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Study Finds “Cocktail” Pesticides Are Killing Bees At A Higher Rate

In many countries across the world, bee numbers are currently threatened. As pollinators, bee populations are incredibly important for ecosystems across the world and our own food supplies. A new analysis of 90 studies has found that “cocktails” of agricultural pesticides can kill twice as many bees. 

The bee population has long been suffering. Threats to their populations are numerous and include habitat loss, climate change, and aspects of agriculture such as chemical pesticides. Many bees also face poor nutrition due to lack of diverse food sources.

A 2021 One Earth study found that “approximately 25% fewer species were found between 2006 and 2015 than before 1990.” The report analyzed public records from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility over 100 years. 

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The report stated that “wild and managed bees are key pollinators, ensuring or enhancing the reproduction of a large fraction of the world’s wild flowering plants and the yield of 85% of all cultivated crops.”

According to National Geographic, research concluded that bees have seen their numbers dwindled – in North America, you are now nearly 50% less likely to see a bumblebee in any given area than you were before 1974.

The study, published by the journal Nature, found that the “cocktails” of agricultural chemicals or pesticides may have a synergistic effect on bee mortality. This means that the total number of bees killed from these combination pesticides is greater than the sum total of deaths caused by all of the separate chemicals individually. 

The study documented 356 total effects from interacting common bee stressors, such as chemicals or parasites. Each study possessed at least two harmful factors to bees. The study then concluded whether the combinations of stressors canceled the other’s effects out, added to the other, or combined to caused even more damage. Researchers found that when bees were exposed to several agrichemicals, the combination had a “synergistic effect” on mortality, while numerous stressors had effects that added to the other.

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Researchers have now argued that these commercial formulas, which contain multiple chemicals in “cocktails,” should require licences. 

Speaking to the BBC, University of Texas at Austin’s Dr Harry Siviter — the lead author of the study — said that “exposure to multiple pesticides is the norm, not the exception.” “If you have a honeybee colony exposed to one pesticide that kills 10% of the bees and another pesticide that kills another 10%, you would expect, if those effects were additive, for 20% of the bees to be killed,” Siviter stated, adding that a “synergistic effect” could produce 30-40% mortality.

“That’s exactly what we found when we looked at the interaction. So we really should consider the interaction between those chemicals. We don’t continue to monitor pesticides once they’re licensed for use, so we’re proposing post-licensing observations. If those pesticides [used in combination] harm bees, that harm is recorded.”

It is unclear why pesticides have such an effect on bee mortality. The study’s abstract explained that “all interactive effects on proxies of fitness, behaviour, parasite load and immune responses were either additive or antagonistic; therefore, the potential mechanisms that drive the observed synergistic interactions for bee mortality remain unclear.”

Other research has indicated that pesticides could weaken a bee’s immune system making them more susceptible to other pathogens or chemicals. Speaking to Popular Science, Elizabeth Nicholls, an ecologist studying bees at the University of Sussex, said that “it also might be that their detoxification pathways might be impaired if they’re being bombarded with lots of chemicals at one time.”

The declining bee population is cause for great concern and has been for some time. In the US, the effects of which can already be seen in threatened crop species such as cherries, blueberries and apples, all of which need be pollination for survival. 

Space Debris Could ‘Completely Wipe Out’ International Space Station 

This week a Russian missile test blasted a decommissioned Kosmos spy satellite into more than 1,500 pieces of space debris, alerting the seven-person crew on the International Space Station (ISS), who were woken up to an alarm for potential emergency collision with the debris. 

The astronauts aboard the ISS were told to shelter in transport capsules that initially brought them to the ISS, while the station passed by the debris several times within multiple hours. Luckily the ISS was left damage-free after the incident, however, NASA is calling out Russia after the potentially fatal event. 

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Space debris like the kind floating in the atmosphere from Russia’s recent missile test can travel at speeds of more than 17,500 miles-per-hour, and even scrap metal the size of a pea could be potentially deadly when it’s that close to the Earth. 

“It doesn’t take a very large hole to basically explode the space station. In fact, a hole measuring just 0.5 inches (1.3 centimeters) wide could cause irreparable structural damage that could completely wipe out the space station,” said John Crassidis, a SUNY Distinguished Professor at the University at Buffalo in New York who works with NASA to monitor space debris.

NASA currently is tracking more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris that measure larger than a softball. It uses computer models to estimate the positions of millions of smaller pieces of junk that are too tiny to be seen. 

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The ISS has changed courses 25 times since 1999 specifically to avoid debris. The craft is covered in more than 100 impact shields known as Whipple Shields, to protect it from any smaller unknown pieces of clutter. 

“However, where the ISS itself is well protected from incoming projectiles, the astronauts who crew and maintain it are not — and that is where the biggest risk lies. Even an encounter with the smallest piece of orbital debris could kill an astronaut on the spot. Space suits are not protected at all,” Crassidis said.

“Imagine a marble going 17,000 miles per hour at you — it would go right through you, like a bullet.”

“Unfortunately, there are no international laws preventing nations from conducting low-orbit missile tests like the one Russia just did. It may take an astronaut getting seriously injured or even killed before the world takes the space junk problem seriously,” Crassidis added.

NASA will continue to monitor the debris cloud as closely as possible.

Cancer

Study Reveals Whole-Genome Sequencing Can Improve Childhood Cancer Outcomes 

According to a pilot study performed by doctors in Cambridge, reading the full genetic code of childhood cancers can help doctors improve an overall diagnosis. The code can also help doctors learn about how tumors grow and how to find the most effective treatment therapies for specific tumors. 

In the study the doctors used whole-genome sequencing on 36 children with cancer. They found that the extra information they were provided changed four of the patients’ diagnoses and revealed new treatment options in seven cases. 

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Seeing the whole-genome sequence of the cancer’s DNA allows doctors to learn even more about the specific cancers that their patients are dealing with. Clinicians in the study were able to refine two of their previous diagnoses, learn more about the course of the disease in eight of the children, and found potential hereditary reasons for tumors in two of the subjects. 

“Our aim was to illustrate what can be achieved with whole-genome sequencing and to try and advertise its utility. Locally in Cambridge it was never really in question that this would add value,” said Dr Patrick Tarpey, lead scientist for solid cancer in the East Genomic Laboratory Hub based at Cambridge University hospitals NHS foundation trust.

The results are projected to be shared at the National Cancer Research Institute festival. NHS England has already discussed their plans of rolling out whole-genome sequencing for childhood cancers with the goal of making sequencing a normal part of treatment. This will allow doctors to continuously track specific aspects of their patients’ cancer to make adjustments in treatment for the best possible outcome. 

The 36 children involved in the study had 23 different tumor types. All participants endured a standard test to identify their cancer, and test their genome sequencing to see whether or not their current treatment was actually improving the condition or not. 

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According to the study, comparing the genetic makeup of a tumor versus healthy tissue within the same individual can help doctors identify the specific mutations that are driving the cancer, and potentially can reveal the tumor’s weakness. The work itself is no easy task, however, as it can take anywhere from two to three months to successfully and accurately interpret the genome sequence. 

Tarpey said “about three-quarters of the gene variants flagged up in the study came from whole-genome analysis rather than the standard cancer tests the children had. There are cases where the diagnosis was completely uncertain and we’ve been able to confirm it, and in doing so identify the mechanisms that impaired the genes.”

Sheona Scales is a pediatric leader at Cancer Research UK, who said that children with cancer often undergo grueling treatments, and even when they’re over the side-effects can last a lifetime, which is why studies like this are so important. 

“It is vital that we find ways to tailor treatments towards the individual and for this, whole-genome sequencing is a game-changer.” 

“Understanding more about the makeup of a child’s cancer can help doctors make the most informed treatment choices for their patients. The hope is that this will lead to better outcomes for children with cancer, not just in terms of survival, but also in the quality of the rest of their lives,” she explained.

Elephants Are Evolving To Have No Tusks In Response To Poaching

In Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, female elephants are being born without their most defining feature – sturdy, powerful, and seemingly necessary tusks. Scientists believe this shows that elephants are evolving as a result of despicable poaching and killing.

In a study published in the journal Science, these females being born without tusks in order to increase the chances of survival is a result of the Mozambique civil war that lasted from 1977 to 1992 – which saw elephant populations in the Gorongosa National Park decrease by 90% due to ivory poaching by armed forces on both sides in order to produce money for ammunition and weapons.

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As the study notes, poaching had been associated with female elephants, as no records of tuskless males in the National Park exist. Furthermore, between 1970 and 2000, the frequency of tuskless females saw a nearly threefold increase from 18.5% to 50.9%.

Speaking to ABC News, Princeton University evolutionary biologist Shane Campbell-Staton — who was an author in the study — stated that a tuskless female elephant would have five times the chances of survival compared to a female with tusks during the civil war.

In an interview with Vox, Princeton biology professor (and another author of the study) Robert Pringle explained that the evidence that tusklessness comes from genetics was backed by the fact that tuskless females are often birth from mothers who too are tuskless. This means the trait is passed down from one generation to the next. Mutations in the X chromosome regions could play a part as well, the scientists say.

As for why female elephants are experiencing this change instead of males, Vox says it has to do with the genetics of tooth development. Vox also states that one of the genes associated with tusklessness is actually present within humans, where it limits the growth of our lateral incisors.

Campbell-Staton said that he had heard about the rise of “tusklessness” in regions that experienced heavy poaching in graduate school, but there was no research in order to explain why these evolutionary changes were happening.

Campbell-Staton also explains that wildlife exploitation, whether performed for greed, resources, or food, of humans has become a “powerful selective driver” in the evolution of species that are often the most affected.

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While it is fascinating to see a species react to environmental shifts in order to ensure its preservation for the future, the devolution of tusks can have negative impacts on the elephant’s environments. As the authors explain, tusks are tools that are used for excavating food, minerals, and peeling bark.

The elephants’ abilities to kill trees effectively can “catalyze forest-to-grassland transitions at large scales,” which in turn creates habitats for numerous other species. Without the multi-purpose tusks, ripples could be sent throughout the Mozambique ecosystem.

“Accordingly, a population-wide increase in tusklessness may have downstream impacts such as reduced bioturbation, shifts in plant species composition, reduced spatial heterogeneity, and increased tree cover—any of which could affect myriad other ecosystem properties.”

However, these impacts may not be permanent. Campbell-Staton explains that if ivory poaching continues to decline and elephant populations rise as a result, we could see the species grow their tusks back in a sort of evolutionary turnaround.

Of course, places such as Mozambique are still experiencing poaching to this day. In March 2020, the Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Area — or ANAC — launched an anti-poaching campaign alongside WildAid in an effort to bring awareness to the region.

According to National Geographic, some 30,000 elephants are killed from poaching every year out of a continent-wide 400,000. Although Africa saw a decline in elephant poaching from 2011 to 2018, much of that decline came from East African sites, and not from the continent as a whole.

Scientists Discover Western False Asphodel Wildflower To Be A Carnivore

If “Little Shop Of Horrors” gave you nightmares, look away.

The western false asphodel wildflower (known by its scientific name of Triantha occidentalis) can be located throughout the Pacific northwest in areas like mountains and bogs. The white plant also omits a sweet smell.

While it sounds like your run-of-the-mill flower, it was found by British Columbian scientists to be holding an incredible secret: it’s a flesh-eater. The findings were published in a study in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.

As the study’s abstract notes, this is only the 12th time plant carnivory has been recognized since Charles Darwin produced a monograph on carnivorous plants.

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As Atlas Obscura explains, scientists noticed that the plant was missing genes that help it with the process of photosynthesis. In an effort to discover how the false asphodel gains its fuel, scientists bred a group of fruit flies and tagged them.

Scientists also gave the fruit flies food mixed with acid that contained nitrogen-15. If the scientists found that same nitrogen in the plants’ tissues, it means it had to have been transferred over. They then placed the flies onto the wild asphodels’ sticky, 2.5 feet stems, or inflorescences. After a few weeks, scientists did confirm that the plants were “siphoning that nitrogen and accumulating it in its stem and fruits.”

The scientists didn’t know how they absorbed the nutrients, guessing the asphodel’s “glandular hairs” – which the abstract states secrete phosphatase, a common trait among all carnivorous plants. However, the false asphodels weren’t able to consume the entire flies, which meant leftover exoskeletons.

Lead author of the study, Qianshi Lin, told Atlas Obscura that the climates where the western false asphodel is found are perfect for a plant such as it to thrive due to the “patchwork of the water and forest.”

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The abstract noted that the western false asphodel was unique among its carnivorous brethren when catching prey because it solely uses “sticky traps adjacent to its flowers.”

So, what kind of insects does this flower chow down on? Bees and butterflies manage to get out of harm’s way by being “just big enough,” Lin explained. This is beneficial for the false asphodel, as it helps to keep pollinators from meeting the same fate as beetles, mosquitos, and ants – all of which the scientists speculate make up the false asphodel’s diet.

While eating may seem like a simple-enough task, it’s much tougher for plants. Conservation ecologist Iza Redlinski, also speaking to Atlas Obscura, explains that plants’ carnivorous consumption is heavy effort, and is “only worth it” when there aren’t any other options.

“From the plant’s perspective, it’s a lot of effort to lure an insect, capture it, digest it, [and] absorb those nutrients, while still probably photosynthesizing.”

Lin also told Atlas Obscura that there might be other carnivorous plants in the wild that have been able to evade notice, just like the false asphodel did for so long. These are referred to in the abstract as “cryptic carnivores.”

However, Lin expressed his worry that global warming will dry up the bogs that plants like the false asphodel call home. It’s a definite possibility, given how climate change can effect plants and many of their habits.

There are currently over 630 known species of carnivorous plants, some of which are so big — one example being the giant montane pitcher plant — they have been observed eating vertebrates and small mammals such as birds and mice. The nutrients that some carnivorous plants absorb don’t always have to be a living orgasm, either. Some plants are known to feed on feces.

Scientists Discover Tiny Fossil Found In 16-Million-Year-Old Amber, ‘A Once-In-A-Generation Find!’

Microscopic tardigrades are a species that have lived on Earth for more than 500 million years. It’s thought that these miniscule creatures will also outlive humans, however, due to their extremely small size, they don’t typically leave behind fossils for us to learn about them. 

Recently, however, scientists discovered the third-ever tardigrade fossil on record, and they found it suspended in a piece of 16-million-year-old Dominican amber. 

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The species found within the amber has been classified as Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus, a new species thought to be a relative of the modern living family of tardigrades known as Isohypsibioidea. This is the first tardigrade fossil to appear during the Cenozoic era, the current geological era that the Earth is in which began 66 million years ago. 

The study on this discovery was published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a scientific publication. 

Beneath a microscope, these tardigrades look like little water bears. They’re known for their ability to survive and thrive in extreme environments, which is why they’ve been around for so long. They’re no longer than one millimeter, have eight legs with claws at the end, a brain, nervous system, and a pharynx behind their mouth used to pierce food.

“All of these details are incredibly well preserved in the new fossil specimen, down to its tiny claws. The discovery of a fossil tardigrade is truly a once-in-a-generation event,” said Phil Barden, senior author of the study.

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“What is so remarkable is that tardigrades are a ubiquitous ancient lineage that has seen it all on Earth, from the fall of the dinosaurs to the rise of terrestrial colonization of plants. Yet, they are like a ghost lineage for paleontologists with almost no fossil record. Finding any tardigrade fossil remains is an exciting moment where we can empirically see their progression through Earth history,” Barden said.

The fossil will now allow scientists to observe all the evolutionary changes this species has endured within the past hundreds of millions of years. Javier Ortega-Hernandez, the study’s co-author, claimed that at first, they didn’t even notice the fossil in the piece of amber they collected. 

“It’s a faint speck in amber. In fact, Pdo. chronocaribbeus was originally an inclusion hidden in the corner of an amber piece with three different ant species that our lab had been studying, and it wasn’t spotted for months. Close observational analysis helped us determine where the new species belongs on the tardigrade family tree. The fact that we had to rely on imaging techniques usually reserved for cellular and molecular biology shows how challenging it is to study fossil tardigrades. We hope that this work encourages colleagues to look more closely at their amber samples with similar techniques to better understand these cryptic organisms,” Ortega-Hernández said in a statement. 

“We are just scratching the surface when it comes to understanding living tardigrade communities, especially in places like the Caribbean where they’ve not been surveyed. This study provides a reminder that, for as little as we may have in the way of tardigrade fossils, we also know very little about the living species on our planet today,” said Barden.

White Pill

Experts Are Hopeful Over Covid-19 Antiviral Pill, But Emphasize Vaccines Are Still Our Way Out Of The Pandemic 

Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics announced this past week that they created an antiviral pill that can reduce Covid-19 hospitalization and death by 50%. Experts believe this pill could be a “game-changer” in the way we treat Covid, however, they’re also emphasizing that this pill is not an alternative to getting vaccinated, and vaccinations against the coronavirus arte the most effective way Americans can bring this pandemic to an end. 

Over 255,000 Americans are becoming fully vaccinated every day, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 65% of Americans are now fully vaccinated. On the opposite end, the US surpassed 700,000 Covid-related deaths this week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The US is currently the world’s leader in Covid deaths. 

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“This new antiviral pill can be used in conjunction with the vaccine. And it’s not an alternative to vaccination. We still have to try to get more people vaccinated. The antiviral medicine could be effective for those who choose not to get vaccinated, as well as those who catch the virus while fully vaccinated,” explained Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration. 

“This is the most impactful result that I remember seeing of an orally available drug in the treatment of a respiratory pathogen, perhaps ever. I think getting an oral pill that can inhibit viral replication — that can inhibit this virus — is going to be a real game-changer.”

Merck is now seeking FDA emergency use authorization for its medication, and if it’s permitted, it will become the first oral medicine that fights viral infection for Covid-19. 

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“If approved, I think the right way to think about this is; this is a potential additional tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of Covid. Inoculation remains our best tool against Covid-19 because the shots can prevent people from getting infected in the first place, and we want to prevent infections, not just wait to treat them once they happen,” White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said.

The FDA is also meeting with its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on October 14th and 15th to discuss booster shots for Americans who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

The FDA’s vaccine committee is also set to discuss approving Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The company has already begun submitting data about that specific age group. 

Vaccine mandates are beginning to appear all throughout the country as well as a means of getting more Americans to receive their inoculations so the nation has an actual fighting chance at bringing this pandemic to an end.

Doctor with Covid-19 Vaccine

BioNTech Co-Founder Says ‘Covid Will Become More Manageable’ In The Coming Months 

Co-founder and chief medical officer of BioNTech, the German firm which developed a Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer, Dr. Ozlem Tureci, told the media recently that the “world should not live in fear of the Covid-19 virus.”

“Covid will become more manageable. It already has started to become manageable, however, we will need to go back to a new normality, because this virus will accompany us for, still, some years.” 

Dr. Tureci explained that when it comes to new coronavirus variants, “BioNTech will continuously assess them as they appear, and there will be more. For all these variants which are currently circulating, it seems that boosters alone, bringing the waning immune responses back to high levels, are suitable and do protect.” 

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“However, we have to continue to screen because there might be variants upcoming for which this is not the case. And for this we have a second pillar, namely that we prepare ourselves to be quick and fast in the case that we need to adapt to a variant … And we are doing those dry runs, not alone, together with regulators, so that they are also prepared for the potential need to switch,” Tureci explained. 

Tureci co-founded BioNTech in 2008 with her husband, Chief Executive Ugar Sahin. She explained how more data is needed to guide us through the rest of the pandemic, but she can picture a future where boosters are given out every 12 to 18 months. 

BioNTech’s overall focus as a company is to “pioneer individualized immunotherapies for cancer medicine and using mRNA technology,” which is used to stimulate the body’s own immune response.

“So we had, already, the science and the knowledge about immune mechanisms and how they can be used against viruses and could leverage that. And the other pillar of our response was our technology, the mRNA technology, which allows [it] to be used as a vaccine format, which means it allows [it] to communicate with the immune system and teach it how to respond against this new enemy with high precision,” she explained. 

“And this technology, because we had used it in clinical trials in cancer patients, was already ripe. We knew how to conduct clinical trials with it, how to treat humans with it, and how to set up a manufacturing process,” she added.

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This extensive experience is what led the company to developing the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine within a year of the pandemic. When it comes to future vaccines for other diseases and viruses that impact the immune system, Tureci explained that there has been “high prioritization which was required for this global threat, but there were definitely lessons which could be learned and taken forward with future vaccines.” 

“There are a couple of things which, I think, if we transfer them into future drug developments can help us to be quicker. Also, for example, for non-pandemic infections, but also for cancer and autoimmune disease.”

Other vaccines currently circulating throughout the world, such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, are also being led by female scientists, which Tureci believes is “very important.” These high-profile examples of gender balance in science create an overall new standard for equality and representation in STEM fields that have been previously dominated by men. 

“I actually truly believe that one of the secrets why we have been successful as a team and as a company is that we are a gender-balanced team. Almost half of our workforce is female and also on the top management level, half of our teams are female,” she explained.

“However, what I also realize is that in our teams we don’t recruit women because we want to fulfil any gender quota, it comes naturally … And it simply turns out that half of them are women,” she said.

Dr. Fauci Claims It May Take ‘Many More Vaccine Mandates’ To End Covid-19 Pandemic

Dr. Anthony Fauci recently spoke about the current rate of vaccination in America, claiming that millions of Americans still need to get their vaccinations in order to slow or stop the spread of Covid-19.

‘The Acrobats Of The Skunk World,’ Scientists Discover Handstanding Spotted Skunks

Scientists have recently discovered that there are more spotted skunk species than initially thought. Initially, it was agreed that there were four different species of spotted skunk, but according to the Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution scientific journal, there are seven spotted skunk species. 

“North America is one of the most-studied continents in terms of mammals, and carnivores are one of the most-studied groups. Everyone thinks we know everything about mammalian carnivore systematics, so being able to redraw the skunk family tree is very exciting,” said study author Adam Ferguson.

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Spotted skunks are smaller than their striped relatives; about the size of a squirrel. They live all throughout North America and are carnivores. When it comes time to scare off a predator, these skunks perform a handstand and kick out their back legs as a form of intimidation.

“When they’re stressed, they bounce up onto their forelimbs and then kick out their hind limbs, puff their tail up, and they actually can walk towards the predator, basically making them look bigger and scarier. These ‘ecologically cryptic’ creatures live in dense environments and remote areas and seem less adaptable to urbanization than their larger, striped counterparts, Ferguson said.

Spotted skunks keep such a low profile that it makes them hard to study. The first spotted skunk was discovered in 1758, and since then there have been 6 potential other skunk species. Ferguson explained how they determined there were seven kinds of spotted skunks after analyzing data and observing them in their natural habitat. 

Ferguson and his team went to Mexico six times, and never caught a spotted skunk, but if they did they likely would’ve had a smelly surprise waiting for them. 

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“We call it the smell of success because it means we’ve actually encountered one, which is the ultimate goal. I was inspired to make ‘wanted’ posters and distribute them across central Texas in feed stores and areas where ranchers and trappers operate. The posters described the need for any spotted skunks that may have been trapped or found as roadkill and showed photos of the creatures,” he explained. 

The researchers also analyzed museum collection specimens to give them a greater understanding of their evolution and history. 

“I was able to extract DNA from century-old museum samples, and it was really exciting to see who those individuals were related to. It turns out that one of those was a currently unrecognized, endemic species in the Yucatan,” said study author Molly McDonough.

“The study wouldn’t have been possible without the museum specimens we had. The only reason we were able to get sequences from the more recent spotted skunk discoveries were museum specimens that were collected 60 or 70 years ago,” Ferguson said.

Skunks originally appeared in fossil records some 25 million years ago, and during that time they evolved and split into different species due to climate change and the ice age. 

“Knowing more about spotted skunks can also help conservation efforts to protect these animals. Skunks have their own role to play within the ecosystem, consuming fruit and defecating seeds that help with the dispersal of plants, as well as preying on crop pests and rodents,” Ferguson said.