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Carlos Vasquez Almazan
Carlos Vasquez Almazan

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]

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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iStock

Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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How Michael Jackson's Dancing Defied the Laws of Biomechanics
Phil Walter, Getty Images
Phil Walter, Getty Images

From the time he debuted the moonwalk on broadcast television in 1983, Michael Jackson transcended the label of "dancer." His moves seemed to defy gravity as well as the normal limits of human flexibility and endurance.

Now we have some scientific evidence for that. Three neurosurgeons from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, recently published a short paper in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine that examines just how remarkable one of Jackson's signature moves really was.

In the 1988 video for "Smooth Criminal" and subsequent live performances, Jackson is seen taking a break from his constant motion to stand in place and lean 45 degrees forward. Both he and his dancers keep their backs straight. Biomechanically, it's not really possible for a human to do. And even though he had a little help, the neurosurgeons found it to be a pretty impressive feat.

An illustration of Michael Jackson's 'Smooth Criminal' dance move.
Courtesy of 'Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.' Copyright Manjul Tripathi, MCh.

Study co-author Manjul Tripathi told CNN that humans can't lean forward much more than 25 or 30 degrees before they risk landing on their faces. (He knows, because he tried it.) Normally, bending involves using the hip as a fulcrum, and erector spinae muscles to support our trunk. When Jackson leaned over, he transferred the fulcrum to the ankle, with the calf and Achilles tendon under strain. Since that part of the body is not equipped to support leaning that far forward without bending, the "Smooth Criminal" move was really a biomechanical illusion. The act was made possible by Jackson's patented shoe, which had a "catch" built under the heel that allowed him to grasp a protruding support on the stage. Secured to the floor, he was able to achieve a 45-degree lean without falling over.

But the neurosurgeons are quick to point out that the shoes are only part of the equation. To achieve the full 45-degree lean, Jackson would have had to have significant core strength as well as a strong Achilles tendon. An average person equipped with the shoe would be unable to do the move.

How does this apply to spinal biomechanics research? The authors point out that many dancers inspired by Jackson are continuing to push the limits of what's possible, leading to injury. In one 2010 paper, researchers surveyed 312 hip-hop dancers and found that 232 of them—almost 75 percent of the cohort—reported a total of 738 injuries over a six-month period. That prevalence could mean neurosurgeons are facing increasingly complex or unique spinal issues. The surgeons hope that awareness of potential risks could help mitigate problems down the road.

[h/t CNN]

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