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In Just 2 Years, Scientists Have Effectively Wiped Out Mosquitoes On 2 Chinese Islands

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In Just 2 Years, Scientists Have Effectively Wiped Out Mosquitoes On 2 Chinese Islands
Photo Credit: Nature

A population of the world’s most invasive mosquito species was almost completely wiped out by an experiment on two islands in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, according to a new study.

The mosquito species, known as the Asian tiger (Aedes albopictus), is a carrier of dangerous infectious diseases including Zika, dengue, and chikungunya, which affect millions of people worldwide. The insect is also notoriously difficult to control.

Over the past four decades alone, this wily blood-sucker has spread from its original home in Asia to every other continent on Earth, excluding Antarctica. With only limited vaccines and drug treatments for the diseases that it transmits, the mosquito’s impact on public health has been disproportionate to its tiny size.

An exciting field test of an innovative mosquito control technique shows we have the potential to change all of that. By combining two existing methods, scientists reduced Asian tiger mosquito populations by up to 94% on two river islands in China. In some cases, not a single viable egg was found for up to 13 weeks.

In a recent review of the work, Peter Armbruster, a mosquito ecologist at Georgetown University, said the results were “remarkable” and that they demonstrate the “potential of a potent new tool in the fight against mosquito-borne infectious disease.”

The two-pronged approach includes a dose of radiation, which sterilises the mosquitoes, and a bacterial strain from the Wolbachia genus, which prevents the mosquito eggs from hatching. Together, when these two methods are applied to lab-grown mosquitoes, they appear to work much more effectively than on their own.

Current radiation-based techniques work by releasing sterile male insects into the environment so that they breed with females (who only mate once), decreasing the overall size of their population. The problem is, irradiation tends to make these males less competitive sexually and also more likely to die.

Other methods that use bacteria to reduce offspring are less harmful to the individual mosquito, but they only work if the lab-grown male is infected and not the wild female. If both the male and female have the bacterial infection, they’ll have no issue producing healthy offspring, making it a delicate balancing act.

As you can imagine, sifting through male and female insects in the lab is painstaking business, and even when scientists go to all this effort, the accidental release of Wolbachia-infected females happens about 0.3% of the time, undermining the entire mission.

The new solution, therefore, rears Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in the lab and then subjects them to low levels of radiation, effectively sterilising any included females while leaving the males still able to reproduce.

Not only does this sound great in theory, it also appears to work in practice. By getting rid of the need for sex testing, the team could produce and release large numbers of these lab-grown mosquitoes – around two hundred million in total – in a city with the highest dengue transmission rate in China.

After two years, their findings demonstrate a nearly 97% decline in mosquito bites suffered by locals on the two islands. Plus, each year, the average number of wild-type adult females caught per trap dropped by 83-94%, with none detected for up to 6 weeks.

The few mosquitoes that remain on the island probably migrated from outside the study area, the authors say. And while this suggests that the region won’t be mosquito-free for long, if the technique can be implemented on a larger scale, it could create a place free from Asian tiger mosquitoes and the deadly diseases that they carry.

“Our study predicts that the overall future costs of a fully operational intervention using this environmentally friendly approach will be around US$108 per hectare annually,” says Zhiyong Xi, a microbiologist and molecular genetics professor at Michigan State University, “which seems cost-effective in comparison with other mosquito control strategies.”

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Animal World

Elusive Sand Kittens Caught On Video In The Wild For The First Time Ever

After years of searching, researchers have finally given the world a look at these adorable cats.

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Elusive Sand Kittens
Photo Credit: Grégory Breton/Sand Cat Sahara Team

After years of research, the elusive “sand kittens” have been captured on camera for the first time ever.

Sand cats, a species of feline that lives exclusively in the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, are notoriously difficult to find, and their kittens are even rarer. These stealthy cats travel only under the cover of night, and their camouflaged, sand-coloured fur makes them even more difficult to spot. Furthermore, their furry paws do not leave prints in the sand and they clean up after themselves to avoid being tracked by predators.

However, a big cat organization called Panthera spotted these seldom-seen kittens while they were driving back to camp in the Moroccan Sahara earlier this year. They had been in the area to document sand cats, but never imagined that they would discover this cache of sand kittens.

Finding these kittens was astonishing,” said Grégory Breton, managing director of Panthera France. “We believe this was the first time researchers ever documented wild sand cat kittens in their African range.”

Watch the video from this historic event:

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Animal World

Scientists Confused By Hundreds Of Dead Elephants In Mysterious Mass Die-Off

Scientists are growing increasingly concerned about the mass deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana, but are still unsure about what is causing it.

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Botswana dead elephant
More than 350 elephant’s carcasses have been spotted in the Okavango Delta in recent weeks.

(TMU) – Scientists are growing increasingly concerned about the mass deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana, but are still unsure about what is causing the problem. According to the Guardian, at least 350 elephants have died in the African country in the past few months.

Researchers first realized that something was wrong in the Okavango Delta, where 169 elephants were reported in the month of May. By mid-June, that number had doubled to over 300.

Dr. Niall McCann, the director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue, said that a mass die-off like this is highly unusual.

“This is a mass die-off on a level that hasn’t been seen in a very, very long time. Outside of drought, I don’t know of a die-off that has been this significant,” McCann said.

It is unclear exactly what is causing these animals to die, but there are a few clues. Local sources told reporters that about 70% of these animals have died around waterholes. Some researchers think that perhaps the water might be somehow poisoned or tainted, but the government of Botswana has not tested any samples from the water holes yet.

When we’ve got a mass die-off of elephants near human habitation at a time when wildlife disease is very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it seems extraordinary that the government has not sent the samples to a reputable lab,” McCann said.

McCann also said that the researchers were able to determine that many of the animals had to die very quickly, judging by how they had fallen straight down on their faces. However, a large number of the animals also appeared to die more slowly.

So it’s very difficult to say what this toxin is,” said McCann.

McCann said that Covid-19 has even been suggested as a possible cause, but most researchers find this possibility highly unlikely. Oddly, this seems to be somewhat localized, as neighbouring counties have not reported mass elephant deaths.

There are reportedly about 15,000 elephants in the delta, which is nearly 10% of the total population for the entire country. A large portion of the country’s GDP, an estimated 10-12%, is generated through eco-tourism. This is the second most lucrative industry in the country, surpassed only by the diamond industry.

Last year, the government of Botswana lifted its ban on hunting wildlife, and has since begun selling expensive hunting rights to international poachers.

Botswana has the largest elephant population in the world, with an estimated 130,000 elephants within its borders. The newly elected government says that the ban was revoked because the large elephant population was beginning to have an impact on people’s livelihoods as the animals increasingly came into contact with humans.

Despite their relatively high numbers in Botswana when compared with the rest of the world, Elephants are generally thought to be an endangered species, especially in places like Asia, where they are officially listed as such. In Africa, elephant populations are listed as vulnerable, but they have been on a rapid decline due to overhunting and loss of habitat.

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Environment

Face Masks And Latex Gloves Have Become A New Environmental Problem

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Photo Credit: Opération Mer Propre

The Covid-19 pandemic may have given the planet a temporary, though not long-lasting, breather when it comes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s also given Earth a new environmental scourge: latex gloves on beaches and sewers filled with face masks.

A number of organizations have raised concerns that oceans, rivers, and sewers are becoming increasingly swamped with disposable face masks, latex gloves, hand sanitizer bottles, and other non-recyclable personal protective equipment (PPE) items as the world continues to grapple with Covid-19.

French ocean conservation group Opération Mer Propre regularly documents its ocean clean-up operations on social media and has reported seeing notably more pieces of PPE in the Mediterranean Sea.

Very worrying about the new waste related to Covid… We pick [this kind of pollution] up at every clean now, mainly latex gloves,” Opération Mer Propre posted on Facebook May 20.

This is the first disposable masks to arrive in the Mediterranean,” the group wrote after a clean-up operation on May 23. “It’s just the beginning and if nothing changes it will become a real ecological disaster and maybe even health [one].”

Image courtesy of Opération Mer Propre

It isn’t just Europe, or natural environments, that are feeling the burn. A number of city authorities in the US have also reported sewers and storm water pumping stations becoming clogged with latex gloves and facemasks, which they believe many people are flushing down toilets.

Although there’s no data on the scale of the problem yet, the Associated Press contacted 15 city authorities in the US and all reported they had had significantly more sewer clogs and drainage issues since the pandemic began. This might be related to people flushing PPE or, they say, it could be due to people flushing alternatives to toilet tissue amid the early-lockdown panic buying.

In light of this pollution problem, the US Environmental Protection Agency released a statement telling citizens to properly dispose of PPE. Advice included not putting used disinfectant wipes, gloves, masks, PPE, or any medical waste in recycling bins as they could be contaminated by pathogens and are considered a health hazard. A number of recycling organizations have urged people to dispose of discarded masks and gloves safely by putting them in general refuse. It should also go without saying that littering PPE is gross, inconsiderate, and dangerous, so be sure to safely put used PPE into the appropriate general refuse bin if you’re out in public.

No one should be leaving used plastic gloves or masks on the ground in a parking lot or tossing them into the bushes,” David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), said in a statement. “Discarded contaminated PPE on the ground increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and has negative impacts on the environment.”

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Animal World

Hummingbirds Turn Into Rainbows In Amazing Photos By Christian Spencer

Who knew hummingbirds’ wings turn into rainbows when photographed against the sun?

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Hummingbirds
Photo Credit: Christian Spencer

Australian artist and photographer Christian Spencer made an amazing discovery while standing on his verandah in Rio de Janeiro. When he photographed the black Jacobin hummingbird flying in front of the sun, a beautiful prism effect occurred.

At that very moment, the hummingbird’s feathers turned into a perfect rainbow of colours.

WINGED PRISM © Christian Spencer

Spencer has been following hummingbirds with his camera for years, and his film recording of the phenomenon was included in his 2011 short film, The Dance of Time.

The movie received 10 international awards and three best film honours. But that wasn’t the end of his fascination with the rainbow hummingbirds. Years later, Spencer returned to the subject.

THE ECLIPSE © Christian Spencer

I decided to try and photograph the same phenomenon with my camera,” he told Collective Spark. The resulting series, Winged Prism, reveal “a secret of nature that cannot be seen with our eyes.”

“Nearly all of the photos were taken in 2014. I have tried many times unsuccessfully to take similar photos but I think it depends on the atmospheric conditions and how much magic is in the air,” he added.

Despite the fact that we live in an age of post-production and image manipulation, these photos were never manipulated digitally. The visual affects you see here occur naturally.

WINGS OF LIGHT © Christian Spencer
WINGS OF LIGHT © Christian Spencer
CLOUD ANGEL © Christian Spencer
VITRAL © Christian Spencer
VITRAL © Christian Spencer
COSMIC ANGEL © Christian Spencer
HUMMINGBIRD GEOMETRY © Christian Spencer
HUMMINGBIRD GEOMETRY © Christian Spencer

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