Saturday, 24 August 2019

Magnitude 5.0 Earthquake in Inyo County, California.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 5.0 Earthquake at a depth of about 2.4 km, roughly 18 km to the east of Little Lake, in Inyo County, California, slightly before 1.50 pm local time (slightly before 8.50 pm GMT) on Thursday 22 August 2019. There are no reports of any significant damage or injuries relating to this quake, but people have reported feeling it across much of California, as well as in southern Nevada.

The approximate location of the 22 August 2019 Inyo County Earthquake. USGS.

California is extremely prone to Earthquakes due to the presence of the San Andreas Fault, a tectonic plate margin that effectively bisects the state. The west of California, including Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, is located on the Pacific Plate, and is moving to the northwest. The east of California, including Fresno and Bakersfield is on the North American Plate, and is moving to the southeast. The plates do not move smoothly past one-another, but constantly stick together then break apart as the pressure builds up. This has led to a network of smaller faults that criss-cross the state, so that Earthquakes can effectively occur anywhere.

 Tectonic boundaries and faults in California and the surrounding area. USGS.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events and the underlying structures that cause them. If you felt this quake (or if you were in the area but did not, which is also useful information) then you can report it to the United States Geological Survey here.

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Thursday, 22 August 2019

Incoltorrida spp. & Hydroscapha andringitra: Seven new species of Myxophagan Water Beetles from Madagascar.

All living Beetles, Coleoptera, are divided into four suborders, the Polyphaga, with about 350 000 described species, the Adephaga, with around 40 000 species, the Myxophaga, with about 65 species, and the Archostemata, with less than 50. Despite their low species numbers, the later two groups have widespread distributions, and are thought to be relicts of much larger groups. The 65 species of the Myxophaga are split into four families and two superfamilies. All are aquatic or semi-aquatic, and feed exclusively on Algae.

In a paper published in the journal Zootaxa on 16 August 2019, Philip Perkins of the Department of Entomology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and Johannes Bergsten of the Department of Zoology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, describe seven new species of Myxophagan Water Beetles from Madagascar. Most of the specimens from which the new species are described were collected by Johannes Bergsten and co-participants in the Water Beetle Fauna of Madagascar project, during expeditions made between the years 2006 and 2018. Additional specimens were collected by Michael Balke in 2004, and Philip Perkins in 2014.

Six of the new species described are assigned to a single genus, Incoltorrida, of which only one species, Incoltorrida madagassica, has previously been described from Madagascar (although only three species of Myxophagan Water Beetles have been described from the island at all before now). The genus appears to be endemic to the island (i.e. it has not been described anywhere else) with all species found living in areas where water flows over exposed rock faces, often as a thin film at places where water is seeping from the rock.

Incoltorrida madagassica is known from two locations, on rocks associated with a marsh in the Ankazomivady Forest in the Haute Matsiatra Region, at an altitude of 1700 m, and on rocks where water is running into the sea (and being splashed with seawater) at Nosy Mangabe island within the  Masoala National Park, near where the Mananara River enters the Indian Ocean.

Habitat of Incoltorrida madagassica, water flowing into the sea at Nosy Mangabe, Masoala National Park. Perkins & Bergsten (2019).

Incoltorrida madagassica is a dark brown Beetle with a lighter underside reaching about 2.31 mm in length and 1.39 mm in width. It has reddish brown and black legs, and eight costae (ridges) on each elytron (wing-case).

Incoltorrida madagassica, views of non-type with attached Platycola epibionts. Perkins & Bergsten (2019).

Several specimens of Incoltorrida madagassica had attached hollow urn-shaped structures, found to be the lorica, or protective tests, of sessile Peritrich Ciliates, single-celled protists which live attached to other organisms. These were shown to several experts on these organisms, who suggested that they should be placed in the Family Vaginicolidae, due to their general morphology, and the genus Platycola as they lacked the stalks seen in other members of the group. This genus contains a number of very widespread species, but Perkins and Bergsten note that the classification of these simple organisms is based entirely on morphology rather than genetics, placing some doubt on its accuracy, and they refrain from classifying their specimens to species level.

The first new Myxophagan Water Beetle described is named Incoltorrida quintacostata, meaning 'five costae' in reference to the number of ridges on each elytron. This species was found living on a series of water-covered rock faces ay altitudes of between 21 m above sealevel and 1700 m. Incoltorrida quintacostata reaches about 2.33 mm in length and about 1.32 mm in width, and is dark brown to black in colour.

Incoltorrida quintacostata, habitus views of holotype. Perkins & Bergsten (2019).

The second new species described is named Incoltorrida benesculpta, in reference to the fine sculpture on the elytra and pronotum (covering of the upper part of the thorax) seen in this species. This species was found on water-covered rocks associated with waterfalls in the Haute Matsiatra and Diana regions, at altitudes of between 550 m and 1415 m. Incoltorrida benesculpta reaches about 1.85 mm in length and about 1.05 mm in width, and is black in colour with a dark brown underside.

Incoltorrida benesculpta, habitus views of holotype. Perkins & Bergsten (2019).

The third new species described is named Incoltorrida marojejy, in reference to the area where the species was discovered, within the Sava Marojejy National Park. This species reaches about 2.19 mm in length and 1.26 mm in wide, and is reddish brown in colour, and has eight costae on each elytra. The species was found at two locations within the park, in a river forming hygropetrick (water covered) rocks and rockpools at 710 m above sealevel and in a stream at 820 m above sealevel.

Incoltorrida marojejy, habitus views of holotype. Perkins & Bergsten (2019).

The fourth new species is named Incoltorrida magna, in reference to its size; reaching 2.62 mm in length and 1.58 mm in width, this is the largest species known within the genus. This species is dark brown with eight carinae on each elytrum. This species was found in a system of water coloured rocks and rock pools at an altitude of 296 m, and on a stairwell like cascade at an altitude of 303 m, both within the Diana Region.

Incoltorrida magna, habitus views of holotype. Perkins & Bergsten (2019). 

The fifth new species is named Incoltorrida zahamena, ion reference to the Zahamena National Park, where it was discovered. This species was found at a single location, on water-covered rocks associated with the Manambato River, in a midaltitude rainforest at about 1280 m above sealevel; it was active at night. Incoltorrida zahamena reaches about 1.97 mm in length and 1.19 mm in width, and is dark brown to black with a reddish underside, it has eight costae on each elytrum, though the sixth of these is shorter that the others.

Incoltorrida zahamena, habitus views of holotype. Perkins & Bergsten (2019).

The sixth new species is named Incoltorrida galoko, in reference to the Galoko Massif in northwestern Madagascar, where the species was discovered, in a stairway-like cascade with vertical steps, at an altitude of about 303 m above sealevel. The species is the smallest in the genus to date, reaching only about 1.74 mm in length and 1.14 mm in width. This species is dark brown, with a reddish brown underside and five costae on each elytrum.

Incoltorrida galoko, habitus views of holotype. Perkins & Bergsten (2019).

The final new species described is placed in the genus Hydroscapha, which has a large number of species in the Northern Hemisphere, but only one previously described from Madagascar, and given the specific name andringitra, in reference to the Andringitra National Park, which lies about 10 km to the south of the area where this species was discovered, living brownish muddy water seeping over rock and the standing water with vegetation next to it, at an altitude of  1165 m. This species reaches 0.99 mm in length and 0.46 mm in width, and is dark brown to black in colour. It lacks carinae on its elytra, but has a sparse covering of hairs across its body. The apical segments of the abdomen protrude beyond the elytra.

Hydroscapha andringitra, habitus of holotype. Perkins & Bergsten (2019).

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Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Varinus varus: Lace Monitor Lizard injures Queensland couple as they try to rescue Dog.

An elderly couple from Queensland are receiving hospital treatment after being attacked by a Lace Monitor Lizard, Varinus varus, while trying to save their Dog. The incident happened in a park at Shute Harbour, near Proserpine, at about 3.30 on Thursday 15 August 2019, when the Lizard, known locally as a Goanna, attacked the Long-haired Jack Russel Terrier, named Lily. The Dog owner, Reg Eggers, 72, tried to drive the Lizard off he was in turn attacked, receiving bites to the arms and leg, which caused him to lose a great deal of blood. When his wife tried to intervene she was also bitten. The couple were airlifted to a hospital for treatment, both they and the Dog survived.

A Lace Monitor, Varinus varus, near Mission Beach in Queensland in 2011. Donald Hobern/Flikr/Wikimedia Commons.

Lace Monitors are large Varanid Lizards, reaching about 2.5 m in length, which will take a wide variety of prey, including other Lizards, Birds and Mammals. Cats and small Dogs fall comfortably within the size range of their typical prey, and are often attacked; Humans are typically outside their size range and are generally left alone, but the Lizards can respond very aggressively if provoked, and have powerful bites and extremely sharp teeth.

Reg Eggers, 72, of Shute Harbour, Queensland, attacked by a Lace Monitor. Facebook/7News.

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Thousands forces to flee their homes as wildfire sweeps across central Gran Canaria.

Around 9000 people have been forced to flee their homes as a wildfire sweeps across the northwest part of central Gran Canaria this week. The fire started near the town of Tejeda on Saturday 17 July 2019, and has so far proved impossible to bring under control. The fire has destroyed about sixty square kilometres of land cover in a mountainous region largely covered by wooded ravines, much of it in the ancient Pine forests of the Tamadaba Natural Park. There are no reports of any injuries at this time, but it is thought that several hundred homes have been destroyed.

Fire burning near El Rincón on Gran Canaria on 18 August 2019. Cabildo de Gran Canaria/AP.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, though local authorities have not yet ruled out the possibility that it may have been deliberately set, but it has spread rapidly due to a combination of exceptionally high temperatures in the area (over 40°C), combined with low humidity and high winds. Flames in excess of 50 m high have been reported, which helps the fire jump to new places. Pine forests are particularly prone to fires, as Pines produce a large number of long, flammable needles, which drop to the ground around the trees, causing any fires to burn rapidly and intensely.

Fire fighters trying to tackle a wildfire on Gran Canaria this week. AP.

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Sunday, 18 August 2019

Siberian mine evacuated after fire breaks out.

A coal mine in the Kemerovo Oblast of Siberia had to be evacuated after a fire broke out on Saturday 17 August 2019. The incident happened at the Gramoteyevskaya Coal Mine in Belovsky District at about 1.10 am local time, due to a fault on a conveyor belt. Forty eight workers were in the mine at the time, forty three of whom were able to make their way out unaided, with the remaining five waiting in a safe area until they could be led out by rescue workers (many modern mines have isolated safe areas with separate ventilation systems and communications, enabling miners to wait out exactly this sort of problem). Nobody was hurt in the incident, and the evacuation was of a purely precautionary nature.

The approximate location of the Gramoteyevskaya Coal Mine. Google Maps.

Coal is formed when buried organic material, principally wood, in heated and pressurised, forcing off hydrogen and oxygen (i.e. water) and leaving more-or-less pure carbon. Methane is formed by the decay of organic material within the coal. There is typically little pore-space within coal, but the methane can be trapped in a liquid form under pressure. Fire is much feared in coal mines due to this combination of flammable gas and solids, with methane and coal dust both potentially explosive when they come into contact with naked flames. To make matters worse, the limited oxygen supply in mines often means that such fires will involve incomplete combustion, in which all the oxygen is used up, but instead of forming carbon dioxide forms the much more deadly carbon dioxide, with potentially lethal consequences for anyone in the mine.

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Saturday, 17 August 2019

Leptarctus primus: Determining the diet of a Miocene Carnivoran.

Leptarctus primus is an Carnivoran Mammal known from the Miocene of the United States. Its relatioship to modern groups is somewhat uncertain, with the species previously regarded as a Bear or a Raccoon, and currently thought to be related to the Mustelids (Weasels, Badgers and Otters). Similarly the diet of Leptarctus primus, and therefore the ecological nich it occupied, has been the subject of some debate, with its skull being interpreted as suggesting a diet similar to that of the carnivorous American Badger, Taxidea taxus, the omnivorous Raccoon, Procyon lotor, the leaf-eating Koala, Phascolarctus cinereus, the frugivorous Kinkajou, Potos flavus, the insectivorous Bat-eared Fox, Otocyon megalotis, or the omnivorous Raccoon Dog, Nyctereutes procyonoides.

In a paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on 22 February 2019, Alixandra Prybyla of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University, and the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, Zhijie Jack Tseng of the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and John Flynn, also of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, and of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at Columbia University, and the Richard Gilder Graduate School, describe the results of a study of Leptarctus primus in which computer simulation of cranial biomechanics is used to compare it to a variety of living species.

Prybyla et al. CT-scanned the crania of a number specimens using high-resolution micro-computed tomography with the GE v|tome|x s 180/240 kV dual-tube HRX μCT system at the Microscopy and Imaging Facility of the American Museum of Natural History. As well as several specimens of Leptarctus primus, the study included Hypsoparia bozemanensis, a second Miocene North American Carnivoran, which is known only from a single fragmentary specimen, and which some palaeontologists ague is a specimen of Leptarctus primus, as well as the Eocene Carnivoran Oodectes herpestoides, and the Eocene Hyeanadont Creodont Thinocyon velox. The study also included the modern Ring-tailed Cat, Bassariscus astutus, Wolverine, Gulo gulo, Kinkajou, Potos flavus, Eastern Spotted Skunk, Spilogale putorius, American Badger, Taxidea taxus, Grey Fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus, Wolf, Canis lupus, Black-backed Jackal, Canis mesomelas, Polar Bear, Ursus maritimus, Brown Bear, Ursus arctos, African Wild Dog, Lycaon pictus, Spotted Hyena, Crocuta crocuta, Brown Hyena, Parahyaena brunnea, Red Panda, Ailurus fulgens, Leopard, Panthera pardus, Javan Mongoose, Herpestes javanicus, Striped Skunk, Mephitis mephitis, and the Raccoon, Procyon lotor.

Leptarctus primus skull reconstructions and models. (A) AMNH FM 25385, reconstruction of missing or damaged morphology, accounted for in virtual reconstruction: occipital condyles, anterior cranial crushing, and a loss of maxillary canines. The protrusion of the left sagittal crest has broken off; it has not been reattached. The neotype (AMNH FM 18241) of Leptarctus primus was used as a reference for the reconstruction. (B) CTscanned, evaluated to identify collapsed elements and holes, and slice artifacts produced by the coronal image stack compilation smoothed in Mimics to create a computerised model of the original skull. (C) model (B)’s triangular surface elements lowered via the ‘decimation function’ to a more uniform number (between 200,000 and 280,000 finite elements), reducing the topical quality of the mesh but standardising it with other models. Because canines are lacking in AMNH FM 18241, the canines were transferred digitally from the best-preserved Leptarctus specimen (AMNH FM 54198) in the collection. Prybyla et al. (2019).

This data set was used to create a three dimensional stress distribution maps of the crania, showing where stress would be applied during biting, where the greatest bite force would be applied, and the strength of this bite force, with a view to understanding the feeding mechanics of Leptarctus primus, and therefore estimate its ecological role.

Von Mises stress distributions in crania of extinct Leptarctus primus and extant Taxidea taxus, Potos flavus, Lycaon pictus, and Gulo gulo. Unilateral bites are shown for the right upper tooth row, with C (canine), P2 (second premolar), P3 (third premolar), P4 (fourth premolar), and M1 (first molar). Cooler (darker) shades indicate lower stress; warmer (lighter) shades indicate higher stress. Prybyla et al. (2019).

Leptarctus primus was found to be most similar to the American Badger, Taxidea taxus, a primarily carnivorous species, which has some omnivorous habits. The diet of the American Badger comprises mostly small Vertebrates, such as Snakes, and Birds, supplemented secondarily by opportunistic omnivorous feeding on Insects, eggs, seeds, Fungi, etc.. It also shows some similarities to the African Wild Dog, Lycaon pictus, another largely carnivorous species the omnivorous Raccoon, Procyon lotor, and the Wolverine, Gulo gulo, a carnivore which feeds largely on scavenged carrion, but again is opportunistically omnivorous.

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