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Thursday, September 16, 2010

New, Large Species of Elephant Shrew Discovered

The Zoological Society of London recently announced its discovery of a new species of elephant shrew. A DNA analysis to be performed to verify that the creature is indeed its own, heretofore unknown species. Those who have seen the above photograph of the new animal believe that it is indeed an independent creature, from the photo alone, simply because of its large size and coloring. Camera traps were set after a zoologist failed to recognize the unique looking animal in a north-eastern Kenyan forest. If this proves to be a unique species of elephant shrew, it will be only the eighteenth type of the strange animals to have been discovered.

Elephant shrews are found only in Africa, spread among various types of African landscapes, from mountains to forests to deserts. Elephant shrews, also known as sengis, are known most notably for their long snouts and small size. They are, interestingly, not actually related to shrews at all, but are instead more closely related to elephants, aardvarks, and hyraxes. They are very active during the daytime, but are not particularly social, aside from their monogamous relationships. They mostly eat worms and insects, and the occasional plant matter, using their nose to locate the food, and their tongue and teeth to take in pieces of their small prey. They have short life spans, living only up to four years.

The large elephant shrews are almost all considered to be vulnerable or endangered. The species are threatened by forest clearing and other forms of habitat destruction, as well as by being targeted as food. Conservation efforts have not been focused on the elephant shrews in particular, but some action has been done to protect the areas where they live.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Possible Cure for Lethal Bat Disease

White nose syndrome is a recently-discovered fungal disease that has been killing millions of bats across the United States in the last few years. The disease harms the bats by irritating their skin, waking them out of hibernation. This causes the bats to waste their stored energy, trying to eat and fly while it is still too cold. It is also believed that the infection may harm the bats' wings.  It has been calculated that within the next two decades, several species of bats may be completely extinct because of this syndrome. Indiana bats (currently endangered), eastern pipistrelles, northern long-eared myotis, and little brown bats have all been recorded with the disease. It is estimated that 2.4 million pounds of bugs will go eaten because of the bat population decline.

New research however has shown the first sign of a possible cure. As white nose syndrome is well known to be a fungal infection, scientists recently began testing to see if human fungal eradicators could work on the bars as well. While research is still in preliminary stages, it has been found that many over the counter fungal medicines are beneficial in fighting against the infection. Methods of applying the new found knowledge are in discussion, as it is not known how different species of bats or caves may be affected.

The Indiana bat is perhaps most easily threatened species of bat, currently listed as endangered by the IUCN. The entire length of a bat is typically only one to two inches long. Since 1975, their population has been cut in half. They live an average of seven years and feed exclusively on insects. In addition to the recent onslaught of white nose syndrome, the bat has been threatened by predators (including their biggest predator, human beings), pesticide use, and forest decline.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rare Dwarf Seahorse Threatened by BP Spill

The Dwarf Seahorse, a rare and elusive creature to begin with, is threatened with the possibility of extinction due to the notorious oil spill that began April 20, 2010. These seahorses swell only in shallow waters throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas. Because seahorses are poor swimmers, this species, like others of its kind, spend much of their time clinging to sea grasses. Unfortunately, clumps of vegetation near the oil spill were an easy destination for the heavy oil, collecting in the plants. The dark, clumpy oil starved the sea grasses, and the seahorses of light and oxygen. Aside from the murk and muck in the grasses caused simply by the oil, further complication arose when oil clean-up began to include setting such plant life ablaze, and releasing millions of gallons of toxic oil dispersent. Seahorses tend to produce relatively few offspring, and the grasses killed by the oil will need years to regrow. It is unclear how the oil and the dispersents may affect adults' hormones, or the health of newborn seahorse fry.

Dwarf seahorses are among the smallest species of seahorse, growing to only about two inches long. As with all seahorses, the males are the ones to become pregnant, carrying the babies for approximately ten days. They are carnivores, despite their small size, subsisting off baby brine shrimp and other shrimp larvae. Aside from the recent oil spill, the species has been threatened by the aquarium trade and from being bycatch during trawling. The size of the population is unknown, as they are rare, very small, and generally unresearched. Conservation efforts currently only involve regulations on the aquarium trade industry.