Inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport seized an unusually slimy package — 67 live giant African snails that are a popular delicacy across West Africa.
The snails — which are prohibited in the U.S. — arrived from Nigeria and were being sent to a person in San Dimas, said Lee Harty, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border protection.
The snails were confiscated July 1 and a sample was sent the next day to a federal mollusk specialist in Washington, D.C., who identified them as a prohibited species, Harty said.
The mollusks are among the largest land snails in the world and can grow to be up to 8 inches long. They are native to Africa and can live for up to 10 years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture incinerated the snails after they were inspected, Harty said. The animals are prohibited in the U.S. because they can carry parasites that are harmful to humans, including one that can lead to meningitis.
The snails are also agricultural pests, said Maveeda Mirza, the CBP program manager for agriculture.
“These snails are seriously harmful to local plants because they will eat any kind of crop they can get to,” Mirza said.
The person the snails were destined for is not expected to face any penalties, Mirza said. She said authorities are investigating why a single person would want so many snails.
By KRYSTA FAURIA of the Associated Press from LOS ANGELES.Read More
When South Carolina construction workers came across the giant, winged fossil at the Charleston airport in 1983, they had to use a backhoe to pull the bird, which lived about 25 million years ago, up from the earth.
But if the bird was actually a brand-new species, researchers faced a big question: Could such a large bird, with a wingspan of 20 to 24 feet, actually get off the ground? After all, the larger the bird, the less likely its wings are able to lift it unaided.
The answer came from Dan Ksepka, paleontologist and science curator at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn.
He modeled a probable method of flight for the long-extinct bird, named as a new species this week. If Ksepka’s simulations are correct, Pelagornis sandersi would be the largest airborne bird ever discovered.
The big bird relied on the ocean to keep it aloft. Similar in many ways to a modern-day albatross — although with at least twice the wingspan and very different in appearance, Ksepka said — the bird probably needed a lot of help to fly. It had to run downhill into a head wind, catching the air like a hang glider. Once airborne, it relied on air currents rising from the ocean to keep it gliding.
An incredibly efficient glider, Pelagornis sandersi could probably soar for miles and miles over the sea, swooping down to catch its prey in the waves.
To snap up its meals, the bird used pseudo-teeth — a characteristic that Ksepka found just as fascinating as the bird’s massive wingspan. These teeth, Ksepka said, are not anything like our own.
“They don’t have enamel, they don’t grow in sockets, and they aren’t lost and replaced throughout the creature’s life span,” he said. “Instead, the bone just extends from the jaw.”
There were bigger flying creatures than Pelagornis sandersi. Some of the largest pterodactyls had wingspans of up to 35 feet. But they were flying reptiles, not the dinosaurs that birds descended from.
The previous record holder for largest flying bird, Argentavis magnificens, lived only 6 million years ago and hailed from Argentina. It was probably heavier than the new bird — something researchers know because of the size of their hind legs, which had to support their weight.
He added that while it is not possible to know everything about the ancient creature from one skeleton, he is quite certain about one thing:
“This is pushing the boundary of what we know about avian size, and I’m very confident that the wingspan is the largest we’ve seen in a bird capable of flight.”
Reported by RACHEL FELTMAN of The Washington PostRead More
A study of great white sharks finds their numbers are surging in the ocean off the Eastern U.S. and Canada — bad news if you’re a seal, but something experts say shouldn’t instill fear in beachgoers this summer.
The study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist says the population of the notoriously elusive fish has climbed since about 2000 in the western North Atlantic.
The scientists behind the study say the upswing is due to conservation efforts, such as a federal 1997 act that prevented hunting of great whites, and greater availability of prey.
“The species appears to be recovering,” said Cami McCandless, one of the study authors. “This tells us the management tools appear to be working.”
Great whites owe much of their fearsome reputation to the movie “Jaws,” which was released 39 years ago Friday. But confrontations are rare, with only 106 unprovoked white shark attacks — 13 of them fatal — in U.S. waters since 1916, according to data provided by the University of Florida.
The great whites are important to ocean ecology. They are apex predators — which means they’re at the top of the food chain — and help control the populations of other species. That would include the gray seal, whose growing colonies off Massachusetts have provided food.
The report also illuminates where people encounter white sharks — mostly between Massachusetts and New Jersey during the summer and off Florida in the winter, it says.
They also migrate based on water temperature and availability of prey, and are more common along the coast than offshore, the report states.
Reported by PATRICK WHITTLE of the Associated Press from PORTLAND, MaineRead More
The first video of life on Arctic sea ice from a polar bear point of view has been released by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The agency released a clip recorded by a camera attached to the collar of a female polar bear without cubs in the Beaufort Sea north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The necks of polar bear males are wider than their heads and collars slide off.
The clip shows the bear pursuing a seal under water, dunking a frozen seal into seawater and interacting with a male who might be a suitor.
The cameras are part of a study to find out how polar bears, listed as a threatened species, are responding to sea ice loss from global warming. Scientists in the Beaufort are generally limited to about six weeks of field work each spring, between the time it’s light enough to work and before ice begins to break up.
“It’s all information that we wouldn’t be able to get otherwise,” said Todd Atwood, research leader for the USGS Polar Bear Research Program, from his office in Anchorage.
The collars were attached in April and collected eight to 10 days later as a test run of how they eventually will be deployed for longer periods. Cameras were attached to two bears in 2013, but the batteries could not handle Arctic temperatures, Atwood said.
Atwood said the 38 to 40 hours of video from the neck cameras have yielded surprises — such as the female bear and a male tussling with a seal carcass in what might be courting behavior.
“The fact that they appear to be playing around with their food, we’re not sure what that means,” he said.
Other footage shows a bear pursuing a seal underwater. Polar bear hunting behavior generally is thought to consist largely of waiting beside a breathing hole or collapsing lairs of ringed seals.
The female at one point drops a frozen seal carcass in seawater and scientists speculate she’s trying to thaw it out, Atwood said.
Reported by DAN JOLING of the Associated Press from ANCHORAGE, Alaska.
USGS polar bear point-of-view video: http://bit.ly/SgU3OVRead More
The National Weather Service says a swarm of grasshoppers were detected over Albuquerque’s West Mesa for the fourth night in a row on Friday.
Meteorologist Chuck Jones says the swarm got caught up in winds heading southwest and is being carried as high as 1,000 feet.
Jones says the grasshoppers likely hatched weeks ago and are now grown, leading to their ability to trigger radar images.
Officials say last year’s monsoon season and a drier winter created the ideal environment for the grasshoppers to hatch.
Technicians initially thought their equipment was malfunctioning when they saw several unexplained clusters.
Reported by the Associated Press from ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.Read More
A Brazilian environmental group has launched an effort to save the endangered three-banded armadillo, the mascot for the World Cup that starts next month.
Liana Sena, one of the coordinators of the Caatinga Association, said the armadillo is in danger of extinction, largely because of deforestation and hunting in its habitat in the shrub lands of northeastern Brazil. Its meat is considered a delicacy by many in the region.
Those risks in large part are why the armadillo was chosen as World Cup mascot. Another is that when it’s frightened, it rolls up into a ball small enough to fit into one hand, looking like a tan soccer ball.
Its hard shell protects it from its natural predators, jaguars and foxes, but it becomes easy prey for hunters since it does not dig a hole to hide in, she said.
“We hope the World Cup’s mascot will help society and government become more aware of the importance of saving the armadillo and its natural habitat from extinction,” Sena said.
The mascot is called “Fuleco,” derived from the Portuguese words for football and ecology. It carries the colors of the Brazilian flag — the armadillo is portrayed as yellow, with green shorts and a blue shell and tail. It is dressed in a white shirt emblazoned with the words “Brazil 2014.”
“We hope our project will take the armadillo off the list of endangered species in 10 years,” Sena said, adding that if nothing is done to save the animal it will be extinct in 50 years.
She said the project’s first task is to make a population estimate of the species and update its distribution map.
The next step, she said, is to create environmental conservation units for the armadillo and introduce environmental education classes in the region’s schools.
Reported by STAN LEHMAN of the Associated Press from SAO PAULO, Brazil.Read More
Scientists have discovered 14 new species of so-called dancing frogs in the jungle mountains of southern India — just in time, they fear, to watch them fade away.
Indian biologists say the population of the tiny acrobatic amphibians, which earned their name with the unusual kicks the guy frogs use to attract mates, is disappearing fast. The little frogs breed after the yearly monsoon in fast-rushing streams, but that particular habitat appears to be disappearing.
“It’s like a Hollywood movie, both joyful and sad. On the one hand, we have brought these beautiful frogs into public knowledge. But about 80 percent are outside protected areas, and in some places, it was as if nature itself was crying,” said the project’s lead scientist Sathyabhama Das Biju.
Biju said that, as researchers tracked the frog population for 12 years, the creatures’ habitat seemed to change around them. Forest soil lost moisture. The stream they lived in started to run dry.
The study listing the new species — published in the Ceylon Journal of Science — brings the number of known Indian dancing frog species to 24.
They’re found exclusively in the Western Ghats, a lush mountain range that stretches 990 miles from the western state of Maharashtra down to the country’s southern tip.
Only the males dance — it’s a unique behavior called foot-flagging. They stretch, extend and whip their legs out to the side to draw the attention of females who might have trouble hearing their croaks over the sound of water flowing through perennial hill streams.
They bigger the frog, the more they dance. They also use those leg extensions to smack away other males — an important feature considering the gender ratio for the amphibians is usually around 100 males to one female.
“They need to perform and prove, ‘Hey, I’m the best man for you,’” said Biju.
There are other dancing frogs in Central America and Southeast Asia, but the Indian family, known by the scientific name Micrixalidae, evolved separately about 85 million years ago.
A 2010 report by India’s Environment Ministry also said the Ghats were likely to be hard-hit by changing rainfall patterns due to climate change, and more recent scientific studies have also suggested monsoon patterns will grow increasingly erratic.
Reported by KATY DAIGLE of the Associated Press from NEW DELHI. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/katydaigleRead More
If you were a snake and your house was on fire, what would you do? Try to get out, right?
A Michighan firefighter found out just what happens, and he put his past reptile-handling experience to good use when he rescued a 7-foot-long boa constrictor from a burning home.
Muskegon firefighter Scott Hemmelsbach told The Muskegon Chronicle that he reluctantly agreed to enter the two-story, smoke-filled house Sunday night to retrieve the snake. He says he cradled the “weighty” snake before carrying it to safety.
“It was trying to crawl up the side of his terrarium and get out,” Hemmelsbach said. “His face was pushed up on the screen and trying to get out. There was a lot of smoke and he was trapped.”
The firefighter said he learned how to handle snakes while he was at high school.
“I’d take them around and show them to the kids in the elementary classes,” he said. “That didn’t bother me at all.”
When Hemmelsbach reached the boa inside the home, he gingerly handled him so not to scare the reptile.
“I removed the screen off the top and knew to approach it by coming up behind his head. He became very active, and I was glad because that meant that he was OK.”
Two people in the home escaped without injury, fire officials said. The fire significantly damaged the home, and the cause is under investigation.
“I would do it for any creature,” Hemmelsbach said. “I’m just glad it had a happy ending.”
Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, http://www.mlive.com/muskegonRead More