Under The Surf Turf War: Watch Male Lionfish Duke It Out

By Christie Wilcox | August 1, 2017 8:00 am
There's nothing romantic about this cheek to cheek dance between tao large male lionfish. Photo Credit: Alex Fogg

There’s nothing romantic about this cheek to cheek dance between two large male lionfish. Photo Credit: Alex Fogg

Understanding animal behavior can be tough, as observing individuals for hours can be incredibly boring and our mere presence can affect how they act. Things get even harder when those animals happen to live in the ocean; our inability to breathe water makes quietly sitting and watching creatures significantly more difficult. So it was lucky to say the least that Alex Fogg captured a clear video of two large male lionfish exhibiting a behavior rarely caught on film: battling for dominance.

Fogg, a biologist with Coast Watch Alliance, a non-profit out of Pensacola, Florida, and his girlfriend were on vacation in Roatan, Honduras when they came across the remarkable sight. As avid divers, the pair had spent the week diving from boats, so to mix things up, they decided upon an afternoon shore dive instead. The water was crystal clear, which allowed Fogg to spot a very large, dark lionfish on an isolated coral patch about 75 feet away. When the pair approached, they realized the ‘lionfish’ was actually two, battling for dominance 55 feet below the waves.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, select, Top Posts

Shark Survives Over A Year With A Hole Between Its Stomach And The Sea

By Christie Wilcox | July 21, 2017 6:00 am
Think you could survive this? Photo ©Joanne Fraser/Ocean Artworks LLC

Think you could survive this? Photo ©Joanne Fraser/Ocean Artworks LLC

Sharks are pretty incredible animals. They’ve lived on this planet for more than 400 million years, and in that time, come to dominate the oceans they inhabit. That kind of survival when so many other lineages have gone extinct requires serious resilience. Now, a lemon shark off Florida has shown off just how tough these animals can be: he survived for at least 435 days with a hole in his body created as he shoved a swallowed fishing implement out of him through his flesh. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Sharks

African Wild Dogs Can’t Take The Heat, Face Extinction From Climate Change

By Christie Wilcox | July 20, 2017 2:27 pm
New study suggests African wild dogs may be doomed by climate change. Photo by Mathias Appel

New study suggests African wild dogs may be doomed by climate change. Photo by Mathias Appel

Things aren’t looking good for Africa’s iconic wildlife. Already, many species are threatened by human activities and habitat loss. Even species once thought to be resilient, like giraffes, are suddenly struggling. Just earlier this week, scientists reported that aardvarks, one of sub-saharan Africa’s most successful and adorable insect-eaters and essential ecosystem engineers—face severe declines and even extinction as rising temperatures and declining rainfall dry out the continent. Now, a new paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology adds African wild dogs to the growing list of species that may be eradicated by our changing climate.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts

Acidifying Oceans Favor Sea Vermin

By Christie Wilcox | July 17, 2017 8:00 am
A common triplefin, one of the fish species that may dominate acidic temperate habitats in the near future. Photo c/o Wikimedia

A common triplefin, one of the fish species that may dominate temperate habitats in the near, acidic future. Photo c/o Wikimedia

Scientists predict that in the next twenty years, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere will rise from the roughly 404 ppm it is now to over 450 ppm—and as a result, ecosystems worldwide will change. Many impacts will be particularly felt in our planet’s oceans. As atmospheric COlevels rise, more of the gas dissolves into our seas, causing a chemical chain reaction which makes the water more acidic. Acidification can act independently or synergistically with rising temperatures, impacting different species in different ways. In a desperate rush to conserve species, scientists are racing against the clock to understand how marine habitats and the species that live in them will be affected by acidification and identify the best ways to retain our marine biodiversity going forward.

The bulk of the research on acidification to date has focused on reef-building corals, and rightfully so, as these reef-producing species are the foundation of some of the richest ecosystems on Earth. But reefs aren’t the only prolific habitats in the sea, and corals certainly aren’t the only species that changing water chemistry will affect. Lab-based studies have found that all kinds of organisms, including fish, are sometimes affected by acidified waters, but how these individual impacts on species translates to ecosystem-level effects is less clear. So to understand how acidification might impact fish communities, a team of scientists led by Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, a marine ecologist in the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, turned to natural laboratories. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts

FrankenFungus Armed With Venom Toxins Could Join The War Against Malaria

By Christie Wilcox | June 30, 2017 10:04 pm
One of the world's deadliest venomous animals—a female Anopheles gambiae—demonstrating the behavior that makes her so lethal. Photo Credit: CDC/ James Gathany

One of the world’s deadliest venomous animals—a female Anopheles gambiae—demonstrating the behavior that makes her so lethal. Photo Credit: CDC/ James Gathany

People are often surprised when I say that mosquitoes are the deadliest venomous animal in the world (the deadliest animal period, really, if we don’t count ourselves). Mosquito bites—and the venoms delivered by them—kill upwards of 750,000 people worldwide every year thanks to the lethal beasties harbored within them. Most of those are due to microscopic parasites in the genus Plasmodium, which are responsible for the diseases collectively called malaria. Malaria accounts for around 500,000 of those mosquito-caused deaths, according to the World Health Organization—only a fraction of the over 210 million cases of malaria reported every year. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of time, money, and intellectual capital being invested into finding ways to reduce those numbers. And as the vectors, mosquitoes—especially the few species that carry the most devastating diseases—are a key target.

While killing mosquitoes seems like a simple objective, it can be quite complicated in practice. Mosquitoes are hardy little buggers, and rapidly evolve resistance to pesticides. And when effective pesticides can be found, such as DDT, they tend to be a little too effective, killing a wide diversity of insects and causing ecological harm to local biodiversity. In the hope of wiping out disease-carrying mosquito populations, scientists have tried all sorts of methods, from increasing natural predators to releasing sterile male mosquitoes in swarms. But the most recent approach sounds like it’s straight out of a science fiction thriller: an international team of scientists has genetically engineered a fluorescent fungus that wipes out mosquitoes using venom toxins from spiders and scorpions. Read More

Spit Take: Surprise! Indian Monocled Cobras Can Spit Venom

By Christie Wilcox | June 29, 2017 1:13 am
A monocled cobra, Naja kaouthia. Photo Credit: Tontan Travel

A monocled cobra, Naja kaouthia. Photo Credit: Tontan Travel

Vishal Santra got more than he bargained for when he peered into a chicken coop in the Hooghly District of West Bengal, India in 2004. He was helping the local community with dangerous snake removals when he was called upon to wrangle an unwelcome guest in a fowl pen: a monocled cobra, Naja kaouthia. Monocled cobras, which can reach lengths of about 5 feet, are highly venomous animals, so Santra knew to avoid a quick strike. But the animal didn’t lunge—instead, from over a foot away, the serpent spat at Santra’s face, getting a small amount of venom into his eye.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts

Forget The Sharks: How 47 Meters Down Fails Dive Science

By Christie Wilcox | June 23, 2017 12:12 pm

6605799dba35561938a0ab69287af9d8This is a guest post by Jake Buehler, who just so happens to be an AAUS certified scientific diver as well as a science writer based in the Seattle area. He blogs over at Sh*t You Didn’t Know About Biology, which is full of his “unrepentantly celebratory insights into life on Earth’s under-appreciated, under-acknowledged, and utterly amazing stories.”

 

Summer is finally here in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are long, the weather is warm, and the water is inviting. It’s also time for our annual lesson from popular culture that this refreshing invitation is a lie, and that the only thing the sea offers us is electric, blinding terror. Yes, summer inevitably means the advent of a new crop of shark-based survival horror flicks.

This summer, much like the last with “The Shallows”, movie-going audiences will be treated to another shark-centric screamfest: “47 Meters Down.” The British-American film—starring Mandy Moore and Claire Holt—opened in U.S. theaters last weekend. Recent, somewhat ubiquitous trailers for the film outline its terrifying premise: while vacationing in Mexico, a pair of sisters goes cage-diving with great white sharks, only to have the winch suspending their protective cage fail, sending them plummeting 47 meters down to the ocean floor, from where they must escape to the surface before the swarm of sharks—or their dwindling air supply—does them in. It is no doubt that just like with “The Shallows”, we will again be reminded that the persistent blood lust of horror film sharks is altogether different from what science tells us about the behavior of their real-life animal counterparts. But the film and overall premise of “47 Meters Down” commit a litany of science inaccuracy sins completely unrelated to sharks. Frankly, the movie fails spectacularly when it comes to portraying the biology and physics at play during SCUBA diving (which is kind of amazing, actually, considering how much of the film’s plot is directly rooted in the consequences of being underwater). Being a trained AAUS scientific diver, dive science is an area I know a little about, so I made the commitment to sit through “47 Meters Down” so you wouldn’t have to, all to separate the reality of how diving works from…well, whatever it is that the movie plopped out.

AHOY, SPOILERS AHEAD

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts

Death From Below: Invasive Lionfish Lurking in Deep Reefs, Sending Hungry Reinforcements to the Shallows

By Christie Wilcox | May 23, 2017 6:01 pm
Lionfish on a mesophotic reef off Florida. Photo credit: Mike Echevarria, Florida Aquarium via NOAA

Lionfish on a mesophotic reef off Florida. Photo credit: Mike Echevarria, Florida Aquarium via NOAA

In the last few decades, scientists have come to appreciate the incredible creatures living on the reefs that lie just below conventional diving limits in what is called the mesophotic zone. These incredible biodiversity hotspots are home to more endemic species than shallower reefs, and conservationists are hopeful they may serve as refuges—pockets of relatively pristine habitat out of reach of anthropogenic stressors—where species under threat from pollution, overfishing, and even the effects climate change can hang on while we clean up our act.

In a new paper published today in Royal Society Open Science, scientists have added to growing evidence that these ecosystems do serve as refuges—unfortunately, in this case, they’re harboring large, fertile adults of exactly the wrong species: invasive lionfishes. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts

Older, wiser, deadlier: “blood nuking” effects of Australian brown snake venom acquired with age

By Christie Wilcox | May 19, 2017 7:00 am
A Shield-snouted Brown Snake (Pseudonaja aspidorhyncha) from Northern Territory, Australia. Photo by Christopher Watson

A shield-snouted brown snake (Pseudonaja aspidorhyncha) from Northern Territory, Australia. Photo by Christopher Watson

There’s an age old belief that baby snakes are more dangerous than adult ones. There are generally two proposed reasons why this could be: either a) young snakes have yet to learn how to control how much venom they inject, so they deliver all of their venom per bite, or b) that because the snakes are smaller, they need more potent toxins to successfully take out their prey. The first is misleading, because even if baby snakes did dump all their venom into each bite, they still have so much less venom than adults that it doesn’t matter (and there isn’t any real evidence they lack self-control*). The second, though, warrants closer investigation: do younger, smaller snakes really have deadlier venoms? A new study on brown snakes in Australia says no—and in fact, the opposite can be true. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, More Science, select, Top Posts

I am Lionfish, hear me ROAR!

By Christie Wilcox | May 13, 2017 10:51 am
An invasive lionfish in the Bahamas. Photo by Mark Albins.

An invasive lionfish in the Bahamas. Photo by Mark Albins.

Ok, well maybe more like grunt or drum. Still, this recording comes from the first study to document that lionfishes—the invasive, venomous scourges of the Atlantic and Mediterranean—make sounds.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, select, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Acoustics, Lionfish, Sound
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