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Animal Science

The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world. SavvyExacta is a lifelong animal enthusiast with more than 20 years of experience with horses. Freckles (an English setter) is a frequent topic on the blog. Other CR4 bloggers occasionally add great posts.

Mosquito PSA

Posted June 15, 2016 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

Hooray for summer! Get ready for the glorious sun, warm late-night campfires, beaches, and…. mosquitos. Ugh.

With mosquito-borne diseases like Zika and West Nile as major health concerns, it's important to take steps to preventing mosquito bites.

An easy way to do this is to get rid of their breeding ground. The Center for Disease Control recommends removing any collected water from your yard and from inside your house once a week. Standing water can be found hiding in old tires, clogged gutters, bird baths, and in a leftover cup from last week's backyard BBQ. Even the dish under a potted plant can hold enough water for mosquitoes to breed.

These bugs can also breed in the house, so be sure to check and change anything that collects water inside the house as well.

It's important to do this every week because the life cycle of a mosquito begins when one lays its egg on or near standing water. The egg turns to larva, pupa and then emerges as an adult in a week.

And don't forget - they're more attracted to you after a few brews!

1 comments; last comment on 06/17/2016
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New Species of 2016

Posted June 09, 2016 4:43 PM by Chelsey H

Every year on Carolus Linnaeus’s (the father of modern taxonomy) birthday, the International Institute for Species Exploration releases its list of the top new species.

What blows my mind is that the list below shows only 10 of 18,000 new species found over the previous 12 months. And scientist believe that 10 million species are still waiting to be discovered!

Top 10 New Species for 2016

Giant tortoise (Chelonoidis donfaustoi)

Although very similar looking to the other giant tortoises of the Galapagos, this giant was found on the eastern part of the island and there are only about 250 of them left. So this discovery has immediate conservation implications.

Giant Sundew (Drosera magnifica)

This giant sundew (a carnivorous plant) was discovered via photos posted on Facebook. Located in Brazil, the massive 48 inches sundew is the largest that’s ever been seen. So why'd it take so long to find it? It exists only at the summit of a single mountain in Brazil, 5,000 feet above sea level. Image Credit

Hominin (Homo naledi)

A new step in the evolutionary timeline has been pinpointed with the discovery of Homo naledi. Discovered in South Africa, the hominin shares some features with modern humans (similar size and weight) and some features with earlier ancestors that lived 2 million to 4 million years ago.

Isopod (Iuiuniscus iuiuensis)

Isopods are crustaceans that live in water or on land. What makes it a unique creature is that it makes shelters of mud to protect itself during the vulnerable time of shedding its exoskeleton. Found in Brazil, the luiunisus iuiuensis (say that five times fast!) is a third of an inch long, is blind, unpigmented and has a whole bunch of legs.

Anglerfish (Lasiognathus dinema)

While not the best looking entry on this year’s list, this anglerfish does have a cool feature – the fishing pole-like thing over its head is called the esca and it’s filled with bioluminescent bacteria that help it attract prey. The 2 inch long fish was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. Image Credit

Tiny beetle (Phytotelmatrichis osopaddington)

A beetle named after a teddy bear? Yup. This tiny beetle is named after Paddington Bear. So tiny that you'd have to line up 25 of them before you'd reach the one-inch mark. This species was discovered in Peru, making its home in the pools of water that collect in the hollows of plants, such as tree holes.

New primate (Pliobates cataloniae)

This discovery raised an interesting question: Could we be more closely related to gibbons than great apes? The small ape, named Laia by scientists, lived about 11.6 million years ago, and she appears to be related to humans, apes and gibbons.

Flowering tree (Sirdavidia solannona)

This new tree species was found just feet from the main road at Monts de Cristal National Park in Gabon, Africa. But it probably eluded discovery because scientists focused on larger trees. The Sirdavidia solannona is less 20 feet high, with a diameter of just 4 inches.

Seadragon (Phyllopteryx dewysea) 

Taking the prize for the coolest looking new find, the seadragon is nearly a foot long, ruby red with pink vertical bars. Discovered off the coast of Western Australia, it is the third known species of seadragons. Besides – how cool is the name ‘seadragon’? Image Credit

Sparklewing (Umma gumma)

Also found on Gabon — sixty new species of dragonflies and damselflies. That's the most for any single paper in more than 100 years. Scientists have been very creative with their names: Umma gumma. (You don't have to be a Pink Floyd fan to get that.)

List adapted from Ugly anglerfish, intriguing ape: The top 10 new species of 2016

4 comments; last comment on 06/13/2016
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Kill All Mosquitos?

Posted May 25, 2016 7:57 AM by HUSH

True story: last February I was scheduled to attend a destination wedding in Jamaica. Except a week before we left, the bride-to-be announced she would not be attending. She was pregnant and her doctor advised her not to travel to the Caribbean, as the Zika virus was just beginning to emerge in the region. So while the couple tied the knot in a private ceremony back home on the intended wedding day, 24 of their closest family and friends partied in paradise without them.

This is just a sliver of the effects Zika promises to bring stateside, as summer arrives this weekend and in short order, mosquitos will arrive in full force. Zika can spread by two species of mosquitos: Aedes aegypti, a tropical climate mosquito, and Aedes ablopictus, which has adapted to cooler regions including majority of the Eastern and Midwestern United States, as well as most of California. Zika can also be spread by sexual contact. To combat the Zika virus nationally, the U.S. Congress has dedicated at least $662 million towards fighting it. Brazil, the country most affected by the current epidemic, has been fumigating and using drones ahead of the 2016 Olympics.

Zika first manifests as a fever and rash, but is rarely serious for healthy individuals. Instead the biggest threats are to unborn babies, who typically suffer from microcephaly, which can be fatal. It's unknown how long the Zika virus could affect future pregnancies, so some governments have advised women against getting pregnant until more research is done. Zika also has a link to Guillain-Barré syndrome.

So as the warmest months of the year approach, governments at all levels in the U.S. are beginning to research the spread of Zika mosquitos and initiate prevention programs. Reuters notices a large response gap between rural communities and well-off ones. Whereas the Florida Keys Mosquito District has a budget of $15 million, with four copters, two planes and 33 inspectors, towns with less resources may not even be able to conduct a basic fogging program.

Over the past couple of decades, the war on mosquitoes has increased after there were outbreaks of west Nile virus, dengue, Chikungunya and now Zika. Because of this, scientists have come up with novel, high tech ways to combat mosquitos without the use of toxins. One of the most prominent recent methods is the sterile insect technique. Overwhelming populations of radiation-sterilized male mosquitos are bred and released to mate with female mosquitos, which produces no mosquito eggs and lessens the population of the next generation. There are some drawbacks, as such a breeding program is expensive, not guaranteed to work, and often requires preceding use of pesticides.

In another technique male Aedes aegypti mosquitos are bred, but are genetically modified to require tetracycline to develop beyond the larvae stage. Tetracycline is supplied to these mosquitoes in the breeding facility, but offspring created by mating with a female mosquito in the wild won't have access to tetracycline and will never develop into a mosquito. Other genetically modified mosquitos produce 95% male offspring (males don't suck blood).

And then there is the mosquito laser, also known as the Photonic Fence. First patented in 2010, it uses infrared LED lamps and a CCD sensor to determine if an insect is present. Once confirmed, a non-lethal laser focuses on the target insect to determine if it's both a mosquito and a female mosquito. With a second confirmation, a blue laser is given permission to shoot--one shot and the zapped mosquito is killed.

When allied with conventional mosquito management options, such as pesticides, habitat removal, and mosquito predators, it's possible to eliminate mosquitos from the Earth entirely. And according to this 2010 article in Nature, ecological consequences would be quite minimal.

Considering mosquitos are the deadliest creatures on the planet (up to one million deaths per year from mosquito-carried illnesses), it makes some sense. And if there aren't significant ecosystem ramifications, what's stopping us?

26 comments; last comment on 06/15/2016
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17-Year-Old Cicadas are Coming to the Northeast

Posted April 22, 2016 12:00 AM by joeymac

Next month, when temperatures warm, billions of cicadas will emerge from the ground as they become 17 years old. This brood will be located in New York, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. These red-eyed bugs were born in 1999, have spent the last 16 years underground and will finish their lifecycles as they come aboveground, mate and then die after a month to a month and a half. These cicadas are called Brood V and are comprised of three different species. Other cicada species follow a 13 year cycle or an annual one. These bugs are so numerous that their density can be up to 1.5 million cicadas per acre. Their mating calls can be deafening with the high pitch due to their numbers. The cicadas won't emerge this year until the soil hits 64 degrees. After the females lay their eggs in trees, the nymphs that hatch from them will make their way underground, where like their parents, they will stay for another 17 years.

13 comments; last comment on 04/26/2016
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Ancient Dung May Unlock Punic War Mystery

Posted April 15, 2016 12:00 AM by joeymac

Scientists may have unlocked one of the great mysteries of the ancient world by analyzing microbes from horse manure to discover where Hannibal and his army crossed the Alps. The Carthaginian general famously led an army of 30,000 men, 37 elephants and more than 15,000 horses and mules to invade Italy. This brazen trip across the Alps happened during the second Punic War, which lasted from 218 B.C. to 201 B.C.

Hannibal's exact route across the Alps has been debated by historians. An international team of scientists have found evidence from the remote Col de Traversette pass on the border between Fance and Italy. By using radiocarbon dating, microbial metagenome analysis, environmental chemistry and pollen analysis, the scientists have shown that a "mass animal deposition" event occurred near the Col de Traversette in 218 B.C.

A little tidbit that I learned was that when horses drink, they have to defecate. Scientist studied 3 feet of sediment beneath a large pond for the horse manure. More than 70 percent of the microbes in horse manure are from a group of bacteria called Clostridia that can survive in soil for thousands of years. Scientists found a remarkable increase in the abundance of the bacteria in the sediment, suggesting that Hannibal's army crossed the Alps at that specific point. Normally these bacteria are at quite low levels within the soil, but in this case, the scientist found very high levels. The scientists also noticed an increase in the number of bile salts that come from the gut as well as a sharp change in the sediments pollen record. This pollen showed them that there is a significant change in the deposition characteristics suggesting that Hannibal crossed there. Hannibal also tried crossing using elephants but scientists are not sure how much the elephants have contributed to the evidence. Besides of a historical aspect to this, these findings may even help our understanding of modern bacteria. Scientists don't know much about bacteria from 2,000 years ago so scientists can learn how they've changed over 2,000 years and could help with medical discoveries.

6 comments; last comment on 04/20/2016
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