October 2015 Newsletter

 October 2015

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Mighty Megalodon & Other Lazarus Species: Animals that Return from Extinction


Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, the curator of a local natural history museum in the South African city of East London, didn’t think much of a phone call telling her to come check out some fish on a local trawler. However, what she discovered there would forever change her life as well as human understanding of evolution. Buried beneath a pile of sharks, starfish, sponges, and rattail fishes, she found the body of a coelacanth, a fish thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.


Coelacanths are deep-sea dwelling creatures, perhaps explaining why humans have had so little contact with them. They live bout 2,300 feet below the surface and grow to be about 6.5 feet long. Scientists estimate that they can live for about 60 years. Previously, the coelacanth was believed to be the missing link, marking the time that sea creatures began to live on land. The only evidence we had of the coelacanth were fossil records, showing that it lived 400 million years ago – 200 million years before dinosaurs first walked the Earth. However, Marjorie’s discovery has forced us to reconsider the conclusions we previously drew from the existence of the coelacanth. Scientists are still trying to explain how it has survived all these years.


The coelacanth is not the only species to perform an apparent resurrection from extinction. In fact, there are countless animals that scientists believed to be extinct hundreds of years ago that are still alive today. From the mountain gorilla to the giant squid to the terror skink, many fascinating animals are discovered (or rediscovered) every year. One of these animals is the okapi, a close relative of the giraffe that looks like a cross between a zebra and a deer.


The okapi is native to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. It was known to Egyptians and often depicted by them in stone. However, it was believed to be mythical until African explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley mentioned them in 1887 in his journals. Scientists estimate that there are 20,000 of them in the wild and today they are featured and bred at many zoos.


Another fascinating discovery is that of the Cuban solenodon. It is an extremely strange-looking animal that is so rare, only 37 have ever been caught. It was originally discovered in 1861, but no individuals were found from 1890 to 1974. The Cuban solenodon was most recently sighted in 2003, and the specimen was given the name Alejandrito. Unlike many other mammals, the Cuban solenodon has venomous saliva. It is an endangered species today because it only breeds a single litter of one to three per year, and is threatened by its predator, the small Asian mongoose.


One of the most exciting discoveries has been a sighting of what appears to be a Megalodon fin on an underwater camera. While the Megalodon was previously believed to have gone extinct about 2 million years ago, this evidence suggests that it is still roaming the depths of the ocean. The Megalodon is the biggest shark ever discovered, growing up to 70 feet long. The underwater camera picked up only a few body parts of the fish, but it was enough to determine that the animal was over 62 feet long.


Video explaining sighting of Megalodon


There is other evidence that the Megalodon is alive today as well. A Megalodon tooth was discovered only 100 years ago, carbon dated to be 10,000 years old. This indicates that the Megalodon was alive thousands of years after we thought it was extinct, and could possibly still be alive today. Additionally, a great white shark was recently discovered, almost completely bitten in half. The shark carcass was 3.7 meters long, and based on the bite, the shark that attacked it was at least 5 meters long. It took an amazingly powerful predator to not only take on a great white shark, but completely destroy it. This evidence has convinced some that the Megalodon is alive today.


While our knowledge of evolution is quite advanced, recent discoveries prove that we still have a long way to go. Species like the coelacanth, which was thought to be a key point in sea creatures’ progression to living on land, completely throw off our explanations of evolution when discovered to be alive today. These discoveries humble us by revealing the vast amount we don’t know about the animals sharing the Earth with us. Some of these allegedly extinct creatures may explain myths like the loch ness monster and the yeti. Others simply challenge us to refine and improve our understanding of the natural world.

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Canine Colgate: Why Brush Your Dog's Teeth

It’s a common misconception that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. However, this is nothing more than a myth. It would be quite the feat for dogs if this were true; their mouths are full of residue from the food we’ve dropped, dead animals, old sneakers, and pretty much anything they can chew. In addition, while humans brush, floss and visit the dentist regularly, most dogs do not. Dogs have just as many germs in their mouths as we do, but we do a lot more to keep our dental hygiene under control. In reality, (most) human mouths are much cleaner than their pets’.


Most people don’t consider whether they should brush their dogs’ teeth. After all, wild animals don’t worry about dental hygiene. However, this is an important part of dogs’ health. Periodontal or gum disease is a common, serious problem in dogs. An estimated 85% of dogs over five years old suffer from this disease. It develops when food particles and bacteria collect along the gum line and form plaque. Over time, plaque turns to tartar, which can eventually inflame the gums. The inflamed gums can actually separate from the teeth, forming pockets where more bacteria grow. This results in periodontal disease. This can cause your dog severe pain, loss of teeth, abscesses in the mouth, and bacterial infections that can spread to the kidneys, liver, heart, or brain. Periodontal disease is irreversible. This may sound pretty scary, but there is good news: simply brushing your dog’s teeth can prevent all of this!


Video on how to brush the teeth of a small dog


You should aim to brush your dog’s teeth at least several times a week, every day being ideal. Dogs with flat or short, broad snouts, like pugs and bulldogs, may need more frequent brushing. Their teeth are often crowded together, which allows more plaque to accumulate and increases their risk of developing periodontal disease.


In addition to specially designed pet toothbrushes, you could also use a child’s toothbrush, a finger toothbrush, gauze around a finger, or a cotton swab. Anything that effectively cleans your pet’s teeth will work; the real effectiveness comes from the mechanical action of your hand scrubbing the teeth. Pet toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors, including liver, mint, chicken, and peanut butter. These are often the best option in terms of effectiveness and the flavor makes your dog more open to having his teeth brushed. Your veterinarian may prescribe fluoride treatments or toothpastes if your dog has periodontal disease. Avoid using human toothpaste on your dog’s teeth. Your dog will end up swallowing a lot of the paste, and ingesting a paste made for people might upset his stomach. You should also avoid agents like baking soda or salt. While these are fine for humans to ingest, they can cause serious problems for dogs.


There are other ways to prevent periodontal disease in dogs as well. Feeding your dog hard kibble and treats instead of canned food alone can help prevent the build-up of plaque. On the other hand, feeding dogs table scraps or sweet treats can increase the build-up of plaque and tartar, and can lead to other health problems. Avoiding these foods is key to canine dental health. Finally, there are also treats on the market that are sold specifically to prevent plaque build-up in dogs. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) gives a seal of approval for products that prevent periodontal disease in dogs and cats.


Hard chew toys can also help get rid of plaque and keep your dog’s mouth healthy. However, it is important not to choose toys that are abrasive and can wear down the dog’s actual teeth. If your dog is an aggressive chewer, choose toys that are not so hard that he could possibly break a tooth on them. Rawhide is a great option for these dogs because it softens as they chew it.


Even though there’s no doggie dentist, your dog’s dental hygiene should be a high priority. The effects of plaque build-up can be very serious, and lead to life-changing consequences for your pet. Luckily, these can all be avoided by simply brushing your dog’s teeth! And with all the great products out there, it’s easy to add your four-legged friend to one simple but important part of your daily routine.


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Animal Athletes: Deep Sea Divers

During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, David Boudia took the gold medal in the 10-meter platform dive, beating the previous world champion. He earned a score of 568.65 for his performance, which has not been beaten by yet – by another human. However, if animals were included in the Olympics, Boudia’s performance would have looked like child’s play. Though humans have set impressive records, they are nothing compared to the champion divers of the sea: elephant seals.


While the deepest a human has ever dived is just over 1,000 feet (a feat accomplished in 2014 by Ahmed Gabr), elephant seals can dive as deep as one mile and stay underwater for up to two hours. These statistics are so impressive that scientists have yet to explain how elephant seals are able to do it! The pressure is crushing at the depths where elephant seals dive; they have many unique adaptations that allow them to survive. Their muscles store oxygen and their spleens act as scuba tanks, squeezing oxygen into the bloodstream as needed. However, this would only explain 50 minutes of underwater diving, not a full two hours.


Scientists have been struggling for years to solve the mystery of elephant seals and how they accomplish their extreme diving feats. They believe that there are many positive benefits stemming from this research. In addition to helping human divers develop better techniques, determining how to survive underwater would help scientists reduce surgical trauma and control heart arrhythmias. It would also shed light on oxygen deprivation situations such as children submerged in icy water and sudden infant death syndrome, that may be related to breathing interruptions.


Watch the Ocean’s Deepest Divers


Elephant seals are not the only animals to wow the human race with their diving ability. Many other marine mammals routinely dive down beyond what is accessible to humans. A Cuvier's beaked whale reportedly dove 9,816 feet, staying underwater for 138 minutes. Other marine mammals complete similar dives on a daily basis. But they are not just recreational divers. They plunge into the deep for a living. Not surprisingly, scientists have determined that these animals venture so deep into the ocean to search for food.



When food is 1,000 meters below, eating comes at a price: pressure at 100 times the amount experienced at the surface. This is enough to completely compress air in a whale’s lungs. However, like elephant seals, whales have unique features that allow them to handle this pressure. Their folding rib cages collapse their lungs, reducing air pockets. They exhale 90% of their air right before diving, allowing their lungs to collapse and reducing their buoyancy. With very little air, whales are able to conserve oxygen by stopping both their breathing and the blood flow to their extremities. They also shut down digestion, kidney, and liver function, and lower their heart rate to as few as four beats per minute.


A recent breakthrough has shed more light on how these animals are able to dive so deep and stay under for so long. A study published in June 2013 showed that deep-sea diving mammals have positively charged oxygen-binding proteins called myoglobin in their muscles. This allows them to maintain a larger store of oxygen to use while underwater. Myoglobin is ten times as concentrated in the muscles of diving animals as it is in humans. This may be the missing piece of the puzzle that explains why these animals can dive much deeper and for much longer than we can.

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Increasing Your Lizard's Quality of Life


Did you know that lizards are great problem solvers that even can learn to do tricks? One Komodo dragon has even learned to sign autographs by walking through non-toxic paint and then walking on construction paper, leaving footprints. Lizards can live most of their lives in small tanks and aquariums. However, much like a dog or cat, they enjoy enrichment and need it to live full, healthy lives. They are more intelligent than they may seem and need the same type of stimulation that any other animal would require. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to increase your pet’s quality of life. You can give them a unique environment by placing different objects in their tank, or even creating a homemade enrichment device for them to play with.


Some lizards are relatively sedentary, but many travel large distances in the wild and are used to hunting. Therefore, they can become extremely bored in a static, enclosed tank. One way to increase your lizard’s quality of life is to provide hiding spaces in their tank so that they can play on them and feel safe. Varying the décor items in the tank can also provide more interest in the lizard’s life. You can add sand, soil, leaves, or bark chips, depending on which would be found in the lizard’s natural habitat. This will add new fragrances and encourage your pet to explore.


If you really want to make your lizard explore his surroundings, rub some new and interesting scents around his tank. Give him new things to smell such as your rabbit, perfume, or the chicken you are making for dinner (rub it on your hand and then rub it on something in the cage – do not actually put these things in with your lizard). Lizards will love checking out these new smells! Anything novel is great stimulation to many lizards. Simply rearranging the contents of the tank can keep the lizard stimulated and happy.


You can also challenge your lizard by making him work for his food. If you have an herbivorous lizard, you can place his food in different parts of the terrarium so that he must forage for it. You can stick pieces of food to the side of the tank and arrange them at varying heights. A live, edible plant would also stimulate your lizard’s sense of smell and provide a snack for a few days. You can even hide pieces of food in the lizard’s tank for him to search out.


Carnivorous lizards love to hunt. It’s their instinct and nothing excites them more than chasing prey. You can keep your lizard interested by varying the type of live insect you feed him to change up the hunting technique he has to use. Lizards that feed on small birds or mammals, however, should be fed pre-killed food. These lizards primarily feed on carcasses in the wild anyway, and live prey would be too much of a risk to the lizard’s safety. Instead, you can bury the prey, encouraging the lizard to dig for it using their sense of smell. You could also hang food from the roof of the terrarium so that the lizard must stand on its hind legs or jump up to get it. The swinging of out-of-reach prey simulates the natural movements of the animal, exciting the lizard even more.


Almost any lizard can benefit from a unique device that presents a problem or challenge that he has to solve. A popular way to do this is to enclose your lizard’s food in something that he has to break or open to get to. Our recommended DIY enrichment device is the paper towel puzzle. This is very easy to make. Simply take an empty paper towel roll, poke small holes in it with a pencil, fill it with food, and then bend the ends in so that they close (don’t use tape to close them - it can be dangerous for your lizard to ingest). Your lizard will be able to smell the food, but will have to figure out how to get it out of the enclosed paper towel roll. He will spend hours clawing and biting at it, trying to figure out how to get the food out. This will challenge the lizard both physically and mentally, and can be easily repeated hundreds of times for free!




Would you be bored if you sat in a tank with the same furniture eating the exact same food in the exact same way everyday? You probably would be and so is your lizard! Get creative with some unique ways to make him think during his day. Lizards spend 70% of their day hunting in the wild, but it takes them about one minute to eat a bunch of dead insects you plop into their tank. There are plenty of unique activities your lizard can enjoy. Bringing them new sights, smells, sounds, and tastes can make a huge difference. Don’t let your lizard sit around all day. Use some of these great enrichment ideas to spice up his life!


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