Mexican monarch butterfly numbers at record low, scientists say
This year’s 59% drop in the wintering population in central Mexico marks the sixth decline in the past seven years
The colonies of migrating monarch butterflies that spend the winter in a patch of fir forest in central Mexico were dramatically smaller this season than they have been since monitoring began 20 years ago, according to the annual census of the insects released this week.
This year’s 59% drop in the numbers of orange and black butterflies that sleep in huge clusters hanging from the bows of the trees in the mountainside forests marks the sixth decline in the past seven years.
It also fits into a longer term downward trend that scientists say is threatening the extraordinary annual migrational phenomenon in which the butterflies, over the course of several generations, travel between their winter sanctuary in Mexico and their feeding and breeding grounds in the United States and Canada, and then back again.
The WWF, which carries out the census of the Mexican colonies in co-ordination with the Mexican government, says the extensive use of herbicides is wiping out vast quantities of the milkweed that provides the butterflies with their main food source and breeding grounds.
The use of herbicides destroying milkweed is directly linked to the mass cultivation in the great plain states of the US of genetically modified soybean and corn crops with inbuilt resistance to chemicals that the rest of the plants in the areas sprayed do not have. The WWF also noted usually hot and dry weather that can kill the butterfly eggs.
Spiders, Not Birds, May Drive Evolution of Some Butterflies
Mar. 12, 2013 — Butterflies are among the most vibrant insects, with colorations sometimes designed to deflect predators. New University of Florida research shows some of these defenses may be driven by enemies one-tenth their size.
Since the time of Darwin 150 years ago, researchers have believed large predators like birds mainly influenced the evolution of coloration in butterflies. In the first behavioral study to directly test the defense mechanism of hairstreak butterflies, UF lepidopterist Andrei Sourakov found that the appearance of a false head — a wing pattern found on hundreds of hairstreak butterflies worldwide — was 100 percent effective against attacks from a jumping spider. The research published online March 8 in the Journal of Natural History shows small arthropods, rather than large vertebrate predators, may influence butterfly evolution.
“Everything we observe out there has been blamed on birds: aposematic coloration, mimicry and various defensive patterns like eyespots,” said study author Andrei Sourakov, a collection coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity on the UF campus. “It’s a big step in general and a big leap of faith to realize that a creature as tiny as a jumping spider, whose brain and life span are really small compared to birds, can actually be partially responsible for the great diversity of patterns that evolved out there among Lepidoptera and other insects.”
Sourakov’s behavioral experiments at the McGuire Center showed the Red-banded Hairstreak butterfly, Calycopis cecrops, whose spots and tail imitate a false head, successfully escaped all 16 attacks from the jumping spider, Phidippus pulcherrimus. When 11 other butterfly and moth species from seven different families were exposed to the jumping spider, they were unable to escape attack in every case. Sourakov videotaped the experiments and analyzed the results in slow motion.
“From the video, you can see the spider is always very precise,” Sourakov said. “In one video, the spider sees a moth that looks like a leaf and it walks very carefully around to the head and then jumps at the head region. The spider has an innate or acquired ability to distinguish the head region very well and it always attacks there to deliver its venom to the vital center to instantly paralyze the prey. Most importantly, the spider is very small, so sometimes its prey is 10 times larger.”
Massive Mosquitoes 20x Normal Size Coming to US
March 12, 2013
Super-sized aggressive mosquitoes with a ‘stabbing’ bite are set to be unleashed across Florida this summer, bringing misery for thousands of residents.
By Sabari Girisan M, via Wikimedia Commons
In what could have come from a B-list Hollywood film script, the floodwater mosquito is nearly 20 times its normal-sized cousins, can strike either day or night, its eggs can lie dormant for years – and the mosquito might even be tolerant to repellants. And it’s all thanks to recent storms flooding coastal areas of the sunshine state, which paved the way for the mega-sized biters to call Florida their home. Just when you thought genetically modified mosquitoeswere the worst we had to face.
The real threat of a surge in the large insects known as gallinippers came off the back of last summer’s Tropical Storm Debbie, a storm responsible for flooding in many parts of Florida and unleashing the gallinippers. The gallinipper lays eggs in soil close to ponds, streams and other water bodies that overflow when heavy rains come. The eggs can remain dry and dormant for years, until high waters cause them to hatch.
And it’s that scenario which has led to entomologists issuing alerts to local residents on the best ways to avoid getting painful bites this summer amid concerns that bumper squadrons of the gallinippers could strike again.
On their presence this summer, Phil Kaufman, University of Florida entomologist, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised, given the numbers we saw last year. When we hit the rainy cycle we may see that again.”
The species known as Psorophora ciliata is native to the eastern half of North America, has a body about half an inch long, with a black-and-white color pattern. And its females, the blood suckers, are very aggressive and carry that frightening bite.
“The bite really hurts, I can attest to that,” Kaufman, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).
To help quell the threat, residents Kaufman and entomology graduate student Ephraim Ragasa have created a document on gallinippers for the department’s “Featured Creatures”website. Kaufman says gallinippers can be warded off with DEET-backed repellents but due to their large size they may be more tolerant of the compound than smaller mosquitoes. DEET is also known to present quite a few dangers to environmental and biological health overall. Scientists have even called it a ‘toxic stew’.
Chemical-free precautions include wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when venturing into wooded areas, especially places where standing water collects after rain storms.
As the gallinipper has an enormous appetite at the larvae stage by chomping on other mosquito larvae, there were thoughts that they could be used to reduce populations of other pest mosquitoes. But Ragasa added that there was a fatal flaw in that thinking, it just results in more gallinippers: “That kind of defeats the purpose of using them for biocontrol.”
This post originally appeared at Natural Society
Three Ukrainian Killer Attack Dolphins Are On The Loose In The Black Sea
The Ukrainian military has apparently lost three of its trained military attack dolphins in the Black Sea, RIA Novostireports.Supposedly, the dolphins swam away from their handlers during training exercises earlier this month, though Ukraine’s Defence Ministry denied the reports.
The dolphins may have swum off to mate with wild dolphins, former soviet naval officer Yury Plyachenko told RIA Novosti. He said that when this has happened in the past, they’ve come back in about a week.
Supposedly, though the Ukraine Defence Ministry denies it, they restarted the military marine mammal program last year. The dolphins are trained to find underwater mines (which has been done in other military programs including Russia and the U.S.) but in the Ukraine, they are supposedly also trained to kill enemy divers with knives and pistols attached to their heads, according to RIA Novosti. Some could also be trained to place explosive devices on enemy ships.
Algae bloom kills record number of manatees in Florida
March 12, 2013 – FLORIDA – Florida’s endangered manatees have long suffered from human activity, but this year they face an especially deadly threat hidden in the waters where they swim. An algae bloom off southwest Florida, called Florida red tide, has killed 174 manatees since January, the highest number to die from red tide in a calendar year, state wildlife officials said Monday. A red tide is a higher than normal concentration of a microscopic algae that appears in the Gulf of Mexico. At high enough concentrations, the algae can turn the water red or brown, hence the name. Red tides happen almost every year in southwest Florida and sometimes last just a few weeks, but this year the red tide has lingered and settled in an area of warm water where the manatees have migrated. “It’s kind of filled in an area where they’ve congregated and are feeding on sea grass where the toxins settle on,” said Kevin Baxter, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Those toxins can affect the central nervous systems of fish and other vertebrates, causing the animals to die. Wildlife officials and their partners have this year rescued 12 manatees suffering from the effects of red tide. They asked the public to alert them to other ailing manatees who may be showing a lack of coordination and stability in the water, muscle twitches or seizures, and difficulty lifting their heads to breathe. Unlike other algae blooms, red tides are not caused by pollution, the wildlife service said. “Red tides occurred in Florida long before human settlement, and severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s before the state’s coastlines were heavily developed,” the commission said. The blooms usually develop 10 to 40 miles offshore, away from man-made nutrient resources, it added. Red tides were documented in the southern Gulf as far back as the 1700s and along Florida’s Gulf coast in the 1840s, the commission said. “Fish kills near Tampa Bay were even mentioned in the records of Spanish explorers.” Manatees are listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Conservation efforts have led to an increase in the manatee population, the commission said, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a rule that would reclassify the manatee from endangered to threatened.
Red tide kills record number of manatees
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 12:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 12:14 p.m.
They are dying in the Myakka River, Lemon Bay, Little Sarasota Bay and waterways throughout Southwest Florida — more manatees poisoned by red tide than in any year on record.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week that 174 manatees are suspected to have died from red tide poisoning so far in 2013. The previous record was 151 in 1996.
Experts point to the warm winter weather that has kept manatees from dispersing, high concentrations of the toxic red tide algae in areas with significant manatee populations and the prolonged bloom as factors in the death count.
The area around Fort Myers in Lee County has been particularly hard hit, with 151 deaths. Most of the other deaths were in Charlotte County and Sarasota County, with 12 and 8, respectively.
Lee County is a manatee hot spot. Last year, 400 of the animals were counted in a single canal near Fort Myers where warm water is discharged from a power plant along the Caloosahatchee River, compared with the roughly 100 to 125 manatees in Sarasota Bay.
Red tide concentrations also have been highest — and the bloom has lingered near shore longest — around the Charlotte Harbor area, although dead fish have washed up on beaches throughout Sarasota County and as far north as Anna Maria Island this year.
“Red tide events are not uncommon in that area but this one is a little more intense and we have more manatees around there,” said Chuck Underwood, a spokesman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Jacksonville.
Locals, biologists face off over Philippine whale shark feeding
By David LohPosted 2013/03/12 at 7:48 am EDT
Tan-awan, Philippines, Mar. 12, 2013 (Reuters) — Tan-awan, in the southern Philippines island of Cebu, used to be a sleepy village that never saw tourists unless they were lost or in transit. Yet now they flock there by the hundreds – to swim with whale sharks, the world’s largest fish.
Whale sharks are lured to the Tan-awan coastline of the Oslob district by fishermen who hand feed them small shrimp, drawing divers and snorkelers to see the highly sought-after animals, known as gentle giants of the sea.
But the practice has sparked fierce debate on the internet and among biologists, who decry it as unnatural.
“Some people are asking that we stop feeding, but if we stop feeding, what is our livelihood?” said Ramonito Lagahid, vice chairman of the Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden and Fishermen Association (TOSWFA). “We have to go back to fishing.”
Though whale sharks as large as 12.7 meters (42 feet) and a weight of more than 21.5 tons (47,400 lbs) have been confirmed, they feed mainly on algae, plankton and krill. Contrary to their name, the animals are docile and pose no risk to humans.
Much of their life cycle remains unknown to science, including total population numbers. Some are killed in areas where they tend to congregate, and the species as a whole is considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
But Lagahid says there have always been whale sharks in Tan-awan. He remembers seeing them even when he was young.
“They are always around when we go out at night to collect ‘uyap,’ he said, referring to a kind of small shrimp that the whale sharks are fed. “Many times we have to stop fishing because the whale sharks are around.”
Word about the whale sharks got out globally about two years ago via Internet postings from witnesses, and tourists began flocking to the village both from the Philippines and around the world. Most days see several hundred, but 2012 numbers peaked with 1,642 on Good Friday in 2012.
The whale shark “interaction area” is the size of a soccer field, some 80 meters (262 feet) off the beach, and feeding takes place from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Eight to 10 whale sharks show up on average, but some mornings see as many as 20.
Fees for foreign tourists range from 500 pesos ($12.29) to just watch the whale sharks, to 1,500 pesos – plus normal scuba diving charges – to dive with them. The money is pooled and each villager who works that day, as a guide or boat driver, receives 1,000 to 1,500 pesos – a good fee for the rural Philippines.
The results are clear. Many new brick houses line the short stretch of road leading to the feeding beach.
“It is easier working in the whale shark area, ….can earn a lot of money”, said Aikie Lagahid, 23, Ramoncito’s nephew and a fisherman who now works as a whale shark spotter and boatman. “In the morning we take the guests out, and in the afternoon, we play basketball.”
Tourists are delighted as well.
“It (the whale shark) is really big, so it was really an experience,” said Cecilia Buguis, a Philippine tourist. “I would definitely tell my friends about it.
Israel isn’t coping with locust plague, say farmers
DEBKAfile March 11, 2013, 10:28 PM (GMT+02:00)
Farmers are complaining that the agriculture ministry’s pesticide campaign is not adequate for the locust swarms continuing to enter Israel from Egypt. Less than 30 percent of the insects are eliminated. Three swarms have flown in in as many days; the largest one Monday landing on the fields of the Eshkol region and its environs opposite the Gaza Strip and causing damage. The hot, easterly winds forecast for the rest of the week portend heavy swarms reaching central Israel, further north.
Israel Fighting Off Locust Invasion
Loss of wild pollinators hurting food security
Thursday, March 14, 2013 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) The world’s crops are being placed at increasing risk due to declines in populations of wild pollinators, and the problem cannot be solved merely by increased reliance on honeybees, according to a study conducted by an international research team and published in the journal Science.
“Our study demonstrates that production of many fruit and seed crops … is limited because their flowers are not adequately pollinated,” said researcher Lawrence Harder of the University of Calgary. “We also show that adding more honey bees often does not fix this problem, but that increased service by wild insects would help.”
The team consisted of 50 researchers who analyzed data from 41 separate crop systems in 600 fields spread across 20 countries. Crops analyzed included fruits, seeds, nuts and coffee.
Approximately three-quarters of all human foods depend at least partially upon animals such as insects, birds and bats for pollination. Although domestic honeybees are used to pollinate many crops, the majority of plans to do better with (and may ultimately be dependent on) wild pollinators that live in natural or semi-natural habitats. These habitats, often found at the edges of forests or grasslands, are increasingly being lost, and pollinator populations are falling accordingly.