Tag: Animals

Behold Thylacoleo, Australia’s Extinct Giant Marsupial “Lion”

It’s been 30,000 years since the last of the marsupial lions prowled for prey in Australia, but scientists continue to discover new species of the largest meat-eating mammals that ever lived on the continent.

The latest family member is Wakaleo schouteni, whose fossils — including a well-preserved skull, jaws and upper arm bones — were found in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in northwest Queensland.

The fearsome predator weighed about 50 pounds and was about the size of a Collie dog, according to Anna Gillespie of the University of New South Wales Sydney, one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities.

Gillespie, a technical researcher for the team of scientists that identified the new species, wrote about their discovery in The Conversation, an academic and research news journal.

“‘Marsupial lions,’ also known as thylacoleonids, are an extinct family of marsupials that were present in Australia from about 24 million years ago up until the end of the Pleistocene era, about 30,000 years ago,” Gillespie wrote.

“Their distinguishing feature is the presence of lengthened premolar teeth that form a pair of secateur-like blades.

This feature — massively developed in the most recent member of the family, Thylacoleo carnifex — led to them being named a ‘marsupial lion’ by the 19th century palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen.

At present, the thylacoleonid family contains nine species, five of which belong to the genus Wakaleo.

A reconstruction of the marsupial lion’s skeleton

In addition to their powerful jaws and forelimbs, Marsupial lions had retractable claws, a unique trait among marsupials that enabled them to secure their prey and to climb trees.

Unlike most of today’s marsupials, which include kangaroos and koalas, marsupial lions had large upper and lower incisors, similar to the pointed canine teeth of dogs and cats.

They also had exceptionally large jaws, giving them the most powerful bite, adjusted for size, of any animal that ever lived on earth — as powerful as lions twice their size.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Bizarre New Species Of Fish: Ocean Sunfish


As gigantic as the ocean sunfish can be, it still seems like only half a fish.

Unique traits

Sunfish, or mola, develop their truncated, bullet-like shape because the back fin which they are born with simply never grows. Instead, it folds into itself as the enormous creature matures, creating a rounded rudder called a clavus.

Mola in Latin means “millstone” and describes the ocean sunfish’s somewhat circular shape. They are a silvery color and have a rough skin texture.

Mola are found in temperate and tropical oceans around the world. They are frequently seen basking in the sun near the surface and are often mistaken for sharks when their huge dorsal fins emerge above the water.

Their teeth are fused into a beak-like structure, and they are unable to fully close their relatively small mouths.


Size and Weight

The mola are the heaviest of all the bony fish, with large specimens reaching 14 feet vertically and 10 feet horizontally and weighing nearly 5,000 pounds. Sharks and rays can be heavier, but they’re cartilaginous fish.


Ocean sunfish can become so infested with skin parasites, they will often invite small fish or even birds to feast on the pesky critters. They will even breach the surface up to 10 feet in the air and land with a splash in an attempt to shake the parasites.


Movement and Diet

They are clumsy swimmers, waggling their large dorsal and anal fins to move and steering with their clavus. Their food of choice is jellyfish, though they will eat small fish and huge amounts of zooplankton and algae as well. They are harmless to people, but can be very curious and will often approach divers.


Threats to Survival

Their population is considered vulnerable. Sunfish frequently get snagged in drift gill nets and can suffocate on sea trash, like plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish.

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‘Siberian Unicorns’ Walked the Earth Alongside Modern Humans

A reconstruction of what a Siberian unicorn might look like, by Heinrich Harder in 1908

Weighing up to 7,700 pounds, Elasmotherium sibiricum—an extinct hairy rhino popularly known as the “Siberian unicorn”—was thought to have disappeared as long as 200,000 years ago.

An updated fossil analysis suggests this formidable species was still around some 39,000 years ago, and that Ice Age conditions, not human hunters, contributed to its demise.

Paleontologists know of around 250 rhino species, of which only five still exist today. Among the most spectacular of these rhinos was Elasmotherium sibiricum—the Siberian unicorn.

For the Neanderthals and modern humans who lived alongside and possibly hunted this massive creature in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, it must’ve been an impressive and deeply intimidating sight.

Fossil evidence suggests Elasmotherium weighed over 3.5 tons, was covered in a thick coat of hair, and sported a horn of biblical portions, possibly as long as three feet (1 meter) in length.

Impressive though it may have been, the Siberian unicorns eventually died out. Previous fossil dating suggested an expiry date at some point between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, long before the large-scale late Quaternary megafaunal extinction, which got rolling around 40,000 years ago.

New research published this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution is now offering a more reliable estimate, dating the demise of Elasmotherium at some point between 39,000 and 35,000 years ago.

The extinction of the Siberian unicorns, therefore, can now be connected to the late Quaternary megafaunal extinction, an event that witnessed the end of the wooly mammoth, Irish elk, and saber-toothed cat.

Siberian unicorns lived alongside anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals. That ancient hominids may have preyed upon these oversized rhinos is not as outrageous a proposition as it may seem.

Early humans, likely a form of Homo erectus, were hunting rhinos in the Philippines around 700,000 years ago.

First published restoration of Elasmotherium sibiricum

But while rhinos were on the hominid menu, this new research suggests climate change, and not hunters, was responsible for Elasmotherium’s demise.

These rhinos, as we now know from the new research, lived during the Ice Age just prior to the Last Glacial Maximum—the stage at which the ice sheets covered their largest area, around 26,500 years ago.

Earth was prone to dramatic climate shifts during this period, producing drought, desertification, a drop in sea levels, and the steady encroachment of glaciers.

These climactic disruptions proved fatal to many species, Elasmotherium among them.

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Jumping Spiders Produce Protein-Packed Milk to Feed Their Young

When the 18th-century biologist Carl Linnaeus classified a group of animals as “mammals,” he based the name on one key characteristic—mammary glands, from which females produce milk to feed their young.

While lactation is a common feature among mammals, it turns out that it isn’t unique. Scientists have since learned that some nonmammalian creatures also make milk to feed their young.

Cockroaches, for example, nourish their developing embryos with a milky, protein-rich fluid.

And a new study, published today in Science, reveals that at least one other invertebrate species, the ant-like jumping spider Toxeus magnus also produces milk to feed its young.

Zhanqi Chen, a postdoc at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Center for Integrative Conservation, and his colleagues began to investigate parental behavior in T. magnus after noticing that the spiders’ breeding nests consisted of either several adults or a single adult female and her young.

An observation that suggested that the mothers engaged in long-term care. Upon further investigation, the researchers made a puzzling finding: Baby spiders steadily grew bigger despite never leaving their nests, and their mothers did not appear to be bringing them any food.

There were several potential explanations for where the offsprings’ nutrition came from, Chen says, such as trophic eggs (unfertilized eggs stockpiled for food) or regurgitation (when a parent vomits up food they ate to feed its young).

But the team’s observations led them to another, unexpected possibility.

While recording data on the growing spiders’ body sizes one evening, Chen spotted some spiderlings attached to their mother’s body—it looked to him just like a mammal latching on to its mother’s breast.

I had many hypotheses, but this one was not included,” Chen tells The Scientist. “At that point, I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep.” 

This startling finding jumpstarted a series of additional experiments. When the researchers peered at the critters under a microscope, they discovered that mothers excreted a milk-like substance from their epigastric furrows, an abdominal opening from which they lay eggs.

The team then analyzed the milk’s contents and found it was composed of sugar, fat, and four times more protein than cow milk.

They also demonstrated that the milk was crucial for offspring survival: When the researchers blocked the mothers’ epigastric furrows, spiderlings died within 10 days of hatching.

Chen, Quan, and their colleagues have several remaining questions they hope to tackle in future experiments.

For example, they plan to investigate whether the spiders, like mammals, produce milk in mammary glands, and to probe for other invertebrate species that display similar parenting behaviors.

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Scientists Reveal The Mystery Behind Wombat’s Cube-Shaped Poop Droppings

The Australian marsupial can pass up to 100 deposits of poop a night and they use the piles to mark territory. The shape helps it stop rolling away.

Despite having round anuses like other mammals, wombats do not produce round pellets, tubular coils or messy piles.

Researchers revealed on Sunday the varied elasticity of the intestines help to sculpt the poop into cubes.

The first thing that drove me to this is that I have never seen anything this weird in biology. That was a mystery,” Georgia Institute of Technology’s Patricia Yang said.

After studying the digestive tracts of wombats put down after road accidents in Tasmania, a team led by Ms Yang presented its findings at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics’ annual meeting in Atlanta.

We opened those intestines up like it was Christmas,” said co-author David Hu, also from Georgia Tech.

The team compared the wombat intestines to pig intestines by inserting a balloon into the animals’ digestive tracts to see how it stretched to fit the balloon.

In wombats, the faeces changed from a liquid-like state into a solid state in the last 25% of the intestines – but then in the final 8% a varied elasticity of the walls meant the poop would take shape as separated cubes.

This, the scientists explain, resulted in 2cm (0.8in) cube-shaped poops unique to wombats and the natural world.

The marsupial then stacks the cubes – the higher the better so as to communicate with and attract other wombats.

We currently have only two methods to manufacture cubes: We mould it, or we cut it. Now we have this third method,” Ms Yang said.

It would be a cool method to apply to the manufacturing process,” she suggested, “how to make a cube with soft tissue instead of just moulding it.

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“Male” Octopus Gives Surprise Birth to Thousands of Babies in a US Aquarium

When Octavius the octopus arrived at the University of Georgia’s Marine Education Center and Aquarium in August, they were holding onto a secret. Well, ten thousand secrets, to be precise.

Despite the name, it now turns out that Octavius is female. But the real surprise was that she also happened to be pregnant; the keepers had no idea until early last week, when she gave birth and turned her tank into a veritable snow globe of cephalopod eggs.

I noticed this cloud of moving dots and I realised, ‘Oh my God, she had babies. There are babies. There are babies everywhere.’ And a sort of panic ensued,” aquarium curator Devin Dumont said.

Dumont didn’t know Octavius’s sex when he received the delivery of the common octopus from Charleston’s South Carolina Aquarium. it had been caught in the wild, and nobody had stopped to check the octopus’s gonads.


Female octopuses can store sperm until conditions are perfect for the fertilisation and release of eggs, so it’s likely Octavius was waiting for the right moment to start her family of thousands.

It was during a routine tank clean that Dumont found the aquarium now had a nursery. The only clue Octavius gave to her imminent arrivals was a quiet retreat into a rocky crevice in the corner of her tank last month.

That said, it might be better not to get too attached. Even in the safe confines of captivity, baby octopuses are notoriously challenging pets. There’s a chance every one of those ten thousand or so larvae could perish.

Depressingly, Dumont could quickly go from thousands of octopuses to zero, since Octavius might also not be long for this world. Mother octopuses are known to starve themselves after giving birth.

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Fake Dog Helps Vet Students Save The Real Ones

The jarring image you see above isn’t a real dog — but it is a hero of sorts.

In fact, this synthetic canine could be the solution to a vexing problem for veterinary schools: How do you teach vet students to save cats and dogs if they don’t practice surgical procedures on real animals?

A biotech company says it has developed the answer: the SynDaver Synthetic Canine, an anatomically correct, skinless model of a dog.

The artificial canine comes complete with tissue that is similar to a dog’s living tissue, and it has functioning bodily systems. It has a heartbeat and a circulatory system and it bleeds when surgical incisions are made.

According to the manufacturer, the model can be customized to mimic specific diseases, illnesses and even certain medical complications.

According to the press release, some veterinary students must work in “terminal surgery labs” where they work on live, anesthetized shelter animals and then euthanize them after the procedure.

In addition, they work on canine cadavers, which typically are euthanized animals that come from shelters.

A significant number of students do not care to be involved in terminal surgery procedures or the use of live animals when there is an alternative,” said Dr. Michael Blackwell, a member of the board of directors of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.

I am so happy to have this change because that is where we need to be today.

Blackwell points out in the video above that most veterinary students at some time or another have to anesthetize a dog or a cat and perform a procedure as part of the learning process, “but at the end, the animal is not allowed to wake up.”

The company has launched a $24 million crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. So far, about $3,000 has been raised.

With the funds, SynDaver promises to give 20 of the synthetic dogs to every accredited veterinary college in the world.

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The Elephant Bird Regains Its Title as the Largest Bird That Ever Lived

Elephant bird brains compared to those of the living kiwi and tinamou.

History has not been kind to the elephant bird of Madagascar. Standing nearly 10 feet tall and weighing up to 1,000 pounds — or so researchers believed.

This flightless cousin of the ostrich went extinct in the 17th century, thanks in part to humans stealing their massive eggs, either to feed their own families or to repurpose them as giant rum flasks. Or both.

More recently, the bird’s designation as the heaviest in history was challenged by the discovery of the slightly larger, unrelated Dromornis stirtoni, an Australian flightless giant that went extinct 20,000 years ago.

But a new study seeks to restore the elephant bird’s heavyweight title.

After taxonomic reshuffling and examination of collected elephant bird remains, researchers say that a member of a previously unidentified genus of the birds could have weighed more than 1,700 pounds, making it by far the largest bird ever known.

Over the centuries, scientists have competed to collect and display the largest elephant bird bones.

But, “nobody’s done any real cohesive research on these birds,” said James Hansford, a paleontologist at the Zoological Society of London and lead author of the study, resulting in a taxonomic muddle for the feathered giants.

As a result, more than 15 elephant bird species had been identified across two genera (the plural of genus, the name for a group of closely related species).

One of those species, A. maximus, had long been considered the heaviest elephant bird, until a British scientist in 1894 claimed to have discovered an even larger species, Aepyornis titan.

Other researchers dismissed the finding, saying A. titan was simply an unusually large member of the A. maximus clan.

But Dr. Hansford reports that A. titan is not only its own species but a separate genus of much larger elephant bird, as evidenced by the distinct size and shape of all three limb bones.

He has named the species and genus Vorombe titan; vorombe is a Malagasy word meaning “big bird.”

Dr. Hansford believes his study is the most rigorous examination of elephant birds in nearly a century, and that he has grouped outdated names under more accurate headings.

Although the elephant birds’ fate was sealed long ago, Dr. Hansford believes his work can contribute to conservation efforts on Madagascar, where many unique species of plants and animals are threatened.

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First Fossil Lungs Found In Dinosaur-Era Bird

For the first time, researchers found the presence of what they believe to be lung tissue in an avian dinosaur fossil.

About 120 million years ago in what’s now northeastern China, a bird met its end during a volcanic eruption.

Ashfall buried the animal so suddenly, its soft tissues didn’t have time to decay, and over millions of years, minerals infiltrated these tissues and preserved their form.

Now, researchers have unveiled this breathtaking specimen, which contains the first fossilized lungs ever found in an early bird.

The species Archaeorhynchus spathula lived alongside the nonavian dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period.

The newfound fossil, which preserves feathers and considerable soft tissue, shows that this primitive bird’s lungs closely resemble those found in living birds.

This suggests that birds’ hyper-efficient lungs, a key adaptation for flight, first emerged earlier than thought, and it underscores how birds—the last living dinosaurs—inherited many iconic traits from their extinct ancestors.

Everything we knew about lungs, about respiration, about evolution of [birds] was just inferring based on skeletal indicators,” says study coauthor Jingmai O’Connor, a paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China.

“And now we know that we were inferring less generously than we should have.”

A newly identified Archaeorhynchus specimen showing the preserved plumage and lung tissue.

O’Connor presented the discovery on October 18 at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the finding will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This is an exciting discovery,” says Colleen Farmer, an anatomist and physiologist at the University of Utah who reviewed the study.

Finding bird-like lungs in this group of dinosaurs is to be expected, but it is incredible to uncover hard evidence of this soft structure.

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