Watching the World

Exotic Animals Invade Spain

“More than forty species of exotic animals from different parts of the planet have invaded Spain by land, sea, and air, wreaking havoc on native flora and fauna,” reports the Spanish newspaper El País. The list of invaders includes giant catfish from Germany, green algae from the Caribbean, monk parakeets from Argentina, and mink from North America. Many were taken to Spain for sale as exotic pets or for some other commercial reason. Some escaped, others were released when they became a burden or proved unprofitable. “Apart from the loss of habitat, invading species are now the main cause of the decline in native species,” says biologist Daniel Sol.

 Snake Antivenin From Eggs

“Indian scientists have discovered that chicken eggs can become a source of molecules to treat snake bites,” says The Times of India. Birds about 12 weeks old are injected with a “sub-lethal dose of venom intramuscularly” and a booster dose two to three weeks later. After 21 weeks, they start laying eggs that contain antivenin antibodies. Researchers are hopeful that the egg-derived antivenin may replace that obtained from horses, “which undergo painful tests for collection of snake anti-venom,” says The Times. Scientists in Australia have already claimed success with the new technology in veterinary trials. If egg-derived antivenin proves to be effective on humans, it may be a boon to India, where 300,000 cases of snakebite are recorded annually. Of these, 10 percent of the victims die.

Butterfly Flight

“For years scientists have been attempting to understand what makes butterflies the masters of manoeuvrability at low speed​—able to hover and fly backwards or sideways with apparently little effort,” says The Independent of London. Now researchers at Oxford University believe they have finally found the insect’s secret. Using a specially designed wind tunnel and wisps of smoke to reveal airflow, they observed red admiral butterflies in flight. As the insects flew to and from artificial flowers in the wind tunnel, they were monitored by high-speed digital cameras that recorded the airflow around their wings. The researchers discovered that “the fluttering of butterflies is not a random, erratic wandering, but results from the mastery of a wide array of aerodynamic mechanisms.” Scientists hope to use this knowledge to build remote-controlled aircraft with a wingspan of just a few inches [as small as ten centimeters]. Fitted with a camera, these could be flown into confined spaces as winged observers.

Insomnia in Italy

During 2002 over 600 doctors and more than 11,000 patients participated in the widest-ranging study of insomnia ever made in Italy. The findings revealed that over 12 million Italians suffer from insomnia, says the newspaper La Stampa. Of those studied, 65 percent suffered from morning drowsiness and 80 percent from drowsiness sometime during the day, and 46 percent had difficulty concentrating at work. “Those who drive are at high risk, given that 22 percent of road accidents are caused by drowsiness,” says the paper. The study also showed that 67 percent of sufferers had never spoken to their doctor about the problem. Study coordinator, Mario Giovanni Terzano, said that “a good 20 percent of insomniacs suffer from primary insomnia, for which there is no apparent cause.” Yet, a medical examination may reveal a related physical problem. Other causes of insomnia, said Terzano, include anxiety (24 percent), stressful events (23 percent), and depression (6 percent).

Saiga Antelope Face Extinction

“In 1993, over a million saiga antelopes roamed the steppes of Russia and Kazakhstan. Today, fewer than 30,000 remain,” says New Scientist. The animal has fallen victim to “an epidemic of poaching,” says the report. “Biologists say it is the most sudden and dramatic population crash of a large mammal ever seen.” Why the poaching? In the early 1990’s, conservationists concerned about the endangered rhino promoted saiga horn as a substitute for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine. Because the saiga had disappeared from China, the herds in central Asia were targeted. In five years (1993-98), the number of animals almost halved, and by 2002 the population had plummeted by 97 percent. Central Kazakhstan has seen a 99-percent loss. Just 4,000 animals remain there. Abigail Entwistle, a zoologist from Flora and Fauna International, says: “We think we have probably got just two years to save the species.”

Mind, Emotions, and Health

What goes on in our mind may have a much greater effect on the body than previously believed, notes a report contained in the Polish magazine Wprost. It adds: “Thoughts and emotions affect all vital organs and systems of the human body: nervous, immune, hormonal, circulatory, and reproductive.” Hence, says Professor Marek Kowalczyk of the Military Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Warsaw, “people who live stressful lives suffer from colds and flu twice as often as others.” And depressed women, he adds, halve their chances of becoming pregnant. Wprost also reports that while stress may not cause cancer, it “can accelerate the development of dormant cancer.” Anger too may harm health, for it is believed that aggressive, hostile people have a greater incidence of coronary disease, making them more vulnerable to a heart attack.

Legal Sale of Ivory

In just ten years, from 1979 to 1989, Africa’s elephant population dropped by more than half. One reason for this was the rising demand for products made from their tusks. Another reason was the proliferation of automatic weapons among poachers. As a result, in 1989 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) placed a complete ban on ivory trading. Recently, however, CITES agreed to allow South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia to have a one-time sale amounting to 60 tons of ivory, reports African Wildlife magazine. The ivory had been confiscated from poachers or taken from animals that had died naturally. Two other countries were denied the sale of their ivory because “they had not provided sufficient guarantees that they could prevent illegal ivory trafficking,” the article said.