Three Subspecies of Snow Leopard Revealed

There are three different subspecies of the snow leopard ( Panthera uncia ), the world’s most elusive large big cat, according to a new study published in the Journal of Heredity .

According to Janecka et al , the snow leopard ( Panthera uncia ) is actually three different subspecies. Image credit: Dingopup / The Cat Survival Trust / CC BY-SA 3.0.
The snow leopard is most closely related to the tiger ( Panthera tigris ), having diverged over 2 million years ago.
It inhabits a vast area of 0.6 million sq.miles (1.6 million across 12 countries in Asia.
It is a high-altitude animal that occupies mountains primarily between 0.9 and 2.8 miles (1.5-4.5 km), with confirmed sightings to 3.7 miles (6 km) in the Himalayas. This region is characterized by low oxygen levels, temperature extremes, aridity, low pro… Read more

First Enterococci Appeared on Earth during Ordovician Period, Says Study

According to a new study published today in the journal Cell , the enterococci — gram-positive aerobic bacteria and a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections — arose from an ancestor that dates back 450 million years (Ordovician period), about the time when animals were first crawling onto land.

This digitally-colorized scanning electron microscopic image depicts Enterococcus faecalis . Image credit: Pete Wardell / CDC.
“By analyzing the genomes and behaviors of today’s enterococci, we were able to rewind the clock back to their earliest existence and piece together a picture of how these organisms were shaped into what they are today,” said Dr. Ashlee Earl, group leader for the Bacterial Genomics Group at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and co-corresponding author of the study.
“Un… Read more

Study: Male Great Tits Choose Their Neighbors Based on Personality

Male great tits ( Parus major ) choose neighbors with similar personalities to their own, according to new research from the University of Oxford, UK.

Johnson et al assessed whether a great tit breeding population is structured by personality. Image credit: Shirley Clarke / Fordingbridge Camera Club / CC BY-SA 3.0.
Lead author Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student in the University of Oxford’s Departments of Zoology and Experimental Psychology, and co-authors investigated whether the personality of birds influences their social lives — in particular who they choose to nest near.
The study involved analyzing social network structure in a population of wild great tits at Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, UK, over six consecutive breeding seasons.
“We found that males, but not females, were picky about p… Read more

Two New Species of Tarsiers Discovered in Indonesia

Two new tarsier species have been discovered in the forests of the northern peninsula of Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The Gursky’s spectral tarsier ( Tarsius spectrumgurskyae ) from Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Image credit: Alfrets Masala / Shekelle et al / Primate Conservation.
Tarsiers are small, nocturnal, predaceous primates of the 45-million-year-old family Tarsiidae.
They are intermediate in form between lemurs and monkeys, measuring up to 6 inches (15 cm) long and weighing 100 – 150 g.
They have elongated hind legs and feet, a thin tail and long fingers. Their fur is velvety or silky and buff, grayish brown, or dark brown on the back and grayish or buffy on the underside.
These primates have the largest eyes relative to body size of any mammal on Earth, each typically larger than the… Read more

Varanus douarrha: Researchers Rediscover Long-Lost Species of Monitor Lizard

An international team of researchers has found and re-described a species of monitor lizard, Varanus douarrha , from the island of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago, northeast of Papua New Guinea.

Varanus douarrha . Image credit: Valter Weijola.
Varanus douarrha was described from a single specimen obtained by French naturalist René Lesson in Port Praslin at the southern end of New Ireland during his work on the La Coquille exploration ship in 1823.
“Considering that no measurements are provided in Lesson’s 1830 description it appears questionable whether the type specimen ever reached Europe for closer inspection,” the researchers said.
“Three boxes of La Coquille ’s South American and Pacific collections were sent toward France with the ship’s surgeon Prosper Garnot, who had fallen ill… Read more

Two New Species of African Mole-Rats Discovered in Tanzania

Scientists working in Tanzania have discovered and named two new species of the mole-rat genus Fukomys . The research was published in the journal PeerJ .

The Hanang mole-rat ( Fukomys hanangensis ). Image credit: Chris Faulkes.
African mole-rats of the family Bathyergidae are burrowing rodents that occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with much of their range subdivided by the Great Rift Valley.
Also known as blesmols, they have been widely studied because of the variation in their social and reproductive behaviors.
More recently, the naked mole-rat ( Heterocephalus glaber ) has also emerged as a model species for the study of longevity and cancer resistance.
“A clear understanding of African mole-rats’ biodiversity and evolutionary relationships has become increasingly important, not lea… Read more

DNA Study Sheds Light on Evolution of Dog Breeds

Genetic material from 161 modern breeds helped a team of researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health assemble the most comprehensive evolutionary tree of dogs. The results are published in the journal Cell Reports .

Representatives from each of the 23 clades of breeds. Breeds and clades are listed for each picture from left to right, top to bottom: (A) Akita/Asian spitz; (B) Shih tzu/Asian toy; (C) Icelandic sheepdog/Nordic spitz; (D) Miniature schnauzer/schnauzer; (E) Pomeranian/small spitz; (F) Brussels griffon/toy spitz; (G) Puli/Hungarian; (H) Standard poodle/poodle; (I) Chihuahua/American toy; (J) Rat terrier/American terrier; (K) Miniature pinscher/pinscher; (L) Irish terrier/terrier; (M) German shepherd dog/New W… Read more

Three New Species of Fungus-Farming Ants Discovered in South America

Three new species of the ant genus Sericomyrmex have been discovered in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Sericomyrmex radioheadi , worker. Image credit: A. Ješovnik & T.R. Schultz, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.670.11839.
The genus Sericomyrmex belongs to the fungus-farming ants (tribe Attini), a New World group of over 250 species, all of which cultivate fungus gardens for food. These ants provide the fungus with the substrate on which it grows, either organic detritus or fresh vegetation, thus effectively practicing agriculture.
Like the majority of attine-ant genera, Sericomyrmex has a wide Neotropical distribution, ranging from Mexico southward to Bolivia, Paraguay, and Paraná, Brazil.
Sericomyrmex species can be found in a variety of habitats, from dry savanna to tropical wet… Read more

Wax Moth Caterpillars Found to Eat Polyethylene

An international team of researchers from Spain and the United Kingdom has found that a caterpillar of the greater wax moth ( Galleria mellonella ) — commonly known as a wax worm — has the ability to biodegrade polyethylene.

Polyethylene degradation by wax worms. Left: plastic bag after exposure to about 100 wax worms for 12 hours; Right: magnification of the area indicated in the image at left. Image credit: Bombelli et al , doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.060.
Polyethylene is the most commonly used plastic in the world: about 80 million tons are made annually.
It is largely utilized in packaging: nearly 50% of polyethylene is used to produce plastic films for food storage as well as agricultural and environmental use; the remainder is used to produce plastic bottles and injection-molded products.
Polye… Read more

Study: Oxygen-Deprived Naked Mole-Rats Turn into ‘Plants’

Deprived of oxygen, African naked mole-rats ( Heterocephalus glaber ) can survive by metabolizing a type of sugar called fructose just as plants do, a new study says.

Prof. Gary Lewin holding a naked mole-rat ( Heterocephalus glaber ). Image credit: Roland Gockel, MDC.
The naked mole-rat is a nearly hairless and nearly sightless burrowing rodent found throughout most of Somalia, central Ethiopia, Djibouti, and much of northern and eastern Kenya.
The species lives in large colonies, which vary in number from 75 to 300 individuals, deep underground in hypoxic conditions.
The colonies are extended family groups, with overlapping generations. Reproduction is restricted to a single reproductive female (the queen), and at most three breeding males.
Adults are 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) long and weigh 30-35… Read more

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