Despite the roof of the historic Parisian cathedral being shrouded in flames on Monday, the hives, which were situated on the roof of the building’s first floor, survived without so much as a scratch.
“Thank goodness the flames didn’t touch them,” said beekeeper Nicolas Geant. “It’s a miracle.”
For several days following the fire it was unclear whether or not the hives had been destroyed. It wasn’t until aerial photos were taken that it was possible to confirm that they had survived.
“I was incredibly sad about Notre Dame because it’s such a beautiful building, and as a Catholic it means a lot to me,” said Geant.
“But to hear there is life when it comes to the bees, that’s just wonderful.”
Beekeeping on rooftops is surprisingly common in Paris with several prominent buildings hosting their own hives as part of a concerted effort to help curb the decline in bee populations.
In total there are thought to be at least 700 hives spread across the city.
(For the source of this, and many other quite interesting articles, and to watch a video relating to it, please visit: https://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/news/327071/miracle-as-bees-survive-notre-dame-blaze)
An incredible new study suggests that low-intensity ultrasound can be used to target very specific brain regions and alter an animal’s decision-making processes. The technique, demonstrated in macaques monkeys, prompts actual behavioral changes using non-invasive ultrasound waves.
It is only recently that researchers have begun exploring the effects of low-intensity ultrasound on the brain. Although it is commonly known for its imaging potential, ultrasonic waves can also be highly targeted to modulate brain activity. One exciting human trial is currently underway investigating targeted ultrasound as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia, while a fascinating case study published in 2016 demonstrated the technology stimulating the neurons of a young coma patient, essentially “jump-starting” their brain.
“Ultrasound neurostimulation is an early-stage, non-invasive therapeutic technology that has the potential to improve the lives of millions of patients with mental health conditions by stimulating brain tissues with millimeter accuracy,” explains Elsa Fouragnan, from the University of Plymouth and lead scientist on the new study.
The research focused on a cognitive process called counterfactual thinking. This is a part of our decision making processes where we evaluate scenarios that are alternative to our current experience. The researchers give the example of imagining the alternative experience of spending time outside in the sun while working inside the confines of an office.
This specific cognitive process is vital in helping us assess all our available options and choosing the most positive future action. Some scientists hypothesize that psychiatric patients demonstrating repetitive dysfunctional behaviors suffer from irregular counterfactual cognitive processes. The new research set out to home in on where exactly in the brain this cognitive process occurs, and whether targeted low-intensity ultrasound can modulate the process.
“This is a really exciting study for two main reasons – firstly because we discovered that the cingulate cortex is crucial to help switch to better alternatives, and secondly because low-intensity ultrasound can be used to reversibly change brain activity in a very precise part of the brain,” says Fouragnan.
Studying the behavior of four macaques monkeys, the researchers revealed neuronal activity in the anterior cingulate cortex is vital to effective counterfactual thinking. Low-intensity ultrasound was then used to effectively disrupt neuronal activity in that brain region, resulting in the animals displaying different decision-making outcomes.
It’s still very early days for this kind of research, but Fouragnan is hopeful the work can move into human trials very soon.
“Presently, neuromodulation techniques do exist for humans, to help people with conditions such as major depression or Parkinson’s,” he says. “But there are no techniques that have this level of accuracy while remaining non-invasive.”
The new study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Source: University of Plymouth
[Maybe “They” are already “Altering our thinking”…!]
(For the source of this, and many additional interesting articles, please visit: https://newatlas.com/ultrasound-brain-neuromodulation-decision-making/59314/)
Recently, a release from Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy confirmed the sad fate of the Bramble Cay melomys, a tiny brown rat that is officially extinct, very likely due to climate change. Though the release officially lays the creature to rest, those who have watched its fate over five years have found little peace. Scientists, federal officials, and the local governments are now squabbling over the casket.
The extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys was marked by little fanfare. An announcement about its extinction is tucked away in a release issued by Melissa Price, who serves as Australia’s Minister for the Environment. The release classifies the endangered status of 11 Australian plants and animals, including the Bramble Cay melomys, which was transferred from the “endangered category” to the “extinct category.” It is only mentioned in a reference table at the bottom of the page.
More importantly, despite the fact that climate change has been implicated in the decline, and possible extinction, of the tiny mammal several times in the past, the phrase climate change is completely absent from the release.
Climate Change and the Bramble Cay Melomys
In a 2016 report, scientists at the University of Queensland in Australia noted that the consistent rise in sea level and increases in storm frequency on Bramble Cay — a small, sandy island off the Great Barrier Reef — were the major drivers behind the rat’s dwindling numbers. The conclusion of that report led the state of Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science to confirm the animal’s extinction in 2017. On the state government’s site, the creature is referred to in the past tense, and climate change is implicated in its demise:
Available evidence indicates that the anthropogenic climate change-induced impacts of sea-level rise, coupled with an increased frequency and intensity of weather events that produced damaging storm surges and extreme high water levels, particularly during the last decade, were most likely responsible for the extirpation of the Bramble Cay melomys from Bramble Cay.
The 2016 report sparked international attention. At the time, outlets from the Guardian to National Geographic contemporaneously reported that the melomys was the first mammal to go extinct due to climate change. The federal government of Australia, however, didn’t officially acknowledge the animal’s extinction until Price’s release.
Ignored by the Federal Government
Importantly, the federal release doesn’t make any special note of the role of climate change in the melomys’ unique fate. Instead, it focuses on the pressing and tragic decline of all endangered species in the country but doesn’t go into details about the driver behind those changes. Inverse has reached out to Price regarding these details and will update the article accordingly.
The fact that Australia’s current federal government was late to the game in declaring the extinction of the bramble cay melomys and failed to draw specific attention to the role of climate change in its demise has invited wide condemnation about the government’s attitude toward climate change. Queensland’s Environmental Minister Leeanne Enoch, for one, has criticized the lack of emphasis on climate change in the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys in Price’s report.
“We have consistently called on [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison and Melissa Price to show leadership on climate change, instead of burying their heads in the sand,” Enoch said, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. “How many more species do we have to lose for the federal government to take action?”
The spokesperson for Australia’s federal Ministry of Environment, Geoff Richardson, told The Sydney Morning Herald that research had been ongoing in the intervening years since the 2016 report, and that the government wanted to make “absolutely certain” before they declared it gone for good. The 2016 report, for its part, mentioned that there could be some melomys individuals on Papua New Guinea, noting that “it may be premature to declare the Bramble Cay melomys extinct on a global scale.”
As of today, however, the message is clear: the Bramble Cay melomys is gone, and maybe has been for years. But while the Australian government has finally officially recognized the loss of the little brown rat, there’s still little emphasis on the sad, human-caused reason that it no longer exists.
Update Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. Eastern: Melissa Price, Australia’s Minister for the Environment told Inverse that the agency declared the Bramble Cay melomys extinct “following exhaustive surveys undertaken in all known habitat leaving no reasonable doubt.”
In regards to the causes of the Bramble Cay melomys’ extinction, she added:
Being confined to a single, very small and isolated location, the Bramble Cay Melomys was particularly susceptible to a wide range of threats. Available evidence indicates that frequent and intense weather events during the decade 2004 to 2014 produced damaging storm surges and extreme high water levels, which were likely significant contributors.
(For the source of this, and many additional interesting articles, please visit: https://www.inverse.com/article/53411-rip-bramble-cay-melomys-the-first-mammal-killed-by-climate-change/)
Whales weren’t always the giants of the sea that we know today – their ancestors plodded around on land before taking to a more aquatic lifestyle. Now a team of palaeontologists has uncovered the fossil bones of a strange new “missing link” whale species, which had four legs and was amphibious.
Named Peregocetus pacificus, the whale species was dated to about 42.6 million years ago, during the middle Eocene epoch. Measuring 4 m (13 ft) long, its four legs, tail and snout make it look more like an otter than a whale.
The creature was clearly just as comfortable on dry land as it was in the water. The team discovered tiny hooves on the tips of its toes – a holdover from its land-dwelling ancestors, which also gave rise to animals like camels and pigs. But they also found clues that indicated those toes were webbed, helping Peregocetus swim. The structures of the vertebrae in its tail, similar to those in beavers and otters, also suggested that its tail played a key role in swimming.
Although Peregocetus isn’t the first four-limbed amphibious whale species to be discovered, it does help plug a big hole in the origin story of whales. It’s long been thought that these amphibious whales originated somewhere around southern Asia more than 50 million years ago, before making their way westward to Africa, then the Americas.
This discovery fits into that narrative nicely. These bones were found in southern Peru, in a coastal desert region named Playa Media Luna, indicating they’d reached South America 42.6 million years ago. After that, it’s believed they migrated up to North America.
“This is the first indisputable record of a quadrupedal whale skeleton for the whole Pacific Ocean, probably the oldest for the Americas, and the most complete outside India and Pakistan,” says Olivier Lambert, corresponding author of the study. “We will keep searching in localities with layers as ancient, and even more ancient, than the ones of Playa Media Luna, so older amphibious cetaceans may be discovered in the future.”
The research was published in the journal Current Biology.
(For the source of this, and many other interesting articles, please visit: https://newatlas.com/amphibious-whale-fossil/59169/)
The growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is seeing scientists get more and more creative in their search for new drugs that might help us maintain the upper hand. Tobacco flowers, rattlesnake venom and Brazilian berries are just a few of the places to turn up exciting new antibiotic candidates of late, and now researchers have uncovered what they say is a potential goldmine of antibiotics in the form of fish slime.
The mucus that coats the surfaces of fish mightn’t seem like a great place to search for life-saving medicines, but this sticky slime plays a vital role in helping fish fend off a host of fungi, bacteria and dangerous pathogens by snaffling microbes before they can do their dirty work.
“Fish mucus is really interesting because the environment the fish live in is complex,” says Molly Austin, an undergraduate chemistry student at Oregon State University and member of the research team. “They are in contact with their environment all the time with many pathogenic viruses.”
That the slime is also known to hold vast amounts of polysaccharides and peptides with antibacterial properties was further impetus for the researchers to explore its antibiotic potential. To do this, they worked with mucus swabbed from juvenile deep-sea and surface dwelling fish caught off the coast of Southern California.
Younger fish were chosen for their underdeveloped immune systems and thicker layers of mucus, in the hope that they would offer a higher abundance of active bacteria. The team isolated and then screened 47 different strains of bacteria, and uncovered a number of new antibiotic candidates.
Five of the extracts strongly repelled the advances of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), as did bacteria taken from the mucus of a particular Pacific pink perch. That same bacteria inhibited activity of a colon carcinoma cell line, and three others inhibited the pathogenic fungus Candida albicans.
While all of this is exciting, the researchers aren’t getting too carried away. Before they call jackpot on the antibiotic potential of fish slime, they will seek to determine whether these particular bacteria are a typical and essential part of the animal’s microbiomes, or had simply happened to hop on for a ride at the time of the swabbing.
And this kind of work could have ripple effects beyond simply leading to new drugs that keep humans healthy. Better understanding of fish microbiomes could be of huge assistance to the conservation of marine life, which is under increasing strain from overfishing, plastic pollution, and warming oceans.
The team is presenting the research at the American Chemical Society Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition this week.
Source: American Chemical Society
(For the source of this, and many other equally interesting articles, please visit: https://newatlas.com/superbug-potential-fish-slime/59121/)
It was just last month that we heard about a study which indicated that fewer horseflies landed on mannequins with stripes painted onto them. The research was inspired by observations that zebras also tend not to be bothered much by flies. A separate study now offers an explanation as to why that’s the case.
Conducted by scientists from the University of Bristol and the University of California – Davis, the second study involved zebras and domestic horses living at a stable in North Somerset, UK. Utilizing video analysis techniques, it was found that while equal numbers of horseflies circled both types of horses, far fewer actually landed on the zebras.
In order to determine if the stripes were responsible for this difference, the researchers proceeded to cover all of the animals in cloth coats that were either solid white, solid black, or zebra-striped. Sure enough, regardless of whether it was a zebra or a domestic horse wearing the coat, flies landed on the solid colors while largely avoiding the stripes.
It would therefore seem to follow that other variables, such as zebras’ odor or behaviour, weren’t factors in keeping the flies from landing. When flies did land on the zebras, however, the wild horses were more diligent about swishing their tails or running away to get rid of them.
UC Davis wildlife biologist Tim Caro observes zebra behavior in response to biting fly annoyance.
So, what is it that flies don’t like about stripes?
“This reduced ability to land on the zebra’s coat may be due to stripes disrupting the visual system of the horseflies during their final moments of approach,” says U Bristol’s Dr. Martin How. “Stripes may dazzle flies in some way once they are close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes.”
A paper on the research, which was led by UC Davis’ Prof. Tim Caro, was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.
(For the source of this, and many additional interesting articles, please visit: https://newatlas.com/zebras-horses-flies-stripes/58583/)
A team of Japanese and Russian scientists has successfully “reawakened” cells from a 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth, according to a study published recently in Scientific Reports.
The cells came from an extraordinarily well-preserved woolly mammoth discovered in Siberian permafrost in 2012 and nicknamed “Yuka”.
Using a process called nuclear transfer, the scientists took nucleus-like structures from Yuka and implanted them into mouse oocytes, which are highly specialized cells that facilitate embryonic development.
The scientists then used a live-cell imaging technique to observe how the structures reacted in their new environment. They saw traces of biological activity.
“I was looking under the microscope at night while I was alone in the laboratory,” 90-year-old Akira Iritani, a co-author on the new study who’s spent years working toward resurrecting the woolly mammoth, told CNN. “I was so moved when I saw the cells stir. I’d been hoping for this for 20 years.”
(For the source of this, and other equally interesting articles, please visit http://www.BigThink.com).
If you want to study a mouse’s natural behaviour, then perhaps it isn’t best to grab the animal and place it in a setting where it’s required to perform a certain task at a certain time. That’s the thinking behind Autonomouse, a cage that’s designed to make life easier for lab mice, and to produce more accurate results in behavioural studies.
Developed by a team at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute, Autonomouse houses multiple mice living in a social group, who are supplied with running wheels, ladders, and unlimited access to food and water. The system can reportedly run for up to 18 months with only minimal human intervention, although there’s no word on how waste-removal is handled.
All of the mice have uniquely-coded RFID chips inserted under their skin. These are detected by a reader device, that’s able to ascertain factors such as each animal’s current weight, its activity level, and how much water it’s drinking.
By Stuart Reynolds, The Conversation –
There are an awful lot of insects. It’s hard to say exactly how many because 80 percent haven’t yet been described by taxonomists, but there are probably about 5.5 million species. Put that number together with other kinds of animals with exoskeletons and jointed legs, known collectively as arthropods — this includes mites, spiders, and woodlice — and there are probably about 7 million species in all.
Despite their ubiquity in the animal kingdom, a recent report warned of a “bugpocalypse,” as surveys indicated that insects everywhere are declining at an alarming rate. This could mean the extinction of 40 percent of the world’s insect species over the next few decades.
What is particularly worrying is that we don’t know exactly why populations are declining. Agricultural intensification and pesticides are likely a big part of the problem, but it’s certainly more complicated than that, and habitat loss and climate change could also play a part.
Although some newspaper reports have suggested that insects could “vanish within a century,” total loss is unlikely — it’s probable that if some species die out, others will move in and take their place. Nevertheless, this loss of diversity could have catastrophic consequences of its own. Insects are ecologically important, and if they were to disappear, the consequences for agriculture and wildlife would be dire.
The Sprawling Kingdom of Bugs
It’s difficult to overstate how many species there are. Indeed, the 7 million estimate above is likely a major underestimate. Lots of insects that look alike — so-called “cryptic species” — are distinguishable only by their DNA. There are an average of six cryptic species for every easily recognizable kind, so if we apply this to the original figure, the potential total number of arthropods balloons to 41 million.
Even then, each species has multiple kinds of parasites which are mostly specific to just one host species. Many of these parasites are mites which are themselves arthropods. Conservatively allowing just one kind of parasitic mite per host species brings us to a potential total of 82 million arthropods. Compared with only around 600,000 vertebrates — animals with backbones — that’s 137 species of arthropod for every vertebrate species.
Astronomical numbers like these caused the physicist-turned-biologist Sir Robert May to observe that “To a good approximation, all [animal] species are insects.” May was good at guessing big numbers — he became the UK Government’s chief scientist — and his quip in 1986 now seems pretty close to the mark.
That’s just diversity, though. How many individual insects would be lost in a mass extinction? And how much might they weigh? Their ecological importance will likely depend on both measures. It turns out that insects are so numerous that even though they are small, collectively, their weight far outstrips that of the vertebrates.
Perhaps the most celebrated ecologist of his generation, the Harvard ant enthusiast E.O. Wilson estimated that each hectare (2.5 acres) of Amazonian rainforest is inhabited by only a few dozen birds and mammals but well over 1 billion invertebrates, almost all of which are arthropods.
That hectare would contain about 200kg dry weight of animal tissue, 93 percent of which would be made up of invertebrate bodies, and a third of that being just ants and termites. This is uncomfortable news for our vertebrate-centric view of the natural world.
The Wriggling Foundations of Life
The role allotted to all these tiny creatures in the grand scheme of nature is to eat and be eaten. Insects are the key components of essentially every terrestrial food web. Herbivorous insects, which make up the majority, eat plants, using the chemical energy plants derive from sunlight to synthesize animal tissues and organs. The job is a big one, and is split into many different callings.
Caterpillars and grasshoppers chew plant leaves, aphids, and plant hoppers suck their juices, bees steal their pollen and drink their nectar, while beetles and flies eat their fruits and devastate their roots. Even the wood of huge trees is eaten by wood-boring insect larvae.
In turn, these plant-eating insects are themselves eaten, being captured, killed, or parasitized by yet more insects. All of these are, in their turn, consumed by still larger creatures. Even when plants die and are turned to mush by fungi and bacteria, there are insects that specialize in eating them.
Going up the food chain, each animal is less and less fussy about what kind of food it will eat. While a typical herbivorous insect might consume only one species of plant, insectivorous animals (mostly arthropods, but also many birds and mammals) don’t much care about what kind of insect they catch. This is why there are so many more kinds of insect than birds or mammals.
Because only a small fraction of the material of one kind of organism is transformed into that of its predators, each successive stage in the food chain contains less and less living matter. Even though efficiency in this process is known to be greater higher up the food chain, the animals “at the top” represent only a few percent of the total biomass. This is why big, fierce animals are rare.
And so it’s obvious that when insect numbers decrease, everything higher up in the food web will suffer. This is already happening — falling insect abundance in Central American tropical forest has been accompanied by parallel declines in the numbers of insect-eating frogs, lizards, and birds. We humans ought to be more careful about our relationship with the little creatures that run the world. As Wilson commented:
“The truth is that we need invertebrates, but they don’t need us.”
Knowing about insects and their ways is not a luxury. Wilson’s friend and sometime colleague Thomas Eisner said:
“Bugs are not going to inherit the Earth. They own it now.”
If we dispossess them, can we manage the planet without them?
3 Itsy Bitsy Reasons Spiders Aren’t Out to Get You
Don’t believe the web of lies.
By Gerhard J. Gries and Andreas Fischer –
It’s early in the morning. The buzzer goes off, you switch on the light, and immediately panic: a large spider sits on your bedroom wall!
Many people suffer from arachnophobia, which is the fear of spiders. Their arachnophobic responses range from subtle discomfort to fumigating their homes. Yet, they have no reason to be afraid of spiders. They just don’t know them well enough. Luckily, fact-based education of arachnophobes helps alleviate their extreme and irrational fear of spiders and enables them to live a less stressful and fearful life.
Education about spiders dispels fear, avoids misconceptions, and instills a sense of appreciation and wonder. Spiders are among the most fascinating and diverse creatures on Earth.
The Roots of Arachnophobia
No one knows the origin of this widespread arachnophobia. With respect to evolution, this phenomenon does not make immediate sense. Avoidance behavior to a perceived threat might have evolved if that threat were to be persistent. But spiders do not pose such persistent threats to humans. This is puzzling to scientists.
There are only a few spiders that could possibly harm us. Most spiders are physically not even able to cause any harm. They are unable to puncture our skin or their venom does not irritate our body tissue.
In Canada, black widow spiders have neurotoxins and can pierce through our skin, but they are not really dangerous to healthy adults (though children and the elderly would need to be watched). Black widows are not aggressive. For them to bite a person, you have to virtually squeeze them. The non-aggressiveness of most spiders, even the venomous ones, effectively renders them harmless.
Fake news about spiders dominate folklore and spread through the internet. For example, the bites of brown recluse spiders can cause necrosis, but it is their harmless cousins, the hobo spiders, that live in Canada. Similarly, false black widows — who look like black widows but are harmless — often find their way into our homes but are less likely to bite us than bees are to sting us when they accidentally fly into our homes.
Unfortunately, many alleged spider bites are misdiagnosed, and the bite symptoms were actually inflicted by other critters or microbes. Such misdiagnoses may even become health-threatening when they prompt inappropriate treatment(s) of the patient. For this reason alone, it is always helpful to capture the alleged biter so that it can be identified, and the patient be treated accordingly.
When encountering a spider at home, many people opt for spraying it with pesticide. But pesticides have long-lasting residual activity, adversely affecting us, our children, and pets. Strategically placed sticky traps (e.g. behind appliances) are a safe alternative to remove spiders and other unwanted creepy crawlies from our homes.
Spiders’ Place in the Ecosystems
By capturing countless insects, spiders play key roles in ecosystems and in agricultural and forestry settings. It is the friendly neighborhood spider that helps protect our crops from insect herbivores. Once we open our eyes to the world of spiders, we will be amazed instead of disgusted and be fascinated instead of fearful. A few stories may serve as examples.
Males of the nursery web spider offer bridal gifts to their future mates. While the female is enjoying her snack, he strives to mate with her before she finishes eating and before she wants him for “dessert.”
The phenomenal jumping ability when they pounce on prey “inspidered” the moniker jumping spiders and is only one reason why they are so fascinating. Entertainingly colorful, extremely photogenic, but no bigger than a thumbnail, the males of some jumping spiders put on a dance-off with remarkable moves to impress females. Jumping spiders use hydraulic pressure to extend their legs, and from a standstill can leap distances up to six times their body length. We humans have to contend with a standstill leaping distance of merely 1.5 times our body length. And just for the record, humans did not invent the hydraulics in our engines; we merely copied the spiders’ invention.
The tiny Darwin’s bark spider is another Guinness record holder. It builds beautiful 25 m wide(!) orb-webs across rivers. Its silk is one of the toughest natural materials known. If we were to weave it into T-shirts, they would be bullet-proof.
Spiders are diverse in shape and behavior. Some spiders build webs which they never leave, while others walk around to hunt, or dig tunnels within which they await prey passing by. Spiders weave many different types of webs, each serving a specific purpose. Other spiders won’t simply wait for prey, they attract it. Bolas spiders produce the female sex pheromone of some moths. This pheromone then attracts male moths that fly towards the spider in anticipation to find a moth mate. When the female spider hears the male moth approaching, she swings her sticky bola and snares him out of the air. The mosquito-terminator spider, on the other hand, spares no efforts to hunt down mosquitoes that have recently fed on blood.
Spiders may be more afraid of us than we are of them: They are not aggressive and would rather be left alone. If we consider the many things we can learn about and from spiders, our fear of them will turn into fascination for spiders.
(For the source of this, and other interesting articles, please visit: https://www.inverse.com/article/53322-why-you-shouldn-t-be-afraid-of-spiders/)