Snakebites in Costa Rica Rise Along with El Niño Cycles

Both the hot and cold phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (known as El Niño and La Niña, respectively) are accompanied by an increase in snakebites in the Central American country, according to a new study published today (Sept. 11) in the journal Science Advances. Here’s how the climate cycle might be tied to slithering creatures: Snakes are ectothermic, meaning they get their body heat from outside sources. That means their activity is sensitive to climatological factors.

“Snakebites, probably the most neglected of the neglected tropical diseases, [are] another disease showing changes in [the] face of climate change,” study researcher Luis Fernando Chaves, a scientist at the Institute of Tropical Medicine at Nagasaki University in Japan, told Live Science. [See Photos of Snakes from Around the World]

Snakebites are relatively rare in the United States, but pose a huge problem in many regions, particularly southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. A 2008 study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that at least 421,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes worldwide each year, and some 20,000 die — but those are conservative estimates. Given spotty statistics and reporting, the number of bites could be closer to 1.8 million and

Say Aaaah Zoo’s Aardvark Gets 2 Teeth Pulled

Getting a tooth pulled is never fun, but it’s especially irksome if you’re an aardvark. Ali, an aardvark at the Cincinnati Zoo, recently learned this lesson firsthand after two infected teeth landed her in the dentist’s chair.

Aardvarks, the only extant species in the order Tubulidentata, are unusual animals — and they have unusual teeth, said Jack Easley, a Kentucky-based veterinarian who specializes in dentistry. Easley was one of several veterinarians who helped extract Ali the aardvark’s two problematic teeth last month at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Unlike most other mammals, aardvarks don’t have enamel in their teeth. (Enamel is the hard, visible part of the tooth that covers up the more sensitive tissues beneath it.) These soft teeth typically serve aardvarks well, because in their native African habitat, the animals only eat easy-to-chew insects like termitesand ants, Easley told Live Science. [Photos: World’s Cutest Baby Wild Animals]But in zoos, aardvarks don’t always eat soft insects, which may not be readily available. Instead, they eat a special, pelleted feed or some other manufactured food, said Easley, who noted that, sometimes, this diet can lead to dental disease. Ali, who is 11 years old, is also middle-age for an aardvark, which may have contributed

Birds of a Feather Photos of Hummingbirds Hawks & Jays

In the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona, black-chinned hummingbirds have a clever strategy to keep their nests safe: They recruit unknowing hawks for home security. Hummingbird nests cluster near hawk nests, and those hawks keep away the predatory jays that snatch hummingbird eggs, researchers reported Sept. 4 in the journal Science Advances. A female black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) perches on a twig. The daily survival rate of a hummingbird nest built nearby a hawk’s nest is 31 percent, compared with only 6 percent for hummingbird nests not near hawk roosts. (Credit: Harold F. Greeney, Yanayacu Biological Station

Pet Scam The Animal Control Officer Who Wants Cash

On the heels of pet-flipping comes the latest ruse facing dog owners: Scammers posing as animal control officers.

It’s occurred sporadically but not extensively in the past.  Now it seems on the rebound – at least in retiree-rich South Florida. TV station WPTV reports a case in which a couple living in an over-55 community lost $550 to an imposter claiming there had been complaints about the couple’s dog.  He threatened to impound the pooch unless they immediately paid. They obliged.

“He had a badge, had an ID, gave us a business card and represented himself completely as being part of an independent company for animal care and control,” said the community’s HOA president.

If you’re approached the same way, don’t be fooled. Better to make a quick call to the local Animal Control department – or its reported vendors – to check such claims, no matter what paper “proof” of authority is represented.

“If anybody comes to your house and says give me money. I’m from the county. I’m going to take your dog. That’s not us,” said an official with Palm Beach County Animal Care