February 27, 2014
Researchers Find Mexico’s
Endangered ‘Water Monster’
By Teresa De Miguel
Mexico City (AP) - Mexico's salamander-like axolotl apparently hasn't disappeared from its only known natural habitat in Mexico City's few remaining lakes.
Researchers say they have sighted, but not caught, two of the slippery little creatures during a second effort to find them.
A weekslong effort last year by researchers in skiffs trying to net axolotls in the shallow, muddy waters of Xochimilco lake found none, raising fears that they might only now survive in captivity.
But biologist Armando Tovar Garza of Mexico's National Autonomous University said Friday that members of the team carrying out the search had seen two axolotls during the first three weeks of a second survey expected to conclude in April.
“We weren't able to capture them because the behavior of the axolotl makes them very difficult to capture,'' Tovar Garza said. “We haven't had any captures, but we have had two sightings. That's important, because it tells us we still have a chance.''
The axolotl, admittedly ugly with a slimy tail, plumage-like gills and mouth that curls into an odd smile, is known as the “water monster'' and the “Mexican walking fish.'' It's only natural habitat is the Xochimilco network of lakes and canals, the ``floating gardens'' of earth piled on reed mats that the Aztecs built to grow crops but are now suffering from pollution, urban sprawl and invasive species.
The creature is import in scientific research because of its ability to regenerate severed limbs.
Some axolotls still survive in aquariums, water tanks and research labs, but experts said those conditions aren't the best, because of interbreeding and other risks.
Releasing captive-bred axolotls into the wild could spread a fungus infection that is fatal to them and could reduce their genetic diversity. Tovar Garza said some small mutations, possibly the result of interbreeding, have already been seen.
Alarmed by the creature's falling numbers in recent years, researchers built axolotl “shelters'' in Xochimilco to help them breed in the cleanest part of their remaining habitat.
Sacks of rocks and reedy plants act as filters around a selected area, and cleaner water is pumped in, to create better conditions. The shelters also include permeable cages and other devices intended to help protect axolotls from non-native carp and tilapia that were introduced to the lake system years ago and compete with axolotls for food.
Growing up to a foot long (30 centimeters), axolotls use four stubby legs to drag themselves along the bottom or thick tails to swim in Xochimilco's murky channels while feeding on aquatic insects, small fish and crustaceans.
But the surrounding garden-islands have increasingly been converted to illicit shantytowns, with untreated sewage often running off into the water.
The Mexican Academy of Sciences said in a statement that a 1998 survey found an average of 6,000 axolotls per square kilometer, a figure that dropped to 1,000 in a 2003 study and 100 in a 2008 survey.
This Week In The Civil War: Confederate Submarine
AP - This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Feb 23: Confederate submarine makes history.
On a moonlight night 150 years ago this month in the Civil War, the hand-cranked Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley sailed from its moorings on the South Carolina coast and into the history books. It was to become the first submarine ever to sink an enemy warship.
On Feb. 17, 1864, the Hunley sank the Union ship Housatonic as the Confederates desperately tried to break the Civil War blockade then strangling Charleston.
Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley, artwork by R.G. Skerrett
While the Housatonic sank, so did the Hunley.
The combat saw the submarine crew set off a black powder charge at the end of a 200-pound spar, sinking the ship before the sub itself went down.
The remains of the eight-member Hunley crew would be recovered more than a century later.
In April of 2004, thousands of men in Confederate gray and Union blue, as well as women in black hoop skirts and veils, walked in a procession with the crew's coffins from Charleston's waterfront to a cemetery in what was called the last Confederate funeral.
Bumblebees Are Getting Stung By Honeybee Sickness
By Seth Borenstein
AP Science Writer
Washington (AP) - Wild bumblebees worldwide are in trouble, likely contracting deadly diseases from their commercialized honeybee cousins, a new study shows.
That's a problem even though bumblebees aren't trucked from farm to farm like honeybees. They provide a significant chunk of the world's pollination of flowers and food, especially greenhouse tomatoes, insect experts said. And the ailments are hurting bumblebees even more, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
``Wild populations of bumblebees appear to be in significant decline across Europe, North America, South America and also in Asia,'' said study author Mark Brown of the University of London. He said his study confirmed that a major source of the decline was ``the spillover of parasites and pathogens and disease'' from managed honeybee hives.
Smaller studies have shown disease going back and forth between the two kinds of bees. Brown said his is the first to look at the problem in a larger country-wide scale and include three diseases and parasites. The study tracked nearly 750 bees in 26 sites throughout Great Britain. And it also did lab work on captive bees to show disease spread.
What the study shows is that ``the spillover for bees is turning into (a) boilover,'' University of Illinois entomology professor May Berenbaum, who wasn't part of the study, said in an email.
Study co-author Matthias Furst of the University of London said the team's research does not definitely prove the diseases go from honeybees to bumblebees. But the evidence points heavily in that direction because virus levels and infection rates are higher in the honeybees, he said.
Bumblebees probably pick up diseases when they go to flowers after infected honeybees, Furst said. And sometimes bumblebees invade honeybee hives and steal nectar, getting diseases that way, he added.
Bumblebees can be nearly twice as big as honeybees, can sting multiple times and don't produce surplus honey, like honeybees.
The latest research shows bumblebees are hurt more by disease, Brown said. In general, the average wild bumblebee lives 21 days, but the infected ones live closer to 15 days, he said. And while honeybee hives have tens of thousands of workers and can afford to lose some, bumblebee hives only have hundreds at the most.
“It's like Wal-Mart versus a mom-and-pop store,'' Berenbaum said in an interview.
Studies have shown that bumblebees provide $3 billion worth of fruit and flower pollination in the United States, while honeybees are closer to $20 billion, Berenbaum said.
The new study did not look at colony collapse disorder, which is more of a mysterious problem in North America than elsewhere. Other diseases and parasites have killed even more honeybees than the more recent colony collapse disorder.
New Exhibit Features Telegram From Elvis To His Parents
By ADRIAN SAINZ
Memphis, Tenn. (AP) - The telegram sent by Elvis Presley to his parents in November 1954 gives a glimpse into the young singer's priorities and his optimism, as he begins what will become a career as a rock `n' roll icon and cultural phenomenon.
“Hi babies,'' says the telegram, sent from Houston by Presley to his parents, Vernon and Gladys, who were in Memphis. “Here's the money to pay the bills. Don't tell no one how much I sent. Will send more next week. There is a card in the mail. Love, Elvis.''
The note is being displayed in an exhibit at Graceland, Presley's longtime Memphis home that today serves as a museum and tourist attraction. The exhibit, which opened Monday, commemorates the 60 years since Presley cut his first record, “That's All Right,'' at Sun Studio in July 1954. It was played on the radio days later, and many believe its release marked the birth of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll.
There are other theories about the creation of rock `n' roll, which was born from a truly American mixture of styles such as country, blues, jazz and gospel. But in the eyes of Priscilla Presley, Elvis Presley's former wife, it was a defining moment in Elvis' life, when as a shy 19-year-old he walked into the studio run by visionary producer Sam Phillips and sang the lyrics, “Well, that's all right mama, that's all right for you.''
“`It had to be on his mind for a long time to get up the nerve to go in that place and want to meet Sam Phillips to record a song for his mother,'' Priscilla Presley told The Associated Press in an interview at Graceland on Friday.
Elvis with his parents, Vernon & Gladys Presley
“That's not something that he would have just thought about doing at the spur of the moment,'' she added. “I think it took him some courage to do that.''
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Miss., on Jan. 8, 1935. He moved to Memphis with his parents as a teenager and made the city his primary home. He lived at Graceland until his death at age 42 on Aug. 16, 1977.
Elvis and Priscilla met in 1959, and her first visit to Graceland was in 1962. They were married in 1967 and divorced in 1973.
The house opened as a museum in June 1982, and a complex built across the street houses permanent exhibits, two airplanes owned by Presley, gift shops and restaurants. The tourist attraction draws more than 500,000 visitors each year.
The temporary exhibit is in a room next to the house called the “annex.” Visitors with a VIP ticket (about $70) can walk the entire exhibit in about 15 to 20 minutes. It details the trajectory of Presley's career through his hit songs, such as ``Heartbreak Hotel,'' “Jailhouse Rock'' and “Suspicious Minds.''
It's also the first new exhibit since Authentic Brands Group bought Elvis Presley's intellectual property from CORE Media Group in November.
Authentic Brands also is partnering with the founder of another company to operate the tourist attraction across the street from the home. Elvis and Priscilla Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, still owns the Graceland home and the original items inside it.
Along with the telling telegram, the “60 Years of Elvis'' exhibit features jumpsuits worn on tour by Presley and an organ he would play in his California home. There's Presley's copy of the original ``That's All Right'' record, with “Blue Moon of Kentucky'' on the other side, and the original contract Presley inked with RCA in November 1955 for a $5,000 signing bonus.
Priscilla Presley said her husband talked about befriending Phillips' secretary Marion Keisker, who is said to have recognized his talent and facilitated the first “That's All Right'' recording.
The timing was right ... under her guidance, it worked out,'' Priscilla Presley said. ``He was nervous that day, as much as he was the day they first played his song on the radio.''
Elvis also was nervous about how listeners would react to the song, which was played by influential disc jockey Dewey Phillips on his ``Red, Hot and Blue'' radio show on WHBQ a few days after it was recorded.
``Elvis was really shy by nature, I don't know if you all know that or not, but I do for sure,'' Priscilla Presley said.
Despite the flashy garments, confident onstage persona and sex appeal, Elvis was not one to boast about money. She said the phrase in the telegram asking his parents not to divulge the amount he sent is proof.
To this day, it remains unclear how much he actually wired.
“Enough to pay the bills, let's just put it that way,'' says Priscilla Presley, laughing.