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]

Do Dogs Understand What You’re Telling Them? Scientists Are Scanning Their Brains to Find Out

iStock/kozorog
iStock/kozorog

We all know that dogs can learn to respond to human words, but it’s not always clear what’s happening in a dog’s brain when they hear and recognize words like “cookie” and “fetch.” Do they have to rely on other clues, like gestures, to figure out what we mean by that word? Do they picture a dog biscuit when you say “cookie,” or just the sensation of eating? In a new study, scientists from Emory University and the New College of Florida tried to get to the bottom of this question by training dogs to associate certain objects with words like “blue” and “duck,” then using fMRI brain scanners to see what was happening in the dogs’ heads when they heard that word.

The study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, examined the brains of 12 different dogs of various breeds (you can see them below) that had been trained to associate two different objects with random words like “duck,” “blue,” and “beach ball.” Those two objects, which were different for each dog, were brought by the dogs’ owners from home or chosen from a selection of dog toys the researchers compiled. One object had to be soft, like a stuffed animal, and the other one had to be something hard, like a rubber toy or squeaky toy, to make sure the dogs could clearly distinguish between the two. The dogs were trained for several months to associate these objects with their specific assigned words and to fetch them on command.

Then, they went into the fMRI machine, where they had been trained to sit quietly during scanning. The researchers had the dogs lie in the machine while their owners stood in front of them, saying the designated name for the toys and showing them the objects. To see how the dogs responded to unknown words, they also held up new objects, like a hat, and referred to them by gibberish words.

Dogs in a science lab with toys
Prichard et al., Frontiers in Neuroscience (2018]

The results suggest that dogs can, in fact, discriminate between words they know and novel words. While not all the dogs showed the same neural response, they showed activation in different regions of their brains when hearing the familiar word versus the novel one.

Some of the dogs showed evidence of a greater neural response in the parietotemporal cortex, an area of the dog brain believed to be similar to the human angular gyrus, the region of the brain that allows us to process the words we hear and read. Others showed more neural activity in other regions of the brain. These differences might be due to the fact that the study used dogs of different sizes and breeds, which could mean differences in their abilities.

The dogs did show a surprising trend in their brains’ response to new words. “We expected to see that dogs neurally discriminate between words that they know and words that they don’t,” lead author Ashley Prichard of Emory University said in a press release. “What's surprising is that the result is opposite to that of research on humans—people typically show greater neural activation for known words than novel words." This could be because the dogs were trying extra hard to understand what their owners were saying.

The results don’t prove that talking to your dog is the best way to get its attention, though—it just means that they may really know what's coming when you say, "Want a cookie?"

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

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