae. While most museums have dinosaur bones stacked tightly against each other, Dr. Manning's research suggests that the vertebrae should be stacked approximately one centimetre apart. This could mean that some dinosaurs are at least one metre longer than previously thought. Dakota was discovered in 1999 by Tyler Lyson (then aged just sixteen), on his family's land in North Dakota. Subsequently, he teamed up with British palaeontologist Dr. Phil Manning and scientists from the University of Manchester, who have worked with Tyler and his team of volunteers as they struggle to unearth the tomb, bringing us closer to understanding how this dinosaur really looked and moved, and whose fossil remains survived through the sands of time. The National Geographic Society partly funded analysis of the mummified dinosaur, including the CT scanning of the fossil. Scientific papers based on study of the dinosaur are in progress.


Rare Tuatara Found on NZ Mainland

Rare reptile hatchling found on NZ mainland

In this photo released by the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, a baby tuatara is held AP – In this photo released by the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, a baby tuatara is held by a staff at the Karori …

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A hatchling of a rare reptile with lineage dating back to the dinosaur age has been found in the wild on the New Zealand mainland for the first time in about 200 years, a wildlife official said Thursday.

The baby tuatara was discovered by staff during routine maintenance work at the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in the capital, Wellington, conservation manager Raewyn Empson said.

"We are all absolutely thrilled with this discovery," Empson said. "It means we have successfully re-established a breeding population back on the mainland, which is a massive breakthrough for New Zealand conservation."

Tuatara, which measure up to 32 inches (80 cm) when full grown, are the last descendants of a lizard-like reptile species that walked the Earth with the dinosaurs 225 million years ago, zoologists say.

There are estimated to be about 50,000 of them living in the wild on 32 small offshore islands cleared of predators, but this is the first time a hatchling has been seen on the mainland in about 200 years.

The New Zealand natives were nearly extinct on the country's three main islands by the late 1700s due to the introduction of predators such as rats.

Empson said the hatchling is thought to be about one month old and likely came from an egg laid about 16 months ago. Two nests of eggs — the size of pingpong balls — were unearthed in the sanctuary last year and tuatara were expected to hatch around this time.

"He is unlikely to be the only baby to have hatched this season, but seeing him was an incredible fluke," she said.

The youngster faces a tough journey to maturity despite being in the 620-acre (250 hectare) sanctuary and protected by a predator-proof fence. It will have to run from the cannibalistic adult tuatara, and would make a tasty snack for birds of prey, Empson said.

"Like all the wildlife living here, he'll just have to take his chances," Empson said.

"They've been extinct on the mainland for a long time," said Lindsay Hazley, tuatara curator at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery on South Island. He added that "you can breed tuatara by eliminating risk, but to have results like this among many natural predators (like native birds) is a positive sign."

About 200 tuatara have been released since 2005 into the Karori Sanctuary, which was established to breed native birds, insects and other creatures.

Tuatara have unique characteristics, such as two rows of top teeth closing over one row at the bottom and a parietal eye — a dot on the top of the skull that is believed to be light-sensitive and is sometimes referred to as the animal's third eye.

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