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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.

Elias Marat

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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.”

Ancient History

Megalodon Fossils Show How Biggest-Ever Shark Had Nurseries All Over the World

Elias Marat

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The massive megalodon, the largest shark to ever roam the seas, had their own nursery areas all over the globe that allowed the apex predators to raise their young and populate the world prior to their extinction.

A new study, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, reveals that nurseries belonging to the massive creatures have been found in across vast geographic distances where fossils belonging to both young and old megalodons were discovered.

The five likely nurseries include sites off Spain’s east coast, two off the coast of the United States, and two in Panama.

Megalodon (Otodus megalodon), whose name means “large tooth,” lived between 23 million and 3.6 million years ago until it went extinct during a period of global cooling. For 13 million years, the megalodon was the king of the sea.

The megalodon was not only the largest shark in the world, but also the biggest fish – and quite possibly the most powerful predator – to ever exist. Its teeth alone measured 18 centimeters long, and evidence shows that it could have grown to reach up to 60 feet in length.

However, because megalodon bodies were mostly comprised of cartilage – which cannot fossilize – the shark’s teeth, vertebrae and fossilized feces have been the main way researchers have calculated the shark’s body measurements.

The existence of the nurseries shows that young megalodon were still quite susceptible to attacks by other predators.

To keep the young megalodon safe, their shark parents would give birth to their young in shallow, warm water nurseries located near coastlines. In these special regions, juvenile megalodon were able to access their prey while facing few dangers from rival predators.

“Our analyses support the presence of five potential nurseries ranging from the Langhian (middle Miocene) to the Zanclean (Pliocene), with higher densities of individuals with estimated body lengths within the typical range of neonates and young juveniles,” the scientists wrote in the abstract for the study.

“These results reveal, for the first time, that nursery areas were commonly used by O. megalodon over large temporal and spatial scales, reducing early mortality and playing a key role in maintaining viable adult populations,” the authors added.

The nurseries were ideal sites that allowed young megalodons to mature into adults in a process that took about 25 years.

Experts investigated 25 teeth belonging to megalodon that were found in the Reverté and Vidal regions in Tarragona, Spain. The study led to the conclusion that these locations were filled with sharks that had body lengths consistent with the normal range of newborns and young juveniles, measuring 13 feet in length for one-month-old sharks to 36 feet in length for older juveniles.

A separate study released in September found that a 52.5-foot-long adult megalodon had heads that measure up to 15.3 feet long, with dorsal fins measuring about 5.3 feet tall and tails reaching 12.6 feet. To put this into perspective, an adult human could stand on a shark’s back and be roughly the same height as the dorsal fin.

The study’s findings also reveal that the shark’s reliance on nurseries likely played a role in their demise, when the world cooled near the end of the Pliocene period and sea levels declined.

“Ultimately, the presumed reliance of O. megalodon on the presence of suitable nursery grounds might have also been determinant in the demise of this iconic top predatory shark,” the authors of the study noted.

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Animals

Minks Infected With Mutated Covid “Rise From Their Graves” After Being Killed in Mass Culling

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If you thought that this year couldn’t get any weirder, now we can add covid infected minks rising from their graves to the list of strange 2020 happenings. The minks that appeared to rise from the dead had been infected with a mutated strain of COVID-19 in Denmark.

A Danish police spokesman, Thomas Kristensen, urged local residents to stay calm, and explained that these minks are not actually zombies. Kristensen said that gasses in the decay process sometimes cause the bodies to move.

“As the bodies decay, gases can be formed. This causes the whole thing to expand a little. In this way, in the worst cases, the mink get pushed out of the ground,” Kristensen said, according to the Guardian.

Another issue is the fact that the animals were placed in shallow graves because the process was rushed. The graves were just over three feet deep, which allowed some witnesses to see the movement. Now officials are planning to order the graves to be dug twice as deep.

“This is a natural process. Unfortunately, one metre of soil is not just one metre of soil –it depends on what type of soil it is. The problem is that the sandy soil in West Jutland is too light. So we have had to lay more soil on top,” Kristensen said.

Regardless of the scientific explanation, the incident has sparked plenty of conversation on social media.

Local residents shared photos and videos of the bodies coming out of the ground to social media with captions like “the year of the zombie mutant killer mink” and “run … The mink are coming for you.”

Kristensen warned that anyone who might see a shallow mink grave should stay away because there is still a small risk of infection. Even though the minks had been disinfected before being buried, there is still a chance that the virus can be passed on to a person.

He said that it could be possible that “small quantities of bacteria may still be trapped in their fur” adding that it is “never healthy to get close to dead animals, so therefore this is of course something to stay away from.”

Sadly, the country plans to kill all 15 million minks that live in the country. The country is reportedly responsible for producing 40% of the world’s mink fur. The country’s mink farmers have culled more than 10 million mink so far, according to the latest numbers.

The mink burial grounds will also be monitored around the clock, and they are working to put a fence up around the area. Still, despite these security measures, some officials are concerned that the burial grounds are too close to local water sources, which could potentially put the water supply at risk. Some officials, such as two mayors in the region, are suggesting that the corpses of the minks be burned.

As of Wednesday, Denmark has reported more than 74,000 COVID-19 cases and 800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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Animals

World’s Only White Giraffe Gets GPS Tracker After Poachers Killed His Family

Elias Marat

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The only known white giraffe in the world has been fitted with a tracking device to keep poachers away after its entire family was killed.

The unique creature has an extremely rare genetic trait known as leucism, which results in its white color. Unlike albinism, the loss of pigmentation is partial. However, the unusual coloration makes the animal desirable to unscrupulous poachers seeking a rare find in the wilderness.

The giraffe is currently staying at the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy in southeast Kenya. Earlier this month, conservationists fitted one of his horns with a GPS tracking device to ensure its survival, reports the BBC.

Conservationists say that the giraffe is the last of its kind that exists in the world, and have expressed concern that poachers could come to kill him after his two family members were killed in March.

The two relatives, a female and a seven-month-old calf with similar white skin, were found dead in a conservation zone in Garissa County in northeast Kenya, a large unfenced area where the male giraffe resides.

The three white giraffes had been “an immense source of pride in the Ishaqbini community” and garnered international attention over the years, the trust said in a Tuesday statement.

“The giraffe’s grazing range has been blessed with good rains in the recent past and the abundant vegetation bodes well for the future of the white male,” said Mohammed Ahmednoor, the manager of the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy.

The nonprofit group added that the tracking device would allow conservationists to see hourly updates on the whereabouts of the giraffe, granting rangers the ability to “keep the unique animal safe from poachers.”

The Kenya Wildlife Society, the main conservationist group overseeing the plight of wild animals in the eastern African nation, said that it was happy to assist any efforts on the ground to safeguard “unique wildlife like the only known white giraffe.”

The extremely rare creature was first spotted in March 2016, roughly two months after a reported sighting in neighboring Tanzania.

White giraffes appeared in world headlines one year later after the mother and her calf were caught on camera at the Garissa County conservancy.

Giraffes are native to over 15 African countries and are the world’s tallest mammals, reaching heights exceeding 18 feet. They primarily reside in savanna and woodland habitats, and subsist on a diet that includes flowers, fruits, leaves, and stems.

However, giraffes are coveted by poachers for their meat, skin, and body parts.

Around 40 percent of the giraffe population has been lost in the last 30 years, with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) blaming poaching and wildlife tracking for the precipitous decline. Fortunately, many giraffe populations enjoy various degrees of legal protection and are the focus of conservation efforts in their range states.

There are over 68,000 giraffes across the world, according to the foundation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List classifies the species as vulnerable, with one of the main threats to the animal coming from poaching as well as habitat loss due to uncontrolled mining and land conversion.

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