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Australian Museum

Meet the Tadpole with Teeth

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Australian Museum

In 2008, an international team of scientists was trudging through the forests of Vietnam’s Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park when they found a frog they didn’t recognize. Actually, no one recognized it, at least not formally. It was new to science and the species had never been described or named. 

The scientists took care of that, dubbing the frog the “Vampire Flying Frog,” Rhacophorus vampyrus, in 2010. A new species is usually pretty exciting, but the more interesting part of the story is maybe not the frog, but its tadpoles and the way the species got its unique name. 

When the researchers discovered the frog, they also found a hole in a nearby tree. The hole was filled with water, and the water was filled with the frog’s tadpoles. They were tiny and black, and looked a little odd. When the scientists got a few back to the lab and put the tadpoles under a microscope, they realized that odd was an understatement.

The tadpoles’ mouthparts weren’t like anything they’d seen in other species. On each side of the mouth, there was a large, keratinized hook-like bit that stuck out, and then curved down. To the scientists, they looked like fangs. 

Jodi Rowley, a herpetologist at the Australian Museum and lead author on the paper describing the species, is reasonably sure that the tadpoles aren’t blood suckers. The strange “fangs,” the fact that Rhacophorus have webbing on their feet that allows them to glide through the air, and the fact that this new species is nocturnal, though, all make its common name pretty fitting. 

Rowley’s latest research on the frogs, published late last year, digs a little deeper into why the tadpoles have such impressive chompers. Most tadpoles have “oral discs” that are sort of beak-like and built for scraping up algae or consuming small prey. Most other frogs also lay their eggs in a stream or pond. The Vampire Flying Frogs lay their eggs suspended in foam nests in the inside of water-filled tree holes, though, and the tadpoles’ fangs seem to be a way to deal with this unique home. 

These holes aren’t very big, and there’s not much there to eat, so the momma frog returns to the nest occasionally and leaves her little ones a bunch of unfertilized eggs to eat. Rowley thinks that the weird mouthparts are used to snag the eggs, move them around and position the could-have-been-siblings to be swallowed whole.

While Rhacophorus vampyrus might have the monstrous name, weird dentition isn’t exactly a novelty among frogs. A number of species sport tooth-like bone protrusions in their mouth that they use for nabbing fast-moving prey. 

Primary image courtesy of the Australian Museum.

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Animals
Plagued with Rodents, Members of the UK Parliament Demand a Cat
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iStock

Members of the United Kingdom’s Parliament want a cat, but not just for office cuddles: As The Telegraph reports, the Palace of Westminster—the meeting place of Parliament’s two houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords—is overrun with vermin, and officials have had enough. They think an in-house feline would keep the rodents at bay and defray skyrocketing pest control costs.

Taxpayers in the UK recently had to bear the brunt of a $167,000 pest control bill after palace maintenance projects and office renovations disturbed mice and moths from their slumber. The bill—which was nearly one-third higher than the previous year’s—covered the cost of a full-time pest control technician and 1700 bait stations. That said, some Members of Parliament (MPs) think their problem could be solved the old-fashioned way: by deploying a talented mouser.

MP Penny Mordaunt tried taking matters into her own hands by bringing four cats—including her own pet kitty, Titania—to work. (“A great believer in credible deterrence, I’m applying the principle to the lower ministerial corridor mouse problem,” she tweeted.) This solution didn’t last long, however, as health and safety officials banned the cats from Parliament.

While cats aren’t allowed in Parliament, other government offices reportedly have in-house felines. And now, MPs—who are sick of mice getting into their food, running across desks, and scurrying around in the tearoom—are petitioning for the same luxury.

"This is so UNFAIR,” MP Stella Creasy said recently, according to The Telegraph. “When does Parliament get its own cats? We’ve got loads of mice (and some rats!) after all!" Plus, Creasy points out, a cat in Parliament is “YouTube gold in waiting!"

Animal charity Battersea Dogs & Cats Home wants to help, and says it’s been trying to convince Parliament to adopt a cat since 2014. "Battersea has over 130 years [experience] in re-homing rescue cats, and was the first choice for Downing Street, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Cabinet Office when they sought our mousers to help with their own rogue rodents,” charity head Lindsey Quinlan said in a statement quoted by The Telegraph. “We'd be more than happy to help the Houses of Parliament recruit their own chief mousers to eliminate their pest problem and restore order in the historic corridors of power."

As of now, only assistance and security dogs are allowed on palace premises—but considering that MPs spotted 217 mice alone in the first six months of 2017 alone, top brass may have to reconsider their rules and give elected officials purr-mission to get their own feline office companions.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman
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DNA Tests Show ‘Extinct’ Penguin Species Never Existed
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Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman

Science is a self-correcting process, ever in flux. Accepted hypotheses are overturned in the face of new information. The world isn’t flat after all. Disease isn’t caused by demons or wickedness. And that Hunter Island penguin? Yeah, apparently that was just a figment of our imaginations. Researchers writing in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society say the remains of one supposed species are in fact a “jumbled mixture” of bones from three extant species.

The bones were unearthed in the 1980s during the excavation of a prehistoric trash heap on Tasmania’s Hunter Island. Two scientists named Tets and O’Connor argued that the remains were different enough from other penguins to constitute their own genus and species, one which must have died out during the Holocene epoch. The proud potential penguin parents dubbed the apparently extinct bird Tasidyptes hunterivan, and that was that.

Except that this is science, where no story is ever really over. Other biologists were not satisfied with the evidence Tets and O’Connor presented. There were only four bones, and they all bore some resemblance to species that exist today. Fortunately, in 2017, we’ve got ways of making fossils talk. A research team led by Tess Cole of the University of Otago used DNA barcoding to examine the genetic code of each of the four bones.

“It was a fun and unexpected story,” Cole said in a statement, “because we show that Tasmania’s ‘extinct' penguin is not actually an extinct or unique penguin at all.”

Snares penguins dive into the water.
Snares penguins (Eudyptes robustus).
Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The bones were “a jumbled mixture of three living penguin species, from two genera": the Fiordland crested penguin or Tawaki (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) and the Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus), both of New Zealand, and the Australian little fairy penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae).

“This study shows how useful ancient DNA testing can be,” Cole said. “Not only does it help us identify new but extinct species, but it can help us rule out previously postulated species which did not exist, as in this case.”

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