rabbit vitamin D

Your Pet Rabbit Might Need Some Vitamin D Too

A new study published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research shows that exposure to UVB radiation can double vitamin D levels in rabbits  (66.4 ± 14.3 nmol/L compared to 31.7 ± 9.9 nmol/L without UVB light).

rabbit-vitaminD
Photo Credit: Megan Watson – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Its hypothesized that low levels of vitamin D in rabbits kept indoors could be contributing to dental and other health problems.

“We know that vitamin D is important to vertebrates in that it helps with calcium absorption, but it also has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health and immune function,” said Mark Mitchell, a University of Illinois veterinary clinical medicine professor, who led the research. “We know of several types of diseases that can develop with vitamin D deficiency. Some of the chronic problems we see are tooth-related.”

And here’s a snazzy photo that was included in the press release of the Professor who lead the research:

mark mitchell
University of Illinois veterinary clinical medicine professor Mark Mitchell and his colleagues found that artificial UVB lights quickly boost vitamin D levels in rabbits housed indoors. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer.

Featured Image Credit: Flickr: Robobobo

zebra

Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? -new research proposes an answer

Why zebras have black and white stripes is a question that has intrigued scientists and spectators for centuries. A research team led by the University of California, Davis, has now examined this riddle systematically. Their answer is published April 1 in the online journal Nature Communications.

The scientists found that biting flies, including horseflies and tsetse flies, are the evolutionary driver for zebra’s stripes. Experimental work had previously shown that such flies tend to avoid black-and-white striped surfaces, but many other hypotheses for zebra stripes have been proposed since Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin debated the problem 120 years ago. These include:

  1. A form of camouflage
  2. Disrupting predatory attack by visually confusing carnivores
  3. A mechanism of heat management
  4. Having a social function
  5. Avoiding ectoparasite attack, such as from biting flies 

The team mapped the geographic distributions of the seven different species of zebras, horses and asses, and of their subspecies, noting the thickness, locations, and intensity of their stripes on several parts of their bodies. Their next step was to compare these animals’ geographic ranges with different variables, including woodland areas, ranges of large predators, temperature, and the geographic distribution of glossinid (tsetse flies) and tabanid (horseflies) biting flies. They then examined where the striped animals and these variables overlapped.

After analyzing the five hypotheses, the scientists ruled out all but one: avoiding blood-sucking flies.

“I was amazed by our results,” said lead author Tim Caro, a UC Davis professor of wildlife biology. “Again and again, there was greater striping on areas of the body in those parts of the world where there was more annoyance from biting flies.”

While the distribution of tsetse flies in Africa is well known, the researchers did not have maps of tabanids (horseflies, deer flies). Instead, they mapped locations of the best breeding conditions for tabanids, creating an environmental proxy for their distributions. They found that striping is highly associated with several consecutive months of ideal conditions for tabanid reproduction.

Why would zebras evolve to have stripes whereas other hooved mammals did not? The study found that, unlike other African hooved mammals living in the same areas as zebras, zebra hair is shorter than the mouthpart length of biting flies, so zebras may be particularly susceptible to annoyance by biting flies.

“No one knew why zebras have such striking coloration,” Caro said. “But solving evolutionary conundrums increases our knowledge of the natural world and may spark greater commitment to conserving it.”

Yet in science, one solved riddle begets another: Why do biting flies avoid striped surfaces? Caro said that now that his study has provided ecological validity to the biting fly hypothesis, the evolutionary debate can move from why zebras have stripes to what prevents biting flies from seeing striped surfaces as potential prey, and why zebras are so susceptible to biting fly annoyance.

 

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Co-authors on the study include Amanda Izzo and Hannah Walker with the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology; Robert C. Reiner Jr., of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and the Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health; and Theodore Stankowich with the Department of Biological Sciences at California State University.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has been one place where people are bettering humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the state capital, UC Davis has more than 33,000 students, over 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

Featured Image Credit: Flickr: Snarglebarf

mystrium ant

New Species of Dracula Ants Discovered

Six new species of Dracula ants from the Malagasy region have been discovered by scientists at the California Academy of Sciences. The discoveries, by postdoctoral fellow Masashi Yoshimurafrom Japan and curator of entomologyBrian L. Fisher, represent a completely new twist in the typically rigid caste system of ants, where anatomy is typically destiny. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

“The genus Mystrium is the most mysterious group within the bizarre Dracula ants,” said Yoshimura.

mystrium ant

Mystrium species have unique features such as long, spatulate mandibles that snap together (Gronenberg et al. 1998); wingless queens that in some undetermined species are even smaller than workers (Molet et al. 2007); and large, wingless individuals intermediate between workers and queens, which behave like queens (Molet et al. 2012).

Mystrium was a difficult group to identify because of the remarkable variation within each species.” Yoshimura said.

“Our team has explored Madagascar and its surrounding islands for 20 years and collected thousands of specimens to solve the mysteries of Mystrium,” said Fisher, an expert on Malagasy ants.

Fisher explained why Mystrium poses such a fiendish problem Mystrium to taxonomists, who identify new and different species. “Mystrium has three different styles in reproduction within a single genus, and the role of an individual in a colony is not always obvious by its appearance. Ants that look similar may be minor workers in one species but queens in another species.” This makes classifying the Dracula ants extremely difficult, he said.

mystrium variation

“The discovery of the division of females into major and minor forms were the key to solving this complicated puzzle,” explained Yoshimura. “We found that all species in Mystrium share a common original components consisting of male, usual large queen, and major and minor workers. Furthermore, the major or minor workers develop as reproductives in some species and even take over queen’s position. They are revolutionaries finding in the anatomy-is-destiny world of ants! Taxonomists usually compare the anatomy of ants of the same caste to find differences between species. But in the case of the genus Mystrium, we need to compare individuals from the same original phenotype, not on the their current functional role (caste),” he said.

The authors have reclassified all species into three subgroups based on the reproductive styles, and developed a new taxonomic framework for this complicated group featuring innovative pictorial keys to the species. The illustrations include color photographs showing every hair in focus (produced using a computer-assisted method calledauto-montage), and drawings for all castes. The paper looks more like a picture book than your average scientific treatise. “I learned drawing techniques from Japanese manga,” Yoshimura says.

“To name three of the species we chose words that evoke the air of mystery around this genus, calling them MystriumlabyrinthMystrium mirror, and Mystriumshadow.” Yoshimura said.

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Original source

Yoshimura M, Fisher BL (2014) A revision of the ant genus Mystrium in the Malagasy region with description of six new species and remarks on Amblyopone and Stigmatomma (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Amblyoponinae).ZooKeys 394: 1-99. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.394.6446

Additional Information:

Gronenberg W, Hölldobler B, Alpert GD (1998) Jaws that snap: control of mandible movements in the ant MystriumJ Insect Physiol 44: 241-253. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0022-1910(97)00145-5

Molet M, Peeters C, Fisher BL (2007) Winged queens replaced by reproductives smaller than workers in Mystrium ants. Naturwissenschaften94: 280-287. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00114-006-0190-2

Molet M, Wheeler DE, Peeters C (2012) Evolution of Novel Mosaic Castes in Ants: Modularity, Phenotypic Plasticity, and Colonial Buffering. Am Nat 180: 328-341. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/667368

Featured Image Credit: Flickr: Steve Shattuck

Crassignatha danaugirangensis discovery

Class of Students Discover and Publish New Spider Species

As a spin-off (pun intended) of their Tropical Biodiversity course in Malaysian Borneo, a team of biology students discover a new spider species, build a makeshift taxonomy lab, write a joint publication and send it off to a major taxonomic journal.

Crassignatha danaugirangensis

Discovering a new spider species was not what she had anticipated when she signed up for her field course in Tropical Biodiversity, says Elisa Panjang, a Malaysian master’s student from Universiti Malaysia Sabah. She is one of twenty students following the course, organised by Naturalis Biodiversity Center in The Netherlands, and held in the Danau Girang Field Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The aim of the one-month course, say organisers Vincent Merckx and Menno Schilthuizen, is to teach the students about how the rich tapestry of the tropical lowland rainforest’s ecosystem is woven.

Besides charismatic species, such as the orang-utans that the students encounter every day in the forest, the tropical ecosystem consists of scores of unseen organisms, and the course focus is on these “small things that run the world”—such as the tiny orb-weaving spiders of the tongue-twistingly named family Symphytognathidae. These one-millimetre-long spiders build tiny webs that they suspend between dead leaves on the forest floor. “When we started putting our noses to the ground we saw them everywhere,” says Danish student Jennie Burmester enthusiastically. What they weren’t prepared for was that the webs turned out to be the work of an unknown species, as spider specialist Jeremy Miller, an instructor on the course, quickly confirmed.

Crassignatha danaugirangensis web

The students then decided to make the official naming and description of the species a course project. They rigged the field centre’s microscopes with smartphones to produce images of the tiny spider’s even tinier genitals (using cooking oil from the station’s kitchen to make them more translucent), dusted the spider’s webs with puffs of corn flour (also from the kitchen) to make them stand out and described the way they were built. They also put a spider in alcohol as “holotype”, the obligatory reference specimen for the naming of any new species—which is to be stored in the collection of Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Finally, a dinner-time discussion yielded a name for this latest addition to the tree of life: Crassignatha danaugirangensis, after the field centre’s idyllic setting at the Danau Girang oxbow lake.

All data and images were then compiled into a scientific paper, which, via the station’s satellite link, was submitted to the Biodiversity Data Journal, a leading online journal for quick dissemination of new biodiversity data. Even though thousands of similarly-sized spider species still await discovery, Miller thinks the publication is an important one. “It means we provide a quick anchor point for further work on this species; the naming of a species is the only way to make sure we’re all singing from the same score,” he says.

Peter Schalk, Executive Secretary of Species 2000 / CoL, and GBIF Chair, comments: “This is a fine example of how the taxonomic world is embracing the digital era. Open data and rapid publication form the key for sharing information which in turn provides valuable input for responsible management of the world’s biosphere. One of the most important achievements of this paper is that all data associated with this species have been harvested from the article and collated with other data on GBIF and Encyclopedia of Life right on the day of publication, through a specially designed format called Darwin Core Archive. This is indeed a “real time” data publishing!”

Field station director Benoît Goossens adds: “This tiny new spider is a nice counterpoint to the large-mammal work we’re doing and having it named after the field centre is extremely cool”. The Danau Girang Field Centre is located in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, a strip of rainforest along Sabah’s major river, squeezed in by vast oil palm plantations on either side. Despite intensive search, the students could not find the new spider in the plantations.

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Publication Reference:

Miller J, Schilthuizen M, Burmester J, van der Graaf L, Merckx V, Jocqué M, Kessler P, Fayle T, Breeschoten T, Broeren R, Bouman R, Chua W, Feijen F, Fermont T, Groen K, Groen M, Kil N, de Laat H, Moerland M, Moncoquet C, Panjang E, Philip A, Roca-Eriksen R, Rooduijn B, van Santen M, Swakman V, Evans M, Evans L, Love K, Joscelyne S, Tober A, Wilson H, Ambu L, Goossens B (2014) Dispatch from the field: ecology of micro web-building spiders with description of a new species. Biodiversity Data Journal 2: e1076. DOI: 10.3897/BDJ.2.e1076

Creative commons images from the above journal.

This story is based on creative commons material from Pensoft.

3d-tiger-gif

5 Amazing 3D Animal Gifs

Three dimensional animated gifs (3D gifs) have recently been spreading  around the net and are nothing short of awesome. Using simple visual illusion tricks, the images appear to move in a third dimension out from your screen without the use of any glasses.  The effect is achieved mainly by creating the illusion of a false plane with two vertical white lines which the subject can then breach. Other effects such as perspective and focus aid the illusion in some cases.

Enjoy:

3d-dog-gif

3d-jurassic-park-gif

3d-cartoon-dog-gif

3d-gif-cartoon

giant panda

Giant Pandas Have a Sweet Tooth- but not for artificial sweeteners

Despite the popular conception of giant pandas as continually chomping on bamboo to fulfill a voracious appetite for this reedy grass, new research from the Monell Center reveals that this highly endangered species also has a sweet tooth. A combination of behavioral and molecular genetic studies demonstrated that the giant panda both possesses functional sweet taste receptors and also shows a strong preference for some natural sweeteners, including fructose and sucrose.

“Examining an animal’s taste DNA can give us clues to their past diet, knowledge that is particularly important for endangered animals in captivity,” said study author Danielle Reed, PhD, a behavioral geneticist at Monell. “This process can provide information on approaches to keep such animals healthy.”

The Monell researchers studied the giant pandas as part of a long-term project focused on understanding how taste preferences and diet selection are shaped by taste receptor genes.

One previous study found that cats, which must eat meat in order to survive, had lost the ability to taste sweets due to a genetic defect that deactivates the sweet taste receptor.

Although giant pandas and cats belong to the same taxonomic order, Carnivora, the giant pandas have a very different diet, as they feed almost exclusively on bamboo.

Noting that bamboo is a grass-like plant that contains very small amounts of sugars and does not taste sweet to humans, the researchers wondered whether giant pandas, like their Carnivora cat relatives, had lost sweet taste perception. An alternate possibility was that the panda maintain a functional sweet taste receptor, similar to other plant-eating mammals.

In this study, published online in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, eight giant pandas between three and 22 years of age were studied at the Shaanxi Wild Animal Rescue and Research Center in China over a six-month period.

For taste preference tests, the animals were given two bowls of liquid and allowed to drink for five minutes. One bowl contained water and the other contained a solution of water mixed with one of six different natural sugars: fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose. Each sugar was presented at a low and a high concentration.

The pandas preferred all the sugar solutions to plain water. This was especially evident for fructose and sucrose, as the animals avidly consumed a full liter of these sugary solutions within the respective five-minute test periods.

“Pandas love sugar,” said Reed. “Our results can explain why Bao Bao, the six-month-old giant panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, is apparently relishing sweet potato as a first food during weaning.”

Another series of preference tests explored the giant panda’s response to five artificial sweeteners. There was little to no preference for most artificial sweetener solutions, suggesting that giant pandas cannot taste or do not strongly perceive these compounds as being sweet.

Parallel cell-based studies showed a relationship between the pandas’ behavior and how panda taste receptor cells respond to sweeteners in vitro.

Using DNA collected from the giant pandas during routine health examinations, genes that code for the panda sweet taste receptor were isolated and then inserted into human host cells grown in culture. These cells responded vigorously to sugars but not to most artificial sweeteners. This step helped investigators confirm that pandas have a functional sweet taste receptor that underlies their ability to detect and respond to sugars.

“This is the first study to address taste perception in the giant panda as it relates to feeding behavior. We hope to extend this research further to examine bitter taste perception,” said lead author Peihua Jiang, PhD, a molecular biologist at Monell. “The results could have significant implications for the conservation of this endangered species as their naturals habitats continue to be demolished.”

Also contributing to the study were Monell scientists Jesusa Josue-Almqvist, Xia Li, Joseph Brand, Robert Margolskee, and Gary Beauchamp, along with Xuelin Jin of the Shaanxi Wild Animal Rescue and Research Center in China. Research reported in the publication was supported by grants from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (DC0101842 and 1P30DC011735) of the National Institutes of Health and by institutional funds from the Monell Chemical Senses Center. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

 

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The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For over 45 years, Monell has advanced scientific understanding of the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell to benefit human health and well-being. Using an interdisciplinary approach, scientists collaborate in the programmatic areas of sensation and perception; neuroscience and molecular biology; environmental and occupational health; nutrition and appetite; health and well-being; development, aging and regeneration; and chemical ecology and communication. For more information about Monell, visit http://www.monell.org.

Featured Image Credit: Flickr: Rene Rivers

goat face

Smart as a Herd of Goats

Goats learn how to solve complicated tasks quickly and can recall how to perform them for at least 10 months, which might explain their remarkable ability to adapt to harsh environments, say researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Zoologytoday (Wednesday 26 March), the scientists trained a group of goats to retrieve food from a box using a linked sequence of steps; first by pulling a lever with their mouths and then by lifting it to release the reward.

goat-task

The goats’ ability to remember the task was tested after one month and again at 10 months. They learned the task within 12 trials and took less than two minutes to remember the challenge.

“The speed at which the goats completed the task at 10 months compared to how long it took them to learn indicates excellent long-term memory,” said co-author Dr Elodie Briefer, now based at ETH Zurich.

Before each learning session, some of the goats had the opportunity to watch another goat to demonstrate the task.

Dr Briefer added: “We found that those without a demonstrator were just as fast at learning as those that had seen demonstrations. This shows that goats prefer to learn on their own rather than by watching others.”

This is the first time that scientists have investigated how goats learn complex physical cognition tasks, which could explain why they are so adaptable to harsh environments and good at foraging for plants in the wild, for example.

Co-author Dr Alan McElligott from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, commented: “Our results challenge the common misconception that goats aren’t intelligent animals – they have the ability to learn complex tasks and remember them for a long time.

“This could explain why they are so successful in colonising new environments, though we would need to perform a similar study with wild goats to be sure.”

The research was supported through a Swiss Federal Veterinary Office grant and Swiss National Science Foundation fellowship. The data was collected at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent.

Reminds of this smart goat I found at the petting zoo last year:

Story from Queen Mary University of London

Featured Image Credit: Flickr: Pete Markham

black widow spider

So What Does a RED Widow Spider Eat Anyway?

First off, the big image above is of a black widow spider (not red) because its nearly impossible to find a large creative commons photo of a red widow spider. The Red widow spider photo is here:

red widow spider
Image Credit: James Carrel

Secondly, you might be asking yourself, why in the world do I need to know what a red widow spider eats? The answer is because if you have kids they will ask you constantly about what every animal eats. So there, you need to know this stuff.

If you want, you can read the full story from the University of Missouri-Columbia which summarizes James Carrel’s new publication in the March issue of Florida Entomologist. - or I can just summarize for you:

The answer is BEETLES. They eat scarab beetles like the one pictured below.

Trigonopeltastes floridana
Image Credit: James Carrel

 

Featured Image Credit: Flickr: Keith Robinson

tibetan mastiff puppy

Is This Dog Worth 2 Million Dollars?

A tibetan mastiff puppy (like the one pictured above) recently sold in China for a record breaking 2 million dollars. The dog was reportedly purchased by a 56 year old property developer from Quingdao. The breed is prized in China and is said to have “lion’s blood” – although that doesn’t seem to be technically quite right. Perhaps their flowing manes if groomed properly make them look sort of like lions (sort of) but I don’t think the “lion’s blood” part is quite accurate. There is also speculation that some of the inflated prices of mastiffs may be a stunt between breeders to hype up the prices.

You can see photos of the dogs over on NYDailyNews.

Featured Image Credit: Flickr: mastino0100

chicken from hell

Chicken from Hell

A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE (A New Large-Bodied Oviraptorosaurian Theropod Dinosaur from the Latest Cretaceous of Western North America) describes the discovery of a bird like dinosaur that roamed the plains of America 66 million years ago. The bird was a giant 10 foot raptor described as a “chicken from hell.”

Scientists from Carnegie and Smithsonian museums and the University of Utah today unveiled the discovery, naming and description of a sharp-clawed, 500-pound, bird-like dinosaur that roamed the Dakotas with T. rex 66 million years ago and looked like an 11 ½-foot-long “chicken from hell.”

“It was a giant raptor, but with a chicken-like head and presumably feathers. The animal stood about 10 feet tall, so it would be scary as well as absurd to encounter,” says University of Utah biology postdoctoral fellow Emma Schachner, a co-author of a new study of the dinosaur. It was published online today in PLOS ONE, a journal of the Public Library of Science.

The study’s lead author, Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, says: “We jokingly call this thing the ‘chicken from hell,’ and I think that’s pretty appropriate.”

The beaked dinosaur’s formal name is Anzu wyliei – Anzu after a bird-like demon in Mesopotamian mythology, and wyliei after a boy named Wylie, the dinosaur-loving grandson of a Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh trustee.

Three partial skeletons of the dinosaur – almost making up a full skeleton – were excavated from the uppermost level of the Hell Creek rock formation in North and South Dakota – a formation known for abundant fossils of Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. The new dinosaur was 11 ½ feet long, almost 5 feet tall at the hip and weighed an estimated 440 to 660 pounds. Its full cast is on display at the Carnegie Museum.

Schachner and Lamanna were joined in the new study and description of three specimens by Hans-Dieter Sues and Tyler Lyson of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

“I am really excited about this discovery because Anzu is the largest oviraptorosaur found in North America,” she says. “Oviraptorosaurs are a group of dinosaurs that are closely related to birds and often have strange, cassowary-like crests on their heads.” (The cassowary is a flightless bird in New Guinea and Australia related to emus and ostriches.)

Anzu is also “one of the youngest oviraptorosaurs known, meaning it lived very close to the dinosaur extinction event” blamed on an asteroid striking Earth 65 million years ago, Schachner says.

The researchers believe Anzu, with large sharp claws, was an omnivore, eating vegetation, small animals and perhaps eggs while living on a wet floodplain. The dinosaur apparently got into some scrapes.

“Two of the specimens display evidence of pathology,” Schachner says. “One appears to have a broken and healed rib, and the other has evidence of some sort of trauma to a toe.”

Having a nearly complete skeleton of Anzu wyliei sheds light on a category of oviraptorosaur theropod dinosaurs named caenagnathids, which have been known for a century, but only from limited fossil evidence.

Like many “new” dinosaurs, Anzu wyliei fossils were discovered some years ago, and it took more time for researchers to study the fossils and write and publish a formal scientific description. As a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, Schachner helped Lyson excavate the least complete specimen – six bones from the neck, forelimbs and shoulder – in North Dakota. The Carnegie Museum obtained the other specimens.

At a scientific meeting in 2005 Lamanna, Lyson and Schachner realized they had fossils of the same new species of dinosaur. They soon began collaborating on the new study and asked Sues to join them because he was an expert on this type of dinosaur, Schachner says.

“It took years since all of us had busy schedules, and I moved to Utah in 2010 to work on reptile respiratory evolution,” she says.

The study’s four authors finally met for a week at the Carnegie Museum to work on the dinosaur together. Among other tasks, Schachner illustrated and photographed some of the bones.

She says the process was “really exciting. Naming a dinosaur is one of those things I’ve wanted to be involved in since I was a kid.”

Based on story from Carnegie Museum of Natural History