Terrifying ‘soul-sucking dementor wasp’ turns unlucky victims into ‘ZOMBIES’
This week, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported that 139 new species were discovered in the Greater Mekong region last year, including a species of wasp that can turn a cockroach into a Zombie and eat it alive as it pleases.
The species making headlines is a wasp named after fictional, soul-sucking prison guards known in the Harry Potter universe as Dementors.
WWF describes the wasp as “steal[ing] its prey’s free will with single sting before eating it alive,” and continues:
[Ampulex] dementor hunts cockroaches, injecting a venom into the mass of neurons on its prey’s belly that turns the roach into a passive zombie… the cockroach is still capable of movement, but is unable to direct its own body. Once the cockroach has lost control, the wasp drags its stupefied prey by the antennae to a safe shelter to devour it.
Once the cockroach has lost control, the wasp drags its stupefied prey by the antennae to a safe shelter to devour it.
Though the species is new, this group of wasps is not. Ampulex wasps are part of the Ampulicidae wasp species, known as cockroach wasps for their typical prey. This wasp, however, was named after Dementors as part of a group of researchers’ efforts to bring the public into the process of naming new species.
Here’s the emerald cockroach wasp a cousin of the Dementor which does a similar thing.
The researchers, led by Michael Ohl, invited 300 museum visitors to choose from four possible names for the new species, and explained how each was connected to the wasp. Dementor—“magical beings, which can consume a person’s soul, leaving their victims as an empty but functional body without personality and emotions”—reigned supreme.
Giant pythons have ‘homing instinct’
By James Morgan
Science reporter, BBC News
This enormous Burmese python burst trying to swallow an alligator in Florida in 2005
Giant Burmese pythons have map and compass senses which help them travel “home” over vast distances, scientists have been surprised to discover.
Pythons captured and relocated in Florida’s Everglades – where they are an invasive species – returned 23 miles (36km) to their original start point.
It is the first evidence that snakes may share a similar magnetic compass to other reptiles, such as sea turtles.
The findings are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is one of the largest snakes in the world. The biggest specimen ever caught measured more than 17ft (5m) and weighed 164lb (74kg).
The snakes coil around their prey and suffocate it – and have been known to swallow animals as large as alligators.
Although native to South East Asia, they have become established in Florida’s Everglades National Park – where they have been blamed for a staggering decline of mammals.
To study how these invasive predators migrate and spread, researchers captured 12 snakes and fitted them with GPS radiotransmitters.
Half were released where they were captured, but the other six were transported to other suitable habitats in the Everglades 13-23 miles (21-36 km) away.
Using aircraft to track their movements, the researchers were stunned by how quickly the snakes travelled homeward.
The pythons could navigate by the Sun, the stars, or by a magnetic compass
Five of the six returned within 5km of their original capture location – and their movement was faster than the control snakes.
“We were very surprised,” said lead author Shannon Pittman, of Davidson College, North Carolina.
“We anticipated the pythons would develop new home ranges where they were released. We didn’t expect them to orient back to their capture locations.
“This is evidence that Burmese pythons are capable of homing on a scale previously undocumented in any snake species.”
The experiment suggests the snakes have both a map sense (to determine their position in relation to home) and a compass sense (to guide their movement home).
Researchers say the map could be magnetic, like sea turtles, while the compass could be guided by the stars, olfactory (smell) cues, or by polarised sunlight – all of which have been shown to be used by reptiles.
“Other snakes likely do share this ability with pythons. But our understanding is limited by a dearth of research on the subject,” Ms Pittman told BBC News.
Some previous studies found that smaller snakes – sea kraits and garter snakes – can home over short distances, but not large constrictors.
“I’m impressed, but I’m not surprised – this verifies what many of us in the field have been seeing for years,” said Dr Stephen Secor of the University of Alabama, who researches Burmese python physiology.
“Reptiles know where they’re going – it’s not just random. They’re familiar with their home range.
“And I suspect that, if pythons can do this, all snakes can do it – rattlesnakes, vipers, the lot.”
Dr Stephen Secor says the pythons are actually gentle, docile creatures
Keeping in familiar territory may help snakes to find prey and mates, and the homing sense may allow them to return to their territory after exploratory forays, Ms Pittman said.
“We know that snakes tend to come back to some of the same sites throughout their lives – such as overwintering locations or refuges,” she told BBC News.
Understanding how invasive pythons migrate could help control their spread in Florida, she suggested.
But Dr Secor said the threat to the Everglades had been overstated: “Some people want to sell it as an ecological disaster. It’s really not.
“Burmese pythons can’t ever move beyond the Everglades. It’s too cold. The minute it freezes, it kills them,” he told BBC News.
“They’re actually very docile, gentle snakes. People who don’t like them don’t know a lot about them. They’re pretty amazing animals and we can learn a lot from them.”
And the first lesson we can learn from their homing ability, said Dr Secor, is “don’t pick reptiles up”.
“People see turtles crossing the road and try to move them to safety. But if you take them away, they’re just going to try and come back. You are doing more harm than good.
“Likewise with snakes – people find them in their yard, drive them off and dump them a mile down road. Then, three days later, the snake comes back.
“I hear these stories frequently: ‘It came back! The same snake!’ And I’m always kind of sceptical. Is it really the same snake? Or just another one that looks similar?
“But maybe these people were right all along. The snake really did come back.”
Here’s one big Australian python. The cameraman thought it was dead.
Brazil Amazon: Drone to scan for ancient Amazonia
By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent, San Jose
The drone to be used in the project has a wingspan of about 3m
Scientists are to scan the Amazon forest in Brazil to look for evidence of occupation by ancient civilisations.
A drone will be sent up with a laser instrument to peer through the canopy for earthworks that were constructed thousands of years ago.
The UK-led project is trying to determine how big these communities were, and to what degree they altered the landscape.
The data is likely to inform policies on sustainable forest use today.
Researchers announced the initiative at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose.
It has just won a 1.7m-euro (£1.25m; $1.9m) grant from the European Research Council.
The key quest is to try to understand the scale and activities of populations living in the late pre-Columbian period (the last 3,000 years before the Europeans arrived in the 1490s).
The international team will endeavour to find more geoglyphs, which are large geometric patterns left in the ground.
More than 450 of these are known in places where the forest has been cleared.
No-one is really quite sure what these earthen circles, squares and lines represent. Perhaps, they were ceremonial centres. But what is certain is that they are evidence of collective behaviour.
“It’s a hot debate right now in New World archaeology,” said Dr Jose Iriarte from Exeter University, UK.
“While some researchers think that Amazonia was inhabited by small bands of hunter-gatherers and shifting cultivators who had a minimal impact on the environment, and that the forest we see today is pristine and untouched for thousands of years – mounting evidence is showing this may not be the case.
“This evidence suggests that Amazonia may have been inhabited by large, numerous, complex and hierarchical societies that had a major impact on the environment; what we call the ‘cultural parkland hypothesis’,” he told BBC News.
The drone to be used in the project has a wingspan of about 3m
Dr Iriarte’s project will fly its robotic plane across sample areas of forest.
This vehicle’s lidar instrument should reveal how many more geoglyphs remain hidden beneath still-canopied regions of Amazonia.
While some of the light from the lidar scatters back off the leaves, some is able to penetrate to the ground.
A smart algorithm can then be used to separate the two signals, digitally removing the trees to expose anything unusual beneath.
If candidate geoglyphs are confirmed in follow-up inspections, scientists would then move in to characterise signature changes that have been left in the soils and vegetation by the ancient inhabitants.
These “fingerprints” could then be searched for in satellite images, enabling a much broader swathe of Amazonia to be probed than is possible with just a small unmanned aerial vehicle. The arguments over the scale of occupation and its impacts should then be settled.
In normal airborne imagery only the tops of the trees are visible
The lidar makes a map of the canopy in digital form…
…which can then be removed to leave only that signal of the laser that made it through to the ground
The project is a partnership between agencies and institutions in Europe and, of course, in Brazil.
The expectation is that lessons learned will feed into policies for the management and sustainable use of the Amazon and its resources.
Dr Iriarte said it was not possible to gauge properly what future changes would be acceptable unless there was a fuller understanding of how the forest had been altered in the past.
“We want to see what is the human footprint in the forest and then inform policy, because it may be the case that the very biodiversity that we want to preserve is the result of the past historical manipulation of this forest,” he explained.
The Ore Fish, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Monster?
Is the Ore fish San Francisco’s Golden Gate Monster as filmed by Bill and Bob Clark and featured in Animal X Natural Mystery Unit episode Monsters of the Deep? Could the mystery at last be solved?
This 18-foot-long (5.5 meters) oarfish was found off a beach in Southern California and is being held by staff from the Catalina Island Marine Institute.
They saw and video taped the monster on a number of occasions. In fact 9 times they have seen it. The footage Bill & Bob shot is controversial. Many people think it’s a monster but others think it’s just a flock of birds.
Here’s their story.
Now some people are suggesting it could have been a school of Ore fish especially in the light of two ore fish being washed up on Californian beaches.
This from CNN. By Alan Duke.
(CNN) — Marine biologists have a mystery to solve: Why have the carcasses of two rare oarfish washed up on Southern California shores within a week?
Sightings of the huge deep-sea creatures — dead or alive — are unusual, because they typically swim thousands of feet below the surface.
A dead 14-foot-long oarfish came ashore in Oceanside, California, on Friday afternoon, according to an Oceanside police dispatcher. A representative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was called to haul the serpent-like fish away for study, she said.
A group of third-graders on a beach study trip made the discovery, according to CNN affiliate KGTV.
The incident is especially puzzling because of the discovery made five days earlier by a marine science instructor while snorkeling off Catalina Island. Jasmine Santana was about 15 feet underwater when she found an 18-foot-long oarfish floating nearby. “I was first a little scared,” said Santana, who has been working for Catalina Island Marine Institute since January. “But when I realized it was an oarfish, I knew it was harmless.”
It took Santana 15 minutes to drag the dead fish ashore, where 14 others helped lift the 400-pound carcass out of the water.
“I was really amazed. It was like seeing something in a dream,” said Mark Waddington, the senior captain of Catalina Island Marine Institute’s sailing school vessel the “Tole Mour” who gave Santana a hand. “It’s the first time I ever witnessed an oarfish this big.” Follow @AnimalXTV
Ever heard of the Sex Tree aka the coco de mar… another Natural Mystery.
It only exists in a small vally on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Republic of the Seychelles, off the east coast of Africa.
The coco de mar or sea coconut or double coconut (Lodoicea maldivica), is a palm tree and the sole member of the genus Lodoicea. It formerly also was found on the small islets of St Pierre, Chauve-Souris and Ile Ronde (Round Island), all located near Praslin, but has become extinct there. The name of the genus, Lodoicea, is derived from Lodoicus, the Latinised form of Louis, in honour of King Louis XV of France.
The best place to see the coco de mar is in the Vallee de Mai on Praslin island. This lush tropical vally was once thought by Gordon of Khartoum to be the biblical Garden of Eden.
Coco de Mar – the double coconut
He not only believed that it was the Garden of Eden, he tried he’s hardest to prove it. He believed the Coco de Mai was the biblical tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eating its fruit caused Adam and Eve to be banished from the garden. The tree is one of the most endangered in the world. It once covered almost the whole of the island.
It’s the trees fruit with its erotic shape which was its downfall. The nuts were highly prized when found washed up on Indian Ocean shore lines and in the thirteenth century were worth as much as four thousand gold florins.
No one knew where they were coming from. When their location in the Seychelles was finally discovered, most of the forests were raised to the ground in an attempt to maintain their value.
Coco de Mar catkin
Their resemblance to the human body is also present in the male tree. Its catkin has a similarity to the male sex organ. There’s no wonder that this exotic and intriguing tree some of which live for over 1000 years has its own legend.