Everyone Loses In This Python vs. Porcupine Battle
The life of a python in South Africa came to a thorny end last week.
A mountain biker at the Lake Eland Game Reserve in a coastal part of KwaZulu-Natal province reportedly spotted the snake with a full belly on June 14. Last Saturday, the snake — of which there are some graphic photos below — was found dead not far from the original sighting.
Experts at the game preserve autopsied the python and discovered a 32-inch, 30-pound porcupine inside of it.
While a snake swallowing a spiky porcupine whole may sounds like a classic case of mutually assured destruction, it’s actually not that uncommon.
“The porcupine did not injure the snake at all and eating the porcupine should not have caused the snake to die,” Lake Eland Game Reserve general manager Jennifer Fuller told The Huffington Post in an email. “The real cause of death is unknown.”
She said the stress from human interaction may have prompted the snake to try to regurgitate the porcupine but it got stuck.
Fuller said the snake fell off a rocky ledge, according to The Telegraph, but it was unclear if the snake was already dead when it did or if the fall caused some of the quills to puncture its digestive tract.
A wall in Bolivia is covered in thousands of dinosaur footprints, and it’s becoming a major tourist attraction
Cal Orcko, located 3 miles south of downtown Sucre in Bolivia, is home to the world’s largest and most diverse collection of dinosaur footprints from the Cretaceous Period.
(Flickr/Hanumann) The limestone cliff hosts about 5,000 dinosaur footprints, with many dating back 68 million years.
Discovered on the grounds of the local cement company Fancesa in 1985, the cliff was closed off to tourists after mining conditions and erosion began damaging the area.
After eight years of closures, tours started last year to allow visitors the opportunity to marvel at these footprints.
(Flickr/Ryan Greenberg) From the Parque Cretacico, which hosts a museum and dinosaur models, fossils, and paleontological information, you can take a one-hour guided tour to select areas of the wondrous paleontological site.
(Flickr/Médéric) The tour starts in the Parque Cretacico, where you’re given a helmet as a safety requirement from the cement factory before going to the south part of the cliff, which hosts footprints of Theropods (carnivorous dinosaurs).
Then you’re taken through the cliff with your guide, who explains the history behind the Sauropod (long-neck herbivores) footprints you’ll see. There are tracks from entire herds of Sauropods, ranging from 26 feet long to an impressive 65 feet.
(Flickr/Médéric) You’ll also get to peak at “under footprints,” the oldest layer of prints, which date back 70 million years.
The site contains the footprints of at least eight different species and stands as an ever-changing record of history in the Cretaceous era.
(Flickr/Jenny Mealing) As parts become eroded, new prints are continuously being found in the area, which is why the park has submitted Cal Orcko to the Unesco World Heritage list in an effort to continue preserving the footprints.
Guided tours are offered Monday through Saturday at noon and at 1 p.m. Tours cost $4.35.
Several months ago, the UK approved a groundbreaking reproductive technique in which babies are created from the genetic material of three people. The US is now considering the procedure, but Congress’s new spending bill will require religious experts to review a forthcoming report.
As Sara Reardon reports in Nature News, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is being asked to create an evaluation committee — a committee that must include religious experts — to review a forthcoming report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The technique under consideration produces embryos that, technically speaking, have three genetic parents, even though a scant 0.1% of genetic information is extracted from the donor. The reproductive technique eliminates rare but severely deadly or debilitating mitochondrial diseases.
If it likes what it sees in the IOM report (which is expected this winter), the FDA will permit clinical trials on mitochondrial replacement. But in the latest development, the U.S. House of Representatives is demanding another layer of review — an “independent panel of experts, including those from faith-based institutions with expertise on bioethics and faith-based medical associations.” The panel will have 30 days to evaluate the report and submit its recommendations to the House Appropriations Committee.
More from Reardon’s report:
William Kearney, a spokesman for the IOM’s parent organization, the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington DC, declined to comment on the House bill. But he says that the NAS has occasionally included religious specialists on its committees when appropriate. “We always strive to balance our committees with the expertise necessary to carry out the study in a scientific manner in order to produce an evidence-based report.”
In fact, the IOM committee that is evaluating mitochondrial transfer includes a bioethicist, James Childress, who teaches religious studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
But experts who have served on committees that were convened by the IOM or the NAS, say that the House bill’s provisions are highly unusual.
“It’s hard for me to understand what Congress thinks can be added by another layer of taxpayer-supported ethics reflection,” says Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “You don’t have to be a faith-based bioethicist to recognize that there’s some global responsibility for modifying the human germline.”
This “added layer” will almost certainly serve as a hindrance to getting this technique sanctioned. It could be years before this procedure is introduced to the United States—if it ever is, at all.
But that’s not all; the spending bill will prohibit the FDA from spending any money to evaluate research or clinical applications for any product or intervention in which human embryos are modified to introduce heritable traits. The effort to block human-embryo editing comes in the wake of news that scientists in China have edited the genomes of human embryos. This move will make it considerably harder to test embryo editing in clinical trials.
Between rainbows, rings, and sharp, hard lines, it’s difficult to not clap my hands in glee while unpacking the levels of awesome crammed in this X-ray image of Circinus X-1. The beautiful bullseye light echoes hint this neutron star is farther, brighter, and more like a black hole than we thought.
I am in love with this X-ray/optical composite image of Circinus X-1 in the constellation Circinus. The main focus is data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory remapped on a colour-scale to be visible to our eyes, with optical sky survey data providing layers of stars for context. The target is a double system of a neutron star and a massive mundane companion star, smothered in the gas and dust. That the neutron star managed to hold on to its companion after the violent supernova explosion that produced the surrounding shrapnel of the dust and debris is just the first of many strange things about Circinus X-1.
Space doesn’t come with neatly-labelled distances for us to clearly establish exactly where stars are, but every now and then we get lucky in tackling this notoriously difficult problem. When the neutron star in Circinus X-1 pulsed with a particularly bright flare, it produced a whole series of light echoes, an electromagnetic analogue to sound echoes with light bouncing through clouds of dust and gas instead of off hard walls. Each ring is an echo of light from the original star ricocheting off an intervening cloud.
The echoes of radio light mark the distance from Earth to each cloud, while X-ray data indicated down the distance from the clouds to the binary star system.
The closer a ring is to us, the larger it seems. The outermost ring (A) is from light bouncing around a cloud 41 lightyears away from the Earth, followed by clouds at 49 lightyears (ring B), 55 lightyears (ring C), and 52 lightyears (ring D) away.
By analyzing the echoes, comparing observations from the Mopra radio telescope from before and after the pulse, and doing a bit of fiddly geometry, astronomers determined Circinus X-1 is 30,700 lightyears from Earth. This overturns earlier research placing the system at a much less useful range of 13,000 to 41,000 lightyears away.
This mathematical dance required access to radio data. The Mopra radio telescope in Australia wasn’t specifically tasked to monitor Circinus X-1. Instead, it was mapping carbon monoxide gas distributions in the plane of the galaxy, just like it had been doing for several years.
The voided bars running through the image are visually intriguing, yet the scientifically least interesting part of this image. Measuring the distances requires detecting fine details in faint signals, a feat only possible by Chandra. Alas, the trade off for this sensitivity is a limited field of view. The actual object is a full, glorious smear, but the rings are so much larger than the field of view for the observatory detectors that they get clipped with only partial coverage. This leads to an interesting conundrum: the densest cloud of carbon monoxide was so close that the ring was too large to see at all! The only indication of the cloud’s presence is by it eating X-rays from the rings behind, just enough to launch a new challenge for astrophysicists to try to image the biggest, brightest ring.
Learning the distance to this neutron star by its echoes bring up all sorts of new astrophysical riddles. The object in Circinus X-1 is clearly a neutron star: it has no event horizon (or the fuzzier equivalent), and unlike a black hole, it has a surface, but it’s also weirdly like a black hole.
It’s twice as far away as we thought it was, meaning it’s much brighter. That frequently pushes the system over the Eddington Limit, the threshold for being bright enough that radiation exerts more pressure outwards than gravity pulling gas and dust back in, a trait more common to black holes than neutron star and leading to unexpected flickering as the gas supply keeps getting blown away.
It’s also building something we may as well call an accretion disc, sucking material from its companion star to feed its powerful jets.
We’re still learning about the jets: the star may produce a single, wide jet, or it may be producing pair of highly collimated jets that wobble as the star processes. It may have counter jets out the opposite pole, but the evidence isn’t entirely clear. And because of the crazy flickering produced by occasionally choking out its own gas supply by hovering so close to the Eddington Limit, absolutely nothing about the star is reliably stable. The particular burst that set off these intriguing echoes were first detected in late 2013, arriving over a three-month span.
X-ray observations between January 2013 and 2014. Circinus X-1 is marked with a white circle; the flare is visible between October 17th and December 19th, 2013. The bow-tie patterns are the shadow of the International Space Station. Image credit: Wisconsin-Madison/S.Heinz
We think Circinus X-1 is the youngest X-ray producing binary system, only becoming an X-ray source about 2,500 years ago. This makes pinpointing its three-dimensional location in space even more interesting since now we get to check out the aging process of neutron stars (and if its immaturity explains any of its unusual behaviour).
Tuan C. Nguyen | http://www.livescience.com/10561-giant-plant-eats-rodents.html?li_source=pm&li_medium=more-from-livescience&li_campaign=related_test
Nepenthes rajah was first discovered in 1858 and still is the largest carnivorous pitcher plant species on record.
Credit: Redfern Natural History Productions Ltd (more athttp://www.redfernnaturalhistory.com)
A giant plant that can gobble up bugs and even rodents has been discovered in Southeast Asia.
The carnivorous plant (nepenthes attenboroughii) was found by researchers atop Mt. Victoria, a remote mountain in Palawan, Philippines. The research team, led by Stewart McPherson of Red Fern Natural History Productions, had learned of the plant in 2000 after a group of Christian missionaries stumbled upon it while trekking up a remote mountain and reported it to a local newspaper.
The discovery, announced last week, was detailed in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.
The pitcher plant is the world’s second largest and can grow to more than 4 feet tall, with a pitcher-shaped structure filled with liquid. The plant secretes nectar around its mouth to lure rats, insects and other prey into its trap. Once an animal has fallen in, enzymes and acids in the fluid break down the carcass of the drowned victim.
“All carnivorous plants have evolved to catch insects but the biggest ones, such as this one, can eat rats and frogs,” McPherson told LiveScience. “It’s truly remarkable that a plant this big has been undiscovered for so long.”
The world’s largest pitcher plant (nepenthes rajah) was discovered in 1858 by British naturalist Hugh Low in Borneo. The plant’s rat-eating habit was confirmed four years later when his colleague Spenser St. John found a drowned rat inside one of the specimens.
Though some have approached McPherson to ask about the likelihood of cultivating the monster plants as mouse traps for rodent-infested regions like New York City, the botanist (who also happens to specialize in pitcher plants) says he finds the idea “a bit far-fetched.”
“Mice and rats are attracted to the sweet nectar of the plant, but it only catches them occasionally,” says McPherson. “It just isn’t practical. There will be too many mice for the plant to catch anyways.”
One woman’s Italian vacation took a turn for the worse when she woke up with pain in her ear one night. She had no way of knowing then that she’d just been bitten by a Mediterranean recluse spider, and that a chunk of her ear would soon be liquefied by the spider’s venom. But that’s exactly what happened, according to a recent report of her case.
The 22-year-old woman soon sought treatment for her pain in an Italian hospital, where doctors prescribed an antihistamine. But the swelling in her face and pain in her ear didn’t get any better. Once she was back home in the Netherlands, the ear got worse, and portions of it turned black — a clear sign that the skin and cartilage cells were dead.
The dead tissue made it clear to doctors that the woman had been bitten by a Mediterranean recluse, a spider whose bite is known to destroy skin and underlying fat, causing “sunken-in” scars or “a disfigured ear, if you are very unlucky,” said Dr. Marieke van Wijk, a plastic surgeon in the Netherlands involved in the woman’s treatment. [Related: Girl’s Brown Recluse Spider Bite Turns into Open Wound]
This is the ear after the dead tissue was removed.
Credit: Marieke van Wijk et al
The case is the first evidence that recluse-spider venom can also destroy ear cartilage, said van Wijk, a co-author of the case report, published last month in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery.
Venom from recluse spiders, including the American brown recluse and its Mediterranean cousin, kills skin and fat with a mixture of chemicals, including substances that break down proteins. The complex nature of the venom makes the bites hard to treat, van Wijk said. A drug called Dapsone has been used, but there is no proof that it works to treat these bites, she added.
Therefore, the recommended treatments for these spider bites are icepacks and painkillers, van Wijk told LiveScience.
In this case, van Wijk and her colleagues removed the dead tissue, and recreated it using cartilage from the woman’s ribs.
Recluse spiders rarely bite people, and when they do, the bites don’t usually inflict serious damage or large scars. Most bites occur when people roll over onto a spider while asleep, or when they put their foot into a shoe in which a recluse is found. It’s difficult to diagnose a brown-recluse-spider bite, and many suspected bites actually come from stinging insects, or are caused by other things, such as bacterial infections.
The restored ear, made in part from cartilage taken from the woman’s ribs.
Credit: Marieke van Wijk et al
The spiders are “not that dangerous,” van Wijk said. “I wouldn’t take precautions, but if one develops a mysterious red-white-and-blue and swollen lesion in summer, in an endemic region, keep the brown recluse in mind,” she added.
In a small minority of cases of recluse bites, the venom can cause a severe immune reaction that destroys blood cells. A recent study found that adrug used to treat unrelated rare blood disorders, eculizumab, may be able to reduce the destruction of blood cells in these patients by 80 percent.
When a little girl’s spider bite developed into a nasty open wound, doctors had to perform two procedures to remove blackened, dead tissue from her leg, researchers say.
Five days after being bitten by a spider, the girl — a 10-year-old living in northeast Mexico — developed a 2-inch lesion of dead tissue, along with swelling and a fever. Researchers suspect the bite came from a brown recluse spider, a venomous spider that is most commonly found in the south and central United States, including Texas.
The girl was treated with antibiotics and pain relievers, and doctors removed the dead tissue from the wound. Two weeks later, she was able to leave the hospital. About a month later, more dead tissue was removed from the wound to speed up the healing process.
After 56 days, the wound was almost healed, and a scar had started to form, according to the researchers, at the Medical School of the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon in Mexico, who reported her case.
Bites from brown recluse spiders are rare because the arachnid is not aggressive, and cannot bite through clothing, according to the University of Kentucky. Most bites occur when the spider is trapped against bare skin.
Most bites from the spider heal within three weeks without treatment. But in some cases, the venom from the bite destroys skin tissue, and the wound may grow several inches over a period of days. Severe reactions are more common in children and older adults.
It is hard to diagnose a brown recluse spider bite, and many suspected bites are actually caused by other things, such as flesh-eating bacteria or fungal infections. [See The Surprising Cause of Most ‘Spider Bites’].
The girl’s case is published in the Aug. 1 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.