Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A New Marsupial Frog Discovered in Peru

An article was released this week describing a new species of frog from high-elevation grasslands in the Andes Mountains of Peru. The newly discovered species is a member of the genus Gastrotheca, a group also known as the marsupial frogs.

Picture: Hemiphractus fasciatus by Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Project

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Backyard Foraging: Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Not only are the fruits of the dogwood edible, but they also contain a variety of beneficial antioxidants and anthocyanins. Berries from dogwood trees may also be useful for treating a variety of ailments, including tumors.

Photo credit: Henry Hartley

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Top 10 Natural Firework Displays!

Mount Shinmoedake, Photo credit: Reuters

Happy fourth of July! In light of today's holiday, I thought it might be fitting to celebrate a few of mother Earth's natural light shows. Ranging from bioluminescent waters to incredible lightning displays, there's quite a lot to take in. How many have you seen?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New Marsupial Species

Grey Slender Opossum, Marmosops incanus, Photo credit: Geiser Trivelato

A recent report describes a new species of mouse opossum from the highlands of Guyana and Venezuela. The new species (Marmosops pakaraimae) is apparently closely related to a species (M. parvidens) that inhabits the adjacent lowland areas.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Is coffee bad for your health?

Photo credit:

Not according to researchers at the University of Valencia and Castellón General Hospital who reviewed over 300 studies that investigated the health effects of coffee and caffeine. What they found was that, more often than not, coffee imparted measurable benefits to regular drinkers.

Photo credit:
Regular coffee consumption has traditionally been regarded as harmful, but the evidence is stacking up for the other side. Science no longer supports the role of coffee in a variety of conditions, such as a contributor to hypertension, osteoporosis, or cardiovascular disease. The confusion has likely arisen due to the complex effects of caffeine and the myriad of other compounds found in the typical cup of joe.

Caffeine works by binding to chemical receptors in the brain and preventing them from interacting with adenosine, which normally induces drowsiness. However, adenosine receptors are also found in most other tissues in the body, including the heart, liver, and body fat, so it is easy to see how things could get complicated.

Top 10 New Species of 2013

Photo composite by Jacob Sahertian

The top 10 new species list was announced May 23 by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. The 2013 list includes an amazing glow-in-the-dark cockroach, a harp-shaped carnivorous sponge and the smallest vertebrate on Earth - a tiny frog. 

Read more about each species at:

Food as medicine. What does it mean?

Photo credit: Maarten Wouters/Getty

Eating well isn’t just about keeping the tank full. It can also be about treating and preventing disease.

We all know that we should stay away from fatty foods or too much sugar, and that we should add more fruits and vegetables to our diets. But other than fiber and “nutrients”, how many of us really understand the chemistry of our food or how it might affect us?

Most cultures have traditionally used plants for therapeutic purposes, and even today, most modern medicines are still derived from plants. However, our society has become so far removed from both food and medicine that few people realize the value of fresh, whole foods or how they affect our bodies. The widespread use of processed ingredients, artificial colors and flavors, and other unpronounceable additives also means that most of us aren’t even ingesting the good stuff without knowing about it.

Starting today, I’ll be making periodic posts about a variety of beneficial foods. I’ll discuss the important compounds they contain and how they could influence your health. My first post will look at the effects of coffee and caffeine. Keep an eye out for it later today...

“Let food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.” – Hippocrates 

Tree Vipers

Photo credit: Wikimedia Foundation

Trimeresurus is a genus of colorful and mildly toxic snakes from Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Glowing Scorpions

Photo credit: Cowyeow/Flickr

Scientists now believe that scorpions’ fluorescent exoskeletons may help them to find cover during the night.

The scorpion’s cyan-green glow can be attributed to two chemicals, noharmane and hymnecromone, that are deposited in the exoskeleton during sclerotization, a biological process by which arthropods are able to harden their exoskeletons. Interestingly, neither young nor recently molted adults fluoresce when exposed to UV light. Juvenile scorpions eventually develop the trait as they mature. Adults regain their fluorescence as their exoskeleton re-hardens as part of the molting process. In the picture below, you can also see that the scorpion’s old exoskeleton continues to fluoresce (Photo credit: skinheaddave/ 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

True or False???

Pollinators are important for the production of ~75% of the world’s leading crops, but honeybees are not the only insects responsible for providing these services.

The vanilla orchid can only be pollinated by a specific genus of solitary bee. Theobroma cacoa – the source of chocolate – is only pollinated by a tiny fly, and papaya flowers are pollinated by nocturnal sphinx moths. Bumblebees and solitary bees are also important for the production of a variety of other fruits and vegetables - squash and melons, tomatoes, blueberries, peppers, almonds, passion fruit, and brazil nuts, just to name a few.

If honeybees disappeared, food production would certainly suffer, but not all hope would be lost. Because the honeybee, Apis mellifera, is native to Europe and North Africa, many of the plant species that we now use as food crops did not evolve to depend on honeybees.

Although we still have much to learn about managing other types of bees, it is likely that, at least for some crops, alternative pollinators would be suitable replacements or even superior to honeybees. There are over 30,000 species of bees, with about 4,000 native to the United States alone, and a few species have already proven to be over 100 times as effective as honeybees.

So what would happen if we lost all pollinators?

Believe it or not, most of our food calories come from plants that don’t require animal pollination. Cereal crops like corn, wheat, and rice are wind pollinated. Many crops also come from non-reproductive plant parts like roots, stems, or leaves. Potatoes, carrots, beets, celery, broccoli, spinach, and cabbage are all examples of vegetables that can be produced without pollination. In these crops, pollination is only important for the production of seed for planting the next years crop.

Some crop types would be particularly sensitive to pollinator extinction. These plants are typically those that can’t self-pollinate and/or that require specific pollinators. Fruits like tomato, avocado, peach, coconut, mango, durian, and some vegetables fall into this category.

However, the largest effects of pollinator loss could be reflected in the production of coffee and chocolate, so there may be a reason to panic after all!

Mammals that chirp like crickets?!

Photo credit: Arto Hakola
Tenrecs are a family of mammals found in Madagascar and some parts of Africa.

Similar to the way that marsupials have diversified to fill a variety of ecological niches in Australia and New Guinea, tenrecs vary widely in body form and occupy a range of habitats. Some species have adopted otter-like forms, while others resemble shrews and hedgehogs.

The Highland and Lowland Streaked Tenrecs fall within the hedgehog type and are armed with barbed quills. These animals primarily feed on earthworms and take shelter in narrow burrows.

One interesting feature of the Streaked Tenrecs is that they are the only mammals known to communicate using stridulation. This type of communication is generally associated with insects and snakes, but although tenrecs lack wings and scales, they are still able to accomplish this using a second specialized type of quill that is arranged in rows along their back.  See a video here:

Even though tenrecs are sometimes hunted for food, the IUCN reports that Streaked Tenrecs are thriving and seem to be affected little by human disturbance:

You can learn more about Lowland Streaked Tenrecs here: