Caterpillar Lab!

In a time where biodiversity is actively under threat, I’d like to take a moment to applaud organizations that highlight and promote organisms. And somehow I just stumbled across such a resource.

The Caterpillar Lab! Started by a kickstarter in 2013, it’s mission statement:

The Caterpillar Lab fosters greater appreciation and care for the complexity and beauty of our local natural history through live caterpillar educational programs, research initiatives, and photography and film projects. We believe that an increased awareness of one’s local environment is the foundation on which healthy and responsible attitudes towards the broader natural systems of this world is built.

Check them out here, or simply enjoy the video below (One of many that can be found on their website).

 

Elephant Refugees Flee to Last Stronghold in Africa

We’re not talking about refugees. Not the kind that are flocking to Europe from Syria, but the four legged kind that are being over hunted.

A national park in Botswana is struggling to support the staggering number of animals fleeing from poaching in other countries.

Read about it over at National Geographic!

01_elephants_botswana-adapt-590-1

Epic Battles: Humpback Whales vs. Killer Whales?

Altruism: behaviour of an animal that benefits another at its own expense.

This is rare within species (bees and other social animals being the notable exception), but between species? Practically unheard of.

But apparently the raging war between humpback whales and killer whales (which I genuinely did not know was happening), has caused humpbacks to intervene in the killer whales hunting other species.

Read about it over at National Geographic… and puzzle over why humpbacks keep picking on killer whales.

01humpbackwhales.adapt.1190.1

Buenos Aires is closing it’s zoo, should we close ours too?

Zoos have been controversial recently, sadly because a little boy fell in with a big gorilla (not the best scenario unless you’re Tarzan, and this kid, was not Tarzan).

Although not related to the unfortunate event, the Buenos Aires Zoo is closing, bringing up the age old question, should we close our zoos too?

There are arguments for closing zoos (we shouldn’t put intelligent creatures into captivity) and arguments against (zoos are used for education about conservation), both of which are reviewed nicely in this article at Pacific Standard. Check it out!

It was recently ruled that Sandra the orangutan (currently housed in the Buenos Aires Zoo) has rights as a "non-human person"

It was recently ruled that Sandra the orangutan (currently housed in the Buenos Aires Zoo) has rights as a “non-human person”

The Pregnant T-rex

It’s often hard to determine the sex of fossils (most of our parts that determine such things are not… fossilizable).

But researchers from North Carolina State University and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences found a medullary bone, a kind of tissue found only in female birds that are carrying eggs, or have just finished laying them, in a T-rex fossil from the Cretaceous.

While this is exciting (and you should read about it over at the Washington Post), it may be more exciting as researchers now have a means of identifying sex of dinosaurs. Which allows us to find out more about sex-linked traits in extinct dinosaurs.

GettyImages-501558956-676x450

The Tully Monster

In 1955 Francis Tully found a fossil 50 miles south of Chicago that looked like “an obese foot-long earthworm with a trunk and a spade shaped tail”. See below.

lead_960

When Mr Tully brought his discovery to the field museum, where they had no idea what it was either (but they named it Tullimostrum gregarium, which is latin for “Tully Monster”). Or what it might be related to. Or what animal group it belonged in. What they did know was that this strange monster wasn’t rare, in fact specimens started cropping up all over the place.

50 years, and 1200 specimens later, Victoria McCoy and a team of scientist have solved this very puzzling mystery. Read about it over at the Atlantic, or the original paper here.

Crowd-funding a Joshua tree reference genome

(Flickr: jbyoder)

(Flickr: jbyoder)

Remember Joshua trees? If you read this blog, you probably do. They’re an ecological keystone species — and a cultural icon — in the Mojave desert, and they have a fascinating, co-evolving relationship with yucca moths. Some contributors to this very blog, have been studying that pollination relationship and its evolutionary consequences for a decade, building on natural history research that goes back to the time of Charles Darwin.

Up to now, though, modern genetic tools have been of limited use for Joshua trees, because no one has assembled the complete DNA sequence of a Joshua tree. Having a “reference genome” would let those of us who study the trees identify specific genes involved in coevolution with yucca moths, compare the evolutionary effects of that pollination mutualism to natural selection exerted by the harsh environments in which the trees grow, and even use genome-scale data to inform Joshua tree conservation planning.

Well, we’ve decided it’s time to do all of that, and we’re asking for help. A team of folks with expertise in Joshua trees’ natural history, Mojave Desert ecology, and genomic data analysis launched the Joshua Tree Genome Project a couple weeks ago, with a crowd-funding campaign on Experiment.com to pay for part of the DNA sequencing we’d need to assemble a reference genome.

We’re approaching 50% of our funding goal, and leading a competition among projects based at undergraduate universities to recruit the most donors, which could win us $2,000 in matching funds — so even if you give as little as $1, you’re providing a big boost to the project. Go check out the Joshua Tree Genome Project website, and then head on over and pledge your support.