from new guinea

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My next assignment on Moana was to help develop some characters for the Underworld, Lalotai.  In earlier versions of the story, it was inhabited by a colorful mix of spirits, creatures, and adversaries that Maui had cursed and banished there.  These didn’t end up in the final film but it was fun to play around with ideas of what they could be!  In the research I was inspired by the traditional headdresses, masks, and costumes from cultures like Papua New Guinea.  There’s such a deep well of beautiful, adventurous design to draw from! 

Copyright Walt Disney Animation Studios

More Mammals with Venom

by John Wible

The duck-billed platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, is no doubt one of the world’s oddest mammals, with a suite of adaptations to its life in streams in eastern Australia and Tasmania. Its suede-like bill is packed with electro- and mechanoreceptors, which help the platypus find small invertebrates and fish in murky waters. It has webbed forefeet and hind feet and a hairy, beaver-shaped tail, all great for swimming and diving, and a lush, thick coat for insulation on cold mornings.

As with other mammals, the female platypus produces milk to nurture its young. However, its young are hatched from leathery eggs! Along with the echidna or spiny anteater from Australia and New Guinea, the platypus is one of the two types of living monotremes or egg-laying mammals. This is in contrast to the other groups of extant mammals, marsupials, and placentals, which have live births.

Along with egg-laying, the skeleton of the platypus is a throwback to its mammal-like reptile origin. The bones in its arms and legs, the humerus and femur, are set perpendicular to the trunk, giving the platypus a sprawling posture and a waddling gait on land. Marsupials and placentals have more upright postures with less waddling.

But where is the venom? If you look closely at the ankle of the male platypus, you will see a deadly looking weapon made of keratin, just like your fingernails. This tarsal spur sticks out from the body and sits on a small, flat bone—the os calcaris. The spur is hollow and connected to a gland below the knee that produces venom during the platypus breeding season. Because of this seasonal activity, the venom is thought to be used in male-male competition for females. 

For humans that make the mistake of picking up male platypuses at the wrong time of year, the venom is not deadly, but it is excruciatingly painful. One unfortunate soldier said it is worse than shrapnel! A small remnant of the spur is retained in juvenile female platypuses for only a few months after hatching, and the supporting bone, the os calcaris, without a spur occurs in the echidna. In recent years, tarsal spurs and support bones have been found in the fossil record for numerous groups of extinct primitive mammals that lived during the Age of Dinosaurs. Rather than being unique to the male platypus, venom manufactured in the leg may have been a widespread component of early mammalian weaponry for survival in the hostile Mesozoic landscape. Why this apparatus was lost in early marsupials and placentals is a mystery. One group, the bats, have reinvented a tarsal spur, where it is used in support of the wing membrane.


John Wible, PhD, is the curator of the Section of Mammals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. John’s research is focused on the tree of life of mammals, understanding the evolutionary relationships between living and extinct taxa, and how the mammalian fauna on Earth got to be the way it is today. He uses his expertise on the anatomy of living mammals to reconstruct the lifeways of extinct mammals. John lives with his wife and two sons in a house full of cats and rabbits in Ross Township.

Bird from paradise
Order Paradisaeidae
The bird of paradise is called the 41 species of the order Passeriformes and of the family Paradisaeidae, the majority originating from New Guinea. They are tropical birds known for the beauty and spectacularity of their plumage. Even the name is pleasing to the ear and several artists have been inspired by the bird of paradise to create. In New Guinea feathers are used for the dress and rituals of the native tribes, which consider the bird of paradise an important reference of their culture.


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Paedophryne amauensis

Paedophryne amauensis is a species of frog from Papua New Guinea discovered in August 2009 and formally described in January 2012. At 7.7 mm  in length, it is considered the world’s smallest known vertebrate. P. amauensis, attaining an average body size of only 7.7 mm. The frog lives on land and its life cycle does not include a tadpole stage. Instead, members of this species hatch as ‘hoppers’: miniatures of the adults. The skeleton is reduced and there are only seven presacral vertebrae present. They are capable of jumping thirty times their body length. The frog is crepuscular and feeds on small invertebrates.

photo credits: wiki

The Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) is a large saturniid moth found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia, and is common across the Malay archipelago.

Atlas moths were often considered the largest moths in the world in terms of total wing surface area, but recent sources confer this title upon the Hercules Moth from New Guinea and northern Australia. Their wingspans are also amongst the largest, reaching over 25 cm (9.8 in). Females are appreciably larger and heavier than the males.

Atlas moths are said to be named after either the Titan of Greek mythology, or their map-like wing patterns. In Hong Kong the Cantonese name translates as “snake’s head moth”, referring to the apical extension of the forewing, which bears a more than passing resemblance to a snake’s head. Japan only has the A. a. ryukyuensis subspecies which is native to the Yaeyama Islands, and is called theYonaguni-san (“Yonaguni silkworm”). It is said to be the inspiration for the movie monster Mothra.

In India, Atlas moths are cultivated for their silk in a non-commercial capacity; unlike that produced by the related Silkworm moth (Bombyx mori), Atlas moth silk is secreted as broken strands. This brown, wool-like silk is thought to have greater durability and is known as fagara. Atlas moth cocoons have been employed as purses in Taiwan.

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Guinea Pig Ask Game
  1. If you had a guinea pig, what would you name it?
  2. Guinea pigs are social animals. Are you a social animal, or more introverted?
  3. Guinea pigs are chubby with tiny little limbs, so they are very slow and bad at climbing. Are you athletic?
  4. Some unfortunate people are allergic to guinea pigs. Are you allergic to anything?
  5. Do you have any non-guinea pig pets? Why?
  6. The name “guinea pig” is nonsense. They are neither pigs nor from New Guinea. Do you feel like labels applied to you match who you are?
  7. Guinea pigs originated in South America and were brought to Europe in the 14th Century. Have you ever traveled or wanted to travel?
  8. Sometimes guinea pigs eat their own feces. Do you have any habits that people might disapprove of?
  9. What is your favorite fruit?
  10. What is your favorite vegetable?
  11. Guinea pigs don’t believe in any kind of God or higher power. Do you?
  12. Guinea pig cages are often very messy. Are you a neat person or a messy person?
  13. Guinea pigs have very small little rodent brains. How much smarter than a guinea pig are you?
  14. Guinea pigs have high self esteem and feel good about who they are. Are you a confident person?
  15. Draw a guinea pig and post it.
  16. What is your favorite thing about guinea pigs?
  17. Are you secretly a guinea pig? Can you prove that you aren’t?
  18. If you could be a guinea pig for a day, what would you do?
  19. Do you have any fun guinea pig stories (made up or real)?

Eating brains helped Papua New Guinea tribe resist disease

Research involving a former brain-eating tribe from Papua New Guinea is helping scientists better understand mad cow disease and other so-called prion conditions and may also offer insights into Parkinson’s and dementia.

People of the Fore tribe, studied by scientists from Britain and Papua New Guinea, have developed genetic resistance to a mad cow-like disease called kuru, which was spread mostly by the now abandoned ritual of eating relatives’ brains at funerals.

Experts say the cannibalistic practice led to a major epidemic of kuru prion disease among the Fore people, which at its height in the late 1950s caused the death of up to 2% of the population each year.

In findings published in the scientific journal Nature, the researchers said they had identified the specific prion resistance gene – and found that it also protects against all other forms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

“This is a striking example of Darwinian evolution in humans, the epidemic of prion disease selecting a single genetic change that provided complete protection against an invariably fatal dementia,” said John Collinge of the Institute of Neurology’s prion unit at University College London, which co-led the work.

Papua New Guinea Photograph: Lloyd Jones/AAP Image

Guam Rail (Gallirallus owstoni)

Extinct in the Wild

Gallirallus owstoni, also known as the ko'ko’, is a flightless bird endemic to the island of Guam in the western Pacific Ocean. It disappeared from Guam in the late 1980s due to predation by invasive species, especially cats and snakes. The most serious threat to this species, and many others on Guam, is the brown tree snake, which was accidentally introduced to the island in the 1940s from Papua New Guinea. As for many island animals, the native birds of Guam had no defences against unfamiliar predators, and their numbers declined rapidly. 

Captive breeding programmes have been active since the 1980s. In 1995, G. owstoni began to be introduced to the island of Rota, although predation by cats was severe, and few birds survived. In 2010, 16 birds were introduced to Cocos Island, just offshore of Guam. Rats were eradicated and monitor lizard numbers were reduced prior to introduction. There is evidence that this population is now breeding.

Photo: Greg Hume on Wikipedia.

Jimmy Nelson Photographs Some of the World’s Last Indigenous Cultures

Photographer Jimmy Nelson traveled all around the world to capture a rare glimpse of indigenous tribes and their culture.
 His photos will appear in the exhibit “Before They Pass Away” at the Atlas Gallery in London, as well as several other galleries around the world. Nelson went as far as Nepal, to Ethiopia; and from Papua New Guinea, to Russia. He took photos of people in 29 different tribes, including the Kalam, Himba, Chukchi, Maori, Huli and many more.