Science News


New species of African monkey discovered

By Becky Crew | September 15, 2012 |

Cercopithecus lomamiensis

Adult male Cercopithecus lomamiensis. Credit: John Hart

Meet Cercopithecus lomamiensis, a newly discovered species of African monkey found in the central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Together with the ‘honk barking’ Highland mangabeys (Lophocebus kipunji) of Tanzania, C. lomamiensis is only the second new species of monkey discovered in Africa in the past 28 years.

Described in PLoS One this week by scientists led by conservation biologist John Hart from the Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation in the DRC, the discovery occurred in 2007 when a pet juvenile female was found at the home of a primary school director in the town of Opala. Hart and his team had come to a region in central DRC called the Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba Conservation Landscape (TL2), which is the land between the Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba rivers, to explore the largely unknown, vast and roadless forest within. Upon visiting this pet monkey, Hart found that the locals identified the animal as ‘Lesula’, and the species, although not known to science at the time, was well known by hunters.

“He [the school director] reported that he acquired the infant about two months earlier from a family member who had killed its mother in the forest near Yawende, south of Opala and west of the Lomami River,” the team reported. “We took photographs of the animal and made arrangements for its care. We observed and photographed this animal regularly over the next 18 months.”

More searching in Opala resulted in another captive male and female Lesula, and these two were monitored for several months. Then, in December 2007, the team saw their first wild Lesulain the Obenge region along the Lomami River. They were instructed by Hart to collect photos of hunters’ kills of the animal and a snip of skin or a whole carcass to send to specialists for analysis.

Captive Cercopithecus lomamiensis

Captive adult male Lesula, Yawende. Right: Captive subadult female, Opala. Credit: M. Emetshu, John Hart

Hart’s team sought the help of geneticists working at New York University and morphologists at Yale University’s Peabody Museum to analyse information gleaned from 48 individuals, as well as an audiologist who could analyse the Lesula’s low frequency ‘boom’ calls. The analysis took over three years to complete. “Our conclusion: This is a new species of monkey,” Hart’s wife, Therese, a member of the team, reported on their blog. “Its home is the TL2 Landscape, west of the Lomami River [hence its scientific name]. It is separated by two major rivers from its closest relative, the owl-faced monkey.”

While Lesula and owl-faced monkeys (Cercopithecus hamlyni) have quite similar faces, the Lesula’s colourings set it apart from any other species. As an adult, its pink, naked facial skin and muzzle are framed by a long mane of blonde hairs flecked with brown. A pale stripe of yellowish-cream skin runs down its nose, like the more distinctive flash of white running down the dark facial skin of C. hamlyni.

Adult male Cercopithecus hamlyni or owl-faced monkey, Lesula’s closest relative. Credit: Noel Rowe

The species’ medium-sized frame is covered in brown fur with a distinct amber patch running down its back, and its legs and most of the length of its tail are a striking black. Its large, hooded eyes are also a deep amber. Adult males are 47–65 cm long and weigh 4–7.1 kg, while the females measure 40–42 cm and weigh 3.5–4 kg. Like C. hamlyni, the Lesula male also boasts bigger canines and bright blue skin covering the scrotum, buttocks and perineum – the area between the pubic arch and the anus – which reportedly fades to white when a Lesula is killed and its skin dried.

A hunter-killed Lesula. Its bright blue buttocks will soon fade to white. Credit: Gilbert Paluku.

The main obstacle in declaring this a new species was distinguishing it from C. hamlyni. A morphological analysis revealed that Lesula has larger eyes that sit more closely together in the skull, and larger incisors, both on the upper and lower jaw. The males’ deep, descending boom, which is emitted exclusively at dawn, is similar to, but slightly different to that of C. hamlyni, and unlike that of C. hamlyni, can be elicited by imitating eagle calls. Lesula is said to occupy a range of around 17,000 km2 of forests in DRC’s eastern central basin, and is separated by both the Congo (Lualaba) and the Lomami Rivers from C. hamlyni, which occupies a range of around 180,000 km2.

The team reports that the Lesula is quite common in the TL2 region, and has remained hidden for so long because the forest here has not been well-explored by scientists until recently. While there is so far no logging or mining taking place in the region, hunting represents an immediate threat to the species’ survival, according to the researchers. “For species with restricted ranges and reliance on primary forest, such as C. lomamiensis, uncontrolled hunting can lead to catastrophic declines over a short period,” the researchers state, calling for heightened conservation efforts and hunting controls to be established.

Click here to see a terrifying camera trap shot of a Lesula on the Harts’ blog.

C. lomamiensis

Juvenile Lesula, captured near Obenge. Credit: John Hart

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: “Why We Stopped Dreaming”

Published on Tue, Mar 13, 2012 by 

An emotional video collage of talks made by Neil Degrasse Tyson dissing the current poor attention NASA has been receiving, financially-wise, from the US government has recently hit YouTube, which can also be seen embedded above. His speeches on the subject are powerful, to say the least, and addresses the concerning issue that once with the slowly, but ultimately predictable, abandoning of ambitious NASA missions,  citizen of the US, and the world alike, will lose what’s left of their once great faith in man’s ascent towards the stars.

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson

His arguments are strong, mentioning how technology and scientific thought among the populace has grown once with the first manned missions in space and on the moon, among other. Heck, I felt compelled to reach for my wallet more than on one occasion while watching this.

Worth noting that this video wasn’t made or uploaded by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, but by a YouTube user Scrunchthethird.

Argentines Plan to Shoot Gulls to Save the Whales

By MICHAEL WARREN | Associated Press In this Aug. 19, 2012 photo, a seagull pecks at a whale in the southern Atlantic Ocean near Puerto Piramides, Argentina. As seagulls have become a hazard for whales in one of their prime birthing grounds, provincial authorities are planning to have police shoot the gulls. Environmentalists are crying foul, saying officials should instead close a nearby garbage dump and stop fishermen from dumping scraps to reduce the gulls' numbers. (AP Photo/Daniel Feldman)
Associated Press/Daniel Feldman – In this Aug. 19, 2012 photo, a seagull pecks at a whale in the southern Atlantic Ocean near Puerto Piramides, Argentina. As seagulls have become a hazard for whales in one …more of their prime birthing grounds, provincial authorities are planning to have police shoot the gulls. Environmentalists are crying foul, saying officials should instead close a nearby garbage dump and stop fishermen from dumping scraps to reduce the gulls’ numbers. (AP Photo/Daniel Feldman) less

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — What began as bizarre bird behavior has turned into something out of a horror film for threatened whales in Argentina, where seagulls have learned that pecking at the whales’ backs can get them a regular seafood dinner.

Seagull attacks on southern right whales have become so common now that authorities are planning to shoot the gulls in hopes of reducing their population.

Environmentalists say the plan is misguided and that humans are the real problem, creating so much garbage that the gull population has exploded.

Both sides agree that the gull attacks in one of the whales’ prime birthing grounds is not only threatening the marine mammals, but the region’s tourism industry as well, by turning whale-watching from a magical experience into something sad and gruesome.

Seagulls around the city of Puerto Madryn discovered about a decade ago that by pecking at the whales as they come up for air, they can create open wounds. Then, each time the whales surface, it’s dinner time: Gulls swoop down and dig in, cutting away skin and blubber with their beaks and claws.

The problem has only grown more severe since then as more gulls caught on and the bird population exploded due to easy access to human detritus — not only open-air garbage heaps but fish parts as well, dumped directly into the water by fishermen and a seafood packing plant.

“It’s not just that the gulls are attacking the whales, but that they’re feeding from them, and this way of feeding is a habit that is growing and becoming more frequent,” said Marcelo Bertellotti, who works for the National Patagonia Center, a government-sponsored conservation agency. “It really worries us because the damage they’re doing to the whales is multiplying, especially to infant whales that are born in these waters.”

Whales also are changing their behavior in response: Instead of breaching the water and dramatically displaying their tails, they rise just barely enough to breathe through their blow-holes before descending to safety, Bertellotti said.

Bertellotti’s answer: Shoot the gulls that display this behavior with air rifles and hunting guns, and recover each downed bird before they are eaten along with the ammunition, causing still more damage to marine life. His “100-day Whale-Gull Action Plan” was approved by the government of Chubut, and provincial officials came out Tuesday in defense of it.

“We are preparing a pilot plan that seeks to stop the damage from the gulls that pick at the flesh of the whales, because this is putting at risk the resource. It will be a minimal intervention to protect the life of the southern right whale and thus provide a response to the complaints of the sightseeing businesses that operate in the place,” Gov. Martin Buzzi posted on his Facebook page.

Whale-watching is big business for Chubut. Southern right whales have recovered to about 8 percent of their original population since becoming a protected species worldwide, and hundreds come to the relatively calm and warm waters of the gulf formed by the Valdez Peninsula to give birth and raise their newborns each July to December.

Seeing them surface from nearby boats can be a magical experience, and gull attacks were rare until about eight years ago, said Milko Schvartzman, who coordinates the oceans campaign for Greenpeace in Latin America.

But more gulls have caught on, and their population has boomed to the point where whales are attacked at least every fourth time they surface, he said.

Now the tourists are suffering along with the whales. “It’s not so pleasant anymore,” Schvartzman said.

Environmentalists say the only way to effectively reduce the seagull population is to deny the birds food by closing open-air garbage dumps around the gulf and stopping people from dumping fish parts. Activists have been lobbying Chubut for many years to develop plans to reduce, recycle and properly contain garbage and strictly regulate fishing, but politicians have resisted, Schvartzman said.

Chubut’s environmental minister, Eduardo Maza, blamed the problem on previous governments, and said the province is now working on permanent solutions. Shooting the gulls “is surely not the most pleasant measure, but it’s necessary to do something to control a situation that has been growing after many years of inaction,” Maza said.

“At year’s end, we’re going to inaugurate garbage-separation plants,” Maza said. “All the garbage in the protected Peninsula Valdes area that isn’t recyclable will be properly disposed of, which will enable us to mitigate the open-air garbage dumps.”

Schvartzman said that if humans don’t solve the problem quickly, the whales will simply stop coming.

Moth That Looks Like a Poodle!

By: David Strege

The first word that comes to mind when casting your eyes upon this photo of a bedazzling insect labeled the Venezuelan Poodle Moth is Photoshop. Really? A moth that looks like a poodle? Eyelashes that Lady Gagawould envy? Seriously?As it turns out, yes, it is real. The image that has been buzzing around the Internet in the past week–and has been greeted with a measure of skepticism–is very much authentic and comes to you via a zoologist from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.Dr. Karl Shuker, a zoologist, science writer, and cryptozoologist (one who studies animals in order to evaluate the possibility of their existence), investigated the photo that is taking the Web by storm and discovered Dr. Arthur Anker, NUS, and his legitimate collection of 75 photos from Gran Sabana national park in Venezuela.From the ShukerNature blog:

These photographs formed just one set of numerous spectacular images that Art has taken while visiting tropical rainforests and other exotic locations worldwide, and which he has placed in photosets on the Flickr website (his Flickr user name is artour_a).

The photo of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth–someone likened it to a Pokemon character–had been in mothballs since 2009 until someone plucked it out of Anker’s Flickr account and posted the funny-looking insect online within the past week or so. Not surprisingly, it subsequently took off in cyberspace.

Fortunately, Dr. Anker agreed to allow us to show you some of the other bizarre and funny-looking moths in that Gran Sabana collection, with his descriptions and our comments:

 “This one is very funny looking.”

Comment: It’s the Rickie Fowler of moths. You know, the PGA player who dresses like this.

Description: Psychophasma erosa.

 For some reason (the name, maybe?), this moth reminds us of Lady Gaga.

Description: Arctiidae.

Comment: Believed to have had a cameo role in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Description: Copiopteryx semiramis.

 One wonders how this moth with a skeletal hipbone-like frame ever gets off the ground, let alone finds a way into an old suit hanging in the closet.

Description: Trosia.

Comment: The Santa Claus moth.


 If an ordinary housefly looked this good, we might not be so quick with the fly swatter.

Pretty geometrid moth.

Neil Armstrong: A quiet hero who left his mark on history

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

Look tonight at the moon. And think of Neil Armstrong, reluctant hero, the quiet man whose footsteps still rest upon the moon and in history.

Armstrong was a pilot first and foremost, and with the dust flying, craters looming and fuel running low on July 20, 1969, he never wavered. As everyone else on Earth held their breath on that day, his heartbeat never changed as he and co-pilot Buzz Aldrin made the first piloted landing upon the moon.

Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” Armstrong informed mission controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, with the restrained aplomb that marked his life. Two and a half hours later with the words, “That’s one small step for (a) man. One giant leap for mankind,” he stepped upon the moon for the first time.

Armstrong, 82, died Saturday after surgery earlier this month for blocked arteries. A fighter pilot in the Korean War, a test pilot and an engineering professor, he will also be remembered as the astronaut who fulfilled the goal that President John F. Kennedy set out — to put a man on the moon by end of the 1960’s — and the first among equals in the pantheon of astronauts from the moon race.

“Neil was among the greatest of American heroes — not just of his time, but of all time,”President Obama said in a statement. “When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation.”

Armstrong became the symbol of the dream not just of one country but of a whole world to reach beyond our own planet . “Even though we were farther away from earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone,” Aldrin said in a statement on Saturday. “Virtually the entire world took that memorable journey with us. I know I am joined by millions of others in mourning the passing of a true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew.”

Armstrong flew dangerous mission attacking bridges during the Korean War, piloted the experimental X-15 rocket plane that ascended to the edges of space and once returned to the office after ejecting from a crashed test lunar lander, famously to complete paperwork.

“A lot of people couldn’t figure out Armstrong,” the author Tom Wolfe wrote in his novelization of the space race, The Right Stuff. Maybe that was because there was nothing to figure out, he was exactly who he said he was, a pilot and an engineer.

“He had nerves of steel. If anyone ever had the ‘Right Stuff’, it was Neil Armstrong,” says space historian Roger Launius of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. “But he was a dignified, quiet man. He could have had the world at his feet but he went back to teaching, that was what was important to him.”

Armstrong taught engineering at University of Cincinnati from 1971 to 1979, after retiring from NASA. He served on the presidential commission that investigated the 1986 loss of the space shuttle Challenger, living quietly in Ohio until recent years, when he spoke out against NASA’s current plans to not pursue a return to moon landings and to rely upon private spacecraft.

“He wasn’t political in his concerns. He was speaking out from his experience ,” say John Logsdon, author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon. “He avoided the public spotlight as the first man on the moon. But his name will be famous forever. He is gone but his footprints are still up there and will be remembered centuries from now.”

New NASA Video Captures Drama of Mars Landing

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: August 23, 2012 Updated: August 24, 2012 at 9:59 AM ET

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Viewers can now relive the drama of the Curiosity rover‘s landing on Mars with a new NASA video detailing the final moments of touchdown.

The space agency Thursday posted the video on its website embedded with audio from mission control. It starts with the heat shield falling away. The ground grows larger in view as Curiosity is lowered by cables inside an ancient Martian crater. “Touchdown confirmed” is heard followed by cheers.

Curiosity is the first spacecraft to record a landing on another planet. The six-wheel rover arrived on Aug. 5 to begin a two-year mission to examine whether the Martian environment was hospitable for microbial life.

NASA previously released a low-quality video of Curiosity’s landing. The latest video is higher quality, but it’s incomplete and missing several frames.

A Filament Across the Sun 

Image Credit & Copyright: Bret Dahl


Is that a cloud hovering over the Sun? Yes, but it is quite different than a cloud hovering over the Earth. The long light feature on the left of the above color-inverted image is actually a solar filament and is composed of mostly charged hydrogen gas held aloft by the Sun’s looping magnetic field. By contrast, clouds over the Earth are usually much cooler, composed mostly of tiny water droplets, and are held aloft by upward air motions because they are weigh so little. The above filament was captured on the Sun about two weeks ago near the active solar region AR 1535 visible on the right with dark sunspots. Filaments typically last for a few days to a week, but a long filament like this might hover over the Sun’s surface for a month or more. Some filaments trigger large Hyder flares if they suddenlycollapse back onto the Sun.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s