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© Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum
© Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum

Luzon: The Island of Many Rodents

© Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum
© Velizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum

In its purest form, science is about curiosity. It’s about asking new and weird questions, like “Why do apples fall out of trees?” or “Could this mold be useful?” or, in the case of researchers on the Philippine island of Luzon, “How many different kinds of rats do you think we can find?” The answer (to the last question, anyway) is “a lot.” In a paper published in Frontiers of Biogeography, researchers report the discovery of 28 previously unknown rodent species, most of which are completely unique to the island. 

The largest and most populous island in the Philippines, Luzon is better known among biologists as a hotspot of biodiversity. This is true of many islands, since their forced isolation from outside influences can create a sort of natural evolutionary laboratory, but Luzon takes it one step further. Far from the ground and from one another, the island’s many mountaintops create what scientists call “sky islands”—isolated, high-elevation habitats with their own adapt-or-die conditions. 

The first recorded non-bat mammals on Luzon were described by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in 1880. He found only three speciesa deer and two ratsand consequently judged the island to be poor in species variation. Just 20 years later, scientists already knew better, and the number climbed to 16. By the year 2000, researchers had recorded 28 different species, a majority of which belonged to the cloud rat (genus Phloemys) and earthworm mouse (genus Chrotomys) families. And, contrary to Mr. Wallace’s complaint, most of those species were also completely unique to the island.

It was this fact that piqued researchers’ interest. They decided to conduct a long-term survey of the island’s wildlife. Over the course of 12 years, they set traps at 17 different sites around the island. Some of the traps were nestled in the trees and vines while others lay on the ground. Knowing (or at least suspecting) their targets, the team baited some of the traps with juicy earthworms and others with lumps of fried coconut smeared with peanut butter. 

The traps worked exactly as they were meant to: The researchers found plenty of animals from those unique-to-Luzon species. But they also found others. Many, many others. Nearly thirty, in fact.

A newly discovered tree mouse. Image Credit: © Larry Heaney, The Field Museum

Project leader Lawrence Heaney is the Negaunee Curator of Mammals at The Field Museum in Chicago. “We started our study on Luzon in 2000 because we knew at the time that most of the native mammal species on the island were unique to the island, and we wanted to understand why that is the case,” he said in a press statement. “We did not expect that we would double the number already known.” 

And like their previously known brethren, the new species were a living furry testament to the island’s astounding variety of life.

“There are individual mountains on Luzon that have five species of mammals that live nowhere else,” said co-author Eric Rickart of the Natural History Museum of Utah. “That’s more unique species on one mountain than live in any country in continental Europe. The concentration of unique biodiversity in the Philippines is really staggering.” 

“Learning about the tremendous diversity of mammal species present on Luzon is crucial to conservation efforts,” Heaney added. “In order to be effective at conserving an environment, we have to know what’s out there.”

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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