Archive for June, 2012

Update: Green Turtle

Posted by admin on June 29, 2012  |   No Comments »
Credit Oregon Coast Aquarium

Sea Turtle Undergoes Treatment

Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry, and his team at the Oregon Coast Aquarium have been busy tending to the 135 lb. Green turtle that washed up near Moolach Shores last week. The turtle’s body temperature was 58 degrees.  That, and the slow heart rate, as well as the lack of trauma to the turtle’s body, led Jim to conclude that the turtle was a victim of –wait for it—hypothermic stunning. More about that in a few paragraphs.

The turtle’s blood was shipped to Kansas because –well– not everyone knows how to do reptile bloodwork. The report, as expected, showed severe dehydration; also, some other indicators looked “wonky.”

At Oregon Coast Aquarium Undergoing Treatment

Green Turtle
Credit: Oregon Coast Aquarium

Nothing can happen fast with a cold reptile.   As hydrating fluids have been given through IV’s, Jim has slowly brought the turtle’s temperature up to 74 °F, an increase of 16° in the week since the turtle was carried off the sand. (Yes, you measure a turtle’s temperature as you’d imagine–through the cloaca.)  With this turtle, everything is  about temperature. The Oregon Coast is way off the turtle’s regular path; he belongs much further south.  Jim speculates that this guy rode a “cell” of warm water north, and when the “cell” dissapated, the turtle found himself in a large body of very cold water; the result was hypothermic stunning.  (You knew I’d get back to that term, because it’s just too good.)

As much as he’d like to, Jim can’t put this wild turtle on an flight from PDX to San Diego secure a happy ending to this story, at least not yet.   First, the turtle’s health was and is extremely fragile. Hypothermia often creates lasting damage, which we’ll explore in a later update.  Second, wild animals often cannot handle the stress of captivity, even when everyone is trying to help them back into the wild. Nevertheless,  Jim hopes to see enough recovery book this chelodon on a one-way  Southwest Airlines flight to Sea World San Diego for more rehabilitation. No ideas on time frame, as we’re all on turtle time.

While we wait, can you help me with this Green turtle puzzle? After  40 minutes, I still can’t finish.  I can get the turtle, but that dang border is giving me trouble.  You might say that I’m progressing at a turtle’s pace.

More updates as we hear from Jim.  Are there questions you’d like to ask?  I’ll pass them along.

Stranded Sea Turtle Tended By Oregon Aquarium

Posted by admin on June 25, 2012  |   No Comments »

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is rehabilitating a stranded sea turtle, found on Moolack Beach in Newport last Monday night.

Jim Rice, Moolack Shores Staff Move Turtle
Photo credit: Nadine Fuller

The male Green sea turtle was was discovered by a visitor at Moolack Beach. Jim Rice, Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network Coordinator, responded and transported the animal to the Oregon Coast Aquarium for urgent care. Aquarium husbandry staff is working closely with veterinarians to improve the turtle’s condition enough to transport it to a warm water sea turtle rehabilitation facility, with the ultimate goal of release into its natural habitat.

On Tuesday, 6-26, the aquarium will again take the turtle’s temperature, begin an antibiotic infusion, apply eyedrops as well as assess the turtle’s progress. The turtle’s condition is stable, but the extent of any internal injuries is unknown. [We will publish an update on the turtle’s condition on Tuesday, 6-26 after the examination.]

Jim Burke, Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry, said the turtle’s normal temperature is close to that of its natural habitat, about 72-82 degrees, and this turtle was found at 58 degrees. Fluids are being infused into the animal’ s coelomic (abdominal) cavity to warm and hydrate it and when its body temperature is high enough, it will receive antibiotics. We don’t know how sick [the turtle] is…We’re waiting for him to warm up and take food.

Burke said reptiles can slow their metabolism, which allows a window of time when they can be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released. Burke speculates that the turtle may have found itself in a warm water pocket, surrounded by cold water. Once the warm water dissipates, they become hypothermic and go into a hibernation-like state, called brumation, and they can no longer navigate or survive.

The Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), is a large sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. Their common name derives from the green fat underneath their shell. Anyone who finds a sea turtle on an Oregon beach should contact the Oregon State Police Wildlife Hotline at 1-800-452-7888 to ensure appropriate transport and care of the animal.  All sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Superheroes Revealed by Science

Posted by admin on June 9, 2012  |   No Comments »

This story is one of the reasons I mix science and nature on ThisWildLife.  Without new high speed photography and thermal imaging tools, and without the scientists doing work in the field, this Nature film on hummingbirds could never have been made.

Filmmaker Ann Johnson Prum calls hummingbirds nature’s heroes.  This would not have been news to Alexander Skutch, whose brilliant book on hummingbirds explained how hummingbird’s unique method of trapline feeding works and discussed the consumption of insects by these tiny creatures.  Much of what the film shows was known, but was difficult to show.  Science of photography and computing technology has made this possible.

When you have nine minutes, please watch this feature about the making of the Nature program.  The secrets of how the photographs were made are revealed.  Then, you can catch the video itself on Nature.

Nervous Dogs and Thunder

Posted by admin on June 1, 2012  |   No Comments »

Just in time for the Fourth of July: A study recently showed that holding or comforting a dog during loud noises such as a thunderstorm does not relieve their anxiety, although the company of other dogs may do the trick.  Read about pet panic here.

Cat Show Scientists

Posted by admin on June 1, 2012  |   1 Comment »
Heidi with Oh Henry (L) and Hailie with Sweet and Spicy (R).

Heidi with Oh Henry (L) and Hailie with Sweet and Spicy (R).

You might not expect to meet a future scientist at a Cat Show. Nevertheless, two prospective researchers showed cats at Oregon’s International Cat Show last weekend. Fifteen-year-old Heidi Christenson showed her cat, Oh Henry, in the Household Pet category because a birth accident resulted in amputation of a leg, disqualifying him from breed classes. Twin sister Hailie showed Sweet and Spicy, an 8-month-old female in the Bengal class.

The cats are products of breeding of the girls’ design. Heidi’s love of mathematics and Hailie’s fascination with genetics help them understand the most probable outcomes of their breedings. How do young women develop an interest in animal breeding?

4H participants since kindergarten, the sisters have exhibited animals since age 8, the youngest allowed by that organization. In addition to breeding and exhibiting cats, Heidi breeds dogs while Hailie breeds cavies (aka guinea pigs). Heidi now focuses on the Lapinporokoira, a little-known Finnish herding dog. Reindeer herders send Lapinporokoira out to move the herd to new grazing locations. Amazingly, the herder doesn’t need to accompany the dogs. Because of the breed’s independence and work ethic, Heidi believes she can breed individuals suitable for work as police or rescue dogs.

These Ridgefield, Washington students attend class at the Insight Academy Online.  They plan to join the Running Start program in Arts and Sciences at Clark College in the fall before moving to a four-year program. One wishes to become a researcher to help eliminate the genetic diseases that often result from breeding programs. The other sister is interested in sociology. What we don’t know is which animals they’ll choose to study. Perhaps the sisters’ ambitions result from a nurtured long-term interest that drives their curiosity. One has to wonder how many scientists’ careers were started with an interest in cats, dogs, or cavies.

Why Elephants Have Trunks

Posted by admin on June 1, 2012  |   No Comments »
Packy’s huge trunk. Credit: Oregon Zoo

Packy’s huge trunk. Credit: Oregon Zoo

Evolving larger takes ten times more generations than becoming smaller, according to research published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Biologists estimate elephant-sized mammal requires 10 million generations to evolve from rabbit-sized one.

This new research adds to our knowledge about why elephants have trunks. While children’s stories offer different explanations, scientists remain firm in their conviction that elephants evolved from much smaller animals possibly with smaller trunks—similar to a tapir.

Trunks evolved to stay in contact with ground

As the elephant ancestors’ size increased, their trunks evolved to stay in contact with the ground. In a 10-13 foot tall animal, either the neck has to be long enough to, or there needs to be another approach. Because elephants’ teeth and jaws became massive to be equal to the task of grinding the branches and thorns of acacia trees, their heads were too heavy to be supported by anything but a short, thick neck.

Snorkel?

An alternative theory, still under consideration and awaiting more study of fossil evidence, is that elephants may be related to manatees and dugongs. In other words, a common ancestor of manatees and elephants could have used a trunk as a snorkel.

From 55 million years of evolutionary data, we know that two or three species remain of the 164 elephant relations that lived in the past. The extinct forms ranged from deserts to mountaintops, on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. What scientists are looking through the fossil record for is more information on how and when elephants developed their infrasonic call. Most of this research is based on inferences from comparisons of extinct” proboscidean”  structures and our living elephant forms.
p>From 55 million years of evolutionary data, we know that two or three species remain of the 164 elephant relations that lived in the past. The extinct forms ranged from deserts to mountaintops, on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. What scientists are looking through the fossil record for is more information on how and when elephants developed their infrasonic call. Most of this research is based on inferences from comparisons of extinct” proboscidean”  structures and our living elephant forms.

Riddle
Why do elephants have trunks?…..They have too much luggage for a glove compartment!

What to Do While Rose-Tu's Expecting

Posted by admin on June 1, 2012  |   No Comments »
Photo Credit (c) Oregon Zoo

Photo Credit (c) Oregon Zoo

While we watch the Oregon Zoo’s world-renowned elephant experts care for pregnant Asian elephant Rose-Tu (birth expected in late 2012), ThisWildLife.com thought some cool information about elephants would give animal lovers new insight while we wait. As human beings that weigh between 7 and 300 pounds, imagining the life of a 7,000-pound elephant described as “playful, spirited, and highly intelligent” will take some doing. Nevertheless, let’s give it a try, starting with the front—which is the trunk.

Smashing Pumpkins

Each fall, the Portland Zoo’s Asian elephants smash pumpkins in a public-pleasing ritual. Elephants crush the giant gourds with their feet. Once the fruit is open, trunks unfurl and each grabs a chunk of orange deliciousness. Not only does the trunk put food and water into an elephant’s mouth, but the trunk also houses two long nasal (trunkal?) passages that move air. The trunk manipulates objects, senses through touch and air-borne chemicals, creates sound, and disciplines members of the herd.

All About Trunks

Getting a perspective on this agile grabber with a long reach from a photograph is difficult. Here are the numbers: adults’ trunks vary from 6-12 feet in length and from more than 14 inches at it’s largest diameter, the trunk tapers to about 3 inches at the tip. Made mostly of muscle, elephants use their trunks to touch and investigate objects. The trunk’s well-developed muscles hold water or air inside and control the timing and force of the release. (Just ask an elephant keeper about this.)

In contrast to the power of the rest of the organ, the trunk tip is as sensitive and as agile as a finger in picking up small objects. At the zoo, you will see elephants use their trunk tips to gather dirt and then fling it onto their skin in a dry form of bathing. Elephants also use their trunks the way that submarines use periscopes, raising them over their heads.  The raised trunk samples the air for chemicals that excite the sensory cells lining the nasal passages. Scent is a major source of information for elephants about what is going on in their environment.

Trunks also allow elephants to create a variety of sounds. The same muscles that allow elephants to control the drawing of air and water into the trunk (and its release) also allows them to create a variety of sounds. (Think trombone.)  Elephants squeal in play, create a sound like a scream when angry, and trumpet warnings.  Sometimes when elephants are annoyed, they thump their trunk on the ground or an object.

Adult elephants use their trunks to protect young calves or discipline teenage elephants.  A mother uses her trunk to keep a curious calf from investigating something dangerous. Older females swat misbehaving younger females with their trunks.

More Information

The best learning about elephants is from observing them.  Check Oregon Zoo  for zoo hours.  Until you can get to the zoo, try this nifty Oregon Zoo video, The Squishing of the Squash 2011.

Happy Valentine’s Day: Unusual Insect Mating Rituals

Posted by admin on June 1, 2012  |   No Comments »

Here are the courting habits of seven different insects and arachnids. <3

Photo credit: Shannon McKown

Video: Ram Rumble

Posted by admin on June 1, 2012  |   No Comments »

You may have seen rams butting heads in cartoons, but here’s the real deal: these big-horned sheep battle for mating rights with 40-lb. horns.  Watch the video from National Geographic below.