Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New Anti Snake Venom from Camel Serum

Rajasthan has become the first state in the country to take fresh steps to address the problem of snakebites, which claimed over 5,000 lives in the state alone last year. "We have established an exclusive Snakebite Task Force (STF) comprising Dr Ian Simpson of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Snakebite Treatment Group and Dr P.D. Tanwar of the S.P. Medical College Snakebite Research Cell, Bikaner,' said Rajasthan's Health Minister Digambar Singh. A number of other doctors from the state would join the task force to establish new treatment processes enabling doctors in the primary health centres to treat snakebite cases more effectively.
The research, to be conducted in Rajasthan by Simpson with the support of the state government, will focus on developing a new anti snake venom (ASV) from camel serum, which would deal with snakebite cases across the world. 'The research being conducted on ASV from camel serum could be more effective as it is more stable in a hot environment, causes less allergies compared to other ASVs and controls snakebite damage more effectively,' said Simpson.
The new ASV could be helpful in treating bites from the deadliest varieties of snakes, added Simpson. The ASV currently used in India was developed about 70 years ago. 'We hope to achieve a breakthrough soon,' Simpson said.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pet Owners Warming up to Keeping Reptiles

When an iguana mysteriously appeared in her uncle's garden three years ago, Darcy Colby was "scared to death" of the little green reptile. But after searching extensively for the lizard's owners, Colby took the tropical animal home, litter-trained her and the two forged a bond. Now, when Colby brings in the mail, her 2-half foot sidekick sits perched on her shoulder, never making a move to jump away.
Yoda, as the iguana is now known, is her family's pet. "She hangs out with us," said Colby, 29, of East Greenbush, noting she and her husband are both allergic to cats and dogs, making Yoda the perfect companion. "She's our girl."
Across the area, other families have also forsaken the traditional puppy or kitten for more exotic companions. Troy resident Kim Laware used to own two cats, but gave them to good homes after they pulled down curtains, tore up furniture and were "just too wild." Now she owns a bearded dragon, a Chinese water dragon and a ball python. "It's the same as having children," she said. "You have to take care of them." She looks forward to someday owning a dog, but fears if she brings one into her home, it may eat her beloved reptiles.
At the Healthy Pet Center in North Greenbush, manager Becky Gray advises prospective reptile owners to be aware of all aspects of the animal's care and needs. She recommends researching a reptile of choice or finding one that best suits one's lifestyle. The animal's environment and feeding pattern are important, she said. She said initial startup sets for a lizard can cost about $100 and finding vet care can be very difficult.
She said if owners are willing to spend the time and money on them, that makes the difference. "People need to be more informed and know that it has feelings ... you do have to treat it just like a cat or dog," Gray said, adding, "Some can live 30 years if you keep them in the right environment." And people can get attached to their reptiles, she said, noting the scaly pets have a keen sense of who is taking care of them. "They recognize their owners," she said. "They let certain people hold them and certain people not."
Stephanie Crug, 21, of Averill Park, grew up with reptiles -- a red-tailed boa, leopard geckos and a bearded dragon were in her home every day where she grew acquainted with the animals. But from her experience, she doesn't get too attached. "They are a predator," she said. When Crug owned an okeetee corn snake and White's African tree frog, she cuddled the animals in her hooded sweat shirt -- even walking them around her house to help get them more familiar with her. "You have to make sure you handle them every day," she said.
Dr. Michael McCarthy, a licensed veterinarian practicing out of the Animal Hospital in Guilderland, said reptiles are becoming increasingly popular. Thirty percent of his patients are exotic animals, ranging from tiny rodents to huge snakes to a variety of the lizards seen in pet stores. "We'll see pretty much everything under the sun," McCarthy said. He said due to wrong conditions or negligence, reptiles have come into his office with fractures, injuries or illnesses because people did not know how to care for the animal. "They don't do their homework ahead of time," McCarthy said. He urges people to educate themselves about the pet they choose before buying one, noting the reptiles may provide some companionship but nothing like cats or dogs. "Can they form a bond with you?" he asked. "I'd have a hard time believing that."

Monday, February 19, 2007

Customs Agents Seize Smuggled Dinosaur Eggs

Customs agents have seized fossilized dinosaur eggs believed to have been smuggled illegally from China and auctioned for $420,000, officials said Thursday.
The 22 eggs, each [theorized to be] 65 million years old, were so well-preserved that embryonic raptors are visible inside 19 of them. They were seized late last week from the Bonhams & Butterfields auction house in Los Angeles.
The eggs were auctioned in December to an undisclosed buyer, but the transaction was scrubbed before money changed hands after concerns were raised about the legality of their export. "That sale was canceled and the property turned over to the U.S. government," said Levi Morgan, a spokesman for the auction house in San Francisco.
The eggs were found in China's Guangdong province in 1984, shipped to Taiwan and in 2004 to an American collector in Florida, according to a customs agent's affidavit filed last month in federal court. Authorities found that the shipper in Taiwan had no paperwork to prove the fossil was legally transferred from China, and that an invoice falsely described the items as being from Taiwan and worth only about $500, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Morgan said the auction house essentially had to trust that the American seller had the legal right to consign the eggs, because it isn't able to verify export documents. No arrests have been made, but the auction house is cooperating with the investigation. Customs agents are holding the eggs as evidence, but "the goal is to return them to China," spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Environment Agency identifies sea snake species in Abu Dhabi waters

The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has been collecting sea snake specimens and sightings as part of its marine wildlife monitoring programme. A total of nine sea snakes were recorded during EAD’s adhoc marine monitoring programmes in Abu Dhabi Emirate.
The reptiles, some dead and some alive, were collected between 2002- 2006 off Marawah Island, Jernain Island and Abu Dhabi Island. The Agency recorded at least four sea snake species in Abu Dhabi waters. The species are the: Arabian Gulf Sea Snake (Hydrophis lapemoides), Yellow-bellied Sea Snake (Pelamis platurus), Short Sea Snake and one unidentified species of the genus Hydrophis. The snakes measured in length between 50 – 77 cm.
The Agency calls on the public not to touch any washed-up sea snakes that they may encounter on the beach. Sea snakes have weak spines and so become helpless and appear lifeless on land. Worldwide, there have been few records of human fatalities due to sea snake bites. Sea snakes can open their tiny mouths to bite or swallow larger objects. They are also capable of swallowing prey two to three times the diameter of their necks.
The Arabian Gulf Sea Snake, the most common sea snake in Abu Dhabi waters, is dangerous and its bite can be fatal. However, according to the Agency, this species is usually docile. It lives in warm, shallow waters or in sea grass. It is yellow in color, sometimes a pale dull green or grey, with dark bands along the length of its body.
Approximately 50 species of sea snakes occur in warm tropical waters and are distributed across the Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. Ten sea snake species have been described in the Arabian Gulf. The Agency has published these findings in the well-known Zoology in the Middle East Journal. The Agency will also publish a book on the UAE’s marine environment, with a whole chapter dedicated to Sea Snakes. The book is currently in print.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Blind pink snake discovered in Madagascar

A pink worm-like snake has been rediscovered in Madagascar more than 100 years after it was first found. The snake, which is blind and measures about ten inches long, is described in the February 1, 2007 edition of Zootaxa, a leading taxonomic journal.
The snake was captured during a 2005 expedition in the arid northern part of the country. It was
collected by Vincenzo Mercurio from the Forschungsinstitut und Naturhistorisches Museum Senckenberg in Germany and described as a new species by Dr. Van Wallach from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.
"The finding of this new typhlopid species indicates, once more, that most of the Malagasy herpetofauna is highly secretive, and in general difficult to be detected. It is amazing that the genus Xenotyphlops remained unconfirmed for more than one century, despite the many field surveys conducted in Madagascar," wrote the authors. "More surprising was that the newly found individual belonged to a different species."
The snake, named Xenotyphlops mocquardi, is one of 15 blind snakes species known from Madagascar. Blind snakes live underground or beneath a layer of rocks, sand, or leaves and rarely emerge from their hideouts. They have poor eyesight and rely primarily on smell and heat detection to locate their prey consisting of insects and insect larvae.
The authors said they hope the snake's habitat is incorporated into a planned protected area.
"We hope that more individuals of Xenotyphlops mocquardi will be found in the future," they wrote. "Taken into consideration the high reptile endemism detected at the latter locality... it is suggested that Montagne des Fran├žais / Ambodivahibe should be included in the forthcoming protected area network for the safeguard of his rocky forested slopes and of the dry bushy savannah hosting an unique herpetofauna."

Wallach, V., Mercurio, V., Andreone, F. (2007). Rediscovery of the enigmatic blind snake genus Xenotyphlops in northern Madagascar, with description of a new species (Serpentes: Typhlopidae). Zootaxa 1402: 59–68

Friday, February 09, 2007

Toad Toxins Borrowed by Tiger Snake

A University of Tennessee professor participated in a study on a breed of Japanese snake with the rare trait of borrowing poison from other animals. The study, with professors from the United States and Japan, will be published in next week’s issue of the Proceeds of the National Academy of Sciences.
UT psychology professor Gordon Burghardt studies the Japanese Tiger Snake, or Rhabdophis tigrinus. In 1991, Burghardt attended a conference where he met professor Akira Mori of Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan, one of the leading research universities in the country and Asia. “He (Mori) said they had some snakes (in Japan) that had some interesting defensive behavior,” Burghardt said.
Burghardt, who specializes in animal behavioral psychology, began studying the reptile’s curious behavior and soon joined a study with Mori, Alan H. Savitzky and Deborah A. Hutchison of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., among others. Now the group has published its findings. The report in the Proceeds, titled “Dietary sequestration of defensive steroids in nuchal glands of the Asian snake Rhabdophis tigrinus,” examined a series of hypotheses regarding the tiger snake.
Scientists have noticed that, when attacked, the snake arches its neck and thrusts it toward its attacker. Most snakes try to protect their neck, a part of their body that most prey strike first. Upon further inspection, scientists found a set of glands along the snake’s neck. These glands release a toxin when the snake is attacked. Though unclear if the toxins are deadly, they have a nasty taste and ward off predators. The researchers noticed that tiger snakes eat toads, which are highly toxic animals that few other animals can survive eating. The researchers then hypothesized that the toxins from toads were stored in the snake’s neck glands — nuchal glands — and used for its own defense.
Many invertebrates sequester dietary toxins for use in their own defense, including such classic cases as milkweed insects and sea slugs,” the report said. But it is rare for vertebrates (animals with backbones) to borrow toxins for their own defense, and the process is seen mainly in poison dart frogs and a variety of New Guinea birds that eat so many poisonous insects their bodies and/or feathers become saturated in toxins. However, these animals do not contain glands that secrete toxins, a trait seen only in the tiger snake. Toads contain a special toxin known as bufadienolides. It is bufadienolides that the snake secretes from its glands.
For the first part of the study, the researchers took four sets of unfed baby snakes from their mothers. Two sets came from mothers with toxins in their glands. The other two came from mothers without toxins. The babies were given controlled diets — some ate fish, others non-toxic frogs and others toads. The study found that babies from mothers with toxins inherited toxins for 8.5 days, and then the toxins disappeared. The clutches that ate toads maintained the toxins. In the second part of the study, the scientists took snakes from toad-free islands in Japan. These snakes lacked toxins in their glands. They also did not arch and thrust their necks like those snakes from islands with toads. However, when fed toads, they borrowed the toxins and began arching and thrusting their necks. “These results further support the sequestration hypothesis and demonstrate that R. tigrinus have not lost the ability to sequester toxins,” the report said. The evidence indicated that the tiger snakes derived their nuchal gland toxins from toads. Burghardt plans to travel to Japan in the summer of 2008 to continue his research.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Floods Cause Feeding And Breeding Frenzy In Australia

Science Daily — Vast flocks of water birds from across Australia will soon start gathering for a long-awaited feeding and breeding frenzy sparked by flooding in western Queensland. The floods will produce a bird bonanza lasting six to nine months, says UNSW Professor of Environmental Science, Richard Kingsford. “Up to 50 species of water birds from the dry eastern areas of the state will be on their way to the Georgina/Diamantina floodplain to take advantage of an inevitable boom in the supply of insects, invertebrates, frogs, crustaceans and fish," Professor Kingsford says.
The creatures in this region have been hanging out for this big flood – there will be a frenzy of breeding activity among birds such as pelicans, spoonbills and ibis because there will be an absolute smorgasbord in the available food supply. Somehow they know there's action happening out there, and they'll move in very quickly.” This flood is of particular importance because much of south-eastern Australia has been so dry in recent years, due to the severity of the drought and human regulation of rivers.
Professor Kingsford has for the past 20 years done aerial surveys of waterbirds in Australia’s arid inland wetlands and desert rivers, which swing between a "boom and bust" cycle of flood and drought. His most recent survey, last October, confirmed that the bird life and ecology of these inland regions have been ravaged by drought.
In his recently published book, Ecology of Desert Rivers, Kingsford revealed how birds and other organisms survive and thrive in an environment of such extreme swings in conditions. He reveals how human interventions, such as the creation of dams, is affecting desert, rivers and the animals and plants that depend on them for survival.