"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Science News You Can Use 

Tonight, I'm all about the birds. For instance, here's some genuinely good news:
The spectacular ivory-billed woodpecker, which was declared extinct in 1920, has been found alive in North America, Science magazine reports.

The news has stunned ornithologists worldwide, with some comparing the discovery to finding the dodo.

Researchers began an intense year-long search after a tip-off before finally capturing the bird on video.

The find has ignited hope that other "extinct" birds may be clinging on to survival in isolated places.

The ivory-billed woodpecker is a substantial animal - about 20 inches. That's a lot of bird to hide successfully for 85 years! I figure they did it by (a) never using each other's real names, not even in private, and (b) cutting up all their credit and debit cards, so they would never be tempted to leave a trail. Anyway, we here at PTTN join the ornithological community (no, really, we want to join - we hear that they serve a lovely pheasant dish at their annual awards dinner) in welcoming the ivory-billed woodpecker back into the realm of the not-so-extinct.

Here's another bird story, this one less uplifting than the last (in fact, it's really creepy):
Why are toads puffing up and spontaneously exploding in northern Europe? It began in a posh German neighborhood and has spread across the border into Denmark. It's left onlookers baffled, but one German scientist studying the splattered amphibian remains now has a theory: Hungry crows may be pecking out their livers.

"The crows are clever," said Frank Mutschmann, a Berlin veterinarian who collected and tested specimens at the Hamburg pond. "They learn quickly from watching other crows how to get the livers."

So far, more than 1,000 toad corpses have been found at a pond in Hamburg and in Denmark. But the pond water in Hamburg has been tested, and its quality is no better or worse than elsewhere in the city. The remains have been checked for a virus or bacteria, but none has been found.

Based on the wounds, Mutschmann said, it appears that a bird pecks into the toad with its beak between the amphibian's chest and abdominal cavity, and the toad puffs itself up as a natural defense mechanism.

But, because the liver is missing and there's a hole in the toad's body, the blood vessels and lungs burst and the other organs ooze out, he said....

Local environmental workers in Hamburg have described it as a scene out of a horror or science fiction movie, with the bloated frogs agonizing and twitching for several minutes, inflating like a balloon before suddenly bursting.

"It's horrible," biologist Heidi Mayerhoefer was quoted as telling the Hamburger Morgenpost daily.

"The toads burst, the entrails slide out. But the animal isn't immediately dead — they keep struggling for several minutes."

Wow - when Mother Nature really gets her freak on, I guess no amphibian anywhere is safe.




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