“I’m a Hot Pink Slug, You’re a Dull Brown Slug” *

[It’s] big. [It’s] slimy. And [it’s] … neon pink?! Meet Triboniophorus aff. graeffei, a new species of 8-inch-long (20-centimeter-long) slug that’s found only on one Australian mountain.

Scientists already knew that a bright-pink slug lived on Mount Kaputar, thinking it was a variety of the red triangle slug, a species common along the east coast of Australia. But new research shows that the colorful critter is actually its own species, said Australia’s National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Michael Murphy.

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The pink slug is large for slugs, reaching about eight inches in length
Photograph © Michael Murphy / NPWS

“Recent morphological and genetics work by a researcher working on this slug family—the Athorcophoridae—has indicated the Kaputar slugs are a unique species endemic to Mount Kaputar and the only representative of this family in inland Australia,” said Murphy, who’s been stationed on Mount Kaputar for 20 years.

The pink slug had gone unstudied for so long because Australian slug and snail researchers—known as malacologists—are far outnumbered by their koala-investigating brethren, Murphy said. Their research on the new slug will likely be submitted for publication soon, he added. Meanwhile, though, the Australian government has moved to protect this rosy rarity and other unique species by designating their mountain home in New South Wales as an ”endangered ecological area.”

Tens of millions of years ago, Australia was part of a larger southern continent known as Gondwana, which included Australia, Papua New Guinea, India, and parts of Africa and South America. It was covered in rain forests similar to those of modern-day Papua New Guinea.

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Photograph © Michael Murphy / NPWS

A volcanic eruption 17 million years ago on Mount Kaputar kept a small, four-square-mile (ten-square-kilometer) area lush and wet even as much of the rest of Australia turned to desert. This changing environment marooned the plants and animals living on Mount Kaputar from their nearest neighbors for millions of years, making the area a unique haven for species such as the pink slug.

Because the pink slugs live in beds of red eucalyptus leaves, Murphy suspects their color could potentially serve as camouflage, helping the animals blend in to their leafy habitat. “However, [the slugs] also spend a lot of their time high on tree trunks nowhere near fallen leaves, so it is possible that the color is just a quirk of evolution. I think if you are isolated on a remote mountaintop, you can pretty much be whatever color you like,” Murphy noted, adding that the slugs play important roles in their ecosystems—for example, by recycling plant matter.

“I’m a big believer in invertebrates. People tend to focus on the cute and cuddly bird and mammal species like koalas. But these little behind-the-scenes invertebrates really drive whole ecosystems,” Murphy told the Australian Broadcasting Service. Besides the pink slug, researchers have also identified several other invertebrate species that are unique to Mount Kaputar, such as the Kaputar hairy snail and the Kaputar cannibal snail.

These finds, combined with Mount Kaputar’s uniqueness and the growing threat from global warming—temperatures just a degree or two warmer would destroy Kaputar’s flora and fauna—prompted the Australian government’s proposal to preserve Kaputar. “They are a unique and colorful part of our natural heritage, and we should do everything we can to avoid causing their extinction,” Murphy said.

Source: Nat Geo
* Showing my age

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Escapee Penguin!

Escapee penguin sought in Tokyo

An aquarium in Tokyo is trying to locate an escaped penguin seen heading for Tokyo Bay. The escapee, a one-year-old Humboldt penguin, was spotted swimming in a river mouth in the Japanese capital. An official from the harbour-front aquarium said the bird appeared to have scaled a wall in its bid for freedom.

The Humboldt penguin hatched last January and lives with 134 penguins in an enclosure at Tokyo Sea Life Park. “We first noticed the penguin might have fled when the director of a neighbouring zoo e-mailed us Sunday with a photo,” park official Takashi Sugino told AFP news agency. He said officials were struggling to recapture it because it swam “at a tremendous speed”.

The 60-centimetre long penguin was snapped bathing in the mouth of the Kyu-Edo river, which runs into Tokyo Bay. A park official told the BBC that great efforts were being made to find it – and that exactly how the penguin got out remained unclear.

Humboldt penguins breed on the Pacific coast of South America and offshore islands of Chile and Peru. They are thought to be declining in number. One of the reasons is due to increasing water temperatures caused by the El Nino effect and reduced food supply.

Source: AFP

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