The shrunken carcasses of cows lie in scorched fields outside the city of Campina Grande in northeast Brazil, and hungry goats search for food on the cracked-earth floor of the Boqueirao reservoir that serves the desperate town.
In January, the Smithsonian Magazine released a video “The Jaguar Highway” of Panthera’s Media Director and National Geographic photographer, Steve Winter talking about jaguars, where they live, how they kill their prey, how the Mayan’s viewed them. Learn how Steve captured photos of one of the most rarely viewed cats and what Panthera is doing through the Jaguar Corridor Initiative to protect ‘America’s Tiger’.
This week, scientists in Brazil weren’t kidding when they said that they “hit the mother lode.”
They were referring to a mass hatching of an estimated 210,000 giant South American river turtles at the Abufari Biological Reserve. It’s one of the largest known hatchings for the species,Podocnemis expansa.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation were able to mark and release 15,000 of the hatchlings. The methodology is usually referred to as “mark and recapture,” and it will allow the researchers to estimate the size of the turtle’s population in the future.
Protecting Their Future
While the giant South American river turtle is currently considered “of least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species, it is still threatened by unregulated consumption of the turtles’ meat and eggs and may soon be listed as critically endangered. (Related: “World’s Largest Freshwater Turtle Nearly Extinct.”)
The turtles, which are the largest of the side-necked turtle family, are only found in the Amazon River Basin and can grow up to three feet long. Their lifespan can extend to over 20 years in the wild and they’re known for being more communal than other local turtles.
Their mass hatchings typically occur during the dry season along the river sandbanks of the Purus River Basin in western Brazil. Having such large numbers of hatchings is part of the animal’s evolutionary strategy—the bigger the group, the more it deters potential predators.
The researchers used a fence to contain the turtle hatchlings that emerged from pre-identified nests and marked them for future research. Camila Ferrara, an aquatic turtle specialist for the Wildlife Conservation Society Brazil program, hopes that the marked turtles will provide data that will help safeguard the turtles from extinction. (Related: “Hundreds of Rare Pig-Nosed Turtles Rescued at Airport.”)
“Turtles are among the most endangered species of vertebrates in the region and worldwide,” added Julie Kunen, the executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Latin America and the Caribbean program.
“Monitoring programs for these and other turtles and tortoises will provide a foundation for sound management plans in the years to come.”
For some lovebirds in the animal kingdom, every day is Valentine’s Day. But how do mates win each other over?
A little flirting can go a long way … and frankly, it’s a heck of a bonding agent with a long-term partner, too. See if some of these amorous animals have any tips you can use on your valentine. (See “Valentine’s Science: Why Gauging Sexiness Is Sophisticated.”)
Rock His World
If you want to capture his attention, hit him with a rock!
That’s the strategy of female bearded capuchin monkeys in Brazil’s Serra de Capivara National Park, which throw rocks at high-ranking males to get their attention, according to recent observations by researchers from the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil. (See video of capuchins throwing rocks.)
In two cases where the male in question was hit with the stone, he mated with the pitcher; however, there’s not enough data on the success of the females’ stone-throwing strategy to say anything definitive.
But the team noticed some throwers were more prolific than others: A female named Pedrita was responsible for 32 of the 53 rock-throwing events recorded in the study. You throw, girl! (Related: “‘Hercules’ Monkeys Lift Stones to Crack Nuts.”)
Capuchins don’t only throw stones—the monkeys also have embarrassingly familiar flirting tactics like pouting, posing, and touching the guy’s fur and running away.
Build Her a Castle
Cichlid fish that live in Lake Malawi in East Africa build sand castles or bowers as a way of impressing the ladies—and intimidating other males.
Each of the 200 cichlid species build their castles in a slightly different shape.
Sing, Sing, Sing
Ask any teen heartthrob: The girls go nuts over good-looking singers, and the superb lyrebird is the Elvis of the feathered set.
Well, maybe a mix of Elvis and Rich Little: These astounding birds can imitate other birds’ songs, whole flocks of birds, and human sounds including crying babies, camera shutters, and chainsaws with such perfection they seem less like mimics and more like beaky tape recorders. (Video: “Bird Mimics Chainsaw, Car Alarm, and More.”)
Plus, the boys don’t skimp on the visuals: A male will build a circular “stage” up to 6.5 feet (about 2 meters) wide, where he’ll dance and manipulate his long tail feathers.
Get four more of them, and it’s a billion-dollar bird boy band waiting to happen.
Stay in Harmony With Your Honey
A 2009 study by researchers from Cornell University on Aedes aegypti found that males and females will adjust the frequency of their wingbeats until the sounds harmonize.
Other mosquitoes do this, but in Aedes aegypti, this ”courtship duet” reached a frequency of 1,200 hertz (people hear in the range of 20 to 20,000 hertz).
It’s a surprising number, since male mosquito ears were thought to be deaf to sounds over 800 hertz (who knew mosquitoes even have ears? You’d think they’d realize how annoying they sound). (See: “Animal Pair Pictures.”)
At any rate, it’s rather sweet that something as nasty as a mosquito adjusts its tune to synch up with its mate. Let’s call it ewHarmony.
Spiff Up That Bachelor Pad
Bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea know that lots of ladies like a guy who can fix things up. The arbors, or bowers, they build to attract females are so large and elaborate they were thought to be kangaroo nests by early Australian explorers. (Related: “Australia’s Amazing Bowerbirds.”)
The structure can look like a hut made of twigs or like a hallway of two neat rows of sticks. The guys then decorate with natural materials including shells, stones, and other birds’ feathers, as well as human sundries, from clothespins to hair ties to plastic packaging. (Video: “Bowerbird Lures Female With Ring.”)
The animals even paint the inside of their literal love nests with plant matter that has color and possibly flavor; if you still think bread bowls are a pretty cool idea, imagine a love shack you can taste.
Credits: Weird & Wild
One prickly subject you can always discuss in public? Porcupines.
And now they’ll make a good conversation starter because a new porcupine species has been identified in Brazil. Biologists Anderson Feijó and Alfredo Langguth of the Federal University of Paraíba identified Coendou baturitensis, or the Baturite porcupine, in a study published in Revista Nordestina de Biologia.
The habitat of the not-so-cuddly new creature is the Brejos de Altitude forests in the mountainous Baturite Range, which is located in the Brazilian state of Ceará. The fragmented, humid forests are in an area that Feijó said is in need of protection from deforestation.
A Spiky Experiment
The researchers based their discovery of the new species on the remains of two porcupine specimens found several decades apart, in 1954 and in 2012. They examined the older specimen first, which had been classified as the Brazilian porcupine.
When they compared it to the newer specimen from the Baturite Range, they found that some characteristics of the quills and skull were “unique to these animals [and] had not been found in any other so far,” Feijó said. The quills remain preserved under the right conditions, he added. (Related: “Why Porcupine Quills Go in Easily but Are Hard to Pull Out.”)
The newly identified Baturite porcupine is now the seventh known species of prehensile-tailed porcupine, which is native to Central and South America. They’re herbivores and adept climbers that rest in tree canopies during the day and forage at night. They can use their tails for grasping (kinkajous, spider monkeys, and opossums also have prehensile tails).
In the study, the authors describe the newfound porcupine as “a medium sized species, with body densely covered with tricolor quills.” What sets it apart from the Brazilian porcupine is the color pattern of its quills, a “darker general appearance of the body,” and its broad snout and big, soft, bulbous nose.
The study does not go so far as to say it’s cute as a button despite its prickly exterior. But try not to get stuck on that.
Credits: Weird & Wild
Wild cats are charismatic creatures, so you’d think we’d know them all pretty well by now. Just how little we understand—at least in some cases—is reflected in the identification of a new species of cat known as a tigrina in northeastern Brazil.
Scientists have discovered that two populations of tigrina previously thought to be one species do not, in fact, interbreed and thus are distinct, according to results published today in Current Biology.
“So much is still unknown about the natural world, even in groups that are supposed to be well-characterized, such as cats,” says the study’s lead author, Eduardo Eizirik of Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
“In fact, there are many basic aspects that we still don’t know about wild cats, from their precise geographic distribution and their diets.”
Eizirik’s results have implications for conservation efforts—particularly laws about poaching and the designation of national parkland. Such measures are often focused on individual species.
Recognizing the northeastern tigrina as distinct means that biologists will have to assess its conservation status and determine what steps need to be taken so that both species of tigrina can be adequately protected. (See “Rare Cat Captured in Camera Trap.”)
Eizirik and colleagues weren’t looking to discover a new species. Instead, they were looking to understand the evolutionary history of what were thought to be three species of cat from the genus Leopardus:
The Pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo) looks like a large, heavy-set, long-haired house cat. It lives in the grasslands and scrublands of South America, from southern Argentina and Chile up through Peru and Ecuador along the western third of the continent.
Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi) is roughly the same size as the Pampas cat, with a brownish-yellow or gray coat, black spots on its trunk, and dark bands across its tail and limbs. Like the Pampas cat, Geoffroy’s cat likes scrublands and lives throughout Argentina.
The tigrina (Leopardus tigrinus), also known as the oncilla or little spotted cat, lives throughout much of Central and South America. With a yellow-brown coat and black rosettes, the tigrina looks like a house cat-sized leopard. Scientists had previously identified four sub-populations of tigrina, including the southern tigrina, which lives primarily in Brazil’s mountainous forests, and the northeastern tigrina, which lives in savannahs and grasslands. The coat of the northeastern tigrina is slightly lighter, and the rosettes are sightly smaller, than those of its southern relative. (Learn about National Geographic’s big cats initiative.)
Eizirik and colleagues obtained DNA samples from a total of 216 different Leopardus cats across their ranges. Analysis of the DNA sequences found in the mitochondria, the cell’s power plant, revealed ancient interbreeding between the Pampas cat and the northeastern tigrina.
Since an individual only inherits mitochondrial DNA from its mother, researchers could peer into the ancient history of these two felines, and found that they mated together frequently before the two cats split into separate species.
Although the Geoffroy’s cat and the southern tigrina divided into separate species over a million years ago, they began to mate together in the more recent past in the areas of southern Brazil and Bolivia where their habitats overlap. While the two cats interbreed regularly at this contact zone, the mating doesn’t extend to farther areas and the two species remain distinct.
When Eizirik and colleagues analyzed the genetics of the two different tigrina populations, however, they were surprised to learn that genes did not appear to be moving between the northeastern and southern tigrinas. (See “Pictures: 7 Cat Species Found in 1 Forest—A Record.”)
“This observation implies that these tigrina populations are not interbreeding, which led us to recognize them as distinct species,” Eizirik says. The researchers have suggested that the northeastern tigrina retain its current name of L. tigrinus, while dubbing the southern tigrina L. guttulus.
“Very little was—and still is—known about this species,” says Eizirik. “There have been some initial studies on its diet, but still most of its basic biology remains poorly known, including density, habitat use, and population trends.”