Incredible new findings show that the organs of the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus), including the heart, grow up to twice their normal size each time a snake consumes a meal - the bigger the prey, the bigger the organs become in order to digest it. By just 12 hours after the kill is made, the organs have begun to grow, and they peak at their maximum size at around 76 hours, before returning to normal at around ten days. Whilst the organs are enlarged, metabolic rate is boosted to an astounding 40 times greater than normal - the equivalent of the increase seen in a racehorse when galloping compared to at rest - except in the Burmese python, this lasts for days on end, rather than just minutes. Studying the physiological basis of this amazing rapid addition and removal of tissue to the body’s organs could prove clinically useful, including in learning to treat atrophy-based heart disease in cancer patients and astronauts as well as in reducing size in disease-enlarged hearts.
Ref: Rizzo J., 2012. Gross Anatomy. National Geographic Magazine August 2012
Madagascar day gecko (Phelsuma madagascariensis madagascariensis) by zoo-logic
24 new species of skink (lizards of the family Scincidae) from the islands of the Caribbean have been identified in a paper published today in the journal Zootaxa - the first time more than 20 reptile species have been described at once since the 1800s. Researchers examined museum specimens, DNA sequences and characteristics of the animals themselves in order to describe the new species, which include the Anguilla Bank skink (pictured). But while being “brand new” in the eyes of science, these New World skinks, which arrived to the Americas across the seas from Africa around 18 million years ago, may not be around for much longer. These species are all vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, primarily as a result of predation from the mongoose, which was introduced from India in the late nineteenth century to control rat pests in sugarcane fields. The mongoose has caused widespread extinctions and decline in reptile populations in the Caribbean, along with pressures from other human impacts such as habitat loss.
Ref: Voss K., 2012. 24 New Species of Lizards Discovered on Caribbean Islands are Close to Extinction. Penn State University [link]
The unassuming diamondback terrapin turtle (Malaclemys terrapin) caused havoc this past weekend when over 150 individuals left their salt marsh breeding grounds and steadily traversed New York’s JFK airport runways, causing runway closures and delayed flights, in order to lay their eggs in sandier environments on the other side. In the next few months many more of the region’s approximated 10,000 turtles could also unwittingly (and unhurriedly) make the dangerous journey. The airport is considering options to divert the turtles away from the runway, such as temporary plastic barriers. Unfortunately, slow and steady isn’t going to win the race if you become the speed-bump for a jumbo jet somewhere in the middle.
Ref: Reardon S. (2011) Why JFK’s Runway Has Turtles All The Way Down. Science Online news [link]