Nature: October 2009 Archives

Mexican Axolotls Face Extinction In The Wild

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Axltl4.jpgMexican axolotls are strange salamanders that never lose their larval gills or dorsal fins. Using a process called neoteny, they do not undergo metamorphosis yet become adults underwater, where they will stay for their entire lives. But, because their freshwater habitat near Mexico City is being drained and polluted, it is not likely that the comical-looking amphibians will survive in the wild. Their popularity in aquariums and as pets has also led to the creature's diminishing numbers. Fish that prey on salamanders were introduced into the ecosystem, which was detrimental to the axolotls' populations because the amphibians are not used to being hunted, except by natural threats like herons and other large birds. And, in some places, humans consider axolotls a delicacy.

Because large populations of captive axolotls exist, they will not go entirely extinct. Reintroduction of the species is unlikely for many reasons, primarily because they would have less genetic diversity and would be more susceptible to a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis, which can be fatal to amphibians and is very difficult to cure. It has currently infected thirty percent of all amphibian species.

There are seven species of axolotls, but only the Mexican axolotls never lose their gills. The others are capable of never "growing up" and coming out of the water, but they only stay larvae if the temperature is too cold for them to become adults. The carnivorous Mexican axolotls can live up to fifteen years. Like some lizards, they can replace lost body parts and are therefore used in scientific research. They grow up to 1 foot long and are currently specified as critically endangered.

But there is a chance that the axolotls will not go extinct in the wild. Scientists are working to create new refuges for the animals to live in, so that their numbers do not continue to fall and, ultimately, so that the cute creatures will survive in nature.

The Indian Cheetah: Return From Extinction?

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indian cheetah 2.jpgAsiatic cheetahs once were the dominant inhabitants of the Indian grasslands. Today none are left anywhere but in Iran, where 100 are still surviving. Few Asiatic cheetahs are raised in captivity, and only one litter has been bred in India. They were called "hunting leopards" during Britain's colonialism of India because they were used by the royalty to hunt wild antelope until the cats themselves became hunters' trophies. Habitat loss to growing farmlands also led to the cheetah's eventual extinction.

But reintroducing them is not an easy task either. Iran refused India's requests for two Asiatic cheetahs and would not let them have samples from a captive cheetah that might enable scientists to clone the species. As a result, India is considering importing African cheetahs instead of the Asiatic ones. Because there are few differences between them scientists do not think there will be a problem with introducing the African subspecies.

Some environmentalists are concerned that the cheetahs will be living in a huge zoo-like environment and not truly in the wild. Other threats include poaching due to pecuniary causes or genetic similarities, which cause deficient immune systems and, in cheetahs, deformed tails. Another danger is farmers' concerns for their livestock, which may lead them to hunt the cats. However, cheetahs, preferring wild prey, do not actually kill domesticated animals if they can help it. The males, however, will include farmland as part of their territory, causing problems. (Females do not mark territories.)

Hopefully the Indian government will succeed in its efforts to import the cheetahs, because they are the only big cats not found in India, as their tiger and lion populations are growing. And - hopefully soon - the fastest land animal in the world will again prevail on the plains of India.

More Information:
India plans return of the cheetah
Asiatic Cheetah
India asks for roadmap for reintroduction of cheetahs

Ding-Bats in The Belfry

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A black shadow darts overhead in the twilight sky. It lands on a branch and twists upside down. Realizing it's a bat, you dart back into the house.

frtbttng.jpgNot all bats live up to their frightening reputation, however. Fruit bats are an essential pollinator for wild bananas, peaches, mangoes and dates, as well as scattering their seeds through droppings. The diverse diet of bats extends even to flowers and nectar, like the Cave Nectar Bats of Southeast Asia.

Echolocation is one of the many extraordinary features of bats. They issue a clicking sound that bounces off objects and echoes back. The bat can judge the distance and decide where it wants to go. To listen to bat sounds, Click Here.

Not very many bats are blood-sucking monsters, like in the mostly fictional vampire stories. Only three species out of the thousands discovered feed on blood. Bats, instead of being eerie denizens of the dark, are actually only another mammal and their 12 endangered species should be taken care of.

Top Ten Things To Do For The Environment

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1. Cut up 6-pack rings because animals can choke on these.
lbd.jpg2. Avoid balloons or other flimsy plastic items. Turtles can choke on these because they mistake them for jellyfish and eat them.
3. Recycle everything that can be recycled. Buy recycled paper or notebooks at the store.
4. Try to reduce use of heat or air conditioning. Instead, turn on the fan or don a handy sweater.
5. Try to get out of using your car. Instead you can buy a bike or, if it is a short distance, walk.  
6. Plant trees in your garden. That reduces pollution in the air and gives shade.   
7. Reduce usage of water by not turning it on full blast in the sink or turning it off while you wash in the shower.
8. Turn off lights or the television when you leave a room: it saves electricity.  
9. Don't throw any food out the car window. That teaches animals to hunt by the road and eventually they get run over.
10. If you don't need bags at the grocery store, say it. That reduces plastic usage (see above) and saves paper. Another option is reusable bags.   

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Nature category from October 2009.

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