The Problem with Camels

Recently, the Australian government proposed that killing camels should be an officially recognized means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The country down under has the world’s largest wild camel population; an estimated 1.2 million – and they consider this to be a growing environmental problem.

Every camel belches an estimated 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of methane per year; that is equivalent to a metric ton (1.1 U.S. ton) of carbon dioxide in its impact on global warming. This is roughly one-sixth the amount of CO2 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says an average car produces per year.

A bill to create a carbon credit regime will go to a vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and is expected to become law within weeks.

A government registry will be set up to determine what actions would qualify for carbon credits, and bureaucrats are expected to decide by the end of the year whether killing camels will be among them.

The government’s parliamentary secretary for climate change, Mark Dreyfus, said he hopes the proposal wipes out camels from the Australian wild.

“Potentially it has tremendous merit, because feral camels are a dreadful menace across the whole of arid Australia”.

Dreyfus said at an Associated Press meeting Thursday.

The New England Butchers

There are not many slaughterhouses in New England that are equipped to process large quantities of beef, however, Paul Miller ships cattle from his dairy farm in eastern Connecticut some 300 miles to a Pennsylvanian meatpacker.

Miller prefers to send the cattle to a slaughterhouse in the area so he can sell locally produced beef, save on the costs of transportation and avoid long rides for calves that lose weight during shipping. New England officials of agriculture would also prefer that because their purpose is to increase food production to make the region more self-sufficient in case disasters such as huge snow storms and terrorist attacks make it hard to deliver food.

The real stumbling blocks, however, for meat processors and farmers are many: building a slaughterhouse is a huge investment, and local zoning rules bar such businesses. Meatpackers in New England say that it is hard to compete price-wise with slaughterhouses in other states, and it is difficult for them to keep skilled meat cutters and other workers. Because New England only has 28 slaughterhouses, said Chelsea Lewis, agriculture development coordinator for the Vermont Agency for Agriculture. Wisconsin, on the other hand has some 285 small meat processors.

Wasp Game Ant Game

Scientists in New Zealand did an experiment with wild insects that studied the common wasp, an alien invader to the island country, competing for food with the native ant species Prolasius advenus.

Wasp Vespula Prolasius Ant DroppingWhen the wasp approached a mound of food swarming with ants, it would pluck an ant from the pile, fly a ways off, and drop the living insect from its jaws.

Common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) are native to North America but were introduced to New Zealand in the 1970s. The wasps eat nectar and other insects, capturing live prey or scavenging.

This led to the establishment of an experiment where wasps and ants were presented with samples of high-protein food: little chunks of tuna fish.

The samples were placed at 48 stations in a natural beach forest; cameras were set up near each one. Both ants and wasps visited 45 of the 48 stations, and the cameras recorded 1,295 interactions between the insects.

Most of the time, the ants and wasps avoided one another. Although, the researchers documented 341 cases when the ants were aggressive toward the wasps, charging, biting or spraying them with formic acid; a natural defense mechanism.

In only 90 encounters the wasps were the aggressors, including 62 cases of ant dropping. The researchers suspect the other 28 times were ant-dropping attempts which the wasps botched.

In the majority of the cases, the wasps’ ant-dropping behavior was unprovoked, ants being grabbed and flown away. Sometimes the ants were unruly before they were grappled and carried off.

The team argues that the acid defense may be why the wasps “ant drop” rather than just killing the smaller insects outright.

A Sea Turtles Holocaust Down South

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have been scratching their noggins as to how and why sea turtles have been washing-up ashore the Gulf.

Last Friday, the NMFS released a statement with some details about its investigation:

“In the past few weeks, we’ve seen an increase in turtle strandings in the northern Gulf, primarily in Mississippi. The spring time is the typical time when turtle strandings in this region begin to increase, but the sharp increases in recent days are of concern to us….NOAA Fisheries is in contact with the states of MS and LA regarding current trawl and other fishery activity that can result in turtle by catch and mortality. In addition, tests will be done for biotoxins, such as those from harmful algae blooms, which are common in the Gulf. …All causes of death, including petroleum, will be investigated when possible based on decomposition. During a necropsy, the full GI tract is examined for product or evidence of oil ingestion. Additionally, samples are taken for PAH analysis. In addition, all turtles are being carefully examined for signs of external oiling.”

A recent academic probe into dolphin deaths showed that the actual number of mortalities is most-likely 50 times that what is recovered. NOAA says recent deaths of sea turtles, (all included on the Endangered Species list) include 6 in Alabama, 10 in Louisiana, and at least 50 in Mississippi.

One of Largest Animals Ever Found in Angola

Scientists say they discovered the first fossil of a dinosaur in Angola.

The animal was a long-necked, plant-eating sauropod, one of the largest creatures ever to have walked the earth. The fossil was found alongside fish and shark teeth in what would have been a sea bed 90 million years ago, leading its discoverers to believe the dinosaur might have been washed into the sea and torn apart by ancient sharks. The dinosaur was dubbed Angolatitan adamastor – Angolatitan means “Angolan giant” and the adamastor is a sea giant in Portuguese sailing myths.

Matthew F. Bonnan, a sauropod expert at Western Illinois University said:

“I think they’ve been very careful…The neat thing about dinosaur paleontology is that it’s becoming more global…The more people and places that we involve in science, the better off we all are…”

This was the first archeological expedition in Angola in 70 years. An anti-colonial war broke out in that country in the 1960s; civil war followed independence from Portugal in 1975.

PaleoAngola member Octavio Mateus of Portugal’s Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Museum of Lourinha indicated a lack of money has been the major barrier to research.

Tatiana Tavares of the Universidade Agostinho Neto is also on the PaleoAngola team, and her Luanda, Angola university has Angolaitan adamastor fossil specimens on display publically. Other specimens in Portugal are to be returned later to the university.

Old World and New World Monkeys

Feel insecure? You’re not alone. Monkeys too are inflected with uncertainty and self-doubt.

MacaqueProfessor Michael Beran and John David Smith trained macaques, the Old World group (native to Asia, Africa, and Europe), to play a computer game: if they answered correctly on a test question, they got a treat. Wrong answer, no treat. And third option: question mark. Select the question mark, the screen skips the present question that is considered too hard, and moves on.

The macaques answered in the very same way as humans. The monkeys skipped the tricky questions.

Dr. Smith told the BBC:

“Monkeys apparently appreciate when they are likely to make an error… They seem to know when they don’t know.”

Capuchins, which are New World monkeys (from Central and South America), however, failed to choose the question mark option.

Because macaques are Old World primates, their ability to recognize their own level of thinking may show us a step in human evolution. Dr. Smith thinks this level of cognition might have developed strictly in the line of Old World primates, leading to humans. To put it another way, don’t blame your teacher/mother/boss/first therapist for filling you up with self-doubt. In fact the blame lies with the Old World monkeys!

The Mystery of the Egyptian Jackal

Egyptian conservationists have discovered a new species of wolf sharing DNA with Himalayan and Indian cousins.

The “Egyptian jackal” however, despite the similarities, is actually not a jackal. The discovery of this new species may shed some light on how wolf species migrated through Europe and Africa, proving, thereby that grey wolves emerged on the African continent some 3 million years before spreading to the northern hemisphere.

JackalAs long ago as the late 19th century it was noticed that the Egyptian jackal looked suspiciously like the grey wolf. Studying skulls, biologists in the 20th century made a very similar claim. The creature, however, retained its name; now, the main difference has been made official.

David MacDonald of the journal PLOS One said:

“A wolf in Africa is not only important conservation news, but raises fascinating biological questions about how the new African wolf evolved and lived alongside the real golden jackals.”

Another journal contributor, Eli Rueness, said:

“We could hardly believe our own eyes when we found wolf DNA that did not match anything.”

The DNA of the new species’ is close to wolves found some 2,500 kilometers away in the highlands of Ethiopia, which has not been widely surveyed.

Professor Claudio Sillero, who has been at work on this project for more than two decades in Ethiopia said in a release:

“This discovery contributes to our understanding of the biogeography of Afroalpine fauna, an assemblage of species with African and Eurasian ancestry which evolved in the relative isolation of the highlands of the Horn of Africa. Rare Ethiopian wolves are themselves a recent immigrant to Africa, and split off from the grey wolf complex even earlier than the newly discovered African wolf.”

New Report Finds, Dogs Better Able To Sniff Scat Of Other Animals Than Humans

Dogs that sniff feces are becoming more and more popular as assistants to scientists gathering data about wildlife areas. The dogs can sniff out the scat of other animals, helping scientists to estimate population statistics.

A dog’s ability to sniff crap is hinged on a number of factors that include precipitation and air temperature.

Sarah Reed, a researcher on this very topic and a conservation biologist at Colorado State University said:

“We really wanted to understand what some of the factors were that limit dogs’ abilities to detect.”

Because dogs cannot smell as well when they are panting, overheated, air temperature also seems to have an effect. She hopes that other researchers will create calibration tools that measure how optimally their detection dogs perform in different conditions. Regardless of canine handicaps, though, dogs are much more capable than human beings at sniffing out a scat.

Trained dogs, according to Reed, are able to detect s&$t from up to 33 feet away about 75 percent of the time. On the other hand, humans can see scat only within three to five feet.

Italian Crocodile Cousin

Found in limestone once destined for Italian kitchen counter-tops, are fossils that may have belonged to an unknown ancient crocodile species.

The fossils were originally discovered in 1955 in Ferrara, Italy, in a limestone quarry, when workers sliced a huge block into four slabs and found the bones trapped inside.

Crocodile Fossil Kitchen CounterBefore the slabs were transferred to two museums in Italy, scientists performed a cursory examination of the fossils, enough to determine that indeed they belong to an ancient crocodile.

A more recent analysis of the embedded bones shows a skull and a few vertebrae, belonging to a previously unknown species of 165-million-year-old prehistoric reptile, now known as Neptunidraco ammoniticus.

The animal turned out to be the oldest known member of Metriorhynchidae; a family of ancient marine crocodiles which walked the earth’s oceans for about 30 million years before going extinct,

Scientists feel that Metriorhynchids split with modern crocodile ancestors about 200 million years ago. Unlike the crocodiles of today, which have semi-aquatic lifestyles, scientists think N. ammoniticus was a fully marine predator which rarely came on land.

The 13-foot animal was comparable in size to modern crocodiles, though had a more hydrodynamic body, a more streamlined skull and a vertical tail that resembled those of fish or sharks.

Based on previous fossil discoveries of other Metriorhynchids species, researchers also suspect N. ammoniticus had flippers. Like dolphins and whales, they had to swim to the ocean surface to breathe, and not unlike sea turtles, they may have mounted up onto beaches once a year to lay their eggs.

N. ammoniticus was not an alpha predator among its ancient marine counterparts, but by today’s standards would be feared. For example, the crocodile cousin was dwarfed by top ocean predators like the short-necked plesiosaur Liopleurodon, which could grow to more than 80 feet.

Actually, fossils of Metriorhynchids have been discovered throughout the world, which suggests they roamed widely across ancient earth’s oceans.

Because of the size and shape of their teeth, it is hypothesized that Metriorhynchids such as N. ammoniticus fed on fish and squid and perhaps other sea reptiles.

Cowabunga: Is Pasturing Cattle Eco-Friendly as well as Cattle-Friendly

Some people, despite being meat eaters, insist that the animals, before slaughter, were treated humanely. My mother, who will eat a juicy hamburger, yet not veal, is one of these people.

In harmony with an age of relative environmental concern grass-fed beef is somewhat in vogue these days. The consensus is that it is more humane for the cattle and ultimately more yummy. But the main question is, is pasturing eco-friendly as well as cow-friendly?

Scientists at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science of Japan estimate that producing one kilogram of beef releases more greenhouse gas than driving 155 miles. In Slate Magazine, Brian Palmer wrote:

“Since the average American covers 32 miles to and from work, your 8-ounce steak dinner might contribute to global warming as much as your daily commute.”

The various alternatives to consuming beef, be they grass-fed or corn-fed, are bad for the earth.

Under USDA regulations, cattle bearing the “grass-fed” label only are permitted to eat foods known as “forage” once they’ve been weaned. Forage comprises hay, grass, brassicas (a group of plants including turnips, kale, and cabbage) and the stems and leaves of young shrubs and trees. The cattle must have pasture access. Unless the beef bears an organic label, they might receive hormones and antibiotics, although most producers trying to capture the high-end market avoid such drugs.

When standard cows are ready for fattening, they usually move into a pen with 10 to 14 other animals. Every cow, measuring around five feet long and two feet wide, gets a 16-by-16-foot space.

The objective of adding 1,000 pounds of weight on an animal in a few months takes a formidable amount of grain. During its finishing period, the average beef cow eats 2,800 pounds of corn.

Be that as it may, many researchers claim that cattle fattened at a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) are better for the environment than free-range cattle. Grass-finished cattle, according to recent research, require about two-and-a-half times as much energy to produce as grass-fed ones.

Cows that live in quarters, shoulder-to-shoulder are the same as humans crammed into small urban spaces: Transporting food to the animals, and then the animals to the slaughterhouse, takes less energy for CAFO-raised cattle.

Add to this, cows hopped up on hormones and eating calorie-dense grain grow two to three times as fast, thereby making it easy for ranchers to crank out more beef with fewer resources. And while finishing a 1,200-pound corn-fed cow requires three acres of land, finishing a grass-fed cow, however, requires nine acres.