Sunday 30 June 2019

Mollisquama mississippiensis: A new species of Kitefin Shark from the Gulf of Mexico.

Kitefin Sharks, Dalatiidae, are small Sharks with robust lower jaws, which lack spines in their dorsal fins and have no anal fins. They show heterodont dentition (the teeth are not all the same, in this case with the upper and lower teeth being distinct, and some species are bioluminescent. The group includes the distinctive Cookiecutter Sharks, Isistius spp., which feed by taking a circular (or cookie shaped) bite of flesh from prey animals much larger than themselves.

In a paper published in the journal Zootaxa on 18 June 2019, Mark Grace of the Mississippi Laboratories of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Michael Doosey of the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute, John Denton of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida, and the Department of Ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History, Gavin Naylor also of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida, Henry Bart, also of the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute, and John Maisey of the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, describe a new species of Kitefin Shark from the Gulf of Mexico.

The new species is placed in the Pocket Shark genus Mollisquama (so called because some species reach less than 40 cm in length, and the presence of a distinctive pocket-shaped gland above the pectoral fin), and given the specific name mississippiensis, meaning 'from Mississippi'. The species is described from an immature male specimen 142 mm in length and weighing 14.6 g. The specimen was caught in February 2010 during survey by the NOAA Ship Pisces at a depth of between 5 and 580 m, in an area where the seafloor is slightly over 3000 m deep.

Mollisquama mississippiensis illustrated to scale in (A) lateral and (B) ventral view. Grace et al. (2019).

The species has distinctive dentition. with narrow conical upper teeth and blade shaped lower teeth, the teeth of both jaws being larger towards the centre of the mouth and smaller towards the edge. The symphyseal tooth of the lower jaw (that is to say the middle teeth) have a shoulder beneath the cusp that overlaps the neighbouring teeth.

Mollisquama mississippiensis, upper tooth lateral view (tooth #4 right); lower tooth labial surface view (tooth #4 right). Grace et al. (2019).

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Architeuthis dux: Giant Squid captured on video for the second time ever.

The Giant Squid, Architeuthis dux, is a deep-sea Cephalopod Mollusc found in oceans around the world. Reaching about 10 m in length, it is the second largest known Cephalopod, the second largest Mollusc, and the second largest Invertebrate Animal of any type, being exceeded in size only by the even larger Colossal Squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamilton, which can reach about 14 m and is only known from the waters around Antarctica. Despite its large size, the Giant Squid is very poorly understood by marine biologists, with very few recorded sightings of living animals, and most of what is known about the species based upon the study of specimens recovered from the stomachs of Sperm Whales.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week published footage of a Giant Squid filmed at a depth of 759 m in the Gulf of Mexico about 160 km to the southeast of New Orleans, which was captured by the Medusa camera system on Wednesday 19 June 2019, using an electronic 'Jellyfish' lamp to mimic a bioluminescent Coronate Medusa Jellyfish, Atolla wyvilleias, thought to be one of the Giant Squid's main prey items.

Footage of a Giant Squid captured by the NOAA's Medusa System in the Gulf of Mexico this week. NOAA.

This is only the second time that video footage of a Giant Squid has been captured, the first time having been in 2012, when the same camera system filmed another member of the species, off the coast of Japan. Both videos were captured at similar depths, and show the Squid to be active animals deliberately seeking out prey, rather than being passive drifters, as had preciously been suggested by some Marine Biologists.

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Saturday 29 June 2019

Begonia balangcodiae: A new species of Begonia from the Philippines.

Begonias, Begonia spp., are perennial flowering plants related to Gourds, found in tropical and subtropical forests around the world, and popular as houseplants. They are typically ground-dwelling understory Plants, though some species are epiphytes (live on other Plants, usually in the canopy of trees). Begonias are monoecious, with both male and female flowers occurring on a single plant, and may be upright-stemmed, rhizomatous or tuberous. The genus is one of the largest known genera of Flowering Plants, with over 1800 described species. These are found throughout the tropics, with two major centres of biodivesity, in South America and Southeast Asia. The Philippines falls within the Southeast Asian biodiversity hotspot, with about 120 described species.

In a paper published in the journal Phytotaxa on 26 June 2019, Shih-hui Liu and Yu-Hsin Tseng of the Research Museum and Herbarium at Academia Sinica, Diaiti Zure, also of the Research Museum and Herbarium and of the Biodiversity Program at Academia Sinica, and of the Department of Life Science at the National Taiwan Normal University, Rosario Rivera Rubite of the Department of Biology at the University of the Philippines Manila, Teodora Balangcod of the Department of Biology at the University of the Philippines Baguio, and Ching-I Peng and Kuo-Fang Chung, also of the Research Museum and Herbarium at Academia Sinica, describe a new species of Begonia from Luzon Island in the Philippines.

The new species is named Begonia balangcodiae, in honour of Teodora Balangcod, for her hospitality to the other members of the group during their stay at the University of the Philippines Baguio. The species is an erect herb reaching about a metre in height, with asymmetric, lance-shaped leaves with white spots, and white or greenish white flowers. The species was found growing on slopes in a mossy forest in Benguet Province.

Begonia balangcodiae. (A) Habitat and habit; (B) stem and petiole; (C) pistillate flowers; (D) staminate flower; (E) staminate flower and staminate flower bud; (F) inflorescence, and pistillate flower buds; (G) ovary and bracts; (H) habit. Scale bar is 5 mm. Liu et al. (2019).

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Asteroid (441987) 2010 NY65 passes the Earth.

Asteroid (441987) 2010 NY65  passed by the Earth at a distance of about 2 934 000 km (7.64 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 1.96% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 5.00 pm GMT on Monday 24 June 2019. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would have presented a significant threat. (441987) 2010 NY65 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 94-300 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 94-300 m in diameter), and an object at the upper end of this range would be predicted to be capable of passing through the Earth's atmosphere relatively intact, impacting the ground directly with an explosion that would be about 69 000 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. Such an impact would result in an impact crater over 4.5 km in diameter and devastation on a global scale, as well as climatic effects that would last years or even decades.

The calculated orbit of (441987) 2010 NY65. JPL Small Body Database.

(441987) 2010 NY65 was discovered on 14 July 2010 by the  Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer satellite. The designation 2010 NY65 implies that the asteroid was the 1584th object (asteroid Y65 - in numbering asteroids the letters A-Y, excluding I, are assigned numbers from 1 to 24, with a number added to the end each time the alphabet is ended, so that A = 1, A1 = 25, A2 = 49, etc., which means that Y65 = 24 + (24 X 65) = 1584) discovered in the first half of July 2010 (period 2010 N), while the longer designation (441987) indicates that it was the 441 987th asteroid discovered overall (asteroids are not given this longer designation immediately, to ensure that numbered objects are genuine asteroids that have not been previously described).  

(441987) 2010 NY65 has a 364 day orbital period, with an elliptical orbit tilted at an angle of 11.7° to the plain of the Solar System which takes in to 0.62 AU from the Sun (62% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, and slightly less than the distance at which Venus orbits the Sun) and out to 1.36 AU (36% further away from the Sun than the Earth). This means that close encounters between the asteroid and Earth are fairly common, with the last thought to have happened in June lat year (2018) and the next predicted in June next year (2020). Although it does cross the Earth's orbit and is briefly further from the Sun on each cycle, 2019 EW1 spends most of its time closer to the Sun than we are, and is therefore classified as an Aten Group Asteroid. This also means that the asteroid has occasional close encounters with the planet Venus, with the last calculated to have occurred in March 2007, and the next predicted for May next year. As an asteroid probably larger than 150 m in diameter that occasionally comes within 0.05 AU of the Earth, (441987) 2010 NY65 is also classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid.
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Collapse at gold mine kills at least 43 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Forty three miners have been confirmed dead and many more are feared to by buried under rubble at a copper and cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, following a collapse on Thursday 27 June 2019. The incident happened at the Glencoe-owned KOV Open Pit Mine near Kolwezi in Lualaba Province, where artisanal miners (small scale miners armed with hand tools) had entered part of the site to dig into the sides of old terraces surrounding the mine, an operation which apparently weakened the mine wall, leading to the collapse.

Terraces at the KOV Open Pit Mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mining Review Africa.

Like may other African countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo has granted concessions to mining companies in areas where small-scale artisanal mining has traditionally helped to supplement the incomes of subsistence farmers. This provides an important source of revenue for governments, however, little of the money from such projects tends to reach local communities, which often leads to ill feeling and attempts to continue mining clandestinely, which can result in tension or even clashes between mine operators and local populations.

The Democratic Republic of Congo one of the world's largest producer of precious metals, but benefits little from the industry. The country has suffered years of political instability and has extremely poor infrastructure, is heavily indebted and has a chronic corruption problem, which means that little of the wealth generated from the industry makes it into government coffers, and that which does is unlikely to be spent on development or other projects likely to benefit the population. These problems are made worse by a series of conflicts in the area, which plays host to rebel groups opposed to the Congolese government and militiamen that fled the 1994 conflict in Rwanda and have never returned. In addition the area has suffered incursions from several neighbouring countries, mostly with an official purpose of defending borders against Congo's instability, but with a strong interest in the mining industry. Militia groups linked to neighbouring states also operate in the area, and again are said to be involved in illegal mining.

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Friday 28 June 2019

American tourist killed in Shark attack in the Bahamas.

An American student has died after being attacked by three Tiger Sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, while holidaying in the Bahamas. Californian Jordan Lindsay, 21, was snorkeling of Rose Island, when she was attacked by three Sharks, which bit her on the legs and buttocks as well as removing her right arm. Such attacks are extremely rare (the Bahamas only recorded four Shark attacks in the period 2007-2016, including a single fatality), and experts in the region are trying to work out what triggered the incident.

Jordan Lindsay, 21, of Torrence, California, killed in a Shark attack in the Bahamas. Evening Standard.

Despite their fearsome reputation, attacks by Sharks are relatively rare and most attacks on Humans by Sharks are thought to be mistakes. Tiger Sharks have a diverse diet, including invertebrates, Fish, Birds, Marine Reptiles and Marine Mammals, which we superficially resemble when we enter the water. Marine Mammals are attacked principally for their thick adipose (fat) layers, which are a nutritious high-energy food, but which we lack. Due to this, when Sharks do attack Humans these attacks are often broken off without the victim being consumed. Such attacks frequently result in severe injuries, but are seldom immediately fatal, and victims are likely to survive if they receive immediate medical attention.

A Tiger Shark in the Bahamas. Albert Kok/Wikimedia Commons.

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