Good morning and greetings, NBA playoff fans. Yes, once again it’s the time of year when I climb the stairway to basketball heaven, or as TNT so elegantly states it, “40 games in 40 nights.” Despite the Golden State Warriors barely missing out on the playoffs, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen my wife so excited about the postseason. Or in her words, “when are these games going to be over?” NBA, where amazing marriages happen.
But even as prepare for my annual pilgramage to baskeball mecca, I still have time to stay in touch with important world events. Once again, something caught my iris and cornea this week that I felt should be shared with this audience. It comes from Associated Press writer Jim Gomez, reporting from Manila in the Philippines, with some natural enhancement from yours truly.
In a study released in late March, researchers have concluded that a giant, golden-spotted monitor lizard discovered in the forested mountains of the Philippines six years ago is a new species. The 6.5-foot-long lizard was first spotted in 2004 in the Sierra Madre mountains on the main island of Luzon when researchers saw local Agta tribesmen carrying one of the dead reptiles along with a pair of Imelda Marcos’ black stiletto pumps.
But it took until last year to determine it was a new species. After capturing an adult, researchers from the University of Kansas and the National Museum of the Philippines obtained DNA samples that helped confirm the lizard was new to science and not involved with any terrorist attacks in Indonesia.
The Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard feasts on fruits, snails and puppy dog tails rather than carcasses, unlike many monitors, including its larger relative, the Komodo dragon. It has unique claws that allow it to climb trees to reach its favorite fruits and open jars for small native women.
“I knew as soon as I saw the animal that it was something special,” said Luke Welton, a graduate student and cheerleader at the University of Kansas and one of the co-authors of the study.
It is not that unusual to find a new species of tiny fish, frog, insect or politician these days. But Welton and his colleagues said it was a “rare occurrence” to discover such a large vertebrate, particularly on an island hit by deforestation, nearby development and sky high health care premiums. They compared their find to the 1993 discovery of the forest-dwelling Saola ox in Vietnam, a new monkey species discovered in the highlands of Tanzania in 2006 and the discovery of Ross Perot on the presidential ballot in 1996.
Eric R. Pianka, a lizard expert and badminton player at the University of Texas at Austin, said in an e-mail interview that it was an “incredible find.” Fran Tarkenton and Cathy Lee Cosby both agreed, saying “that’s incredible.”
“This is truly a spectacular discovery,” Pianka said, which is the same way I felt when I learned my new TiVo could record two programs at the same time. “Worldwide, there are about 60-plus species of monitor lizards. In all probability, some as yet undescribed species will be found on various islands in Indonesia, along with voting ballots from Florida from the 2000 Presidential election” he said.
The new lizard is related to two other fruit-eating monitors in the Philippines, all of which have seen their numbers drop significantly due habitat destruction, hunting and trapping for the pet trade and baby boomers need for baby monitors.
“We hope that by focusing on protection of this new monitor, conservation biologists, policy makers and Angelina Jolie can work together to protect the remaining highly imperiled forests of northern Luzon,” said Rafe Brown, leader of the team that discovered the new species. And if that doesn’t work, “we’re just hoping that Sarah Palin won’t try to shoot any from a helicopter.”
Wait, there’s more. In an article written by James Owens for National Geographic News, “You could stay in that forest for years and have absolutely no idea that these monitors are there,” says biologist and trapeze artist Daniel Bennett. Much like myself, “they are incredibly secretive and spend all their time high up in trees, more than 66 feet above the ground.” Similar lizard species spend less than 20 minutes on the ground per week, he added, and that’s just to pay bills, go shopping and watch a little Sportscenter.
Scientists captured specimens of both this new species and the extremely rare but closely related Gray’s monitor lizard. Capturing both types of lizards was crucial, because it allowed the team to inspect the two monitor lizards side-by-side and detect subtle differences that can help determine whether the animals represent different species. One particularly revealing trait was the double-ended penis common to monitor lizards. The shape of this reptilian feature is unique to each species. It’s like I always said, two heads are better than one. To check out a photo of this bad boy, go to http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/04/100407-new-giant-lizard-varabus-bitatawa-biology-letters/
So let’s move from reptiles to the amphibians of the sky. Besides new head shots for my modeling portfolio, I haven’t been doing any shooting as of late as there’s been less color in the sky than at a Tea Party clam bake. But then on Tuesday night, some clouds rolled in and if my helicopter hadn’t been low on gas, I would have zoomed up to Davenport to shoot this night from atop the cliffs. So instead, I journeyed over to a little park by the arroyo and shot this six pack of April magic.
Some gentle colors filled the sky but it was nothing compared to the Eyjafjallajökul volcano in Iceland that exploded again on Wednesday. It blew a hole in the ice that created a black cloud of smoke and ash that created havoc in airports from Paris to Teterboro along with vivid red and lavender sunsets. This volcano last erupted in 1821 and was active for two years, so who knows how long we’ll have seismic activity. If you’re like me, and are fascinated by volcanoes, tornadoes and sun dried tomatoes, this is nature at its wildest. It was truly Ash Wednesday.
One more note about this spectacle that is blowing out tons of molten rock. Just eight miles down the seismic path from this lava party is Iceland’s largest volcano named Katla. Volcanologists say she’s about 40 years overdue and if she blows, the force could be one hundred times more powerful than this week’s fireworks display. With that will come massive eruptions, incredible explosions and billowing clouds of ash, which sounds a lot like the first season of Magma, P.I.
Let’s move on the late night fun. “According to the Pentagon, al-Qaida has been so weakened financially that they’re turning to crimes like drugs, prostitution, and adjustable-rate mortgages. I think that’s called Al Karma. Actually, Al Qaeda should have seen it coming. You know who’s in charge of the finances? Osama ben Bernanke. KFC coming out with their new Double Down sandwich. It’s bacon and cheese wrapped inside two pieces of fried chicken. In fact, today, Al Qaeda said: ‘We quit. When it comes to killing Americans, we can’t keep up with you guys.’” –Jay Leno
“President Obama signed a historic treaty with the Russian president today. Not everyone’s happy about it. Fox News said it was a ‘summit between a powerful communist leader and the president of Russia.’” –Craig Ferguson “There’s a rumor going around that Hillary Clinton could be Obama’s choice for the next Supreme Court justice. That’s a lifetime appointment that would take up all of her time, or as Bill Clinton calls it, ‘She’ll take it.’” –Jimmy Fallon “Sarah Palin’s daughter is speaking out. In an interview, Bristol says she realizes she was totally unprepared to be a mother. Hey, it’s better than being a mother that’s totally unprepared to be vice president.” –Jay Leno
“Conan O’Brien announced today that he will move his show to TBS. Later in the day, Jay Leno announced that he will also move his show to TBS. Tiger’s Woods is obviously under a lot of stress. It’s very difficult to play when you have a padlock on your underpants.” –Jimmy Kimmel “FedEx announced this week that it will add four new electric trucks to its delivery fleet. Four electric truck! Well,
let me be the first to say, welcome back glaciers.” –Seth Meyers
So that’s our show. The weather was spring perfect this weekend for the first two days of the NBA playoffs. There were eight games on Saturday and Sunday, so I was able to venture outside and spend some quality time amongst the blue skies, warm breezes and scent of roses during full timeouts. So enjoy your ash free skies and we’ll catch you at halfcourt. Aloha, mahalo and later, Dirk Nowitzki fans.