Natural History News

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The recent catastrophic explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico has put Florida, Mississippi, and our home state of Alabama on high alert. And even though we are an international adventure travel company, we are first and foremost Alabamians. Many of us vacation several times a year on the Gulf Coast and have friends and family living there who depend on the Gulf Coast's perennial draw as a destination.

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We'll just come right out and say this: We’re a little late to the game, Dear Blog Reader, in responding to the International League of Conservation Photographers' list of  “Top 40 Nature Photos of All Time” unveiled last week for Earth Day, but given the context of “all time,” a few days is trivial.

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It's been well-documented that invasive species are threatening the Galapagos Islands'  native flora and fauna, with alien or exotic species making up as much as 23% of the archipelago's insect fauna. One of these insect invaders, the sap-sucking cottony cushion scale, is being brought under control by the lady bug beetle.

"'Populations of cottony cushion scale in 2002 were so high and spread across so many islands that several endemic and native plant populations were thought to be going into decline because of heavy infestations,' said Hoddle, a biocontrol specialist.

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Malaysian conservationists working in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund captured a photo of a critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros thought to be pregnant, raising hopes that the species on Borneo island may be breeding in the wild. The Sumatran rhino – once widespread on Borneo – is now confirmed to exist only in the northeast state of Sabah, where the photo was taken, and is possibly extinct from its former habitats in Sarawak (Malaysia) and Kalimantan (Indonesia).

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Researchers in Peru have recently filmed the long-whiskered owlet, one of the world's rarest birds, at La Esperanza, Peru. How rare is this six-inch owlet? It's estimated that fewer than 15 people have ever seen this bird in the wild.

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Thought to have disappeared in the 1970s, the yellow-spotted bell frog (Litoria castanea) was rediscovered in late-2009 in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales. Since then, tadpoles have been taken to Sydney's Taronga Zoo to boost populations through a captive breeding program.

"The Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea) had not been seen in the wild for almost 30 years and so many people had written the species off as extinct. That was until Luke Pearce spotted what he thought might be one in a small stream on the Southern Tablelands of NSW.

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A team of scientists working for Reptile & Amphibian Ecology International have discovered previously undiscovered biodiversity in a rare and dwindling ecosystem in coastal Ecuador. The apparently new species include a blunt-snouted, slug-sucking snake and 30 species of rain frog.

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Researchers and archaeologists from the French Institute of Andean Studies and the University of Cambridge have determined that deforestation allowed floods to wipe out the Nazca culture, famous for their huge line drawings on the plateaus of the Ica Valley. Barren today, the Ica Valley was once an oasis, but environmental depredation and population growth led to the culture's downfall. The key to this once fertile valley was a tree called the huarango, which can live for more than 1,000 years and has roots as deep as 180 feet.

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A team of archaeologists has discovered 12 graves and pre-Columbian earthen enclosures at the archaeological site of Qata Ccasapata Llacta in Cusco. Seven of the graves have been perfectly preserved, while others have been looted.

The site is thought to have been a village for those serving the Inca elite or as a place of worship. However, the Qata Ccasapata Llacta - a Quechua phrase meaning "Village at the summit where it is cold" - dates back to the Killke culture in 12th century A.D.

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