Aug 8, 2009
10. “Strange Owl” Seen in Wild for First Time
A tiny bird so rare and unusual that its scientific name means “strange owl” was spotted for the first time in the wild, scientists announced on March 22, 2007.
Conservationists working in Peru got their first natural glimpse of the long-whiskered owlet in February 2007 while working in a private mountain reserve.
The species wasn’t even known to exist until 1976, and since then the only known living specimens have been those caught in nets at night.
“Seeing the long-whiskered owlet is a huge thrill,” said David Geale of Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos, who was part of the research team, in a press statement.
The American Bird Conservancy, which partnered in the research, described the sighting as “a holy grail” of bird biology.
As few as 250 of the owlets are thought to exist, scientists said, and the birds are as distinctive as they are rare.
With their diminutive size, bright orange eyes, and wild, wispy facial feathers, the dainty birds belong to their own genus, dubbed Xenoglaux, or “strange owl.”
The owlets owe much of their survival to the remoteness of their dense mountain habitat, the researchers said. But as human activity encroaches on Peru’s northern forests, the birds’ future looks dimmer.
“Due to the rapid destruction of its forest habitat and its tiny range, it is inferred that the species is in serious decline,” Geale said.
“Until recently, the owlets key habitat was completely unprotected.”
9.Ancient Tree Frog Found Encased in Amber
A miner from Mexico’s Chiapas state made the find of a lifetime—a tiny tree frog preserved in amber that could be 25 million years old—a scientist announced in February 2007 (map of Mexico).The block of amber, or fossilized tree resin, encasing the 0.4-inch (1-centimeter) frog was unearthed in 2005 and sold to a private collector, according to the Associated Press (AP). The collector then lent the piece—seen in a photo released on February 14—to scientists.
The specimen appears to belong to the genus Craugastor, said Gerardo Carbot, of the Chiapas Natural History and Ecology Institute, who has been studying the find. This genus includes many modern frogs native to Central America.
The frog’s age has yet to be authenticated. But it was recovered from earthen deposits dating back 25 million years to the Oligocene epoch, Carbot told the AP.
Carbot hopes to make the plot of Jurassic Park a reality by drilling a small hole into the amber and attempting to extract DNA from the encased animal.But “I don’t think [the stone's owner] will allow it,” Carbot told the AP, “because it’s a very rare, unique piece.”
8.New Leopard Species Announced
It turns out a leopard really can change its spots—or at least its species. DNA tests have shown that Borneo’s top predator is one of a kind.
The clouded leopard of the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra is its own unique species, according to genetic test results announced March 14, 2007, by WWF, the international conservation organization (Indonesia map showing Borneo and Sumatra). Until now the cat was believed to be of the same species as the mainland clouded leopard.
The differences aren’t all in the genes, either—the two species have different fur patterns and skin coloration.
“It’s incredible that no one has ever noticed these differences,” said Andrew Kitchener, mammal and bird curator for National Museums Scotland, in a statement.
Weighing in at about 50 pounds (23 kilograms), the Bornean clouded leopard—as it’s being called—is the largest predator on Borneo and is second only to the Sumatran tiger on Sumatra. A hunter of lizards, monkeys, and small deer, the big cat has proportionately the longest canine teeth of any cat.
Many of the estimated 8,000 to 18,000 Bornean clouded leopards in existence inhabit a Kansas-size, mountainous rain forest called the Heart of Borneo.
“The fact that Borneo’s top predator is now considered a separate species,” said WWF’s Adam Tomasek in a statement, “further emphasizes the uniqueness of the island and the importance of conserving the Heart of Borneo.”
7.Jurassic “Crocodile” Found in Oregon
It endured a rocky ride—literally—but this ancient “sea monster” from Asia has found a place in the United States to call home.
The fossil remains of a crocodile-like reptile called Thalattosuchia have been discovered in rocks in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon—about 5,000 miles (8,050 kilometers) from where it most likely died, researchers announced on March 19, 2007. So far about 50 percent of the animal, including the upper leg bone and rib fragments seen here (bottom), have been unearthed.
“This creature lived in Jurassic times, so it’s 150 to 180 million years old,” retired University of Oregon geologist William Orr said in a press release. Orr provided expert advice to the excavation team.
“It probably lived in an area from Japan to East Timor, somewhere in the western Pacific in a tropical estuarine environment.”
The reptile, the oldest ever found in Oregon, is a rare discovery in North America. But similar fossils have been found throughout Southeast Asia, so experts believe that the remains were carried to the U.S. by plate tectonics. As the section of Earth’s crust containing the fossils moved eastward, the Pacific plate collided with the North American plate, pushing the bones into the mountains.
The 6- to 8-foot-long (1.8- to 2.4-meter-long) creature, shown in an artist’s conception (top), is part of a group that scientists think represents an evolutionary transition for this line of crocodilians. Features from related fossils suggest that the animals were evolving from being semiaquatic to entirely ocean dwelling.
The newfound fossils have been moved to the University of Iowa for further study before going on display at an Oregon museum.
6.Rare “Smiling” Bird Photographed in Colombia
Call him the Mona Lisa of the bird kingdom.
The rare recurve-billed bushbird, rediscovered by scientists in Colombia after a 40-year absence, sports a curving beak that gives the illusion of an enigmatic smile.
This photograph, taken by a conservationist with the Colombia-based nonprofit Fundación ProAves in 2005, is the first public photo of a live bushbird.
The elusive species had not been spotted between 1965 and 2004, due to its limited range and remote habitats. It was seen recently in Venezuela and in a region of northeastern Colombia, where it was photographed.
Researchers found the bird in a 250-acre (101-hectare) reserve next to the Torcoroma Holy Sanctuary near the Colombian town of Ocaña, where in 1709 locals claimed they saw the image of the Virgin Mary in a tree root. The forests of the sanctuary have been protected by Catholic Church authorities in the centuries since.
The researchers also found and photographed the extremely rare Perija parakeet, of which only 30 to 50 individuals likely survive.
Deforestation and wildfires for agriculture and grazing have denuded much of the birds’ habitat, conservationists say.
“[A]s more and more remote areas are being settled, the bushbird reminds us how important it is to conserve as much natural habitat as we can,” said Paul Salaman of the American Bird Conservancy.
“Who knows what wonderful biodiversity is being destroyed before it has had a chance to be discovered?”
5.Rare “Prehistoric” Goblin Shark Caught in Japan
A rare goblin shark—a “living fossil” that closely resembles ancient shark species—was caught alive on January 25, 2007, in Tokyo Bay, only to die within days.
Officials from the Tokyo Sea Life Park discovered the 4.3-foot-long (1.3-meter-long) creature during an expedition with local fishermen. The shark had been tangled in fishing nets 500 to 650 feet (150 to 200 meters) deep.
But the animal died on the morning of January 27 after being put on display for the public.
Little is known about the mysterious goblin shark, which normally stays near the bottom of the ocean.
“Dead goblin sharks are caught from time to time, but it is rarely seen alive,” a park official told the AFP news agency. “We were able to document the way the shark swims. After it died, we dissected the specimen for further studies.”
But the unusual find is giving scientists déjà vu. Earlier this month another deep-sea prehistoric shark had been found in Japan—a frilled shark spotted on January 21 that, like the goblin, died quickly in captivity.
4.Whopper”Giant Squid Washes Ashore in Australia
In the mystery surrounding one of the sea’s most elusive creatures, this body is more of a clue than a victim.
One of the largest giant squid ever found washed up on a beach in southern Australia on July 10, 2007, offering potentially crucial insights into the animal’s habits and habitat, scientists said.
The squid was discovered on a beach late at night on the western coast of Tasmania (see map of Australia.)
Biologists who inspected the squid said it weighed some 550 pounds (250 kilograms) and stretched 26 feet (8 meters) from head to tentacle—about as long as a school bus.
But the beast might have been even longer when it was alive, because the tentacles appeared to be badly damaged.
“It’s a whopper,” Genefor Walker-Smith, curator at the Tasmanian Museum, told the Reuters news service.
Another giant squid bearing similar injuries washed up on a Tasmanian beach in 2002. Scientists at the time suspected that the wounds were the result of a raucous sexual encounter, suggesting that giant squid may breed nearby.
There was no word on the cause of death of the newfound squid, but scientists have collected tissue samples to conduct DNA and other tests. The results could shed new light on an animal that is rarely seen outside the darkness of the deep.
A live giant squid was photographed for the first time in 2004, and another was captured and filmed a year later, both off the coast of Japan.
3.Century-Old Fish Caught in Alaska
A handful of Christians preparing rockfish as part of their traditional fish dinner this Good Friday might be feasting on one of the oldest creatures ever to live in Alaskan waters.
Commercial fishers in the Bering Sea hauled in the female shortraker rockfish seen above, which scientists say was between 90 and 115 years old, in March 2007. Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used growth rings in the fish’s ear bone, or otolith, to make their age estimate.
NOAA scientists also found that the fish’s advanced years had yet to take a toll on its reproductive abilities.
“The belly was large,” NOAA researcher Paul Spencer told the Associated Press. “The ovaries were full of developing embryos.”
A Seattle, Washington-based ship caught the 44-inch-long (112-centimeter-long), 60-pound (27-kilogram) fish while trawling for pollock at about 2,100 feet (640 meters) below the surface. The massive mama was among ten shortrakers pulled from the depths along with roughly 75 tons of the smaller commercially fished species.
The fish’s age and size both approach the maximum known limits for shortrakers. The largest on record measured 47 inches (119 centimeters) long, and the oldest ever caught was 157 years.
2.Croc Bites Off Hand
Kaohsiung, Taiwan, April 11, 2007—Armed and dangerous, a Nile crocodile prowls the Kaohsiung, Taiwan, zoo (top) on April 11, 2007. Veterinarian Chang Po-yu was reaching through iron bars to remove tranquilizer darts before treating the 440-pound (200-kilogram) reptile when the inadequately sedated animal bit the vet’s forearm off.
But for the vet, it wasn’t quite a farewell to arm.
After being shot at twice, but apparently unhit, the croc dropped the arm. After seven hours of surgery, doctors successfully reattached the appendage, shown at bottom on a smiling Chang on April 12.
The largest African crocodile species, the Nile croc may be threatened in some parts of its range, according to the World Conservation Union. The reptiles can reach 16 feet (5 meters) in length and are estimated to kill 200 people a year.
1.Colossal Squid Caught off Antarctica
In Antarctica’s Ross Sea, a fishing boat caught what is likely the world’s biggest known colossal squid (yes, that’s the species’ name), New Zealand officials announced February 22, 2007.
Heavier than even giant squid, colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) have eyes as wide as dinner plates and sharp hooks on some of their suckers. The new specimen weighs in at an estimated 990 pounds (450 kilograms).
The sea monster had become entangled while feeding on Patagonian toothfish (toothfish photos) caught on long lines of hooks. The crew then maneuvered the squid into a net and painstakingly hauled it aboard—a two-hour process.
The animal was frozen and placed in a massive freezer below decks. (The carcass was later shipped to Auckland University, where scientists pondered microwaving it for scientific analysis.)
“Even basic questions such as how large does this species grow to and how long does it live for are not yet known,” said New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton in a statement.
The deep-sea species was first discovered in 1925, though the only evidence was two tentacles found in a sperm whale’s stomach. Since then there have been only a scattering of sightings, including a colossal squid caught in 2003 in the same region as the recent find.
The new specimen is likely the first intact male ever recovered, Anderton said.
Squid expert Steve O’Shea told local press, “I can assure you that this is going to draw phenomenal interest.”
For one thing, added the Auckland University of Technology professor, the squid would yield calamari rings the size of tractor tires.