Category Archives: New Discoveries

African Wolf – New wolf Species discovered

African Wolf

African Wolf aka Egyptian Jackal

This is not really fish related but cool enough to warrant a post here anyway. Scientists have discovered a new species of Wolf in Egypt. A team a researchers from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), the University of Oslo, and Addis Ababa University, with funding from the University of Oslo, shows that Gray wolves reached Africa around 3 million years ago before spreading throughout the northern hemisphere. The new wolf is a relative of the Holarctic grey wolf, the Indian wolf and the Himalayan wolf.

The Egyptian jackal (Canis aureus lupaster) is an importan part of the Egyptian mythology and has until now been considered a subspecies of the Golden jackal (Canis aureus) but this new research show that the egyptian jackal is infact a species of wolf. This new species is not closely related to the rare Ethiopian wolves. Ethiopian wolves are a relatively recent of spring from the gray wolf complex while this new species, ”African wolf” (suggested name by Professor Sillero), likely arrived in Africa much earlier.

Professor David Macdonald says: “A wolf in Africa is not only important conservation news, but raises fascinating biological questions about how the new African wolf evolved and lived alongside not only the real golden jackals but also the vanishingly rare Ethiopian wolf, which is a very different species with which the new discovery should not be confused.”

Egyptian Jackal

The jackal is important in Egyptian Mythology

The team also found genetically very similar specimens to this new wolf in the highlands of Ethiopia, 2,500 km from Egypt, suggesting that the new species might have a large distrobution and that it is not just found in Egypt.

The conservational status of this new species is not known.

Professor Sillero says: “It seems as if the Egyptian jackal is urgently set for a name-change, and its unique status as the only member of the grey wolf complex in Africa suggests that it should be re-named ‘the African wolf’.”

WildCRU is part of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology.

If you want to read the entire paper (direct link) you can do so at PlosOne:

Fluorescent color of coral larvae predicts their future

A young staghorn coral that fluoresce redder is less likely to settle and develop into coral polyps than young staghorn corals that fluoresce greener. This surprising discovery was made by assistant professor of biology Mikhail “Misha” Matz and his colleagues* at the Austin branch of the University of Texas.

“By simply looking at the color of a larval population, we may soon be able to say which larvae are going to be long-range dispersers and which will be short-range dispersers,” says Matz. “Under global warming, we expect a lot of evolution of this particular life history trait.”

The less likely a coral larvae is to settle, the more likely it is to disperse from its native reef and end up settling somewhere else. If global warming forces coral species to move to cooler regions in order to survive, this will naturally be an important trait.

In their study, Matz and his colleagues crossed different color morphs of the coral species Acropora millepora and subjected the offspring larvae to ground-up calcareous red algae. The ground-up algae is clue that tells the larvae that this is a place where it could settle.

The experiment showed that the larvae that displayed the redder fluorescent color of their parents were less likely to settle and turn into reef-building polyps than their greener siblings.

According to Matz, the correlation between settlement and fluorescence could be completely random. The genes that determine fluorescent color and the genes that control the organisms response to the ground-up red algae may simply be located next to each other in the chromosome and therefore be inherited together.

It is on the other hand possible that the color for some reason have a function to fill as this coral disperse and settle. Matz and hits colleagues will now proceed to investigate if this is the case or not.

Even if the correlation is completely random, the finding is still important since researchers can use the fluorescence as a marker when studying Acropora millepora larvae.

What is fluorescence and why are corals fluorescent?

Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation of a different wavelength. The emitted light is usually of a longer wavelength than the absorbed light. From a human perspective, really striking examples of florescence occur when the absorbed radiation is invisible to the human eye while the emitted light can be seen.

Why corals are fluorescent and if it serves any particular purpose for them remains unknown.

“Bright, multicolored fluorescence of reef-building corals is one of the most spectacular and least understood visual phenomena in the ocean, and we still have no idea what purpose it serves”, says Matz. “But our discovery is a really good lead towards determining the function of fluorescence.”

The paper “Fluorescence of coral larvae predicts their settlement response to crustose coralline algae and reflects stress” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
* C. D. Kenkel, Integrative Biology Section, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
M. V. Matz, Integrative Biology Section, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
M. R. Traylor, Integrative Biology Section, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
J. Wiedenmann, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
A. Salih, School of Natural Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, New South Wales 1797, Australia

New species of giant U.S. crayfish described

Giant Crayfish

Photo by: L. Brian Stauffer.

‘A species of giant crayfish native to Tennessee in the United States has been scientifically described and given the name Barbicambarus simmonis.

Barbicambarus simmonis can reach a size of at least 5 inches (12,5 cm) which is twice the size of an average North American crayfish.

The researchers behind the paper in which Barbicambarus simmonis was described are Christopher Taylor from University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and Guenter Schuster from Eastern Kentucky University.

The first specimen was found by Tennessee Valley Authority scientist Jeffrey Simmons in 2010, and that is why the species bears his name. This specimen, as well as the specimen encountered by Taylor and Schuster, lived in Shoal Creek, a stream in southern Tennessee that ultimately drains into the Tennessee River. The creek has attracted the attention of researchers for at least half a century, which makes it reasonable to assume that Barbicambarus simmonis is either rare or very difficult to find.

You can find out more about Barbicambarus simmonis in the paper “Monotypic no more, a description of a new crayfish of the genus Barbicambarus Hobbs, 1969 (Decapoda: Cambaridae) from the Tennessee River drainage using morphology and molecules”  published in the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

Barbicambarus simmonsi

Barbicambarus simmonsi

Barbicambarus is a genus of freshwater crayfish that up until now had only one member: Barbicambarus cornutus. Barbicambarus cornutus is known only from the Barren River and Green River systems of Tennessee. The largest known specimens are 23 cm (9 inches) long, so this crayfish is even larger than Barbicambarus simmonis and one of the largest species of crayfish in North America*. It was scientifically described in 1884, but not seen again by scientists until the 1960s.

North America is rich in crayfish and also a comparatively well explored part of the world. Of the roughly 600 scientifically described species of crayfish, roughly 50% are native to North America. However, even though North America is such a well surveyed part of the world, new species are regularly described by scientists. The Pearl Map Turtle, Graptemys pearlensis, was for instance described in the summer of 2010. Just like Barbicambarus simmonis, this turtle is native to the southern part of the U.S. It lives in the Pearl River in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Why do fish sleep in nets?

Lexa Grutter/researcher

Some fish like the roundhead parrotfish – which makes its home in the barrier reef – spend up to one hour each evening making a “net” composed of mucus and wrap themselves in it. Thanks to some new Australian research, scientists believe they may have an answer for this rather strange behavior. The research comes from the University of Queensland, and was published in the journal Biology Letters, and dictates that these amazing fish make these “nets” to help protect them from attacks from parasites.

Earlier on, scientists thought that this mucus “net”, which resembles something like a balloon filled with JELLO, helped to protect the fish from predators. It was originally believed that the mucus covered up the fish’s smell, and helped it remained hidden from things looking to eat it.

However Dr Lexa Grutter and a team of colleagues, always pondered just how the transparent, fragile, and easily removed mucus “net” could possibly protect the fish from any hungry predator such as eels or sharks.

Well, they seemed to have stumbled upon the answer. Parrotfish are constantly under attack from gnathiids – a really tiny long thin isopod which is a distant relative of the slaters and pill bugs we can find in most gardens.

These gnathiids are much like underwater mosquitoes, and can suck the blood of a poor parrotfish for up to an hour, and in some cases give them a disease strikingly similar to malaria.

Grutter and her crew discovered that these mucus “nets” act much the same as our mosquito nets we throw over our beds during the summer, to keep the pesky bugs away.

Sea Lions Take Researchers By Surprise: Adopt Orphaned Pups!



It seems that sea lions have once again pulled the wool over the eyes of researchers. We all know it’s a rough world, and no less is true of those poor orphaned sea lion pups. However, decades of painstaking research has proven that the sea lion females shun any sea lion pups which aren’t there own.. Or do they?

A new bit of genetic research of the populations of Californian sea lions, published this past Monday in the online journal PloS ONE, now sheds some new light on the subject, and states that sea lions are not as cold as they are made out to be.

Up to seventeen percent of the females in the California sea lions populations off of Mexico’s coast will actually take on an orphaned pup as one of their own offspring, according to the new research. What is even more amazing, is that the researchers were able to watch the females care for these pups year after year.
“Females are incredibly aggressive toward pups that aren’t theirs. They’ll bare teeth and bark, sometimes grab and toss pups that aren’t their own away,” explains a marine biologist at Arizona State University who made the discovery through an unrelated research effort, Ramona Flatz. “That they adopt at all really surprised us. We didn’t think it happened.”

So, while the chances are not that high that an orphaned pup can find an adoptive mother, the chance still exists, so like people, there are some decent sea lions out there…

Squids Could Hold Key To Providing Valuable Answers Into The Origin and Evolution of Hearing

Loligo pealeii

Loligo pealeii

Loligo pealeii, an ordinary run of the mill squid – most famous for being a source of food for many creatures in the sea – might just become a VIP in the science world, as it is making waves by providing tidbits and insights into the origin and evolution of the sense of hearing.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, housed in a militaristic style building, is home to T. Aran Mooney, a biologist who is exploring the interesting theory: Can squid hear? Can they actually hear predators or enemies coming up on them? How do squid and other aquatic animals depend on sound to communicate, migrate, and interact on a day to day basis? Will the increasing amount of noise pollution we are pumping into the world’s oceans have a catastrophic effect on the squid, and other animals hearing ability, and ultimately, their survival?

“The sound in the ocean is increasing…commercial shipping, oil and gas exploration…those make a lot of noise,” Mooney explains. “And you don’t know how that is going to affect the animal unless you know what it hears.”

A postdoctoral scholar at WHOI, Mooney, has taken it upon himself to partake in seminal investigations into the hearing of the squid. His results were recently released this past Friday in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

This research has taken on a whole new light, as many aquatic animals rely on the squid, and if we are endangering its hearing ability, we are not only endangering our chances of finding out more about the development of the sense of hearing, but we could potentially throw the whole balance of the world’s oceans out of whack.

New Kind Of Fish Discovered

white snailfish

White Snailfish

A brand new kind of fish has just been found in one of the dark “lifeless” areas of the ocean. It was previously thought that the area was devoid of fish, researchers say.

This new kind of snailfish was discovered making its home at an amazing depth of 7 kilometers, in the Peru-Chile trench in the South East Pacific.

Large groups of cusk-eels and rather large scavengers were also found making themselves at home at these depths, which is a scientific first, researchers added.

The discoveries, in some of the deepest darkest recesses of our planet, were made by a group of marine biologists hailing from the University of Aberdeen, in conjunction with experts from Japan and New Zealand.

The team set out on a 21 day voyage, during which they made use of various deep-sea imaging equipment to snap photos of the murky depths, some 4500 meters to an astounding 8 kilometers within the trench.

This voyage was the seventh such voyage as part of HADEEP, a research project cooked up by the boys over at the University of Aberdeen’s Ocean Lab and the University of Tokyo’s Ocean Research Institute, along with the backing of New Zealand’s National institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

The use of the updated technology really gave researchers the boost they needed to discover this amazing find. Who knows what will be dredged up next? Science has been stale for such a long time, especially when you talk about the oceans, so it’s good to see some new discoveries being made right under our noses.

The Algae Which are Bent on World Domination?

An Israeli Ph.D student’s case study on a kind of deadly algae, may just help to make drinking water safer for people and animals alike.

It almost sounds like a zany plot from a cartoon from a super villain: A beautiful, yet very deadly, kind of blue-green algae, forces other microorganisms found in fresh water to do its bidding, which enables them to over run the water, and threaten the health of people and animals all over the world.

These devious cyanobacteria algae – known as the thorns in the sides of the freshwater populaces – are not cartoon characters however. A paper recently published on August the 12th in the journal Current Biology, a scientist over at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem explains to us how they take over their competition and are very prolific, raising concern around the world due to the detrimental impact they could pose on the quality of water.

By enlightening us on how the algae function, Yehonatan Bar-Yosef’s case study can help other experts find out how to deal with this threat and ensure that drinking water is safe for humans and animals all over the world.

Back in 1994, a huge bloom of this toxic algae was discovered in Lake Kinneret, which is also known as the Sea of Galilee. A lot of the potable water for Israel is taken from the Kinneret, so this discovery really raised red flags.

Luckily for us Bar-Yosef is delving into the matter, and could conceivably come up with an enzyme to help battle this dastardly algae.

Good luck Bar-Yosef, we are all rooting for you. Hopefully he will crack the code, and help everyone in the world.

One Of The Oldest Skeletons in the Americas Found in Undersea Cave

Yucatan peninsula

Yucatan peninsula

A Mexican skeleton which was ritually laid to rest in a cave that was once devoid of water, lends clues as to first Americans.

The skeleton which was discovered was supposedly laid to rest more than ten thousand years ago. It is one of the oldest such skeletons in the Americas, and was found in an undersea cave along the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Back when the skeleton was laid to its final resting place, the region was mostly desert, and the skeleton could lend clues which may shed some light on how he first Americans arrived, and just who they were.

Just about eighty miles south of Cancun, the intricate system of caverns of Chan Hol, which means “little hole”, is like a deep valley along the coast of the Caribbean.

German cave divers back in 2006, swam a remarkable 1,800 feet into the dark treacherous underwater tunnels and, quite by accident, happened across the Ice Age human’s remains ad sent notice to the archaeologists located in the surrounding state of Quintana Roo.

Over the past three years scientists under the guidance of the director of the Desert Museum in Saltillo, Mexico, Arturo Gonzalez, have been poking around and documenting the bones in place, so as not to disturb the scene and lose any vital things which might be offered by the surroundings.

It’s really astounding to think of all the ancient marvels which lie in wait for us under the ocean waves, if only we strap on a scuba tank.

Research Proves that Flying Fish are More Effective at Gliding Than Insects, And Just As Efficient as Birds



We all know about those birds which are just at home in the water as they are in the air, however, not too many species of fish can say the same thing. Flying fish can actually stay up in the air for more than half a minute, and can glide as far as 400 meters and reach speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour!

A mechanical engineer from Seoul National University in Korea, Haecheon Choi, took a shine to the flying fish as he was reading a science book to his children. By coming to the realization that flying fish actually FLY, he and his collegue, Hyungmin Park, set about to figure out just how these fish stay up in the air so long and then publish their discovery in The Journal of Experimental Biology, which they did this past 10th of September. They had some remarkable results in tsts conducted in a wind tunnel of all places.. They found that the flying fish were just as efficient at gliding as birds were, and more effective than many forms of insects at it.

Now that Choi and Park have proven to the world that flying fish are exceptional fliers, they are now setting up for their next big task.. Building an aircraft which will exploit the ground effect aerodynamics which flying fish use to their benefit.