Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Bear Saves Drowning Crow (Video)

Bear in budapest zoo saves crow from drowning
Bear saves a drowning crow (red circle)
The amazing video you are about to see was shot at Budapest Zoo, Hungary, on June 19* and shows what is surely one of the most surprising animal rescues ever.

During the video, a bear nicknamed Vali, rescues a black hooded crow from drowning. The bear first climbs a rock and then grabs the crow out of the water.

After the rescue, the crow appears to be stunned by the unexpected action of Vali. Enjoy:

Jump to 00:40 for the rescue

But did the bear really intended to save the crow? Many say that Vali just wanted to eat it. But it had a change of heart, either because it got bit (at 00:40) or simply because the crow tasted bad. The zoo's staff discussed the incident in one of their blog posts and said that Vali was probably curious and simply wanted to have a better look over the drowning creature. To me, this sounds as the most logical explanation.

However, from my past experience with animals, I can't exclude the possibility that the bear really wanted to help the drowning crow.

I will never forget the day when I was taking one of my dogs out of for a walk. As we were walking, he sniffed out a very young sparrow and put it in his mouth! I tried hard to open his mouth but to no effect. A few minutes later I gave up, thinking that it was too late for the poor bird. Half an hour later, we are back home and my dog opens his mouth and very carefully and gently places the still alive bird on my feet, having a "please take care of the poor creature" look in his eyes! The young sparrow had probably fallen from his nest due to the heavy raining the night before. I kept it in a cage for one day, cleaned and fed it and returned it back to place we found it. The bird immediately flew to a tree nearby. Hopefully, its nest was there :).

*The video was shot by Aleksander Medveš and as of 19 August 2014 has gathered more than 16 million views.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Mata mata turtle

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Chelidae
Genus: Chelus
Species: Chelus fimbriata
Conservation Status: Least Concern
Common Name(s): Mata mata, Mata mata turtle, Matamata and other similar variations

Mata mata, a strange name for what is sure one of the world's strangest turtles! This large, South American river turtle is the only surviving species of the genus Chelus and is easily one of the most unusual creatures you are likely to encounter in the Amazon Region.

Thanks to its leaf-shaped head, bark-like flat shell and ragged skin flaps, the species can perfectly blend in with the surrounding environment.

Distribution & Habitat
The mata mata is a freshwater turtle that occurs in South America, primarily in the Amazon and Orinoco basins. The species inhabits slow moving blackwater streams, stagnant pools, marshes, and swamps ranging into northern Bolivia, eastern Peru, Ecuador, eastern Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, and northern and central Brazil.

The species has been reportedly introduced into the drainage canals of southeast Florida. Whether it has created a self-sustaining breeding population is still unknown. This introduction may be due to carelessness associated with the exotic pet trade. Possible detrimental effects on Florida's native habitat have not yet been reported.

It is a strictly aquatic species that prefers staying in shallow water, where its snout can easily reach the surface to breathe.

Mata matas have a large, triangular and flattened head, covered by numerous tubercles and flaps of skin. The snout is long and tubular and resembles a horn. The snorkel-like snout allows the animal to lie fully submerged while breathing, with the least possible disturbance of the water surface. Three barbels occur on the chin and four additional filamentous barbels at the upper jaw, which is neither hooked nor notched. The neck is greatly elongated and thickened and longer than the vertebra under the carapace.

Close up, showing the horn-like snout of the mata mata turtle
Mata mata head close up. Notice the horn-like snout
Credit: "Chelus fimbriatus close". Licensed under
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The carapace is brown or black, oblong and may be up to 45 cm (~17.7 in) long. Maximum weight is about 15 kg (~33 lb). The plastron (the ventral surface of the shell) is reduced, narrowed, hingeless and shortened towards the front, and deeply notched at the rear with narrow bridges. This is possibly an evolutionary trait that helps individuals to resemble a piece of bark, offering camouflage from predators. The plastron and bridges have a creamish to yellow or brown coloration.

In adults, the head, neck, tail and limbs are grayish brown and fringed with small skin flaps along both sides. The forefeet have five webbed claws. Males have concave plastrons. They also have longer and thicker tails than females do.

Overall, the body of this strange animal gives an appearance (when in water) that resembles a piece of bark whereas its head resembles fallen leaves.

Mata mata turtle in an aquarium

Hatchlings have a pink to reddish tinge in the underside edge of the carapace and plastron, that gradually fades away with age.

The species has poor vision, however it appears to have excellent tactile and auditory senses. Furthermore, the complex folds of skin may contain sensory nerves that help in detecting motion.

Adults are bad swimmers, as the legs are adapted for walking on the bottom of the muddy areas they inhabit. Hatchlings and juveniles can swim awkwardly.

We know very little about the Mata mata's longevity in the wild. Most sources give a maximum life expectancy of at least 15 years though anecdotal evidence of captive individuals suggests a life expectancy of over 35 years!

They are sedentary animals, spending most of the day under water. They rarely bask.

Mata mata (Chelus fimbriata) turtle at Toronto Zoo
Mata mata turtle at Toronto Zoo
Credit: By Michael Gil from Toronto, ON, Canada
[CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons

C. fimbriata turtles spend most of their time staying motionless in the water. As aforementioned, they are very good in camouflage and they simply wait for prey to come close by. Then, they simply thrust out their head and open the large mouth as wide as possible, creating a low-pressure vacuum that sucks prey into the mouth. The mouth is then shut and the water is slowly expelled. Prey is swallowed as a whole.

These strange animals are strictly carnivorous, consuming exclusively aquatic invertebrates and fish.

Breeding occurs once every year, from October through December. Prior to mating, the male repetitively extends the head toward the female, while opening and closing its mouth. Other male displays include extending their limbs, lunging their heads toward the females, and moving the lateral flaps on their heads.

After about 200 days, females lay 12 to 28 brittle, spherical, 3.5 cm (~ 1.3 in) in diameter eggs that are deposited in a clutch. After hatching occurs, the young turtles are left all alone. No parental care has been reported.

A matamata baby

In captivity
Due to their unique and bizarre appearance, they are a popular exhibit and many zoos have them for display. Just use a search engine to see if one features them nearby! A few I found quickly using google are the following:|
  • Toronto Zoo 
  • Detroit Zoo 
  • Denver Zoo 
  • Nashville Zoo

Demand and supply in the exotic pet trade is quite high for these strange turtles, and it seems they are a bit expensive to obtain. Despite their large size, they need less space than other large active aquatic species as the stay motionless for most part of the day. Like most aquatic turtles, water quality is the main key to keeping the species alive and well in captivity. Warm, acidic water is the ideal type, combined with a high tannin content that should be maintained all year round. Moderate to heavy filtration is recommended.

Credit: By Antonio Charneco (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons

Conservation Status
C. fimbriata is widely distributed in South America, and currently does not appear to have any major threats anywhere in its range. The species is listed under "Least Concern" by the IUCN.

Other Interesting Facts about the Mata mata turtle
- The species was first described by French naturalist Pierre Barrère (1690 - 1755) in 1741 as a "large land turtle with spiky and ridged scales" (translation). Initially, it was classified as Testudo fimbriata by German naturalist Johann Gottlob Schneider (1750 - 1822) in 1783. The species was actually renamed 14 different times until it was finally classified as Chelus fimbriata in 1992.
- It is the largest member of the pleurodiran family
- The carapace is commonly covered by algae, which further enhances the turtle's camouflage capacity.

References & Further Reading
- Bartlett, Dick (2007), "The Matamata", Reptiles Magazine 15 (12): 18–20
- Turtle Taxonomy Working Group [van Dijk, P.P., Iverson, J.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B., and Bour, R.]. 2014. Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Iverson, J.B., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(7):000.329–479
- Drajeske, P. W. 1982. Captive breeding of the mata mata turtle (Chelus fimbriatus). 6th Ann. Rep. Symp. Captive Propagation Husbandry July 28-31, 1982.
- Lombardini ED, Desoutter AV, Montali RJ, & Del Piero F (2013). Esophageal adenocarcinoma in a 53-year-old mata mata turtle (Chelus fimbriatus). Journal of zoo and wildlife medicine : official publication of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, 44 (3), 773-6 PMID: 24063112
- Wang L, Zhou X, Nie L, Xia X, Liu L, Jiang Y, Huang Z, & Jing W (2012). The complete mitochondrial genome sequences of Chelodina rugosa and Chelus fimbriata (Pleurodira: Chelidae): implications of a common absence of initiation sites (O(L)) in pleurodiran turtles. Molecular biology reports, 39 (3), 2097-107 PMID: 21655955
- Ernst and Barbour 1989, Espenshade 1990, USGS Biological Research Division 1999
- Matamata, Chelus fimbriatus, California Turtle & Tortoise Club
- Formanowicz, D. R., Jr., E .D. Brodie, Jr., and S. C. Wise. 1989. Foraging behavior of matamata turtles: the effects of prey density and the presence of a conspecific. Herpetologica 45(1):61-67.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Two Headed Dolphin Found in Turkish Beach

Two Headed Dolphin in Turkey
Photo by Tugrul Metin
The carcass of a siamese, two-headed dolphin was found on a beach in Turkey this week (August 5 2014). The conjoined body was seen floating onto the shore in Izmir, on Turkey's west coast by Tugrul Metin, a 39 years old sports teacher.

The deformed body was 0.97 long (3.2ft) and is believed to have been a 1 year old baby at the time of death. As you can see on the image, it had two heads which shared a common tail.

"I noticed the dolphin in the sea and watched as it washed on to the beach. I couldn't take it in at first - I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.  I've never even heard about a dolphin like this, let alone seeing one with my own eyes. I was completely shocked." said Metin.

Metin immediately called the police after seeing the deformed creature, who came and transferred it to a laboratory for further investigation. Early examination revealed that the eyes on one of the two heads were not properly opened, neither was one of the blow holes.

According to the DailyMail, Mehmet Gokoglu, associate professor at the marine-biology department at the Ak Deniz University said he welcomed the opportunity to study and examine the weird dolphin.

"Such a dolphin is a very rare occurrence - similar to the occurrence of conjoined human twins." said Gokoglu.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Floating Fried Eggs

Floating Fried Egg - Cotylorhiza tuberculata
Fried Egg Jellyfish
Cotylorhiza tuberculata

The common name says it all. This weird-looking jellyfish literally looks like a fried egg! Scientifically known as Cotylorhiza tuberculata, it is one of the two jellyfish species that resemble a fried egg. The other one is Phacellophora camtschatica. Not surprisingly, it also goes by the same name.

They may look tasty, but you probably don't want to have one for breakfast! However, you can have a lot of fun with C. tuberculata. This jellyfish has a mild sting that causes very little - if any - pain to humans. One of my best childhood memories is me and my friends grabbing them with our bare hands and wearing them like hats to other unsuspecting kids! To be honest, it's something I continue to do. Give it a try if you ever happen to come across one. Just avoid doing it to strangers, I don't think they will appreciate it!

Now, let's learn a few things about these two strange, egg-like creatures:

The egg-yolk jellyfish (Phacellophora camtschatica)
Credit: Rosario Beach
Marine Laboratory
(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Scyphozoa
Order: Semaeostomeae
Family: Phacellophoridae
Genus: Phacellophora
Species: Phacellophora camtschatica
Common Name(s): Fried egg jellyfish or egg-yolk jellyfish

P. camtschatica is a massive jellyfish, with a bell up to 60 cm (23 in) in diameter and sixteen clusters of up to a few dozen tentacles, each measuring up to 6 m (~20 ft) long. In the past, the species was part of the family Ulmaridae, but is now listed as the sole member of the family Phacellophoridae.

This cool-water jellyfish can be found in all major oceans, occurring in depths ranging from 0 to 168 m. Its diet is mainly comprised of other smaller jellyfish and gelatinous zooplankton, that get trapped in its tentacles. It spends much of its life motionless or slowly pulsing the bell while drifting. The egg-yolk jellyfish has a very weak sting. Many small crustaceans take advantage of this - like the larva of the Cancer gracilis crab - and regularly ride on its bell and even steal food from its oral arms and tentacles!

Fried egg jellyfish, Enoshima Aquarium, Japan.

Much of our knowledge on the species' life cycle comes from the Monterey Bay and other public aquariums, which have had much success in breeding the species. Fertilized eggs develop into ciliated planula larvae which swim, then settle and metamorphose into scyphistoma polyps. Mature scyphistoma have 30 to 44 tentacles and reproduce asexually by side budding as well as strobilating to produce ephyra which develop into mature jellyfish. In captivity, it takes about 9 months for an ephyra to grow into a mature medusa.

By T.Friedrich
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Scyphozoa
Order: Rhizostomeae
Family: Cepheidae
Genus: Cotylorhiza
Species: Cotylorhiza tuberculata
Common Name(s): Mediterranean jelly, Fried egg jellyfish

C. tuberculata is a species of jellyfish commonly found in aggregations in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Adriatic Sea. As aforementioned, it has a sting with little to no effect on humans. The scientific name Cotylorhiza is derived by the greek words “κοντύλι,” meaning cup, and “ρίζα,” meaning root.

A typical adult measures 17 to 20 centimeters wide, though they can reach 50 centimeters across. They have a smooth, elevated dome that is surrounded by a gutter-like ring. The marginal lappets are elongated and subrectangular. Each mouth-arm bifurcates near its base and branches several times. In addition to some larger appendages there are many short, club-shaped ones that bear disk-like ends.

Mediterranean jelly, somewhere in Greece

These jellies primarily feed on zooplankton and reproduce asexually. Larva attach themselves to a hard ocean surface and grow in a polyp colony that looks like a stack of saucers. The tiny babies are then released from capsules, like spaceships and drift away.

Phacellophora camtschatica: References & Further Reading
- Reum, J., Hunsicker, M., & Paulsen, C. (2010). Species Composition and Relative Abundance of Large Medusae in Puget Sound, Washington Northwest Science, 84 (2), 131-140 DOI: 10.3955/046.084.0202
- Widmer, C. (2006). Life cycle of Phacellophora camtschatica (Cnidaria: Scyphozoa) Invertebrate Biology, 125 (2), 83-90 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7410.2006.00043.x
- Towanda, T., & Thuesen, E. (2006). Ectosymbiotic behavior of Cancer gracilis and its trophic relationships with its host Phacellophora camtschatica and the parasitoid Hyperia medusarum Marine Ecology Progress Series, 315, 221-236 DOI: 10.3354/meps315221

Cotylorhiza tuberculata: References & Further Reading On Cotylorhiza tuberculata
- Kramp, P.L. (1961): Synopsis of the Medusae of the World. Order Rhizostomeae. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 40: 348–382. PDF
- Reclos, George J. (2006): "Cotylorhiza tuberculata (Macri, 1778)"

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Rosy-Lipped Batfish

Rosy-Lipped Batfish
Credit: Michael Poliza
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Lophiiformes
Family: Ogcocephalidae
Genus: Ogcocephalus
Species: Ogcocephalus porrectus
Conservation Status: Least Concern (Not Threatened)
Common name(s): Rosy-Lipped Batfish, Cocos batfish

A couple years ago, I made a post about the red-lipped batfish (Ogcocephalus Darwini), a weird looking fish that is best known for its bright red lips and for its highly adapted fins, that allow it to walk on the ocean floor.

Now, the time has come to examine a similarly looking and closely related species, the Rosy-Lipped Batfish. There is little research behind this strange creature, so this is gonna be a relatively short post.

The Rosy-Lipped Batfish can be found in the waters surrounding the Cocos Island, off the shore of Costa Rica, hence the species other common name "Cocos batfish". It inhabits sand and rubble substrate and occurs in depths ranging from 35 to 150 m (114-494 ft).

Map of cocos island where the rosy lipped batfish can be found
Location of Cocos Island (inside red circle)
Click to enlarge

Similarly to the red-lipped batfish, the bright red lips are the most distinctive characteristic of the rosy-lipped batfish.

The fish has a depressed head that is elevated above the disk-shaped body and a pointed snout, with a horn-like rostrum, projecting well forward between the eyes. The body is covered by leathery skin and features protruding bony spines on the back, unlike the red-lipped batfish that has a smooth back.

Individuals have an average length of about 15 cm (6 in.).

Like the red-lipped batfish, they have highly modified pectoral and pelvic fins, which allow them to walk on the ocean floor. When swimming, they are slow and clumsy. On a side note, the spotted handfish walks and swims in a similar fashion.

The Cocos batfish is carnivorous, with its eat diet consisting of benthic worms, crustaceans (like shrimps & crabs), gastropods and small fish.

Image of the rosy-lipped batfish
Rosy-Lipped Batfish,
Notice the distinctive spines on its back

Conservation Status & Threats
Currently, the species has no known major threats. Populations seem to be stable and in 2010 it was listed as of Least Concern by the IUCN. In addition, the Cocos Island is designated as a National Park and the species distribution falls entirely within the Marine Protected Area of Cocos Island. Finally, researchers believe that the species's populations are unlikely to be negatively impacted by future climate changes, due to the great depths it occurs .

Considering the above, the rosy-lipped batfish appears to have a bright feature, despite its very restricted range.

- Bussing, W. A. and Lopez, M. I. 2005. Fishes of Cocos Island and reef fishes of the pacific coast of lower Central America. Publicacion especial. , Source: Revista de Biologia Tropical, Vol. 53, Page: 1-192
- Bussing, W. A. and Lopez, M. I. 2005. Fishes of Cocos Island and reef fishes of the pacific coast of lower Central America. Publicacion especial. , Source: Revista de Biologia Tropical, Vol. 53, Page: 1-192
- Lea, B., Béarez, P. & McCosker, J. 2010. Ogcocephalus porrectus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>.

Monday, 21 July 2014

11 Strange and Bizzare Breeds of Chicken

Contrary to what many people think, not all chickens look more or less the same. Thanks to selective breeding, we have chickens that their differences extend way beyond a simple "This one is red", "This one's black" or a "This one is big".

Today, we have all kinds of chickens. Some are great egg-layers. Others are perfect for producing meat and some are excellent in both of those fields. And of course, we have some that are simply weird-looking!

So, let's check out some of weirdest looking chicken breeds, and learn a few things about them as well:

1. Onagadori
Onagadori is a breed originating from the Kōchi Prefecture of Japan. They come in a variety of colors, like Black Breasted Red, Black Breasted Silver, Black Breasted Golden and White. The leg color is willow in the Black-breasted variations and yellow or white in the White.

Onagatori rooster with a super long tail
Onagatori Cock

The roosters' remarkable tail feathers reach lengths ranging from 3.6 to 8.2 m (~12-27 ft), when kept clean and in good condition. If you’re looking for an easy-maintenance chicken then this breed isn't for you. Just imagine keeping their tails clean!

Onagadori rooster in Ueno zoo, Tokyo, Japan.

2. Silkie
Sometimes spelled "Silky," these chickens are named after their fluffy, silk-like plumage. In addition to their puffy plumage, the breed has several other strange qualities, such as black skin and bones, blue earlobes, and five toes on each foot, contrary to most breeds that only have four.

A white, super cute silkie hen
White Silkie hen

The exact origins of these weird chickens remain largely a mystery, however the most probable point of origin is ancient China. They come in a variety of colors, including black, blue, buff, grey, partridge and white.

They are docile animals, with a calm and friendly temperament, making them perfect for pets.

Video about silkies and how to raise them

3. Polish
The Polish (sometimes called the Poland) is a European breed, possibly originating from Netherlands, where the oldest accounts of these birds are tracked. This strange breed is easily distinguished by the fine crest that both hens and roosters sport on their heads.

Just a polish rooster
Polish cock

Polish chickens come in a variety of colors and are bred primarily as show birds. There are bearded, non-bearded and frizzle varieties. The feathered crests impair their vision, making them more susceptible to predators (e.g. foxes and hawks), as they can't see as well as other birds.

4. Phoenix
The Phoenix is one of many breeds that resulted from European selective breeding of the aforementioned Onagadori, from which this breed inherited its long, beautiful tail. Individuals vary in color and may be gold, black, and silver.

Image showing a Golden Phoenix hen and rooster
Golden Phoenix hen and rooster

The breed is not suitable for cold climates, and like the Onagadori is famous for its long tail. Interestingly, they molt every other year, unlike most breeds that molt every year.

5. Crèvecœur
The Crèvecœur (or Crevecoeur) is a rare breed of chicken originating from France, named after the town of Crèvecœur in Normandy. These strange chickens are one of the oldest French chicken breeds and are usually raised for poultry exhibition.

Crèvecœur flock, rooster on the foreground
Crèvecœur rooster

Crevecoeurs have a uniformly black plumage, a V-shaped comb and large crests, similar in this last to the Polish breed. Their legs are a dark blue-gray. They don't get very big and don't lay eggs as frequently as most other breeds.

6. Araucana
The Araucana, also known as the South American Rumpless, is a breed of chicken originating in Chile. Other than its strange look, the breed is known for laying blue eggs! This bizarre coloration is possibly the result of a DNA retrovirus that appeared sometime early during domestication.

Close up of a Araucana Hen
Araucana Hen
An Araucana egg with other eggs for comparison
Araucana egg (blue) with white and brown eggs for comparison.

This small-sized breed is rumpless and tufted. Individuals may be black, black-red, golden duckwing, silver duckwing and white. Araucanas are exceptionally rare, partly due to being difficult to breed because a high percentage of the chicks die in their shells.

Araucana chickens eating corn

7. Sultan
The Sultan is a rare Turkish breed, easily distinguished by its turbanlike head crest. Its English name is directly derived from the original Turkish language name "Serai-Tavuk", which translates to "fowls of the Sultan".

Three sultan chickens
Sultan chickens

Like the silkie, it's one of the few breeds featuring five toes on each feathered (!) foot. Sultans come in three varieties, black, blue, and white, the latter being the most popular. They are docile, friendly and calm animals, although a bit demanding to care.

Man petting a Sultan hen

8. Polverara
The Polverara is an ancient crested breed from the small city of Polverara in the province of Padova of north-eastern Italy. Also known as Schiatta or Sciata, this breed is known for its small and upward-facing crest and beard.

Polverara Hen in a cage
Polverara Hen

The breed had almost gone extinct in the early 1900s and again in 2000, down to 10 in both cases. Today, there are two varieties, black and white. These chickens do better out in the open, adapting very poorly in confined spaces.

Video showing a Polverara chicken

9. Modern Game
The Modern Game is a chicken breed originating from the U.K, tracing somewhere between 1850 and 1900. It is a purely exhibition bird, developed after the outlawing of cockfights in the U.K., in the mid 19th century. This is when many cockfighting enthusiasts turned to breeding for shows as an alternative poultry hobby. The breed was created using multiple lines of cockfighting breeds (game birds).

Tall modern game hen

These chickens are bred purely for exhibition and are neither good for laying eggs nor for meat production. They are are sleek, proud-postured, with their color varying from red to mulberry. The lack of meat makes them unsuitable for areas with very cold climates.

Kid feeds a young Modern Game chicken

10. Naked neck
Obviously, naked neck chickens take their name from the featherless neck and vent they feature. The breed originates from Transylvania, hence the other common name "Transylvanian Naked Neck". Sometimes also called the Turken, thanks to the false impression that the bird is a hybrid between a chicken and a turkey.

Two naked neck chickens
Naked neck chickens

The breed's unusual appearance is controlled by a dominant gene mutation that is easy to introduce to other chickens. Despite their weird looks, they are not bred for exhibition. However, they are good for egg and meat production. Recognized colors include black, white, cuckoo, buff, red, and blue.

11. Naked Chicken
The naked chicken takes the naked neck to the next level. Also known as the featherless chicken, this weird breed was created by a team of researchers, led by Avigdor Cahaner, at the genetics faculty of the Rehovot Agronomy Institute near Tel Aviv, Israel.

Two featherless (naked) chickens

The breed was created with purely commercial use in mind. Thanks to the total lack of feathers, these chickens grow faster with less food. Furthermore, they are ecofriendly, as no plucking is required, a process that often contaminates large quantities of water with feathers and fats.

Creator of the naked chicken, Prof. Avigdor Cahaner,
talks about the breed

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Friday, 18 July 2014

Scientists Create Alcohol-Resistant Worms That Might Cure Alcoholism

Image showing a sober and an intoxicated worm
Image showing the effects of alchohol in
Caenorhabditis elegans and..humans
Credit: Jon Pierce-Shimomura from
The University of Texas, Austin.
A couple of days ago, a team of neuroscientists from the University of Texas, Austin announced that they have created a new strain of mutant worms which is impervious to the intoxicating effects of alcohol!

To create the alcohol-immune worms, the researchers implanted a modified human alcohol target – a neuronal channel called the BK channel SLO-1 that binds alcohol to the brain – into the genome of Caenorhabditis elegans worms.

An alcohol target is any nerve cell molecule that binds with alcohol, whereas C. elegans is a free-living (non-parasitic), transparent nematode (roundworm), about 1 mm in length, that lives in temperate soil environments.

"This is the first example of altering a human alcohol target to prevent intoxication in an animal." said Jon Pierce-Shimomura, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor in the university's College of Natural Sciences and Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research.

One important aspect of this modified alcohol target is that the mutation only affects its response to alcohol. Normally, the BK channel regulates many other important functions including the activity of neurons, blood vessels, the respiratory tract and bladder. The alcohol-insensitive mutation does not disrupt these functions at all.

"We got pretty lucky and found a way to make the channel insensitive to alcohol without affecting its normal function." said Pierce-Shimomura.

The authors believe their study has potential applications for treating people addicted to alcohol:

"Our findings provide exciting evidence that future pharmaceuticals might aim at this portion of the alcohol target to prevent problems in alcohol abuse disorders. However, it remains to be seen which aspects of these disorders would benefit." said Pierce-Shimomura.

Unlike other drugs like cocaine, which have a specific target in the nervous system, the effects of alcohol on the body are complex, targeting numerous areas of the brain. Other aspects of alcohol addiction, like tolerance, cravings and withdrawal symptoms are probably influenced by different alcohol targets.

The worms used in this study are a good model for alcohol intoxication, which causes them to slow their crawling and reduce the wriggling from side to side. They also stop laying eggs, which accumulate in their bodies and can be easily counted.

Image showing how a healthy Caenorhabditis elegans crawls
Movement of sober Caenorhabditis elegans
Credit: "CrawlingCelegans" by Bob Goldstein

However, C. elegans is not an ideal model for alcohol addiction. Now, the team wants to take the research a step further. The modified human BK channel that was used in this study - which is based on a mutation discovered by lead author and graduate student Scott Davis - can be inserted into mice, which would allow them to examine if this alcohol target also affects tolerance, cravings and other alcohol-related symptoms.

Interestingly, Jon Pierce-Shimomura said that future pharmaceutical applications could include a "James Bond drug", which would enable a spy to drink his opponent under the table, without getting drunk himself. The same drug could also be used to treat alcoholics, since it would counteract the intoxicating and potentially addicting effects of alcohol.

Image of a Caenorhabditis elegans specimen
Caenorhabditis elegans

- Davis, S., Scott, L., Hu, K., & Pierce-Shimomura, J. (2014). Conserved Single Residue in the BK Potassium Channel Required for Activation by Alcohol and Intoxication in C. elegans Journal of Neuroscience, 34 (29), 9562-9573 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0838-14.2014