Saturday, 17 November 2012
Sunday, 23 September 2012
Sunday, 16 September 2012
Saturday, 1 September 2012
Once again, it is that time of the year when we see whitebait nets spread along the riverbanks of both Islands, faces filled with expectancy of that one mighty haul of rare larval form of Galaxid that were once so common they were dumped on fields as fertilizer or fed to pigs as a food supplement..
With a scarcity of good sites it has even come down at times to armed conflict over the possession of a single site.
It was inevitable that the unceasing supply would eventually dwindle away and protection measures were taken by providing a designated season in which these creatures could be caught. These methods have not done much to help the position as the population of some of the rarest species, whitebait consists of a mixture of Galaxid species, as rarer species showed no sign of recovery.
It is not generally understood that the whitebait have to run a massive gauntlet to get not only to the rivers, but also up to the alpine areas. Firstly, many hungry predators follow the run in large numbers. These small fish are a favourite of many marine species.
After this they then have to avoid freshwater species mainly trout and the nets of the whitebaiters.
Once past those man-made constructions become a problem until they finally reach the cool Alpine streams.
From the original number that began this journey only a vastly diminish number finally make it to grow and become breeding adults.
In the interim people pay outrageous sums of money just for small quantities of these juvenile fish leaving populations dangling on the edge of extinction.
A lot of species that travel in these migrations we know very little about and if the situation continues, like the greyling, more species will disappear before we learn anything about them all for the sake of a fritter on a plate.
Sunday, 19 August 2012
The Possiblity of Mosasaurs breeding off the New Zealand Coast.
By Tony Lucas
There have been many encounters with unknown creatures off the coast of New Zealand, with the East coast being particularly favoured.
There is a very good reason for this, running parallel to New Zealand's coastline is the Hikurangi Trench. A deep gouge on the ocean floor, that descends in places to depths of 3,750 metres (12,300 ft).[ (Lewis, Collott, & Lallemand, 1998, pp. 441-468.)
New Zealands unique oceanography
These deep troughs bring a wealth of nutrient rich organisms to the surface allowing for a mass of biodiversity to flourish in the nutrient rich upper waters.
Krill are profuse here along with smaller fish species which create a nutrient rich environment for larger predatory animals such as Giant Squid, which in turn are preyed upon by Sperm Whales. So there is no deficit of vast food supplies for large predatory animals cruising the depths of New Zealand's coastline.
Where the Hikurangi Trench joins up with the Tonga Trench, the area is heavily spotted with areas of geothermal activity which provide warm waters as well as a warm current which flows from the equatorial region.
This area of the Tonga Trench has a rich diversity of marine life previously undiscovered until recent expeditions. This is a very harsh environment where reshaping of the seafloor is happening continually, to quote from the results of a joint project between the Universities of Durham and Oxford, and funded by the National Research Centre.
"Where the Pacific plate collides with the Indo-Australian plate, it is forced downwards into the trench, a subduction zone, and the volcanoes are carried with it.
The trench, reaching a depth of 10.9km, forms the second deepest stretch of seabed anywhere in the world - easily large enough to hold Mount Everest"
What would make this an ideal nursery and breeding place?
The abundant food supply, warm, water and lack of large predatory animals would make this an ideal breeding and nursery ground for Mosasaurs. Migrating whales along these routes would also provide a range of suitably sized animals for the young mosasaurs to feed on, and just returning from the feeding grounds would make these whales wholesome additions to their diet.
Personally, I think the primary reason that many of these creatures are avoiding detection is the fact that they have learned to avoid the sound of a ship's engine and stay well away from any encroaching vessel or main shipping lane.
These out of the way areas often lead to shallow bays which are warmed by the circum-tasmanian current which brings warm water to the Bay of Plenty, which coincidently boarders the Kermedec trench. Warm water, shallow bays and a deep nutrient rich feeding ground create ideal nutrient rich conditions. Likewise a high percentage of creature observations have been made in these very waters.
So what has been seen in these waters?
The earliest known reference to Mosasaur like creatures in New Zealand waters comes from a report dated August 1st 1899 from the Union Steam Ships Chief Officer of the Rotomahama, Lindsay Kerr.
He reported a huge Conger Eel, except it had two fins, one on each side of the body. This colossus Rose up to a high of 30 feet out of the water. This sighting occurred near the Portland Light situated between Gisborne and Napier.
Right in the area of suitable Mosasaur habitat coincidently.
When shown pictures of various types of Eels, Mr Kerr said it had a more crocodilian type head rather than anything he was shown.
In April 1971 the crew of the Kompira Maru saw a "Bug-Eyed Monster" which resembled a large crocodile, but had fins instead of Legs, which were clearly visible as it leaped and dived under the water.
1972 three women were whitebaiting at the mouth of the Orari River near Temuka watched a huge creature wallowing in the breakers about 30 m away from them.
They described a light grey lizard like beast that was around 15 m long, which at one point opened its mouth to reveal numerous small sharp teeth.
There is nothing to be said to make me think otherwise but personally, I do believe these creatures are out there as there have been too many sightings that are so closely reminiscent of mosasaurs as to be easily dismissed.
There have been 11 reported sightings of Mosasaur like animals reported in New Zealand waters, a higher number than anywhere else.
Are they a new species?
I would more like to think of a Coelacanth scenario, an ancient species that has adapted to survive into the modern age.
We are still but children taking our first unsteady paddling steps into a very wide and portentous ocean that holds many secrets and undisclosed treasures we thought once lost.
Lewis, K. B., Collott, J., & Lallemand, S. E. (1998). The dammed Hikurangi Trough: A channel-fed trench blocked by subducting seamounts and their wake avalanches (New Zealand-France GeodyNZ Project (pp. 441-468.).
SamYivano. (2007). Jaws. Retrieved from http://http//nzcryptozoologist0.tripod.com/id22.html
Saturday, 18 August 2012
Thursday, 9 August 2012
Four photographs of three moose that a Northland man claimed last year were taken in Fiordland in 1953 were actually taken in Canada.
In June last year, the late Fred Stewardson, of Hikurangi, recounted to the Otago Daily Times and other media how he and a companion came across the animals on a hunting trip to Wet Jacket Arm.
However, Fiordland moose researcher Ken Tustin, of Bull Creek near Milton, said yesterday after two years of work he had established the photographs were taken near Banff in 1958.
Mr Tustin was uncertain of Mr Stewardson's motives but had found Mr Stewardson's life was "full of exaggerations".
"The old fellow was absolutely entranced by the moose story, knew or found out, through me, a bit about it, and then wrote himself into it."
Mr Tustin received final confirmation Mr Stewardson's story was false by speaking to his ex- wife in Australia, who clearly recalled where the moose photographs were taken.
Mr Tustin said he had spent hours speaking to Mr Stewardson by phone and had received letters from him supporting his story.
He now believes Mr Stewardson, who died nine months ago, never visited Wet Jacket Arm but was quite likely in Fiordland in 1952 when the head of a bull moose was brought out of the bush.
North American moose were released in Fiordland in 1910 and Mr Tustin has spent many years trying to establish that their descendants remain there.
Mr Stewardson claimed he kept the photographs a secret for 60 years to keep the Fiordland moose safe from other hunters.
"Fiordland will have loads of trigger-happy clowns there for slaughter.
Many won't give a damn if moose survive or not," he wrote to Mr Tustin last year.
Mr Tustin said he had early reservations about the photographs because of the shape of vegetation, but believed it did resemble vegetation he had seen in different parts of Fiordland.
After the photographs were published in the ODT he received an anonymous call warning him not to believe Mr Stewardson.
But despite offering Mr Stewardson the opportunity to retract his story, he never did.
"I'm disappointed he carried his story - knowing it was not true - to such great lengths ... knowing how important the accuracy of my [moose] history was to me."
Wednesday, 8 August 2012
Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Thursday, 3 May 2012
Monday, 16 April 2012
Thursday, 29 March 2012
Act now to save the Maui's dolphin from extinction
Send this message to the NZ Government now
NZ's tiny indigenous Maui's dolphin is on the brink of extinction. Unless substantial action is taken very soon - we will lose them forever. The New Zealand Government has proposed some interim action but it is not enough - send this message to Primary Industries Minister David Carter now urging stronger action:
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Like many Kiwis I am concerned about the alarmingly low number of Maui's dolphins revealed in the recent population study released by the Department of Conservation, and the serious decline in their population. I support urgent action to remove threats to the remaining dolphins, the main known threat being gillnet and trawler fishing in Maui's dolphin habitat. The National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) estimated in 2008 that 110 to 150 Hector's and Maui's dolphins die in commercial set nets every year. I ask that you urgently implement a ban on gillnet and trawler fishing throughout Maui's dolphin habitat, to a depth of 100 meters. The urgent implementation of such an interim measure must be followed up by the adoption of a permanent protection measure to this effect. Extending the measures to protect Maui's dolphins is a matter of extreme urgency, as the very future of these small dolphins are at stake. These measures must be implemented in full, not compromised by industry interests when more selective and sustainable fishing methods are possible. New Zealand must not become the next country to confess to the world that our negligence has allowed a dolphin species to be wiped off the face of the earth. lets show the world that New Zealand is not one country that puts its money where its mouth is and does not idly sit by and watch another species vanish into oblivion without lifting a finger to stop that happening. We have done it before, the Black Robin is a classic example of New Zealanders not willing to let a species vanish forever. We have a reputation to keep up and the eyes of the world turn to us because we are not quitters.. Let's not start tarnishing this reputation now. The complete survival of this species lies in your hands and your voice.. What will you tell your grandchildren when they ask why this species became extinct. Will you just hang your head in shame and say "I did nothing". Tony K Lucas New Zeqaland
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Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Return of the saddleback
The saddleback (photo supplied)
Wed, 14 Mar 2012 4:33a.m.
The endangered saddleback will return to the Auckland mainland in March, for the first time in more than 150 years.
Ninety of the rare birds are being released into the open sanctuary at Tawharanui Regional Park, and will test its success as a pest-free sanctuary.
The saddleback, or tieke, is the latest in a long line of residents brought in to the sanctuary – kiwi, pateke, robins and whiteheads have all been introduced, and bellbirds and kaka have returned of their own accord.
Massey University’s Dr Kevin Parker says the birds will be sourced from three different colonies, which he hopes will strengthen “genetic fitness and overall population health” – if it is practical.
He says it is unknown if the birds, which will have different songs specific to the colony they come from, will be “willing to pair and breed”.
Predators, particularly rats, were responsible for the saddleback’s disappearance from the mainland in the mid to late 1800s.
Stolen huia feathers worth $40,000
Valuable tail feathers from a stuffed huia have been stolen from a Dannevirke museum
By Charlotte Shipman
Valuable tail feathers from a stuffed huia have been stolen from a rural museum.
It is estimated the handful of feathers from the extinct bird could be worth around $40,000, but those who have been guardians of the bird fear the loss of heritage value is much greater.
The theft of the huia's tail feathers is now part of a police investigation.
“It's part of our heritage, our history, it's something we can't recapture so we're hoping someone out there has a conscience or someone knows who has taken it,” says Senior Sergeant Sue Leach.
The 123-year-old feathers were stolen from the Dannevirke Gallery of History where two of the birds have been displayed for 25 years.
Pat Mills works at the museum and says it is the first theft they have had since it opened in 1987.
“When it was discovered I just felt sick to the stomach.”
“I was absolutely devastated.”
Entry to the museum is just $2 but the feathers are worth much more.
In 2010 a single huia feather sold at auction for $8400.
It is not known exactly how may tail feathers are gone but they could be worth around $40,000.
“There are very few that are in such good conditions are these ones were,” says Mr Mills.
The native birds became extinct in the early 1900s.
The museum’s two birds are thought to have been the last in the Pohangina Valley and were shot in 1889 as a wedding gift.
Police are also considering DNA testing the remaining feathers, so the stolen ones can easily be matched to the bird if they are found.
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
So many species of oceanic bird are becoming extinct or endangered it is truly heartwarming to realise that there are some people out there willing to do their part, whatever it takes to stop this happening.
My sincere accolades to those of you who do this job and will be remembered by generations of the future.
Catching Hutton's shearwaters is hands-on. Or more like arms in.
You plunge shoulder-deep into the labyrinth of muddy burrows on tussock-covered mountain slopes, feeling for a disturbed chick's indignant peck.
"I've got a beautiful chick in here," exclaims Conservation Department biodiversity programme manager Phil Bradfield.
He carefully extracts the squawking ball of grey fluff and measures its wing length to check if it is a suitable age – that it will fledge in a few weeks. "A lot of people think bird work is glamorous," Bradfield jokes, his arms covered in mud.
Fellow chick collector Mike Bell, operations manager for Wildlife Management International, agrees. "Your arm gets scratched to bits, there's mud everywhere but we love it."
Over three days last week, the pair plus Marlborough contractor Dave Barker collected 102 chicks from high in the Seaward Kaikoura Range.
Packed in cardboard carry boxes, they are airlifted by helicopter to a man-made colony on Kaikoura Peninsula, only minutes from the touristy seaside township, to boost numbers already there.
"This [relocation] is possibly the most publicly accessible in the world," Bell says.
When these endangered seabirds fledge, the location of their new home will be imprinted on their birdbrains. In about three years their internal navigation will guide them back there to breed.
Hutton's shearwaters' population is estimated at 420,000 birds with 106,000 breeding pairs at the head of the Kowhai River catchment and 8000 breeding pairs on Puhi Peaks Station, about 10 kilometres north in the same mountain range.
That there are only two breeding colonies worldwide makes the bird vulnerable to extinction.
Historically, other birds were their only predators, but human impacts, such as fires and hunting, plus introduced pests and predators, have destroyed many colonies.
Of eight colonies found in the mid-1960s in the Seaward Kaikoura Range, their sole refuge nationwide, only two remained by the early 1980s. Anecdotal evidence indicates pigs wiped out the other six colonies, digging up burrows and gorging on chicks.
"The theory is these two colonies have survived as it's so gnarly to get in and pigs haven't found their way in yet," Bradfield says. "It would be like a picnic for a pig here. They would scoff the lot."
Goats, deer and chamois damage underground burrows while traversing the fragile terrain. The tracks they create potentially allow pigs to enter.
Possums, rats and hedgehogs are other predators.
Stoats have large home ranges and defend them from other stoats, therefore only a handful live in the crammed shearwater colony, having minimal impact on their numbers.
In 2005, a trial was started at the Kaikoura Peninsula to create a founding population. About 12 chicks were placed in wooden burrows, with plastic pipe exits, dug into the grass-covered hillside.
Over the following three years, 273 chicks were relocated there from the Kowhai colony, but success was marred due to cats killing many birds.
Urgent action came in the form of the Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust, established in late 2008.
It raised $300,000 to erect a predator-proof fence to protect the peninsula colony.
The chicks relocated last week are the first to live behind the predator-proof fence.
In the past few years, a handful of breeding pairs have returned to the man-made colony but early breeding by the young birds has been fraught, Bell says.
This year, four pairs laid an egg each but only one hatched – a major breakthrough. That chick will fledge in a few weeks, then migrate to the Timor Sea, via Australia, to winter.
Bell says the 102 chicks relocated from the Kowhai colony last week are an important boost to ensure the peninsula colony's long-term survival.
Next year, a further 100 chicks will be shifted there from their mountain home.
Typically, pairs return to their colony in late August to mate and prepare burrows.
Egg laying starts about a month later, with one parent sitting on the nest for five to 10 days while the other feeds at sea.
After about 50 days, the eggs hatch and chicks take three more months to fledge. The parents leave their chicks alone in the burrow during the day while they forage at sea, to return at night to feed them half-digested fish which they regurgitate.
Chicks become 25 per cent heavier than parents butstart to lose weight a month before they fledge, putting most of their energy into growing feathers and muscles. In the final week, or so, they stop eating to lose weight and start practising to fly.
Bell says chicks get no parental help in learning to fly and fish. Many die in the first year, most in the few weeks, with fatter chicks having greater survival odds.
However, a seven-year study into breeding success has shown an improvement in the odds over the past three years.
"We suspect it's about what is going on out to sea," Bradfield says.
One possibility is a set-netting ban off the east coast, introduced in 2008, although it has recently been relaxed by the Government.
"There are lots of horror stories of netting Hutton's shearwater. You don't just catch one, you might catch hundreds," Bell says.
Barker agrees, saying many chicks high on the mountain die of starvation as a result.
Last Thursday evening, the last 50 chicks are flown to the peninsula.
A full moon rises out of the sea as the last chick is nestled into its artificial burrow.
"It's a positive sign," Te Runanga O Kaikoura representative Brett Cowan says. The shearwater are a taonga species, and historically were an important food source for Maori.
Over coming weeks, a team of seven feeders, including Barker, will give their charges "sardine smoothies" until they launch into the world, taking with them the hopes for a new community.
Farewell celebrations for the departing fledging birds will be held on March 31 and April 1 in Kaikoura.
As Bell says, the new 2.4-hectare peninsula colony has enough room for tens of thousands of Hutton's shearwaters.
These special seabirds will get all the help they need from the trust and supportive community to transform the peninsula from barren farmland to a rich Hutton's shearwater colony bulging with life.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Thursday, 8 March 2012
They are calling it the search for the last kakapo, according to Fairfax newspapers.
A Conservation Department (DOC) team flew to Fiordland - the endangered birds' last mainland stronghold - in the hope of finding evidence of their existence in historic breeding areas.
The trip was sparked by a credible-sounding report from trampers that the ground-dwelling parrot's distinctive "booming", or mating call, was heard in the remote Transit Valley, near Milford Sound, on New Year's Day.
If audio recorders left on the valley's rugged ridgelines pick up further booming, it will be the first confirmed sign of kakapo on mainland New Zealand for decades.
Kakapo Recovery Programme manager Deidre Vercoe Scott said the mission was a long shot, but the discovery of new birds would be significant for the population's recovery.
Once threatened with extinction by stoats, ferrets, weasels and cats, the kakapo is now threatened by poor genetics.
All but three of the remaining 126 birds, living on two predator-free islands, originate solely from Stewart Island stock.
Scientists believe that genetic bottleneck has led to complications with the breeding programme, including high levels of infertility and embryo death.
Concerns about poor genetics has prompted DOC to consider removing one bird, Basil, from the breeding programme after the death of four of his young progeny since 2004, including one young male that died last week.
Southland-based DOC technical support manager Andy Cox, whose first kakapo-related trip to the Transit Valley was in 1976, said finding birds with Fiordland DNA was potentially valuable.
"This report sounds particularly hopeful and we've just got to keep our fingers crossed," he said.
Kakapo can live for 90 years, and some Fiordland kakapo fitted with radio transmitters in the 1980s have never been found. A DOC-led search in Fiordland in 2006 proved fruitless.
Last week, Vercoe Scott's team spent four nights camped on the eastern side of Transit Valley in an area known as "kakapo castle". The trip was funded by the Christchurch-based Mohua Charitable Trust.
The team set up audio recorders and checked known breeding sites.
Vercoe Scott said there were no fresh signs of kakapo.
"I think it's quite unlikely that we'll discover anything this year, but we'll earmark that area for the next breeding season and return those recorders just to make sure," she said.
DOC intends to retrieve the recorders within two weeks.
The species seemed doomed until the discovery of about 200 kakapo on Stewart Island in 1977. However, numbers continued to drop, hitting a low of 51 in 1995.
Sunday, 4 March 2012
Another highlight for the week was the arrival of 70 odd pieces of Moa bone which I picked up cheaply on an Internet auction site.
I am currently in the process of cleaning the bones. and the whole process is quite fascinating.
They will be a valuable addition to my collection.
Amongst what is there it does not like there is any bones of the largest species, but what is there seems to range from young to mature birds.
It is with much regret that I must report the loss of the CFZ-NZ mascot Oscar (fish), he mysteriously disappeared out of a totally enclosed tank. And after some hunting was brought in by the dog, carrying him ever so gently in her mouth. There was not a mark on him, and he had been dead for some time as he was quite dry.
This led to a very large empty fish tank. I decided to transfer the whitebait and reset up the current maker to simulate a river bottom.
All went well for a few days and then I suddenly found I was down to 2 whitebait. The next day was down to the large female so I was determined to sort out this mystery.
Now Nelson was a very big fish, and considering this fact and the amount of waste an Oscar producers I had removed the need projective funnel from the bottom of the filter tube, the mystery of the missing whitebait solved and the filter funnel was replaced. I am now down to one large female whitebait but should have no problem getting more once the whitebait season starts again in September.
The highlight of the week however, was while browsing the local pet shops I came across three fish tanks full of frogs. Someone had thoughtfully segregated the deformed one's from the normal ones. Most of the deformities, and there were quite a number of frogs.
I suspect a large number of deformities are due to some toxins in the water where they would gathered. Regrettably the owner of the shop had no idea where they had been gathered from.
What caught my attention most was that four of these blind frogs, and they are blind as there is no sign of vestigial eyes whatsoever, the four that caught my attention were a golden colour. Although at the transitional stage I had never before heard of golden litoria aurea, so was very anxious to get my hands on these animals.
I set them up in a tank at home and they seemed quite happy, although regrettably one found the only gap in the lid of the tank and was found dry and dead on the study floor. It has since been preserved and a jar of methylated spirits.
After Jon referred me on to Richard fish food was recommended and as the frogs mature hand feeding. I am ever so grateful for your help Richard, thank you.
Even though I have not seen them eat their bellies seem to look full and they seemed quite content.
These new abnormals were quite a delight to my granddaughter who remembers the last time we had frogs and she had to run around with a net catching flies to be put into a jar and then into the freezer to slow them down for transfer into the frog tank.
It should be very interesting to see how these abnormals develop and they are extremely fascinating to watch.
Judging from the percentage of abnormals however it is easy to see why frogs worldwide are in danger.
Wednesday, 29 February 2012
No, this isn't a make-believe place. It's real.
They call it "Ball's Pyramid." It's what's left of an old volcano that emerged from the sea about 7 million years ago. A British naval officer named Ball was the first European to see it in 1788. It sits off Australia, in the South Pacific. It is extremely narrow, 1,844 feet high, and it sits alone.
What's more, for years this place had a secret. About halfway up, at 225 feet above sea level, hanging on the rock surface, there is a small, spindly little bush, and under that bush, a few years ago, two climbers, working in the dark, found something totally improbable hiding in the soil below. How it got there, we still don't know.
A satellite view of Ball's Pyramid in the Tasman Sea off the eastern coast of Australia.
Here's the story: About 13 miles from this spindle of rock, there's a bigger island, called Lord Howe Island.
On Howe, there used to be an insect, famous for being big. It's a stick insect, a critter that masquerades as a piece of wood, and the Lord Howe Island version was so large — as big as a human hand — that the Europeans labeled it a "tree lobster" because of its size and hard, lobsterlike exoskeleton. It was 12 centimeters long and the heaviest flightless stick insect in the world. Local fishermen used to put them on fishing hooks and use them as bait.
Then one day in 1918, a supply ship, the S.S. Makambo from Britain, ran aground at Lord Howe Island and had to be evacuated. One passenger drowned. The rest were put ashore. It took nine days to repair the Makambo, and during that time, some black rats managed to get from the ship to the island, where they instantly discovered a delicious new rat food: giant stick insects. Two years later, the rats were everywhere and the tree lobsters were gone.
Totally gone. After 1920, there wasn't a single sighting. By 1960, the Lord Howe stick insect, Dryococelus australis, was presumed extinct.
There was a rumor, though.
Credit: Stephanie d'Otreppe / NPR
Some climbers scaling Ball's Pyramid in the 1960s said they'd seen a few stick insect corpses lying on the rocks that looked "recently dead." But the species is nocturnal, and nobody wanted to scale the spire hunting for bugs in the dark.
Climbing The Pyramid
Fast forward to 2001, when two Australian scientists, David Priddel and Nicholas Carlile, with two assistants, decided to take a closer look. From the water, they'd seen a few patches of vegetation that just might support walking sticks. So, they boated over ("Swimming would have been much easier," Carlile said, "but there are too many sharks."), they crawled up the vertical rock face to about 500 feet, where they found a few crickets, nothing special. But on their way down, on a precarious, unstable rock surface, they saw a single melaleuca bush peeping out of a crack and, underneath, what looked like fresh droppings of some large insect.
Where, they wondered, did that poop come from?
The only thing to do was to go back up after dark, with flashlights and cameras, to see if the pooper would be out taking a nighttime walk. Nick Carlile and a local ranger, Dean Hiscox, agreed to make the climb. And with flashlights, they scaled the wall till they reached the plant, and there, spread out on the bushy surface, were two enormous, shiny, black-looking bodies. And below those two, slithering into the muck, were more, and more ... 24 in all. All gathered near this one plant.
They were alive and, to Nick Carlile's eye, enormous. Looking at them, he said, "It felt like stepping back into the Jurassic age, when insects ruled the world."
They were Dryococelus australis. A search the next morning, and two years later, concluded these are the only ones on Ball's Pyramid, the last ones. They live there, and, as best we know, nowhere else.
How they got there is a mystery. Maybe they hitchhiked on birds, or traveled with fishermen, and how they survived for so long on just a single patch of plants, nobody knows either. The important thing, the scientists thought, was to get a few of these insects protected and into a breeding program.
Patrick Honan/Nick Carlile
That wasn't so easy. The Australian government didn't know if the animals on Ball's Pyramid could or should be moved. There were meetings, studies, two years passed, and finally officials agreed to allow four animals to be retrieved. Just four.
When the team went back to collect them, it turned out there had been a rock slide on the mountain, and at first they feared that the whole population had been wiped out. But when they got back up to the site, on Valentine's Day 2003, the animals were still there, sitting on and around their bush.
The plan was to take one pair and give it a man who was very familiar with mainland walking stick insects, a private breeder living in Sydney. He got his pair, but within two weeks, they died.
Adam And Eve And Patrick
That left the other two. They were named "Adam" and "Eve," taken to the Melbourne Zoo and placed with Patrick Honan, of the zoo's invertebrate conservation breeding group. At first, everything went well. Eve began laying little pea-shaped eggs, exactly as hoped. But then she got sick. According to biologist Jane Goodall, writing for Discover Magazine:
"Eve became very, very sick. Patrick ... worked every night for a month desperately trying to cure her. ... Eventually, based on gut instinct, Patrick concocted a mixture that included calcium and nectar and fed it to his patient, drop by drop, as she lay curled up in his hand."
Her recovery was almost instant. Patrick told the Australian Broadcasting Company, "She went from being on her back curled up in my hand, almost as good as dead, to being up and walking around within a couple of hours."
Eve's eggs were harvested, incubated (though it turns out only the first 30 were fertile) and became the foundation of the zoo's new population of walking sticks.
Matthew Bulbert/The Australian Museum
When Jane Goodall visited in 2008, Patrick showed her rows and rows of incubating eggs: 11,376 at that time, with about 700 adults in the captive population. Howe Island walking sticks seem to pair off — an unusual insect behavior — and Goodall says Patrick "showed me photos of how they sleep at night, in pairs, the male with three of his legs protectively over the female beside him."
Now comes the question that bedevils all such conservation rescue stories. Once a rare animal is safe at the zoo, when can we release it back to the wild?
On Howe Island, their former habitat, the great-great-great-grandkids of those original black rats are still out and about, presumably hungry and still a problem. Step one, therefore, would be to mount an intensive (and expensive) rat annihilation program. Residents would, no doubt, be happy to go rat-free, but not every Howe Islander wants to make the neighborhood safe for gigantic, hard-shell crawling insects. So the Melbourne Museum is mulling over a public relations campaign to make these insects more ... well, adorable, or noble, or whatever it takes.
They recently made a video, with strumming guitars, featuring a brand new baby emerging from its egg. The newborn is emerald green, squirmy and so long, it just keeps coming and coming from an impossibly small container. Will this soften the hearts of Howe Islanders? I dunno. It's so ... so ... big.
But, hey, why don't you look for yourself?
What happens next? The story is simple: A bunch of black rats almost wiped out a bunch of gigantic bugs on a little island far, far away from most of us. A few dedicated scientists, passionate about biological diversity, risked their lives to keep the bugs going. For the bugs to get their homes and their future back doesn't depend on scientists anymore. They've done their job. Now it's up to the folks on Howe Island.
Will ordinary Janes and Joes, going about their days, agree to spend a little extra effort and money to preserve an animal that isn't what most of us would call beautiful? Its main attraction is that it has lived on the planet for a long time, and we have the power to keep it around. I don't know if it will work, but in the end, that's the walking stick's best argument:
I'm still here. Don't let me go.
Monday, 27 February 2012
Big Bird: Fossils of World's Tallest Penguin Discovered | Kairuku Ancient Penguin | New Zealand Penguin Species & Diversity | LiveScience
Big Bird: Fossils of World's Tallest Penguin Discovered
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 27 February 2012 Time: 02:00 PM ET
An artist's rendering of two Kairuku penguins onshore, passing a stranded Waipatia dolphin.
CREDIT: Artwork by Chris Gaskin, owner and copyright owner: Geology Museum, University of Otago.
New Zealand was once home to the tallest penguin species ever known — a lanky bird that stood as high as 4.2 feet (1.3 meters).
The penguin, dubbed Kairuku grebneffi, lived about 27 million years ago in a penguin paradise. More of New Zealand was underwater at the time, with only today's mountaintops emerging from the sea. That made for excellent coastal nesting for a number of penguin species.
The new fossil specimens were found beginning in the 1970s, and researchers have continued to turn up bones from the animals as recently as two months ago, said study researcher and North Carolina State University paleontologist Daniel Ksepka. The find expands the known diversity of ancient New Zealand penguins, Ksepka told LiveScience. [Images: Pudgy Penguins]
"In the past we would have thought there were one or two species living in the area," he said. "Now we know there were five."
Ksepka and his colleagues described Kairuku grebneffi and a second species, Kairuku waitaki, today (Feb. 27) in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. K. grebneffi had unusually long flippers and a slim build, though its legs and feet were as short and stumpy as those of penguins today.
Researcher Daniel Ksepka with a Kairuku specimen and the bones of a modern-day Little Blue penguin.
CREDIT: R. Ewan Fordyce.
Today, penguins tend to cluster in species-specific habitats, with little overlap. Humboldt penguins dominate coastal Peru, for example, while Magellanic penguins are the main species found in Argentina. But researchers are finding that a variety of species lived side-by-side in ancient New Zealand.
Ksepka and his colleagues are using these ancient penguins to study everything from brain evolution to how the animals regulate their temperatures in frigid waters.
"Penguins are so interesting," Ksepka said. "They're so different than other birds that there's a lot we can do in the fossil record to try to understand how they became what they are."
This bird was as big as a man and very powerfully built, and must have been magnificent if life.
Sunday, 1 January 2012
Here's a story to warm the cockles of a jaded naturalist's heart.
The NZ storm petrel, which we shared some news about last year, appears to be doing its darnedest to fight its extinction tag.
The bird dropped off the radar in about 1895. It was rediscovered by birdwatchers in 2003, near the Mercury Islands. But no-one knows how or where the birds survived, or how many are left, or where they're breeding - the last point crucial for scientists seeking much-needed conservation funding.
Writer Catherine Woulfe has been keenly following the progress of this little bird, and reports:
"Chris Gaskin, spokesperson for the team of scientists researching the bird, has sent me a photograph of the bird with a stalk tangled in its legs. Gaskin and his team have spent a long time scrutinising that stalk, and they've worked out it's from a houpara plant.
"It's most likely the bird picked up the stalk while it was shuffling along the ground at its nesting site. (They never actually land anywhere else). This is huge news in itself: it strongly suggests that the birds are breeding in New Zealand.
"Further, the bird in the photo has tatty feathers, which suggests it's been shuffling around on land recently, which suggests it's been breeding recently.
"Back to the stalk. The team worked out all the islands that houpara plants grow on. Then they crossed out all the islands that are known to have rats, because if rats were present the birds would likely have been wiped out.
"That knocked out about 10 islands but still leaves a few dozen.
"The hunt continues..."
Great news indeed. Let's hope the NZ storm petrel flies its way out of extinction!