Monthly Archives: August 2016

GREAT EDUCATIONAL VIDEO DOC ON SNAKES

Except for the polar regions and a few islands, snakes have spread throughout the world. Religion has endowed snakes with mystical powers, invoking human emotions from reverence to outright fear. Though snakes are well-known among us, most of us find it difficult to accept their presence whether seen or not seen. Yet snakes are one of the great success stories of the natural world, having thrived on earth for a hundred million years longer than humans. Though snakes share a profound similarity in design, they are exquisitely well-adapted to the environment they live in. As long as snakes are not interfered with, there is no reason to believe snakes will not survive a hundred million years more.

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Henry Sapiecha

Gigantic Huge Goldfish Are Invading Australian Rivers

Abandoned by their owners, the fish run rampant and impact the environment

huge-goldfish mage www.pythonjungle.com

here’s nothing cuter than a goldfish—diminutive, bright and distinctly cheerful-looking, they’re a staple of fish tanks all around the world. But Australian scientists are not so enamored with the little darlings, reports Johnny Lieu for Mashable. Not only are they invading Australian rivers, but they’re growing to gargantuan sizes.

The huge goldfish of Western Australia are anything but adorable: Over the last 15 years, Lieu reports, they’ve taken to freshwater rivers in ever-greater number along with a host of other aquarium fish. In a new study published in the journal Ecology of Freshwater Fish, researchers reveal how the fish have spread throughout Australian waterways—and grown ever larger as they go.

The fish are not just big, the study found, they’re incredibly mobile. In just five days they can travel an average of one mile in the river. One intrepid fish went a whopping 3.35 miles in a mere 24 hours.

Over a year-long period, researchers tracked the movements of goldfish in the lower Vasse River, using acoustic testing and tagging to determine what fish were doing. The goldfish studied didn’t just swim around—they appear to have spawned in what ecologists call a “spawning migration,” a pattern in which fish breed in areas far away from their normal hangouts.

That’s bad news, Stephen Beatty, a senior research fellow at Murdoch University’s Centre for Fish & Fisheries Research who led the study, tells Smithsonian.com. “The fact that they’re so big is really symptomatic of the other impacts in the river,” says Beatty. The river, he explains, is warm and stagnant—perfect conditions for pet goldfish who make their way into waterways after being released by their owners. “The goldfish have really capitalized on that,” he says. Not only do the goldfish disturb the habitat and potentially consume invertebrates and fish eggs, his team suspects that they are also disease vectors.

Carassius auratus originated in Asia and are now kept as pets the world over. But when they’re released into the wild, the well-behaved fish tank friend becomes a foe to other wildlife. Not only do they grow without the constraints of a tank and commercial fish food, but their feeding frenzy causes mud and debris to rise from the bottom of the river. That in turn fuels the growth of aquatic plants, which can degrade the river even further. And while splashing around in the warm, nutrient-rich environment they love, they breed like crazy.

It’s become an issue throughout the world: a Boulder, Colorado lake teems with the fish and in Alberta, Canada, the problem has become so bad that officials pleaded with the public not to release them. For Beatty, all that press is a good thing: “They’re a bit of a flagship because they do get that media attention,” he concedes. But their star status has a downside—a misconception that if your goldfish is tiny, it won’t hurt to drop it in a lake or river. “Introduced species can have really unpredictable impacts, even cute and fuzzy ones,” he says. “Please don’t release anything into rivers or wetlands that are not native there.”

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Henry Sapiecha

DID FOSSIL OIL KILL OFF THE DINOSAURS?

animated-dinosaur-image-www.pythonjungle.com

What killed the dinosaurs? It’s a question as old as – well the dinosaurs themselves, and one that everyone from school children to scientists have been asking for decades. Movies like Jurassic Park and the Land Before Time only heighten that sense of wonder and raise the stakes behind that question. Now according to a new scientific study, it seems that black gold may have been the source of the dinos’ demise.

Japanese researchers at Tohuku University and the Meteorological Research Institute authored a recent study in the research journal Scientific Reports suggesting that a meteor impact 66 million years ago on an oil rich region of Yucatan Peninsula led to the death of the dinosaurs. When the asteroid hit the vast oil deposits of Mexico, it sent thick black smoke into the atmosphere, changing the climate around the world. That soot blocked out the sun leading to a significant cooling of the planet. Equally importantly, it also led to a substantial drought around the world.

The asteroid in question was roughly 6 miles wide and its impacted created the 110 mile wide crater that exists in the Yucatan today – the third largest crater on Earth. The impact was the equivalent of roughly 1 billion atomic bombs of the equivalent power to what struck Hiroshima at the end of World War 2.

The researchers calculate that the amount of soot released would have lowered sunlight exposure by 85 percent and reduced rainfall by 80 percent. That would have had a significant impact on plant growth, which in turn would have limited food options for most dinosaurs. In addition, the soot cooled the Earth by 16 degrees Celsius (about 28.8 degrees Fahrenheit) over the course of just 3 years. Think of the event as the reverse of global warming – and on steroids.

Against this backdrop it is not surprising that dinosaurs all died out. Only smaller mammals that could live underground would have survived. In fact, the fossil record suggests that only 12 percent of the pre-asteroid life was able to survive after the impact. It was not just dinosaurs that died either, contrary to myths about the Ice Age – around 93 percent of mammal species were killed off as well, according to a separate research study by scientists at the University of Bath. The largest animals that would have survived the extinction event were about the size of a house cat.

Still, life bounced back “fairly quickly” researchers say, with about twice as many species existing 300,000 years after the event versus before it. Of course, given that the course of human history only goes back around 25,000 years, three-hundred thousand years is still a long period of time. It reflects the reality that the asteroid strike had a significant enough impact that its effects took tens of thousands of years to dissipate. It was the adaptability of mammals after the strike versus various reptiles that led the mammals to ultimately come to dominate the planet. Dinosaurs were in decline for millions of years before the asteroid strike, but that event aided by the oil rich soil of the Yucatan finished them off.

It’s ironic that oil, so fundamental for modern human life was ultimately the catalyst that wiped out the dinosaurs. Had the asteroid stuck in a less oil rich region, back of the envelope calculations suggest its impact would have only been around one-third as devastating. It’s impossible to say if that would have allowed any of the dinosaurs to live or not, but it is at least a possibility. Perhaps if not for the existence of oil, none of us would have cars, but maybe we would all have a pet brontosaurus.

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Henry Sapiecha