Courtesy Joe ShlabotnikFor years now, members of the robust camp of biologists—paleontologists in particular—arguing that birds evolved directly from dinosaurs have kneeled on the thighs and arms of paleontologists who believe that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs, slapped their scrawny bellies pink, and rubbed dirt and grass in their bifocaled faces. And it was only right—the birds from dino people are bigger, and their veiny biceps ripple with the science of a substantial fossil record, while the clammy palms and toast-rack ribcages of the alternate theory paleontologists positively reek of onions and contrary opinions for the sake of argument. It’s only natural.
I mean, we have fossil impressions of feathers on dinosaurs, analogous bones and body-structures in birds and theropod dinosaurs (theropods, again, are two-legged meat-eaters, like T-Rex, velociraptor, etc.), similar bird-dinosaur proteins (take a look at that last link—Liza listed a bunch of other stories in that post)… the list goes on. Some paleontologists pretty much consider birds to be dinosaurs themselves (little dinos that never went extinct). The book is closed. It’s not even fun beating up on those other paleontologists anymore, because… what’s the point? You wouldn’t beat up on a worm, would you?
Ah, but these worms may have gotten their hands on something soft in this fight, and they’re about to give it a twist…
Check it out—like a hammer from nowhere, or sudden and blatant disregard for the no-scratching rule, the birds-didn’t-evolve-from-dinosaurs people have a new weapon, and they’re back on their feet.
Before we go on, I’m just going to emphasize something real quick here: nobody is saying that birds didn’t evolve, or that they didn’t evolve from something very different from birds as we know them. The question is, from what did birds first evolve, and when?
See, the winning theory is that some theropod dinosaurs began getting smaller and more birdlike in the Jurassic period (with a couple interesting exceptions eventually getting bigger and more birdlike later on, but that’s a different story.) These dinosaurs got little, and feathery, and probably started living in trees, and adapted to leaping, gliding, and eventually flying. By the late Jurassic, we have the archaeopteryx, a feathered, toothed, clawed, and bony-tailed flying machine. By the Cretaceous, there are plenty of pretty normal-looking birds around. Easy-peasy, and there are all those fossils I mentioned before.
“Oh yeah?” say the other paleontologists, “Well what about… this?!” And with that, they flick the back of their hand into the crotch of the unsuspecting bird-dino scientists.
“What are you… aaaaaaahh….” They ask.
Birds, say the alternate theory dudes, don’t have the right legs to be descended from dinosaurs. It’s so obvious, even jerks like you should have seen it.
See, birds need to breath lots of air to be able to fly (it’s hard, I’ve tried). To breath more efficiently, birds have air-sacs in addition lungs. Running all over their bodies (even in their bones) the air-sacs help pump lots of air through the birds' respiratory systems. Fossilized bones appear to show the presence of air sacs in some dinosaur species, too, and this has been seen as further evidence for the bird dinosaur link.
The new argument doesn’t dispute that everybody loves air-sacs. It points out that birds can only move their legs in a very limited way, to keep from collapsing some of their air-sacs when they breath. Birds’ femurs (their thigh bones) are largely fixed—when they walk or run, most of the movement comes from their lower legs. All other walking and running animals—including dinosaurs—have moveable thighs.
This difference, some scientists believe, is great enough that fixed-legged birds couldn’t have evolved from moving-legged dinosaurs. They might have evolved alongside dinosaurs, sharing a common ancestor, possibly one of the thecodonts. Thecodonts were dinosaur-like (but definitely not dinosaurs) and they lived during the Triassic period. Some thecodonts evolved into dinosaurs, and the group died off by the end of the Triassic.
“That’s… all?” says mainstream paleontology, straightening up and cracking its knuckles. “Someone is about to get slapped.”
“…Hiss!” say the other guys, squaring their Gollum-like shoulders.
Until I know a little more about the research, I think I have to side with the traditional birds evolved from dinosaurs argument. The alternative theory folks point out that birds are found much earlier in the fossil record than the dinosaurs they are supposed to have evolved from, but it seems to me that that’s more of a problem of overlap than of a gap—couldn’t later bird-like dinosaurs just be the descendants of the dinosaur-to-bird transitional species? It’s not as if anyone thinks that we look at individuals in the fossil record and say, “ok, you evolved from this one, which evolved from this one” etc. If birds didn’t evolved from dinosaurs like the ones we find from the Cretaceous, then we’re left with a huge gap between thecodonts and archaeopteryx and his pals. And it would have to be some pre-dinosaur thecodont, because I feel like the independent evolution of air-sacs, feathers, and everything else in both lines would be a little too much convergent evolution otherwise.
Plus… I’m not clear on why dinosaurs couldn’t have just evolved to have a fixed leg later on, when they needed more efficient respiratory systems for flying. Their mode of locomotion would have necessarily been changing anyway…
Interesting, though, right?
What do y’all think? Is this ridiculous? Or are we too attached to the mainstream model of bird evolution that we’re unable to keep an open mind to new ideas?
Courtesy NASAIt might not be a good day for emperor penguins. That daily activity that we all do – the elimination of our solid waste – is letting the cat out of the bag on the migration patterns of Antarctica's largest birds.
Researchers using NASA satellite photos to look at their bases in Antarctica found something odd with the photos: large red streaks in otherwise colorless sea ice areas. Causing the strange coloration is emperor penguin poop. It's a huge discovery among the penguin researching crowd as they've had a hard time locating the breeding grounds of these penguins.
Since the emperors spend several months on the ice during their winter breeding season, the poop accumulates so much that it can be seen from space. And it's no ordinary poop. It's high in salt and high in odor, making it very undesirable to be around for humans. One researcher said he's lost a dozen pair of boots to salt damage caused by the penguin poop.
From the vantage point of space, scientists have been able to pinpoint 38 emperor penguin breeding areas, including the appearance of 10 new breeding site and disappearance of six old sites from the previous land-based mapping effort. All in all, it's good news for the emperor penguin population, which was thought to be in crisis because of diminishing ice surfaces around the edges of Antarctica.
Still skeptical about this? Here's a video report that shows what we're talking about here.
Courtesy sly06 (adapted by Mark Ryan)Evolution of mosquitoes on the Galapagos Islands could endanger the islands’ famous giant tortoises and other reptile wildlife. On the mainland the black marsh mosquito Aedes taeniorhynchus normally feeds on mammals and birds, but scientists from the University of Leeds, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the University of Guayaquil and the Galapagos National Park have discovered that the island version of the blood-sucking insect has evolved a craving for reptilian blood, particularly that of the Galapagos tortoises and marine iguanas.
Genetic studies show the mosquitoes arrived on the archipelago about 200,000 years ago, giving them plenty of time to adapt to the island environment. Unlike its mainland counterpart which lives and breeds mainly in the lowlands and coastline salt marshes, the island mosquito can also breed as much as 15 miles inland and at altitudes up to 2000 feet above sea-level.
“The genetic differences of the Galapagos mosquitoes from their mainland relatives are as large as those between different species, suggesting that the mosquito in Galapagos may be in the process of evolving into a new species,” said Arnaud Bataille, PhD student at the University of Leeds and ZSL.
Mosquitoes can carry diseases such as West Nile and avian malaria that could potentially devastate the island fauna. Although none of these diseases have been detected in the Galapagos mosquitoes the researchers fear an infected mosquito brought in from the mainland via such modes as tourist transportation could potentially infect the island mosquitoes. If that happens the islands’ wildlife population could be at risk, because the long isolated Galapagos fauna wouldn’t have built up immunities to such an invasion.
But as a countermeasure, the Ecuadorian government has introduced a requirement for planes flying to Galapagos to be treated with insecticide before each flight, although similar controls have yet to be implemented for ships traveling to the islands.
“It is absolutely vital that these control measures are maintained and carried out rigorously, otherwise the consequences could be very serious indeed,” said Dr Simon Goodman, of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences and Co-author of the study which is published online in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Courtesy Rona ProudfootToday – April 15 and its federal tax deadline –may be a miserable day for Joe the Plumber, that vocal opponent of the redistribution of wealth through public taxation. But he’ll likely not find too many sympathizers among the animal kingdom.
While much of our humankind political debate revolves around if and how much wealth should be redistributed through public taxation, the issue is a given among most other animal species. Follow this link to a complete rundown by the New York Times. In essence, many animals have a culture of helping each other out and making sure the minimum needs of all are met. And sometimes they get real serious about it.
Courtesy J.M.GargI found especially interesting the practices of the rhesus monkey. When out hunting, if a single monkey finds a huge load of food, he/she is compelled by the species’ culture to notify others to come and enjoy the bounty. If it’s discovered he/she was hording the treasure and not sharing, a dominant male will unleash and harsh, stern physical penalty (without any preliminary audit like the IRS).
Vampire bats will actually do an “audit” of the stomachs of their comrades. If a particular bat appears to be bloated, they will “vigorously encourage” the glutton to regurgitate the excess food it had consumed to share among other bats in the group.
So if you’re having a hard time coughing up that dough to the IRS today, just be glad you’re not a rhesus monkey, vampire bat or some other tough taxing creature of the animal world. The means of taxation could be a whole lot more painful.
Courtesy Colin KloeckerYou know what's kind of scary? Riding a bike through the parking lot of a big box store like Target. Until recently I only had to worry about being hit by cars or shopping carts, maybe falling into a gigantic pothole. Lately, however, I've had another threat to deal with every time I go to the strip mall near my house. I'm talking, of course, about the parking lot seagulls.
We've all seen them hanging around. From a distance they even look kind of pretty, swooping and flying and flocking just like other birds. But when you get up close you realize that all these birds do is make creepy noises, eat garbage and poop on everything. If they see you approaching they will swarm and attack, poking out your eyes and then stealing your wallet.*
My point is: be careful! These are not lost birds that are innocently trying to find their way to the sea. These are hungry, blood-thirsty, opportunistic consumers that have found their niche in the American landscape. Did you know that seagulls will eat almost anything, and that they spend most of their time looking for and consuming food? Just like my older brother, who survives solely on cheeseburgers and mountain dew, seagulls like the ones pictured here have no need for lakes and oceans. They can find everything they need at Wal-mart.
Which is why I agree with the wildlife biologist interviewed in this article, we should stop calling them seagulls. They are just plain old gulls, exactly the kind of bird you get when you pave over everything and produce lots of garbage. I actually think that 'Wal-gulls" might be a more appropriate name, and that Wal-gulls should be our new national symbol. I don't hate them, but I do find their behavior very familiar.
*This statement not supported by scientific research, just a bad dream I had one time
Courtesy LeaMaimoneDoes this sound familiar?
Male chimps that are more generous to the females they’re attracted to have a better chance of, um, hooking up later on.
That is the finding in a study recently conducted in the West African nation of Côte d'Ivoire.
In the case of the chimps, it wasn’t the males’ bestowing of flowers, jewelry or gifts to females that won over their hearts. Rather, it was meat.
In short, the study found that male chimps who shared with females meat they had captured had twice as much chance of breeding with that female, than male chimps who didn’t share meat with females. (Quit your snickering all you Beavis and Butt-head fans.)
Among chimps, males are the sole hunters of other animals to gather meat. Females depend on their generosity to get protein in their diet. And they provide a signal to males as to when they’re especially ready to find some male companionship – pink swellings on their bottoms are a visual clue to the males that the females are ovulating and sexually available.
But upon further study, researchers also found that male chimps were also willing to share meat with females who weren’t in heat. The researchers surmise that the males might be doing that to build up good will among that female to improve mating chances down the road.
In a different twist on this, a separate study has found that female orangutans will steal food from males to watch their reaction and assess if the male is suitable to mate with. Overly aggressive reactions by males will actually make females less likely to want to mate with them.
Due to a lack of video stores in the study areas, no research was able to be done on the effects of watching a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy had on ape mating behaviors.
Courtesy SantheoOMG! Friday already? Where did the week go? You know how it is: it’s Sunday, and you’re testing items in your refrigerator for freshness… and the next thing you know, it’s Friday, and you’re lying on the floor in front of the fridge! It makes one wonder if he should seriously reevaluate his life.
What’s worse (worst!) is that I almost missed a Friday Extravaganza. Think about the repercussions—I could be rereading my own posts some time in the future, and I would wonder why I skipped an extravaganza. Did I just get bored with them? Was something wrong at the time? A personal crisis? I wouldn’t know what happened! I don’t want that. So an extravaganza…
It works out pretty well actually, because the first think I thought when I lifted my head off the floor and looked into the open refrigerator was, “worms.” And this week just happened to be a slightly wormy week in the news. A slightly giant-wormy week.
Check it out, y’all: Giant sand worms!
Apparently, back in olden times (the Permian period, before the dinosaurs), there used to be 3-foot-long, six-inch wide worms! The reason we don’t have cool giant worm skeletons in our museums, of course, is that worms don’t have skeletons. And all that soft, wormy tissue doesn’t fossilize very well at all. (That’s why it’s such a big deal when we find ”mummified” dinosaurs too—soft tissue almost always rots before it can fossilize.) Short of the rare cases where soft tissue does fossilize, there are other ways to find evidence of soft, extinct animals. In this case, paleontologists found the worm’s fossilized burrow. How about that?
The articles I found didn’t provide a lot of details about the worm, except that it was big, lived underground (and underground worm?!? What?!) in part of what is now England, and it’s a completely new species. Giant arthropods (like huge millipedes) had been known to live millions of years ago, but nothing like this huge worm.
Three-foot worms… yuckers. Good thing we don’t have anything like that around today, am I right?
Wrong!! Wrong wrong wrong! This is an EXTRAVAGANZA, y’all, and would never stop with just one worm during an extravaganza! So put this in your brain and shake it: There are giant worms alive today, and they’re way, way worse than you think!
See, I would have gone on living without knowing about the giant worms among us, if I hadn’t seen this little article about how a creature wreaking havoc on a British aquarium. (It’s a Friday Giant British Worm Extravaganza, I guess.) Something was chewing apart the coral in the aquarium, and devouring its fish. The aquarium staffers tried to trap the culprit, and to fish it out with bait. The traps, however, were torn apart overnight, and the baited fishing line was bitten through. In the end, they resorted to dismantling the artificial reef. Underneath all the rocks, they found a four-foot-long reef worm!
Whoa! Four feet? That beats the prehistoric worm even!
But, come on now… we humans are prone to exaggeration. The worm couldn’t be that impressive right?
I couldn’t find anything about “giant sea worms,” but searching for “reef worm” brought up the term “bristle worm.” And “bristle worm” makes sense, because the article described the worm as having bizarre-looking jaws, and thousands of bristles, each of which are able to inflict a sting that results in “permanent numbness.”
Then I found this page, which informed me that bristle worms are complex creatures, with “two to four pairs of eyes, sensory organs, a mouth, and a brain.” (I’ll let you know right now—I don’t approve of worms having brains.) And, yes, they have bristles, which can inflict extremely painful stings. The article doesn’t say anything about the bristles being poisonous, but posits that the painful sting could be caused by calcium carbonate or silica from the bristles. This page confirmed that the worms can hitch rides on rocks into aquariums, where they grown quickly, and can become a nuisance (to say the least, I guess).
Wikipedia was the next step, of course. Wikipedia teaches us that the worms will wait buried in sand or gravel until prey swims along. The worm will then attack with such speed that the prey is sometimes sliced in half by its claws/jaws. And while an average size for the worm is about 3 feet, they have been known to grow up to nine-feet-long!
What? What kind of world is this?
Also… this particular type of bristle worm is referred to as a “Bobbit worm.” What’s that all about? I’ll tell you: according to this site, at least, Bobbit worms are so nicknamed for the fact that, after mating, female worms will often “attacks the male’s penis and feeds it to her young.” That’s right, you remember now: Bobbit.
(It occurs to me that the timing in this anecdote is a little off—exactly how would you feed the penis to your young immediately after mating? But whatever.)
Oh, man. Worm extravaganza.
See? See the Bobbit worm?
Sure, it’s fish now. Next time it could be (will be) you. Happy weekend.
Phylogeographer Robert Wallace has Bird Flu on the brain. Like many scientific researchers, when birds and people in Asia started dying from the virus he became concerned about the possibility of a flu pandemic. Biologists know that if the bird flu virus mutates in such a way that it can pass easily between humans, millions of people worldwide could die from the disease. What no one knows for sure is when and where this mutation will take place.
With the help of his colleagues Wallace is studying the factors that contribute to outbreaks of virulent bird flu. They do this by using DNA from different strains of the virus to understand how it has changed and spread over time and distance, an area of research known as Phylogeography. Their hope is that by understanding how and where the virus mutates they can help predict, and maybe even prevent, some of the factors that could contribute to a pandemic strain of this disease. You can read an article about their recent study here.
So far Wallace and his colleagues have been able to piece together the road trip that Bird Flu has taken, and what they've found might make those of us who love chicken nuggets (and sandwiches, and lunch meats) a little uncomfortable. While you can't catch Bird Flu from eating chicken nuggets, it appears that industrial poultry production might be the perfect incubator for virulent strains of this disease. Wallace fears that if large poultry producers don't change their practices, they could eventually produce more than cheap chicken - they could breed a pandemic strain of bird flu.
But how does this work? Well, like lots of things, it's complicated. Generally speaking: because big poultry producers keep large numbers of genetically similar birds in one area, and because the immune systems of these birds are weakened by being crammed into cages and fed a poor diet, and also because new generations of birds are grown-up and shipped out quickly to make room for others, bird flu viruses can easily mutate and spread through the population. In some countries industrial production is happening in close proximity to wild populations of birds or to free-grazing domestic flocks - making it easy for these virulent strains to hitch a ride.
When you add all of this up, it starts to look as though there is a real connection between how we produce the food we eat and the diseases that threaten our health and well being. The question that comes next is how much are we willing to risk for a cheap chicken sandwich?
Courtesy HaplochromisAdd it to the list! Which list?
The list of things that will kill you!
And, please, don’t quibble. The nit-pickers, the brick-counters, and the penny-slicers among you Buzzketeers might point out that, since we can really only die one time, a person can’t be killed by more than one thing, and therefore making a list is silly.
To all y’all, I say, “Shut it!” A person can be technically dead for several minutes and still be brought back into this town we call Life. Or, maybe, several fatal things could happen to you at very nearly the same time, and if the final straw could even be distinguished, we might accurately say that each contributed to your final achievement of death. Example: “Was it the hypothermia, the severe electric shock, or the brain parasites that killed JGordon?” “Hmm. Well if it was the brain parasites, him digging a fork into the toaster while trapped in a meat locker couldn’t have helped.” See?
So let’s recap the list so far:
1) Brain parasites
4) Throwing knives (accidental)
5) Throwing knives (intentional)
6) Embarrassment (via brain aneurysm)
7) Misunderstanding enema directions
8) Falling off a high tree
9) Roller coaster decapitation
10) Poisoned dates
And the newest item?
. . . . .
“Predator X,” a carnivorous aquatic monster with a nine-foot-long skull, and foot-long teeth! It could totally kill you dead! The only caveat is that you would have to travel back to the cretaceous period, which is still about 65 million years further than we’re currently able to time travel. But, still, once you got there, you would be bitten like crazy.
Predator X has been lurking around the lower end of this list for a while now. For the last several years, paleontologists have been excavating a huge deposit of marine fossils on the arctic island of Svalbard. (That story was covered here on Buzz, back in October of 2006.) In fact, I wrote about another monster pliosaur uncovered at the site last March (See “Something Awesome.”) But Predator X, which was discovered on the last day of that field season, is an even more monstrous pliosaur. It looks like it was around 50 feet long, and weighed in the neighborhood of 45 tons.
(Pliosaurs, just to review, are extinct aquatic reptiles, and are not to be confused with “plesiosaurs.” Plesiosaurs are those long-necked, Nessie jobbers. Pliosaurs are related to plesiosaurs, but they had short, thick necks, and huge, scary heads.)
Back when the pliosaur we call “Something Awesome” was discovered, a paleontologist made a fun superlative sort-of statement about the new creature: “It was big enough to pick up a small car in its jaws and bite it in half.” Because Predator X is slightly larger, I’m going to save that scientist some time, and go ahead and say, “It was big enough to pick up a medium-sized car in its jaws and bite it in half.”
Very impressive, Predator X. You would so be able to kill me.