July 2009


TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, has just released the Proceedings of the workshop on trade and conservation of pangolins native to South and Southeast Asia [PDF]. Pangolins are being wiped out across their range in Southeast Asia, particularly in China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and more recently in Indonesia and Sumatra. According to the report, “pangolins are the most frequently encountered mammals seized from illegal traders in Asia,” despite their status as endangered by the IUCN. Huge shipments have been seized all over Asia as they make their way to China.

Pangolins are toothless, scaly anteaters native to tropical regions in Asia and Africa. Their meat is considered a delicacy in China and is used for a highly sought-after pangolin fetus soup, while their scales are valued for Chinese medicinal purposes. National Geographic has a photo gallery, but be warned: it’s not for the faint of heart.

Vaguely related: Cute pangolin earrings that I wish I had.

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If you were planning to head out to the beaches this sunny July weekend, you might want to reconsider. The Telegraph reports that Humboldt squid, also known as jumbo flying squid, have uncharacteristically invaded the waters off of San Diego.

Mike Bear, a local diver, said: “I wouldn’t go into the water with them for the same reason I wouldn’t walk into a pride of lions on the Serengeti, For all I know, I’m missing the experience of a lifetime.”
Shanda Magill was surprised by a large squid which hit her from behind and grabbed at her with its arms, pulling her sideways in the water. It ripped her buoyancy hose away from her chest and knocked away her light.
“I just kicked like crazy. The first thing you think of is, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I’m going to survive this’. If that squid wanted to hurt me, it would have,” she said.

Humboldt squid can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh near 100 pounds. They’re known to be aggressive and travel in large groups of hundreds or thousands at a time. The cephalopods are known as diablos rojos (“red devils”) to the Mexican fisherman who catch them. They’re carnivorous, using sharp, barbed suckers on their tentacles to “pierce the flesh of prey and drag it to their mouths where a fierce, baseball-sized beak tears it to shreds.”

Last night I went to see the documentary The End of the Line, about overfishing and the impending collapse of fish populations, at the Ken Cinema in San Diego. Today is the last day it’s playing there.

The big picture was basically that fish stocks have declined dramatically and are at critical levels. Global fish catch started declining in 1989, but wasn’t noticed until 2002 because some extremely exaggerated figures from China skewed statistics enough that it appeared as though global catch was still increasing. It wasn’t, and isn’t.

The details include a number of fish species that are being over-fished to almost certain extinction, like the highly sought after (and critically endangered) blue fin tuna. Many other species are suffering similar fates, and the lack of large fish predators is causing some strange fluctuations in ocean ecology, resulting in ballooning numbers of other species like rays and jellyfish. Fish farms aren’t a viable solution because farmed fish are actually fed wild-caught smaller fish, further straining the delicate ecological balance. For example, apparently one pound of farmed salmon requires five pounds of a smaller fish such as wild anchovies to produce.

The film wraps up with a heartwarming, optimistic little encouragement to the audience to make sure to request seafood that’s been legally and sustainably caught. A widget is available to determine which fish are best to eat, ecologically speaking, and you can download a pocket guide [PDF] put out by the Marine Conservation Society.

As a sensitive little vegetarian, I was a little icked out by the many, many graphic depictions of fish bloodshed. Potential viewers might also want to take note of the fact that “science in action” typically isn’t terribly exciting to film. Lots of cheesy graphics and stereotypical interviews with professors in their offices, backed with overwrought, dramatic, and incongruous music.

For a more detailed account of the film, check out this post on the Tetrapod Zoology blog.

Scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society have discovered a new species of primate in the Brazilian Amazon, as reported recently in the International Journal of Primatology. The tiny monkey, first seen in 2007, is a type of saddle-backed tamarin. At only 213 grams (less than 3/4 of a pound) and measuring just nine inches (plus a nearly 13-inch tail), the Mura’s monkey (Saguinus fuscicollis mura) is definitely a very tiny tamarin, if not the tiniest.

The news reports don’t have any photographs, but here’s the artist’s reproduction that’s been circling. The monkey has the distinctive saddle coloring on its back, and is mostly gray and dark brown in color.

New mammal discoveries are rare and always exciting, and WCS researchers seem to be extremely adept at finding them. They’ve discovered several new monkey species in recent years: the Arunachal macaque (India, 2004); Madidi monkey (Bolivia, 2005), Kipunji monkey (Tanzania, 2005), and the uakari monkey(Amazon, 2008).

Unfortunately for the little Mura’s monkeys, their home is threatened by a number of development projects that are in the works, including paving a section of the forest, a gas pipeline, and two hydroelectric dams.

According to the authors, the outlook is pretty dire.

The increase in human populations resulting from the developmental projects and improved infrastructure will result in widespread loss, degradation, and fragmentation of the forests… threatening not only these tamarins but also the entire fauna and flora of the region. Predictions of deforestation in the Amazon over the next decades indicate that Saguinus fuscicollis mura, even with the most optimistic scenarios, will be confined to small forest patches and close to extinction within the next 50 years.

Hopefully new discoveries such as this will bring attention back to the plight of conservation in the Amazon region. With new species still being discovered, clearly the forests hold a number of treasures that we may lose the opportunity to discover.

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Fabio Röhe, José de Sousa e Silva, Ricardo Sampaio and Anthony B. Rylands. A New Subspecies of Saguinus fuscicollis (Primates, Callitrichidae). International Journal of Primatology, 2009; DOI: 10.1007/s10764-009-9358-x

New long-tailed monkey discovered in Amazon – msnbc.com.

New Monkey Discovered In Brazil — Threatened By Proposed Dams And Other Development In Region.

Tiny monkey species discovered in the Amazon rainforest.

From LibrarianInBlack, here’s an interesting video about copyright done by the Copyright Clearance Center. The video is cute, engaging, and well-done, and is a good jumping off point if you have questions or are thoroughly confused about copyright.

However, as one of the commenters pointed out, the CCC is a for-profit company dealing with licensing copyrighted material. In other words, they’re not exactly a credible, unbiased source, and the video neglects to go into much detail about fair use. The U.S. Copyright office openly acknowledges that fair use is murky at best. According to their website:

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.

Basically, fair use allows the use of a small portion of a copyrighted work for educational, non-profit purposes. The CCC video, while it’s entertaining and I recommend you watch it, basically glosses over this completely and makes copyright out to be a confusing behemoth to be handled only by experts. Although I fully support authors being compensated for their hard work and intellectual property, I think the scientific community and intellectual community at large will benefit from the move towards open access publishing, particularly when the authors retain their copyright under Creative Commons licenses so others can easily learn about and build on their work. However, I’m certainly no expert and I’d love to hear what others have to say about the subject.

Mike Libby crafts amazing art pieces from an unlikely partnership: dead insects and antique watches. His work explores the intersections between science and science fiction (although they look more steampunk to me), and the whimsical pieces are far less creepy than you’d think, with more than a hint of childlike fantasy.

longhorn beetle

I’d much rather have this grasshopper displayed on my wall than find him in my garden.