Vibrantly Colored ‘Starburst’ Scorpionfish Discovered

A riotously colorful new species of scorpionfish has been found deep in the Caribbean near Curaçao.

The fish is orange-red, with splashes of yellow and pink decorating its fins and face. Its scientific name is Scorpaenodes barrybrowni, after nature photographer Barry Brown, who works with the Smithsonian Institution mission that discovered the deep-sea-living fish.

S. barrybrowni is a denizen of the rocky seafloor and underwater cliffs, spending its time between about 310 and 525 feet (95 to 160 meters) down. Researchers discovered the new species during the Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP), a Smithsonian Institution mission to explore reefs deeper than scuba divers can go. Researchers used a manned submersible, Curasub, to collect samples of scorpionfish from near the island of Curaçao and discovered that several were of a species never seen before. [See Photos of the Bizarre Fish and Other Freaky-Looking Fish]

“The 50- to 300-meter [160 to 980 feet] tropical ocean zone is poorly studied — too deep for conventional scuba and too shallow to be of much interest to really deep-diving submersibles,” Carole Baldwin, the lead scientist at DROP, said in a statement. “The Curasub is providing scientists with the technology needed to remedy this gap in our knowledge of Caribbean reef biodiversity.”

<em>Varicus lacerta</em>, or the Godzilla goby, lives in deep Caribbean reefs and was discovered in 2016 by the Smithsonian Deep Reef Observation Project. The fish got its name because of its rows of sharp, curved teeth.

Varicus lacerta, or the Godzilla goby, lives in deep Caribbean reefs and was discovered in 2016 by the Smithsonian Deep Reef Observation Project. The fish got its name because of its rows of sharp, curved teeth.

Credit: Barry Brown

Scientists collected the new species with two hydraulic arms that anesthetize the fish and then bring them to the surface for study. They’ve dubbed their new find the stellate scorpionfish because of the colorful, starburst patterns on its fin and eye.

Genetic and anatomical analyses showed the new species to be separate from other western Atlantic scorpionfish such as Scorpaenodes caribbaeus and S. tredecimspinosus, Baldwin and her colleagues wrote in an article published online July 21 in the open-access journal ZooKeys. The fish are typically about 1.5 inches (37 millimeters) long and are the deepest-living Scorpaenodes fish ever discovered.

The colorful little reef fish is the ninth new fish discovered by the DROP mission, Baldwin and her colleagues wrote. Other discoveries include the green-eyed, yellow-skinned Godzilla goby (Varicus lacerta), and the tiny, iridescent Haptoclinus dropi.

By Stephanie Pappas of Live Science

Parenting Moments In The Animal Kingdom

 

Metro Art

A ride in a subway or metro isn’t always the most pleasant experience. They can be crowded, dirty and smelly. However, Stockholm’s commuters get to travel through pristine metro stations with surreal designs and stunning colors. In fact, the Swedish city’s metro stations are referred to as “the world’s longest art gallery,” according to The Guardian.

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The 68-mile tunnel system has 100 stations throughout the city, 90 of which are artistic masterpieces, the work of 150 artists. The project started in the 1950s when the metro station was opened. The Stockholm metro system is widely regarded as the most beautiful metro system in Europe.

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Photographer Conor MacNeill traveled from station to station to photograph the extravagant works of art, shooting late into the night and capturing them at their least occupied moments.

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“I think Solna Centrum [Station] is my favorite; that’s the one that looks like the depths of hell,” MacNeill told weather.com. “I went to photograph this station many years ago, but it was under renovation and I didn’t get the opportunity. Returning a few years later meant that I was excited and anxious to see if I could get the shot, and thankfully it was all clear.”

The stations seem to have been designed with different themes. An icy blue, glacier-like ceiling covers Tekniska Högskolan Station;

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Skarpnäck Station has granite seats that may bring to mind visions of Stonehenge;

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a rainbow graces the ceiling of Stadion Station.

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“I think Stockholm has my favorite metro of any city, but that’s not to say they’re the only one with beautiful stations,” MacNeill said. “I’ve shot the Moscow metro a few years ago and it has some fantastic examples of modernist architecture.”

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Calendars Run Anok

 

People in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia are recalibrating their system of time to adapt to a changing ecosystem.

Picture of Little Pamir mountains

A yak herd crosses the high-altitude plateau of the Little Pamir Mountains, on the borders of China, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.
Photograph by Matthieu Paley

In the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia, time has stopped working.

Communities in the region traditionally kept time by pegging it to environmental markers, such as melting snow or the first appearance of a migratory bird. But these “ecological calendars” have ceased to function properly due to the effects of climate change.

An array of environmental shifts in the region, such as unusual weather events, untimely glacial melts, lake bursts, and changes in animal and bird migration patterns, have thrown the calendars so far off kilter that most villagers no longer use them, and they struggle to reliably predict cues for planning agricultural and cultural activities.

“What’s happening, is it is creating instability at many levels—insecurity within local contexts, uncertainty with respect to anticipatory capacity, risk with respect to hazards that are turning into disasters—so imagine the level of anxiety,” says Karim-Aly S. Kassam of Cornell University.

This year, Kassam and an international team of researchers and local residents are starting work on a massive, multipart project to recalibrate time in the region. If successful, the Ecological Calendars and Climate Adaptation in the Pamirs (ECCAP) project will allow villagers to better plan their food production and adapt to future changes.

The team is tackling a problem that is being seen in many communities, says applied anthropologist Julie Maldonado of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who is not involved with the project. Seasonal indicators are becoming unreliable across the globe, and long-standing traditional knowledge is at risk.

Anthony Aveni, an anthropologist and astronomer at Colgate University, agrees, adding that ecological events are in many ways more fundamental and universal measures of time.

“Time is a living entity; time is the environment,” he says. “I think we lose track of it when we take it out of context and say ‘1492’ or ‘April 10’ or ‘two o’clock.’ Those are abstract measures of what time really is.”

But for the communities that use ecological timekeeping, disruptions can affect their very survival, Aveni says.

“I want to know how to adapt to the weather tomorrow. If there’s going to be a storm, I’ll take my umbrella. But imagine having to adapt your behavior if your life depended on it. That can be a frightening experience.”

Ankle O’Clock

The Pamir region primarily lies in Tajikistan but also straddles Afghanistan, China, and Kyrgyzstan. Kassam was there in 2006 working with local communities to understand how they had been affected by global traumatic events, such as war, food shortages, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Villagers described to Kassam how their daily survival was deeply connected to their agricultural habitats, and he discovered that they were distressed not only by world events but also by ongoing environmental upheaval. To Kassam, it was clear that the villagers were recounting the impacts of climate change.

The region has been seeing increasingly rapid snow and glacial melt, as well as rising river levels. In addition, the character and intensity of precipitation has been changing. What once fell as snow now falls as rain, and rather than being spread out over 30 days, the rain may arrive all at once.

Major landslides and lake bursts have happened at high elevations. Lower down, agricultural land is being flooded, and changing temperatures are affecting the fruit harvests.

Listening to people in the Pamirs talk about these changes is what first led Kassam to notice their ties to ecological calendars. Along with colleagues Umed Bulbulshoev and Morgan Ruelle, he went on to identify 17 calendars once widely used in the Pamir region.

Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which uses celestial events to count days in a fixed manner, the Pamir calendars tracked time through environmental cues that were then pegged to the human body. Traditionally, a hisobdon, one who calculates time, kept track of the cues, and farmers used them to initiate activities such as sowing seeds, plowing, harvesting, and cultural events.

In most systems, counting begins in early spring. It starts at the sole or the toenail and moves upward. Many calendars use the ankle, shin, knee, thigh, and penis to mark milestones, and time’s arrival at the heart often coincides with the vernal equinox.

Counting then passes through the chest and throat to the head. Here it stops for a chilla, a period of time marked by less agricultural activity. When seasonal cues are once more observed, counting resumes in reverse, moving back down through the body.

This system of timekeeping is deeply connected to the way these communities experience and describe the world. The sun is in the intestines, so when villagers see avalanches or changes in precipitation patterns, they say it is “like the churning in the stomach.” When the sun is in the “smiling mouth,” apricot trees are supposed to blossom.

Keeping the Calendar

With the calendars in turmoil, people in the Pamir Mountains are experimenting with ways to cope. Plowing and sowing now begins 15 to 30 days earlier than it did two decades ago, and it has become possible to grow wheat further up in the mountains without the risk of frost damage.

“They are already showing human agency, because they have figured out that they can now grow wheat at higher elevations. People are developing strategies on their own,” Kassam says.

However, this adaption has restrictions. Arable land is limited at higher altitudes, so the villagers will ultimately need a combination of approaches to ensure that their communities can predict the best times for vital events.

“They need to be able to anticipate what size their herd should be, what will be the nature of the pastures, when should they be seeding, when should they be plowing, when should they be harvesting,” says Kassam.

To address the problem, Kassam partnered with the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange and MIT’s Climate CoLab. They worked together to develop the ECCAP project, identify scientists with experience and respect for local knowledge, and crowdsource ideas.

The resulting multidisciplinary team brings together researchers from the U.S., Italy, Germany, and China. One team will update the calendars with current ecological data and recalibrate them so that people can once again make seasonal predictions.

Another team will link climate science to the calendars to prepare for changes related to water and drought, and the third will carry out a detailed study of biodiversity, drawing on the calendars as well as contemporary and historical knowledge.

Earlier this year, ECCAP was awarded 1.2 million euros from the Belmont Forum, and the teams have already began work in their respective institutions. In July, they will meet in China’s Kongur Shan to establish local community partnerships.

Farm Locally, Eat Globally

Raj Pandya, program director at Thriving Earth Exchange, says that the project pioneers an approach to preparing for climate change that combines traditional practices, local knowledge, and cutting-edge science.

“It will help villagers improve their lives and livelihoods, even in the face of climate change,” he says. “Using science, they’ll be able to match their traditional practices in agriculture and grazing to a rapidly changing climate and thrive in the places that they have lived for generations.”

According to Kassam, partnership projects such as ECCAP will not combat the effects of climate change, but they will help communities adapt to it.

“This is how we will secure our food systems and livelihoods,” he says. “In the third millennium, globally, humanity continues to depend largely on the small farmer and herder just to eat.”

Animal Survivors Rescued in Nepal

By Carrie Arnold

The devastating human toll of the Nepal earthquake has been well documented, but the quake also wreaked havoc on many animals, which will make the return to normalcy for people that much harder.

In rural Nepal, domestic animals are traditionally kept below the house, which means many were killed when their homes collapsed. So many rural survivors of the quake are now without a primary source of food and income.

Many of the animal survivors, including pets, are left with no one to care for them.

They’re in need of the same assistance as humans: food, water, and shelter.

Humane Society International has dispatched a rescue team to provide emergency veterinary aid and care for the earthquake’s animal survivors, including  baby goats, cows, and dogs.

The society and other relief organizations, such as the Animal Welfare Network of Nepal in Kathmandu, are working to provide the basic necessities to both people in Nepal and to their livestock and pets.

Their work also benefits the human survivors, many of whom have a close emotional bond with their furry companions and would go to great lengths to save them.

“People are willing to put their own lives at risk to stay with their companion animals,” said Joann Lindenmayer, senior manager of disaster operations at Humane Society International. “They’re family members.”

The earthquake devastated the Lalipur District, killing many livestock and companion animals.

Many traditional homes in Nepal keep livestock on the bottom floor, with rock walls above.

Picture of two young girls holding a baby goat

Two girls in the Lalipur District hold a baby goat on May 1. Many of the animals killed in the quake had value as livestock and a source of food and income for people. However, many people also share an emotional bond with their animals.

Picture of animals in front of a destroyed structure in Nepal

Many of the stranded or abandoned animals, such as these goats pictured on May 1, aren’t used to fending for themselves, according to Lindenmayer. The humane society is trying to find a temporary shelter for animals who have been left behind, as well as for animals in critical need, according to a press statement.

Picture of Nepalese woman crying

Besides losing some of the four-legged members of their family, survivors such as this woman, seen on May 1, are also at risk of losing their livelihoods. Livestock animals can provide milk, eggs, meat, and even income.

Picture of a rescued calf being fed

On April 29, four days after the deadly quake, rescuers care for a calf in Thali, a small village near Kathmandu. In every village the humane society has visited so far, animals are getting sick from exposure in the heavy rain, many are too sick to eat, and most of the animal feed is buried in the rubble, according to a statement.

Members of Humane Society International survey the destruction on May 1. The team has treated animals’ physical injuries, but many are in need of urgent veterinary care: Goats are showing signs of respiratory stress, and almost all animals have diarrhea, Rahul Sehgal, director of Humane Society Asia, noted in a statement.

Picture of a dog and a child in a shelter in Nepal

On May 2, a family dog takes shelter at one of Kathmandu’s central squares, where many families have set up tents. Other families were forced to leave their pets behind, and the humane society is working to provide food, water, and veterinary care for the abandoned animals.