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As a femur-shaped island paradise that snapped away from the Gondwana supercontinent some 80 million years ago, New Zealand is famously home to eccentric forms of wildlife that look like pets for a Hobbit.

There is the kiwi, of course, with its dense, furlike feathers, its catlike whiskers and its long, slender, curving bill tipped by a pair of ultrasensitive nostrils; and the kakapo, a heavy, flightless, nocturnal parrot with the flat-cheeked face of an owl; and the giant weta, a cricket the size of a human hand that displays by waving its formidably serrated rear legs high in the air as if brandishing a pair of saws.

Yet the animal that may well be New Zealand’s most bizarrely instructive species at first glance looks surprisingly humdrum: the tuatara. A reptile about 16 inches long with bumpy, khaki-colored skin and a lizardly profile, the tuatara could easily be mistaken for an iguana. Appearances in this case are wildly deceptive. The tuatara — whose name comes from the Maori language and means “peaks on the back” — is not an iguana, is not a lizard, is not like any other reptile alive today.

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The worst nightmare of ophidiophobes, people with a phobia of snakes, may have just been realized. Scientists have captured footage of “flying” snakes, explaining how five related snake species stay airborne for up to 79 feet.

The acrobatic arboreal snakes, all in the genus Chrysopelea, use what’s known as gliding flight to sail from tree to tree in their Southeast and South Asia habitats.

The new research, presented today at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in Long Beach, explains how the snakes accomplish their seemingly improbable feat.

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Brian Horne and Rick Hudson represented the TSA recently at a South American turtle Red-listing workshop in Brazil, joining scientists and conservationists gathered to evaluate the conservation status of the tortoises and freshwater turtles of South America for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Spending at least ten days on a boat traveling down the Amazon River with the South American contingent, they used the opportunity to become familiar with the players in turtle conservation in those countries, and to discuss needs and priority areas.

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Have you ever been at a party with lots of people chatting away, when for some unexplainable reason you felt compelled to turn and look at the front door of your friend’s house…and just as you were looking, someone was just coming in from outside and closing the door? You couldn’t have heard the door open since there was so much noise already inside – more likely you noticed that other people were looking at the front door. All of this probably happened without any explicit intention or awareness. If several others are all directing their attention at a specific point in space, there might be something important there. We’re naturally aware of where others are looking. And so are lots of other animals.

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