You think YOUR weather report sucks?

Weekend forecast for Australia

New South Wales residents should also be on alert for funnel web spiders, according to Australia’s Reptile Park, which issued a warning that the wet weather conditions and warm temperatures create “perfect conditions” for the deadly spiders to breed and “thrive” in gardens and homes in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast.

Meanwhile, in Western Australia, the weather bureau issued a catastrophic fire warning for the state’s interior state on Thursday, while the risk level in the East Pilbara was extreme…

…Jake Meney, a reptiles and spider keeper at the Australian Reptile Park, said cool, damp places including laundry, clothes and shoes will attract funnel web spiders…

Meney also encouraged anyone who can safely catch a funnel web spider to donate it to the reptile park, so it can be milked and antivenom produced ahead of a summer of warm and wet weather – conditions which draw male funnel webs out in search of a mate to breed with…

The impact of La Niña on Australia’s wildlife is also being considered by shark experts, as they look to explain predatory behaviour that has seen more Australians killed in unprovoked shark attacks this year than in any year since 1934.

And please, please, keep your eyes open for irukandji jellyfish and eastern brown snakes.

Thanks, Honeyman.

My favorite owls won’t give you plague

Even though they have fleas.


Click to enlargehawksaloft.org

Plague! The word conjures images of horrors past, piles of festering medieval dead overrun by rats. It’s not a disease of the past though; the bacteria that causes plague can be found in the United States, and a few cases of human bubonic plague happen every year.

The animals that carry plague in the US are mostly rodents—rats, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs—and their fleas can pass plague bacteria to humans if they decide to bite us. Good news, though: The adorable little owls that live in burrows alongside those plaguey rodents seem to be immune. Although the owls have fleas capable of carrying plague, they are not infected—and their immunity could provide some interesting information to scientists studying the disease.

Western burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) nest underground, often re-using rodent burrows. Working with these predatory birds is not for the faint of heart; even small owls have powerful beaks and claws. Burrowing owls live in areas where you are just as likely to stick your hand in a burrow and and pull out a rattlesnake as an extremely irate little raptor.

Dr. Jim Belthoff of Boise State University has spent years sticking his arm into nest tunnels in search of owls—often past piles of excrement. In addition to being very cute and fluffy, these owls have an endearing habit of decorating their nests with turds. Not their turds, mind you; they collect and bring mammal dung back to their front doorstep. It’s thought the poo attracts insects that the owls snack on.

Adding to the grossness, Belthoff noticed burrowing owls seemed to have lots of fleas. “We considered the fleas a nuisance, as they would jump on us as we captured and banded the owls, and they would infest our field vehicles.” This made him wonder: Do the fleas affect the owls? And what kind of fleas were they?…

His team collected thousands of fleas from burrowing owl nests during banding and health checks…Good news, though! They found no evidence of the plague bacteria in owl fleas they collected, or in the blood of the owls. They also did not find antibodies to plague in owl blood, which would be expected if owls were regularly exposed. “There are no public health concerns related to burrowing owls,” says Belthoff. “All our test results were negative to plague—in antibodies, in the fleas and in the blood of the owls.”

One possibility was that fleas were just hitching a ride on the owls, and not feeding on them. Additional tests determined the fleas did contain burrowing owl DNA in their guts, so they were drinking owl blood. The owls just weren’t getting infected with plague.

No answers, yet; but, since these delightful raptors are seriously endangered and a diminishing species, hopefully, more effort will be made to protect them – and find out why they aren’t passing along plague.

Virgin births proven – at least in some wild snakes

A form of virgin birth has been found in wild vertebrates for the first time…Researchers in the US caught pregnant females from two snake species and genetically analysed the litters.

That proved the North American pit vipers reproduced without a male, a phenomenon called facultative parthenogenesis that has previously been found only in captive species…

It was thought to be extremely rare for a normally sexual species to reproduce asexually.

First identified in domestic chickens, such “virgin births” have been reported in recent years in a few snake, shark, lizard and bird species.

Crucially though, all such virgin births have occurred in captivity, to females kept away from males.

Virgin births in vertebrates in general have been viewed as “evolutionary novelties”, said Warren Booth, from the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma…

They captured pregnant copperhead and cottonmouth female pit-vipers from the field, where males were present…The snakes gave birth, allowing the scientists to study the physical and genetic characteristics of the litters.

Of the 22 copperheads, the scientists found one female that must have had a virgin birth.

Another single virgin birth occurred within the 37 cottonmouth litters.

“I think the frequency is what really shocked us,” said Prof Booth.

“That’s between 2.5 and 5% of litters produced in these populations may be resulting from parthenogenesis…That’s quite remarkable for something that has been considered an evolutionary novelty,” he said…

It remains unclear whether the female snakes actively select to reproduce this way, or whether the virgin births are triggered by some other factor, such as a virus or bacterial infection…

As yet, it also remains unclear whether the offspring of these wild virgin births can themselves go on to have normal, or virgin births of their own…In captive snakes studied so far, offspring have so far not been proved viable, that is capable of surviving and reproducing.

If they cannot survive and reproduce, then this is a reproductive dead-end.

Even so, the research is interesting, appropriate to growing knowledge about all potential aspects of reproduction.

RTFA for a lot more anecdotal research on other species.

Don’t piss off a snake charmer in Uttar Pradesh!

An angry snakecharmer in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has let loose dozens of snakes in a government office, sparking chaos and panic.

Hakkul, of Lara village in Basti district, dumped the snakes, including a number of cobras, at the land revenue office in Harraiya town on Tuesday…No-one was bitten or injured but the snakes are yet to be caught.

Mr Hakkul is usually called in whenever a snake is spotted in the area and he has saved many lives over the years, local journalist Mazhar Azad told the BBC. Mr Hakkul has petitioned various government offices over the years demanding a plot of land where he can “conserve” his snakes…

Mr Hakkul says his request has been cleared by senior authorities, but the local officials keep delaying it.

On Tuesday, Mr Hakkul went to the Tehsil [revenue] office with a group of supporters and emptied out his bags containing poisonous snakes.

“Snakes were climbing up the tables and chairs. The office was full, there were nearly 100 officials and clerks and many more visitors,” Mr Azad said. “There was total chaos for several hours. Some people started taking photos with their telephone cameras, others brought out sheets to try to cover the snakes…

Mr Hakkul and his men escaped in the confusion and are yet to be caught.

So are the snakes who are still hiding in the building.

Har!

Are you glad to see me or is that a snake in your pants?


The critters were wrapped in pantyhose

Never mind ants in your pants, what about snakes and tortoises?

That’s what authorities at Miami’s international airport said they found inside the trousers of a passenger as he tried to board a flight for Brazil.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said the man had seven exotic snakes and three tortoises wrapped in nylon bags that had been stuffed into his pants.

He was discovered as he went through a body scanner at one of the airport’s security checkpoints on Thursday and arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials for violating animal trafficking laws.

I hope they checked the reptiles for radiation exposure. 🙂

Flying snakes – WTF?

Five related species of tree-dwelling snakes found in Southeast and South Asia may just be the worst nightmares of ophidiophobes (people who have abnormal fears of snakes). Not only are they snakes, but they can “fly” — flinging themselves off their perches, flattening their bodies, and gliding from tree to tree or to the ground.

To Virginia Tech biologist Jake Socha, these curious reptiles are something of a biomechanical wonder. In order to understand how they do what they do, Socha and his colleagues recently studied Chrysopelea paradisi snakes as they launched themselves off a branch at the top of a 15-meter-tall tower.

Four cameras recorded the curious snakes as they glided. This allowed them to create and analyze 3-D reconstructions of the animals’ body positions during flight — work that Socha recently presented at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD) meeting in Long Beach, CA.

The reconstructions were coupled with an analytical model [.pdf] of gliding dynamics and the forces acting on the snakes’ bodies. The analyses revealed that the reptiles, despite traveling up to 24 meters from the launch platform, never achieved an “equilibrium gliding” state — one in which the forces generated by their undulating bodies exactly counteract the force pulling the animals down, causing them to move with constant velocity, at a constant angle from the horizon. Nor did the snakes simply drop to the ground.

Instead, Socha says, “the snake is pushed upward — even though it is moving downward — because the upward component of the aerodynamic force is greater than the snake’s weight.”

“Hypothetically, this means that if the snake continued on like this, it would eventually be moving upward in the air — quite an impressive feat for a snake,” he says. But our modeling suggests that the effect is only temporary, and eventually “the snake hits the ground to end the glide.”

Scaring the crap out of any ordinary human being who happens to be standing nearby!

Do you know the risks of eating farm-raised reptiles?

Reptiles are bred in captivity primarily for their skins, but some restaurants and population groups also want them for their meat. A study shows that eating these animals can have side effects that call into question the wisdom of eating this ‘delicacy.’

Parasites, bacteria and viruses, and to a lesser extent contamination from heavy metals and residues of veterinary drugs– eating reptile meat can cause several problems to health. This is the conclusion of a study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, which shows that people can catch certain diseases (trichinosis, pentastomiasis, gnathostomiasis and sparganosis) by eating the meat of reptiles such as crocodiles, turtles, lizards or snakes.

“The clearest microbiological risk comes from the possible presence of pathogenic bacteria, especially Salmonella, and also Shigella, Escherichia coli, Yersinia enterolitica, Campylobacter, Clostridium and Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause illnesses of varying degrees of severity,” Simone Magnino, lead author of the study and a researcher for the World Health Organization (WHO), said…

The experts advise people to freeze the meat, just as they would with other foods from animal sources, since this deactivates parasites. Industrial processing and proper cooking (not leaving the meat raw) can also kill off pathogens.

Actually, I used to eat alligator once in a while when I lived in Louisiana. That probably met the sort of food safety standards you would expect from politicians who drink Pearl beer.

As for the rest of you, I hope you take this article to heart and restrain your reptile consumption to organic and free-range critters.

Are you ready to include prayer in Health Care Reform?

A little-noticed measure would put Christian Science healing sessions on the same footing as clinical medicine. Critics say it violates the separation of church and state.

I wouldn’t use the word “critics”. How about people with a brain? How about Constitutionalist?

Reporting from Washington – Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

It would have a minor effect on the overall cost of the bill — Christian Science is a small church, and the prayer treatments can cost as little as $20 a day. But it has nevertheless stirred an intense controversy over the constitutional separation of church and state, and the possibility that other churches might seek reimbursements for so-called spiritual healing…

Dr. Norman Fost, a pediatrician and medical ethicist at the University of Wisconsin, said the measure went against the goal of reducing healthcare costs by improving evidence-based medical practices.

“They want a special exception for people who use unproved treatments, and they also want to get paid for it,” he said. “They want people who use prayer to have it just automatically accepted as a legitimate therapy.”

Let’s face it. The religious nutballs who dedicate their lives to bankrolls and political power will jump on this bandwagon like stink on a cesspool.

Why is everything moving under this man’s shirt?

Customs officials in Norway have arrested a man who they say tried to smuggle 24 reptiles into the country by taping them to his body.

Fourteen royal pythons rolled up in socks were found taped to the man’s torso and 10 geckos held in small boxes were taped to his legs.

Officials were alerted to the illegal haul after a tarantula was found in the man’s luggage.

The 22-year-old was travelling to Kristiansand on a ferry from Denmark.

The snakes, which are not endangered, are the smallest of the python family and are not venomous.

Eeoough!

421,000 people poisoned by snakebites every year


Hindu festival of Naag Panchami
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

More than 400,000 people are poisoned by snakebites worldwide each year and 20,000 of them die, with most cases occurring in the poorest countries, researchers say.

In an article published in Public Library of Science Medicine, the researchers said the burden from snakebites was highest in South and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Data on snakebites is far from comprehensive as most of them happen in places with poor healthcare systems and where record-keeping is generally poor or non-existent.

These figures may be as high as 1,841,000 envenomings and 94,000 deaths…India has the highest figures — with 81,000 envenomings and 11,000 deaths each year, followed by Sri Lanka with 33,000 envenomings, Vietnam (30,000), Brazil (30,000), Mexico (28,000) and Nepal (20,000).

Cripes. I’m nervous enough about the one or two rattlers every year that I bump into on my walks.