Monday, 25 September 2017

Court issues £28 220 in fines and penalties for releasing non-native Crustaceans into the Englich Channel.

A court in England has issued fines and penalties of £28 220 to two Buddhists for releasing 361 American Lobsters, Homarus americanus, and 35 Dungeoness Crabs, Metacarcinus magister, (also an American species, named after Dungeoness in Washington State, not the headland of the same name in Kent) into the English Channel. Zhixiong Li and Ni Li were charged at Brighton Magistrates Court on 20 September 2017 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, for releasing the animals obtained from a Fish merchant in London and released at a Buddhist ceremony in Brighton on 15 June 2017.

An Amercican Lobster, Homarus americanus, caught on the coast of Maine. Monique Meadows/Lobsterland.

The majority of the Crustaceans are thought to have been recaptured swiftly, due to the prompt actions of Marine Management Organisation who were alerted to the problem by members of the party and worked with local fishermen to recover the animals.

A Dungeoness Crab, Metacarcinus magister. Biodiversity of the Central Coast.

Dungeoness Crabs are native to the Pacific coast of North America, but have been introduced to the Atlantic, and have become established from Alabama to North Carolina, making the species of great concern to conservationists elsewhere. American Lobsters are native to the east coast of America, and have not yet become established elsewhere. However it is known to be host to a wide variety of parasite species, which could potentially infect native Crustaceans.

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Using the bite force of Cranwell’s Horned Frog to calculate that of a Cretaceous Giant Frog.

The Vertebrates are a highly successful group, at least in part due to their specialised jaws, which have enabled them to adopt a wide range of feeding strategies. Many Vertebrates are specialised predators, making use of powerful jaws to overcome prey of a size that would be out of the range of most similar-sized invertebrates. Frogs are generally considered an exception to this rule, as while they are specialised predators, they typically have rather weak jaws, instead relying on a powerful sticky tongue to capture small invertebrate prey, which is typically swallowed whole. However, the Horned Frogs of South America, do possess powerful jaws, which they use in conjunction with their tongues to overcome much larger prey, including other Frogs, Snakes, Lizards, Birds and Mammals.

In a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports on 20 September 2017, Kristopher Lappin of the Biological Sciences Department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Sean Wilcox, also of the Biological Sciences Department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and of the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at the University of California, Riverside, David Moriarty and Stephanie Stoeppler, again of the Biological Sciences Department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Susan Evans of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at University College London, and Marc Jones of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Museum, describe the results of a study in which they measured the bite force exerted by Cranwell’s Horned Frog, Ceratophrys cranwelli, and used this information to estimate the bite force exerted by other extinct Frogs, the living Brazilian Horned Frog, Ceratophrys aurita, another species of Horned Frog, and the Late Cretaceous Beelzebufo ampinga, an extinct Frog thought to have had a similar hunting strategy to the living Horned Frogs due to its well-developed jaws.

An individual Ceratophrys cranwelli biting a force transducer. Leather strips glued to ends of bite bars provide a natural surface that encourages high-effort biting and avoids damage to teeth and bones. The strips also indicate a bite point for standardization of bite-force performance. Lappin et al. (2017).

Lappin et al. measured the bite force of eight Cranwell’s Horned Frogs ranging in length from 39.8 to 95.6 mm and in mass from 8.9 to 147.8 grams. They found that the Frogs could exert a bite force of between 2.7 and 32.9 Newtons, with the greatest force exerted at the middle point of the jaw, rather than at the tips. Furthermore, different Frogs of the same size exerted similar bite forces, suggesting that size is a direct proxy for bite strength. 
Teeth of Ceratophrys cranwelli. As with almost all other extant frogs bearing teeth, Ceratophrys has teeth only on the upper jaw. Unusual among frogs, the teeth of Ceratophrys exhibit a derived non-pedicellate morphology and have sharp recurved tips situated upon robust, labiolingually expanded bases. (a) view of teeth with jaws closed; (b) view of teeth with mouth slightly open; (c) close-up of single tooth. Scale bars is 1 mm. Lappin et al. (2017). 

Using the measurements obtained from the Cranwell’s Frogs, Lappin et al. next attempted to calculate the bite force of the extant Ceratophrys aurita. A museum specimen of this species is known with a head width of 98.3 mm, which it is calculated would have been able to exert a bite force of 248.6 Newtons at the tip of its snout, and 497.1 Newtons at its mid-jaw. This is lower than the bite force exerted by similar sized Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentine (657 Newtons), American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis (689.3 Newtons), Saltwater Crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, (680.5 Newtons), or Freshwater Crocodile, Crocodylus johnstoni, (707.7 Newtons), but still formidable.

 A Brazilian Horned Frog, Ceratophrys aurita, consuming a smaller Frog, Trachycephalus mesophaeus. Axel Kwet in Solé et al. (2010).

Next Lappin et al. attempted to extrapolate the bite force of the extinct Cretaceous Frog, Beelzebufo ampinga, using two individuals, one with a jaw width of 111 mm, and the other with a jaw width of 154 mm. The smaller of these Frogs was estimated to be able to produce a bite force of 372.4 Newtons at its jaw tip and 744.8 at its mid jaw, while the larger was calculated to be able to exert a bite force of 1106.8 Newtons at its jaw tip and 2213.7 Newtons at the mid jaw. This is comparable to the bite force of an Common Snapping Turtle of similar size (2042 Newtons), but exceeds the bite force of similar sized Crocodilians, with predicted bite forces at this size of American alligator (1659.6 Newtons), Saltwater Crocodile (1836.5 Newtons), and Freshwater Crocodile (1863.6 Newtons). It also falls within the bite force range of Spotted Hyenas, Crocuta crocuta, with measurements from adult specimens recorded at between 1000 and 4500 Newtons, and exceeds that of an adult Lion, Panthera leo (2024 Newtons) or Tiger, Panthera tigris (2165 Newtons). 

Beelzebufo ampinga, Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. (A) Skull reconstruction showing parts preserved (white areas, Left) and distribution of pit-and-ridge ornament (stippling, Right). (B) Skeletal reconstruction and inferred body outline of average-sized (skull width, 200 mm; SVL, 425 mm) adult female Beelzebufo ampinga based mainly on Lepidobatrachus asper. White areas indicate parts represented by fossil specimens. For size comparison, dorsal view silhouettes of Ceratophrys aurita (the largest extant Ceratophryine) (C), and Mantidactylus guttulatus (the largest extant Malagasy Frog) (D), are shown. cp, crista parotica; fm, foramen magnum; frp, frontoparietal; mx, maxilla; n, nasal; pmx, premaxilla; qj, quadratojugal; qu, quadrate; sq, squamosal. Scale bars: 50 mm. Evans et al. (2008).

The deposits in Madagascar which produce Beelzebufo ampinga also produce small Crocodilians and non-Avian Dinosaurs, animals which Lappin et al. suggest could have been vulnerable to attacks by these large Frogs, particularly as larger specimens than the ones used in the study are known (though they were not included due to incomplete jaws).

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Magnitude 4.6 Earthquake in Jammu and Kashmir, India.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 4.6 Earthquake at a depth of 35.0 km, roughly 4 km to the southwest of the town of Sumbal in Jammu and Kashmir State, India, slightly before 5.45 am local time (slightly before 0.15 am GMT) on Saturday 23 September 2017. There are no reports of any damage or casualties arising from this event, but people reported feeling the quake across much western Jammu and Kashmir.

The approximate location of the 23 September 2017 Jammu and Kashmir Earthquake. USGS.

Northeast India is on the northern part of the Indian Plate, close to its boundary with Eurasia. India is moving northward, pushing into Eurasia at a rate of 40 mm a year. This causes quakes on both plates, as well as the folding and uplift that has created the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau.

 The movement of India into Eurasia over the last 71 million years. USGS.

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Giant Saltwater Crocodile shot in Queensland.

An investigation is under way after a 5.2 m Saltwater Crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, was found dead in the Fitzroy River at Rockhampton in southern Queensland on Thursday 21 September 2017. The animal, which was killed from a single shot to the head from a large calibre firearm, is thought to have been over a hundred years old when it died, and is the largest wild Crocodile recorded in Queensland for three decades. The reason for the shooting is unclear, as Saltwater Crocodiles are protected in Queensland and killing one carries stiff penalties, though locals have speculated that the killing was carried out either by thrill seekers or somebody who was startled by the Crocodile and afraid. Such a large animal is likely to have been the dominant male in the area, and wildlife experts are concerned that its death may lead to a rise in aggression from other male Crocodiles in the area, as they compete to take over the vacant role.

5.2 m Saltwater Crocodile found dead near Rockhamptoon in Queensland on 21 September 2017. Queensland Police Service.

Saltwater Crocodiles are one of the few Crocodile species not considered vulnerable to extinction, being found from India to Australia  and inhabiting many areas that Humans shun, such as Mangrove forests and islands without fresh water. However they are protected in Queensland and other Australian states where they are present, as they are considered an important part of local aquatic ecosystems, and were hunted almost to extinction there between the 1940s and 1960s.

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Over a thousand people displaced by flooding in Cross River State, Nigeria.

Flooding has displaced over a thousand people in Cross River State, as heavy rains since 18 September 2017 have led to homes and farmland being inundated with water. The communities of Bago, Unu, Bagabo, Bakie, Bufua, and Kakwe-Beebo are reported to have been worst hit, by flooding that has washed away houses, crops, and bridges and contaminated clean drinking water sources.

Bridge destroyed by flooding at Bebuo Bomaji in Cross Rivers State, Nigeria. The Guardian Nigeria.

West Africa has a distinct two season climatic cycle, with a cool dry season during the northern winter when prevalent winds blow from the Sahara to the northeast, and a warm rainy season during the northern summer when prevalent winds blow from the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. These warm winds from the Atlantic are laden with moisture, which can be lost rapidly when the air encounters cooler conditions, such as when it is pushed up to higher altitudes by the Jos Plateau of central Nigeria and Shebshi Mountains on the border with Cameroon.

 Rainfall and prevalent winds during the West African dry and rainy seasons. Encyclopedia Britanica.
Cross Rivers has a Tropical Climate with distinct dry and rainy seasons. The rainy season lasts from May to October, with September typically being the wettest month. Like other areas of West Africa, Nigeria has suffered a series of flooding and related incidents this rainy season, driven by high temperatures over the Atlantic Ocean.

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83-year-old man dies after being caught in a landslide in Penang State, Malaysia.

An 83-year-old man has died after being caught in a landslide in Penang State, Malaysia, on Friday 15 September 2017. Liew Ah Kiew, of Jalan Buah Jambu, narrowly escaped from the incident, which destroyed his home, suffering injuries to the neck in the process. He died in hospital on Thursday 21 September of heart failure.

The funeral of Mr Liew Ah Kiew, who died after being caught in a landslide in Penang State, Malaysia. The Star.

The incident happened after weeks of heavy rainfall in the area; landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Malaysia has become increasingly landslip-prone in recent years due to extensive deforestation, which leaves soil exposed to heavy tropical rainfall. 

Landslide in Tanjung Bungah, Georgetown, Penang State, earlier this month. The Star.

Penang has suffered a series of weather-related incidents this month, including the worst flooding in fifteen years and a series of landslides. The state has a wet tropical climate with two distinct rainy seasons (common close to the equator, where the Sun is highest overhead around the equinoxes and lowest on the horizons around the solstices). These run from April to May and September to November, with peak rains in September and October.

 Flooding in Penang State, Malaysia, earlier this month. Shahnaz Fazlie Shahrizal/New Straits Times.

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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Thousands evacuated from area around Mount Agung, Bali, after rise in seismic activity.

Around 34 000 people have been evacuated from the area within 9 km Mount Agung in eastern Bali, following a sharp rise in seismic activity beneath the mountain. Seismic activity beneath volcanoes can be significant, as they are often caused by the arrival of fresh magma, which may indicate that a volcano is about to undergo an eruptive episode. Mount Agung last erupted in 1963-4, when it produced ash columns reaching 10 km above its 3 km high summit and lava flows that reached 7 km from the volcano, as well as triggering a series of lahars and pyroclastic flows that killed over 200 people, making people on the island very cautious about any future eruptions.

Mount Agung on Bali, Indonesia. Travel Wires.

The Indo-Australian Plate, which underlies the Indian Ocean to the south of Java, Bali and Lombok, is being subducted beneath the Sunda Plate, a breakaway part of the Eurasian Plate which underlies the islands and neighbouring Sumatra, along the Sunda Trench, passing under the islands, where friction between the two plates can cause Earthquakes. As the Indo-Australian Plate sinks further into the Earth it is partially melted and some of the melted material rises through the overlying Sunda Plate as magma, fuelling the volcanoes of Java and neighbouring islands.

Subduction along the Sunda Trench beneath Java, Bali and Lombok. Earth Observatory of Singapore.

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