Aboriginal women in Western Australia’s north have encountered a strange, silky-haired mole that is only spotted a handful of times each decade.
The marsupial mole is found only in desert areas of northern and central Australia, and rarely surfaces from underground.
Kate Crossing, who co-ordinates an Indigenous Protected Area in the Gibson Desert, said she was stunned to see one of the animals during a field trip with the local Aboriginal rangers near the Northern Territory border.
“We saw this little golden creature run along the track in front of us, and as I brought the car to a stop, one of our rangers, Yelti, yelled out ‘Kakarratul!’ and jumped out and grabbed hold of it,” Ms Crossing said.
“It was less than the size of your hand, and it’s just this golden-coloured animal, with a little pink nose, and it lives almost all its life underground.
“It is so rare to see them above ground, so we were just amazed … we were so lucky.”
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The women, who are from the remote community of Kiwirrkurra, quickly took some photographs and video footage, before releasing the animal a little way off the road.
Ms Crossing said there was tremendous excitement as they were able to touch the fast-burrowing creature, which they call Kakarratul.
“Some of the people who’ve spent more time in the desert before [white] contact had seen a mole before, but not for many years, and there were younger people who’d never seen one properly,” she said.
“It had beautifully soft fur, and it looked really delicate … but it also had really strong front legs and feet. When we put it down, off the road, it went straight down and it was gone in less than 30 seconds.”
Relatively little is known about the marsupial mole, which is so well adapted to living underground it has no functioning eyes or ears.
Marsupial mole found by WA Indigenous rangers
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It is believed the crabs gather together for protection, although an alternative theory posits that mating is behind the behaviour
A marine scientist who was scuba diving off Melbourne has filmed a giant spider crab aggregation on the shores of Port Phillip Bay.
Victorian-based aquatic scientist Sheree Marris said approximately hundreds of thousands of crustaceans make their way to southern Australia’s shores between May and July each year as the ocean waters cool.
“What I found really interesting about this aggregation is I’ve never seen so many before,” she told the ABC.
“I swam in a straight line for four-and-a-half minutes and the crabs were thick on the sandy shallows. It was gobsmackingly amazing.
“[In previous years] I’ve swam maybe a minute-and-a-half to two minutes and [this year] I wasn’t going slow.
“It’s pretty awesome.”
But marine research biologist Dr Julian Finn from Museum Victoria said it is hard to know the exact number of crabs coming to Port Phillip Bay and why they choose to aggregate in large piles, because there is not a lot of research available about the crustaceans.
“But it is fantastic what is happening. It’s an amazing spectacle that people should go and see,” he said.
“We are really lucky that such an amazing thing happens near Melbourne.”
Ms Marris said the sight of all the crabs made her feel “like a kid on Christmas day, getting all their presents”.
“I was excited. I was like a kid in a candy shop. The ocean is my happy place,” she said, noting that, unlike most people, she is not afraid of the crabs.
Ms Marris is a sea life enthusiast who once won a Young Australian of the Year award
Ms Marris said the aggregation allows crabs to moult with “safety in numbers”.
“When the crabs have freshly moulted, their bodies are soft, making them vulnerable to predators such as rays and sharks,” she said.
“That’s why they commit to the shallows. For crustaceans, for them to grow, they need to shed their shell, which is really hard.
“They get out of their old shell and they grow a new shell, which is really soft and takes time to harden.
“So by being in this aggregation, it reduces their chances of being eaten. It’s like a case of safety in numbers.”
Display was like a ‘moving blanket of legs and claws’
In terms of deciding which crabs go on top of the pile, “it’s every crab for themselves,” Ms Marris said.
“There’s no hierarchy. It’s just this orange chaos of legs and claws. It’s a moving blanket of legs and claws really, it’s pretty awesome,” she said.
“At times they kind of just stack on top of each other and the maximum I’ve seen is 10.
“But that’s how deep it can actually get, which makes sense because if you’re on the top, you’re going to be more vulnerable, especially if they’ve just freshly moulted.”
The moulting process is determined by some biological cues and some environmental cues as well, Ms Marris said.
“What happens is when one starts moulting, it sets off a chain reaction and then you’ll get these massive moults. At the end of the video, you can see where they do start moulting,” she said.
“Some people freak out when they do start seeing [what they think has been] a mass death of crabs.” Follow @AnimalXTV
A FISH with wings, creepy green eyes and a nose like a wizard’s hat has been branded an alien after being caught by a shocked fisherman. From the Daily Star
Evil eyed alien fish?
The slimy black creature, which has a ridge of pointed quills on its back, was spotted among the day’s catch and photographed. It’s the latest in a series of strange finds in the world’s oceans and comes after another fish was found with legs.
A terrifying new species of shark – with a pitch black body – has also been discovered in the depths of the sea. The newest find was caught 30 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, by a fishing vessel. When a crew member posted a picture of it online, the fish was described as an alien by Reddit users. “Wow, it looks like an link in evolution,” wrote one person. “What is that birdfish?” Another posted: “We don’t need no stinkin’ aliens – we already got them!”
But other eagle-eyed commenters identified the fish as a black long-nosed chimaera. Chimaeras, which are related to sharks, are usually found between 8,500ft and 660ft deep. Reddit user McGuire72, who posted his photo of the creature online, said it was thrown back in the ocean. He wrote: “Unfortunately, from what I’ve read here, he’s a deep-sea fish and likely didn’t survive to get back down to the bottom.” This from National Geographic Kids.
Want more underwater mysteries?
Check this out from the Animal X Natural Mystery Unit. A one hour special on monsters of the deep. Ever hear of the Bloop? or the Welsh sea monster? What about the Monster of San Francisco Bay?
Scientists probe mysterious wave of antelope deaths
By Rory Galloway
BBC Science writer
Around 120,000 Saiga antelope have died so far
Around half of the world’s critically endangered Saiga antelope have died suddenly in Kazakhstan since 10 May.
An unknown environmental trigger is thought to have caused two types of normally benign bacteria found in the antelopes’ gut to turn deadly.
The animals die within hours of showing symptoms, which include depression, diarrhoea and frothing at the mouth.
Because it is calving season, entire herds of female antelope and their new-born calves have been wiped out.
“They get into respiratory problems, they can’t breathe easily. They stop eating and are extremely depressed; the mothers die and then the calves are very distressed and then they die maybe one or two days later,” said Richard Kock from the Royal Veterinary College in London.
Prof Kock spoke to the BBC’s Science in Action programme after joining an international team in Kazakhstan studying the causes of the die-off.
The Saiga antelope is a species adapted to cope with the extremes of temperature found on the central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan. They are about the size of a large sheep and once roamed in their millions from Great Britain to northern China.
Populations have fallen repeatedly due to hunting, reaching a low of around 50,000 individuals after the fall of the Soviet Union. This rendered the species critically endangered.
Hunting brought Saiga numbers to a low of 50,000 in the 1990s
Conservationists have made great progress with Saiga in recent years, due to international efforts to reduce poaching and monitor their populations.
This die-off is a severe setback to the conservation effort because it has wiped out four of the six calving herds in the largest remaining – and best protected – “Betpak-dala” population, in central Kazakhstan.
Steffen Zuther, head of the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan (ACBK), was monitoring calving in one of the herds containing thousands of affected animals.
“Over two days [in the herd I was studying] 80% of the calving population died,” he told the BBC.
The whole herd then died within two weeks.
Steffen Zuther has been monitoring herds of antelope in Kazakhstan
About 120,000 individual antelope have died, from a global population of approximately 250,000. Fortunately, mortality rates are now dropping, although the deaths continue in some populations.
“What we’re seeing is sort of a perfect storm of different factors,” Prof Kock explained.
Two different bacteria, pasteurelosis and clostridia, have been found in every dead animal studied. These bacteria are naturally found in the animals’ respiratory and gut systems, so something must have reduced the immunity of the animals.
One possible trigger is climatic. This year a very cold winter was followed by a wet spring, and this may have affected the immune competence of the animals, making them more vulnerable to the bacteria.
This, or some other trigger, pushed the animals past a threshold at which the bacteria overcame Saiga immune defences and became deadly enough to transmit to their calves.
dead antelope and calf
Because of its timing, the wave of deaths has claimed mothers and calves
“There’s no infectious disease that can work like this,” said Prof Kock. He added that the wave of Saiga deaths was not unprecedented. “[This] die-off syndrome has occurred on a number of occasions.”
In 1984, 2010 and 2012 there were massive die-offs, but none of these claimed such a massive proportion of the population. ‘Doesn’t make sense’
Despite these huge losses, Saiga antelope are surprisingly well adapted to recover quickly from population crashes.
“Its strategy for survival is based on a high reproductive rate, so [the Saiga] produce triplets and have the highest foetal biomass of any mammal. It’s built, in a sense, to recover from collapse,” Prof Kock said.
The Saiga’s natural habitat has dramatic temperature fluctuations. “In a very severe winter… you could lose 90% of the population.”
But losing 100% percent of some populations within two weeks “doesn’t make any sense” from a biological or evolutionary perspective, Prof Kock said.
There are five main populations of Saiga remaining in central Asia
Saiga antelope have been a conservation success story after recovering from their critical low in the 1990s. The animals now exist in five locations across central Asia, but all individuals affected by the sudden die-off are from the largest remaining Betpak-dala population in Kazakhstan.
This population consists of six major herds, of which four have been completely wiped out.
Steffen Zuther is going back into the field to investigate more remote populations. He hopes to identify what triggered this population collapse, so he can work to stop it happening again.
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.