New Orleans, Oct 20 (AP/UNB) — A Louisiana professor is in heady company, honored by having one of three newly identified species of snakes from the Galapagos Islands named after him.
"They named one after Charles Darwin — that's a no-brainer — and one after the Greek god of fire, and one after me, of all people," said Robert A. Thomas , an environmental biologist and head of head of the Center for Environmental Communication at Loyola University New Orleans.
The snake in question, a handsome critter with lengthwise brown and creamy yellow stripes, is called Pseudalsophis thomasi (sood-al-SO-fis TOM-uhs-eye).
"I've got a picture of it taped up here in the office, and it makes me smile every time I look at it," Thomas said.
He's been studying snakes since the 1970s and began studying those in the Galapagos Islands in 1984. In 1997, he published an overview of Galapagos snakes based on features such as scale counts, patterns and other shapes and forms.
A team of Brazilian and Ecuadorian biologists led by Dr. Hussam Zaher of the Universidad de Sao Paolo used genetic analysis to restudy the snakes and work out their evolutionary route through the chain of islands. That study identified the three new species. In addition to Pseudalsophis thomasi, they are Pseudalsophis hephaestus, for the island chain's volcanic origins; and Pseudalsophis darwini, for the scientist whose theory of evolution grew out of a voyage through the Galapagos.
Their findings were published online Aug. 22 by the journal Systematics and Biodiversity, and on Sept. 3 in the Brazilian journal Pesquisa.
The scientists invited Thomas to join the team five years ago. He shared the information he had collected and got more from U.S. museums. Then the others told him they wanted to name one of the new species after him, to honor his work studying the islands' snakes.
"I had to drop off the paper. The rules are that you cannot be an author on a paper where something is named after you," Thomas said. "I thought about it deeply and decided there are just some fun honors you shouldn't pass up in life. This is one of them."
Thomas said the species is mildly venomous but not dangerous to people — only to lizards and other small animals. The one used for the species' formal description was 726 millimeters (about 28.6 inches) long and weighed 105 grams (3.7 ounces).
Thomas said he has photos of the snake that he took in 1984, not knowing it was a different species. They weren't very good, he said, because the snake was wriggling, but they did let him describe the belly scales and back pattern.
"A friend could have named a bacterium after me from Outer Slobovia and that would have been a real honor. ... But this is a snake that I've worked on, so it's very meaningful to me," he said. "I'm very honored."
Johannesburg, Oct 16 (AP/UNB) — The World Health Organization says it is convening a meeting on Wednesday to determine whether Congo's latest Ebola outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.
Aid organizations have expressed alarm as the rate of new cases has more than doubled this month and community resistance to Ebola containment efforts in some cases has turned violent.
This is Congo's tenth Ebola outbreak but this is the first time the deadly virus has appeared in the far northeast, an area of active rebel attacks that health workers have compared to a war zone.
WHO recently said the risk of regional spread was "very high" as confirmed cases were reported close to the heavily traveled border with Uganda.
Congo's health ministry says there are now 179 confirmed cases, including 104 deaths.
Sydney, Oct 16 (AP/UNB) — A beaming Duke and Duchess of Sussex started the first day of official engagements of a royal tour of Australia on Tuesday with the public focus on the former Meghan Markle's newly announced pregnancy.
Meghan wore a tight-fitting cream dress by Australian designer Karen Gee that barely revealed a royal bump as they were welcomed at an event at the Sydney Harbor-side mansion where the couple are staying.
The news of the pregnancy was announced after Prince Harry and the American former actress arrived in Sydney on Monday and 15 hours before their first public appearance.
Among those taken by surprise were their Sydney hosts, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Lynne Cosgrove. The governor general, who represents Queen Elizabeth II, Australia's head of state and Harry's grandmother, sent staff to hastily buy a toy kangaroo with a joey in its pouch and tiny pair of Australian sheep skin boots for their pregnant guest.
"Here's your first gift for the nursery," the governor-general told the couple during the official welcome at his official residence, Admiralty House.
"Thank you, that's so sweet," Meghan said as she received the toy.
The main focus of Tuesday's engagement was to meet Invictus Games representatives from the 18 countries competing in the event that starts Saturday. The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball.
Several of the representatives congratulated the couple on their baby news. Meghan replied: "Thank you so much. We are very excited."
The pregnancy has made front-page news across Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald ran the headline: "A smooth ride to Sydney, but royals reveal bump on the way."
Another Sydney tabloid screamed: "HEIR DINKUM!" — a play on the Australian term "fair dinkum," which is used to emphasize the genuineness or truth of something.
Darwin's irreverent NT News chose the headline: "Ginger Pregs" — a play on a long-running Australian comic strip about a mischievous red-head boy called "Ginger Megs."
Harry, dressed in navy blue suit, smiled proudly as the couple held hands on their tour through Admiralty House.
The couple are on 16-day visit to Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand.
The announcement of the pregnancy confirms weeks of speculation from royal watchers about why Meghan was not joining Harry on his Sydney Harbor Bridge climb set for Friday.
Harry, 34, and Meghan, 37 — along with Prince William and his wife, Kate, the duchess of Cambridge — have stepped to the fore in the last year as the 92-year-old queen slightly reduces her public schedule.
Harry has become immensely popular in Britain, in part because of his military service and tireless work on behalf of wounded soldiers, and he has spoken often in recent years of his desire to settle down and start a family.
Meghan, with her American roots and successful acting career, has been seen as a modernizing influence on the sometimes stodgy royal family, and she is credited by many for bringing happiness to Harry, who has long struggled to cope with the early death of his mother, Princess Diana.
Mchenry, Oct 15 (AP/UNB) — Wildlife officials in Maryland tracked a black bear cub for three days in order to tranquilize it and remove a bucket that had gotten stuck on its head.
The Cumberland Times-News reported Sunday the 100-pound cub was freed near the Wisp Resort in McHenry during an annual autumn festival.
The Wildlife and Heritage Service of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said in a Facebook post that a crowd of onlookers at the resort was giddy to see the cub returned to the nearby woods.
London, Oct 14 (AP/UNB) — The royal wedding of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank was a big hit in terms of British TV viewership.
ITV said Saturday that it added roughly 2.1 million viewers during its extended morning program that showed live coverage of Friday's wedding at Windsor Castle.
ITV was the only U.K. broadcaster that showed the entire service live from St. George's Chapel.
Competitors BBC and Sky News showed snippets of the wedding and the crowds thronging the streets of Windsor outside the castle.
BBC blamed a failure of its voice recognition system for a subtitle that briefly referred to Eugenie's "beautiful breasts" rather than her "beautiful dress" as she walked up the stairs to the chapel.
Eugenie is the granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II and ninth in line to the British throne.