Category Archives: Malaysia

The Pisonia Tree Lures and Murders Birds for No Apparent Good Reason

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Someone should tell that to the Pisonia tree, a ruthless plant that kills birds just for the heck of it. You may be asking, “Why?” Well, the tree should respond, “Why not?”

Oh Murder Tree, Oh Murder Tree!

If you didn’t think a plant — a tree, no less — could be a jerk, think again. Found in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans, the Pisonia tree fits the bill as one of the most unnecessarily cruel plants in the planet. While it’s not uncommon for plants to have built-in defense mechanisms, those things are usually there to keep the plant safe from preditors. But scientists have yet to uncover any benefit the Pisonia tree could possibly receive for luring birds in only just to murder them.

Here’s what happens at the crime scene: the Pisonia tree produces sticky seedpods that trap insects, luring in hungry birds with the promise of an easy lunch. These seedpods are so sticky that they’ll latch onto any bird that flies into them, either trapping it in the tree’s branches or weighing the bird down stosuch a extent that it’s completely unable to fly. As a result, you’ll see a blanket of bird carcasses littering the roots of the Pisonia tree. There are sometimes even mummified bird corpses up in the branches that look like, as Washington Post describes them, “macabre Christmas tree ornaments.”

Ecologist Alan Burger at the University of Victoria first heard of the Pisonia in the 1990s and went to the archipelago of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean to work out why these slaughterous trees seemed to kill just for the hell of it. Until then, no one had looked too hard into the Pisonia tree, but there were two main theories as to why they were bird-tormentors: either the tree’s roots got a nutrient bump from the dead birds, or the seeds attached to the dead birds because they required the corpse as fertilizer in order to grow. After 10 months of research with the Pisonia seeds, Burger published his findings in 2005.

The conclusion? Pisonia trees are just out & out ruthless. “The results from my experiments showed quite convincingly that the Pisonia derived no obvious benefit from fatally entangling birds,” writes Burger. But not only did dead birds not benefit the tree in any way, but the droppings of living birds would also help the trees survive by enriching the soil. It turns out, then, that killing birds isn’t necessarily the goal. Birds flying away from the tree with sticky seeds attached helps keep the tree species alive by spreading the seeds far and wide. It’s just one of those evolutionary whoopsies that the seeds sprout in clusters — heavy, self-sabotaging, bird-murdering clusters.

Curious for more of nature’s killers? Check out “Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities.” The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible.

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Henry Sapiecha

 

The colourful killer of snakes snake with the scorpion sting could take your pain away

This snake is a freak. It boasts the largest venom glands in the world. It eats king cobras for breakfast. And it has a scorpion’s sting. But that’s not what has scientists excited.

“We have found the wildest snake toxin ever, from the venom of the most outrageous snakes,” Bryan Fry said. “It does something no other snake has ever done.”

blue-coral-snake image www.pythonjungle.com

The super-powerful venom of the long-glanded blue coral snake could inspire new pain treatments for humans. Photo: Tom Charlton

The Queensland University venomologist is talking about the aptly named long-glanded blue coral snake of south-east Asia – and its unusual venom which takes hold with lightning efficiency.

A reptile with electric blue stripes and neon-red head and tail, it grows up to two metres long. Its venom glands extend to a good 60 centimetres – about one-quarter of its body length.

“On the scale of weird, this one goes to 11,” Dr Fry said. “It’s a freaky snake.”

Described as “the killer of killers” due to its taste for young king cobras, this snake is unique among snakes because, like scorpions, its venom causes its prey to spasm.

young king cobra snake is no match for the long-glanded blue coral snake image www.pythonjungle.com

A young king cobra is no match for the long-glanded blue coral snake.

ooovenom glands of the long-glanded blue coral snake are up to 60 centimetres long image www.pythonjungle.com

The venom glands of the long-glanded blue coral snake are up to 60 centimetres long. Photo: Bryan Fry

Exactly how it does this has been discovered for the first time. The results, published in the journal Toxins, could lead to improved pain management for humans.

“This venom hits a particular type of sodium channel that is important for the treatment of pain in humans,” Dr Fry said.

Dr Bryan Fry holds a king cobra image www.pythonjungle.com

Dr Bryan Fry holds a king cobra. Young king cobras are often prey to the blue coral snake

With colleagues from Australia, China, Singapore and the US, Dr Fry identified six unusual peptides in the venom of the blue coral snake that can switch on all of its prey’s nerves at once. This immediately immobilises its victim.

So what does a paralysis-inducing venom have to do with improving the treatment and management of pain in humans?

Dr Fry said the research showed that the venom used receptors which were critical to pain in humans. Learning about how these worked could enable improved pain treatment and management.

“It’s also the first vertebrate to do this via sodium channels,” Dr Fry said. “So from a drug development perspective, this is interesting as this animal is evolutionarily-speaking closer to us than a scorpion. Which means it might be more amenable to us.”

While the length of the long-glanded blue coral snake’s venom glands was known, the way the venom worked hadn’t been studied. And given there are related species, there could be as many as 200 variations of the peptides in total.

“It’s a great example of why studying the really weird animals is a great path for biodiscovery and you can’t get any weirder than this snake with the longest venom glands in the world,” Dr Fry said.

“You can’t predict where the next wonder drug came from so you need to protect what you have.”

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Henry Sapiecha

Aceh citizens take legal action to protect Sumatran jungle

A male orangutan in the wild at Gunung Leuser National Park on Sumatra image www.pythonjungle.com

A male orangutan in the wild at Gunung Leuser National Park on Sumatra. Photo: Penny Stephens

Jakarta: Activists are suing the Indonesian government in a bid to stop development they say will devastate the last remaining area on earth where Sumatran tigers, rhinoceroses, orangutans and elephants live together in the wild.

The world-renowned Leuser Ecosystem in the heart of the Sumatran jungle in Aceh is at risk of being destroyed by a government plan to allow roads in the area and by potential concessions for mining and plantations, campaigners say.

In the latest stage of a nearly two-year bid to have the plan retracted, nine representatives of the group Gerakan Rakyat Aceh Menggugat launched a civil lawsuit at the Central Jakarta District Court.

malaysia map image www.pythonjungle.com

Photo: Google Maps

“[The plan] effectively dissolves protection of much of Aceh’s remaining tropical rainforests, whitewashing crimes of the past, and paving the way for a new wave of catastrophic ecological destruction,” GeRAM representative Farwiza Farhan said.

The short-term profits from the developments would not benefit the people of Aceh, she said.

“They are after quick immediate short-term gains, but the consequences will be borne by the rest of the community.”

A worker on the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program carries a tranquilised animal as it is prepared to be released into the wild image www.pythonjungle.com

A worker on the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program carries a tranquilised animal as it is prepared to be released into the wild last year. Photo: AP

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program says the Leuser Ecosystem is crucial for the survival of the Sumatran tigers, rhinoceroses, elephants and orangutans.

“If you lose Leuser you lose all four of those species guaranteed,” Sumatran Orangutan Program conservation manager Ian Singleton said.

“The … plan basically ignores the existence of the Leuser Ecosystem. It opens up massive areas of lowland forests to potential new concessions for plantations, mining, timber even, and it also legalises many roads that have been cut through the forest … and roads alone are enough to send these species to extinction.”

The lawsuit is against both the Aceh government, which activists claim is acting unlawfully by not including the protected ecosystem in the plan, and the Ministry of Home Affairs, which they claim has failed to protect the Leuser Ecosystem.

The group claims the Ministry of Home Affairs indicated the plan would need to include protection of the ecosystem but has failed to take necessary action.

They are hoping to have the Aceh government redraw the plan and provide protection for the Leuser Ecosystem and proper environmental analysis.

The Leuser Ecosystem covers more than 2.6 million hectares across the provinces of Aceh and Northern Sumatra and is regarded by conservationists as one of the richest areas of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia. Within the ecosystem is Gunung Leuser National Park, which is listed as a World Heritage Site.

“The Leuser Ecosystem is a jewel in the crown of the world’s rainforests – and it’s unbelievable that the Aceh government isn’t taking stronger steps to help protect it,” Professor Bill Laurance, of James Cook University, says.

“In a world in which invaluable ecosystems are vanishing almost daily, the Leuser is becoming one of the most alarming environmental tragedies unfolding anywhere.”

The geographically diverse area consists of lowland rainforest, peatlands, mountain ranges, lakes and nine substantial rivers. In addition to providing a habitat to a number of endangered wildlife species it is also a life system for the more than 4 million people, and helps protect the area from natural disasters such as flooding and landslides.

Professor Laurance has been campaigning to have the Leuser Ecosystem listed as a World Heritage Site.

“Virtually anywhere else on the planet, the Leuser would be protected as a World Heritage Site – a crucial element of our global heritage. I think the best hope is that the Indonesian federal government might be persuaded to intervene in Aceh, just as we saw happen in Australia with the establishment of World Heritage sites in Tasmania and the Queensland Wet Tropics. I haven’t seen much evidence that the Aceh government on its own is going to the swayed to protect Leuser.”

The court will order a mediation between the two parties before the litigation proceeds.

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Henry Sapiecha