Monday, 23 April 2018

Cladolasma ailaoshan: A new species of Harvestman from Yunnan Province, China.

Harvestmen, Opiliones, are carnivorous Arachnids resembling Spiders, though they are not closely related and are incapable of producing silk. The Family Nemastomatidae comprises around 170 described species of small Harvestmen, reaching a maximum of about 6 mm. The family is divided into two subfamilies, the Ortholasmatinae, which is found in North America and East Asia, and the Nemastomatinae, found in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

In a paper published in the journal ZooKeys on 4 April 2018, Feng Zhang, Likun Zhao and Chao Zhang of The Key Laboratory of Invertebrate Systematics and Application at Hebei University, describe a new species of Ortholasmatine Harvestman from Yunnan Province in China.

The new species is placed in the genus Cladolasma, which contains previously described species from China, Thailand and Japan, and given the specific name ailaoshan, in reference to the Ailaoshan Natural Reserve in Zhenyuan County, where the species was discovered. These Hervestmen are heavily sclerotized (have hardened skins) yellowish brown in colour, with females larger than the males, reaching 4.6 mm, compared to 2.8 mm.

Cladolasma ailaoshan. Photographs of male and female. (19) Body and parts of appendages, male, dorsal view. (20) Male ventral view. (21) Hood, male, dorsal view. (22) Hood, female, dorsal view. (23) Body and parts of appendages, female, dorsal view (24) Female ventral view. Scale bars: 1 mm (23)–(24); 0.5 mm (19)–(20); 0.2 mm (21)–(22). Zhang et al. (2018).

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Arsonists target Libyan oil pipeline.

A pipeline carrying oil from the Waha Oilfield in eastern Libya to the Mediterranean port of Es Sadir has been the target of an arson attack. The pipeline was set on fire at an isolation valve on the El Zkout-Es Sider pipeline, roughly 21 km from Marada on Saturday 21 April 2017, and the fire was not brought under control until Sunday 22 April. Repairs to the pipeline are expected to take several days, slowing production at the Es Sadir refinery by about 80 000 barrels (12 720 000 litres) per day.

Burning pipeline near Marada in Libya on Saturday 21 April 2018. Libyan Observer.

Libya has suffered a number of serious oil fires in recent years, caused by a combination of a decaying infrastructure, and deliberate attacks linked to political instability in the North African Country. Fighting between militia groups has occurred sporadically since the overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, as the various groups that took part in the regime change had little in common and since then have been engaged in an uneasy truce with intervals of open conflict.

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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Crocodile kills fourteen-year-old boy near Bhitarkanika National Park, India.

A Saltwater Crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, has killed a fourteen-year-old boy near the Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha State, India. Srikant Sethi, from Diapari village in Kendrapara District,  was bathing in the river which separates the village from the Park, in the park on Saturday 21 April 2018, when the animal emerged from the knee high water where it was hiding and dragged him in.  His body has yet to be recovered, but he is not expected to have survived the incident. The park is home to a population of about 1700 Crocodiles, leading to the potential for conflict with humans. The Indian Forest Service has placed barriers along the Bramahani, Kharosotra, Hansua and Baitarani rivers in and around the park, and issued warnings to villagers not to enter the water, though it is unclear to what extent this is a realistic expectation. Local villagers claim an average of about six people are attacked by Crocodiles in the area each year, though the majority of these attacks go unreported, as people simply disappear.

A Saltwater Crocodile within the Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha State, India. The Park is home to a population of about 1700 Crocodiles, which are a popular attraction with tourists but problematic for local populations. Trip Advisor.

Crocodile attacks on Humans are relatively rare, but they are opportunistic ambush predators and will potentially attack anything going close to the water. Saltwater Crocodiles have a particularly poor reputation for such behaviour, being the largest species of Crocodile and notoriously aggressive. These Crocodiles are one of the few Crocodile species not considered vulnerable to extinction, being found from India to Australia  and inhabiting many areas that Humans shun, such as Mangrove forests and islands without fresh water.

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Asteroid 2018 HM passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2018 HM passed by the Earth at a distance of about 1 096 000 km (2.85 times the average  distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.72% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 3.50 pm GMT on Sunday 15 April 2018. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would not have presented a significant threat. 2018 HM has an estimated equivalent diameter of 6-21 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 6-21 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) in the atmosphere between 38 and 20 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

The calculated orbit of 2018 HM. Minor Planet Center.

2018 HM was discovered on 18 April 2018 (three days before its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Survey at the Steward Observatory on Mount Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2018 HM implies that the asteroid was the 12th object (object M) discovered in the second half of April 2018 (period 2018 H). 

2018 HM has a 381 day orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 17.6° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.94 AU from the Sun (i.e. 94% of he average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 1.11 AU from the Sun (i.e. 111% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). This means that the asteroid has occasional close encounters with the Earth, with the last thought to have happened in October 2017 and the next predicted in September this year. 

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Saturday, 21 April 2018

Ursus arctos marsicanus: Rare Marsican Brown Bear dies during tagging operation in Italy.

A rare Marsican Brown Bear, Ursus arctos marsicanus, has died during an operation to fit it with a radio collar in the Abruzzo National Park in the Appenine Mountains of Italy on Wednesday 18 April 2018. The Bear had been captured in a trap with a view to fitting it with a radio collar, which would have enabled scientists to track its movements, helping them to gain a better understanding of the behaviour of this rare subspecies, but suffered a reaction to an anaesthetic it was administered to it and asphyxiated.

A Mascarine Brown Bear, Ursus arctos marsicanus. Bear Conservation/Animalia Life.

The Mascarine Brown Bear is a subspecies of the Brown Bear, Ursus arctos, found only in the Appenine Mountains of Italy. They differ from other Brown Bears chiefly in their behaviour, with young Bears maturing more quickly, due to a higher fat content in the milk of the females, and the adult Bears being less aggressive, making them much less dangerous to Humans than other Brown Bears. There are currently thought to be only about 50 of this subspecies surviving, all within the Abruzzo National Park or its immediate surroundings, for which reason the subspecies is considered to be Critically Endangered under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

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Ephysteris kullbergi & Ephysteris ustjuzhanini: Two new species of Twirler Moth from Siberia and Mongolia.

The Gnorimoschemini are a group of Twirler Moths, Gelechiidae, are found across much of North America. They are small Moths, with narrow, fringed wings, the larvae of which feed internally on their host plants, sometimes forming galls; many species being considered to be agricultural pests. The genus Ephysteris currently contains about 60 species, most of which come from Europe and temperate Asia, although there are six described species from North America and over 20 are found in Africa.

In a paper published in the journal Nota Lepidoptera on 26 March 2018, Oleksiy Bidzilya of the Institute for the Evolutionary Ecology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and Ole Karsholt of the Zoological Museum at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, describe two new species of Ephysteris from Russia and Mongolia.

The first new species is named Ephysteris kullbergi, after Jaakko Kullberg, the Finnish entomologist who collected the specimens from which the species is described, by Moth-lamping in dunes beside Lake Tere-Khol in the Tuva Republic of southern Siberia, Russia. These Moths have a wingspan of about 8-10 mm, and are creamy white in colour with black and grey markings. The females resemble the males, but have smaller hindwings, the larvae are unknown.

Ephysteris kullbergi, (1) male, and (2) female. Bidzilya & Karsholt (2018).

The second new species described is named Ephysteris ustjuzhanini, in honour of the Russian lepidopterist Petr Ustjuzhanin who collected the specimens from which the species is described. This species is described from two specimens, a male and a female collected t different locations in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia. The male has a wingspan of 8.8 mm, the female 9.0 mm, both are grey with white and brown markings.

Ephysteris ustjuzhanini, male specimen. Bidzilya & Karsholt (2018).

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Magnitude 5.5 Earthquake in Bushehr Province, Iran.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 5.5 Earthquake at a depth of 10.0 km in Bushehr Province, Iran, slightly before 11.05 am local time (slightly before 6.35 am GMT) on Thursday 19 April 2018. There are no reports of any damage or casualties associated with this event, but it was felt in coastal areas around the Persian Gulf, including Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The approximate location of the 18 April 2018 Bushehr Earthquake. USGS.

Iran is situated on the southern margin of the Eurasian Plate. Immediately to the south lies the Arabian Plate, which is being pushed northward by the impact of Africa from the south. This has created a zone of faulting and fold mountains along the southwest coast of the country, known as the Zagros Thrust Belt, while to the northeast of this the geology is dominated by three large tectonic blocks, the Central Iran, Lut and Helmand, which move separately in response to pressure from the south, stretching and compressing the rock layers close to the surface and creating frequent Earthquakes, some of which can be very large.

The movement of the Arabian Plate and extent of the Zagros Thrust Belt. Rasoul Sorkhabi/Geo ExPro.

To the northeast of this the geology is dominated by three large tectonic blocks, the Central Iran, Lut and Helmand, which move separately in response to pressure from the south, stretching and compressing the rock layers close to the surface and again creating frequent Earthquakes.

The population of Iran is particularly at risk from Earthquakes as, unlike most other Earthquake-prone nations, very few buildings in the country are quake-resistant. The majority of residential buildings in Iran are made of mud-brick, a building material particularly vulnerable to Earthquakes as the bricks often liquefy, trapping people inside and quickly asphyxiating them with dust. This is particularly dangerous at night when the majority of people are inside sleeping.

 Section through the Zagros Fold Belt. Sarkarinejad & Azizi (2007).

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. The international non-profit organisation Earthquake Report is interested in hearing from people who may have felt this event; if you felt this quake then you can report it to Earthquake Report here.
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