Scientists discover ancient giant duck-billed platypus

November 8th, 2013

The duck-billed platypus is a really odd creature. It’s a mammal, but it lays eggs like a reptile and is also one of the world’s only venomous mammals.  It gets even odder when you hear that scientists now think that one of its ancient ancestors might have been so big that it fed on fish and even turtles.

This image shows Obdurodon tharalkooschild, a middle to late Cenozoic giant toothed platypus from the the World Heritage fossil deposits of Riversleigh, Australia. At about one meter (more than 3 feet) in length and with powerful teeth (inset: the holotype, a first lower molar), it would have been capable of killing much larger prey, such as lungfish and even small turtles, than its much smaller living relative. Illustration by: Peter Schouten.

  • Scientists have discovered a fossilized tooth in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in northwest Queensland, Australia
  • Modern adult platypuses don’t have teeth but rather eat their prey of worms and insect larvae by grinding their bill.
  • The scientists think that the ancient platypus lived in water like the modern species, but unlike the modern platypus it fed on fish, crayfish and possibly even turtles.
  • It is estimated that the species went extinct between 15 and 5 million years ago.
  • The discovery of this ancient fossil will help scientists piece together where platypuses came from.
  • The reason that platypuses seem so strange is that they are the last survivors of a group of mammals called monotremes, all but four members of which are now extinct.
  • When the duck-billed platypus was first discovered back in 1799, many people thought the animal was so strange that it must be a joke played by the biologist who discovered it George Shaw.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story here: Giant turtle-devouring duck-billed platypus discovered

To save a tiger, you have to save the prey

November 8th, 2013

If you want to save a top predator like the Malayan Tiger, you have to make sure it has enough prey to feed on.

Malayan Tiger. Photo by Rhett. A. Butler /

  • Scientists at MYCAT (The Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers) have been studying the prey of the Malayan Tiger to see how the availability of prey to eat is affecting population numbers of the tigers.
  • Camera traps were used to take photos of the prey, including the sambar deer, the gaur (a type of bison) and the bearded pig.
  • An astonishing 10,145 photos were taken by the camera traps to find out the population trends of the prey.
  • They discovered that the prey are declining in numbers, making it more difficult for tigers to find food.
  • The gaur and the bearded pig have some protection in Malaysian law, but the sambar deer currently doesn’t have any.
  • The scientists are calling for there to be more protection of the sambar deer which is a popular is a target for hunters.

A camera trap photo of a sambar deer. Photo by Kae Kawanishi.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Scientists: to save the Malayan tiger, save its prey

A cuddle from the Andean cloud forests: Baby Olinguito

November 8th, 2013

After the recent discovery of Olinguito-the world’s newest mammal, scientists released first pictures of a baby Olinguito from La Mesenia Conservation Project in Colombia.

Baby olinguito found in SavingSpecies project site. Photo by Juan Rendon.

  • Olinguitos are found only in Ecuador and Colombia. For decades, biologists and local people misidentified olinguitos as olingos, a similar lowland species related to raccoons, coatis and kinkajous.
  • “Olinguito is the smallest of olingos with a distinct body shape, longer and softer fur,” said Kristofer Helgen, the lead scientist on the team and Director of Mammals at the Smithsonian Institute. “They are more colourful with a shorter, bushier tail, smaller ears and a more rounded face when compared to olingos.”
  • Although they are in the raccoon family and classified as carnivores, olinguitos feed on fruits and mostly active at nights.
  • Olinguitos give birth to one youngster at a time. The first photos of a baby olinguito are from La Mesenia Conservation project area in Colombia which is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.
  • SavingSpecies, is an active NGO, purchasing and reforesting land to reconnect lost forest corridors in this area which is also home to eleven rare bird species and various orchids.
  • “This is exactly the kind of species that our projects help protect—scarce, wide ranging predators are hit hardest when forests become fragmented,” commented Stuart Pimm, the head of SavingSpecies and an ecologist at Duke University. “By reconnecting a large piece of forest that was almost pinched off, we knew we could make a huge difference.”

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Adorable baby olinguito photographed in Colombia (picture)

Two lizards and one frog discovered in Australia

November 8th, 2013

Last March, several scientists from James Cook University and a National Geographic/Harvard University photographer surveyed the remote peninsula of Cape Melville in north eastern Australia. It was the first time scientists had explored the area. Within days they had discovered three vertebrates completely new to science: a gecko, a skink and a frog.

Camouflage artist, The Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko. Photo copyright Tim Laman / National Geographic

  • To find three completely new and distinct vertebrates is very surprising, especially in an area that has been explored as much as Australia has.
  • These three animals are all unique to Cape Melville and have developed traits to help them live among the boulders.
  • The Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko received the scientific name Saltuarius eximius meaning “exceptional” or “extraordinary” to describe its ability to camouflage.
  • The other lizard discovered, the Cape Melville Shade Skink (Saproscincus saltus), is extremely small and active.
  • The Blotched Boulder-frog has the scientific name Cophixalus petrophilus meaning “rock-loving.”
  • During the rainy season, the Blotched Boulder-frog comes out from under the boulders to mate.
  • The males guard the eggs, which are laid in moist rock cracks.

Chad Hoskin holding the Cape Melville Shade Skink on the tips of his fingers. Photo copyright Tim Laman / National Geographic

The Blotched Boulder-frog. Photo copyright Tim Laman / National Geographic

For more pictures and information: New to science: 2 lizards, 1 frog discovered on Australian expedition (pictures)

A rare species of Flying-Fox will struggle with climate change but might just survive

November 5th, 2013

The first ever study of a species of flying-fox has shown it is under threat from climate change. Flying foxes, which aren’t actually foxes at all but types of bats, live in hot tropical regions including Asia, Australia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Pteropus pelagicus that the photographer found in his kitchen on Oneop Island. Photo by: Naavid Khatibi.

• The Cuuk Flying fox lives on a number of small islands in the Federated States of Micronesia which lie in the Pacific Ocean.
• Climate change means the sea levels will rise meaning many small islands like those in Micronesia will become smaller or disappear all together.
• This will make it harder for the flying foxes to find the food and other resources they need.
• Fortunately it is unlikely that the species will go extinct all together as it is also found on some volcanic islands that rise high above sea level.
• Bats make up an astonishing 20% of world’s mammals although they often get neglected by conservationists and researchers.

Painting of Pteropus pelagicus (notice the name change).