Courtesy Mark RyanI saw a posting on Facebook yesterday (tip of the hat to the Bell Museum) about a website called Project Noah. It’s a really cool site that allows anyone with a camera and a love of nature to upload pictures or video and help identify the plants and animals that populate our world, both locally and globally. And who doesn’t have a camera of some sort nowadays?
Anyway, according to their website Project Noah is:
"… A tool that nature lovers can use to explore and document wildlife and a technology platform research groups can use to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere. The purpose of the project is to mobilize and inspire a new generation of nature lovers. It began as an experiment to see if we could build an app for people to share their nature sightings and has evolved into a powerful global movement for both amateurs and experts. The name “Noah” is an acronym that stands for networked organisms and habitats. “
That kind of sums it up. The site is easy to navigate and figure out. I uploaded a couple photos I’d taken recently and it wasn’t difficult at all. You can also join a “mission” dealing with a particular zoological or botanical subject you’re interested in. You can contribute to the mission’s knowledge base by adding your own photographs or some information such as the genus and species of an unknown specimen captured in someone else’s photograph. I like shooting photographs up around Lake Superior so I joined the “Great Lakes Monitoring” mission. It just took a click of a button to become a part of it.
You can even start your own mission. It could be a legitimate study you’ve devised like why "megapug" bees seek out sunflowers or something as simple as a call for the best wildlife photos of the year. Here at the Science Museum we could start a mission called Rotting Pigs. I wonder how many contributions that would garner?
As mentioned, there’s even a Project Noah app that you can download for the mobile device of your choice. I downloaded it for my iPod Touch but noticed the reviews for it seem to be mixed. It only got an average rating overall, but what the hey, it’s free so I’m giving it a shot anyway. You can do the same if you'd like. I already know the site works fine on my laptop.
I’m really excited about this. It’s a novel and cool way to intermingle our ever-changing networking technologies with the rest of the natural world, and contribute something to the science community at the same time.
If you have more questions you might find the answers on Project Noah’s FAQ page.
In this video renowned paleontologists Bob Bakker and Peter Larson visit the CK Preparations lab in Montana to examine the incredible discovery by Clayton (“Dino Cowboy”) Phipps of the remains of a tyrannosaurid and some sort of ceratopsian dinosaur preserved together (and touching) in a single block of rock from the Hell Creek Formation. Both skeletons are articulated, nearly 100 percent intact, and in a wonderful state of preservation. Teeth matching those remaining in the tyrannosaurid jaws are preserved imbedded in the ceratopsian skeleton. The predator’s skull, which is speculated to be that of a Nanotyrannus, shows signs of being kicked in. Early analysis of the geology of the matrix encasing the find suggests that the two battling dinosaurs may have gotten trapped in mire or overcome by a sudden environmental catastrophe, like a cave-in. Was this a unique moment frozen in time of a battle between a predator and its prey? Do the two "combatants" represent entirely new genera of dinosaurs? These questions require further study and preparation of this very unusual fossil.
I posted this picture a few days ago on Facebook and got a ton of comments. Apparently, I am not the only one that does this. I also thought this was something new, but a friend pointed out that I did this since I was 14 (9th grade sleepovers). My husband is really creeped out by it and he has to physically push my arm back down. Has anyone else ever experienced this? Does anyone know what causes this? The human body sure does weird things!!
Courtesy My Husband
Another Experimonth I am working on is "My how you have grown". I started out by posting a recent picture of me:
Courtesy My Husband
From there the converstation went into Horror Movies, favorites, and what we like about them. I mentioned that I like being scared and that adrenaline rush you get from the suspense. I didn't put any thought into why until I received this comment:
"Kiki, do you think your "need for scary/adrenaline rushes" is a result of genetics or your environment growing up?"
My head started spinning!! I needed to respond right away because I never thought about the things I do now being a reflection of either genetics or my environment. So, I responded immediately. This is what I wrote:
"ooohhh, good question!! Most "people" would say it probably stems from my parents divorce when I was 10. Until I left for college,I had to deal with my parents crazy relationships (my parents got along with each other fine, it was their boyfriends/girlfriends that was crazy). I guess I really never had "normal" growing up, so I like horror/suspense movies because they aren't "normal".
I love goofy/raunchy comedies as well, but NOT romantic comedies (unless the couple does NOT end up together). I find romantic comedies fake (yeah, i know, a pot calling the kettle black)....I get so mad when they end up together in the end because in the real world, that isn't how it works. It frustrates me and I actually get angry at the movie!! Blue Valentine was good because (spoiler alert!) they didn't end up together.
So there is my environmental factor in a nutshell....however, I do believe that there is genetics involved as well. My mom loves Dean Koontz (horror/suspense novelist) and my dad loves crime books. I am the only one in the family though that takes it to an extreme, but that is the way I am, no gray area, all black and white.
A psychologist would love this right now. haha
That was all just a quick blurb off the top of my head, however, that question was really good and i will be thinking about this for awhile!!"
Now, like I said, this is all off the top of my head and I really want to spend more time thinking about this as I find it extremely interesting. So, the reason for my blog isn't just to share my thoughts, but also get thoughts from others on either my response above or what they think about genetic vs environmental factors playing a role in their current life.
Courtesy Mark RyanEver wonder how something as big as a sauropod dinosaur was able to grow so large? Sauropods were those huge, long-necked quadrupeds estimated to have weighed anywhere from 50 to 120 tons, and with lengths of up to 200 feet. Just seeing the skeleton of any one of them – the Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, Ultrasaurus or any their kind – you just know those Jurassic giants had to be on a constant eating binge to maintain their massive size. But just how much food could a single area supply? Doesn’t it make sense that these critters would have eaten up any food source within the reach of their extensive necks? Then what would they do?
A new study of sauropod teeth has produced some strong evidence that the giant herbivores migrated during times of drought or other environmental stresses, searching for new untapped food and water sources. Geochemist Henry Fricke of Colorado College in Colorado Springs along with student colleagues Justin Hencecroth and Marie E. Hoerner studied the teeth of various Camarasaurus specimens comparing the ratio of oxygen isotopes found in the enamel with the ratio found in the sedimentary rock deposits where the teeth were found. By sauropod standards, Camarasaurus was one of the smaller ones, but it's the most common sauropod found in the Morrison Formation deposits.
Courtesy Public domainDuring its lifetime 145 million years or so in the past, a Camarasaurus's teeth would absorb the isotopes ratio of its environment, that is the ratio of the oxygen isotopes found in the local water supply. So Fricke’s team sampled 32 camarasaur teeth, taking measurements of the younger enamel found near the base of each tooth with the older enamel near the crown. In some cases, the isotopes ratios in the enamel matched those of the sedimentary rocks from where the teeth were found. But some enamel didn’t match. This meant the dinosaur must have migrated at some time to higher ground, more than likely in search of a better food source.
"In a theoretical sense, it's not hugely surprising,” Fricke said. “They are huge — they would probably have eaten themselves out of house and home if they stayed in one place.”
So the camarasaurs did what any hungry animal would do: they headed out in search of more food, even if it meant a migration of 200 miles into the higher regions and back. Seasonal droughts were probably another factor. The highlands would have had more rainfall and therefore more vegetation and water. When the wet season returned to the basin so would the camarasaur herds. Fricke estimates the seasonal herbivore hikes took around five months to complete. He also thinks if one kind of sauropod migrated, other genera probably did the same, and an analysis of their teeth would probably show similar results.
Courtesy Worldmapper.org / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
(There are a lot of challenges to supporting seven billion people. Want to know more about that? Check out the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, where folks are working to find solutions to some of those problems.)
That's all fascinating and all, but...what about me? Luckily, the BBC has come to the rescue with a lovely little interactive that's, well, all about me. Or you. Whatever.
For example, according to the BBC calculator,
Not too shabby!
To give you a sense of just how fast our population is growing, here's a crazy little fact: by mid-century, the world's urban population will equal the size of the world's global population in 2004. Wow. Cities are efficient, and concentrate us so that we can use land for other purposes, but they're also ecological hotspots. Curious about how your household measures up? Try the household flux calculator, or check out the Q&A with Scientist on the Spot Daniel Nidzgorski.
Oh, and let us know: #whatsyournumber ?
Courtesy Wikimedia Creative CommonsHalloween is coming up soon and what better way to scare the tar out of everybody than with another Black Plague story.
Researchers from Germany and Canada have now determined that the pathogen existing today that infects the human population with bubonic plague is the same one that caused the horrific pandemic known as the Black Plague (aka Black Death) during the Middle Ages,
In the 14th century (1347-1351) the the plague devastated much of Europe. It was brought on by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and thought to have originated in China. Rats, infested with fleas carrying the bacteria, spread the fatal pathogen via the trade routes and across Europe, wiping out one-third of the human population. This is a conservative estimate; some claim as much as 60 percent of the population was eradicated!
Whatever the case, imagine even a third of all your acquaintances, friends, and relatives suddenly dying from what one 14th century chronicler described as “so virulent a disease that anyone who only spoke to them was seized by a mortal illness and in no manner could evade death.”
And it was an extremely horrible death, to say the least, as Michael Platiensis makes clear in his writings from 1357:
“Those infected felt themselves penetrated by a pain throughout their whole bodies and, so to say, undermined. Then there developed on the thighs or upper arms a boil about the size of a lentil which the people called "burn boil". This infected the whole body, and penetrated it so that the patient violently vomited blood. This vomiting of blood continued without intermission for three days, there being no means of healing it, and then the patient expired.“
[Above quoted in Johannes Nohl, The Black Death, trans. C.H. Clarke (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1926), pp. 18-20]
The Black Plague was the second of three great waves of plague that raged across Europe during historical times. The first, known historically as the Plague of Justinian, took place in the 6th century and affected the Byzantine Empire and much of Europe. The last major wave, known as the Great Plague of London, killed about 100,000 of the city’s population in 1664-65. In the two centuries that followed, waves after wave of the plague continued to devastate the European population although on a lesser scale. These outbreaks although sometimes as virulent, were often more isolated regionally or within a city and kept Europe’s population from rebounding for a good century and a half.
The plague presents itself in three ways: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. All three infections are caused by Y. pestis. With bubonic plague, the lymph nodes become painfully swollen into what are termed buboes – hence the name bubonic. Scepticemic plague, the rarest of the three forms, infects the blood. Both bubonic and scepticemic, if left untreated, result in death between 3-7 days after infection. Pneumonic is the most contagious since it infects the lungs and is easily spread through the air in a spray of water droplets. It’s also the most lethal and usually kills its victims in one to three days. Each form can present itself on its own or can progress into all three. It’s thought the Black Plague was mainly a combination of the bubonic and pneumonic forms. (The practice still used today of saying, “Bless you” after someone sneezes is a holdover from the 14th century plague) The only defense against the pandemic was avoidance of fleas and the fatally sick. Not easy to pull off when rats and the afflicted were widespread. Infected families were generally quarantined, their houses marked with a red cross, and left to fend for themselves.
The plague had a tremendous effect on European life in the Middle Ages. The Hundred Years’ War actually paused briefly in 1348 for lack of soldiers. The plague had wiped out too many of them. Economically, wages rose sharply because the workforce was also greatly reduced. Shop owners suffered because no one dared step outside the confines of their own homes, so supplies rose and prices dropped. The removal of the rotting corpses required relatives either doing it themselves and further risking infection, or paying premium prices for some other poor schlub to do it. The dead were buried as quickly as possible, often in mass graves.
In the recent research which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Johannes Krause and his colleagues extracted DNA from the tooth enamel of five corpses from one of these 14th century mass burial sites in London (under the Royal Mint!). Using the latest technology to sequence the DNA fragments, the researchers from the University of Tubingen in Germany, and McMaster University in Canada, decoded a circular genome called pPCP1 plasmid that comprises about 10,000 positions in the Y. pestis DNA. When they compared it with the genome of the pathogen’s current strain, the genetic information appeared to have changed very little over the past six centuries. (It should be noted that the researchers suspect the pathogen that occurred in the 6th century may have been a now-extinct strain of Y. pestis or one completely unrelated to bubonic plague.)
So, that means the very same nasty contagion – the one that terrorized and devastated so much of Europe for so many centuries in the Middle Ages - is still with us today. Luckily, the bubonic plague can be held at bay with antibodies if treated in time. But what happens if Yersinia pestis mutates into a strain against which current antibodies are useless? If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, I don’t know what will.
Courtesy Photo by Heather Rousseau ©Denver Museum of Nature and ScienceThe last talk I attended at the Geological Society of America (GSA) convention this past week was one of my favorites. It was an update of the Snowmastodon Project given by Kirk Johnson, chief curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS). Just one year ago, a construction worker bulldozing for a dam-building project at the Zeigler Reservoir near Snowmass Village in Colorado unearthed a mammoth tusk. Paleontologists and archaeologists from the Denver museum were called in, and excavation of a small portion of the drained reservoir bottom soon got underway. The museum crew worked for just one month, until November 14, 2010, when snowfall halted the project. Then last spring scientists returned to the site and were allowed just 51 days to excavate the fossil deposits before the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District resumed their expansion work on the reservoir.
This time more research experts from the US, Canada, and England joined the dig along with a slew of interns and volunteers, totaling some 233 people working on the project. Over the next seven weeks excavation at the Zeigler Reservoir site progressed at a frantic pace. According to Johnson, anywhere from 15 to 90 diggers were on site each day digging out fossils from the ancient peat and mud deposits, from what once were the shores of a small glacial lake. Despite the short window of opportunity, the sheer number and diversity of fossils from the dig site has been truly remarkable.
Courtesy Dantheman9758 at en.wikipediaOf the nearly 5000 bones and skulls exhumed from the Snowmass fossil site, more than 60 percent were of mastodons (Mammut americanum) representing at least 30 individuals in various stages of life. The other 40 percent of the fauna included mammoths (Mammuthus columbi), camels, horses, giant bison (Bison latifrons) and ground sloths (Megalonyx jeffersonii), otters, muskrats, minks, bats voles, chipmunks, beavers, bats, rabbits, mice, salamanders, frogs, lizards, snakes, fish, and birds, and iridescent beetles. No large carnivore remains were found in the deposits, and human remains were absent as well, although archaeological techniques were used during the dig just in case any were uncovered.
Flora from the prehistoric tundra environment included pollen, green leaves and cones, and tree logs, some with their bark still intact.
So far, age estimates for the deposits range between 43, 000 to 130,000 years old although further dating tests should narrow that down.
The talk included several photos of what Johnson termed “Flintstone moments”, i.e. shots of field workers posing with massive mammoth or mastodon femurs or tibia. And Johnson marveled at the incredible state of preservation of many of the fossils displayed. Some of the bones, he said, still emitted a very strong funk.
In terms of sheer number of bones and ecological data, Snowmastodon ranks up there as probably one of the best high altitude Ice Age ecology sites in the world, and certainly the best mastodon fossil site. A team of researchers at the DMNS lab will spend the next year and a half cleaning, cataloging, and analyzing all the fossils found at the Snowmass dig site, water was to be reintroduced into the reservoir on Oct. 13. Despite the loss of the site, the field crew did a tremendous job in the time they were given to excavate the fossil-rich site. And Kirk Johnson didn’t hide his excitement. In closing his talk, he said “It was one hell of a year!”
Courtesy motnworbWe’ve seen it before. Through the years the human race has had to endure attacks by giant creatures of all sorts.
First, a humongous lizard larger than any known dinosaur crushes Tokyo and incinerates the rubble with his bad breath. Then super-sized spiders from another dimension terrorize northern Wisconsin only to be reduced to sludge by clever scientists. Later, gigantic ants run amok in New Mexico destroying property and people until the US Air Force, Navy, AND the Army are called in to destroy them. And now on top of all that, there are reports that large numbers of giant snails are terrorizing south Florida. When will this madness end?!
Of course the first three examples are pure fiction. Godzilla never really existed, spiders from another dimension can’t enter ours through wormholes, and the idea of gigantic ants is just stupid. But unfortunately the giant African snails infesting south Florida are all too real. And as you can see by the accompanying photo these suckers are huge. Some can grow up to 15 inches in length and weigh two pounds! Think of the slime trail!
These giant African land snails (Achatina fulica) are illegal in many countries including the US, but it appears some have gotten in. The snails are sometimes used in a traditional African religious ceremony where practitioners ingest their slimy gastropod juices (goodness gracious!) and word is that a woman from Africa may have smuggled them through customs under her dress in 2010. Okay.
Like many invertebrates, giant snails are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. After mating each partner can produce offspring, as many as 200 at a time, and up to 1200 a year! These things are worse than rabbits… and as big as rabbits, too.
Look at the photo again. Whoa!
Two sisters in a residential neighborhood in Miami-Dade County discovered some of the snails in their yard and showed one to a fruit fly inspector who then alerted officials at Florida’s Department of Agriculture. The agency didn’t want to bother the armed forces so they canvassed about a square mile surrounding the sisters’ house on their own and hand removed all the giant African land snails they could find. A few days later they scoured the area again and found even more.
The problem with this particular species of giant snail is that it likes to eat about 500 different types of plants, and can sometimes carry a strain of non-fatal meningitis that’s contagious to humans through contact with the gastropod (like drinking its juices – duh), so eradication of A. fulica is deemed a high priority.
This isn’t the first time Florida has been invaded by giant African land snails. In 1966, the state spent about a million bucks getting rid of 18,000 of them.
Courtesy Wikimedia Creative CommonsFossil bones from a creature named Australopithecus sediba show traits of both ape and human features that could shake up the field of human evolution. The fossils were found in South Africa in 2008 and according to lead researcher Lee R. Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, analysis of the bones show it to be the most likely ancestor to modern humans.
The rare, complete fossil hand of A. sediba has a curvature like you’d expect in a tree-dwelling ape-creature but the thumb is long and the fingers slender, more human-like and could allow for possible tool use. The fragmental remains of a heel suggest an arched foot suitable for walking on the ground, and with an attachment for a large Achilles tendon. The pelvis is more bowl-shaped, broad, and human-like than that of the older Australopithecus afarensis known as Lucy.
"This is what evolutionary theory would predict, this mixture of Australopithecene and Homo," said Texas A&M paleoanthropologist Darryl J. DeRuiter. "It's strong confirmation of evolutionary theory."
A. sediba lived two million years ago, and represents a very fine example of a transitional fossil, but its brain is still small and more like that of a chimpanzee, and it’s that fact that may cause scientists to reconsider some of their earlier assumptions about how humans evolved.
The research appears in five separate reports in the current issue of Science.