Posted: Fri Dec 22, 2006 7:48 pm Post subject: Bizarre animals
Japanese researchers film live giant squid Fri. Dec. 22 2006 8:33 AM ET
TOKYO -- A Japanese research team has succeeded in filming a giant squid live - possibly for the first time - and says the elusive creatures may be more plentiful than previously believed, a researcher said Friday. The research team, led by Tsunemi Kubodera, videotaped the giant squid at the surface as they captured it off the Ogasawara Islands south of Tokyo, earlier this month. The squid, which measured about seven metres long, died while it was being caught.
"We believe this is the first time anyone has successfully filmed a giant squid that was alive," said Kubodera, a researcher with Japan's National Science Museum. "Now that we know where to find them, we think we can be more successful at studying them in the future." The captured squid was caught using a smaller type of squid as bait, and pulled into a research vessel "after putting up quite a fight," Kubodera said. "It took two people to pull it in, and they lost it once, which might have caused the injuries that killed it," he said. He said the squid, a female, was not fully grown and was relatively small by giant squid standards. "The longest one on record is 18 metres," he said.
Kubodera and his team found the squid on Dec. 4 off the remote island of Chichijima, which is about 960 kilometres southeast of Tokyo. They had been conducting expeditions in the area for about three years before they succeeded in making their first contact two years ago. Last year, the team succeeded in taking a series of still photos of one of the animals in its natural habitat - also believed to have been a first.
Giant squid, formally called Architeuthis, are the world's largest invertebrates. Because they live in the depths of the ocean, they have long been wrapped in mystery and embellished in the folklore of sea monsters, appearing in ancient Greek myths or attacking the submarine in Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."
Until the successes of Kubodera and his team, most scientific study of the creatures had to rely on partial specimens that had washed ashore dead or dying or had been found in the digestive systems of whales or very large sharks. Kubodera said whales led his team to the squid. By finding an area where whales fed, he believed he could find the animals. "Giant squid are a major source of food for sperm whales," he said.
He also said that, judging by the number of whales that feed on them, there may be many more giant squid than previously thought. "Sperm whales need from 500 to 1,000 kilograms of food every day," he said. "There are believed to be 200,000 or so of them, and that would suggest there are quite a few squid for them to be feeding on. I don't think they are in danger of extinction at all."
Having filmed the squid, Kubodera said his next goal is to further study the creatures' habits in their natural surroundings - at a depth of around 650 metres. But he said he is not planning to try to capture one live. "It is possible, if you were to go out very well prepared with a large ship and a large tank," he said. "But we don't have that kind of funding."
The beast has three sets of teeth, two lower jaws and two tongues, but only one mouth; two noses with separate airways, and a single eye socket, which has two eyes in it. Farmer Kirk Heldreth, of Rural Retreat in Virginia, noted: 'It's as healthy as can be.' When the calf was being born, Heldreth says he initially thought there were two separate calves. 'I came and examined the animal and thought she was having twins at the same time and, wow, was I ever surprised.' Heldreth decided to call her Star.
Bob James, a professor with Virginia Polytechnic Institute dairy science department, told the AP that cattle with more than the standard number of faces are extremely rare: 'In my 25 years, I've seen it maybe two or three times.' The two-faced cow was a result of selective artificial insemination, designed to produce the best possible cow. 'Genetically, this is one of my better calves,' commented Heldreth. And apart from having two faces, Star appears to be doing well, and the Heldreth family say she has a 'sweet' personality.
The condition, known as diprosopus, is an extreme form of conjoined twinning, and occurs when an embryo partially splits – normally forming two partial faces on one body. It could be caused by a genetic abnormality, or a fault during the embryo's development (during the same set of processes that can cause one-eyed kittens.) Heldreth says of Star: 'It's the craziest thing I've ever seen'
We crown UK's ugliest dog By DAVE MASTERS
March 10, 2007
HERE'S proof every dog has its day - no matter how ugly - as minging mutt Gnasher scoops our 'Rufts' Award. Our alternative version of posh pooch show Crufts, currently on at Birmingham's NEC, honours the nation's worst-looking pets. Mangy Gnasher was the runaway winner of the entries we received after appealing for your snaps this week.
Despite what you might think, he ISN'T actually a stray and was nominated by proud owners Cameron and Tobias Shaw, aged nine and five. The thrilled lads, from York, said: "We just had to enter Gnasher into the competition to find the UK's Ugliest Mutt. It's just a pity you can't smell his breath!"
Island leopard deemed new species The mainland clouded leopard (left) has been separated from its island cousin (right) for about 1.4 million years, research suggests
Clouded leopards found on Sumatra and Borneo represent a new species, research by genetic scientists and the conservation group WWF indicates. Until now it had been thought they belonged to the species that is found on mainland southeast Asia. Scientists now believe the two species diverged more than one million years ago, and have evolved separately since. Clouded leopards are the biggest predators on Borneo, and can grow as large as small panthers.
"Genetic research results clearly indicate that the clouded leopards of Borneo should be considered a separate species," said Dr Stephen O'Brien, head of the Institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity. "DNA tests highlighted around 40 differences between the two species." Supporting evidence came from examination of fur patterns. Leopards from Borneo and Sumatra have small "clouds" with many distinct spots within them, grey and dark fur, and twin stripes along their backs.
Their mainland cousins have large cloud markings on their skin with fewer, often faint, spots within the cloud markings, and are lighter and more tawny in colour. "The moment we started comparing the skins of the mainland clouded leopard and the leopard found on Borneo, it was clear we were comparing two different species," said Dr Andrew Kitchener from the National Museums of Scotland. "It's incredible that no-one has ever noticed these differences."
WWF, which maintains a large conservation operation on Borneo, estimates there are between 5,000 and 11,000 clouded leopards on the island, with a further 3,000 to 7,000 on Sumatra. "The fact that Borneo's top predator is now considered a separate species further emphasises the importance of conserving the 'Heart of Borneo'," said WWF's Stuart Chapman, co-ordinator of a project seeking to preserve the island's wildlife.
The three governments with territory on the island - Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei - signed an agreement earlier this year pledging to protect the "Heart of Borneo", 200,000 square kilometres of rainforest in the middle of the island thought to be particularly high in biodiversity.
I thought this was brilliant - you could make a cracking jacket from that skin eh?!
This beautiful little creature is a piglet with six legs, which was born two days ago in Lianyungang, China. In case you haven't spotted them yet, the spare legs can be seen emerging from the vicinty of the pig's buttocks. It follows on from two previous Chinese pigs which both had two faces, a two-faced cow from America, and a six-legged cow from Colombia. Oh, and a seven-legged gender-bending deer in Wisconsin.
Regular readers and Sinophiles will need no reminding that, this being the Chinese Year of the Pig, the birth of this pig is likely to be seen as a particularly good omen. Or a particularly bad omen.
Shark in captivity had 'virgin birth' 23rd May 2007
Female hammerhead sharks can reproduce without having sex with a male, scientists have revealed. It came after such a shark gave birth to a pup in an aquarium in 2001 despite having no contact with a male. No traces of any paternal DNA were detected in the offspring.
It may have solved the mystery which has baffled experts studying the species in captivity. At first, it was thought the mother mated before capture, and then somehow stored the sperm for over three years before finally fertilising her eggs in the aquarium. An alternative theory was that the hammerhead female had mated with a different species in the tank. But using DNA profiling techniques to examine the genetic makeup of the baby hammerhead, they found the newborn's DNA only matched up with the mother's - there was none of any male origin.
An international team of researchers based in Northern Ireland and the United States said the evidence pointed to sharks reproducing asexually by the unusual parthenogenesis method. It is the first scientific report of such a development. Dr Paulo Prodohl, of Queen's School of Biological Sciences, headed the university's research team and co-wrote the study. He said: "The findings were really surprising because as far as anyone knew, all sharks reproduced only sexually by a male and female mating, requiring the embryo to get DNA from both parents for full development, just like in mammals."
Co-author Dr Mahmood Shivji, who led the Guy Harvey Research Institute team, said: "It now appears that at least some female sharks can switch from a sexual to a non-sexual mode of reproduction in the absence of males."
Mystery emu escapes from police Thursday, May 24, 2007
A mystery emu sparked an international incident after it went on the run from police. The emu was first spotted in Germany, but after several hours of failing to catch the bird with officers in patrol cars, vets and local zoo staff, the police called in Swiss reinforcements. But even with the combined efforts of both German and Swiss police, the emu which was clocked running at 30mph through some areas still managed to avoid capture, and in the end had to be shot by German hunters.
The six-foot bird was spotted walking around Grenzach-Wyhlen near the German border and police at first tried to catch it using the help of staff from a local zoo. A police spokesman said: 'We managed to shoot the bird, but we are still trying to find out how it got here in the first place. No bird farms or zoos in the area say they are missing an emu. It is a mystery.'
Young hunter, 11, bags a monster porker By DAVID GARDNER on 27th May 2007
Confronted with a pig the size of a pick-up truck, most youngsters would turn tail and flee, but 11-year-old Jamison Stone is too keen on his sausages for that. The boy from the wilds of Alabama is said to have pursued the monster porker for three hours through a hunting reservation near his home, firing his .50-calibre revolver seven times into its bulk before finishing it off with a bullet to the head.
Trees had to be cut down and a mechanical digger brought in to bring the animal's body out of the woods. Jamison's father Mike claims that it weighed 1,051lb and, when hung up by one trotter, measured 10ft 7in from end to end. That would make it the biggest wild boar ever shot - even bigger than Hogzilla, the fabled beast bagged three years ago in Georgia by hunter Chris Griffin. "It feels really good," said Jamison, from Pickensville. "It's a good accomplishment. I probably won't ever kill anything else that big."
The boy killed his first deer when he was five and was hunting with his father and two guides on the 2,500-acre Lost Creek Plantation when he felt the earth move and spotted his prey. Throughout the chase, there was the fear that the animal would turn and charge them with its five-inch tusks. "I was a little bit scared, a little bit excited," added Jamison.
His father said that he and the guides had high-powered rifles aimed and ready to fire in case the beast decided to fight. But the kill was all Jamison's work. Experts say the picture of Jamison and his trophy posted by his father on a website, www.monsterpig.com, does not appear to have been tampered with and witnesses in Alabama verify the story. The hog was hauled on a truck to the Clay County Farmers Exchange in Lineville, where it was weighed. Workers there said the lorry scales used were recently certified as accurate by the state. The pig's head is now being mounted on an extra-large foam board.
Jerry Cunningham, of Jerry's Taxidermy in Oxford, Alabama, said the animal measured 54in around the head, 74in around the shoulders and 11in from the eyes to the end of its snout. "It's the biggest thing I've ever seen," he said. "It's huge." Mike Stone is having sausages made from the rest of the animal. "We'll probably get 500 to 700 pounds," he said. He added that the boar probably weighed a little more than the 1,051lb claimed, but he didn't want anyone to accuse him of exaggerating. Jamison says he is enjoying the celebrity generated by the hog hunt, but he says he prefers hunting pheasants to monster pigs. "They are a little less dangerous."
Back in Georgia, the monster pig shot by Chris Griffin has inspired a horror film, The Legend of Hogzilla, which is currently in preparation. It was said to be 12ft long and weigh 1,000lb. There was scepticism about such dimensions and online hunters from around the world questioned whether it was a hoax until National Geographic experts unearthed the remains to confirm its existence. They claimed that, while it was indeed a giant, it was likely to have weighed no more than 800lb. That would make Jamison's creature the heavyweight champion by at least 200lb.
Apart from all the sausages, the hunters are already doing their best to make cash out of the kill. Colour posters are on sale on the website and the Stone family say a video is on the way.
Fantastic eh? 'Hey look, the biggest boar in the world, let's KILL IT!!'
'Gigantoraptor' uncovered in the desert By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
A 3000 lb "big bird" dinosaur called Gigantoraptor has got scientists into a flap. The remains of the gigantic, surprisingly bird-like dinosaur - the biggest toothless dinosaur ever found - have been uncovered in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia, China, and challenge current understanding about the origins of birds. The find was made when Chinese scientists were being filmed by a Japanese TV crew in Erlian Basin and they thought a nearby bone was an example of a newly discovered long necked dinosaur, called a sauropod. But as they took a closer look, under the gaze of the camera, they at first thought it came from something like Tyrannosaurus rex, but then realised that they were gazing on a remarkable dinosaur that was new to science.
The animal - which lived in the Late Cretaceous- about 85 million years ago - has surprised palaeontologists as most theories suggest that carnivorous dinosaurs got smaller as they got more bird-like. There is even a hint, from the patterns of growth on its remains, that this specimen was a youthful 11 year old that could in theory have lived until around the age of 18. Because it has an unusual spongy lightweight tail and arm bones, the eight metre dinosaur, which is described today in Nature, has been classed as a new species and genus (group of species), dubbed Gigantoraptor erlianensis, and boasts a formidable ten inch beak, Dr Xing Xu told The Daily Telegraph. This is "the biggest toothless dinosaur ever found because some dinosaurs have both a small beak and many teeth."
Dr Xu, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, and Prof. Lin Tan of Long Hao Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Hohhot, carried out an analysis of the skeleton they uncovered together and have grouped the fossil with a family that included the beaked, bird-like Oviraptor because of its unusually shaped jaw. What is most striking, however, is that at 1,400-kilograms, or 3000 lb, the fossil is about 35-times heavier than other similar feathered oviraptorosaurs dinosaurs, which rarely exceeded a body mass of 40 kilograms, or around 90 pounds.
Gigantoraptor is remarkable in its gigantic size, about 300 times as heavy as primitive feathered peers already known to science, such as Caudiperyx and Protarchaeopteryx. Previously, the largest known feathered animal was the 500-kg-heavy Stirton's Thunder Bird (Dromornis stirtoni) which lived in Australia 8-6 million years ago and was three times smaller. The big bird-like dinosaur would have stood, at the shoulder, twice the height of a man, with feathers at least on its arm and tail, and probably grew much faster than the likes of T rex.
But, despite its great size, many features of its anatomy were more bird-like, rather than less, as would have been expected, said Dr Xu. "Normally, when dinosaurs become large in size, they have proportionally stouter limbs and shorter lower legs than their small-sized relatives. However, Gigantoraptor has much more slender limbs and longer lower legs than similarly-sized theropods."
Gigantoraptor's diet remains unknown, as it shows both herbivorous features, notably a small head and long neck, and carnivorous features, such as sharp claws. In one sense, the new discovery is not a surprise. Erlian Basin has attracted palaeontologists from around the world for a long time due to the richness of its fossils.
Whale survives harpoon attack 130 years ago to become 'world's oldest mammal'
by DAVID GARDNER - 13th June 2007
A giant bowhead whale caught off the coast of Alaska had a harpoon point embedded in its neck that showed it survived a similar hunt – more than a century ago. Biologists claim the find helps prove the bowhead is the oldest living mammal on earth. They say the 13-centimetre arrow-shaped fragment dates back to around 1880, meaning the 50-ton whale had been coasting around the freezing arctic waters since Victorian times.
Because traditional whale hunters never took calves, experts estimate the bowhead was several years old when it was first shot and about 130 when it died last month. "No other finding has been so precise," said John Bockstoce, a curator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts. Calculating a bowhead whale's age can be difficult, and is usually gauged by amino acids in the eye lenses and it is rare to find one that has lived more than a century, but experts now believe the oldest were close to 200 years old.
Fired from a heavy shoulder gun, the harpoon was attached to a small metal cylinder filled with explosives and fitted with a time fuse so it would explode seconds after it was shot into the whale. Experts have pinned down the weapons manufacture to a New England factory in about 1880 and say it was rendered obsolete by a less bulky darting gun a few years later. Even though the device probably exploded, the bowhead was protected by a one foot thick layer of blubber and thick bones it uses to break through ice one foot thick to breathe at the surface.
"It probably hurt the whale, or annoyed him, but it hit him in a non-lethal place," said Mr Bockstoce. "He couldn't have been that bothered if he lived for another 100 years."
The find adds growing weight to evidence that bowheads outlive all other mammals. Six similar harpoon points have been found in the whales since 2001, all suggesting they live much longer than previously thought. The oldest known ages for mammals are 110 years for a blue whale and 114 years for a fin whale. The oldest documented human was a 122-year-old French woman, who died ten years ago. The only other mammal that comes close is elephants, which can live to 70 in captivity.
Scientists believe that the bowheads' longevity is the result of the tough environment where they live in the freezing arctic, where there are not abundant plankton and krill crustaceans to eat. Consequently, the whales have a slower metabolism to stay warm as efficiently as possible. Bowheads are an endangered species and there are currently about 8,000 to 12,000 left. They travel in small pods and calves weigh as much as six tons at birth. Their only foes are man and orca whales.
Alaskan whalers found the harpoon fragment as they carved the 50-foot long whale up with a chainsaw after using a powerful 21st century gun to kill it. While commercial whaling is now banned by international agreement, natives from Alaska, the Chukotka region of eastern Russia and Greenland are permitted to hunt a fixed number of whales for traditional, non-commercial consumption. In Alaska, meat from hunted whales is distributed to all residents of the hunters' villages.
Biologists can estimate the age of bowhead whales by studying the changes in levels of aspartic acid, an amino acid found in the eye lens and teeth. Using bowhead eyeballs, each the size of a snooker ball, they say they can tell the whale's age by the amount of acid, which increases in quantity with the years.
Just as well it was killed by hunters so that we could know this story eh?
Meet Eclyse - the amazing zebra crossing 28th June 2007
It looks as if someone tried to give a zebra a respray. . . then ran out of white paint halfway through the job. But in reality there is no artificial colouring on display here. This amazing but natural coat belongs to Eclyse the zorse. Her father is a zebra, while her mother is a horse. And she's walking proof of how a child inherits genes from both parents.
For while most zebra-horse crossbreeds sport stripes across their entire body, Eclyse only has two such patches, on its face and rear. The one-year-old zorse was the accidental product of a holiday romance when her mother, Eclipse, was taken from her German safari park home to a ranch in Italy for a brief spell. There she was able to roam freely with other horses and a number of zebras, including one called Ulysses who took a fancy to her.
When Eclipse returned home, she surprised her keepers by giving birth to the baby zorse whose mixed markings betray her colourful parentage. The foal was promptly given a name that is in itself a hybrid, of her parents' names. Now she's become a major attraction at a safari park at Schloss Holte Stukenbrock, near the German border with Holland, where she has her own enclosure.
Udo Richter, spokesman for the park, said, "You can tell she is a mix just by looking at her. But in temperament she can also exhibit characteristics from each parent. She is usually relatively tame like a horse but occasionally shows the fiery temperament of a zebra, leaping around like one."
Horses and zebras are often crossbred in Africa and are used as trekking animals on Mount Kenya.
Why the piranha is just a big softie 21:06pm on 1st July 2007
With their razor-sharp teeth and taste for flesh, piranhas have long had a reputation for being one of the most fearsome, and most deadly, hunters of the Amazon. But according to a team of British scientists, the voracious fish featured in horror films has been maligned. They say the piranha is more often a victim than an aggressor, and that its habit of lurking in large sinister shoals is actually a defence mechanism against dolphins and birds.
The myth of the aggressive piranha was caused partly by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1914 described seeing a shoal stripping the flesh from a cow in minutes when he visited Brazil. However, the President was unaware that the display had been set up to entertain tourists and that the captive fish were starved so they would go into a feeding frenzy. The myth was perpetuated in film by the likes of the Bond villain Blofeld, using piranhas to devour enemies in You Only Live Twice.
But now it has been exploded by a team of researchers, led by Professor Anne Magurran of St Andrews University, who studied the fish in the flooded forests of the Amazon. "Contrary to popular belief - and their sharp teeth - piranhas are omnivores," said Prof Magurran, who will present the findings at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London. "They are scavengers more than predators, eating mainly fish, plant material and insects. Piranhas are under constant attack from a number of large predators including river dolphins, caiman - a relative of the crocodile - and some of the world's largest fish, such as the piracucu which can grow up to three metres long. Their cautious behaviour is crucial to avoid being eaten."
Shoaling is not just a matter of safety in numbers. The team also examined the structure of the shoal and discovered a distinct pattern. The larger, more mature piranhas place themselves in the middle and are surrounded by smaller, younger fish. "Previously it was thought piranhas shoaled as it enabled them to form a co-operative hunting group," said Professor Magurran. "However we have found that it is primarily a defensive behaviour, and quite a complex one. "The bigger, older fish tend to swim in the middle as they are reproductively mature and need to keep safe, whereas the outer layer of the shoal is made up of smaller, younger piranhas. Being at the edge of the group means they can get access to food sooner - essential if they are to grow more quickly and mature."
Piranhas are found in the rivers of South America and adults are from six to ten inches long. They have a keen sense of smell and can detect a drop of blood in 200 litres of water, but have poor eyesight. They "graze" on their prey, usually just taking a bite out of another fish's fins or scales, rather than killing it. The flesh grows back within weeks, giving them the chance to feast on the same victim again. Each of their teeth is around 4mm long and the fish grows new ones throughout its lifetime.
According to experts at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire, most piranhas don't eat any meat at all. Of the 500 species, a majority are vegetarian - living mainly on fruit, nuts and seeds which fall into the water.
Sit! er, if that's ok with you By ANDREW 'BARKER' PARKER
July 11, 2007
HUGE hound Samson is Britain’s biggest dog — standing 6ft 5in on his hind legs and weighing more than 19 stone. The massive mutt — a Great Dane-Newfoundland crossbreed — even wears a PONY coat - and three-year-old Samson has not finished growing yet. But despite his size, owners Ray and Julie Woods, of Boston, Lincs, say their giant pooch is a big softy. Julie, 54, said: “People are often intimidated when they first see Samson because he is about the size of a small horse. But he is so gentle — he loves being patted and is very affectionate.”
Samson’s 29in neck means he has to have a custom-made extra large collar. His paws are almost the size of dinner plates and he can hold a full-size football in his mouth. The couple bought Samson from an RSPCA centre when he was six months old. They spend £60 a month on grub and Ray takes him for four two-mile walks every day. Ray, 65, said: “The looks on people’s faces when I take him out on his walks is priceless.”
But Samson has a weigh to go before matching the world’s heaviest dog — an English Mastiff called Hercules from Massachusetts, US, who is two stone heavier. A Kennel Club spokeswoman said: “Samson is very big and probably one of the largest dogs in the world.”
And where does a giant like Samson sleep? Anywhere he blooming likes.
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