Month: September, 2017

Zoologists Explained Why The Ostrich Is The Only Living Animal With Four Kneecaps

According to experts, the unusual structure of the legs allows the bird to accelerate quickly.

Ostrich is one of the most interesting and unusual birds in the modern world. He can’t fly but runs very fast and has the largest size among the brethren.

In addition, the ostrich is the only living creature on Earth with four knees.




After a series of studies, scientists have created a computer model of the leg of the ostrich. This allowed them to understand why the “extra” body parts of this bird has not disappeared with evolution.

As it turned out, four knee ostriches need for rapid response to possible danger. When a member of the species feels the approach of the enemy, he may suddenly break away from their homes, developing a decent speed.

In this case the leg bone of an ostrich face enormous pressure, while a special mechanism reduces the load. That is part of it and are knees.

Zoologists said that while not believe in his theory 100%. Researchers simply have nothing to compare the results of their work, since 1884, on the Ground there are no other organisms with four knees, in addition to ostriches.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

1,000-Year-Old Texas Oak Tree Survives Deadly Storm

A 1,000-year-old oak tree has been found still standing in a Texas state park after Hurricane Harvey caused devastation in the area.

At least 30 people have died since Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday. More than 30 inches of rainfall has caused severe flooding and forced thousands of people out of their homes, seeking shelter in relief centres and local churches.




The Texas Parks and Wildlife department has been conducting search and rescue efforts with other first responders throughout the weekend as the dangerous flooding continues.

In just the first 24 hours, the department’s staff had already performed over 1,000 water rescues while more than 3,000 hurricane survivors are staying in Texas State Parks, the department said.

A total of 27 state parks have been closed due to the hurricane, including one houses the 1,000-year-old oak, which staff found was unharmed by the storm.

Goose Island State Park’s is one of the biggest living oak trees in America.

Known as the Big Tree, it has a circumference of 35 feet and 1.75 inches and an average trunk diameter of 11 feet and 2.25 inches. It is 44 feet high and has a crown spread of 89 feet.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

 

The Prehistoric Puzzle Of How Plesiosaurs Swam Through The Oceans

Among the stranger creatures to roam the earth during the time of the dinosaurs was not a dinosaur at all, but a marine reptile — the plesiosaur.

This odd predator navigated Mesozoic Era waters with four flippers — two in the front and two in the back — a design unlike anything seen in modern-day swimmers.

How the plesiosaur actually used its limbs to swim has remained something of a mystery.

But in a study in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, a group of scientists has used computer modeling to pin down what those strokes might have looked like — and it turns out that they probably looked a lot like a penguin’s.




Plesiosaurs were a diverse group of swimming reptiles that thrived for 135 million years, from the Early Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous period (when they were wiped out by the same asteroid that took out the dinosaurs).

Some had long necks, others had short stubby ones, but all of them had this four-flippered body plan, where the animals’ legs had evolved into two pairs of wing-like appendages — “a unique adaptation in the animal Kingdom,” the study authors wrote.

Although plesiosaurs were a key component of Mesozoic marine ecosystems, there are no extant ‘four-winged’ analogues to provide insights into their behavior or ecology, and their locomotion has remained a topic of debate since the first complete plesiosaur skeleton was described in 1824,” the authors wrote.

Without any clear modern comparisons, how theirs flippers worked together has stumped scientists.

Some have argued that the plesiosaur had a rowing stroke, using its fins like boat oars; others argued for a “flight stroke,” rather like those of penguins and turtles, or a modified flight stroke like the ones sea lions use.

The extinct animals’ swimming motion has been equally up for grabs: Some have posited synchronous motion, with all four flippers moving in the same direction at the same time.

Others have favored semi-synchronous or asynchronous motion, where the forelimbs and hindlimbs move out-of-phase relative to each other.

Researchers haven’t even been able to agree on whether it was the forelimbs or the hindlimbs producing most of the animal’s thrust.

Scientists have tried all kinds of ways to model the animals’ swimming behavior, from using experimental robots to testing out human swimmers using paddles.

These studies, although informative, are limited because they do not deal with accurate representations of the plesiosaur form,” the study authors wrote.

There is therefore still no consensus on how plesiosaurs swam, especially how they moved all four limbs relative to each other.”

To get a better handle on plesiosaur physiology, researchers from Georgia Tech decided to build a computer model — far more accurate than, say, a human with some paddles.

They based theirs on Meyerasaurus victor, a Lower Jurassic plesiosaur from what is now Germany that would have stretched about 11 feet (relatively small by plesiosaur standards).

This model also allowed researchers to test thousands of simulations to try to determine which combinations of movement allowed the animal to move most effectively through the water.

In the end, the scientists found that the plesiosaur was swimming mostly with its forelimbs; surprisingly, the hindlimbs didn’t generate much thrust and likely were used for balance and steering.

Within the biologically possible range of limb motion, the simulated plesiosaur swims primarily with its forelimbs using an unmodified underwater flight stroke, essentially the same as turtles and penguins,” the study authors wrote.

Now that the scientists have developed a working model of this plesiosaur, they can use it to further probe exactly how the hindlimbs were used — and to explore the motion of other extinct swimming animals.

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Pass it in on: Popular Science

‘Dragon Booger’ Creatures Are Found In Vancouver’s Lost Lagoon

A gelatinous creature nicknamed “dragon booger” has been recently spotted for the first time in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The odd creatures live in rivers and lakes and were recently seen because the low water levels made them more visible.

The gelatinous being, known as a bryozoan, was found in the Stanley’s Parks “Lost Lagoon,” a small body of water in the southern part of the park.

Celina Starnes from the Stanley Park Ecology Society showed the bryozoan in a video for Vancouver Courier, and told National Geographic the creatures have a gelatinous, firm quality, “almost like Jell-O.




Bryozoan clumps like the one found in the Lost Lagoon are actually hundreds of creatures living together, as a single organism –called zooid—is only a fraction of a millimeter.

Zooids are hermaphroditic creatures but spread due to statoblasts, a clump of cells found in the organism that can reproduce asexually if they’re broken off from the colony.

Bryozoans are ancient creatures, as fossil records show marine bryozoans lived as far as 470 million years ago.

The kind found in Vancouver is known as a “magnificent” bryozoan, Pectinatella magnifica, and was previously only known to live in areas east of the Mississippi River.

The creatures are still mysterious for scientists, and there is an ongoing debate on whether they are an invasive species or not. A 2012 study from the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service suggested that climate change could be fueling the spread of bryozoans.

Meaning, zooids can only survive in water warmer than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which made scientists suggest that warming temperatures are allowing the creatures to spread north.

Bryozoans feed on algae in nutrient-rich waters, so an increase in their population could disturb the ecological balance of a freshwater system. National Geographic reports they have also been found to clog pipes.

Other scientists say bryozoans have probably gone unnoticed for a while. They are difficult to find because of their muddy color, which helps them camouflage in murky waters.

Starnes said they are often confused with rocks or a batch of salamander eggs. She noted they doubt this is the first time they have been in Vancouver.

Ian Walker, a biology professor at the University of British Columbia who has studied the gelatinous creatures, said he believes there isn’t enough research to conclusively tell whether or not the species is moving north.

Walker says it’s something that could have been “easily overlooked” in the past, as other bryozoans have been found west of Vancouver in the Okanagan Valley.

I think we’re near the northern limit of them. With warming climate, they might migrate somewhere farther north,” Walker told National Geographic. “I can only really speculate how they might have spread.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Giant Panda Is One Step Further Away From Extinction

The giant panda, commonly a symbol for conservation, is no longer considered an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In an update to their Red List of Threatened Species on Sunday, which assesses a species’ conservation status, the IUCN reported the giant panda population has improved enough for the endangered species label to be downgraded to “vulnerable.”

A nationwide census in 2014 found 1,864 giant pandas in the wild in China, excluding cubs — an increase from 1,596 in 2004, according to the IUCN.




Including cubs, the current population count is approaching 2,060, the organization said. The report credits forest protection and reforestation measures in China for increasing the available habitat for the species.

The decision to downlist the giant panda to ‘vulnerable’ is a positive sign confirming that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective,” the IUCN noted in its assessment.

The giant panda was once widespread throughout southern China, and is revered in the country’s culture.

The IUCN’s first assessment of the species in 1965 listed the giant panda as “very rare but believed to be stable or increasing.

The species has been the focus of an intensive, high-profile conservation campaign to recover an endangered species since the 1970s, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — which has used the panda in its logo since 1961.

For over fifty years, the giant panda has been the globe’s most beloved conservation icon as well as the symbol of WWF,” Marco Lambertini, director general of the WWF, said.

Knowing that the panda is now a step further from extinction is an exciting moment for everyone committed to conserving the world’s wildlife and their habitats.

Decades of conservation efforts have included the banning of giant panda poaching — their hides were considered a commodity — as well as the creation of the panda reserve system, increasing available habitats.

There are now 67 reserves in China protecting nearly 5,400 square miles (14,000 square kilometers) of habitat and 67 percent of the panda population, reported CNN.

The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity,” Lambertini said in the statement.

The Chinese government’s partnerships with the international organization have also spread conservation and breeding efforts. In June, a healthy male cub was born in a Belgian zoo.

The captive population is not taken into consideration by IUCN for the Red List, which is specific to species in the wild.

However, the captive population being bred for recovery and reintroduction are part of the overall conservation picture, according to Joe Walston, Vice President of Conservation Field Programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The giant panda is not completely in the clear, however the IUCN warned that climate change and decreasing bamboo availability could reverse the gains made in the past few decades.

More than one-third of the panda’s bamboo habitat could disappear in the next 80 years, according to the IUCN.

It is a real concern, and this is emblematic of what species are facing globally with regard to climate change,” Walston told Live Science of the threat to habitat and food supply.

The most important thing we can do at the moment is to be able to grow the extent and range of that habitat and by doing that you allow pandas to move across landscapes.

Wildlife as a whole can adapt to short-term changes and season extremes, Walston said, but they need to space to move and adapt.

As such, conservation efforts continue and the giant panda will continue to be considered “a conservation-dependent species for the foreseeable future,” the IUCN’s report concluded.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

 

Astronomers Detect 15 Signals From Mysterious Object In Distant Galaxy

While looking for signs of intelligent life in the universe, astronomers have detected 15 fast radio bursts from a distant galaxy.

These poorly understood phenomena are short pulses of radio emission, just milliseconds long, believed to be coming from rapidly spinning neutron stars or black holes in distant galaxies.

A less popular theory is that they’re signs of extremely powerful spacecraft from alien civilizations.

This particular fast radio burst (FRB), called FRB 121102, is of particular interest as it is the only known one to be repeating, something that astronomers can’t yet explain.




Earlier this month, astronomers using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia not only found 15 more bursts, but found them at a higher radio frequency than was ever observed before, the astronomers said in their findings published in The Astronomer’s Telegram.

It’s not surprising that we’ve found 15 more from this source; we’ve been detecting many of them over the past few years,” Paul Scholz, an astronomer who studies FRBs with the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton, B.C., said.

The one thing that’s unique about these [new ones] is that they are at a higher frequency than we’ve ever seen before.

Scholz, who was not involved with the new discovery, was with McGill University when he and a team of astronomers discovered FRB 121102 to be a repeater. In 2016, a McGill team was able to locate the source of the strange FRB.

At the time the signals left its host galaxy, Earth would have been two billion years old, less than half its current age. The only living things on the planet would have been single-celled organisms.

SOLVING THE MYSTERY

As though the object wasn’t strange enough, it also behaves like no other FRB. Typically, objects that emit similar signals, such as pulsars, do so in a smooth fashion across many frequencies. But that’s not the case with FRB 121102.

So it’s kind of perplexing,” Scholz said.

Scholz said that there could be reasons such as the signal being distorted between its source galaxy and Earth.

In the coming months, a new telescope in B.C. called the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) is expected to begin its research into FRBs, with the possibility of discovering several a day, something that Scholz is looking forward to seeing.

It’s a mystery that needs to be solved,” Scholz said.

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A Really, Really Big Asteroid Is Going To Fly Past Earth Today!

Today, a three-mile-wide asteroid is going to fly past Earth – the biggest space rock to pass our planet this close in a century.

Asteroid 1981 ET3 – also known as 3122 Florence – will fly past safely today, September 1, 18 times further away than the moon.

While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.




Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began.

The asteroid, named for Florence Nightingale, was first spotted in 1981, and the flyby in September will be the closest it’s come to Earth since 1890.

Asteroid Florence was discovered by Schelte “Bobby” Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia in March 1981.

It is named in honor of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing.

The 2017 encounter is the closest by this asteroid since 1890 and the closest it will ever be until after 2500.

This relatively close encounter provides an opportunity for scientists to study this asteroid up close.

Florence is expected to be an excellent target for ground-based radar observations – and will also be visible to amateur astronomers via telescopes.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Why Is Yawning So Contagious?

If looking at the image above makes you yawn, you’ve just experience contagious yawning.

What is yawning? And why do we do so much of it? Neuroscientist and yawn expert Robert Provine says it’s “ancient and autonomic.” It stems from early evolution and is common to many creatures—even fish do it.

It’s autonomic in the sense that it roots in the brainstem, way down in the basement level of the brain, where certain responses are so built-in they don’t even qualify as reflexes.

Yawning has many triggers, including boredom, sleepiness, and temperature.




A 2014 study suggested that there’s a “thermal window” (at around 68°F) for human yawning; as ambient temperature approaches body temperature or goes down near freezing, we yawn less.

According to the paper, we may yawn to regulate the temperature of our brains. This isn’t the same as saying we yawn to take in extra oxygen, as evidence to date says we don’t.

It means that yawning might act to draw brain-soothing ambient air in through the nose and mouth.

COPYCAT YAWNING?

Over the years, scientists have observed “contagious yawning” in chimpanzees, humans, baboons, bonobos, wolves, and, to a certain extent, dogs. Yawning feels good, so why not join in when someone else yawns?

Well, you’re not really “joining in,” because you aren’t copying the yawn on any conscious level. It happens because you just can’t help it. If you become self-conscious about a yawn, it stops.

While many past studies have documented the phenomenon, a more recent study, published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, contends that yawns may not be contagious after all—or at least that we have not yet proven it.

Experimental psychologist Rohan Kapitány of the University of Oxford conducted a review of the scientific literature on contagious yawns and found very little conclusive evidence to back up our long-held assumption that yawns are contagious.

The belief that yawns are contagious seems self-evident,” Kapitány said, “but there are some very basic reasons for why we might be mistaken in this.”

“If we fail to dissect that which we think we know, we might end up with conclusions that do not reflect reality.”

“In this instance, the literature hasn’t questioned the basic features of contagious yawning, and ended up with a wide range of unstandardized methodologies and conclusions.

Still, because Kapitány’s study was small and extremely limited, he and his fellow authors urge other scientists to challenge their findings with experiments of their own.

I may be wrong!” Kapitány said. “Maybe yawns are contagious!” Kapitány says he’d like to see “more robust” attempts to falsify the claim that yawns are contagious rather than “simply demonstrating it over and over [in] slightly different contexts with richer and richer explanations.

WHO DOESN’T CATCH YAWNS?

Some people with autism or schizophrenia don’t exhibit a yawn-contagion response. The same is true of children under the age of four years. This has led to a variety of theories about yawning’s relationship to empathy and the brain’s mirror-neuron system (MNS).

The idea here is that MNS deficits might lead to missing hidden empathetic cues that trigger contagious yawning. The MNS seems to be involved in the process to some extent.

fMRI scans on a range of people have shown that other parts of the brain also “light up” in response to images of yawning, perhaps more so than the areas normally associated with empathy.

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Pass it on: Popular Science