Ithaca Environment

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cayuga Nature Center seeks Ideas

From the Ithaca Journal

The Cayuga Nature Center is accepting proposals from groups or individuals who would like to use its 40-acre farm facility.

The use of the farm must be consistent with CNC's overall mission to increase awareness, appreciation and responsibility for the natural world.

Examples of possible uses include a horse and riding stable, sustainable or green energy facility, organic farm, field station or outdoor education facility.
The CNC farm is located at the intersection of Garrett and Houghton roads. Maps and photographs are available at

Use agreements may be single- or multiple-year. Letters of interest must be submitted by Friday, Feb. 3, and full proposals must be submitted by Friday, March 3. For details, call Doug Weeks at 273-6260 or e-mail him at
Permalink 9:38 AM

Swedish Scientists Get Clues on the Evolution of the Ear

Scientists in Sweden have come up with a new theory for how evolution produced the ear. The answer, they report in the journal Nature, is that before the middle ear was used for hearing, in its ancient form, it might have been used for breathing.

The researchers, Martin D. Brazeau and Per E. Ahlberg from Uppsala University, base their claim on a study of a fossil of Panderichthys, a 370-million-year-old fish that is an immediate ancestor of the most primitive tetrapods [creatures with four limbs, such as most reptiles and mammals].

The fossil has an enlarged spiracle, a passageway between the jaw and the top of the head, as well as other changes that represent a middle ground between the relatively simple structures of more ancient fish and the complex morphology of tetrapods.

"It's got this combination of fish- and tetrapod-like features," said Mr. Brazeau, who undertook the research as part of his work on a doctorate in evolutionary biology.

Scientists have known since the 19th century that in tetrapods, including humans, the middle ear develops from an embryonic structure called the first gill arch. In fish, the first gill arch forms the support for the jaws including the spiracle.

In fish that are ancestral to Panderichthys, the spiracle is small. In Panderichthys, Mr. Brazeau said, "the first thing that happens is that the spiracle becomes very large." Further alterations follow, he said, including changes to a bone that is the forerunner of the stapes, or stirrup bone, that is part of the middle ear structure.

So the Panderichthys fossil, which was found in Latvia, is a useful snapshot of a moment in evolution. But why do the researchers suspect that the spiracle was part of the fish's breathing system?

Part of the answer can be found in modern bottom-dwelling marine creatures like rays. When they are on the sea floor, rays use spiracles on the top of the head for breathing instead of their mouths, to avoid sucking up sand. Panderichthys, Mr. Brazeau said, may have been a bottom dweller and have had the same need for an alternate respiration route. "It may very well have had its face in the mud," he said.

From the New York Times
Permalink 9:23 AM

Troubled Times in Kenya

There is trouble beneath the surface of this majestic lake in Kenya's Rift Valley.

For one thing, huge carp, introduced years back, are stirring up the bottom where tilapia, which had been the dominant fish, reproduce. Also, unlicensed fishermen are dragging finely sewn nets through the murky water, trapping species before they come of age. Then there is the pesticide problem, the sewage and the steady decline in the water level, additional signs of an ailing ecosystem.

But it is on the shoreline that Lake Naivasha's real problems lie, and this month it all led to homicide not far from the water's edge.

Joan Root, a noted conservationist, lived for decades on a prime piece of Naivasha's lakefront before gunmen stole her life...

Joan Root

Read the rest in the New York Times:
Permalink 9:11 AM

Hamster and Snake are Buddies?

According to the USA Today:
Zookeepers at the Mutsugoro Okoku zoo near Tokyo presented the hamster Gohan ("meal") to the snake Aochan as a tasty treat in October after the snake refused frozen mice...But instead of indulging, Aochan made friends with the rodent, keeper Kazuya Yamamoto told the Associated Press.
However, Gary Bogue of the ContraCosta Times warns, though: should be aware that captive snakes sometimes will ignore mice, rats (or hamsters) that have been dropped into their cages as food -- for days, weeks and on rare occasions even months. Why? Who knows, call it a snake thing. Reptiles have slow metabolisms, and it can take a while for them to work up an appetite.
Permalink 8:54 AM

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

21 Baby Pandas

From the Chicago Tribune

BEIJING, CHINA -- A record 21 surviving baby pandas were born in China's zoos and breeding centers in 2005, state media reported Monday.

Sixteen were born at Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, the rare animal's biggest natural habitat, the China Daily newspaper said. The others were born in research centers in the Sichuan provincial capital, Chengdu, in the northwestern Chinese province of Shaanxi and at the Beijing Zoo.

China has 183 pandas in captivity, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. It said 24 others live in nine zoos in five other countries.

(Photo from AFP via InkyCircus)
Permalink 7:19 AM