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Great News! Scientists Discover Two New Marsupial Species in Australia

Scientists in Australia have identified two new mammals in a country known for its unique fauna.

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It’s safe to say that 2020 has been an absolutely bruising year from the start, and nowhere has this been more true than in Australia, where massive bushfires killed or displaced some 3 billion animals in one of the most vicious wildlife disasters in modern history.

However, scientists in Australia have identified two new mammals in a country known for its unique fauna – and both are cousin species of the greater glider, a marsupial that is known for gliding from tree to tree and is known for its expressive eyes, large ears, and long furry tails.

While the glider had previously been classified as a single species, a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports has found that it was actually three distinct species that also live in northern and central Australia, far beyond the southern parts of the country where the marsupial was known to dwell.

“Australia’s biodiversity just got a lot richer,” Prof. Andrew Krockenberger of James Cook University told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s not every day that new mammals are confirmed, let alone two new mammals.”

The southern glider had long been known to be a unique creature with many variations among individual creatures, with broad differences in size, color, and physiology. And while scientists suspected that the glider may have been several species, their diversity was long believed to be subspecies rather than entirely different species.

However, DNA sequencing led the researchers to conclude that the gliders were, indeed, three separate species.

The southern glider is known to seek slumber in hollowed-out trees in forests along the Great Dividing Range between New South Wales and Victoria during the day. Like koalas, it subsists on the leaves of eucalyptus trees, and flies as high as 330 feet in the air during the night when it searches for its food.

While the possum-sized glider was once common, habitat loss and fragmentation has led to a precipitous drop in their numbers – a matter only made worse by logging, drought, bushfires, and global warming, according to Victoria’s environmental agency. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List notes that the creatures are vulnerable, especially due to their dependence on mature trees.

However, conservationists will now have to divide their concern among three separate species rather than one.

The newly-discovered species in the north dwells in the eucalyptus forests between Mackay and Cairns in Queensland and is the smallest glider, only growing up to roughly a foot long – about the size of the little ringtail possum and about half the size of the southern glider.

The newfound central species’ habitat lies in southern Queensland up to Mackay and is in between the two others in size.

“It’s really exciting to find this biodiversity under our noses, and gliders are such a charismatic animal as well,” said ecologist Kara Youngentob of the Australian National University.

“But the division of the greater glider into multiple species reduces the previous widespread distribution of the original species, further increasing conservation concern for that animal and highlighting the lack of information about the other greater glider species,” she added.

The discovery further underscores the dramatically unique nature of creatures in Australia, an island continent where 87 percent of wildlife is endemic to the country, meaning it can only be found on Australia. This includes such exceptional southern corroboree frog, mountain pygmy-possum, kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, wombats, potoroos, bandicoots, echidnas, and other species.

The country also has the highest rate of species loss of any region in the world – a situation that scientists hope can be changed with more accurate taxonomic classification.

“A lack of knowledge about the genetic structure of species across their range can result in an inability to properly manage and protect species from extinction,” the study noted.

“This is especially true in the wake of a natural disaster, when wildlife management decisions need to be made quickly and under challenging circumstances.”

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Animals

Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida

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A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.

In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.

“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.

Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.

Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.

Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.

Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.

However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.

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Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son

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A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.

The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.

The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.

“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.

“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.

The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.

The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.

“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.

The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.

The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.

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Blue Whales Return to Spain’s Coast After Disappearing for 40 Years

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Blue whales have been returning to the Atlantic coast of Spain after an absence of over 40 years in the region, when whaling industries drove the species to the brink of extinction.

Blue whales, which are the world’s largest mammals, had long disappeared from the region until the recent sightings.

The first was spotted off the coast of Galicia near Ons Island by marine biologist Bruno Díaz, who heads the Bottlenose Dolphin Research.

Another one of the majestic creatures was spotted the following year in 2018 and yet another in 2019. In 2020, two whales again made their return to the area.

It remains unclear as of yet as to why the creatures have returned to the area, but controls on local whaling industries are believed to play a role.

“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz remarked, according to the Guardian. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”

Whaling had been a traditional industry in Galicia for hundreds of years before Spain finally acted to ban whaling in 1986, long after the blue whale’s presence in the region had faded away.

Some fear that the return of the massive sea mammals is a sign of global warming.

“I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” said marine biologist Alfredo López in comments to La Voz de Galicia.

“Firstly, because they never venture south of the equator, and if global warming pushes this line north, their habitat will be reduced,” he continued “And secondly, if it means the food they normally eat is disappearing, then what we’re seeing is dramatic and not something to celebrate.”

Díaz said that while the data certainly supports this theory, it is too early to determine climate as the precise cause.

“It is true that the data we have points to this trend [climate change] but it is not enough yet,” he told Público news.

Another possibility is that the ancestral memory of the old creatures or even a longing for their home may offer an explanation, according to Díaz.

“In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” he said. “This year there hasn’t been a notable increase in plankton, but here they are. Experiences are retained in the collective memory and drive the species to return.”

In recent years, researchers have found that migratory patterns are also driven by the cultural knowledge existing in many groups of species.

Researchers believe this type of folk memory, or cultural knowledge, exists in many species and is key to their survival.

A typical blue whale is 20-24 metres long and weighs 120 tonnes – equivalent to 16 elephants – but specimens of up to 30 metres and 170 tonnes have been found.

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