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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘cone snails’

Cone Snails Catch Prey with a Chemical Net

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 20, 2015

Cone snail showing its siphon and proboscis.

Cone snail showing its siphon and proboscis.

I’ve often wondered how cone snails, which cannot swim and move like, yes, snails, manage to make a living as predators on fast-moving fish.  Now we have an answer.  They gas their intended victims to slow them down as they swim past.

Here’s the press release:

As predators go, cone snails are slow-moving and lack the typical fighting parts. They’ve made up for it by producing a vast array of fast-acting toxins that target the nervous systems of prey. A new study reveals that some cone snails add a weaponized form of insulin to the venom cocktail they use to disable fish.

A synthetic form of the snail insulin, when injected into zebrafish, caused blood glucose levels to plummet. The insulin also disrupted swimming behavior in fish exposed through water contact, as measured by the percentage of time spent swimming and frequency of movements. The researchers propose that adding insulin to the mix of venom toxins enabled predatory cone snails to disable entire schools of swimming fish with hypoglycemic shock. The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”It is very unlikely that it is serving a different purpose,” said lead author Helena Safavi-Hemami, a research assistant professor at the University of Utah.

Olivera

Olivera

“This is a unique type of insulin. It is shorter than any insulin that has been described in any animal,” said senior author Baldomero M. Olivera, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of Utah. “We found it in the venom in large amounts.”

Cone snails are abundant in most tropical marine waters, especially around coral reefs. Each species makes a distinct repertoire of venom compounds, mixtures that have evolved to target particular prey. Conus geographus, a cone snail that has killed dozens of people in accidental encounters, traps fish by releasing a blend of immobilizing venoms into the water, according to the prevailing hypothesis.

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Why We Need to Save Wildlife to Save Ourselves

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 24, 2014

Cone snail shells: Not just something pretty to look at.

Cone snail shells: Not just something pretty to look at.

Midway through the new special issue of Science, about the global loss of wildlife, my heart caught on this idea: We now live with a steady, imperceptible loss “in people’s expectations of what the natural world around them should look like,” and “each generation grows up within a slightly more impoverished natural biodiversity.” It’s not just about elephants, rhinos, and other iconic species disappearing. It’s about the decline of everything.

When children go outdoors today—to the extent that they go outdoors at all—they see 35 percent fewer individual butterflies and moths than their parents would have seen 40 years ago, and 28 percent fewer individual vertebrates—meaning birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.  It’s not quite a silent spring, just one that is becoming quieter with each passing year, insidiously, so we hardly notice. The Science authors dub this phenomenon “defaunation.” I prefer to think of it as “the great vanishing,” but either way it’s bad news.

Why don’t we do something about it? Wildlife conservation suffers under a misguided notion that it is a boutique issue. “Animals do matter to people,” according to one article in the Science special issue, “but on balance, they matter less than food, jobs, energy, money, and development. As long as we continue to view animals in ecosystems as irrelevant to these basic demands, animals will lose.”

That need not be as hopeless as it sounds, because the authors go on to remind us in alarming detail just how utterly

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