Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Lost World on Google Earth

The mountainous area of northern Mozambique in southern Africa had been overlooked by science due to inhospitable terrain and decades of civil war in the country. However, while scrolling around on Google Earth, an internet map that allows the viewer to look at satellite images of anywhere on the globe, scientists discovered an unexpected patch of green.

Driving up to Mount Mabu - Photograph: Julian Bayliss/Kew
A British-led expedition was sent to see what was on the ground and found 7,000 hectares of forest, rich in biodiversity, known as Mount Mabu. In just three weeks, scientists led by a team from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew found hundreds of different plant species, birds, butterflies, monkeys and a new species of giant snake. The samples which the team took are now back in Britain for analysis. So far three new butterflies and one new species of snake have been discovered but it is believed there are at least two more new species of plants and perhaps more new insects to discover.

Jonathan Timberlake recording vegetation (Photograph: Tom Timberlake/Kew)

Hemipteran bug - Photograph: Julian Bayliss/Kew

Google Earth image of Mount Mabu. The coordinates are 16 degrees 17 min, 56 secs south and 36 degrees 23 mins 44secs east.

Pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon sp.) - Photograph: Julian Bayliss/Kew

See here for the full article by Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent to the Daily Telegraph.

And here for some more images.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Oh Dear!

Or words to that effect.... as the Copenhagen goalie managed to let the simplest of shots by a Manchester City player slip through his hands...

Copenhagen 2 - Man City 2 in the Eufa Cup.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Oh S**t - or more politely - Lizard Poo

Leeds University has apologised to Daniel Bennett, a graduate student and friend of Helen, who lost his unique collection of rare lizard excrement when it was thrown away by mistake. Daniel had been studying the Bhutan Lizard (Varanus olivaceus) for more than five years in the Philippines and was working towards a doctorate. The lizard - also known as Gray’s Monitor – is one of the world's rarest reptiles, it was thought to be extinct for over 100 years.

When he returned from field studies “I was surprised to find my desk space occupied by another student and to see that photographs of my daughter, my girlfriend and my favourite lizards had been removed from the wall. The laboratory space where my samples had been stored was empty. Irritation turned to fear as I realized that my personal effects had been carefully stowed in boxes, but there was no sign of my 35-kilogram bag of lizard shit. Fear turned to anger and bewilderment when I learned that my samples had been ‘accidentally’ removed from the lab and incinerated.”

He said the reptile was so shy that he studied what it ate through its droppings, rather than trapping or disturbing it. The tree-dwelling lizard’s reclusiveness makes it difficult to study, he explained, so the fecal samples were invaluable. Nonetheless their destruction did not stop him from finishing his Ph.D.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

New amphibians

This toad from the Nectophrynoides genus is one of 15 amphibian species in Tanzania that have been described for the first time. They were found during research led by UK conservation charity Frontier. The toad is being studied by researchers in Italy and at the Natural History Museum, London. As well as their distinctive markings and colourings, the researchers say Nectophrynoides are also unique because females give birth to live offspring rather than lay eggs. Sadly, areas of Tanzania's mountain forests are under threat from deforestation, the researchers warned.

Meanwhile, a recent scientific expedition in Colombia's mountainous Darien region has unearthed 10 new species of amphibians, including this Harlequin Frog – Atelopus sp.. Scientists with Conservation International announced the discovery in what's being referred to as a safe haven for frogs located in the west of the country on the border with Panama.

A rain frog of the genus Pristimantis was among the new species.

The discovery of the 10 new amphibians, which include a salamander, , was the result of a three-week survey of the area, the group said. The country is home to over 750 species of amphibian.

(Pictures from CNN and BBC)

Friday, 6 February 2009

Hunting Wolves

Over the past five years, Alaska’s aerial hunting program has claimed the lives of more than 800 hundred wolves. Despite strong scientific, ethical and public opposition to aerial hunting, Governor Sarah Palin has not only supported the killing but proposed paying a $150 bounty for the left foreleg of each dead wolf. She has approved a $400,000 state-funded propaganda campaign to promote aerial hunting. In addition Alaska's Governor has introduced legislation to make it even easier to use aircraft to hunt wolves and bears.

If you live in the United States you can send an e-mail to Sarah Palin requesting her to withdraw her support for this brutality by visiting this site.

Sadly the site does not provide for us in the UK to tell her how shameful we find it that a country for which we have much admiration in many respects should let itself down itself by this behaviour. The Uk does not have the best track record on wildlife conservation and environmantal matters but at least blood sports has been banned. (And yes, hunting wolves from the air can only be defined as a blood sport since there is no scientific argument for doing it.)

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Everton 1 - Liverpool 0

Life doesn’t come much more frustrating than being a Liverpool fan seeing Liverpool FC get knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton.

Actually, yes it does. The match was a replay at Goodison after a draw at Anfield. Everton scored in the 218th minute of play. Two more minutes and it would have gone to penalties – in which Liverpool have an excellent record. Yes, that makes it even more frustrating.

Then again it can get even more frustrating than that. With two minutes to go in the match ITV went to a commercial break so none of us watching on TV got to see the goal!

Not a good night....

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Whales with big feet

Nine years ago, a team of fossil-hunters led by Philip Gingerich from the University of Michigan uncovered something amazing - the petrified remains of an ancient whale, but one unlike any that had been found before. Within the creature's abdomen lay a collection of similar but much smaller bones. They were the fossilised remains of a foetal whale, perfectly preserved within the belly of its mother...
The creatures are new to science and Gingerich have called them Maiacetus inuus. The genus name is an amalgamation of the Greek words "maia" meaning "mother" and "ketos" meaning "whale", while Inuus, the Roman god of fertility, gave his name to the species.
This trio of skeletons is so complete and well-preserved that Gingerich likens them to the Rosetta Stone.
All in all, Gingerich's latest finds are among his most alluring yet. The remains of these three individuals have lasted through 48 million years of compression and today, they paint an incredibly vivid picture of the life of an ancient species. The fact that they are ancestral whales is the icing on the cake. This group's story is one of the most beautifully illustrated in the field evolution and every new discovery is a welcome one.

For more about this exciting find see Ed Yong’s blog.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


The Eggheads have lost two games in a row. The Bere Heads won £25,000 but because a new run of money had started the next team only won a thousand. Nevertheless they were delighted to win.