News & Current Affairs

July 21, 2009

Asia set for total solar eclipse

Asia set for total solar eclipse

Total solar eclipse photographed in Egypt, 2006 (Darren Baskill)

Stargazers will travel long distances to see the eclipse

Millions of people in Asia will see the longest total solar eclipse this century on Wednesday as swaths of India and China are plunged into darkness.

Scores of amateur stargazers and scientists will travel long distances for the eclipse, which will last for about five minutes.

The eclipse will first appear in the Gulf of Khambhat just north of Mumbai.

It will move east across India, Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China before hitting the Pacific.

The eclipse will cross some southern Japanese islands and will last be visible from land at Nikumaroro Island in the South Pacific nation of Kiribati.

Elsewhere, a partial eclipse will be visible across much of Asia.

The previous total eclipse, in August 2008, lasted two minutes and 27 seconds. This one will last six minutes and 39 seconds at its maximum point.

Alphonse Sterling, a Nasa astrophysicist who will be following the eclipse from China, scientists are hoping data from the eclipse will help explain solar flares and other structures of the sun and why they erupt.

“We’ll have to wait a few hundred years for another opportunity to observe a solar eclipse that lasts this long, so it’s a very special opportunity,” Shao Zhenyi, an astronomer at the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory in China told the Associated Press news agency.

Solar scientist Lucie Green, from University College London, is aboard an American cruise ship heading for that point near the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, where the axis of the Moon’s shadow will pass closest to Earth.

“The [Sun’s] corona has a temperature of 2 million degrees but we don’t know why it is so hot,” she said.

“What we are going to look for are waves in the corona. … The waves might be producing the energy that heats the corona. That would mean we understand another piece of the science of the Sun.”

The next total solar eclipse will occur on 11 July next year. It will be visible in a narrow corridor over the southern hemisphere, from the southern Pacific Ocean to Argentina.

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE
Infographic (BBC)
In the area covered by the umbra (the darkest part of the shadow), a total eclipse is seen
In the region covered by the penumbra (where only some of the light source is obscured) a partial eclipse is seen

solar

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July 17, 2009

Tiny lizard falls like a feather

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:07 pm
Tiny lizard falls like a feather

The lacertid lizard Holaspis guentheri

Not one to free fall

A tiny species of lizard is so light that it falls to the ground like a feather, scientists have discovered.

Outwardly, little of the animal’s body seems adapted to flying, gliding or moving through the air in any way.

But a slow-motion camera has revealed that when the lizard jumps from a height, it can slow the rate of its descent and land gently on the ground.

The lizard’s surprising aerial ability might help explain how some animals became true gliders.

Details of the little lizard’s talents are published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Controlled descent

Active flight, powered by the flapping of wings, has evolved in three living lineages of animals: birds, bats and insects.

But at least 30 different types of animal have evolved the ability to control their aerial descent, by parachuting or gliding to ground.

For example, gliding frogs use huge webbed feet, flying squirrels use long flaps of skin between their legs, and flying fish use their fins to glide.

Other animals have less obvious morphological adaptations.

Gliding snakes flatten and undulate their bodies, which helps to slow their fall while some species of ant are so tiny they can jump out of trees and freefall gently to lower on the trunk without hurting themselves.

So Bieke Vanhooydonck of the University of Antwerp became extremely interested when she read some old scientific papers reporting anecdotal evidence that a relatively ordinary species of lizard might also be able to glide from tree to tree.

Holaspis guentheri belongs to a group of lizards known as lacertids, which live in the Old World.

The lacertid lizard Holaspis guentheri

A slender, flat build helps

Though colourful, they do not stand out in terms of their behaviour, morphology or ecology.

“Also, compared to other gliding lizard species, it does not have any conspicuous morphological adaptations to an aerial lifestyle, ie no cutaneous flaps, webbed feet etc,” says Vanhooydonck.

“It made me very curious about whether these animals were really able to ‘glide’ and if so, how they were accomplishing it.”

Leaping platform

So Vanhooydonck and colleagues in Belgium and France filmed individual lizards leaping from a platform two metres above ground.

They compared the performance of H.guentheri with a rock-dwelling lizard (Podarcis muralis) that never takes to the air, and a highly specialised leaping gecko (Ptychozoon kuhli) that has a range of skin flaps that it uses to parachute to the ground.

For each, they examined the duration of each species’ descent, the horizontal distance it covered and at what speed.

Both the rock-dwelling lizard and H.guentheri landed 50 centimetres from the base of the platform, while the gecko landed up to 1m away. But H.guentheri fell for longer, and more slowly than its rock-dwelling competitor.

“Much to our surprise, H. guentheri is able to slow down its descent and has low impact forces upon landing,” says Vanhooydonck.

In fact, the lizard weighs just 1.5g, which is one third of the rock-dwelling lizard’s weight and one-tenth of the gecko’s.

Once weight was factored in, the researchers found that H.guentheri landed 20cm further away that it should have done had it fallen like a stone.

Leaping gecko (Ptychozoon kuhli)

The leaping gecko P. kuhli is a true glider

“Also its wing loading, the ratio of mass to surface area, is extremely low and in the same range as that of the gekko.”

However, the two species achieve this aerial ability in different ways. As a result of its webbed feet and body flaps, the gecko achieves a low wing loading by having a large surface area.

H. guentheri has a low wing loading too, but by being so light.

X-ray scans of the lizard’s body revealed its bones are packed full of air spaces.

Although the lizard’s light weight and ability to fall gently are linked, it is still unclear whether its air-filled bones are an adaptation for parachuting, or whether they evolved for another reason.

It is also unclear whether H.guentheri glides from tree to tree to escape predators or move about more efficiently.

“Because of [the lizards’] secretive lifestyle, it is very hard to observe them in the wild, but it seems plausible they use it as an escape response,” says Vanhooydonck.

And that could be just how other gliding animals took the first evolutionary steps towards an aerial lifestyle, she says.

June 24, 2009

Right ear is ‘better for hearing’

Filed under: Health and Fitness, Latest, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:50 pm

Right ear is ‘better for hearing’

Ear

The left-side of the brain processes much of what is heard in the right ear

If you want to get someone to do something, ask them in their right ear, say scientists.

Italian researchers found people were better at processing information when requests were made on that side in three separate tests.

They believe this is because the left side of the brain, which is known to be better at processing requests, deals with information from the right ear.

The findings are reported online in the journal Naturwissenschaffen.

We can also see this tendency when people use the phone, most will naturally hold it to their right ear
Professor Sophie Scott, of University College London

In the first study, 286 clubbers were observed while they were talking with loud music in the background.

In total, 72% of interactions occurred on the right side of the listener.

In the second study, researchers approached 160 clubbers and mumbled an inaudible, meaningless utterance and waited for the subjects to turn their head and offer either their left or their right ear.

They then asked them for a cigarette.

Overall, 58% offered their right ear for listening and 42% their left.

In the third study, the researchers intentionally addressed 176 clubbers in either their right or their left ear when asking for a cigarette.

The researchers obtained significantly more cigarettes when they spoke to the clubbers’ right ear compared with their left.

Brain

In conclusion, the researchers said: “Talk into the right ear you send your words into a slightly more amenable part of the brain.

“These results seem to be consistent with the hypothesised specialisation of right and left hemispheres.”

Professor Sophie Scott, of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, agreed.

“Most people process speech and language on the left-hand side of the brain and while it is not cut-and-dry a lot of what goes in our right ear will be dealt with by the left-side of the brain.

“The other side of the brain is more involved in things such as interpreting emotion and that is why we have these kind of findings.

“We can also see this tendency when people use the phone, most will naturally hold it to their right ear.”

September 19, 2008

EU sets new slaughterhouse rules

EU sets new slaughterhouse rules

Battery chickens at farm in Sicily

Chickens are often stunned with an electrified “waterbath”

The European Commission says new legislation is needed to improve animal welfare at European slaughterhouses.

Current EU rules on animal slaughter are “outdated in many respects,” the commission said on Thursday.

Under a new proposal, abattoirs would have to ensure proper training for staff and monitor the efficiency of their stunning equipment.

But current stunning methods would not be banned. The proposal still requires approval by all 27 EU governments.

The new legislation will not take effect until it is approved by the European Parliament and the ministries concerned – a process that could take up to three years.

The commission says each slaughterhouse should have an animal welfare officer.

The “waterbath stunner” used for poultry would not be banned, “despite its welfare disadvantages”, the commission said.

Use of carbon dioxide to kill animals would still be allowed, despite the concerns expressed by scientists.

The commission says there is a lack of commercially viable alternatives to those methods of slaughter.

Minimizing pain

The new proposal defines the scope of stunning and slaughter methods more strictly and states that gas stunning of birds must be irreversible.

“Stunned animals will have to be regularly monitored to ensure they do not regain consciousness before slaughter,” the commission says.

Third countries exporting meat to the EU would have to meet similar standards.

But small slaughterhouses will be exempt from some of the provisions.

The proposal also covers the killing of animals for fur, the slaughter of male day-old chicks and culling for disease control purposes.

Every year nearly 360 million pigs, sheep, goats and cattle as well as several billion poultry are killed in EU slaughterhouses, the commission says.

The European fur industry accounts for another 25 million animals.

The lobby group Compassion in World Farming expressed regret that the commission failed to demand alternatives to the electrified water bath and carbon dioxide gassing methods, the AFP news agency reported.

Neil Parish MEP, Conservative chairman of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, welcomed the commission proposal.

“In the UK we already have generally high standards for slaughtering animals, but this is not the same across the EU, where standards are patchy to say the least. We need to level the playing field and these new regulations should help to do that,” he said.

Europe plans asteroid sample grab

Europe plans asteroid sample grab

British scientists and engineers are working on a potential new mission to bring back material from an asteroid.

The European Space Agency (Esa) mission, which could launch in the next decade, would be designed to learn more about how our Solar System evolved.

The plan is to select a small asteroid – less than 1km across – near Earth and send a spacecraft there to drill for dust and rubble for analysis.

Mission plans are being worked on at EADS Astrium, in Stevenage, Herts.

A final decision on whether to approve the mission – known as Marco Polo – will be made in a few years’ time. The mission would launch towards the end of the next decade.

Asteroids are debris left over from the formation of the Solar System about 4.6 billion years ago.

Studying their pristine material should provide new insights into the ingredients of the early Solar System and how planets like Earth evolved.

“We’ll be looking at the best solution for getting there and back,” Astrium’s Dr Ralph Cordey told News.

“We’ve got to look at all elements of the mission – how we would design the mission, how to design the trajectory to one of a number of possible asteroids, how to optimize that so we use the smallest spacecraft, the least fuel and the smallest rocket.”

Marco Polo (EADS Astrium)

Marco Polo would map the asteroid as well as grabbing a sample

Esa has an exploration roadmap for the missions it wishes to conduct in the coming years.

One of its major goals is a Mars sample return mission – a mission to bring back pieces of Martian rock for study in Earth laboratories, where the full panoply of modern analytical technologies can be deployed.

An asteroid sample return mission would have huge scientific merit in its own right but it would also help develop the technology needed for the more challenging task of getting down and up from a large planetary body that has a much bigger gravitational pull.

Not that getting down on to a small, low-gravity body is easy. The wrong approach could crush landing legs or even result in the vehicle bouncing straight back off into space.

Such problems were amply demonstrated by the recent Japanese attempts to grab samples off the surface of an asteroid.

It is still not clear whether the Hayabusa spacecraft managed to capture any material and the probe’s return to Earth is still haunted by uncertainty.

The Americans landed on an asteroid with their Near-Shoemaker probe in 2001.

They have also sent the Dawn spacecraft to rendezvous with Asteroid Vesta in 2011 before going on to visit Asteroid Ceres in 2015.

There is even feasibility work going on in the US space agency to look at how astronauts could be sent on an asteroid mission one day.

September 14, 2008

Taxi drivers ‘have brain sat-nav’

Taxi drivers ‘have brain sat-nav’

Sid James in a London cab (BBC)

The knowledge: London cabbies are famous for knowing their way around

Scientists have uncovered evidence for an inbuilt “sat-nav” system in the brains of London taxi drivers.

They used magnetic scanners to explore the brain activity of taxi drivers as they navigated their way through a virtual simulation of London’s streets.

Different brain regions were activated as they considered route options, spotted familiar landmarks or thought about their customers.

The research was presented at this week’s BA Science Festival.

Earlier studies had shown that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus – a region of the brain that plays an important role in navigation.

Their brains even “grow on the job” as they build up detailed information needed to find their way around London’s labyrinth of streets – information famously referred to as “The Knowledge”.

“We were keen to go beyond brain structure – and see what activity is going on inside the brains of taxi drivers while they are doing their job,” said Dr Hugo Spiers from University College London.

Taxi driver's brain

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to obtain “minute by minute” brain images from 20 taxi drivers as they delivered customers to destinations on “virtual jobs”.

The scientists adapted the Playstation2 game “Getaway” to bring the streets of London into the scanner.

After the scan – and without prior warning – the drivers watched a replay of their performance and reported what they had been thinking at each stage.

“We tried to peel out the common thoughts that taxi drivers tend to have as they drive through the city, and then tie them down to a particular time and place,” said Dr Spiers.

The series of scans revealed a complex choreography of brain activity as the taxi drivers responded to different scenarios.

The hippocampus was only active when the taxi drivers initially planned their route, or if they had to completely change their destination during the course of the journey.

The scientists saw activity in a different brain region when the drivers came across an unexpected situation – for example, a blocked-off junction.

Another part of the brain helped taxi drivers to track how close they were to the endpoint of their journey; like a metal detector, its activity increased when they were closer to their goal.

Changes also occurred in brain regions that are important in social behaviour.

Taxi driving is not just about navigation: “Drivers do obsess occasionally about what their customers are thinking,” said Dr Spiers.

Animals use a number of different mechanisms to navigate – the Sun’s polarized light rays, the Earth’s magnetic fields and the position of the stars.

This research provides new information about the specific roles of areas within the brains of expert human navigators.

September 9, 2008

Hugging benefits fractious chimps

Hugging benefits fractious chimps

Chimps at Chester Zoo (Orlaith Fraser)

The consoling arm of a good friend

If you have just had a big falling out with a colleague, there is nothing better than the comforting and consoling arm of a good friend.

Chimps, it seems, feel the same way, according to a study at Chester Zoo.

The research is said to provide the first evidence that consolation in primates, such as hugging and stroking, can reduce stress levels after a fight.

The behavior could indicate some level of empathy, Dr Orlaith Fraser told the British Association Science Festival.

“We can’t actually say what’s going on in a chimpanzee’s mind; we can only deduce from their behavior what’s going on,” the Liverpool John Moores University researcher said.

“Because this behavior is actually reducing stress levels and it’s being offered by a valuable partner, it seems likely that this is an expression of empathy.”

A bit of sympathy

Dr Fraser and colleagues spent 18 months observing 22 adult chimps at Chester Zoo.

They watched closely what happened immediately after the animals had a scrap – perhaps a fight over food, a mate or simply where to sit.

In about 50% of cases, the victim in the fight would be consoled by another member of the group. The soothing was always done by a valuable – or best – friend, a chimp with whom the victim would routinely play or share food.

Chimps at Chester Zoo (S.P.Hill)

Feeling better after a kiss

The consolation usually took the form of a kiss or embrace, a grooming session or even play.

The scientists could see that this activity had the effect of reducing stress levels, indicated by the return to the animals’ normal activities of self-scratching and self-grooming.

“Sympathetic concern” has also been observed in gorillas, bonobos, dogs and even rooks – but it is the calming effect that it had on the Chester Zoo chimps which is said to be a new observation.

“If these chimpanzees are actually motivated by empathy to console victims of aggression, they must first of all be able to recognize that the victim is distressed and then they must know what to do in order to act appropriately to respond to this distress,” said Dr Fraser.

“This is something often thought to be a unique trait to humans, so understanding the link between consolation and stress reduction in chimpanzees is an important step towards understanding whether or not chimpanzees are capable of this level of empathy.”

The results of the Chester Zoo study were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

September 5, 2008

Down’s signs ‘seen in stem cells’

Down’s signs ‘seen in stem cells’

A baby girl with Down's syndrome

The researchers suggest they may be able to develop treatments for children

Scientists have revealed the earliest developmental changes that lead to Down’s syndrome.

The team from Barts and the Royal London say the changes to embryonic stem cells are caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21.

The study, in the American Journal of Human Genetics, says the extra chromosome sets off a chain of genetic changes in the developing embryo.

The Down’s Syndrome Association welcomed the “excellent” research.

Down syndrome belongs to a group of conditions called “aneuploidies”, which are defined by an abnormal loss or gain of genetic material, such as fragments of chromosomes or whole chromosomes.

Aneuploidies cause congenital anomalies that are a prime cause of infant death in Europe and the US, and are currently on the increase with advancing maternal age in European countries.

Around one in every 1,000 babies born in the UK will have Down’s syndrome.

There are 60,000 people in the UK with the condition.

Therapeutic potential

The international team of researchers, which also included scientists from the US, Australia, Spain and Switzerland, looked at embryonic stem cells from mice which had been genetically engineered to carry a copy of human chromosome 21.

“It’s not just important for the development of brain cells but for their maintenance throughout life
Professor Dean Nizetic

They discovered that the presence of the extra chromosome 21, known as trisomy 21, disturbs a key regulating gene called REST, which then disturbs the cascade of other genes that control normal development at the embryonic stem cell stage.

The scientists also found that one gene (DYRK1A) which is present on chromosome 21, acts as the trigger for this disturbance.

Dean Nizetic, professor of cellular and molecular biology at Barts and the London, said the work could one day lead to molecule-based therapies which could alleviate the effects of Down’s syndrome.

“We hope that further research might lead to clues for the design of new therapeutic approaches tackling developmental delay, mental retardation, ageing and regeneration of brain cells, and Alzheimer’s disease.

He said he believed the genetic effects continue throughout life.

“I suspect that it’s not just important for the development of brain cells but for their maintenance throughout life; how cells age and how they can cope with stress.

“That’s an area that could be approached with regard to therapies.”

‘Extremely positive’

Professor Nizetic suggested future research should be directed into basic molecular mechanisms that could one day develop into treatments to children with Down’s syndrome in the first few years of life when the brains are “plastic” and rapidly developing.

And he said that the same areas of the human genome have been thought to play a part in Alzheimer’s disease – so research could also lead to treatments for that condition.

Carol Boys, chief executive for the Down’s Syndrome Association said: “Any research that helps us to understand more about some of the complex medical conditions that are commonly associated with Down’s syndrome can only be a positive step forward.

“The development of therapeutic treatments for these sometimes complicated health problems that can be associated with the condition will hopefully lead to an improvement in the overall health of people of with Down’s syndrome.”

She added: “We understand that research is slow, but the initial results look extremely positive and we look forward to the continuation of the excellent work of this dedicated research team with interest.”

September 3, 2008

Major ice-shelf loss for Canada

Major ice-shelf loss for Canada

Ice drifts away from the Ward Hunt ice shelf in northern Canada

Ward Hunt is the largest of the remnant ice shelves

The ice shelves in Canada’s High Arctic have lost a colossal area this year, scientists report.

The floating tongues of ice attached to Ellesmere Island, which have lasted for thousands of years, have seen almost a quarter of their cover break away.

One of them, the 50 sq km (20 sq miles) Markham shelf, has completely broken off to become floating sea-ice.

Researchers say warm air temperatures and reduced sea-ice conditions in the region have assisted the break-up.

“These substantial calving events underscore the rapidity of changes taking place in the Arctic,” said Trent University’s Dr Derek Mueller.

“These changes are irreversible under the present climate.”

Satellite images of ice loss

Satellite images show the loss of the Markham Ice Shelf over the last year

Scientists reported in July that substantial slabs of ice had calved from Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, the largest of the Ellesmere shelves.

Similar changes have been seen in the other four shelves.

As well as the complete breakaway of the Markham, the Serson shelf lost two sections totaling an estimated 122 sq km (47 sq miles), and the break-up of the Ward Hunt has continued.

Cold remnants

The shelves themselves are merely remnants of a much larger feature that was once bounded to Ellesmere Island and covered almost 10,000 sq km (3,500 sq miles).

Over the past 100 years, this expanse of ice has retreated by 90%, and at the start of this summer season covered just under 1,000 sq km (400 sq miles).

Much of the area was lost during a warm period in the 1930s and 1940s.

Melt water on ice shelf

“Long meltwater lakes” were imaged on the Markham shelf in 2005

Temperatures in the Arctic are now even higher than they were then, and a period of renewed ice shelf break-up has ensued since 2002.

Unlike much of the floating sea-ice which comes and goes, the shelves contain ice that is up to 4,500 years old.

A rapid sea-ice retreat is being experienced across the Arctic again this year, affecting both the ice attached to the coast and floating in the open ocean.

The floating sea-ice, which would normally keep the shelves hemmed in, has shrunk to just under five million sq km, the second lowest extent recorded since the era of satellite measurement began about 30 years ago.

“Reduced sea-ice conditions and unusually high air temperatures have facilitated the ice shelf losses this summer,” said Dr Luke Copland from the University of Ottawa.

“And extensive new cracks across remaining parts of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf mean that it will continue to disintegrate in the coming years.”

Loss of ice in the Arctic, and in particular the extensive sea-ice, has global implications. The “white parasol” at the top of the planet reflects energy from the Sun straight back out into space, helping to cool the Earth.

Further loss of Arctic ice will see radiation absorbed by darker seawater and snow-free land, potentially warming the Earth’s climate at an even faster rate than current observational data indicates.

September 1, 2008

Experts poised for rare frog hunt

Experts poised for rare frog hunt

Golden toads mating

The golden toad has vanished from Costa Rica’s rainforests

Scientists are set to begin a hunt for the some of the world’s rarest frogs in Costa Rica, including the iconic golden toad, last seen some 20 years ago.

A team from Manchester University and Chester Zoo are in Costa Rica to track down the highly endangered creatures.

News will follow their trek deep into the cloud forests of Monteverde.

Amphibians numbers around the world have crashed, in part because of a deadly fungus. Costa Rica has been particularly badly hit.

Expedition leader Andrew Gray, from the University of Manchester’s Manchester Museum, said: “Costa Rica’s highlands used to be major biodiversity hotspots – but in many areas amphibian populations have been completely decimated.”

Killer fungus

Yellow-eyed leaf frog

The killer fungus

In the late 1980s, herpetologists around the world found that amphibian populations were suffering unprecedented declines, but they struggled to understand exactly why.

A decade later, researchers isolated a previously unknown fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which was infecting amphibians, effectively suffocating them by making it impossible for them to breathe across their skin.

Recently, the scientists working on the Global Amphibian Assessment estimated that one-third of all amphibians were threatened by extinction and about 120 species had already become extinct since the 1980s.

Many believe the disease caused by the chytrid fungus is a key factor for this crash. Other causes are thought to include habitat destruction and changes in climate.

Frog rediscovery

Countries in Central America have been particularly badly affected by the deadly chytrid fungus, which is now widespread there. A great deal of effort is now being put into place to safeguard any remaining species.

Ithsmohyla rivularis
To find this species last year that was thought to be extinct at the same times as the golden toad was incredible
Andrew Gray

Andrew Gray said: “For the last 10 years, I’ve been working with others to ensure the future for frogs that have so far escaped extinction.

“One of the main things I have been doing is establishing breeding populations in Manchester Museum for a number of very, very rare species – including the splendid leaf frog (Cruziohyla calcarifer), the yellow-eyed leaf frog (Agalychnas annae) and the lemur leaf frog (Hylomantis lemur).

“I’ve also been working with the Costa Rican authorities and scientists to put conservation measures into place at the sites where any rare frogs are found.”

Last year, Mr Gray caught a glimpse of the Ithsmohyla rivularis in the cloud forests of Monteverde – a frog that was thought to have gone extinct about 20 years ago.

Splendid Leaf frog

Manchester Museum has a splendid leaf captive breeding population

He said: “To find this species last year that was thought to have become extinct at the same time as the golden toad was incredible – it is the rarest tree frog in the world.”

He has now been given special permission by the Costa Rican authorities to collect some of the frogs to take back to Manchester.

He told : “We are returning to thoroughly search the site in the hope of finding more specimens.

“It’s not going to be easy – they live deep in the Monteverde rainforest, they are only a couple of centimetres in size and they only come out in the dead of night – and while the males do call, the females don’t make a sound.”

‘Never say never’

The rediscovery of Ithsmohyla rivularis has spurred the team on to also try to seek out a golden toad (Bufo pereglines).

This colourful amphibian, which scientists only discovered in 1966, became the iconic symbol of amphibian decline. In 1987 there were approximately 1,500 of the toads, but just two years later it had vanished from the face of the rainforest.

Mr Gray said: “We are going to be trekking through an area where the golden toad used to thrive. It is very unlikely we will find one – but as last year’s discovery showed us, never say never.”

While in the rainforest, the team will also trying to track down the miniature red-eyed tree frog (Duellmanohyla uranochroa) – a species on the brink of extinction – to investigate how some frogs may be able to prevent the chytrid fungus from taking hold.

This is a unique opportunity to study the frogs in their natural habitat
Mark Dickinson

Previous research has shown that some species of tree frog have a special pigment in their skin that enables them to reflect light, allowing them to “sunbathe” without drying out.

Physicist Mark Dickinson, from Photon Science Institute at the University of Manchester, will be taking a spectrometer into the field to investigate how different frog species reflect light.

He said: “So far, I’ve only been able to investigate captive frogs in the lab. This is a unique opportunity to study the frogs in their natural habitat.”

The team believes that the ability to sit out in the Sun may allow the frogs’ skin to heat up just enough to kill off chytrid – preventing the disease from taking its grip.

Some of the team will also be heading to the last known breeding site of the green-eyed frog (Lithobates vibicarius) where Chester Zoo is helping to support a conservation programme.

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