Stories tagged australia

Jun
23
2008

How do we know that this isn't the Southern Sandhill Frog?: Because it has burrowed backwards, of course! A handsome toad, nonetheless.
How do we know that this isn't the Southern Sandhill Frog?: Because it has burrowed backwards, of course! A handsome toad, nonetheless.Courtesy phyzome
There’s big amphibian news this week. A brand new model of toad-looking frog was unveiled to the world on Friday: the Southern Sandhill Frog, of Australia’s Kalbarri sandhills.

Be sure not to confuse the Southern Sandhill Frog with the Northern Sandhill Frog, of Australia’s Kalbarri sandhills—the two have been distinct species for more than five million years, and the southern species is easily distinguished by its more “squashed in, munted face.”

Intensive linguistic research is ongoing as to just what the Aussies mean by “munted.”

A fun fact! Sandhill frogs burrow headfirst, as opposed to most Australian burrowing frogs, which burrow backwards! Talk about weird!

Apr
13
2008

If this werer the Yowie: You would be about one foot tall. How do you like that?
If this werer the Yowie: You would be about one foot tall. How do you like that?Courtesy limonada
I’m sorry, but what is this? What the hutch is this supposed to be?

Y’all sat down, y’all read the headline, but none of y’all gave it up for the Yowie. None of y’all gave anything up for the Yowie, let alone “it.”

Well y’all can just sit there, on the cryptocouch, and think about how, next time (if there even is a next time), y’all might show a little more enthusiasm. I mean, I can take it—I’m used to a certain lack of respect—but the Yowie… The Yowie is delicate. Y’all should be ashamed of y’selves.

I’m serious. You just think about it.

Okay? Are you ready to give it up, just a little? Thank you.

I’m sorry, but the Yowie gets the short end of the stick so often, someone has to stick up for him. You’ve probably heard of some of his “cousins,” like Bigfoot, or the Yeti, but the Yowie of Australia always gets passed over. Sure, he’s not even five feet tall, and, sure, everything else that comes out of Australia is nonsense (A “wallaby”? Please. I’ll believe it when I see it), but that doesn’t mean that you can just ignore the backwards continent’s own hominid cryptid. So are we cool now? Good.

Anyway, old Yowie (not to be confused—probably—with the “Yowie-Whowie” of aboriginal folklore) is in the news these days, if I can call The Canberra Times “the news” while writing in St. Paul, Minnesota. It seems that a local (again, local to Canberra) cryptid enthusiast set up a motion triggered camera in the wild near Glen Innes, and over the course of a week, captured 921 images, two of which show “a blurred black figure” he claims to be the wily Yowie. The photographer estimates the figure shown to be about 4’ 6”, which is kind of funny put next to his other piece of evidence: “I’d left a couple of cooked chops in a plastic bag in a tree about eight foot of the ground as bait, and when I returned it had been ripped apart.”

Eight feet? That’s a long ways up for such a little cryptid. It must really like cooked chops—I’m six feet, and it’d take a lot for me to get something off an eight-foot shelf. But, then again, I’m lazy. All the more reason to give it up for the little jumper.

Based on collected hair samples, and plaster footprint casts, the photographer and other cryptozoologists believe the Yowie to be descended from the giant extinct ape, gigantopithecus, although the gigantopithecus fossils have only ever been found in Asia.

Here are the images in question. I’m not so sure how I feel about the pictures, but, really, look at the guy. His right eye says, “Here’s hard photographic evidence,” but his left eye says, “Please believe me, y’all.” How could you not believe that? Believe him, y’all.

Aug
28
2007

How old is the earth?

Oldest diamond puzzles scientists
Oldest diamond puzzles scientists
Scientists mostly agree that the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old (USGS.gov). This age represents a compromise between the interpretations of oldest-known terrestrial minerals – small crystals of zircon from the Jack Hills of Western Australia – and astronomers' and planetologists' determinations of the age of the solar system based in part on radiometric age dating of meteorite material and lunar samples. (Read why meteorites were used here.)

How fast did Earth cool?

Earth's beginning is known as the Hadean—because geologists speculate the planet's surface boiled and bubbled with molten lava under a steady bombardment of comets and meteorites. Diamonds would never form in such conditions yet diamonds over 4.2 billion years old have now been found. Does this mean that the Earth cooled enough that a cool crust and maybe even oceans existed 4.25 billion years ago?

Oldest diamonds within zircon may give the answers.

Because no rocks older than 4 billion years had previously been found, the Hadean period of Earth was thought to be at least 500 million years. Zircons found in Jack Hills Austalia changed this thinking.
When a zircon forms from a solidifying magma, atoms of zirconium, silicon and oxygen combine in exact proportions (ZrSiO4) to create a crystal structure unique to zircon; uranium occasionally substitutes as a trace impurity. Atoms of lead, on the other hand, are too large to comfortably replace any of the elements in the lattice, so zircons start out virtually lead-free. The uranium-lead clock starts ticking as soon as the zircon crystallizes. Thus, the ratio of lead to uranium increases with the age of the crystal. Scientists can reliably determine the age of an undamaged zircon within 1 percent accuracy, which for the early earth is about plus or minus 40 million years.
Furthermore, the ratios of radioactive isotopes of neodymium and hafnium--two elements used to determine the timing of continental-crust-forming events--suggest that significant amounts of continental crust formed as early as 4.4 billion years ago.Scientific American

Explainations for the diamonds are uncertain.

Craig O'Neill, a geochemist with Sydney's Macquarie University, at first thought the diamonds were due to heavy meteroite bombardment, forming in large impact craters due to the huge pressures reached. Dr Nemchin agreed that the birth of the diamonds was key, although he speculated that they formed when new-formed hunks of the Earth's crust collided. Study co-author Wilde said, "The bottom line is that we really honestly don't know why they're (the diamonds) there." The 4.25-billion-year-old diamonds "suggest the additional possibility that the diamonds have formed by some process that is not yet understood." He suggests the researchers should test the diamonds' carbon isotopic composition and whether nitrogen is present as single or paired atoms. This would indicate the time spent in the mantle and whether it was under relatively high or low temperatures.
Dr Nemchin says analysis of the carbon isotopes would be the next obvious step and could provide clues about the possible existence of life forms 4.2 billion years ago.

Sources:

The study, led by Martina Menneken, a master's student at the Westfaelische Wilhelms-Universitaet, appeared in the Aug. 23, 2007 journal, Nature. Alexander Nemchin from Curtin University of Technology also contributed.
I also recommend the Scientific American article, "A cool early earth?" (October, 2005). I now have a better understanding of how diamonds and zirconium crystals can tell us about what the Earth was like more than 4 billion years ago.

Jul
01
2007

Australian zoologists are currently working to extract DNA from droppings found in Tasmania in the 50’s and 60’s, with the hope that they will be able to determine whether or not the scats came from a thylacine.
The Thylacine: The Tasmanian Tiger, doing what it does best: being a little cool, and pretty scary. The "yawn" is probably a threat display. Consider yourself threatened.    (photo from the National Institutes for Health)
The Thylacine: The Tasmanian Tiger, doing what it does best: being a little cool, and pretty scary. The "yawn" is probably a threat display. Consider yourself threatened. (photo from the National Institutes for Health)

Believed to have gone extinct in the 1930’s, the thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, has long attracted the interest of cryptozoologists, many of whom believe the creature to still be alive. The last reported wild Tasmanian Tiger was killed in 1918 (or possibly 1930), and the last known specimen died in captivity in1936. If the droppings prove to be genuine (a funny statement), it would indicate that the thylacine lived at least a couple of decades past its supposed extinction, and would add to the hope that there may be a small population still surviving today.

The Tasmanian Tiger was (or, possibly, is) the largest marsupial predator, and, after Cameron Diaz, it is the owner of the world’s largest, scariest mouth. However, C. Diaz is a placental mammal, not marsupial, and the two species are not related. The distinct phenotypic similarities are a remarkable example of the convergent evolution between two top predators (see comparison photo).
Convergent Evolution: Side-by-side comparisons of Cameron Diaz's skull, and that of a thylacine. Despite the remarkable similarities, the two species are not related. Wait... that might actually be a wolf skull, not a Diaz skull. It's still an example of convergent evolution.
Convergent Evolution: Side-by-side comparisons of Cameron Diaz's skull, and that of a thylacine. Despite the remarkable similarities, the two species are not related. Wait... that might actually be a wolf skull, not a Diaz skull. It's still an example of convergent evolution.

Although hunting of the thylacine by European settlers certainly did the species in, some believe that the animal may already have been on the path to extinction – the thylacine used to lived on mainland Australia, but died out there a couple thousand years ago, surviving exclusively on the island of Tasmania. Future studies on the genetic diversity of pre and post-European contact thylacines should give an indication as to whether this is true or not.

Droppings of hope.

May
16
2007

Out of control: Exploding numbers of kangaroos in Australia have authorities debating if huge numbers should be shot to protect other kangaroos and other endangered species.
Out of control: Exploding numbers of kangaroos in Australia have authorities debating if huge numbers should be shot to protect other kangaroos and other endangered species.
They’re one of the iconic symbols of the “Land Down Under.” But the exploding population of kangaroos near Canberra, Australia may be thinned out this summer due to their overpopulation.

Australian authorities are asking the government to okay a shoot of more than 3,000 kangaroos in the area because their over-populating numbers are threatening the habitats of other endangered species in the area.

In some spots, the concentration of kangaroos is as high as 1,100 per square mile. That’s the most-dense concentration of kangaroos the area has ever seen.

And all of those kangaroos are eating, eating so much that there might not be enough food to feed them all for a sustained period of time. Australian authorities want to shoot 3,000 kangaroos in the area by July to get the numbers back in balance.

Along with jeopardizing their own prospects for food, the munching kangaroos are also scarfing up the habitat of such endangered species as the grassland earless dragon, striped legless lizard and golden sun moth.

As a longer-term solution to the population problem, scientists soon plan to test an oral contraceptive developed for kangaroos in an attempt to thin their numbers.

But animal activists aren’t happy with the prospect of having kangaroos getting shot in the near future. They feel that the approach is overly cruel and also aimed at easing pressure on kangaroos eating crops on nearby farm fields.

What do you think should be done? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Nov
15
2006

Two years ago, a scientist in Australia has a really lucky day. Tired after driving for several hours, he stopped to stretch his legs and -- boom! -- he tripped over a 100-million-year-old pterosaur jaw. (Pterosaurs were flying reptiles that lived at the same time as dinosaurs. The Science Museum has one hanging in our main lobby.) The jaw bone was encased in rock; after two years of careful preparation, the bone is finally free and can be studied by scientists.

(OK, so it wasn't a technically a dinosaur, and it was actually off to the side of the road, but c'mon, how often do I get to reference my favorite bad song of the Seventies?)

Caroline Smith and Gretchen Benedix from the Natural History Museum in London are trekking around the Nullabor Desert in western Australia looking meteorites. Follow along on their meteorite blog.