Sex Geckos Died in Orbit, Probably Didn't Have Sex
Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems
The "control" geckos that remained on Earth while their unlucky orbital cousins were launched into space.
May 23, 2011 --
Earth isn't such a small world after all. In fact, plenty of animals, plants, fungi and more new to science are turning up every day. Each year, the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University compiles a list of the top 10 new species, be they the most interesting, unique or downright bizarre. We begin with the Louisiana pancake batfish, a flat, oval-shaped fish that hops, rather than swims, along the seafloor with its rear fins. This deep-water creature, which lives around 1,500 feet below the surface, was threatened last year by encroaching oil as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
© Cassius V. Stevani/IQ-USP, Brazil
These glow-in-the-dark mushrooms are native to a disappearing forest habitat near São Paulo, Brazil. Growing to a mere 8 millimeters tall, these mushrooms, known as Mycena luxaeterna, meaning eternal light mushrooms, emit their eerie neon-green glow 24 hours a day. Although there are an estimated 1.5 million species of fungi on Earth, only 71 species are thought to be bioluminescent.
© Matjaž Kuntner
Named after Charles Darwin, this Darwin bark spider (Caerostris darwini) can build webs that stretch along entire rivers. The largest discovered so far was 82 feet (25 meters) long. The silk woven by this arachnid architect is twice as strong as any other known spider silk. A similarly sized piece of Kevlar is one-tenth as strong as this spider's silk. Considering how large the webs are and how strong their silk is, you'd figure this spiders would be massive. But you'd be wrong. Females are no larger than 2 centimeters (less than an inch) in body size and males are five times smaller.
This toothy leech was discovered in the nose of a young girl in Peru. Known as Tyrannobdella rex, meaning "tyrant leech king," this blood sucker is found in the remote regions of the Upper Amazon in Peru. Although the leech is less than two inches in length, it has what its discoverers have called "enormous teeth" in a single jaw. The earliest member of this family of leeches lived about 200 million years ago, around the time of the dinosaurs. So it's entirely possible that this leech's ancestor spent its time up the nose of a Tyrannosaurus rex. There are some 700 known species of leeches worldwide.
How could this brightly colored, six-foot-long lizard go unnoticed for so long? Although the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard (Varanus bitatawa is easy enough to spot in this photo, this animal managed to evade notice due to the fact that it rarely leaves the trees in which it resides in the forests of the Philippines. Unlike its Komodo dragon relative, this lizard is primarily a vegetarian, living on fruit, figs, nuts and the occasional snail. This lizard is the only reptile to make the top 10.
Courtesy of Mike Picker
If you think this insect looks like a cross between a cockroach and a grasshopper, you wouldn't be far off. This leaproach (Altoblattella montistabularis) is a new type of cockroach with modified rear legs that gives it jumping ability on par with a grasshopper. Although jumping cockroaches existed during the Late Jurassic, they had previously not been found in the modern age.
© Robert Coffan
This gilled mushroom was observed staying submerged for over 11 week in the upper Rogue River in Oregon. This fungus, Psathyrella aquatica, is the first known mushroom species found fruiting underwater.
Drawing courtesy of Yann Le Bris
First found at a bushmeat market in West Africa, this new antelope surprised scientists because it belonged to a well studied group of animals. This new species (Philantomba walteri) may have first been collected in 1968 in Badou, Togo, by its namesake, Walter N. Verheyen, an African mammals researcher. The antelope is the only mammal on the top 10 list.
Courtesy of RMS Titanic Inc.
This unique species of rust-loving bacteria was found on the sunken remains of the RMS Titanic, seen here located 12,600 below the surface. The bacteria eat iron-oxide and they're not doing the remains of the Titanic any favors: The microbes stick to metal surfaces and creates knob-like mounds that eat away at the Titanic.
It was shaping up to be the ultimate story of horny reptiles, space adventure and high drama. But sadly for the Russian "gecko sex" space experiment, the story has a very definite anticlimax.
In July, the world became aware of the Foton-M4 satellite that was not responding to commands being sent from ground control. Although the satellite’s systems appeared to be working in an automatic mode, commands from the ground were being ignored, spelling ultimate doom for the spacecraft that would eventually reenter the Earth’s atmosphere.
This fact alone made the story interesting, but when we found out the Foton-M4 had a collection of reptilian space travelers on board, there was an added sense of urgency. Fortunately, communications were reestablished with the satellite and the experiment seemed safe.
The reptiles — geckos that were a part of the Russia’s Institute of Medico-Biological Problems experiment investigating sexual reproduction in microgravity — were sealed inside a small habitat and it was hoped that once they’d become accustomed to their weightless environment, nature would take its course and they’d start having sex, or at least start trying to.
This weekend, the capsule containing the gecko experiment returned to Earth after a controlled reentry over Russia and scientists were able to access the geckos. Sadly, all space passengers were dead. So dead in fact that the five little guys may not have even had the chance to enjoy orbit, let alone try to copulate.
“According to preliminary data, it becomes clear that the geckos (froze to death),” said an agency spokesperson (translated from Russian). “(I)t was due to the failure of the equipment, ensure the necessary temperature in the box with the animals.”
Scientists seem unsure when the experiment failed, but the problem was rooted in the spacecraft’s life support systems that could have malfunctioned at any time during the flight. The experiment wasn’t linked via a live video feed, instead favoring a camera that would record footage on board for scientists to analyze when the mission returned to Earth.
According to an Interfax news agency report, the geckos’ remains were mummified, suggesting they had been dead for some time, however. Gecko sex probably didn’t happen.
Fortunately, the orbital experiment wasn’t a total dud. The geckos’ fellow space travelers, a collection of Drosophila flies, were able to have some time for romance between launch, orbit and reentry — they did have sex and reproduce.
via Ars Technica