It took four years lying underwater to get a perfect shot of a Eurasian beaver

For four years, photographer Louis-Marie Preau would lie motionless underwater for hours at a time to get this perfect shot of a Eurasian beaver carrying a branch back to its lodge. Read the rest

There are only three of these turtles left

This is the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, one of the most endangered species on Earth. There are two at China's Suzhou Zoo and one in the wild in Vietnam's lake Dong Mo. Conservationists really need to find a fourth to aid their efforts to rebuild the species. National Geographic spoke with Aimin Wang, director of the China division of the Wildlife Conservation Society, about the group's efforts to find another elusive Yangtze turtle:

What would it mean for the species if one were to be found?

It increases our opportunity [for successful breeding] quite a bit. The male in China is quite old, but the female is young. The turtles are bred using artificial insemination. The last four attempts with the breeding pair in China were unsuccessful. We just tried for a fifth time and got high-quality sperm. We won't know for another month if our results were successful.

Why are these turtles so important to save?

This is a flagship species, and for biodiversity, they're quite important. They serve as an important [indicator of environmental health]. If we can help them survive, that means our ecological system is quite good. If they disappear, that means our ecological system is quite bad.

Read the rest

Record 3.5 tons of pangolin scales seized in China

Pangolin scales, like rhinoceros horns, are just made of keratin, but that doesn't stop traditional medicine practitioners from claiming they cure cancer and what-not. It's why pangolins are the most trafficked animals in the world. China stopped a shipment worth around $2 million that required killing around 7,500 of the cure little anteaters. Read the rest

Situation dire for Monarch butterfly

The Monarch butterfly is headed to rapid extinction in the eastern US, reports Scott K. Johnson, because its complex ecosystem continues to collapse.

…humans are responsible. The life cycle of the monarch is tightly linked with the milkweed plant. Females lay almost all of their eggs on these plants, and the larvae happily munch on them when they hatch. Milkweed tends to pop up in areas where the soil has been disturbed, like farm fields.

As with other weeds, farmers have long tried to keep milkweed from growing amidst (and competing with) their crops. But the introduction of genetically modified corn and soybeans that could survive being sprayed by the herbicide glyphosate (better known by its original trade name “Roundup”) suddenly gave farmers a more effective way to clear plants like milkweed.

Got a yard? It's easy to plant milkweed: meet Sedgewick the Monarch Caterpillar—and find out what you can do to save his species Read the rest

You probably need more Tasmanian imps in your life

Baby Tasmanian devils are called imps. There's a big push underway to breed the ornery marsupials in captivity due to a facial tumor epidemic ravaging wild populations. Upside: lots of baby pictures. Read the rest

"Sticky," gorgeous animated short about saving

Animator Jilli Rose created this lovely animated short about a group of stick insects stranded for 80 years near Lord Howe Island, on a sea stack with only one shrub for protection. It also tells the story of the scientists who discovered them and raced to save them from extinction. Read the rest

What tigers and kiwi birds have in common

Species that lack significant levels of genetic diversity have a big problem. And it's not just about ending up with tiger and kiwi bird versions of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. Beyond the risk of inbreeding, genetic diversity supplies the tools that help a species adapt to change. If there's not enough of it, then the species is more likely to die out when subjected to stressful conditions ... like, say, climate change. Read the rest

The grisly business of buffalo bones

By this point in your lives, most of you are by no doubt aware of the massive slaughter of buffalo that happened in the United States in the late 19th century. Across the plains, thousands of buffalo were killed every week during a brief period where the hides of these animals could fetch upwards of $10 a pop. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator only goes back to 1913, so it's hard for me to say what that's worth today. But we know from the context that even when the value of buffalo hides dropped to $1 each, the business of killing and skinning buffalo was still considered a damned fine living.)

You might think that the business ended there, with dead, skinned buffalo left to rot on the prairie. And you're sort of right. But, in a story at Bloomberg News, Tim Heffernan explains that, a few years later, those dead buffalo created another boom and bust industry—the bone collection business.

Animal bones were useful things in the 19th century. Dried and charred, they produced a substance called bone black. When coarsely crushed, it could filter impurities out of sugar-cane juice, leaving a clear liquid that evaporated to produce pure white sugar -- a lucrative industry. Bone black also made a useful pigment for paints, dyes and cosmetics, and acted as a dry lubricant for iron and steel forgings.

... And so the homesteaders gathered the buffalo bones. It was easy work: Children could do it. Carted to town, a ton of bones fetched a few dollars.

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Today in lost diversity

It's October 25, 2011, and another subspecies of the Javan rhinoceros has gone extinct. There's only one subspecies left, and it's down to 50 individuals. Read the rest