salamanders, Uncategorized

News from The Treetalker

Today, for your holiday reading, four articles about salamanders, all from the New York Times. I found they have a number of articles about these sometimes exotic creatures, going back a few years, although these were all published in 2018.

“A Salamander of Legend Emerges From Southern Swamps,”
by Asher Elbein, Dec. 14, 2018

“It’s eel-shaped and leopard-spotted, and it has no hind-limbs. It grows to two feet long. And yet until recently, hardly anyone had ever seen it.

A team of researchers has discovered of new species of salamander in the pine forests of northern Florida and southern Alabama. The so-called reticulated siren is the largest vertebrate found in the United States in decades, and the first new member of its family since 1944.”

This is a link to the entire, fascinating article.


Photo: David Steen

“Vanishing in the Wild, These Salamanders Found Refuge in a Convent,”
by Geoffrey Giller, July 30, 2018

“The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, built in the 1500s with whitewashed walls and red stone columns, hosts a thriving colony of endangered salamanders. Scientists call them Ambystoma dumerilii, but the nuns in Pátzcuaro, Mexico call them achoques.

The achoques live their entire lives underwater and keep the external gills that most salamanders have only as aquatic larvae.

Carefully tended by the nuns, about 300 achoques live in glass aquaria and white enamel bathtubs lining the walls of a long hallway and two adjoining rooms in the convent. The nuns support themselves partly by selling a cough syrup called jarabe made from the salamanders’ skin.

They are found nowhere but Lake Pátzcuaro, and outside the convent their numbers are falling fast. This colony may be critical to the salamanders’ prospects in the wild.”

A link to the article is here.


“China’s Giant Salamanders Pose a Conservation Conundrum,”
by Rachel Nuwer, June 4, 2018

“The Chinese giant salamander, the world’s largest amphibian and a critically endangered species, has quietly slipped toward extinction in nature. Following an exhaustive, years long search, researchers recently reported that they were unable to find any wild-born individuals.

Millions of giant salamanders live on farms scattered throughout China, where the animals are bred for their meat. But another study by Dr. Turvey and his colleagues shows that reintroducing farmed animals is not a simple solution for saving the species in the wild.

In the wild, Chinese giant salamanders were not just one species but at least five, and perhaps as many as eight. On farms, they are being muddled into a single hybridized population adapted to no particular environment.

“The farms are driving the extinction of most of the species by homogenizing them,” said Robert Murphy, a co-author and senior curator of herpetology at the Royal Ontario Museum. “We’re losing genetic diversity and adaptations that have been evolving for millions of years.”

Many have been released into the wild, in the hope of maintaining the species, but the genetic mixup has created an issue of “pure” wild species.

Here is a link to the article.


photo credits: Goh Chai Hin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


“The Smiling Axolotl Hides a Secret: A Giant Genome,”
by Nicholas Bakalar, Feb. 1, 2018

“Scientists have decoded the genome of the axolotl, the Mexican amphibian with a Mona Lisa smile. It has 32 billion base pairs, which makes it ten times the size of the human genome, and the largest genome ever sequenced.

The axolotl, endangered in the wild, has been bred in laboratories and studied for more than 150 years. It has the remarkable capacity to regrow amputated limbs complete with bones, muscles and nerves; to heal wounds without producing scar tissue; and even to regenerate damaged internal organs.

This salamander can heal a crushed spinal cord and have it function just like it did before it was damaged. This ability, which exists to such an extent in no other animal, makes its genes of considerable interest.

This is the first salamander genome ever sequenced. The reason it took so long is that it has so many repetitive parts. The study’s author believes that it will open up a wealth of opportunities in studying how organisms regenerate.”

Here is the link.


photo credit: Research Institute of Molecular Pathology

Spotlight on:

Harbor seal    
Although Harbor seals have the greatest geographical range of all seals, encompassing both Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in the Northern Hemisphere, they stay in the coastal areas, rarely going out into the ocean further than ten miles.
They hunt alone, but are sociable when they “haul out” to rest or breed on places that are protected, which can be a beach, a rocky shore, or an iceberg.
Before a seal pup is born, it is covered with a white wooly coat. At birth, it weighs about twenty-five pounds and can swim and dive within four hours. The mother’s milk is 40% fat, so the pup doubles its weight the first month, after which time it is left to learn to hunt and fend for itself.
Seals are distantly related to dogs and bears. They have upper and lower arms and legs that are concealed, and only their hands and feet extend outside the casing of the skin. The hands and feet are known as “flippers,” and are flat and elongated, each having five digits.
They typically dive for about three minutes at a time, but can stay underwater for a half an hour and dive as deep as 600 feet. To do this, they breathe out before diving, using oxygen already in their bodies and slowing their heartbeat from about one hundred beats per minute to ten. In one breath a seal exchanges 90% of the air in its lungs, while we can only change 20%.
Both the United Kingdom and the United States prohibit the killing of seals, although there can be a high mortality rate for pups in some countries, as they can get caught in bottom trawl nets. From Volume 3 of Secret Voices: Crabapple Companions


Secret Voices from the Forest – Volume Three: The East is available on Amazon.

Vol. 3 - The East copy

cutting pollution, Environment, environmental agencies, Green Movement, Renewable Energy, Solar energy, solar power, Uncategorized, water purification, Weather, Wildlife

News from The Treetalker

Large wind and solar farms in the Sahara would increase heat, rain, vegetation

September 6, 2018

Wind and solar farms are known to have local effects on heat, humidity and other factors that may be beneficial — or detrimental — to the regions in which they are situated. A new climate-modeling study finds that a massive wind and solar installation in the Sahara Desert and neighboring Sahel would increase local temperature, precipitation and vegetation. Overall, the researchers report, the effects would likely benefit the region.

read the article here.


Map by Eviatar Bach

GOING THE DISTANCE  Painted ladies travel 12,000 km each year, farther than any known butterfly migration

By Leah Rosenbaum, June 20, 2018

Though found across the world, the orange-and-brown beauties that live in Southern Europe migrate into Africa each fall, crossing the Sahara on their journey; analysis of butterfly wings suggests that the butterflies head back to Europe in the spring. The round-trip is about 2,000 more than successive generations of monarchs are known to travel in a year. Some tenacious individuals even make the return trip in a single lifetime.

Read the article here.


A Leader in the War on Poverty Opens a New Front: Pollution
By Kendra Pierre-Louis, Aug. 24, 2018

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is resurrecting the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement started by Martin Luther King Jr. He sees the climate and environment as issues on par with poverty and racism.

He and Al Gore are bringing attention to the problem of coal ash, its pollution of local drinking water and the health of citizens and workers in the area.

Read the article here.


endangered species, energy efficiency, Environment, environmental agencies, Excerpts, green building materials, Green Movement, habitat restoration, invasive species, Nature, plants, Renewable Energy, Solar energy, solar power, Uncategorized, Wildlife

News from The Treetalker

July 20, 2018 – In her blog for Scientific American, Jennifer M. Archambault wrote about Using Herbicides to Save Endangered Snails.

The habitat of the rare, tiny Panhandle pebbles snail, which consumes algae and other microorganisms and is integral to maintaining the ecological balance in river systems, is threatened by an invasive aquatic plant called hydrilla. Introduced through the aquarium trade in the 1950s into the ponds and canals of Florida, it has worked its way into many southern states and is on the Federal Noxious Weeds list. Humans aid in its spread, as it can easily propigate from small fragments on boat motors or fishing equipment. After much field study and testing, it was found in a pilot study in the Eno River in North Carolina that, with applications of a herbicide, the hydrilla is dramatically thinning, and the snails’ population is growing. A great deal of work is left to do to control the hydrilla in the greater Southern water system, but the data gives hope. Read Jennifer’s blog post here.

From ScienceDaily, July 5, 2018. Bacteria-powered solar cell converts light to energy, even under overcast skies!

U of BC researchers have found a cheap, sustainable way to build a solar cell using bacteria that convert light to energy. Their cell generated a current stronger than any previously recorded from such a device, and worked as efficiently in dim light as in bright light. This innovation could be a step toward wider adoption of solar power in places like British Columbia and parts of northern Europe where overcast skies are common. This is great news, particularly since it’s from Canada, where the government hopefully cares about its environment more than the current administration in the U.S.

“We recorded the highest current density for a biogenic solar cell. These hybrid materials that we are developing can be manufactured economically and sustainably, and, with sufficient optimization, could perform at comparable efficiencies as conventional solar cells.” Read the article here.

Another article from ScienceDaily, June 18, 2018

Cementless fly ash binder makes concrete ‘green’
Engineers use byproduct from coal-fired power plants to replace Portland cement. It is made primarily of fly ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. If you noticed an article in the NY Times this week that reported the EPA is easing standards on the disposal of toxic coal ash, this development could provide some way of cleaning up some of the messes created by these plants. Read more about this new composite, environmentally friendly material here.

Another, related article about this sustainable alternative to traditional concrete using coal fly ash is here. This article mentions that the production method doesn’t require heating, which is one of the other polluting aspects of concrete manufacture. The cement less binder also aids groundwater and mitigates flooding, because water can pass through it, unlike cement. Read this article here.

Also, Focus On the Anhinga.

This bird quickly spears a fish with its sharp bill, then flips it into the air and swallows it head first. Sometimes the Anhinga spears the fish so hard it has to return to shore to get the fish off its bill by banging the fish against a rock.
Also known as snakebird, the Anhinga sometimes swims slowly underwater stalking fish around submerged vegetation, but when hunting at the surface, it stretches its head and neck flat out on the surface of the water, above its submerged body. With head and neck stretched out, it has the appearance of a snake is gliding through the water.
The Anhinga’s feathers are not waterproofed with oils, and can get waterlogged, but this helps it stay submerged for long periods of time. Afterwards, it will perch for long periods with its wings spread to dry them. If it tries to fly with wet wings, it has difficultly getting airborne, so it has to take off by flapping energetically and running on the surface of the water.
Once in the air, it is a graceful flier and can go long distances without flapping its wings, using thermals for soaring, and can achieve altitudes of several thousand feet.





from  Secret Voices from the Forest, Volume Two:

Eastern Subterranean Termite

Eastern Subterranean Termite


I’ve been working on the Companions for several months now, and will be showing a few of them, more or less as they will appear in Volume Two, as well as other bits and pieces, till the Volume is released. I’m guessing that won’t be till 2014 at the earliest.

Eastern Subterranean Termite
Reticulitermes flavipes forms subterranean colonies of several hundred to several million individuals. Members of the highly organized community consist of three castes: workers, soldiers, and reproductives. The largest number of colony members, the workers, are sterile and do all the grunt work, but are capable of molting into other castes. Soldiers, whose job is defending the colony, cannot molt into anything else, and also cannot feed themselves, so are fed by the workers. They only make up one to two percent of the colony. The reproductives—the king, queen, alates, or winged primary reproducers—those destined to start new colonies, alate nymphs, and supplementary reproductives (spares), make up the rest.
All castes look different. Workers are blind, wingless, and about 1/8 inch long. Soldiers are slightly larger, and have large mandibles that are used for defense. Alates have wings and compound eyes and are a darker color. Queens can produce up to 2000 eggs a day, adding extra sets of ovaries, their bodies can become massive, their extended abdomens getting as long as 3.5 inches over the period of their forty-five year life spans. The king, who looks more like a worker, remains necessary to the queen’s reproductive ability for life, unlike ant consorts, who mate with their queen only once, then become superfluous.
Although termites ingest wood, they cannot digest wood fibers. They rely on protozoa, single-celled animals, and bacteria living in their gut to free up the cellulose. Because termites can produce up to two liters of hydrogen from digesting a single sheet of paper, they are one of the planet’s most efficient bioreactors. Fermenting bacteria in the bodies of the termites produce simple sugars, which are then used by other bacteria, producing hydrogen as a by-product. The U.S. Department of Energy is studying this process, and hopes there is potential to scale it up enough to generate commercial quantities of hydrogen from woody biomass.