Presumed Extinct, the Rare 'Golden Wonder' Salamander Reappears After 42 Years

Carlos Vasquez Almazan
Carlos Vasquez Almazan

After pulling a disappearing act for 42 years, a rare, vibrantly colored amphibian called Jackson's climbing salamander (Bolitoglossa jacksoni) was recently spotted in Guatemala's Cuchumatanes Mountains, according to LiveScience. This marks just the second time it's ever been recorded in the wild, and the third species member ever spotted.

Jackson's climbing salamander is nicknamed the "golden wonder" for its bright yellow color, and it has a thick black dorsal streak that extends from its head to its tail. Jeremy Jackson, along with his friend Paul Elias, first spotted the unique critters in 1975 while hiking through the Cuchumatanes. Their trip also led to the discovery of two additional new species, the long-limbed salamander (Nyctanolis pernix) and the Finca Chiblac salamander (Bradytriton silus).

All three creatures turned out to be exceedingly elusive. Expeditions in 2009 and 2010 yielded sightings of the long-limbed salamander and the Finca Chiblac salamander, but Jackson's climbing salamander—which Jackson had originally found hiding beneath bark in a cloud forest, according to ScienceAlert—remained hidden.

In April 2017, the nonprofit group Global Wildlife Conservation added the long-lost amphibian to its Top 25 "most wanted" species list. The list was part of the organization's Lost Species initiative, which aimed to re-discover—and potentially save—rare creatures that hadn't been seen for years, if not decades. Global Wildlife Conservation planned a January 2018 search expedition to Guatemala to look for Jackson's climbing salamander, but a Guatemalan man named Ramos León ended up beating them to the punch.

León, a guard at the Finca San Isidro Amphibian Reserve in the Cuchumatanes (also called the Yal Unin Yul Witz Reserve), was on patrol in October 2017 when he saw—and photographed—a young Jackson's climbing salamander. León then sent the picture to Carlos Vasquez, a curator of herpetology at USAC University in Guatemala.

Vasquez, who's credited with rediscovering both the Finca Chiblac salamander and the long-limbed salamander, had been been looking for Jackson's climbing salamander since 2005. He taught León and other guards how to recognize the amphibian— which likes to hide in moss, leaves or bark—and even hung a poster of the creature at the reserve.

"We had started to fear that the species was gone, and now it's like it has come back from extinction," Vasquez said in a news statement. "It's a beautiful story and marks a promised future for the conservation of this special region."

He wasn't the only one who was thrilled to hear the news. "The night I got the news from Carlos that Bolitoglossa jacksoni had been rediscovered, I flew off the couch where I'd been falling asleep, let loose a string of expletives (in a good way), and did a little happy dance," Jackson said in a news release.

Finca San Isidro Reserve was established in 2015 by an international team of wildlife preservation groups. Their goal was to protect the species' habitat, and it looks like their efforts have paid off.

"With the Cuchumatanes Range under threat—a well-known epicenter for endangered amphibians and one of the highest global conservation priorities—in 2015 we acted swiftly to support the purchase and protection of critical properties," said Paul Salaman, the CEO of Rainforest Trust, in a statement. "And we are delighted to report that this important wildlife refuge has permitted the survival and ultimate rediscovery of the spectacular Jackson's climbing salamander."

[h/t LiveScience]

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

iStock.com/voraorn
iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the Moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the Moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the Moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the Moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception—in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full Moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

This story was updated in 2019.

NASA Reveals How Living in Space for a Year Affected Scott Kelly’s Poop

NASA, Getty Images
NASA, Getty Images

When you agree to be part of a yearlong space study, you forfeit some right to privacy. In astronaut Scott Kelly’s case, the changes his body endured while spending a year at the International Space Station (ISS) were carefully analyzed by NASA, then published in a scientific journal for all to see. Kelly submitted blood samples, saliva samples, and cheek swabs. Even his poop was subjected to scrutiny.

As PBS reports, Scott Kelly’s fecal samples revealed that his gut microbiome underwent significant but reversible changes during his time in orbit. In what was surely good news for both Kelly and NASA, his gut bacteria didn’t contain anything “alarming or scary,” according to geneticist Martha Hotz Vitaterna, and it returned to normal within six months of landing on Earth.

Even after being subjected to the challenging conditions of space, “Scott’s microbiome still looked like Scott’s microbiome, just with a space twist on it,” said Vitaterna, who was one of the study’s authors.

The fecal probe was one small part of a sweeping NASA study that was just published in the journal Science, more than three years after Kelly’s return. Dubbed the Twins Study, it hinged on the results of Kelly’s tests being compared with those of his identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth as the control subject.

NASA’s goal was to gain insight into the hazards that astronauts could face on proposed long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. The agency has gone to great lengths to get this information, including offering to pay people $18,500 to stay in bed for two months in order to replicate the conditions of anti-gravity.

It also explains why NASA was willing to launch unmanned rockets into space to collect samples of Kelly’s poop. On four different occasions at the ISS, Kelly used cotton swabs to pick up poo particles. When the rockets arrived to drop off lab supplies, they returned to Earth with little tubes containing the swabs, which had to be frozen until all of the samples were collected. The process was tedious, and on one occasion, one of the SpaceX rockets exploded shortly after it launched in 2015.

The study also found that his telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes, had lengthened in space, likely due to regular exercise and a proper diet, according to NASA. But when Kelly returned to Earth, they began to shorten and return to their pre-spaceflight length. Shorter telomeres have a correlation with aging and age-related diseases. “Although average telomere length, global gene expression, and microbiome changes returned to near preflight levels within six months after return to Earth, increased numbers of short telomeres were observed and expression of some genes was still disrupted,” researchers wrote.

Researchers say more studies will be needed before they send the first human to Mars. Check out NASA's video below to learn more about what they discovered.

[h/t PBS]

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