Thursday, June 30, 2011

Escaped Pet Birds Teaching Wild Birds to Speak English

Photo courtesy: enlewof / cc

Across parts of Australia, reports have been pouring in of strange voices chattering high in the treetops -- mysterious, non-sensical conversations in English. But while this phenomenon is certainly quite odd, its explanation isn't paranormal. It turns out that escaped pet birds, namely parrots and cockatoos, have begun teaching their wild bird counterparts a bit of the language they picked up from their time in captivity -- and, according to witnesses, that includes more than a few expletives.

Jaynia Sladek, an ornithologist from the Australian Museum, says that some birds are just natural mimickers, able to acquire new sounds based on things they hear around them. For birds kept as pets, these sounds tend to mirror human language -- but that influence doesn't cease even after said birds escape or are released back into the wild.

Once back in their natural environments, these chatty ex-pets eventually join with wild birds who, in turn, start picking up the new words and sounds. The remnants of that language also eventually gets passed along to the escaped birds' offspring, much like it does for humans.

"There's no reason why, if one comes into the flock with words, [then] another member of the flock wouldn't pick it up as well," Sladek said in an interview with Australian Geographic.

According to the report, 'Hello cockie' is one of the most commonly heard phrases feral birds are teaching in the wild, along with a host of expletives -- perhaps the last words those escapees heard after their frantic owners realized they were making a break for freedom.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Water + Chlorine + Salt = Electricity

Screen shot courtesy:

This technology is so simple, so cheap and so effective; it takes my breath away. These are the kinds of solutions the world needs to see us through the environmental maze we are in now.

If you live in a home without electricity and few or no windows, it's always incredibly dark inside, even at high noon. Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Liter of Light) is a sustainable lighting project that is trying to help people overcome that problem with extremely simple technology: a plastic bottle, water, and a few drops of chlorine and salt is all they need to light up the inside of homes that have no electricity. Designed and developed by MIT students, the Solar Bottle Bulb is now being distributed throughout the Philippines, and the MyShelter Foundation plans to light up a million homes by 2012.

Check out the video below to see how simple the technology is, and what a difference it makes in people's lives instantly.

The water refracts light, the salt slows down evaporation and the bleach prevents mold from growing in the bottle, allowing the mixture to last about two years. Check out Isang Litrong Liwanag to learn more.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dirty Diapers to Become Roofing Material?

Photo courtesy: miguelb (Flickr / Creative Commons)

For those of us who wince every time a dirty diaper is discarded, take heart: Canadian company Knowaste can now transform those soiled, disposable nappies into roofing material. That's right, billions of baby-poop gems and even adult 'accidents' due to incontinence, are ripe for the picking and destined for our roofs, thanks to a process that transforms diaper waste into plastic pellets, which can then be made into roofing tiles and tubing.

According to Gizmodo, Knowaste, which has branches in the UK, Canada and the United States, plans to open five new processing plants in the UK during the next four years. Each plant will be able to handle 36,000 tons of so-called "absorbent hygiene products" (AHP) annually -- all of which amounts to one-fifth of the UK's total diaper waste, and a reduction of 110,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

As company videos show, the process involves collecting dirty diapers from homes, childcare centers and hospitals via special bins, transporting them to processing centers where they are washed, milled into a sludge that is then dried and fired into plastic pellets. The resulting extruded tiles made from these pellets are so sturdy that they can withstand quite a bit of force.

Image courtesy: Screengrab from Knowaste video

Though there's no way to currently pick diapers up from homes, the plans to expand its services to domestic consumers in the future. Till then, from buying greener, switching to reusable or even composting them, there's plenty of ways to reduce the footprint caused by toxin-laden disposable diapers, even for the busy parent.

Comments, anyone?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tropical Islands Plan to Use Only Coconuts and the Sun for Power

Photo courtesy: kwc909 / cc

In the 1960's sitcom Gilligan's Island, it seemed there was nothing resident smarty-pants 'The Professor' couldn't do with a simple coconut and a bit of know-how -- except maybe craft a boat to actually make it off their desert isle. But now, in similarly inventive fashion, officials on the tiny South Pacific islands of Tokelau are planning to power their territory entirely by sustainable means, with sunlight and coconut oil -- two things the island has plenty of -- by this time next year.

Nowadays, the three islands that make up Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand, run mostly on fossils fuels which it needs to import from the mainland. But, according to the atolls' chief administrator Foua Toloa, by this time next year the islands will be completely self-sustaining using renewable energy, 93 percent of which will be produced through solar installations. The rest, says Toloa, will come from coconut oil.

So what could inspire an island to completely rethink its energy infrastructure? The possibility that climate change could sink it, that's what. Tokelau sits just 16 feet above sea level, which means it would be particularly vulnerable to rising oceans associated with carbon-emissions fueled global warming.

"Because we are affected left right and centre, you know, by the impact of climate change. And while the rest of the world is not listening to the impact of climate change in a very small country in the pacific this project is a vehicle and a message to the whole world to actually walk the talk and not just buy lip service," Toloa said in an interview with Radio New Zealand International.

If all goes according to plan, Toloa says that no outside energy will be needed -- and that's actually quite doable. To provide enough clean-energy to power the island, experts say just some 600 square meters of solar panels will be required in total, along with a few hundred coconuts.

The Professor would be proud.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rare Hawksbill Turtles Discovered Living in Mangroves

A Hawksbill turtle swims off cost of Cozumel, Mexico. © Simone Rossini

This is a Hawksbill turtle swimming in a coral reef, a place it is expected to be found. However, Hawksbill turtles have found a new place to live -- mangroves. Previously unknown to live in this type of ecosystem, it seems the sea turtles have come up with a new survival tactic.

A very rare eastern Pacific hawksbill sea turtle after being measured and tagged for future identification in Reserva Natural Estero Padre Ramos, Nicaragua, 2010. © CI/Photo by Dr. Bryan Wallace, Marine Flagship Species Program

The Hawksbill sea turtle mainly dines on sponges, and it is the only marine animal who focuses on them as a food source which means it plays an important role in coral ecosystems. However, mangroves are also home to corals, and according to a new report published in Biology Letters and provided by Conservation International, they're also home to these rare turtles, a fact previously unknown.

"...[N]ew satellite tracking data on female hawksbills from several countries in the eastern Pacific revealed previously undocumented behaviour for adults of the species. In contrast to patterns of habitat use exhibited by their Caribbean and Indo-Pacific counterparts, eastern Pacific hawksbills generally occupied inshore estuaries, wherein they had strong associations with mangrove saltwater forests. The use of inshore habitats and affinities with mangrove saltwater forests presents a previously unknown life-history paradigm for adult hawksbill turtles and suggests a potentially unique evolutionary trajectory for the species."

Not only does it shed light on important information about the species, but also brings to the forefront yet another vitally important role mangroves play for coastal ecosystems. Yet mangroves are under just as much threat as the sea turtles found living there.

Post-nesting hawksbill turtle equipped with a satellite tag returning to an estuary in Estero Padre Ramos, Nicaragua. © Alexander Gaos

Thanks to the satellite tracking system used on these turtles, as shown in the photo above, the use of mangroves by sea turtles as places for foraging food has opened up all new possibilities for studying -- and saving -- these turtles.

"Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are critically endangered and the majority of hawksbill habitat use and movement research to date has been centred in the Wider Caribbean and Indo-Pacific regions...As recently as 2007, hawksbills were considered functionally extirpated in the eastern Pacific Ocean, based on scarce reports of their presence and the sparse coral reef distribution in the region...This study represents the first initiative to track individuals from this remnant hawksbill population and describes novel habitat use that will inform regional conservation efforts."

Indeed, conservation efforts are required, and fast. Sea turtles are under enormous threat as they're caught as bycatch in fisheries, and lose their habitats to overfishing, pollution, and other human encroachment -- including poaching and rampant sea turtle egg collection. Now add to that the significant loss of mangroves not only in Hawksbill territory but around the world. Without immediate conservation efforts to preserve the mangrove and coral habitats and prevent loss from fishing and egg poaching, there isn't much hope for this iconic marine animal.

Conservation International is hosting Sea Turtle September, where you can learn more about this and other studies, information about specific species, and help save sea turtles.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Proposed Croatian Dam Threatens Underground Caves

A lake in a small cave, Bakar, Croatia, Dinaric Arc. Photo: Whitley Fund for Nature. Photo courtesy: treehugger

Caves are deep, dark, mysterious places where eyes of living beings yet to be identified peer at you from behind eerie formations. Caves are one of our least explored territories; and, a vast treasure trove of undiscovered flora and fauna.

Spiders, scorpions, millipedes, and a pale, eyeless salamander are unlikely poster animals for a conservation campaign, but plans to wash away their habitat in the Balkans risk destroying some of the richest -- and most ancient -- cave fauna in the world. Their threatened subterranean environment is so little-explored that an acclaimed biologist working in the caves has said she usually finds a new life form on each research trip below ground.

"We are now in the place with the best range of cave animals in the world. The other countries have their own rich fauna in rainforests, marine ecosystems, etc, but here in this area we have cave fauna. [It's] really important at [a] world level," biologist and caver Jana Bedek, the president of the Croatian Bio-speleological Society, told the BBC for a recent report on the endangered cave networks of Croatia.

According to the report, Croatia's pending EU membership has the country's government on a building spree, approving road, rail, and power-plant projects in a drive to develop and "modernize" -- a drive some critics say is fueled by the knowledge that such projects would run afoul of EU environmental-protection laws. One of these hydroelectric power plant projects would seal off one of the largest and most biologically rich caves in the Balkans for use as a water reservoir, drowning its rare and little-understood inhabitants.

Bedek's work in these Croatia's cave systems won her a prestigious Whitley Award in May for her efforts to "explore, study, and raise public awareness of the wildlife-rich caverns, tunnels, rivers, and lakes that lie beneath the Dinarides Mountains." Explaining the selection, Whitley Fund for Nature Director Georgina Domberger said:
In Jana's case, the judges were particularly impressed by her courageous efforts to improve our understanding of this very special; but, highly hazardous subterranean world -- a refuge for an extraordinary range of extraordinary creatures, some of them so rare they are found nowhere else on Earth.
Though the Croatian caves appear to be at the greatest immediate risk, the vast limestone system to which they belong stretches 800 kilometers from Italy to Albania, an area known as the "Dinaric Arc" that serves as Europe's largest underground river system and a major source of water, according to the Whitley Fund. Bedek and her organization have been working with scientists as well as with rural residents, tapping their local knowledge to help find and explore the area's caves before they disappear.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Feline Love Triangle Ends in Tragedy

A Malayan tiger. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

A female tiger has killed her mate at a West Texas zoo, authorities said on Friday, in a rare attack that came after months of simmering jealousy in a feline love triangle.

Three-year-old Malayan tiger Seri killed 6-year-old Wzui at about 4 p.m. on Thursday in an enclosure at El Paso Zoo, zoo spokeswoman Karla Martinez said on Friday,

As soon as the incident was reported, zookeepers closed the tiger exhibit and veterinary staff were called. They examined Wzui, and found he was dead.

"Tragic incidents such as this are not unheard of but we don't consider this common," zoo Director Steve Marshall said. Marshall described the deceased tiger as very down to earth and loving and said it would "be greatly missed."

Malayan tigers are a critically endangered species, with just 500 or so of the animals remaining in the wilds of Thailand and Malaysia, according to the World Wide Fund For Nature.

Both Seri and Wzui were on loan from other zoos as part of the American Zoo Association's Species Survival Plan to aid in their conservation through captive breeding.

Marshall said keepers had not observed any signs of aggression leading up to the attack, and that the two cats had been seen playing affectionately at the exhibit earlier in the day.

However, in June, zoo authorities reported what they called a "tiger love triangle" between Seri, Wzui and a 15-year-old female called Meli, who was transferred to El Paso from a zoo in Fresno, California, in 2001.

"The male tiger Wzui likes both females, but the two females don't like each other," the zoo said in a press release dated June 14. "The girls are jealous of each other," collections Supervisor Griselda Martinez said.

Staff expect that another tiger will be transferred to the El Paso Zoo to replace Wzui for breeding purposes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

426-Year-Old Bible Found in Vault

426-year-old Bible. Photo courtesy: Yahoo!News

A rare find at the Windsor Public Library has produced a 426-year-old Bible, the oldest book in the collection by about 200 years and among the oldest books in Essex County.

A copy of the caramel brown, wood-bound Holy Bible "conteining the Olde Testament and the Newe, Authorised and appointed to be read in Churches" boasts a Gothic-style font and some hand scribblings on a few pages.

A hand-written note on one page suggests the big book was once worth "30 guineas," an old British coin.

"I had heard there was a rare book in our vault so I decided to go downstairs and look for it," said Tom Vajdik, genealogy and local history librarian at the main branch of the Windsor Public Library.

"I actually found a rare 1585 Bible that was printed by Charles Barker, who was a printer to her majesty Queen Elizabeth I."

The large volume, about the size of a small drawer, is outlined with gilt rolls and floral decorations.

It is likely worth between $9,000 and $24,000, according to online estimates on rare-book sites, Vajdik said.

"It was printed on a printing press, such as the one Gutenberg used, so it would have used movable type," Vajdik said.

"It was printed on very good paper, probably rag-content paper, not the cheap paper that they use today."

Library officials handle the Catholic book only while wearing white gloves, so acid from fingers does not damage the pages, but that doesn't mean local book lovers won't get a chance to see the impressive old tome.

"This is an extremely extraordinary find for us," library chairman and city councillor Al Maghnieh said after examining The Holy Bible with a magnifying glass. "We have a lot of patrons who are interested in rich history, so this is quite an asset to have."

Maghnieh said the book must be evaluated and insured first, but that he hopes it will soon proudly sit on display, with proper security.

"I anticipate that this will be a major attraction to the library," he said. "We're very excited about it."

The discovery three weeks ago does not end the search, however. In some ways, it only starts it.

Brief records show that the book was donated to the library in 1920 by a Mrs. Bennett, who lived in the Park Street Apartments. Library officials now hope to find a relative of Mrs. Bennett who may shed more light on the book's provenance.

"We definitely hope that someone knows who Mrs. Bennett was," Maghnieh said. "There are a lot of unanswered questions that we need to get in order maximize the historical benefit of this book."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Points to Ponder...

Can you be closet claustrophobic?

How do you tell if you run out of invisible ink?

If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?

If a man stands in the middle of the forest speaking and there is no woman around to hear him....Is he still wrong?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Noctilucent Clouds: An Increasing Phenomena

Noctilucent or night-shining clouds (NLCs) are wispy blue-white clouds that glow and ripple in the twilight sky at high altitudes.

In the Southern Hemisphere, NLCs appear from mid-November to mid-February, while in the Northern hemisphere, they can be seen from mid-May to mid-August with now being a prime viewing time.

These clouds form in the mesophere, an upper layer of the Earth's atmosphere, around 50 miles (80 kilometers) above ground.

This mysterious phenomenon was first noticed after Krakatoa erupted back in 1883. The Indonesian volcano sent dust and ash up into the mesosphere, triggering spectacular sunsets for several years.

Then, in 1885, German sky watcher T.W. Backhouse spotted TLCs while observing a fading Krakatoa sunset, and is credited with their discovery by some.

The clouds may be caused by particles released from volcanoes and/or dust that originates from outer space when meteorites collide with the Earth's atmosphere, and a few seem to have formed due to freezing water exhaust from space shuttles.

During a process called nucleation, water molecules adhere to a nucleus, such as dust. For water vapor to reach such high altitudes, upwelling summertime winds are needed, which explains why the phenomenon is seasonal.

YouTube screenshot showing NLCs - thin, wispy clouds, glowing electric blue. Photo courtesy: theepochtimes

NLCs can only be seen under certain conditions:

* The sky is free of ordinary tropospheric clouds;
* Light is present atmospheric region where they form, meaning the sun must be a maximum of 16 degrees below the horizon;
* A dark background against which the luminous clouds can contrast, meaning the sun must be a minimum of 6 degrees below the horizon;
* Viewing location should be at a latitude north of 45 degrees, for example Minneapolis, although in the last few years they have been sighted further south.

There is some speculation these clouds could be linked with climate change as they have been sighted more frequently in recent decades, and with increasing brightness and area.

YouTube screenshot showing low level tropospheric clouds moving in the opposite direction to NLCs above. Photo courtesy: theepochtimes

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dog Swims With Dolphin Daily

The surprising scene of a dog frolicking with a bottle-nosed dolphin is captured in this video from Middletown on Tory Island off the north-west coast of Ireland.

The spectacle of the two mammals swimming and playing together is seen almost daily in the village’s harbor.

The dog is a yellow Labrador named Ben and his marine friend has been nicknamed Doogie the dolphin.

In the video, Ben is seen running into the harbor and rushing down the stone steps, before jumping into the water and swimming out to meet Doogie.

The dolphin then appears next to the dog, splashing and playing, while Ben swims in circles, trying to wag his tail in the water.

“This is absolutely amazing," says Adam Henson, presenter of the BBC's Countryfile, in the video. "Swimming around in the water, I have never seen anything like it."

After a while, the local ferry leaves, prompting Doogie to follow it out to sea, while Ben returns to shore.

According to the locals, Doogie is actually a female who was first spotted in the harbor in 2006 when the dead body of another dolphin appeared onshore.

People believe that was Doogie's mate and that she was grieving. She has appeared regularly in the harbor ever since.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Monster Croc to Become Conservation Figurehead

Villagers look at the massive saltwater crocodile caught in the town of Bunawan, Agusan del Sur province on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Photo courtesy: theepochtimes

A 21 foot (6.4 meter) saltwater crocodile has been caught in a remote southern Filipino village, following a three-week hunt to track it down.

The giant reptile was captured alive in Agusan del Sur province, where a child was killed by a crocodile two years ago and a missing fisherman is believed to have suffered the same fate.

The animal weighs 2,370 pounds (1,075 kilograms) and is probably at least 50 years old, according to The Associated Press (AP).

An experienced wildlife official worked with trained villagers to trap the croc, but says there is a still larger one on the loose that may be the man-eater.

The local mayor plans for the captive creature to become a feature at a nature park to raise awareness of crocodiles' place in the ecosystem.

Theresa Mundita Lim of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau said wildlife officials are trying to confirm whether the catch is the largest in the world, AP reported.

According to the Guinness World Records, an Australian saltwater croc named Cassius is the largest animal in captivity at almost 18 feet (5.48 meters), and animals in the wild can reach 23 feet (7 meters) in length and live for over 100 years.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Did You Know That...

A polar bear has a very good nose. It can smell a seal, the polar bear's favourite meal, from more than 37 miles away.

In 1522, Spanish explorers brought tomatoes home from their trips to the New World. Unfortunately for rich folks, they thought the tomatoes were posonous; so, only the poor peasants ate them and received the health benefits of them.

The gradual demise of the world's tropical rainforests is devastating. More than half of the world's estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live there. Each day, 137 plant, animal and insect species are lost due to deforestation - never to be seen again.

Friday, June 17, 2011

King Crabs Invade Antarctica

Video courtesy: TreeHugger

It has been many millions of years since giant King Crabs have been seen around Antarctica. The waters were simply too frigid for the crabs, many of which are over four feet long, to venture into. Cue up human-caused climate change, and Viola!: The return of the giant crabs. New Scientist has this cool video of the advancing crustaceans, and an explanation of why this is superbly bad news for everyone but idea-starved B-movie screenwriters ...

Here's New Scientist:
Huge crabs more than a metre across have invaded the Antarctic abyss, wiped out the local wildlife and now threaten to ruin ecosystems that have evolved over 14 million years. Three years ago, researchers predicted that as the deep waters of the Southern Ocean warmed, king crabs would invade Antarctica within 100 years.

But video taken by a remotely operated submersible shows that more than a million Neolithodes yaldwyni have already colonised Palmer Deep, a basin that forms a hollow in the Antarctic Peninsula continental shelf. They are laying waste to the landscape. Video footage taken by the submersible shows how the crabs prod, probe, gash and puncture delicate sediments with the tips of their long legs. "This is likely to alter sediment processes, such as the rate at which organic matter is buried, which will affect the diversity of animal communities living in the sediments," says Craig Smith of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, whose team discovered the scarlet invaders.
This is a great example of how a seemingly minor shift caused by climate change can have wide-ranging impacts on the natural environment. Water temperatures have risen one degree Fahrenheit since 1950 (air temperatures in the region have risen an in-no-way-minor 11 degrees F) -- making the waters just warm enough for the crabs to survive.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


The dam is located on the southern edge of Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta, Canada. Photo courtesy: BNPS via

Busy as a beaver is more than just an expression. Busy beavers on the southern edge of Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta in Canada have built a 2,790 foot-long dam that is so large it can be seen from space. It's twice the size of the Hoover Dam in the United States. Scientists monitoring the size and locations of beaver dams in North America discovered the dam. Biologist Sharon Brown says it's not uncommon to see a dam that is 1,500 feet long; but, this one was a surprise. She says it's possible several beaver families worked together to create such as massive dam. The dam creates a deep pool around the beavers' lodge so they can swim, dive and avoid predators.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Toxic Snow-like Particles Spill From Chemical Plant in China

Residents gather to begin their demonstration on Aug. 27. ( Photo courtesy: TheEpochTimes

Residents living near a petrochemical plant in Dalian demonstrated seeking to ensure their safety after the plant spilled particulates 2 days prior and discharged clouds of thick smoke the day before. The marchers, who cried, “Keep Us Alive,” were dispersed by police and the company did not respond to their complaints.

The plant is owned by Petrochina Dalian and this incident is the second protest against chemical pollution this month in the area.

The residents demonstrated in the morning near the petroleum market in Shanzhong Street. Around noon, the authorities dispatched hundreds of policemen and special units to block the street with their police cars so that the demonstration would be interrupted.

Mrs. Wang, a laid-off worker from Plant 523, described the situation: “On Thursday and Friday some residents protested with a sit-in at the Number 2 & 3 in the petrochemical factory and asked for a resolution of the workers’ migration status problems and an accounting of the spill’s toxicity. However, the factory treated the protestors with indifference; nobody received them nor were any reasons for the spill disclosed to them. Apparently, the factory did not take the civilians’ lives seriously.”

The white powder pictured in the lower two-thirds of the image caused itchy skin. ( Photo courtesy: TheEpochTimes

Mrs. Wang said that the powder spilled seemed to be poisonous. Afterwards, her skin felt very uncomfortable and itchy all the time.

Another resident Li Na (a pseudonym) said: “I live in a bungalow. The yard and the street were all full of snow-like particulates, which were stuck to the ground and could not be swept away with a broom. Though the weather is hot, I dare not open the window, so it’s very stuffy and barely endurable.”

Phone calls to Petrochina Dalian went unanswered, although the company has many phone lines. Later the local Environmental Protection Agency was contacted and asked whether the substance spilled was toxic or not. But the on-duty official claimed that he had heard nothing about the incident and was reluctant to talk more.

This is the second recent event in which Dalian residents have protested in public to express their strong dissatisfaction with lax environmental standards. On Aug. 14, they sought to draw attention to the storage and spillage risk of PX (paraxylene, a toxic, hazardous material), kept near the coastline by the Dalian Fujia Petrochemical Co. Ltd

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

124,000 Fish Die in Texas Heat Wave

Photo courtesy:

As Texas continues to suffer from the worst one-year drought on record along with scorchingly high temperatures, area lakes might seem like the best places to find refuge from the heat, but apparently not for fish. According to state wildlife officials, in one lake alone some 124,000 fish perished last week in the extreme weather conditions, not from a lack of water, but from a lack of oxygen -- an oft overlooked consequence of rising temperatures which may become more common as heat-spells grow more intense and prolonged.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say that the mass fish die off that occurred recently at Lake Grapevine, near Dallas, involved mostly Threadfin shad, a small species of fish often used as bait, though many others were killed as well. State biologist Tom Hungerford says that among the dead fish "stacking up" at the lake were gizzard shad, bluegill, white bass, freshwater drum, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and white crappie.

According to the Grapevine Courier, the fish at Lake Grapevine essentially suffocated due to a heat related phenomenon that depletes oxygen levels in water, rendering the lake ecosystem uninhabitable for fish:
Low oxygen Monday and Tuesday killed the fish, [Hungerford] said. On Tuesday, when temperatures reached 103 degrees at nearby Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, level was 1.2 parts per million.

"Anything under 3 parts per million and you start to see fish die," Hungerford said.

The lake received 0.02 inch of rain Monday, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake. The lake is down more than 3 feet from its normal level. That decrease and the constant heat are the likely culprits for the fish kill, Hungerford said.

"The hotter the water gets, the less dissolved oxygen it can hold," he said.

As such hot summers and crippling droughts are expected to become more common in many global warming scenarios, more aquatic ecosystems could face similar die-offs -- perhaps one of the least considered impacts of climate change.

Monday, June 13, 2011

US Researchers Find Glyphosate in Air and Water

Photo courtesy: IRRI Images via flickr

Mississippi and Iowa, two big farm states, were recently tested for glyphosate levels in the air and water. Researchers found the key ingredient of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide in every stream sample tested, Scientific American reports.

The magazine quotes Paul Capel, environmental chemist and head of the agricultural chemicals team at the U.S. Geological Survey Office, saying: "It is out there in significant levels. It is out there consistently."

But Capel said more tests were needed to determine how harmful the chemical, glyphosate, might be to people and animals.

However, while a politically-guided agency needs more tests—and probably more tests after that—to make a public statement regarding the health effects of the chemical, some people don't need tests to be sure what those effects are.

People like Viviana Peralta in San Jorge, Argentina. Peralta's baby daughter suffers acute asthma attacks every time a crop duster sprays herbicides and pesticides near her house, which sits in an agriculture-rich province 600 kilometers from Buenos Aires.

A Le Monde story tells of Peralta's experiences, saying that she eventually made the connection between her daughter's asthma attacks and the chemical sprayings—a suspicion that a pediatrician would later confirm. Glyphosate was found present in Ailen's blood.

Le Monde reports more about the town of San Jorge:
In San Jorge, cancer rates have spiked 30% in the past 10 years. Residents say that following a crop dusting, their lips turn blue and their tongues swell. Chickens die. Dogs and cats shed their hair. Bees disappear and birds become scarce.

And, the story continues, San Jorge is not alone:
In the province of Chaco, which borders Paraguay, a study carried out over the past 10 years in a town called La Leonesa suggests that cancer rates have tripled while the incidence of malformations has quadrupled. The situation has created tensions between residents and rice farmers, who use glyphosate and spray from airplanes...

Andres Carrasco, an embryologist from the University of Buenos Aires, published a study in late 2010 demonstrating the toxic effects glyphosate can have on amphibian embryos. His work has earned him no shortage of enemies. He was physically attacked on a visit to La Leonesa and the conference he was scheduled to give there was canceled.

Carrasco is quoted saying he hasn't even made any new discoveries. "I just confirmed what other scientists had already discovered. The scientific evidence is there. Above all, there are the hundreds of [ill and malformed] people who are the living proof of this health emergency."

Apparently, though, that scientific evidence is not enough for the U.S. Geological Survey Office, or any other federal government agency, to show much concern about the effects of glyphosate on public health, despite finding it in every water sample tested.

(To be clear, the EPA is reviewing the chemical, but more than 30 years into its use and with a deadline for a decision still years away, it's not exactly treating it with any urgency.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

World's Oldest Stone Tools Unearthed in Kenya

Acheulian hand axes. Our ancestor Homo erectus used shaped stone tools like these to butcher animal carcasses. Photo courtesy: Pierre-Jean Texier/CNRS

A rare haul of picks, flakes and hand axes recovered from ancient sediments in Kenya are the oldest remains of advanced stone tools yet discovered.

Archaeologists unearthed the implements while excavating mudstone banks on the shores of Lake Turkana in the remote north-west of the country.

The largest of the tools are around 20cm long and have been chipped into shape on two sides, a hallmark of more sophisticated stone toolmaking techniques probably developed by Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans.

Trenches dug at the same site revealed remains of long-gone species that shared the land with those who left the tools behind. Among them were primitive versions of hippopotamuses, rhinos, horses, antelopes, and dangerous predators such as big cats and hyenas.

The stone tools, made for crushing, cutting and scraping, gave early humans a means to butcher animal carcasses, strip them of meat and crack open their bones to expose the nutritious marrow.

Researchers dated the sediments where the tools were found to 1.76m years old. Until now, the earliest stone tools of this kind were estimated to be 1.4m years old and came from a haul in Konso, Ethiopia. Others found in India are dated more vaguely, between 1m and 1.5m years old.

Older, cruder stone tools have been found. The most ancient evidence of toolmaking by early humans and their relatives dates to 2.6m years ago and includes simple pebble-choppers for hacking and crushing. These Oldowan tools, named after the Olduvai gorge in Tanzania, were wielded by our predecessors for around a million years.

But the latest collection of stone tools from Kenya belong to a second, more advanced generation of toolmaking. Known as Acheulian tools after a prominent archaeological site in France, they are larger, heavier and have sharp cutting edges that are chipped from opposite sides into the familiar teardrop shape.

Most Acheulian stone tools have been recovered from sites alongside fossilised bones of Homo erectus, leading many archaeologists to believe our ancestors developed the technology as an improvement on the Oldowan toolmaking skills they inherited.

"The Acheulian tools represent a great technological leap," said Dennis Kent, a geologist involved in the study at Rutgers University in New Jersey and Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York.

Writing in the journal Nature, a team of researchers led by Kent's colleague Christopher Lepre describe finding the stone tools in a region called Kokiselei in the Rift Valley. The site is close to where several spectacular human fossils have been found, including Turkana Boy, an early human teenager who lived 1.5m years ago.

Unearthing the tools has raised fresh questions about the skills possessed by different groups of H. erectus as they spread across the globe. Lepre's team found both Oldowan and Acheulian stone tools at Kokiselei, but no evidence for advanced stone tools has been found at a site occupied by H. erectus 1.8m years ago in Dmanisi in Georgia. This, Kent said, presents a problem if H. erectus originated in Africa and migrated to Asia, as many archaeologists believe. "Why didn't Homo erectus take these tools with them to Asia?"

One radical explanation offered by researchers is that H. erectus originated in Asia instead of Africa. Another possibility is that groups migrating from Africa into Asia lost the skills to make Acheulian tools along the way.

Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London and author of a new book, The Origin of Our Species, said the latest haul of Acheulian tools were "very crude by the standards of later examples".

"In terms of the Out of Africa event, new dating of the Dmanisi site in Georgia places some of the material from there older than 1.8m years ago, so it is evident that human emergence from Africa preceded even this new date for bifacial tools. In fact some researchers believe the first exodus from Africa could have been even earlier than the date for Dmanisi, by a pre-erectus population making Oldowan tools," he said.

"In the deep past, with small populations that were prone to local or wider extinctions, innovations did not always take hold and spread. Novelties like blade tools and bows and arrows may have been invented and reinvented many times over, due to the loss of individuals and populations, and the knowledge they carried.

"So we cannot be sure that the tools found at Kokiselei were really the beginning of the establishment of the Acheulian. Populations could have experimented with bifacial working many times before it took hold more widely around 1.6m years ago."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Yvonne, the Runaway Cow, Given Reprieve

Yvonne the cow has been found after three months on the run. Photo courtesy: Josef Enzinger/AFP/Getty Images

When Yvonne the cow managed to escape while being taken to the slaughter house, my heart screamed, "Run, little one, run." I also admit to rooting for Yvonne in her efforts to remain free. However, Yvonne has finally been caught; but, there is a happy ending.

The Gut Aiderbichl animal sanctuary, which now owns the errant bovine, said a farmer had called to say Yvonne had wandered on to her land.

In a statement on its website, the sanctuary said one of its staff was able to confirm Yvonne's identity by a tag on her ear.

Having been fattened up for slaughter, the six-year-old brown dairy cow escaped from her field in the village of Zangberg, 50 miles north-east of Munich, on 24 May. She managed to breach the electric fence surrounding her farm before seeking sanctuary in nearby forests. She led a quiet life grazing among the fir trees until she was nearly involved in a collision with a passing police car.

Following her escape the cow became, in the words of one newspaper, "a kind of freedom fighter for the animal loving German republic". As word of her escapades spread, animal protection activists got involved, incensed that local hunters had been given permission to shoot Yvonne on sight. Gut Aiderbichl, an animal sanctuary over the Austrian border in Salzburg, agreed to buy Yvonne from the farm for €600 ($857.10 USD).

Her whereabouts became a national obsession in Germany, with one tabloid offering a reward of €10,000 ($14285.00) for her safe return.

Her story has spread across the world. in South Africa a psychic claimed to have communicated with her. While an animal whisperer from Switzerland failed to coax her back from the Bavarian forest using telepathy.

Yvonne can now look forward to spending the rest of her days in a paddock with grass to graze on.

Friday, June 10, 2011

World's Oldest Person Lives in the Amazon

Photo courtesy: Survival International

While the Amazon rainforest is certainly known to be teeming with life, it turns out that the people who live there are too. Maria Lucimar Pereira, an indigenous Amazonian belonging to the Kaxinawá tribe of western Brazil, will soon be celebrating her birthday -- her 121st birthday, to be exact. The truth behind Pereira's remarkable longevity was recently discovered by the Brazilian government while performing a routine review of birth records -- which, in her case, date back to 1890 -- making her the world's oldest living person. And the best part of all? Pereira credits her long-life to an all-natural diet derived wholly from the Amazon.

According to Survival International, an indigenous rights group working in the Amazon, the government officials have confirmed the validity of Pereira's birth certificate, indicating that the Brazilian native is not only the world's oldest living person, but is also 6 years older than the previous title-holder.

What makes Pereira's longevity all the more fascinating are the humble conditions in which she lives. The centenarian, who will turn 121 years old on September 3, lives in a remote corner of the Amazon, in the Brazilian state of Acre, where she practices a traditional way of life that stretches back for centuries, free of many modern amenities many people half her age often think they cannot live without.

Pereira credits her long-life to an active, healthy lifestyle, in addition to a diet rich in locally grown meats, fruits, and vegetables gathered in the forests around her home -- free of the extra salt, sugar, and preservatives so commonly found in foods around the world. Her all-natural diet, along with frequent walks around town, has allowed Pereira to thrive while others, many years her junior, do not.

With so many fads and gimmicks aimed at promoting a 'healthy' alternative, Pereira's example seems to suggest that looking to past dietary habits may be the best way to ensure a thriving life stretching far into the future.

"All too often we witness the negative effects forced change can have on indigenous peoples," says Stephen Corry of Survival International. "It is refreshing to see a community that has retained strong links to its ancestral land and enjoyed the undeniable benefits of this."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dog Discovered Living on Mount Kilimanjaro

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

Every year, over a thousand hikers make the grueling trek up to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, for a chance to gaze over its stunning vistas -- but at least one such traveller has apparently decided to stay. On a recent excursion to the mountain's summit, tourists spotted something they could hardly believe: a healthy-looking, auburn-colored dog warming itself in the sun, seeming to be at home there at an altitude of 19,341 ft. Experts are, needless to say, quite baffled at the discovery.

According to a report from the Tanzania's The Citizen, a group of hikers spotted the solitary dog upon ascending to Kilimanjaro's peak, where temperatures frequently dip well below freezing and there are no obvious sources of food. A tourist snapped a photo of the animal, huddled among rocks, and later showed it to mountain guide Abel Edward who shared in the amazement.

As it turns out, the dog's stay on Mount Kilimanjaro has been an extended one. Edward tells The Citizen that the animal appears to be the same canine as one he had seen frequently at base camp lower on the mountain a decade earlier. The fact that it appeared to be alive and well after all these years only added to the puzzlement.

"When the tourists showed us the picture of the dog we could not believe our eyes. How it survived in such freezing conditions and what it ate during that time remained a mystery to us," Edward said.

Animal experts are so far baffled by the discovery of a dog atop Mount Kilimanjaro, but they say it wouldn't necessarily be unfit to survive there long-term. What's perhaps more unusual is the animal's choice of locales in such a remote and hard-to-reach region. Some have suggested the dog may be rabid, though the witnesses didn't report any signs of aggression from it.

There's something undeniably intriguing about animals that defy our expectations of 'normal' behavior -- and particularly so in dogs, with whom we share such a traditional bond of affection. Was this dog abandoned on the mountain? Is it holding vigil for its owner, maybe one of those hikers who perish there each year? Or are we just too incapable of imagining another species might be desirous of solitude as well?

Chances are that the world will never know why the dog has chosen to live alone atop Mount Kilimanjaro, but we can only hope that perhaps it does.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Parking Space With a View

Some people obviously have more money than they know what to do with; and, too much free time to come up with some of the ideas they do.

ALL photos courtesy: Peter Kunz Architecktur

A wealthy Italian client once wanted a ceramic tiled floor with radiant heat under his Ferrari. He said "a Ferrari is like a woman, you have to give her a nice place to live and keep her warm." I have no doubt that there are quite a few people who treat their cars better than their architects or their wives; perhaps some of them keep their Porsches in Architect Peter Kunz's Garage studio in Herdern.

Cube me writes:
The architect Peter Kunz built these parking boxes with glass facade so you can park your car and enjoy the view at the same time. From outside the cars look like a piece of art in precious boxes.

I know that men love their cars and are devoted to giving them the best of everything; but, a parking space with a view? Just how much does that cost? Here is the view. the project is from 1999, and not the last to devote such love to the car. More images at Peter Kunz Architektur.

I suppose it isn't as bad as Takuya Tsuchida's design for Wretched Excess Dept: a Lamborghini in the Living Room. Why do images of the bat cave keep coming to mind?

Then there is Holger Schubert's Brentwood home, where he parks his Maserati in the living room. It's all a bit much.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When Lincoln Paid

Still taken from When Lincoln Paid. Photo courtesy: geeksofdoom

The only known copy of When Lincoln Paid, a 1913 silent film about Abraham Lincoln, was accidently discovered when a contractor was cleaning out an old barn in Nelson, New Hampshire.

The barn was going to be demolished; and, Peter Massie, a movie buff, was cleaning out the attic space when he spotted the film and old movie projector. He thought his find was "really cool" and he eventually took it to Keene State College, where film professor Larry Benaquist researched and determined it was a very rare film that didn't exist in any film archives.

The 30-minute filmed starred Francis Ford as Lincoln.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What Goes Up May Not Be Able to Get Down

The pyramid of Khafre. Photo courtesy: egypt news

Photographer Hassan Farouq Antar wanted a better view of his surroundings so he climbed to the top of the second-largest pyramid in Egypt. The pyramid was built by Pharaoh Khafre in 2520 B.C.; and, rises 410 feet into the sky.

The trouble was that once Antar got to the top, he found he was too frightened to come down. Climbing the pyramids is forbidden; so, he was in quite a spot. A climbing specialist was brought in to rescue the man; but, that failed when the specialist realized his rescue attempt could endanger both men's lives.

Poor Hassan had to spend the night on the top of the pyramid and the next morning. A helicopter was sent to pluck Antar from his precarious perch.

There is no word on any charges that may or may not have been laid.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Did You You Know That...

A flashlight fish comes by its name honestly. It has billions of bacteria that shine like headlights. These fish can turn the bacteria on and off - just like a flashlight - to confuse predators.

The bombardier beetle has a unique defense mechanism. It shoots its attackers with rapid bursts of burning chemicals it ejects from the tip of its abdomen.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Expiration Dates Being Altered in China

Photo courtesy: the epoch times

It’s no surprise that Chinese perpetually worry about food safety, especially given the drumbeat of news like this: In Beijing and Hunan it was found that the expiration dates on food packaging, including on name-brand foods, are being changed with the help of printing devices and toxic chemicals.

The process of changing the expiration date burned the hands of a female worker in a medium-size food enterprise, reported Netease.

The person in charge at Douqu Food factory in Hunan recently admitted that at the end of May, after factory officials learned that a chemical solution could remove the production date imprinted on packaging, they started changing the dates. They purchased two printers and had two female workers use the corrosive chemical to erase the production dates on expired foods and then apply a new expiration date.

However, the two young women didn’t wear gloves, and within a few days, their skin blistered from the chemical burns. A subsequent dispute with the factory over medical fees exposed the issue to public light.

An investigation into the relabeling practices at the Douqu Food factory revealed the willful change of shelf-life labeling on a range of food packages.

According to an insider, the chemical mix is mainly banana oil (isoamyl acetate) and paint thinner, which can easily remove the expiration date imprinted on plastic bags, tin cans, and cartons. The compound, which is flammable and very toxic, can damage human skin, the lining of the throat, bronchi, lungs, and even the nervous system. It is not meant to be used on food labels.

A staff-member from a well-known food-packaging equipment manufacturer in Beijing stated that many people, from large enterprises to small vendors, are aware of this practice.

Remarking expired foods so they can be sold after their expiration date can lead to a proliferation of bacteria. Once bacteria reach a toxic level, they pose a health threat to humans. Preventing that eventuality is precisely the purpose of expiration dates.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Vietnam's Rice Bowl Threatened

Nguyen Thi Lim Lien says the rivers of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam are turning salty. Photograph: Jeffrey Lau via

Sitting amid buckets of rice in the market, Nguyen Thi Lim Lien issues a warning she desperately hopes the world will hear: climate change is turning the rivers of the Mekong Delta salty.

"The government tells us that there are three grams of salt per litre of fresh water in the rivers now," she says. "Gradually more and more people are affected. Those nearest the sea are the most affected now, but soon the whole province will be hit."

The vast, humid expanse of the delta is home to more than 17 million people, who have relied for generations on its thousands of river arteries. But rising sea water caused by global warming is now increasing the salt content of the river water and threatening the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers and fishermen.

Vietnam is listed by the World Bank among the countries most threatened by rising waters brought about by higher global temperatures, with only the Bahamas more vulnerable to a one-metre rise in sea levels. Such a rise could leave a third of the Mekong Delta underwater and lead to mass internal migration and devastation in a region that produces nearly half of Vietnam's rice.

"If there was a one-metre rise, we estimate 40% of the delta will be submerged," says Tran Thuc, director general of the Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment. "There is also the threat of cyclones and storms linked to climate change. The people in this area are not prepared for any of this."

Already affected by regular flooding, those who live in the low-lying delta are focusing on the rising salt content of water in land that has for thousands of years been used for rice paddies, coconut groves and other crops which locals rely on for their livelihood.

According to the Ben Tre department of agriculture and rural development, salt water at four parts per thousand has, as of April, reached as far as 35 miles inland, causing significant damage to crops and livestock, with rice production particularly affected.

"Salination will become higher and higher and the salt season will last longer and be worse," predicts Thuc.

The city of Ben Tre, one of the gateways to the Mekong, is inland, on one of the many tributaries of the Mekong river where the waters are still only partially affected by the increased salination. But further downriver, the effects are more pronounced.

"I have to travel five hours upstream by boat to fetch water for drinking, washing and cooking," says Vo Thi Than, 60, who cannot afford the prices charged by those who travel down the river selling fresh water from upstream.

Than lives beside a dock and runs a little restaurant on the small delta island of Cu Lao Oc, home to approximately 6,000 farmers and coconut growers.

"A long time ago, there was no salty season at all. Now, five months a year the water is salty," she says.

"We grow oranges, mandarins, lemons and coconuts, but these trees cannot survive if it is salt water only. During salty seasons, the trees bear less fruit and smaller fruits, and if there was only the salt season, nothing would grow."

Government officials and international observers are predicting significant lifestyle changes for the delta's population, which will be forced to adapt to survive.

Dao Xuan Lai, head of sustainable development at the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam, said: "Rising sea waters will cause inundations to the Mekong and will require drastic changes in lifestyles for the people. They will be forced to switch crops and innovate. People close to river banks and river mouths have already had to find different ways to make a living in fresh water."

In the area around the town of Ba Tri, near one mouth of the delta, the salination of the water has reached a point where many locals have been forced to abandon centuries of rice cultivation and risk their livelihoods on other ventures, mostly farming shrimp, which thrives in saltier water. Pham Van Bo is still able to plant rice on half his land thanks to an embankment built by the government four years ago, but he is risking his family's savings on the new venture.

"We had to sell our fishing boat to pay to dig the cultivation pool and also had to pay someone to teach me how to do it. It was expensive, and I had to get the shrimp food and medicine on credit," he said. "It takes about four months from when they are small to selling them. It should be more profitable than rice planting, but I am worried since this is our first try."

Bo needs only to walk two hundred metres along the riverbank to see a cautionary tale. Nguyen Van Lung and her family started raising shrimp six years ago, but now all but one of their pools are empty.

"Last October, the sea washed out all of our shrimp, we lost them all," she said. "We saw the water rising up and getting closer and closer, but we couldn't do anything about it. This season, we have been forced to just dump the shrimp in and let them grow with no fans, medicine or special food."

The family received a loan from the local government to survive, but it takes a lot of money to farm shrimp, on which they now rely almost exclusively for their livelihood.

Olivia Dun is a PhD student at the University of Sydney's Mekong Resource Centre. She is studying environmental changes, flooding, saline intrusion and migration in the Mekong Delta. "Some households have benefited from the switch to shrimp and have been able to raise their level of income," she said. "Other households have continuously struggled to raise shrimp, which are sensitive to the conditions in their pond environment and easily susceptible to disease. These households face mounting debt, and of these households, some choose to migrate elsewhere temporarily in search of an income."

Tough decisions like this are going to become more common for Mekong residents in the years ahead as the environment changes around them.

"Even if we stop all emissions worldwide now, the water will still rise 20 to 30 centimetres in the next few decades," said the UN's Lai.

"At the moment the prediction is a rise of 75 centimetres by 2050. People in this region are still very poor and will need help from the international community to survive this."


Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Monkey Species Found in Amazon

Photo courtesy: Julio Dalponte

In a race to beat loggers, scientists traveled to Mato Grosso, a Brazilian state that is home to a largely unexplored section of the Amazon rainforest—and some of the highest rates of deforestation in the country.

There, they made sightings of several rare species and discovered what is believed to be a new species of monkey.

Belonging to the Callicebus genus, the new species is thought to be a variation of the titi monkey. Júlio Dalponte, a biologist who made the discovery, explained that "this primate has features on its head and tail that have never been observed before in other titi monkey species found in the same area."

"This incredibly exciting discovery shows just how much we still have to learn from the Amazon," said Meg Symington, Director of WWF's Amazon Program, which was a backer of the expedition. "WWF has been working with the government of Brazil to increase protection and improve management for the Amazon so that species like this, and thousands of others, don't disappear before we even know about them.

In addition to the new species, the team spotted giant anteater, giant armadillo, giant otter, jaguar and ocelot. The sightings underscore biological richness and significance of the region which is under threat from logging, expanding agricultural land, and unregulated fishing.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Khapra Beetle Lands at O'Hare Airport

An adult Khapra beetle. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

One of the world's "most feared" pests was discovered on American soil. The Khapra beetle, in larva stage, was identified by customs officials in a 10-pound bag of rice that came from India.

In a press release, Customs and Border Protection described the bug as "one of the world's most tenacious and destructive stored-produce pests because of its ability to damage grain."

The larvae of the Khapra beetle. No wonder they are hard to find - they look so similar to rice grains. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The beetles originated in South Asia but have invaded parts of northern Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe, Asia and South Africa.

The Khapra beetle first invaded California in 1953. The infestation was not eradicated until 1966, at a cost of $15 million.

Customs specialists have intercepted the beetle 100 times this year, "compared to three to six per year in 2005 and 2006, and averaging about 15 per year from 2007 to 2009," the press release says.

The Baltimore Sun reports that grain shipments do not even require a live beetle for the entire supply to be rejected. No other species is treated this way.

Despite the increase in the number stopped at the border, the Khapra beetle has not made it into the American grain supply.