Thursday, March 19, 2009

More fishy stuff in the news

A couple of news reports caught my eye today.

First, the BBC reports that a Scottish aquarium has succeeded in breeding a rare and endangered - and very poisonous! - South American frog.

A frog so poisonous that it can kill up to 200 people has been successfully bred at a Fife aquarium.

The golden arrow poison dart frog secretes toxin from its skin, which is used by south American tribesmen to poison their blow-gun darts.

The amphibian is under threat in the wild due to loss of habitat and pollution in its native region of Chaco in West Columbia.

Deep Sea World in North Queensferry has now bred nine of the frogs.

The centre's breeding programme will play an important role in protecting the species by reducing the number of frogs being taken from the wild for captivity.

. . .

Despite their deadly status, it is hoped that the golden arrow frog could one day help save lives.

Medical researchers are developing muscle relaxants, heart stimulants, and anaesthetics made from the frogs' toxins which have the potential to become a far more effective and less addictive alternative to morphine.

There's more at the link.

I'm sure congratulations to the aquarium are in order: but there's one thing that makes me wonder. How long before some daft home enthusiast gets hold of some of these in his aquarium, and in due course gets tired of them, and releases them into the wild - in England, or America, or elsewhere? Do we really want highly poisonous frogs proliferating in our waterways? Has this happened already? Can they survive in such conditions? What are the risks?

Food for thought, that . . .

In other news, a robotic fish is about to be 'released' to monitor pollution.

The carp-shaped robots will be let loose in the port of Gijon in northern Spain as part of a three-year research project.

If successful, the team hopes that the fish will used in rivers, lakes and seas across the world, including Britain, to detect pollution.

The life-like creatures, which will mimic the undulating movement of real fish, will be equipped with tiny chemical sensors to find the source of potentially hazardous pollutants in the water, such as leaks from vessels in the port or underwater pipelines.

The fish will then transmit their data through Wi-Fi technology when they dock to charge their batteries with last around eight hours.

. . .

Rory Doyle, senior research scientist at BMT Group, described the project as a "world first", adding that scientists involved in designing the fish were using "cutting-edge" methods to detect and reduce water pollution.

"While using shoals of robotic fish for pollution detection in harbours might appear like something straight out of science fiction, there are very practical reasons for choosing this form," he said.

"In using robotic fish we are building on a design created by hundreds of millions of years' worth of evolution which is incredibly energy efficient. This efficiency is something we need to ensure that our pollution detection sensors can navigate in the underwater environment for hours on end."

He added: "We will produce a system that allows the fish to search underwater, meaning that we will be able to analyse not only chemicals on the surface of the water (e.g. oil) but also those that are dissolved in the water."

The five fish are being built by Professor Huosheng Hu and his robotics team at the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex. He hopes to release them into the water by the end of next year.

The fish cost around £20,000 [about US $29,000] to make and are roughly the size of a seal. They swim around one metre per second.

More at the link. Here's a video clip of one of the prototype 'robo-fish' in action.

I wonder what happens when an angler, or a commercial trawler, catches one of these things? Will someone get an electric shock when they try to clean it?



Unknown said...

I can't remember where I read it, but I do remember reading that the poison arrow frogs, when removed from their native jungle, rapidly loose their toxicity.

The theory was that the frogs are concentrating poisons they ingest from the specific they eat there, and since those bugs aren't in the artificial environments, the frogs have no poison.

Anonymous said...

Oh, there's already a small but dedicated community of people who keep and breed dart frogs. Hell, one of them is on my blogroll, though I'm perenially forgetful about dropping by.

I'm not extensively familiar with them, but so far as I know they're pretty delicate little creatures- not a good candidate for an invasive species. Amphibians rarely are, with a few memorable exceptions like the cane toad.