Sunday, 18 February 2018

Kumimanu biceae: A new species of Giant Penguins from the Late Palaeocene of Otago, New Zealand.

Penguins, Sphenisciformes, first appeared in the Palaeocene of New Zealand, and subsequently spread around the Southern Hemisphere, reaching Antarctica, South America, Africa, and the Galapagos Islands. While typically associated with cool climates today, Penguins probably reached their most diverse during the warm greenhouse climates of the Oligocene and Eocene, when a number of giant species (species significantly larger than modern Emperor Penguins, Aptenodytes forsteri) are known from New Zealand and Antarctica.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications on 12 December 2017, Gerald Mayr of the Ornithological Section at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, Paul Scofield  and Vanesa De Pietri of the Canterbury Museum, and Alan Tennyson of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, describe a new species of Giant Penguin from the Late Palaeocene of Hampden Beach in Otago, South Island.

The new species is named Kumimanu biceae, where 'Kumimanu' means 'Monster Bird' in Maori and 'biceae' honours Alan Tennyson's mother, Beatrice ('Bice') Tennyson. It is described from a partial skeleton comprising a partial left scapula, an incomplete right coracoid, part of the sternum, a partial left humerus, an incomplete left ulna, the right femur, most of the right tibiotarsus, a partial synsacrum, three vertebrae, and various bone fragments. From these it is estimated to have had a body length of about 1.77 m, and a mass of about 101 kg.

Wing and pectoral girdle bones of the new Giant Penguin, Kumimanu biceae. (a) Whole specimen, partially prepared concretion with all bones in situ. (b) Right coracoid in dorsal view (dotted lines indicate reconstructed outline of bone). (c) Left coracoid of Waimanu tuatahi from the late Paleocene of New Zealand. (d)–(f) Fragmentary proximal end of the left ulna of Kumimanu biceae in (d) dorsal, (e) ventral, and (f) proximal view. (g), (h) Left ulna of an undescribed new Sphenisciform from the Waipara Greensand in (g) ventral and (h) proximal view; the dashed line in (g) indicates the portion of the bone preserved in the  Kumimanu biceae. (i) CT image of cranial surface of partial left humerus. (j) Exposed caudal surface of the bone, surrounding bones and matrix were digitally brightened. (k), (l) CT images of caudal humerus surface with (k) minimum and (l) maximum length estimates based on the reconstructed outline of the bone (dotted lines). (m) Left humerus of Crossvallia unienwillia from the late Paleocene of Antarctica, which is one of the largest previously known Paleocene Penguin species. (n) Left humerus of Pachydyptes ponderous from the late Eocene of New Zealand, which was previously considered one of the largest fossil penguins. Abbreviations: cor, coracoid; dcp, dorsal cotylar process; fem, femur; fpt, fossa pneumotricipitalis; hum, humerus; olc, olecranon; ppc, procoracoid process; scc, scapular cotyla; sup, attachment scar for supracoracoideus muscle; tbt, tibiotarsus; vct, ventral cotyla. Scale bars equal 50 mm; same scale for (b) and (c), (f) and (h), and (i)-(l), respectively. Mayr ey al. (2017).

A phylogenetic analysis suggests that Kumimanu biceae is not closely related to the Giant Penguins of the Oligocene and Eocene, but represents a separate evolutionary lineage that arose from smaller ancestors. Mayr et al. note that the appearance of such a large Penguin so shortly after the End Cretaceous Extinction is significant, and that this may imply Penguins reached large sizes not in response to the warm climate of the Oligocene and Eocene, but rather the sudden absence of large Marine Reptiles, creating an evolutionary niche that few other groups were ready to exploit. They further observe that the disappearance of these large forms by the end of the Eocene may, therefore, not by due to the cooling climate of the time, but rather the appearance of Marine Mammals such as Toothed Whales and Seals, which would have occupied a similar ecological niche to the Giant Penguins, and in the case of Seals, competed with them directly for coastal breeding grounds.

 Further bones of Kumimanu biceae. (a) Cranial portion of left scapula; in (b) the surrounding matrix and bones were digitally removed; the dotted line demarks an overlying bone fragment. (c) Left scapula of Waimanu tuatahi from the late Paleocene of New Zealand. (d), (e) Thoracic vertebra of Kumimanu biceae in (d) caudal and (e) right lateral view. (f) Right femur of Kumimanu biceae in craniomedial view. (g) Kumimanu biceae, sternum in cranial view. (h) Right tibiotarsus in cranial view. (i) Digitally reconstructed distal end of tibiotarsus, in which the medial condyle was brought into its presumed original position and a piece of adhering bone fragment and matrix were removed. (j) Distal end of right tibiotarsus of Waimanu manneringi. Abbreviations: afh, articulation facet of humerus; cas, coracoidal articulation sulcus; cdf, caudal articulation facet; crf, cranial articulation facet; ext, extensor sulcus; fem, femur; fib, fibular crest; lcd, lateral condyle; mcd, medial condyle; stk, sternal keel; vtp, ventral process. Scale bars equal 50mm. Mayr ey al. (2017).

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Epinnula pacifica: A new species of Snake Mackeral from the Pacific Ocean.

Snake Mackeral, Gempylidae, are large (up to 2 m) Perciform Fish, similar in appearance to Baracuda, and with similar predatory habits. The Domine, Epinnula magistralis, is a slender, metre-long Snake Mackeral first described from the Caribbean in the mid nineteenth century. These Fish are found at depths of greater than 150 m, and are seldom caught, implying low population densities, with less than a dozen specimens from the Caribbean and Pacific currently known in museum and university collections.

In a paper published in the journal Zootaxa on 12 December 2018, Hsuan-Ching Ho of the National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium in Taiwan, and the Institute of Marine Biology at the National Dong Hwa University, Hiroyuki Motomura, also of the Institute of Marine Biology at the National Dong Hwa University, and of the Kagoshima University Museum, Harutaka Hata of the United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences at Kagoshima University, and  Wei-Chuan Jiang of the Eastern Fishery Center of the Taiwan Fishery Research Institute, describe a second species of Domine from the Pacific Ocean.

Ho et al. examined all known specimens of Epinnula and concluded that the Pacific and Caribbean specimens belong to two separate species. Since the species was first described from the Caribbean, these specimens retain the name Epinnula magistralis, while the Pacific specimens are described as a new species, Epinnula pacifica. This species is currently known from eight specimens, collected from Japan, Taiwan, Hawai'i and New Zealand between 1953 and 2015. Depth data is only available on the collection of two of these specimens (most were obtained from fish markets), at 283 and about 300 m. 

Fresh specimen of Epinnula pacifica from Hawaii. Steve Wozniak in Ho et al. (2017).

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Magnitude 7.2 Earthquake in Oaxaca State, Mexico.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 7.2 Earthquake at a depth of 24.7 km, approximately 37 km to the northeast of the town of Pinotepa de Don Luis in Oaxaca State, Mexico, slightly before 5.40 pm local time (slightly before 11.40 pm GMT) on Friday 16 February. This event was felt across much of southern and central Mexico, as well as in southern parts of neighbouring Guatemala, and is reported to have caused damage to about 50 buildings and injured at least two people. While the Earthquake did not cause any direct fatalities, two people are known to have died when a helicopter that had made a flight over the effected area crashed on landing at a damaged heliport in Jalisco State.

Damage to buildings following the 16 February 2018 Oaxaca Earthquake. Reporte Nive1Uno/Twitter.

Mexico is located on the southernmost part of the North American Plate. To the south, along the Middle American Trench, which lies off the southern coast off Mexico, the Cocos Plate is being subducted under the North American Plate, passing under southern Mexico as it sinks into the Earth. This is not a smooth process, and the plates frequently stick together then break apart as the pressure builds up, causing Earthquakes on the process.

The approximate location of the 16 February 2018 Oaxaca Earthquake. USGS.

The Cocos Plate is thought to have formed about 23 million years ago, when the Farallon Plate, an ancient tectonic plate underlying the East Pacific, split in two, forming the Cocos Plate to the north and the Nazca Plate to the south. Then, roughly 10 million years ago, the northwesternmost part of the Cocos Plate split of to form the Rivera Plate, south of Beja California.

The position of the Cocos, Nazca and Rivera Plates. MCEER/University at Buffalo.

In a paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, in 2012, a team led by Igor Stubailo of the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of California Los Angeles, published a model of the subduction zone beneath Mexico using data from seismic monitoring stations belonging to the Mesoamerican Seismic Experiment, the Network of Autonomously Recording Seismographs, the USArray, Mapping the Rivera Subduction Zone and the Mexican Servicio Sismologico Nacional.
The seismic monitoring stations were able to monitor not just Earthquakes in Mexico, but also Earthquakes in other parts of the world, monitoring the rate at which compression waves from these quakes moved through the rocks beneath Mexico, and how the structure of the rocks altered the movement of these waves.
Based upon the results from these monitoring stations, Stubailo et al. came to the conclusion that the Cocos Plate was split into two beneath Mexico, and that the two plates are subducting at different angles, one steep and one shallow. Since the rate at which a plate melts reflects its depth within the Earth, the steeper angled plate melts much closer to the subduction zone than the shallower angled plate, splitting the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt into sections above the different segments of the Cocos Plate, and causing it to apparently curve away from the subduction zone.
 Top the new model of the Cocos Plate beneath Mexico, split into two sections (A & B) subducting at differing angles. (C) Represents the Rivera Plate, subducting at a steeper angle than either section of the Cocos Plate. The Split between the two has been named the Orozco Fracture Zone (OFZ) which is shown extended across the Cocos Plate; in theory this might in future split the Cocos Plate into two segments (though not on any human timescale). Bottom Left, the position of the segments on a map of Mexico. Darker area is the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, orange circles are volcanoes, brown triangles are seismic monitoring stations, yellow stars are major cities. Bottom Right, an alternative model showing the subducting plate twisted but not split. This did not fit the data. Stubailo et al. (2012).

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. The international non-profit organisation Earthquake Report is interested in hearing from people who may have felt this event; if you felt this quake then you can report it to Earthquake Report here.
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Leopard killed by police officer in Uttar Pradesh.

A Leopard has died after being shot by a police officer in the village of Aurangabad Khalsa near Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, India, on Saturday 17 February 2018. Police had been aiding forestry officials in attempts to capture the animal, which had been living in unused concrete sewage pipes close to the village for at least two days, and which had injured several villagers in confrontations. The officer had reportedly tried to intervene where the Leopard attacked a local woman, and was forced to fire on it when it turned on him.

Leopard near the village of Aurangabad Khalsa in Uttar Pradesh before it was shot and killed this week. Indian Express.

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.

Uttar Pradesh Police Officer Triloki Singh, injured in a confrontation with a Leopard in Aurangabad Khalsa village this week. Vishal Srivastav/Indian Express.

The Aurangabad Khalsa Leopard, an adult male, was originally trapped in a house by villagers who called the Forest Service to remove it. However the animal escaped before the forestry officials arrived, injuring at least one villager in the process. The Forest Service set baited traps in order to try to capture the Leopard and asked people to stay in their homes until the operation was over, but found their actions impaired by those of the villagers, many of whom attempted to see the animal, while others decided to take the matter in their own hands and drive it away, in contravention of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. Confronted with these problems the forestry officials asked for help from local police to control the situation.

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Missing man found dead at Montana mine.

A Montana man missing since late January 2018 has been found dead at an old mine near Butte in Silver Bow County. Frank Piazzola, who was last seen on 28 January, was found dead at the foot of the gallows head frame (structure above a mineshaft that supports a lift hoist) at the Anselmo Mine Yard. The investigating coroner believes he fell to his death, and plans to carry out toxicology tests on his body.

The gallows frame head at the Anselmo Mine Yard in Silver Bow County, Montana. Travel Montana/Montana Photo Gallary/State of Montana.

The Anselmo Mine Yard was an active mine between 1887 and 1959, producing lead, zinc, copper and silver, and reaching a depth of 1310 m. It is now opperated by Silver Bow County as an industrial museum, and is a popular tourist attraction. However it is only open between April and October, which is presumably how Mr Piazzola's body was able to remain undiscovered for almost three weeks.

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Avalanche kills skier near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

A skier has died in an avalanche near Jackson Hole in Teton County, Wyoming, on Saturday 17 February 2018. The skier, identified as Alexander Marra, 30, of Orrem in Utah, was caught in the avalanche in the Rock Springs Canyon in the Teton Mountains above the town, at about 11.30 am local time and died instantly. Another skier who was with Mr Mara at the time of the incident was unhurt.

The approximate location of the 17 February 2018 Rock Springs Canyon avalanche. Google Maps.

Avalanches are caused by the mechanical failure of snowpacks; essentially when the weight of the snow above a certain point exceeds the carrying capacity of the snow at that point to support its weight. This can happen for two reasons, because more snow falls upslope, causing the weight to rise, or because snow begins to melt downslope, causing the carrying capacity to fall. Avalanches may also be triggered by other events, such as Earthquakes or rockfalls. Contrary to what is often seen in films and on television, avalanches are not usually triggered by loud noises. Because snow forms layers, with each layer typically occurring due to a different snowfall, and having different physical properties, multiple avalanches can occur at the same spot, with the failure of a weaker layer losing to the loss of the snow above it, but other layers below left in place - to potentially fail later.

Diagrammatic representation of an avalanche, showing how layering of snow contributes to these events. Expedition Earth.

On this occasion the event has been linked to heavy snowfall the day before the event, with about 20 cm of snow falling in the 24 hours before the event, accompanied by strong southwesterly winds likely to cause drifting, which had prompted local authorities to close several slopes in the area, as well as issuing warnings about skiing in other areas.

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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Chrysiptera burtjonesi: A new species of Damselfish from the Solomon Islands.

Damselfish, Pomacentridae, are small, often brightly coloured Perciform Fish found predominantly around tropical reefs and shores, though there are a few temperate and even freshwater species. They are often highly territorial, with males and females having separate territories, and the females leaving their territories briefly to lay eggs in the territories of the males, who then fertilise and brood the eggs and raise the young.

In a paper published in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation on 14 September 2017, Gerald Allen of the Department of Aquatic Zoology at the Western Australian Museum, Mark Erdmann of the Conservation International Indonesia Marine Program and the California Academy of Sciences, and Dita Cahyani of the Indonesia Biodiversity Research Centre at Udayana University, describe a new species of Damselfish from the Solomon Islands.

The new species is placed in the genus Chrysiptera, and given the specific name burtjonesi, in honour of the photographer and underwater guide Burt Jones, for his promotion of diving in the Solomon Islands. The species is described from 24 specimens ranging from 20.5 to 48.2 mm in length, and grayish brown in colour with greenish fins and yellow and blue markings.

Chrysiptera burtjonesi, underwater photograph, approx. 40 mm SL, Russell Group, Solomon Islands. Gerald Allen in Allen et al. (2017).

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