Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Monsoon Forest building at Chester Zoo destroyed by fire.

The Monsoon Forest exhibit at Chester Zoo in northern England has been severely damaged in s fire that broke out at about 11.30 am local time on Saturday 15m December 2018. All visitors were evacuated safely from the building, as were all of the Mammals housed there, including Sumatran Orangutans, Pongo abelii, Sulawesi Macaques, Macaca nigra, and Silvery Gibbons, Hylobates moloch, as well as larger Birds such as Rhinoceros Hornbills, Buceros rhinoceros, but many smaller animals are now known to have perished, including Question Mark Cockroaches, Therea olegrandjeani, Amano Shrimps, Caridina multidentata, Hendra Tommy's Fighting Fish, Betta hendra, Cinnamon Frogs, Nyctixalus pictus, Tentacled Snakes, Erpeton tentaculatum, and birds such as Grosbeak Starlings, Scissirostrum dubium. One member of the Zoo's staff was treated for smoke inhalation following the incident.

 Fire at Chester Zoo on Saturday 15 December 2018. David Clough/Manchester Evening News.

Chester Zoo opened in 1931 with an ambitious plan to show animals in cage-less environments (most of the exhibits were originally on islands, and is the UK's most visited Zoo, receiving over 1.4 million visitors a year. It has been described as the best zoo in the UK and the third best in the world by TripAdvisor. The Monsoon Forest opened in 2015, and covered an area of 60 000 m², making it the UK's largest zoo building (plans for an even larger Heart of Africa Bio-dome were shelved in 2011 when a change of government in the UK led to the abolition of the North West Regional Development Agency). The exhibit was designed to mimic the conditions of a Southeast Asian rainforest, with an internal climate, rainfall and a temperature of  26.6°C.

 The Monsoon Forest in 2016. Chester Zoo.

Chester Zoo is involved in conservation work, and hosts captive breeding programs for a number of endangered species, including Eastern Black Rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis michaeli, Tequila Splitfin, Zoogoneticus tequila, Ameca Shiner, Notropis amecae, Javan Green Magpie, Cissa thalassina, and Black Winged Starling, Acridotheres melanopterus, as well as supporting education and habitat-protection campaigns around the world.

Inside the structure that hosted the Monsoon Forest after the fire. Chester Fire and Rescue Service.

The zoo was able to re-open the day after the fire, but faces major problems rehousing the animals rescued from the fire, and rebuilding the exhibit, which it is estimated will cost about £40 million. A JustGiving page set up in the aftermath of the fire raised over £100 000 within 24 hours, and has now raised over £135 000, though it has now been confirmed that the zoo's insurer's will cover the cost of the rebuild and the zoo has announced the money will be spent on its conservation work. The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

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Monday, 17 December 2018

Chiloschista pulchella: A new species of Orchid from Khammoune Province in central Laos.

Epidendroid Orchids, Epidendroideae, are the largest subfamily of Orchids, with over 15 000 described species, more than all other Orchid groups combined. The majority of these species are epiphytic (live on other plants, typically in the canopy of rainforest trees), though terrestrial forms are known. The group is found across the globe, with the exception of the polar regions, the deserts of Africa, Arabia and Australia, and the southern part of South America. The genus Chiloschista currently contains about 20 species, and is found from the Himalayas south through India and Southeast Asia to Australia and east to China and Micronesia, reaching maximum diversity in Southeast Asia, where there are nine known species found in Thailand, three in Vietnam, three in China and two in Laos.

In a paper published in the journal Taiwania on 6 November 2018, Leonid Averyanov of the Komarov Botanical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Khang Sinh Nguyen of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, and Tatiana Maisak, also of the Komarov Botanical Institute, describe a new species of Chiloschista from the Hin Nam No Nature Protected Area of Khammoune Province in central Laos.

The new species is named Chiloschista pulchella, meaning 'purple lips' in reference to its flowers, which are bright yellow, with purple margins. It is a leafless epiphytic herb, found growing on trees in a dry evergreen and semideciduous, broad-leaved forest. Each plant comprises a stem 4-12 mm in length and covered in flattened silver-green rootlets. Flowers are produced in April and May, on pendulous (dangling) racemes 6-10 cm in length.

Chiloschista pulchella. Flowering plant, inflorescence, flowers and floral details (fresh living plant prior to preparation of the holotype herbarium specimen). Leonid Averyanov & Khang Sinh Nguyen in Averyanov et al. (2018).

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Circulocryptus kompantsevi & Carinocryptus semenyukae: Two new species of Cryptodesmid Millipedes from Southeast Asia.

Millipedes, Diplopoda, are highly successful soil dwelling Arthropods found in soil in all temperate and tropical regions. Flat-backed Millipedes, Polydesmida, are predominantly leaf-litter dwelling Millipedes noted for the prominent keels on the sides of their segments, which gives them a wide, flat appearance, and the ability to produce the toxin hydrogen cyanide as a defence. The Polydesmid Family Cryptodesmidae currently comprises 35 species, grouped into 13 genera, scattered across tropical and subtropical Asia.

In a paper published in the journal Raffles Bulletin of Zoology on 26 June 2018, Sergei Golovatch of the Institute for Problems of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences, describes two new species of Cryptodesmid Millipedes from Southeast Asia.

The first new species is placed in the genus Circulocryptus, which currently contains two species from Vietnam and Java, and given the specific name kompantsevi, in honour of Aleksandr Kompantsev, who collected the specimen from which the species is described, a male found inside a rotting Fungus in the Phnom Pokor National Park in the Elephant Mountains of Kampot Province, Cambodia. This specimen is 16 mm in length, with 20 segments and is a light pink colour with yellowish white legs.

Circulocryptus kompantsevi. (A) Lateral view; (B) dorsal view; (C) anteroventral view; (D) posteroventral view. Pictures not to scale. Golovatch (2018). 

The second new species is placed in a new genus, named Carinocryptus, in reference to a prominent mid-dorsal ridge (carina) seen in the species, and given the specific name semenyukae, in honour of Irina Semenyuk, who collected the specimens from which the species is described, 2 males, three females and two juveniles found in a stream valley within a mixed tropical forest in the Kon Ka Kinh National Park of Gia Lai Province, Vietnam. These Millipedes range from 9.0 to 9.5 mm in length (adults), have 20 segments and are a creamy brown in colour.

Carinocryptus semenyukae, male. (A) lateral view; (B) dorsal view; (C) anteroventral view; (D) posteroventral view. Pictures not to scale. Golovatch (2018).

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Sunday, 16 December 2018

Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma makes its closest approach to the Earth since 1942.

Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma will make its closest approach to the Earth for several decades on Monday 17 December 2018, reaching a distance of 0.77 AU from the Earth (77% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, or 114 550 000 km). At this distance the comet will be not naked eye visible, having a magnitude of slightly over 10, requiring a reasonably good telescope to see it, in the Lynx Constellation, which is better observed from the Northern Hemisphere.

 Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma imaged on 18 September 2018 from the Novosibirsk Oblast of Russia. Mikhail Maslov/Fachgruppe Kometen.

38P/Stephan-Oterma was first observed on 2 January 1867 by Jèrome Coggia of the Marseilles Observatory, but he did not recognise the nature of his observation, allowing Édouard Stephan, the director of the Marseilles Observatory, to claim discovery of the new comet when he observed that it had moved a few days later. The comet not observed again until November 1942, when it was observed by the Finnish astronomer Liisi Oterma. The name 38P/Stephan-Oterma implies that it is a periodic comet (P/) (all comets are, strictly speaking, periodic since they all orbit the Sun, but those with periods longer than 200 years are considered to be non-periodic), that it was the 38th comet (comet 38) discovered and that it was discovered by the Stephen and Oterma.

The orbit and current position of Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma. The Sky Live 3D Solar System Simulator.

38P/Stephan-Oterma has an orbital period of 37.8 years and a highly eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 18.4° to the plain of the Solar System, that brings it from 1.58 AU from the Sun at perihelion (158% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, slightly outside the orbit of the planet Mars); to 21.0 AU from the Sun at aphelion (21 times as far from the Sun as the Earth outside the orbit of the planet Uranus). As a Comet with a Period of less than 200 years and more than 20 years it is also regarded as a Halley-type Comet.

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Austaulius haustrum: A new species of Necrotaulid Caddisfly from the Early Jurassic of Lyme Regis, England.

Caddisflies, Trichoptera, are a widespread and numerous (over 12 000 described species) group of Insects closely related to the Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths). Like Butterflies and Moths, Caddisflies undergo a complete metamorphosis upon reaching maturity, with a long-lived caterpillar-like larvae, and a shorter-lived flying adult stages (which typically lives one-to-two weeks). However, unlike the larvae of Butterflies and Moths, Caddisfly larvae are entirely aquatic, with only the winged adults emerging above the water surface. Most larval Caddisfly inhabit cases which they make out of silk, which some species are noted for covering with small stones, pieces of plant matter, shells or other matter they find in their environment. The larvae may be herbivorous or carnivorous, adult Caddisfly generally do not eat at all. They have a fossil record dating back to the Triassic.

The Necrotauliidae are a curious group of Caddisflies known from the Triassic and Jurassic of Europe, Asia and Australia. Their wing venetion sugests that they are members of the Trichoptera, but they have a number of un-Caddifly-like characteristics, including scales on their wings, a trait generally associated with the Lepidoptera. As such their is some dispute about the classification of this group, with some palaeoentomologists regarding them as early members of the Lepidoptera, others as a stem group from which both the Lepidoptera and the Trichoptera are descended, and while most experts do accept them to be Caddisflies, they differ in whether they are a distinct group that branched off early in the history of the Trichoptera, or a polyphyletic assemblage of early Caddisflies from which the more modern groups are descended.

In a paper published in the journal Psyche on 9 May 2018, Richard Kelly of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, and the Department of Natural Sciences at the National Museum of Scotland, Andrew Ross, also of the Department of Natural Sciences at the National Museum of Scotland, and of the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, and Robert Coram, also of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, and of British Fossils, describe a new species of Necrotaulid Caddisfly from the Early Jurassic of Lyme Regis, England, as part of a review of the Necrotaulid Caddisflies of the Triassic and Jurassic of England.

The new species is placed in the genus Austaulius, which is created by the authors of the paper to include a number of previously described species, including the Australian Prorhyacophila colliveri (now Austaulius colliveri), which as the oldest described species assigned to the new genus is taken as its type species, the name 'Austaulius' referring to this, and given the specific name haustrum, in reference to the mouthparts of the species, which form a sucking proboscis. The species is described from a single specimen collected from Monmouth Beach at Lyme Regis. This specimen has both forewings and a partial hind wing, as well as the thorax, head, some antennomeres, some leg segments, the maxillary and labial palps, and the haustellum.

Austaulius haustrum from Monmouth Beach, Lyme Regis, Dorset. Bottom left figure is the right forewing of the specimen flipped so the costal margin is on top. Scale bars are 1 mm. Kelly et al. (2018).

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Leopard captured after attacks on livestock in Maharashtra State, India.

A Leopard has been captured by the Indian Forest Service following a series of attacks on livestock in the village of Pimpri Budruk in the Pune District of Maharashtra State, India. The village has suffered a series of attacks on Goats, Calves, and Dogs over the past month, but until now the culprit was unidentified. Then at about 5.30 pm local time on Friday 14 December 2018 a local woman spotted the Leopard drinking from a stream near the village, and the Forest Service was called in to deal with the animal. After some discussion with the local population it was decided that capturing the Leopard was the best option, and the animal, a female estimated to be about five years old, was shot with a tranquiliser dart and taken to a rescue centre in Manikdoh.

Veterinarians from the Indian Forest Service and Wildlife SOS examine a Leopard captured near a village in Pune District, Maharashtra on 14 December 2018. Asian News International/Twitter.

Leopards are considered to be Vulnerable under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, with the Indian subspecies, Panthera pardus fusca, considered to be particularly vulnerable due to India's rapidly rising Human population, which has resulted in agriculture and other Human activities expanding into many former wilderness areas. For this reason the Indian Forest Service usually try to relocate Leopards that come into conflict with Humans to more remote areas, preferably within national parks, though the extent to which local people co-operate is variable.

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Seven killed in accident at Chinese coal mine.

Seven workers have died and another three have been injured, one of them seriously, in an accident at the Fengchun Coal Mine at Chongqing in southwest China, on Saturday 16 December 2018. The incident happened slightly after 6.05 pm local time, when a skip containing coal came free and tumbled down a coal shaft. The mine owners, the Chongqing Energy Group, have suspended operations at all of their coal mines pending an enquiry into the incident.

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

China gains 70% of its energy from coal-burning power stations, which places the country under great pressure to maintain coal supplies. This has led to a poor safety record within the mining sector, particularly in the private sector, where there is a culture of seeking quick profits in poorly regulated (and often officially non-existent) mines. State owned mines are often thought to be better regulated, but still compare badly to mines in other parts of the world.

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