Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Newly Discovered Sea Life Off Phillipines

If you are not impressed with land slugs you might change your mind when you see the biological diversity and beauty of marine sea slugs. One type of sea slug or nudibranch is the Chelidonura alexisi, a speckled specimen that looks a bit like an elegant topological map. According to research team leader, Terry Gosliner, PhD, senior curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the California Academy of Sciences and a principal investigator of the expedition, Chelidonura alexisi joins the ranks of 40 more previously unknown nudibranchs discovered in the waters off the Phillipines. 

“The Philippines is jam-packed with diverse and threatened species—it’s one of the most astounding regions of biodiversity on Earth,” reports Gosliner to the California Academy of Sciences. 

Nudibranchs can be tiny to nearly a foot in length. They can blend into their surroundings or vivid as flamenco dancers in a variety of colors. Check out their great variety on this Pinterest link

Nudibranchs get their bright colors from their prey (e.g., algae, sponges and anemones to barnacles, corals and other nudibranchs). 
Although sea slugs aren’t speedy predators, they are far from helpless. Highly sensitive tentacles, called rhinophores, allow them to smell, taste and feel their way around. These sensory appendages also pick up chemical signals that help them "spot" prey. 

Just when some people thought we had discovered most of the undersea species, discoveries like the Phillipines' new nudibranchs and fish are found. Stay tuned for more. Go science!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mistletoe - For More than Romance in Nature

This time of year many of us are caught up in the traditions of our families and culture. A well-ingrained and fun tradition is that of mandatory kissing under a suspended branch of mistletoe, Phoradendron serotinum.

Scientists have discovered that this pretty (but poisonous to humans) plant has been around for tens of thousands of years and numbers around 1,300 different species worldwide. In North America, the white berry variety grows in bunches on Oak trees while it pirates the tree's nutrients.

Birds eat mistletoe berries and use it as nesting material as do owls, hawks, jays, bluebirds, grouse, and many others. Additionally, there are three kinds of butterfly (e.g., purple hairstreak, thicket hairstreak, and the Johnson’s hairstreak) that depend completely on mistletoe for food and as a place to lay their eggs. Large, animals like elk, cattle and deer eat mistletoe during winter when fresh foliage is rare.

According to the US Geological Survey, "Mistletoe has been widely used in Europe and is regarded as the most widely used natural therapy for cancer. In addition, it has many uses in traditional Chinese medicine as well as in traditional indigenous groups in Australia and Latin America."

So, the next time you see mistletoe, you'll know that humans aren't the only ones who appreciate all it has to offer. Happy holidays! Go science!