Tag: Animals

Tiny Prehistoric Frogs Trapped In Amber Show That Death Comes At You Fast

Four pieces of amber found in Myanmar contain ancient fossilized frogs.

Life’s too short. By the time you’ve figured a few things out, the years have slipped away. All you can do is love others, let yourself be loved, and try to leave the world a better place.

Unfortunately, the same can’t necessarily be said for a group of Cretaceous frogs that got trapped in tree sap and preserved in amber, which a team of scientists described in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday.

It’s impossible to say whether these 99-million-year-old frogs loved each other, but as the oldest frogs to be found preserved in amber and the oldest evidence of frogs inhabiting wet tropical forests, they definitely died before they got a chance to see the legacy they left the world.

These days, we’re used to picturing frogs in wet, hot climates, but we don’t know for sure when they began to occupy their preferred ecosystem.

Scientists believe that frogs emerged over 200 million years ago, but as with many animals, there exist major gaps in that fossil record, large swaths of evolutionary time for which we have no direct evidence.




In this new paper, researchers write that four small pieces of amber found in Myanmar contain evidence that could help fill in the frog’s evolutionary timeline.

These amber fossils provide direct evidence that frogs inhabited wet tropical forests before the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous,” Lida Xing, an associate professor at China University of Geosciences in Beijing and first author on the paper.

By studying the remains of these four frogs, which are each about 22 millimeters long — as well as the plant, insect, and spider remains trapped in the amber with them — Xing and his colleagues established that about 99 million years ago frogs lived in an environment similar to ones that they currently inhabit.

The study’s authors dubbed the species Electrorana limoae, from the Latin words for “amber” (electrum) and “frog” (rana), as well as Mrs. Mo Li, “who purchased and provided these specimens for study,” they write.

These four pieces of amber (specimen B and D are each shown from multiple angles) are the oldest amber-preserved frogs ever found.

And while the researchers were fortunate to come into possession of the specimens, the quality of the remains did pose issues.

As you can see, the frog remains are either ripped apart or curled up, and not one of them remained intact.

Fortunately, micro-CT scans allowed the researchers to penetrate the amber to get a better look at the frogs’ anatomies and figure out where they sit in the evolutionary tree.

They determined that E. limoae is likely an ancestor of these existing species, as well as some that have been long extinct.

Living in a wet environment, most frog specimens from E. limoae’s home environment had no chance of being preserved as fossils, so this amber from Myanmar gave scientists a rare opportunity to glimpse into the tree of life and add one more piece to the puzzle of evolution.

I can only hope that there are more spectacular fossils to come,” Blackburn tells National Geographic. “In today’s tropical forests, there is a rich diversity of living frog species.

“So, there might be many more species to discover still in the Cretaceous amber from Myanmar.”

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Flash Recovery Of Ammonoids After Most Massive Extinction Of All Time

The study, conducted by a Franco-Swiss collaboration involving the laboratories Biogéosciences (Université de Bourgogne / CNRS), Paléoenvironnements & Paléobiosphère (Université Claude Bernard / CNRS) and the Universities of Zurich and Lausanne (Switzerland), appears in the August 28 issue of Science.

The history of life on Earth has been punctuated by a number of mass extinctions, brief periods of extreme loss of biodiversity. These extinctions are followed by phases during which surviving species recover and diversify.

The End-Permian extinction, which took place between the Permian (299 – 252.6 MY) and Triassic (252.6 – 201.6 MY), is the greatest mass extinction on record, resulting in the loss of 90% of existing species.

It is associated with intensive volcanic activity in China and Siberia. It marks the boundary between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras.




Until now, studies had shown that the biosphere took between 10 and 30 million years to recover the levels of biodiversity seen before the extinction.

Ammonoids are cephalopod swimmers related the nautilus and squid. They had a shell, and disappeared from the oceans at the same time as the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago, after being a major part of marine fauna for 400 MY.

The Franco-Swiss team of paleontologists has shown that ammonoids needed only one million years after the End-Permian extinction to diversify to the same levels as before.

The cephalopods, which were abundant during the Permian, narrowly missed being eradicated during the extinction: only two or three species survived and a single species seems to have been the basis for the extraordinary diversification of the group after the extinction.

It took researchers seven years to gather new fossils and analyze databases in order to determine the rate of diversification of the ammonoids.

In all, 860 genera from 77 regions around the world were recorded at 25 successive time intervals from the Late Carboniferous to the Late Triassic, a period of over 100 million years.

The discovery of this explosive growth over a million years takes a heated debate in a new direction.

Indeed, it suggests that earlier estimates for the End-Permian extinction were based on truncated data and imprecise or incorrect dating.

Furthermore, the duration for estimated recovery after other lesser extinctions all vary between 5 and 15 million years.

The result obtained here suggests that these estimates should probably be revised downwards.

The biosphere is most likely headed towards a sixth mass extinction, and this discovery reminds us that the recovery of existing species after an extinction is a very long process, taking several tens of thousands of human generations at the very least.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Honey Bees Can Understand Nothing

Zero, zilch, nothing, is a pretty hard concept to understand. Children generally can’t grasp it until kindergarten. And it’s a concept that may not be innate but rather learned through culture and education.

Throughout human history, civilizations have had varying representations for it. Yet our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee, can understand it.

And now researchers in Australia writing in the journal Science say the humble honey bee can be taught to understand that zero is less than one.

The result is kind of astounding, considering how tiny bee brains are. Humans have around 100 billion neurons. The bee brain? Fewer than 1 million.

The findings suggest that the ability to fathom zero may be more widespread than previously thought in the animal kingdom — something that evolved long ago and in more branches of life.




It’s also possible that in deconstructing how the bees compute numbers, we could make better, more efficient computers one day.

Our computers are electricity-guzzling machines. The bee, however, “is doing fairly high-level cognitive tasks with a tiny drop of nectar,” says Adrian Dyer, a Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology researcher and co-author on the study.

Their brains are probably processing information in a very clever [i.e., efficient] way.”

But before we can deconstruct the bee brain, we need to know that it can do the complex math in the first place.

How to teach a bee the concept of zero

Bees are fantastic learners. They spend hours foraging for nectar in among flowers, can remember where the juiciest flowers are, and even have a form of communication to inform their hive mates of where food is to be found.

Researchers train bees like they train many animals: with food. “You have a drop of sucrose associated with a color or a shape, and they will learn to reliably go back to” that color or shape, Dyer explains.

With this simple process, you can start teaching bees rules. In this case, the researchers wanted to teach 10 bees the basic rules of arithmetic.

So they put out a series of sheets of paper that had differing numbers of objects printed on them. Using sugar as a reward, the researchers taught the bees to always fly to the sheet that had the fewest objects printed on it.

Once the bees learned this rule, they could reliably figure out that two shapes are less than four shapes, that one shape is smaller than three. And they’d keep doing this even when a sugary reward was not waiting for them.

And then came the challenge: What happens when a sheet with no objects at all was presented to the bees? Would they understand that a blank sheet — which represented the concept of zero in this experiment — was less than three, less than one?

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Impacts Of Genetically Modified Animals On The Ecosystem And Human Activities

The genetic modification of animals to obtain transgenic animals started in 1980. The first transgenic animals were mice, which are still the most frequently used transgenic species.

About 20 transgenic species have been obtained and they are more or less currently used. Various methods are being implemented to transfer foreign genes to the different species.

Transgenic animals are mostly used for basic research to study gene and biological functions. Transgenics may also be the source of organs and cells for humans as well as of medicaments.

The impact of transgenesis to improve animals for food and feed production is still non-existent but is expected to become a reality in the coming months.

Humans domesticated some animal species to obtain food, acquire strength for various activities and as companions.




Breeding likely contributed to revealing to humans the mechanisms of reproduction, including their own.

Long ago, humans probably made a distinction between themselves and animals, while recognizing their resemblance to animals.

More recently, humans have considered combining the biological properties of some animals with their own. They imagined the creation of chimeras from human and bull or goat.

They described and represented these chimeric organisms but could not produce them.

Genetic selection has thus become more efficient but is still totally dependent on natural and spontaneous random mutations.

In order to enlarge the choice of plants and animals for selection, humans started to use mutagenic chemical compounds.

The mutagens were applied to micro-organisms, then to plants and animals. The mutations were then much more frequent, but still totally random and unknown.

A selection makes the emergence of new lines of interest possible. More than 3000 plant varieties have thus been obtained and validated and are being used as food.

Please like, share and this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Have You Ever Wonder How Does A Mosquito Fly?

Mosquitoes are strange fliers. Compared with other insects, birds, and bats, their shorter wing strokes and oddly long—and skinny—wings have made scientists wonder how they can get off the ground at all.

Now, a new study shows how these animals get their lift: with help from a clever rotation of their wings.




Most animals generate lift, the force that keeps them aloft, during the downstroke of each wing beat.

This creates a vortex of swirling air over the wing’s leading edge, which lowers the pressure above the wing and pushes the animal up.


Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Oldest known case of dandruff found in 125m-year-old dinosaur

A fossil of a microraptor found in Liaoning province, China. The crow-sized dinosaur lived about 125m years ago.

The oldest known case of dandruff has been identified in a small feathered dinosaur that roamed the Earth about 125m years ago.

Paleontologists found tiny flakes of fossilised skin on a crow-sized microraptor, a meat-eating dinosaur that had wings on all four of its limbs.

Tests on two other feathered dinosaurs, namely beipiaosaurus and sinornithosaurus, and a primitive bird known as confuciusornis, also revealed pieces of fossilised dandruff on the animals’ bodies.

The prehistoric skin flakes are the only evidence scientists have of how dinosaurs shed their skin.

The material shows that rather than losing their outer layer in one piece, or in large sheets, as is common with modern reptiles, the feathered dinosaurs adapted to shed their skin in tiny flakes.




Images of the dandruff taken with a powerful electron microscope show that the material is extremely well-preserved and is almost identical to that found on modern birds.

Like human dandruff, the skin flakes are made of tough cells called corneocytes that are full of the protein keratin.

The work, published in Nature Communications, suggests that dinosaurs who sported feathers evolved skin to cope with their plumage as far back as the middle Jurassic.

Even though they are in the early stages of feather evolution, they have already adapted their skin to this more modern structure,” McNamara said.

Prehistoric dandruff found on the skin of a microraptor dinosaur. Photograph: Maria McNamara at University College Cork

The fossilised remains of all of the animals studied were recovered from rock formations in north-eastern China. At 2m long, beipiaosaurus and sinornithosaurus grew to more than twice the size of microraptor.

Modern birds have very fatty corneocytes that are loosely packed with keratin, a feature which helps the birds lose heat from the exertion of flying.

McNamara found that the dinosaur dandruff cells lacked such fat, suggesting that the animals did not get as warm as modern birds, perhaps because they could not fly far, or failed to get airborne at all.

Many dinosaurs that sported feathers were not competent fliers. Instead, their plumage served other purposes: to keep them warm, provide camouflage, and perhaps attract members of the opposite sex with multicoloured displays.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

How Birds Survived The Dinosaur Apocalypse

When nearly every dinosaur went extinct 66 million years ago, the only ones that survived were those that had shrunk—that is, the birds.

Today, there are 10,000 species of these feathered fliers, making them the most diverse of all the four-limbed animals.

A new study reveals why this lineage has been so successful: Birds started downsizing well before the rest of the dinosaurs disappeared.

This is a very impressive piece of work and by far the most comprehensive analysis of dinosaur body size that has been conducted,” says Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the research.

The study shows that birds didn’t just become small suddenly, but were the end product of a long-term trend of body size decline that took many tens of millions of years.

Dinosaurs were small in the beginning. About 230 million years ago, most weighed between 10 and 35 kilograms and were as big as a medium-sized dog.




But many species soon soared to tractor-trailer proportions, reaching 10,000 kilograms within 30 million years.

Later on, dinosaurs like the mighty Argentinosaurus, which stretched some 35 meters from nose to tail, weighed in at a staggering 90,000 kilograms.

Although many dinosaurs were getting bigger and bulkier over millions of years, one group seems to have hedged its bets on body size: the maniraptorans, feathered dinos that include Velociraptor of Jurassic Park fame and that eventually gave rise to the birds.

To pin down how dinosaur size changed over time, a team led by Roger Benson, a paleontologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, estimated the body size of 426 different species, using the thickness of their fossilized hind leg bones as a proxy for their overall weight.

The team found that although all dinosaur groups rapidly changed size at the beginning of dinosaur evolution—primarily by getting bigger—that trend slowed down fairly quickly in almost all groups.

For the most part, the dinos that got big stayed that way.

The exception was the maniraptorans, which continued to evolve bigger and smaller species as they expanded into an ever wider variety of ecological niches over a period of 170 million years.

When an asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago, only those feathered maniraptorans that had downsized to about 1 kilogram or so—the birds—were able to survive, probably because their small size allowed them to adapt more easily to changing conditions, the team concludes online today in PLOS Biology.

The researchers argue that being small made it easier for maniraptorans to adapt to a wider variety of habitats, whereas the rest of the dinosaurs, encumbered by their huge bodies and enormous food requirements, simply didn’t make it.

This size reduction was essential for the evolution of flight, says Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California, who was not involved in the study.

Flight is easier for smaller animals” because it is “a lot less energetically demanding,” he says.

And during all those millions of years when maniraptorans were changing body size more quickly than other dinos, Chiappe says, “they were experimenting with various degrees of birdness.

The really interesting story,” Brusatte adds, “isn’t so much to do with how some dinosaurs got so huge, but rather how birds and their close relatives got so small.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

The Space Station Is Becoming A Spy Satellite For Wildlife

In 1250, the prior of a Cistercian Abbey reputedly tied a note to a leg of a barn swallow, which read: “Oh swallow, where do you live in winter?” The next spring, he got a response: “In Asia, in the home of Petrus.

This perhaps apocryphal story marks one of the first known instances of someone tagging an animal to track its movements.

Thanks to many such endeavors, we now know that every year, barn swallows migrate between their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere to wintering grounds throughout the tropics and the south.

In 1912, one intrepid individual that was ringed in England turned up 7,500 miles away in South Africa.

But swallows are the exception rather than the rule. The journeys of most migratory animals, especially smaller species, are a mystery.




Flocks, herds, and shoals are constantly crisscrossing the globe, but despite the intense surveillance of our planet, we often have no idea what paths they take.

They leave in one place and we don’t know what happens to them until they show up in another place,” says Meg Crofoot from the University of California, Davis.

This ignorance makes it hard to save threatened species: what works in one part of the world may be completely undone as animals travel to another. It also jeopardizes our own health.

Where are the birds that harbor avian flu? Where do the bats that carry Ebola go? What about the red-billed quelea, a small finch that flocks in millions and devours crops with locust-like voraciousness?

Since the 1960s, scientists have tried to answer questions like these by tagging animals with radio transmitters. At first, they followed the signals with clunky hand-held antennae.

Later, they loaded receivers onto satellites, allowing them to track animals over long distances and rough terrain.

But even after decades of innovation, satellite telemetry tags are still expensive, slow, and clunky. The smallest weighs around 10 grams and would overburden any animal lighter than 240 grams.

That rules out three quarters of birds and mammals. There are much lighter data-loggers around but they’re light because they don’t transmit any data—so you have to recapture whatever animal you’ve tagged to find out where it has been.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

5 Reasons Why Octopuses Are the Weirdest

No matter how well they camouflage, octopuses will always stand out for a variety of crazy reasons — at least to those of us who live above the water line.

Octopuses are really good at blending in. They match their skin color and texture to whatever’s around them until it looks as if they’ve disappeared.

But no matter how hard they try, there are other reasons octopuses still stand out — at least to those of us who live above the water line. Here are a few ways octopuses set themselves apart:

1. They see with their skin.

No, they don’t have a million eyeballs. But scientists at the University of California in Santa Barbara discovered that octopus skin contains the same proteins that are found in eyes.

Just like the pupils of your eyes expand and contract with light, so do the muscles around an octopus’s chromatophores, which are the cells that allow it to change color.

They probably don’t pick up detail very well through their skin, but they definitely see the light!

2. They shape-shift.

Some octopuses are masters of the fake-out. The appropriately named mimic octopus would totally win Halloween with its ability to make itself look like something it’s not.




3. They have three hearts and nine brains.

Two of the hearts pump blood to the gills, and the third pumps blood to the organs in the rest of the octopus. According to Smithsonian, the third heart stops beating while the octopus is swimming.

4. They’re cannibals.

At least the giant Pacific octopus is. Found in the northern Pacific Ocean, adults often weigh more than 50 pounds.

They prefer to live alone until it’s time to mate, which is probably for the best, since they eat almost anything they can get their eight arms on — from small sharks to each other.

5. They manipulate their own RNA.

Scientists may have just discovered how an invertebrate got so smart. It turns out that octopuses can edit their own RNA.

Think about it like this: If you’re building a house, you’re going to get an architect to draw up a blueprint. That blueprint is your DNA.

To build the house, you’re going to have to hire a general contractor to execute what’s on the blueprints.

In humans, the general contractor mostly does what the blueprint says. He knows that putting in a deck when you wanted a pool could end up costing him a lot.

But for some reason, the octopus’s general contractor changes the plan in the heat of the moment. Literally. Scientists have known for a while that octopuses use RNA editing to function in the cold.

But with new information on the extent to which they pull this off, researchers now wonder if this ability will translate to a survival strategy as the oceans warm and acidify.

If humans want to make changes like this, we have to go back to the blueprints. We rely on DNA mutations passed to the next generation.

So what’s the cost to the octopus for the decisions of a headstrong contractor? Its blueprint hasn’t changed much in the last hundred million years.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

In A Bonobo World, Ladies Get To Choose Their Mates

bonobo

It seems like the tendency to want to mate with the most attractive male extends beyond humans and into the animal kingdom.

A new study has found that certain male bonobos have a strong advantage when it comes to fathering offspring – which researchers suggest could come down to how attractive they are.




Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have studied a population of bonobos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They discovered that despite friendly relations between the sexes, particular males have a surprisingly strong advantage over others when it comes to fathering offspring.

bonobo

For example, in one group, the most successful bonobo male fathered more than 60 percent of the next generation. The findings show that the reproductive skew is much higher in bonobos than it is in chimpanzees – which are known for being more aggressive.

While the reasons remain unverified, the researchers suspect that it may come down to a tendency for many females to choose to mate with the same attractive male.

bonobo

Dr Martin Surbeck, who led the study, said: “The funny thing under such a scenario would be that most of the females would have the same preference for Camillo, the alpha male of the bonobos at our research site.”

Bonobos are known for their friendly nature and lack of aggression, and males are often seen investing in friendly relationships with females.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science