Sunday, September 29, 2013

Earthquake Creates New Island

A 7.7 magnitude earthquake located in the sea near Gwadar, Pakistan, killed more than 500
people and left another 100,000 homeless on September 24, 2013.  But it also created something

An island emerged a little more than half a mile (1 kilometer) offshore near Gwadar, Pakistan.

As an island, it does not look particularly attractive.  It is actually composed of fine sands, mud,
and a solid rock core.  So far it is only about 250 to 300 feet (75 to 90 meters) wide and about 60
to 70 feet (15 to 20 meters) above water.

Unfortunately, the tiny newcomer may not survive for very long.  These islands are reasonably
common in this part of the world.  Earthquakes often heave up new islands when shallow
pockets of methane or carbon dioxide are released.  The islands tend to sink back beneath the
sea as the underlying gases vent.  The effect is very much like letting the air out of a baloon.

The movement of coastal plates such as the interaction between the Arabian continental place
and the Eurasian crustal plates also cause sediments on the sea floor to rise above sea level.  In
either case these islands rarely survive for long. 

In the case of this new island, methane is being released, which means it will likely disappear
back into the sea. 

If you’re interested in reading more about this and similar islands, check here

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are Cane Toads Killing Australian Crocodiles Just by Being Eaten?

Australian dwarf crocodiles, whose normal food sources are rapidly vanishing, have begun
eating cane toads instead.  But this new diet is killing them.

The cane toads were introduced in Australia from their homes in Central and South America in
1935 to help control beetles threatening the island’s sugar cane industry.  Now it is estimated
that there might be as many as 100 million of these large amphibians scattered throughout
Australia and they are now considered a dangerous pest.

In 2012, many volunteers signed up to cull these toads, which are threatening not only dwarf
crocodiles, but other reptiles as well, including goannas, snakes and quolls. The toads secrete a
toxin from glands located behind their eyes and on their backs.

The deaths of the freshwater crocodiles and other predators may produce a cascade of
unpredictable ecosystem changes.  This is typical when a new species is produced into a more-
or-less stable ecosystem.  Another example of this problem arose from the introduction of giant
snakes into the Florida Everglades. 

Apparently young crocodiles are more vulnerable to the cane toads’ venom than adults, which
will almost certainly affect future populations of the dwarf crocodiles.

The cane toads appear to be expanding south into the dry interior of Australia, where they will
encounter crocodiles and other predators at water holes.  There is a bit of hope, however, in that
surviving crocodiles may develop a higher tolerance for the cane toads’ toxin.  Some
blacksnakes, which had previously been hit hard by the toads, appear to have developed some
immunity to their poison.

Researchers are carefully monitoring the populations of both cane toads and crocodiles, hoping
to be able to predict the long-term effects of this rivalry on the Australian ecosystems. 

You can read more here:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What Made This Web?

Troy Alexander, a  young graduate student, found an entirely new type of web under a tarp near
the Tambopata Research Center located in the Peruvian Amazon.  Then he found a few more.
But when he tried to identify the creatures that made them, he found no answer so far. Not even
the scientists know. 

The web resembles a circular western horse corral surrounding and protects a tiny spire.  It is
about 0.8 inches (roughly 2 centimeters) across.  Alexander believes the spire either contains
eggs or perhaps tiny pupae.  Seeking answers, he posted photos of his find on Reddit, asking for
help in identifying the maker of the odd web.  So far, he has drawn a blank, even from well-
known arachnologists.  There were plenty of guesses, however.  Some thought it might be a
cocoon, others that it might be a new type of fungus, or a protective defense for spider eggs.

It is entirely possible that whatever made this strange form might be a previously unidentified
species of spider or other insect.  Experts believe that there are literally millions of unknown
species of arthropods (spiders and other insects) alone.  In a survey conducted in Panama’s
jungle, 25,000 species of insects and spiders, along with other arthropods, were identified.
Surveyors discovered that about 70% of these species were previously unknown.   

Based on the results of the Panama survey, insect specialists could have their hands full for years
in trying to identify and study these tiny jungle denizens. 

If you’d like to see a photo of this fascinating web, go here   

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gigantism - The Tragic Story of a Victim

Las Vegas teenager Tanya Angus was a tall, pretty girl.  At 5 feet 8 inches tall, she stood slightly above some of her school friends.  But then, in 1999, she suddenly began to gain both weight and height.  When she passed away, she stood 7 feet 2 inches tall and weighed nearly 400 pounds. 

What happened?  Tanya had developed a non-cancerous tumor on her pituitary gland.  This resulted in the
development of a rare disorder called acromegaly.  Her body was releasing too much growth hormone, and there was no way to control it.

Tanya’s case is typical of adult acromegaly.  Victims develop a benign, or noncancerous tumor on the
pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain.  This gland produces several hormones besides the growth hormone, but in Tanya’s case it was the growth hormone that caused the worst of her medical problems. It was this hormone that caused her bones and other tissues to grow out of control.  The pressure created by the growing tumor causes headaches and impaired vision.

    Tanya must have gone through hell.  She needed specially made shoes and could not wear pullover shirts or sweaters.  Jewelers stretched her rings to size 20 and added chain to her necklaces.  Eventually she ended up in a wheelchair.  She ate one meal per day, but some people believed that she lacked the discipline to control her weight.  Her medications caused her face to swell.   

    Eventually, Tanya became an advocate for others suffering from acromegaly.  But her life ended suddenly
when she caught a cold and developed a fatal tear in her heart.

    Tanya’s story is one of the courage of a young woman.  It also points out that even though acromegaly is a
relatively rare disease, there is much work to be done to find a way to control and secure it for the sake of its victims and their families.  I hope someone takes up Tanya’s cause and provides help for those helpless sufferers.

There’s more information about acromegaly at this site