<![CDATA[Life Science Presentations and Labs by Mary Vogas - Blog]]>Tue, 13 Mar 2018 16:53:24 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[How Smart are Orangutans?]]>Sun, 20 Aug 2017 22:45:40 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/how-smart-are-orangutansPicture
Orangutans are really mechanical geniuses of the animal world. One orangutan from the Omaha Zoo in the 1960's would escape each night from his enclosure. It baffled the keepers until they used cameras to watch him. He was picking a lock with a piece of wire he hid under his cheek pouch. 
Another incident that shows their intelligence is of an orangutan that lived in the wild that wanted white blossoms of a plant that was across the river from where she lived. So she got into the canoe and paddles with her hands and went to the other side to get the blossoms. Then she got back in the canoe and paddled back.

Orangutans are the only great ape from Asia. They are the most arboreal of all the great apes.They have the most extended time that the baby stays with the mom in the animal kingdom, next to humans. They have only one baby at a time and stay with their mom until the time for another baby which is about eight years. This gives them plenty of time to learn about 400 different types of plants and fruits that make up their diet. Sometimes the female with stay with their mom into their teens to learn child-rearing skills.

They learn how to survive in the wild. They turn huge leaves into umbrellas to keep them dry when it rains. They also use leaves to rub on their wombs to heal them.

​Also, Orangutans communicate with each other. For example, Orangutans make particular sounds when they do activities like nest building which they do each night. When they do, it is a signal to the other orangutans that they do not want to be disturbed or maybe that they don't want their nests to be touched or disturbed by the other orangutans.

What has been found is that this sound may be different from one community to the next. One group might make a raspberry-like sound while another group might make more of a lip-smacking sound. These are kinda  like people in different parts of the world having different dialects.

There is good indication that these sounds are learned and not genetic. The orangutan certainly is an intelligent animal!

<![CDATA[Bee Keepers to the Rescue]]>Mon, 07 Aug 2017 22:09:27 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/bee-keepers-to-the-rescueA neighbor in our subdivision had problems with honey bees swarming under the eve of her home. She called a bee keeper to take the nest down. First they sprayed the bees with smoke that just calmed them down, then used some cardboard to loosen the hive from her house and dropped the hive into a plastic container. The bee keepers took the bees to their home where they have hives for bees. Calling a bee keeper is the right solution if you have a bee problem, rather than killing them.

Our bee populations have really dropped and we need to help protect them. Farm crops depend on pollination provided by bees. Bee colony disorder began about a decade ago. From the summer 2016 to the spring 2017, Texas lost about 35% of their bee colonies. Habitat loss, disease and pesticides have been blamed for bee colony collapse. The colony loss has slowed somewhat recently, but the decline has affected the health and population of bees.

If you want to help the bees, please don’t use pesticides and chemicals in your yard that could harm the bees. Also, plant bee-friendly plants.

In the first picture, you can see the hive on the house with lots of honey bees flying around. In the second picture, you can see the bee keepers using the cardboard to get the hive loose from their house. In the third picture, you can see the bees that they collected from the hive.
<![CDATA[Are the Previous Censuses for Giant Pandas Accurate?]]>Wed, 07 Sep 2016 22:48:25 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/are-the-previous-censuses-for-giant-pandas-accurate Picture
Good news for Giant Pandas! The Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has now moved the giant panda off the endangered species list! They are now classified as “vulnerable” which is an improvement for them. Giant Pandas only live naturally in China. The first survey (1974-77) estimated there were 2,459 giant pandas in the wild. The second (1985-88) estimated 1,114. The third survey, published in 2004, estimated there were 1,596. Now, in 2014, the survey shows there are 1,864 adult giant pandas. “While we do not believe the giant panda is completely safe, our IUCN Red List evaluation highlights how far we have come in panda conservation,” said Ron Swaisgood, director of applied animal ecology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

However it is hard to compare the data from one census to the next since the method of collecting the data have been different. For example, in the late 1990s to 2000s, they observed panda dung to determine the number of pandas. Scientists had to trek through the steep mountainous bamboo forests, looking mainly for panda dung. Then they had to look through the panda poop and see if they could find some undigested bamboo fragment and look for the bite mark. Interesting, each panda has their own unique panda bite mark.  It is like their fingerprint. In 2006, a group of geneticists used DNA analysis of panda poop. They examined the panda dung using DNA in a specific reserve in China. They found 66 different pandas. This was about twice the number of pandas that was found in this same reserve 5 years earlier using the bite method. The latest survey, to the best of my knowledge, is a combination of the bite size method and molecular analysis.

China now has 67 reserves where two-thirds of the giant panda population is protected. Saving panda habitat is good for other animals too.  As their habitat is secured, it secures it for other animals too! This is definitely a win-win situation. The panda’s diet is 99% bamboo. Pandas need from 26 to about 83 pounds of bamboo each day to retain their energy. While the reforestation effort of bamboo forest that has been done for the Giant Panda is working, the IUCN said that the biggest threat facing the giant panda is climate change which will make it too hot for the bamboo to grow in about  one third of the panda’s bamboo forest which could lead to another decline in the next 80 years. Also about 33.2% of the pandas live outside the reserves in China. So they still need our help today.

With this news about panda populations, it gives hope for some of the other endangered species. With hard work and dedication, maybe some of the other endangered species will also rebound. I sure hope so!

<![CDATA[What Can We Learn From Elephants?]]>Mon, 15 Aug 2016 23:57:42 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/what-can-we-learn-from-elephants Picture
Elephants are majestic creatures that people enjoy observing. Elephants and humans have some interesting things in common. Both have a long life span, strong family ties, and understand death. Also, elephants are born with their brains weighing about 35% of their adult brain weight and humans are born with their brain weighing about 25% of their adult brain weight; whereas, most mammals are born with brains weighing about 90% of their adult brain weight. So, both elephants and humans do most of their brain development after birth.

Elephants have characteristics that we would do well to model in our lives. For example, elephants don’t usually try to get increased dominance since status seeking is not a big part of the elephant society. What elephants respect is experience. The matriarch is the oldest and largest female in an elephant herd. Some things the matriarch might have learned decades earlier might come in handy to help the herd survive years later. For example, the matriarch might lead the herd to a water hole she remembers from years past. Families that have a matriarch over 35 years old have a better survival rate. Experience does help. Matriarchs make good leaders and the members of the herd respect her.

All female elephants in a family will help a baby in trouble. If a baby falls, all the females will run over to the baby to see if she is ok. One time Cynthia Moss, a renown elephant researcher, saw  a baby elephant fall into a steep-sided water hole. The mother and the aunt could not lift her out. So other elephants in the family came to help by starting to dig and made a ramp to save the baby. Elephants understand the importance of cooperation.

Elephants also show empathy. One time, researchers saw an elephant whose trunk was badly injured. Elephants need their trunk in helping them eat. An elephant plucked up some food and placed it into the injured elephant’s mouth. But, it is not just for elephants that they show empathy. One time there was a herder in Africa whose leg was broken accidentally during a confrontation with a matriarch.  After the matriarch saw that he could not walk, the elephant moved him a short distance with her trunk and her front feet. She propped him up under a tree. She guarded him throughout the night. Empathy is a wonderful trait to have.

Elephants don’t stand for bullying. If a calf is caught bullying a younger member of the the group, the calf is reprimanded by other members of the herd. Elephants are taught to be kind from a young age. What a wonderful trait!

African elephants can live to around 60 to 70 years old. But, rarely do you find one living alone. That is different from our society where our senior citizens many times live by themselves.

Elephants show some wonderful traits like respect for the elders, cooperation, empathy, and caring for the older elephants. Next time you are watching elephants, think about what caring animals they are.

<![CDATA[Do Animals in Captivity Need to Take a Probiotic?]]>Thu, 14 Jul 2016 19:11:50 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/do-animals-in-captivity-need-to-take-a-probioticPicture
Many of the primate populations are declining throughout the world. To combat the decline, a multifaceted approach is needed. One thing that has not been done is to look at the microbiome of primates. Have you heard about your microbiome?That is the 100 trillion bacteria, fungi and viruses living within or on each of us  They outnumber your own cells ten to one.  It has been found that many are very beneficial to our health. Basically, a healthy microbiome translates into a healthy human. But not much has been studied about the microbioime of animals. Presently, the microbial assessments of habitats is not included in any conservation policy.

However, things are starting to change.“The application of microbial analyses to conservation is currently in its infancy,” write researchers led by Rebecca Stumpf in the July issue of the journal Biological Conservation,
“but holds enormous potential.” By looking at research that has been done, they are concentrating their research on how the microbiome is calibrating the immune systems, processing nutrients, synthesizing hormones, and fighting off disease in monkeys, chimpanzees and other primates.

The researchers have found that animals that are living in healthy environments have a rich diverse species in their microbiome. But animals living in a fragmented habitat or in captivity have a microbiome that are lacking in a lot of the variety of species which could imposes a direct consequences for their health.

It is easy to know how healthy a habitat is for primates by just checking dropping specimens and using a DNA sequencer which can identify microbiomes among and within hosts. If it  is found that primates in captivity are low in species in their microbiome, they could do what is being done for humans in this case which is to give these animals a probiotic or a bacteria transfer. Microbial diversity correlates with habitat quality. It will give valuable information on corridor quality and for reintroduction efforts of species into particular habitats.

"Understanding the microbial communities living on and in primates has enormous and unexplored implications,” wrote Biological Conservation editor and biologist Richard Primack “and one could say the same about almost every other group of mammals, birds, and animals.”

So it looks like that sometimes giving animals in captivity a probiotic might be a smart move in improving their health. I am looking forward to new research on the microbiome of animals which might help conservation of some of our animals in need.

<![CDATA[Help Wildlife Thrive in 2016]]>Mon, 04 Jan 2016 05:36:54 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/help-wildlife-thrive-in-2016Picture
Let's help wildlife thrive in 2016! Little everyday activities can really help. So as you are starting your new year's resolutions, include a few things for wildlife. 

Planting plants that wildlife needs is a step in the right direction. Plant milkweed plants for monarch and queen butterflies, citrus plants for giant swallowtail butterflies, and passionflower vines for the Gulf fritillary butterfly. For these butterflies, these are their host plants, which are plants on which the butterflies lay their eggs. Some good plants for hummingbirds are vitex tree, bottlebrush shrub, and shrimp plants. Some good plants for birds are Turk's Cap and coral honeysuckle. 

Another thing to do is to plant a tree or refrain from cutting down a tree this year. A single tree can provide habitat for all kinds of wildlife, like birds, insects, amphibians and small mammals.

Providing water for wildlife is really good to do. Finding water is sometimes hard for wildlife especially in the summer when  pools of water dry up, or in winter when it is frozen. Then it is fun to watch them come and drink!

Try to refrain from using so many chemicals on your plants and yards. Many of the chemicals that we use outdoors to kill insect pests can also hurt some of our wildlife, especially our birds and butterflies.  Also, many of the types of chemicals that are used on our lawns to make them greener get into the waterways and cause algae blooms and other environmental problems.

Another good thing to do is to carry a Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide with you to help you make smarter seafood buying decisions. Maybe a fish is being overfished or has an health concern if you eat it, and the seafood watch will indicate which are good to buy, good alternatives and which ones to avoid. Go to the link for the guide: http://www.seafoodwatch.org/seafood-recommendations/consumer-guides

Also, you can do things such as adopting an animal through an environmental group which means you send money to help endangered animals or help the habitat where they live. Such organizations are World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and Cheetah Conservation Fund in Africa.

Recycling helps too! One material not to buy is polystyrene #6. It is used for food services like cups and plates, packing peanuts, and insulated coolers. It is a principle component in marine debris. It can clog the digestive systems of marine animals and then kills them. Look for the numbers on the bottom of the recyclable materials you are buying and it if has #6, refrain from buying it. Number 5 sometimes looks very similar to #6, so you have to look for the number. It is good to recycle as much as you can so that more materials are not taken from the earth that can destroy an animal's natural habitat.

The orangutan's habitat in Indonesia is being terribly logged to make palm oil plantations. Check the products that you buy and see if they contain palm oil. If they do, find out if they have been harvested sustainably or not before purchasing that product.

Last, stay informed of political bills that involve wildlife and vote intelligently for the wildlife.

These are just a handful of steps that I have outlined today; there are many more that you can do.  But, if all of us just start to try to do one more thing this year than we did in 2015, then we will make a positive step forward! Let's make 2016 a year where wildlife thrives!

<![CDATA[Can Animals Detect Earthquakes Weeks Before They Happen?]]>Wed, 02 Dec 2015 05:22:07 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/can-animals-detect-earthquakes-weeks-before-they-happenPicturePaca
Some animals can see better than we do or hear better than we do, but do they have the ability to detect seismic activities before humans are aware of them? It has been thought for centuries that they could. Such things as chickens stopping laying eggs, bees leaving their nests in a panic, or dogs barking and whining for no apparent reason have been recorded. Some earthquakes have caused unusual behavior in animals while others haven't. Now, there are some findings that show that some animals can actually detect an earthquake a few weeks before humans can feel it!

In 2011, 23 days before a 7.0 earthquake hit part of Yanachaga National Park in Peru, animals began to disappear from the forests, and then 24 hours before the earthquake hit, no animal movement was recorded. This is very unusual for an area that is usually filled with animal movement. This national park was about 350 kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake.

Scientists used motion-capture cameras and also recorded the reflection of very low frequency (VLF) radio waves above the area surrounding the epicenter, to detect disturbances in the ionosphere. A particularly large fluctuation was recorded eight days before the quake, coinciding with the second significant decrease in animal activity observed in the pre-earthquake period. Rats seem to be more attuned to an early warning system. Eight days before the earthquake, there were no rats to be found, which is very unusual for this area.

In L’Aquila, Italy in 2009, scientists noticed unusual toad behavior in areas where atmospheric disturbances were detected that usually occur before earthquakes. Researchers believe that the animals in Peru and the toads in Italy could have been reacting to the same seismic phenomenon which was positive ionization of air molecules that results from the shifting of the earth’s crust. It is believed that the ions had an irritating effect upon the animals. Animals that are in captivity might become restless or become panicky as a result of the positive ionization. In seismic areas, people can react to positive ionization with signs of discomfort like headaches or nausea.  Another reason why animals might also be reacting prior to earthquakes is the very low-frequency radio waves that come out of the ground before earthquakes happen.

Some researchers are hoping to further this study by looking at the biological changes in plankton ahead of major seismic shifts. To me, it would be quite interesting to see those results.

More work needs to be done to understand the warnings that animals can give prior to earthquakes. Just looking at animals to predict earthquakes is unreliable, so there still is a need for geophysical measurements in combination with animal measurements. There is so much we don't yet understand about animals. It is intriguing to study animals to find out all the talents that they have that are unforeseen to us humans. #earthquakes 

<![CDATA[Tiny Frogs Misidentified as Babies For Over 100 Years]]>Tue, 24 Nov 2015 04:04:23 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/tiny-frogs-misidentified-as-babies-for-over-100-yearsPicture
When I was in Costa Rica, I saw some small poison-dart frogs.  They were small, but not compared to a frog found living inside pitcher plants in the jungles of Borneo. These micro frogs, named Microhyla nepenthicola, grow to only 0.4 to 0.5 inches long! They are lost sitting on a penny since they are so small. They are the smallest frogs found in The Old World.

PicturePitcher plant used for breeding - Photo credit: Alexander Haas
These tiny frogs lay their eggs to the side of the pitcher plants and then the tadpoles grow in the liquid inside the pitcher plant. The pitcher plants rely on decomposing organic matter that collects in the plant's pitcher. Specimens of these frogs have been in museums for a hundred years, but they were thought to be babies of another frog species. Now, we know they are actually adults!

The micro frog from Borneo is small, but not as small as a frog found in the New Guinean rainforest. This frog is 0.27 inches long; the size of a fly! Can you imagine that! It may be the world's smallest vertebrate. Its small size is related to its habitat. It lives within the leaf litter on the floor of the rainforest.

It is hard to find these frogs since they blend in so well with the leaf litter and their calls are similar to insects, not frogs. The scientists really had to be very diligent to find them.

It seems that these micro frogs are filling niches that no other animal fills. These frogs eat very tiny invertebrates that live in the leaf litter such as mites, which are much smaller than what other frogs eat. The larger predators don't have an interest in these small animals. It is interesting how these tiny frogs represent structural units of ecosystems that were previously unrecognized.

Every animal has a job in nature and the interconnectedness of all parts of nature is amazing to me! Since amphibians are the most threatened species on our planet with one-third of them on the verge of extinction, we need to do what we can to protect them. #frogs

<![CDATA[What Does the Brazil-Nut Tree, the Agouti, and the Female Orchid Bee Have to Do With Each Other? ]]>Mon, 02 Nov 2015 04:25:54 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/what-does-the-brazil-nut-tree-the-agouti-and-the-female-orchid-bee-have-to-do-with-each-otherPicture
Do you enjoy eating Brazil nuts? I know I do. However, for the Brazil-nut tree to produce fruit requires some vital alliances with certain animals.

The Brazil-nut tree soars above the canopy in the rainforest. It is over 160 feet tall. The photo shows the inside of the Brazil-nut pod. Inside the pod, there are about  20 to 30 seeds. The pod is hard as a rock! When they fall from such heights to the ground they can be going around 50 mph and they might even hit an animal. Peruvian botanist, Enrique Ortiz said, "You sometimes see animals staggering around with large welts where they've been struck." 

There has been only one animal, the agouti, a large rodent with sharp, chisel-like teeth, that can crack open the pod.  They hide the seeds in the ground like squirrels do with acorns. They do this to keep them away from rivals such as porcupines. A few of the seeds will germinate into the Brazil-nut trees. So without the agouti, there would be no more Brazil-nut trees. Thus, we can only find Brazil-nut trees where there are agoutis.

However, there is more to this story. Male orchid bees fly to orchids in the forest to obtain waxy, scented secretions. The males fly around in masses with their perfumed cloud to attract the females. Female orchid bees then pollinate the Brazil nut flowers. So, if there were no orchids, there would be no orchid bees, males or females. Without the female orchid bees, also there would be no Brazil-nut trees.

People have wondered why the Brazil-nut tree usually don't exist outside the forest. Now, we know why. The Brazil-nut tree could grow out of the forest, but not the orchids which are needed for the male orchid bees which in turn is needed by female orchid bees. So, this big tree is dependent on such a small creature to survive. 

The pods crash to the forest floor during the wettest times of the year. After the agoutis open the pods, the empty pod husks remain on the forest floor. There are some unique mosquitoes and damselflies that are found nowhere else that use the remains of the pod to lay their eggs. There is a species of a poison-arrow frog that uses the pod almost exclusively to get water in order to go through the tadpole stage. This is an animal that is dependent on the Brazil nut tree to survive.

The relationship between the Brazil-nut tree, the agoutis, and the female orchid bees is really unique!  However, we don't know all the interconnections that exist in the tropical rainforest. Sometimes, in the rainforest, all the connections are not known until one of the species is gone, then we see the effects. This is another good reason to preserve the tropical rainforest.
#Brazilnuttree #agouti #forchidbee #poisondartfrog 


<![CDATA[Mauritius to Kill 18,000 Native Bats]]>Thu, 22 Oct 2015 04:40:45 GMThttp://maryvogas.com/blog/mauritius-to-kill-18000-native-batsPicturePhoto Credit: Mauritian Wildlife Foundation
Remember the Dodo Bird? It was native to the island of Mauritius where it became extinct in the 1600s. Mauritius is located 855 kilometers east of Madagascar.  Well, today there is another problem happening on this island.

The government of Mauritius has announced its plans of culling 20 percent of the endemic Mauritius fruit bat, also called a flying fox, on the island. This bat is the only type of fruit bat to exist on Mauritius. In doing this, the government hopes that there will be fewer bats, which will help reduce damages to fruits like mangoes and litchis in orchards and boost revenue for fruit farmers. 

The Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security has said that the bat population on Mauritius has escalated to being a pest problem. 
The government has said that the bats could be as high as 70 percent of the problem for fruits like mangoes and litchis in orchards. The government plans to cull 20% or 18,000 bats in the next few weeks. 

However, the bat experts believe that the methods used to estimate the number of bats is flawed; therefore, the number of bats killed in the culls could be more than 20% of the bat population.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has said culling these numbers of bats could be disastrous for the native bat species. They have said that doing this could change the status of these bats from Vulnerable to Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List which is the world's most comprehensive information on global conservation.

Ryszard Oleksy, a doctoral student at the University of Bristol in the U.K., who has been monitoring bat movements in Mauritius, has said that the same bats could have been counted in the north of the island as well as in the south a few weeks later since they move such great distances. “Where is the damage caused by birds, rats, monkeys, wind or fruit fly?,” Oleksy asked. “All these animals feed on commercial fruits.” His research shows that birds cause as much problem as bats. He also found that 20% of the fruits are damaged due to natural causes like wind or over-ripening, causing fruits to fall to the ground.

Conservation Director of Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has said that bats play an important ecological function like pollinating plants and dispersing seeds. He also said, “The government has scheduled the culling at a time when many bats are either pregnant or carrying young suckling babies.” 
A recent study asked Mauritians what they think about the fruit bats, and they overwhelmingly said they don't want the cull. 

An on-line petition is available for you to sign if you feel Mauritius should stop the cull. Go to https://www.change.org/p/the-honorable-president-of-republic-of-mauritius-dr-ameenah-gurib-fakim-sooradehoo-punchu-trilock-ujoodha-minister-of-environment-honorable-raj-dayal-minister-of-environment-sustaibale-develo-stop-the-mauritian-government-from-killing-fruit-b. 

To me, this is one of the situations where more science needs to be done before taking such a drastic step.  There are many instances where wildlife and people have had problems living together, but with research ways have been found to resolve the issues.  For example, in Namibia, cheetahs were thought to be responsible for killing farmer's livestock.  So the Cheetah Foundation obtained Anatolian guard dogs, and when these dogs were placed on the farms, the dogs scared the cheetahs away.  Hopefully, a solution can be found in Mauritius. #bats #Mauritius