Whales and dolphins lead ‘human-like lives’ thanks to big brains, says study

The cultural brain hypothesis of human development could also explain cetaceans forming friendships and even gossiping

Life is not so different beneath the ocean waves. Bottlenose dolphins use simple tools, orcas call each other by name, and sperm whales talk in local dialects. Many cetaceans live in tight-knit groups and spend a good deal of time at play.

That much scientists know. But in a new study, researchers compiled a list of the rich behaviours spotted in 90 different species of dolphins, whales and porpoises, and found that the bigger the species brain, the more complex indeed, the more human-like their lives are likely to be.

This suggests that the cultural brain hypothesis the theory that suggests our intelligence developed as a way of coping with large and complex social groups may apply to whales and dolphins, as well as humans.

Writing in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution, the researchers claim that complex social and cultural characteristics, such as hunting together, developing regional dialects and learning from observation, are linked to the expansion of the animals brains a process known as encephalisation.

The researchers gathered records of dolphins playing with humpback whales, helping fishermen with their catches, and even producing signature whistles for dolphins that are absent suggesting the animals may even gossip.

Another common behaviour was adult animals raising unrelated young. There is the saying that it takes a village to raise a child [and that] seems to be true for both whales and humans, said Michael Muthukrishna, an economic psychologist and co-author on the study at the London School of Economics.

Dolphins
Dolphins off the coast of South Africa. Photograph: Rainer Schimpf/Barcroft Media

Like humans, the cetaceans, a group made up of dolphins, whales and porpoises, are thought to do most of their learning socially rather than individually, which could explain why some species learn more complex behaviours than others. Those predominantly found alone or in small groups had the smallest brains, the researchers led by Susanne Shultz at the University of Manchester wrote.

Luke Rendell, a biologist at the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the study, but has done work on sperm whales and their distinctive dialects, warned against anthropomorphising and making animals appear to be like humans.

There is a risk of sounding like there is a single train line, with humans at the final station and other animals on their way of getting there. The truth is that every animal responds to their own evolutionary pressures, he said.

There is definitely a danger in comparing other animals to humans, especially with the data available. But what we can say for sure, is that this cultural-brain hypothesis we tested is present in primates and in cetaceans, Muthukrishna said.

There was still much more to learn, though, he added. Studies with underwater mammals are difficult and vastly underfunded, so there is so much we dont know about these fascinating animals, he said.

The fascination, however, should not only be interesting for people studying animals. We dont have to look at other planets to look for aliens, because we know that underwater there are these amazing species with so many parallels to us in their complex behaviours, said Muthukrishna.

Studying evolutionarily distinct animals such as cetaceans could act as a control group for studying intelligence in general, and so help the understanding of our own intellect.

It is interesting to think that whale and human brains are different in their structure but have brought us to the same patterns in behaviour, Rendell said. The extent of how this is close to humans can educate us about evolutionary forces in general.

However, Muthukrishna points out that intelligence is always driven by the environment an animal finds itself in. Each environment presents a different set of challenges for an animal. When you are above water, you learn how to tackle fire, for example, he said. As smart as whales are, they will never learn to light a spark.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

New ruling on sonar use is a big victory for whales

For nearly the last half century, the U.S. Navy has blasted loud, low-frequency sounds into the ocean in the name of national security. While they were looking for sneaky submarines, they were also causing undue stress to the mammals of the ocean.

According to Wired, the sonars loud, low-frequency waves hit a sweet spot where whales and other marine mammals communicate with one another. In extreme cases, author Nick Stockton wrote, the sonar could spook whales and dolphins into mass beaching events. But the sonar also acts like white noise, creating a lead curtain for whales messages to one another and disrupting the fabric of their social groups.

After a long fight between the U.S. Navy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Resources Defense Council, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that the current regulations for sonar use by the U.S. Navy does not adequately protect marine mammals. So now the Navy will have to re-configure how they use sonar during peacetime to be less disturbing to marine mammals.

H/T: Wired, NBC News

Source: http://www.dailydot.com/

Polar Bears Are Suffering Because Of Climate Change, And They Need Your Help

Courtesy Explore.org

This week, November 1–7, is Polar Bear Week.

It’s when Explore.org teams up with Frontiers North Adventures and Polar Bears International to raise awareness about the dire straits the majestic, white bears are facing. Climate change is affecting the polar bear population at Earth’s southernmost point in a hugely negative way.

While polar bears might not be the first thing on everyone’s mind on a daily basis, it’s important to give them the recognition they deserve for being truly beautiful, irreplaceable creatures. Here’s what you should know about how they’re being pushed towards extinction.

Since satellite tracking began in 1979, the Arctic has lost roughly 40% of its summer sea ice.

This is a loss slightly larger than all the land east of the Mississippi in the United States.

Courtesy Explore.org

Sea ice is a crucial part of the Arctic ecosystem.

Courtesy Explore.org

Polar bears rely on sea ice for catching their prey. Without it, the bears can’t survive.

Courtesy Explore.org

The polar bear’s main prey, ringed seals, rely on sea ice, too – for giving birth to and raising their young.

Arctic sea ice is also important to our global climate.

The Arctic is called Earth’s air conditioner because the ice helps cool the planet by reflecting the sun’s light and heat back into space.

Courtesy Explore.org / Erica E. Wills

Less sea ice means a warmer planet and more extreme weather events.

Courtesy Explore.org

That’s not good for the polar bears or for us.

Without action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions…

The probability of ice-free summers in the Arctic increases significantly from the middle to the end of this century.

Courtesy Explore.org

As the sea ice disappears, this is what will happen to the polar bears:

Courtesy Explore.org

They’ll have reduced access to food, they will experience a drop in body condition, lower cub survival rates, an increase in drowning, an increase in cannibalism, and a loss of access to denning areas.

While this little guy is being modest…he really does need your help.

Courtesy Explore.org

It’s so incredibly important to keep these amazing creatures alive.

Courtesy Explore.org

We need to do everything we can to raise awareness about climate change and the effect it’s having on our polar bears.

You can watch a live feed from Churchill, Manitoba, where you could catch some polar bears at the water’s edge, or get more vantage points on the website.

While top scientists collaborate in Canada this week, sharing this information and educating the public on the truth and urgency surrounding climate change and polar bears, the best thing you can do is to spread the word as far and wide as you can, too. Knowledge is power, and the more people who know about the status of our melting sea ice, the more people will be inclined to help.

The other best thing to do is donate to help support critical polar bear research, education, and outreach efforts!

Source: http://www.viralnova.com

Crispr Halted Muscular Dystrophy in Dogs. Are Humans Next?

About ten years ago, British veterinarians discovered an unlucky family of King Charles Spaniels whose male pups sometimes came down with a mysterious set of maladies before their first birthday. They grew clumsy and weak, and they often choked on their own tongues. To blame was a mutation on their X chromosomes, in a gene that codes for a shock-absorbing muscle protein called dystrophin. When researchers at the Royal Veterinary College realized the puppers had a canine version of the most common fatal genetic disease in children—Duchenne muscular dystrophy—they began breeding the sick spaniels with beagles to start a canine colony in the hopes of one day finding a cure.

Today, scientists report they’ve halted the progression of the disease in some of those doggy descendants using the gene editing tool known as Crispr.

In a study published Thursday in Science, a team led by Eric Olson at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center used Crispr to successfully modify the DNA of four young dogs, reversing the molecular defect responsible for their muscle wasting disease. DMD isn’t an obvious candidate for Crispr’s find-and-replace function; the dystrophin gene is the largest in the human genome, and there are thousands of different mutations that can all result in the disease. But Olson found a way to target an error-prone hot spot on exon 51, which he figured could, with a single slice, benefit approximately 13 percent of DMD patients.

LEARN MORE

The WIRED Guide to Crispr

Building on previous work he had done to correct mutations in mice and human heart cells, Olson teamed up with vets at RVC to test the approach on their beagle colony. The researchers first packed the instructions for the Crispr gene-editing components into a virus with an affinity for muscle cells. Then they injected millions of copies of that virus into four one-month-old dogs—two got the shot directly in the lower leg, and two received an intravenous infusion. After eight weeks, Crispr had restored dystrophin levels in the second group to more than 50 percent of normal in the legs, and more than 90 percent in the heart.

Researchers estimate that restoring 15 percent of the normal levels of dystrophin in a patient would provide a significant, even curative benefit. “We’re certainly in that ballpark with these dogs,” says Olson, who didn’t know what to expect going into the study because no one had ever delivered Crispr body-wide in a large mammal before. His team prepared for the worst—anaphylaxis, liver toxicity, an inflammatory immune response—but in the end they saw no adverse effects. Instead they saw puppies who could play again. “They showed obvious signs of behavioral improvement—running, jumping—it was quite dramatic,” says Olson, who didn’t include those qualitative observations in the paper on account of the small sample size.

In dogs with DMD, you can see the absence of the dystrophin protein.
UT Southwestern Medical Center
In DMD dogs treated with CRISPR, levels of dystrophin are restored.
UT Southwestern Medical Center

The breakthrough effort was backed, in part, by a startup called Exonics, which was cofounded in 2017 by Olson and patient advocacy group CureDuchenne. Headquartered in Cambridge, Exonics has licensed the gene editing technology developed by Olson’s lab and is moving it toward human trials, with the hopes of one day commercializing treatments. The young biotech company got its footing with $2 million from CureDuchenne’s venture arm, and it has since raised more than $40 million from The Column Group.

This approach—referred to as “venture philanthropy”—is part of a growing movement among rare disease foundations whose long-neglected patients have grown frustrated with the glacial pace of academic science, and are looking for new models to to more directly steer research and accelerate cures.

“In the last few years the rare disease community has really taken on this venture philanthropy strategy to get much-needed funding into research that’s typically avoided by big pharma,” says Alex Graddy-Reed, a health policy researcher at the University of Southern California. She says there’s evidence that nonprofits are emerging as an increasingly important player in funding biomedical research and development, especially for pumping early-stage capital into the gaps left by traditional funders.

Of the $100 billion invested annually in medical and health R&D, nonprofits make up a still modest but growing share. In 2016, charitable foundations invested nearly $2.7 billion in medical and health R&D, a 3.4 percent increase in US expenditures since 2013, according to a report by health research funding watchdog, Research!America.

“I think eventually it will be the standard,” says Debra Miller, the president and CEO of CureDuchenne, of venture philanthropy. “It’s the only way you can be a good steward of the donor dollars you collect.” The organization formally launched its venture arm in 2014, after a small Dutch firm that CureDuchenne had invested in was acquired by BioMarin Pharmaceuticals for $680 million. Between royalty agreements and stock cashouts, CureDuchenne has to date leveraged more than $1.3 billion in follow-on financing to fund new projects to help DMD patients, including the latest, Exonics.

Miller is hopeful that the dedicated company can test a Crispr-based cure faster than some of the bigger gene editing therapeutic firms. Both Editas and Crispr Therapeutics are investigating how their technologies might work for DMD, but they’re currently only in the discovery phase. “We talked with those companies, and they were interested, but it was clear it wasn’t going to be high on their list of priorities,” says Miller. And for good reason. Manufacturing enough viral delivery vehicles to inject Crispr into all the muscles in the human body is a daunting, and expensive endeavor.

It’s one that Exonics will have to figure out eventually, but not anytime soon. Even with the success Olson’s team has seen in this first test in dogs, there’s still a lot of work to be done. First up are a set of longer-term canine studies to test for safety, which Olson anticipates will be complete sometime in 2019. Only then could they start thinking about moving into human trials. “We just have to be really, really, really careful with this,” he says. “We don’t want to have any slip-ups from trying to move too quickly.”

Those kind of slip-ups can send a field back a decade or two, like it did with gene therapy in the 90s. Which is why researchers like Olson preach a very cautious optimism to patients, even as gene editing technologies and venture philanthropy models push forward potential rare disease cures faster than ever before.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

Some
Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Weirdest Senses Animals Have That You Dont

People like to imagine that theyre the pinnacle of evolution, but the animal kingdom suggests otherwise. The discovery that bumblebees use hair on their legs to detect a flowers electromagnetic field offers another reminder that human senses dont always measure up. You share the planet with creatures that can smell veins, see colors you cant imagine, and communicate through their feet. Here are just a few animals with senses sharper than yours.

01

Bumblebees

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

Credit: Getty Images

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

02

Sharks

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

Credit: Getty Images

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

03

Octopuses

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

Credit: Getty Images

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

04

Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

Credit: Getty Images

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

05

Vampire bats

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

Credit: Getty Images

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

06

Pit vipers

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

Credit: Getty Images

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

07

Elephants

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

Credit: Getty Images

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

08

Roundworms

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

Credit: Getty Images

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

09

Honeybees

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Credit: Getty Images

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Watch baby humpback whales swim in warm Atlantic waters

The same process that turns the ocean blue also helps humpback whales find the coziest spot for raising their precious 1-ton calves.

Water molecules absorb all the colored photons of light (red, orange, yellow, blue) and the photons’ energy. Water then turns that color energy into heat precisely what the blubber-less calves need to grow strong.

PBS explores this interplay between color and energy in its new series Forces of Nature, which premieres Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. ET.

In an exclusive clip shared with Mashable, scientists explain why the Dominican Republic is one of the few breeding and calving zones of the North Atlantic humpback whale.

North Atlantic Humpback whale in the Silver Bank Marine Reserve, Dominican Republic.

Image: pbs/forces of nature

The Silver Bank Marine Reserve, about 56 miles off the island, is exposed to the full power of the tropical sun. The sun’s photons heat the brilliant blue seas to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, or 26.6 degrees Celsius.

“It’s a warm, safe place to give birth, and the reason that’s the case has to do with the color of the ocean and the wavelengths that have been absorbed,” Bill Gardner, vice president of programming for PBS, told Mashable.

As if baby whales weren’t enough to tug at your heart strings, the United States announced last week that most populations of humpback whales are no longer on the U.S. endangered species list.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said global conservation efforts over the past four decades have helped nine of 14 humpback population segments rebound from historically low levels.

2016 Humpback distinct population segments.

Image: NOAA

Forces of Nature, a BBC co-production, will explore Earth’s mysterious and intricate forces in four episodes: “Shape,” “Color,” “Motion,” and “Natural Elements.”

The series aims to “illustrate that the Earth is a system; everything is interdependent,” Gardner said by phone. “It goes down to the molecular level.”

The “Color” episode, which airs Sept. 28, will also feature birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea, whose plumage helps them blend into the rainforest or attract mates. A segment on the Serengeti in east-central Africa will explain why the ecosystem’s forests, swamps and grasslands are lush and green.

A Maasai cattle herder surveys the grasslands of the Serengeti plains in Tanzania.

Image: pbs/forces of nature

Color is a tangible, active thing that carries the energy of the sun,” Gardner said.

The exclusive preview shows that while humpback whale calves thrive in the Silver Bank reserve’s warm waters, for adults the area is essentially an underwater food desert. Mothers have little to feed on and instead live off a snack pack of blubber.

Once calves grow their own thin layer of fat, the whales will head thousands of miles to the north to the Gulf of Maine and other feeding grounds.

In the North Atlantic, the light of the sun is much weaker and waters are frigid. But the ocean is stocked with the tiny crustaceans, plankton and small fish that humpbacks prefer to gobble.

“Color is something that we all take for granted, and what we wanted to help demonstrate is that there’s more to it than we initially think,” Gardner said.

Source: http://mashable.com/

Dozens of humpback whales have died recently and nobody is sure why

Hey, humpback whale fans. We’ve got some really cute news and some really sad news about your favorite 80,000-pound mammal.

Let’s start with the grim: A troubling number of humpback whales are dying on the U.S. East Coast.

Fisheries officials this week declared an “unusual mortality event” following the deaths of 41 humpbacks from Maine down to North Carolina.

In that region, 15 whales have died so far in 2017, adding to the 26 humpback deaths last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported. In an average year, only about 14 humpbacks die along that coastal stretch.

NOAA scientists said they don’t know why humpbacks are dying in such high numbers, though they’re about to take a deeper look.

He’s just taking a long nap.

Image: MERR Institute

By declaring an unusual mortality event, NOAA kicked off a formal investigation process that could take months or years to complete, according to Mendy Garron, a stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region office.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act defines an unusual event as “a significant die-off of any marine mammal population” that requires an “immediate response,” she said during a Thursday press conference.

Scientists have examined 20 of the 41 dead whales and found no evidence of an infectious disease. Ten of them, however, showed signs of blunt-force trauma or cuts from a ship strike a significant jump.

Most populations of humpback whales are no longer listed as endangered, as of September 2016.

Image: NOAA Fisheries

Since there likely hasn’t been a spike in vessel traffic in these parts, experts suspect the rise in ship strikes might be because the fish and krill whales eat are moving into harm’s way.

Whale prey might be moving around due to warmer water temperatures which are rising in part because of human-driven climate change though scientists don’t know for sure, Greg Silber, a biologist with NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources, told reporters.

Ok, so… How about that really cute news?

Ecologists in Denmark and Australia found that newborn humpbacks “whisper” to their mothers to avoid being overheard by hungry killer whales.

Scientists used temporary tags on humpback mothers and calves in Exmouth Gulf in western Australia to record their interactions.

The study, published this week in the journal Functional Ecology, found that baby whales communicate in “intimate grunts and squeaks” with their moms during the long migration to their feeding grounds. That’s far more subtle than the loud, sonorous groans of male humpbacks.

“This migration is very demanding for young calves,” Simone Videsen, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Aarhus University, said in a news release.

A mother-calf humpback pair inExmouth Gulf, Australia.

Image: Fredrik Christiansen

“They travel 5,000 miles across open water in rough seas and with strong winds,” she said. “Knowing more about their suckling will help us understand what could disrupt this critical behavior, so we can target conservation efforts more effectively.”

For the study, researchers applied suction-cup tags to eight calves and two mothers. They found that mothers and calves spend significant amounts of time nursing and resting. Data tags also showed that calves “whispered” while swimming, suggesting the quiet calls help keep mom and baby together in murky waters.

“Killer whales hunt young humpback calves outside Exmouth Gulf, so by calling softly to its mother, the calf is less likely to be heard by killer whales and avoid attracting male humpbacks who want to mate with the nursing females,” Videsen said.

She said the findings could help researchers better protect this crucial humpback habitat and ensure the nursers waters are kept as quiet as possible.

WATCH: Stunning drone footage captures rare video of blue whales feeding

Source: http://mashable.com/

Three-eyed extinct reptile was a bone-headed dinosaur mimic 100 million years early

Newly discovered Triopticus primus is one of many copy-cat animals

A bizarre new extinct reptile with a domed skull of solid bone has been unearthed in Texas. If this sounds familiar, it could be because you have heard of a group of dinosaurs called the pachycephalosaurs that possessed very similar characteristics. One could almost call Triopticus a mimic were it not for the fact that it dates to 228-220 million years ago, meaning that it predates the pachycephalosaurs by over 100 million years. Moreover, Triopticus is one of numerous animals from this period (the Late Triassic) that were in some way copies of other reptiles that evolved later.

Triopticus is a small animal the preserved dome of the skull is only around 5 cm long even though it is from an adult animal, but what there is of it is very unusual. There is a large pit in the skull that resembles the eye sockets of reptiles and gave rise to the animals name, as Triopticus means three eyes. This hole does not represent an extra eye, however, but may simply be a result of the surrounding bones having enlarged and expanded leaving this space behind, rather than there being a bit missing.

Aside from the difference of this divot, comparisons to the pachycephalosaurs are more than superficial. Both have greatly enlarged domes of solid bone that sat at the back of the head above the brain, both show some extra bumps and bosses, and both even show some similarities in the microstructure of the bone. Although the rest of Triopticus is missing, it is hard not to suggest that these animals may have bashed heads with one another as the pachycephalosaurs are thought to do (although this is not covered in the paper). Such similarities of form between only distantly related organisms is termed convergent evolution and there are numerous examples of this in the fossil record and alive today (think of the hydrodynamic shapes of fish, dolphins and penguins).

Convergent
Convergent evolution between Triassic animals (left) and those that came later (right) and in particular Triopticus and pachycephalosaurs (both top) Photograph: Stocker et al., 2016

However, Triopticus and a number of the reptiles that lived alongside it show some remarkable convergences with other reptiles that came later, and most notably the dinosaurs. In the Late Triassic there were various animals showing adaptations and body plans that will be familiar to those who have browsed even childrens books on dinosaurs. There were bipedal plant eating reptiles similar to the ornithomimosaurs, herbivorous forms with leaf-shaped teeth covered in armour like the later ankylosaurs, large-headed reptiles with sharp teeth that looked like predatory dinosaurs (if on four legs rather than two), and even long-snouted semi-aquatic animals that resembled extinct and even living crocodilians.

These pairs are already known to palaeontologists, but an analysis of skull and body shapes shows how similar animals were to each other in the ages before the dinosaurs and others diverged, and then later how similar these various different forms became, despite their fairly distant relatedness. Its notable that Triopticus is a particular outlier, being even more distant from the ancestral form that the pachycephalosaurs it has quite an extreme set of anatomical features.

That convergent evolution is rampant within some groups is not big news, but the sheer range of extinct reptile species that ended up taking on similar forms (and often more than once) is a reminder of the selective pressures that evolution can bring to some lineages. Even so these are typically limited to classic ecological features like specialised teeth for eating or claws for digging, so modify the skull in such a shape more than once as seen here is quite a surprise and one hopes that more will come to light in the future. It will certainly be interesting to see if the rest of Triopticus matches the thick-headed dinosaurs in any other areas.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

I have a loving husband and thought I was secure. Then a cat came into my life

Philippa Perry on her struggle with total devotion to her cat, Kevin

Pets can highlight your mental health issues. Ask my late dad how he was, he would tell you, Fine. If you wanted more information, it was best to ask him how the dog was. Oh, the dog is depressed. My dad was doing what Freud described as projection. This is when you split off a part of you that is too shameful for you to own and project it on to someone else and you believe your stuff is their stuff. My father could not own his vulnerability, but he could dump it on his dog. I hope I would be far too self-aware to project on to my pet. Id hate to think I was that dotty, but the magazine has just asked if they can send a photographer round. Kevin isnt too keen on photos, I said.

Our cat Kevin had been a stray and came to us from Battersea two years ago when he was around six months old. His body was the size of a can of extra-strong lager. That tubular torso would press against me all night, sometimes stretched alongside me, sometimes curled up in my armpit. In the evening, he would start on a lap but his thin body would elongate itself from your ankles to your thighs like a furry tube. He was playful, affectionate and excellent at being a cat.

We followed the Battersea instructions of keeping him indoors for a month and then only let him out accompanied until he knew where to come back to. When he was ready for unaccompanied roaming, I tried to get a collar on him, but however tight I made it, he could spring it off. Even if he left the house with a collar on, he came back without it. Then one day he did not come back at all. The first time he went missing, he turned up at the Blacksmith and the Toffee Maker, a gastro pub half a mile from our house. He was returned to us swiftly by the landlord, who had taken him to the vet to get his microchip read. Getting Kevin microchipped was a very good idea. My fantasy is that he had chased the pubs resident cat all the way home and then did not know how to get back.

How to describe how you fall in love with a cat? First, the softness of their fur and their choice of your ankles to rub around makes you melt a bit. Secondly, you get used to their presence in your home and come to rely on it for company; and thirdly I think we project our love for ourselves on to our animals and believe it is coming back our way. I like to think Kevin really does love me. Whether he does or not, I love him. For most of my adult life I have lived with a cat, sometimes two, and once I lived with three. I came to appreciate their individual characters and the different ways they kept me company, amused and comforted. But my love for Kevin seems more intense.

There is a type of interaction adopted by cults and abusers when they want total devotion from you, called intermittent positive reinforcement. They start the relationship by heaping praise and appreciations on to you and then gradually begin to mock you, or ignore you, or dish out other types of cruelty so you try harder to win back that approval that you became addicted to. Kevin, having got me smitten, now occasionally ignored me, or bit me if his food bowl got as low as half-empty. Oh, sorry Kevin, Id say, and do his bidding. People who are susceptible to intermittent positive reinforcement tend to be those who have an insecure attachment style. This means they feel insecure in their relationships and compelled to work extra hard at adapting, being too nice or too paranoid, and check up on their significant other as they cannot assume, like a secure person does, that their partner will not stray.

I have been in a loving and stable relationship for 30 years I believed myself cured; thought I was now secure. My unhappy youth, when romantic attachment was about the pain of longing rather than the joy of love, was, I thought, truly behind me, yet Kevin had reignited the feeling of longing.

Philippa
Kevin reignited the feeling of longing. Photograph: Pal Hansen for the Observer

After the pub incident, I tended to check up on Kevin more. If he had owned a mobile phone, I would have broken into it. I followed him about. I may have scared away the wildlife he was stalking and he may have got irritated with me. People with an insecure attachment style can be annoying. He strayed again, this time he got himself stuck in a rear light well the other side of the square and was not discovered for two nights. His absences made me long for him more.

Kevin loved it when we went to the country. We followed the Battersea code again of not letting him out alone until he knew where to come back and where his food was and all was good. Well, it was fine for me not so much for the local rodent population but I love Kevin so much that even watching him crunch up the heads of mice, upsetting though it is, is wonderful because I am in his presence. Those with an insecure attachment style can feel they are nothing without their love object. I overheard my husband telling someone, Philippas mental health depends on where the cat is. He was probably not projecting either.

My daughter had taken a weeks holiday to spend with me in the country. On the morning of her arrival Kevin had still not returned from a night out. We were supposed to be enjoying a time of picnics, bike rides and swims but here was I miserable and ruining my daughters break. She and I asked everyone within a miles radius but no one had seen him. There was only one house we did not visit because the owners were on holiday. They came back the day my daughter was leaving. When they opened their front door, a speedy Kevin shot out and came straight back home. He was remarkably fit after his week living off flies and toilet water but I was a wreck. Next time, I told myself, I wont worry: a difficult resolution to keep because when he sees an open door he shoots through it into anyones house, shed or car. I have a dread of supermarket delivery vans those are his favourite.

A year later, hes missing again in London. I go to the pub, they havent seen him. I trudge about calling him. Days pass, nothing. My entire life is Operation Kevin. We tweet about his disappearance and the London Evening Standard picks it up. Hes on the front page (slow news day); I do posters; house-to-house enquiries; leaflets through letterboxes. Eventually the phone rings. Kevin had been spotted, stuck on a flat roof by someone who had a leaflet put through her door who had not realised he was trapped. I wept with relief. On getting him home we saw he had a nasty bite on his tail and required antibiotics for that to heal. Keep him in for a week, said Dale, our vet. Music to my ears. I hoped Stockholm syndrome would make Kevin love me. Stockholm syndrome is where a hostage develops a bond with their captor. Humans are pack animals and naturally create attachments and they may do it with whoever is around even when that someone is holding them prisoner.

Perhaps Stockholm syndrome is relevant to cats as well. To some extent, it seems to work: I am the recipient of many friendly head butts and sitting-on-lap sessions during his captivity. Can I keep him in for ever? I asked Dale when it was time for a check-up. That would be cruel, I am told. He is a wild animal that chooses to live with you. So Mr Kinky Tail, aka Bonzo Boots, aka Kevin (one cat can attract a lot of names) once more roams free.

Since the flat-roof episode, he has been relatively good. It is not that he is a reformed character, he will still make a dash for any open door. But Im delighted because in the night it is me he chooses to wake up so that I can admire his latest kill; it is my feet he wants to practise his biting on, and its my lap he needs to stretch out his tube-like body on when he is soaking wet. I weaned myself off indifferent men in my 20s and found a loving one, but a cat I adore whose affection and approval I must work for is a force I cannot resist. Now if youll excuse me, I must get the chicken livers to room temperature in case he comes home for lunch.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Zoo Tinder how technology is helping animals hook up

The Zoological Information Management System takes the guesswork out of animal attraction and helps promote genetic variety

Name: Zoological Information Management System.

Age: Eight.

Appearance: Zoo Tinder.

Let me guess. Its an app that matches couples who want to dry-hump next to the giraffe cage. If only. In actual fact, the Zoological Information Management System Zims for short is a piece of software designed to help horny animals hook up with each other.

This sounds a bit dodgy. I promise it isnt. Got an elephant with an itch it cant scratch? Check out Zims and it will find you the right elephant to give it the trunky rumpy-pumpy it has been looking for.

Yeah, this isnt helping. Oh, fine then, its adatabase of 10m animals from 22,000 different species that was created in order to promote genetic variety, with a view to improving the adaptive ability of a species.

Pardon? Incest is bad and this stops it.

Wow, none of this is sexy at all. Sorry, but it is important from a zoological perspective. Having a unified database of all captive animals containing their age, pedigree, medical records and diet should help to ensure the survival of all manner of species.

This sounds like that Channel 4 show Married at First Sight. Thats a very good analogy.

Doesnt almost every match on Married at First Sight end in acrimonious failure? Yes, but thats only because humans are stupid and picky. Zims, on the other hand, is already bearing fruit. It matched two Sumatran tigers in 2012 one from Canada and one from Australia who have since had two cubs in London zoo.

It almost sounds romantic when you put it like that. Yep. Two beasts, rutting for procreation while a busload of horrified children look on. Its basically a Mills & Boon novel.

Hang on, why London? Thats just how zoos work. They dont own the animals. If another zoo needs them, their current zoo has to give them up.

A date, a holiday and some nooky. Its practically Take Me Out. Hardly. Were talkingabout a system that allows aprocessionof unthinking creatures to get shipped around the world in order to gurn anddrool and hump at the behest of an unseenauthority figure and … oh, I get yourpoint. Yes,youre spot on.

Do say: Darling, my animal heart will for ever be intertwined with yours in the stars above.

Dont say: So, lets bonk in a cage for increased genetic diversity.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Absurd Creatures: The Bearcat Isnt a Bear or Cat But It Does Smell Like Popcorn

The binturong, aka bearcat, ain’t a monkey, but it’s got a prehensile tail. It ain’t made of Play-Doh, but its ankles can rotate around 180 degrees. And it smells like a bucket of popcorn, but it’s not a bucket of popcorn. Find out more about the bearcat in this week’s episode of Absurd Creatures!

And Im happy to hear from you with suggestions on what to cover next. If its weird and we can find footage of it, its fair game. You can get me at matthew_simon@wired.com or on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Rare drone footage enlightens scientists on feeding behavior of blue whales

One small flight for drones has the potential to be one giant step for science … just ask researchers at Oregon State University.

A group of scientists at the university recently captured rare footage of blue whales feeding in the Southern Ocean off New Zealand via drone.

The stunning footage, narrated by Leigh G. Torres, expedition leader and principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State, provides a great deal of insight into what whales eat and how they decide what food is worthy of their time.

In a press release, Torres explained the footage clearly shows the blue whales’ “lunge-feeding” process of suddenly lunging forward to eat a massive pack of krill.

“Our footage shows this [lunge-feeding theory] in action,” said Torres. “We can see the whale making choices, which is really extraordinary because aerial observations of blue whales feeding on krill are rare. The whale bypasses certain krill patches presumably because the nutritional payoff isnt sufficient and targets other krill patches that are more lucrative.”

“We think this is because blue whales are so big, and stopping to lunge-feed and then speeding up again is so energy-intensive, that they try to maximize their effort,” Torres continued.

As for the unique perspective, the investigator gave a big thumbs up to drone usage, explaining they’re a “great way to film [the whales’] behavior without disturbing their behavior at all, unlike other aerial methods like a helicopter or a plane, which cant hover or make a lot of noise.”

Source: http://mashable.com/

Scientists announce the discovery of strange hammerheaded reptile fossil

A newly discovered fossil of reptile hailing from the middle Triassic period reveals a very unusual hammerhead-shaped jawcompletely dismantling the way researchers thought the ancient creature lived.

First described in 2014, researchers thought the crocodile-sized Atopodentatus unicus (whose name means unique strangely toothed), had a downturned snout shaped like a flamingos beak. And boy, was it weird looking. According to that report, Atopodentatus used its strange jaw to stir up small crustaceans and other little critters from the soft mud of the sea floor. But researchers discovered a new fossil in Southern China that was better preserved and revealed an even stranger jaw that harkens to the hammerhead shark. They published a new description of the ancient reptile in the open access journal Science Advances.

This reptile is the first of its kind, Olivier Rieppel, a paleontologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, and one of the papers authors told the Daily Dot in a phone interview. The original fossil was very poorly preserved with its skull bones separated from one another.

Only when the new specimen came up, you saw this hammerhead, Rieppel said. No one would have expected the reptile to be so strangely built.

But the new specimen was in much better shapealbeit a little flat.

The reptile was very compressed during fossilization, Rieppel said. The skull was compressed dorsoventrallyit was flattenedbut everything stayed in place. The contours of the skull are immediately obvious.

Nick Fraser, National Museums Scotland

Rieppel specializes in working with flattened reptiles, reconstructing them through 3-D modeling using very advanced materialslike Playdough and toothpicks.

Olivier Rieppel, The Field Museum.

Rieppel and his modeled the clay after the bones of the flattened skull, using toothpicks as a stand-in for the creatures peg-like teeth. They think Atopodentatus used its unique jaw to scrape up algae from rocks and then pushed water back out its sieve-like teethsimilar to how blue whales filter tiny krill from huge gulps of sea water.

The jaw isnt the only thing that makes Atopodentatus unique. Now that researchers think it was exclusively into eating plants instead of munching on tiny animals, that makes it the oldest known herbivorous marine reptile. Reptiles are not often plant-eaters, Rieppel said, because of the way reptile skulls are built. Their skulls have moving parts, which make them really good at eating insects. In order to become good plant-eaters, those moving parts need to fuse together.

One of the things that makes this important scientifically not only the earliest marine herbivorous reptile with a very strange anatomy, Rieppel said, its also an indication for how fast the marine biota proliferated after the mass extinction at the end of the Permian.

The Permian extinction event occurred about 252 million years ago and was the largest extinction event in the history of life on Earth. According to National Geographic, the eventfor which scientists have no favored explanationwiped out around 90 percent of the animals and plants on Earth. It hit marine animals particularly hard: Less than 5 percent survived the event. Yet paleontologists are continuously uncovering evidence of a quick recoveryAtopodentatus lived about 242 million years ago.

Rieppel said he couldnt comment on what this evidence may suggest about current and future extinction events. But he said the current diversity crisis in Earths living species has inspired a greater scientific interest in studying mass extinction events of the past, so we can model them and understand the conditions that allowed for animals to bounce backor not.

Source: http://www.dailydot.com/

Scientists are using satellites to spot whales from outer space

A southern humpback whale breaches in Australian waters.
Image: Dave Hunt/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

A humpback whale may be a huge creature to the human eye, but they’re still tough to spot from space.

Until recently, the necessary high-resolution satellite technology wasn’t readily available, but researchers in Western Australia are beginning to use satellite imagery to check on the size of local populations.

The aim of the project is to keep tabs on Western Australia’s humpback whale numbers, explained Curt Jenner, managing director of the Centre for Whale Research.

“The goal of the project is ultimately to make sure this population of humpback whales, which has always historically been the largest in the world, is still viable and has recovered to its full potential,” he said. The animals were hunted almost to extinction in the early to mid 20th century.

While projects like this were able to find government and corporate funding in the past, that money has increasingly dried up as whale numbers rebound, Jenner said, forcing he and his research partner on this project, Michele Thums, to find a new solution.

Satellite imagery of whales migrating.

Image: Curt Jenner

“There are no longer any budgets to send aerial survey teams of people up in planes nor people out in boats to do that population monitoring, and so we were looking for an economical solution that was low in man power,” he said.

Drones are one technology now commonly used in whale research, but they’re not always able to deliver the scale a satellite can. “This is like a population census, if you will, it gives you a snapshot in time of an entire population as opposed to a focus on one whale at a time,” Jenner added.

To obtain the imagery it was a simple as giving the U.S. satellite company DigitalGlobe a time slot, the coordinates and instructions to only take shots on fair weather days using its WorldView-3 satellite system.

The team received two days worth of imagery for around A$40,000 ($30,600) funded by the WA Marine Science Institute. “Even though A$20,000 an image sounds like a lot of money, it’s nothing compared to what it costs to put a team of people out and flying aerial surveys,” he said.

For Jenner, one big question was whether a colour or black and white satellite image worked better for whale spotting.

Satellite imagery of whales migrating.

Image: Curt jenner

“Turns out, the black and white images were better and clearer and higher resolution for seeing the whales than the [colour] ones,” he explained. “In the future, we’ll probably only be using the [black and white] ones, which will make our jobs a lot easier and a lot cheaper.”

This type of monitoring is especially important as human use of the northwest shelf of Australia increases in the form of oil and gas exploration as well as shipping. “I do have a concern that the way that the whales are using the coast line is changing through human impact,” he said. “It’s necessarily going to displace whales out of their natural habitat.”

In 2017, Jenner plans to collect more than two days-worth of whale imagery, and in different locations along the coast line. He also hopes that future satellites with even higher resolution cameras will be able to one day spot and identify individual whales. They could even use small tags that fluoresce, for example, and make it easier to identify them from space.

“As time goes on, only your imagination limits what can be done as the technology gets better,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the next five to 10 years very much.”

[h/t ABC]

Source: http://mashable.com/

Zoos and aquariums are reviewing their animals and it’s kind of adorable

Image: francois guillota/AFP/Getty Images

Zoos are giving animals Amazon-esque species ratings, and it’s honestly kind of great.

The trend started Friday with the Oregon Zoo in a tweet hashtagged #rateaspecies. Other animal conservancies got in on the fun – including aquariums – providing informative ratings for people looking to, er, buy the products.

Source: http://mashable.com/

Watching This Turtle Eat A Pigeon Is Both Fascinating And Terrifying

Since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV show began airing back in 1987, the world has mostly come to view turtles and tortoises as friends. However, this is far from the truth. While they can sometimes be harmless, they can also be extremely vicious and violent.

For proof of these claims, look no further than the video below. It shows a tortoise casually swimming up to a flock of pigeons, grabbing one, and drowning it in front of its friends.

This is totally brutal.

Living in a major U.S. city, I’m not the biggest fan of pigeons, but I do genuinely feel bad for this one. He never saw it coming.

Source: http://www.viralnova.com

Meet The Tardigrade aka The Water Bear aka The Toughest Animal on Earth

Without water, a human can only survive for about 100 hours. But there’s a creature so resilient that it can go without it for decades. This 1-millimeter animal can survive both the hottest and coldest environments on earth, and can even withstand high levels of radiation.

Thomas Boothby introduces us to the tardigrade, one of the toughest creatures on Earth. Learn more at TED Ed

Source: http://twistedsifter.com/

Anthropomorphism: how much humans and animals share is still contested

Cute internet videos and animals in childrens entertainment with human-like intentions can be useful, harmful or both depending on whom you ask

Humans have long attempted to portray the natural world as reflections of us, from giving storms names such as Desmond or Katrina to putting tasteful blue clothing on Donald Duck and Peter the Rabbit. But the science of how much humans actually share with other animals is still keenly contested.

The widely shared image of a male kangaroo cradling the head of a dying female, in front of her joey, was immediately cast as a touching display of marsupial grief, before several scientists pointed out that the kangaroos interests were probably a little more carnal than first thought.

This kind of anthropomorphism isnt new of course some of the oldest known deities combine human and beast but it has only been since Charles Darwins description of joy and love among animals that the debate has evolved on whether humans hold exclusivity over certain traits.

A
A male eastern grey kangaroo holds the head of a dead female kangaroo in River Heads, Queensland. Photograph: Evan Switzer

Animals such as apes and crows have been seen using tools previously thought a human preserve. A 44-year-old gorilla called Koko has the vocabulary of a three-year-old child after learning 1,000 words of American sign language. She has called herself Queen – evidence, her head caretaker claims, that she understands her celebrity status.

But many scientists are still keen to draw stark lines of difference between humans and other animals. Some warn that anthropomorphism, now regularly demonstrated through the online sharing of videos of pandas having tantrums or orangutans having a laugh, can be harmful.

Its almost like internet was built for anthropomorphizing animals, said Holly Dunsworth, an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island. Humans arent the only animals capable of forming strong bonds, but to say that the kangaroo even knew the other kangaroo was dying is beyond anything we know. No one has shown that animals understand dying or where babies come from. We cant say they think that abstractly.

While Kokos grasp of language is astonishing, it lacks the nuance and complexity of the way humans communicate with each other. Theres a key difference between signals and understanding and expanding upon ideas and abstract concepts, Dunsworth said.

Other animals are more complex than purely being driven by instinct, but Im very comfortable with the explanation that they dont need abstract reasoning to do these complex behaviors, she said. We can explain behavior separate from the way humans think.

An unconscious belief that bears, horses and dolphins possess human desires and thoughts wrapped up in odd costumes can be detrimental for children, some psychologists have argued.

Last year, Patricia Ganea, a psychologist at Toronto University, ran a series of experiments on three to five-year-olds where they were given information about animals in straight factual form and then in a more fantastical anthropomorphized way.

She found that the children were likely to attribute human characteristics to other animals and were less likely to retain factual information about them when told they lived their lives as furry humans.

Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes Photograph: AP

Ganea said attributing human-like intentions and beliefs is a very natural way to explain certain animal behaviors and can be useful in generating empathy for mistreated animals. But she adds there is a downside.

Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes in the natural world, she said. It can also lead to inappropriate behaviors towards wild animals, such as trying to adopt a wild animal as a pet or misinterpreting the actions of a wild animal.

Common depictions of animals in childrens entertainment is likely to amplify this message, Ganea said.

Jiminy Cricket is the voice of conscience and not an accurate description of what insects behave like, she said. But, yes, the human-like animal representations in the media are likely to increase the tendency to anthropomorphize the natural world.

But its clear from multiple experiments that some animals are closer to being human than others. In tests, monkeys have given up the chance of food so that older or weaker members of the clan can eat. A chimpanzee named Santino has shown a remarkable ability to plan ahead and hold grudges by calmly gathering and hiding piles of stones ready to hurl at visitors who gawp at him in his zoo enclosure in Sweden.

Santino

Santino the stone-throwing chimp, is watched by a group of visitors at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. Photograph: Neurology/AP

Its not just primates. Scientists have gathered evidence that elephants sacrifice their wellbeing for the good of the group and grieve their dead. Young elephants that have lost parents to poachers have suffered a type of post traumatic stress disorder, trumpeting loudly and unusually at night and showing other signs of agitation. Mapping of the brains of several different species shows that they share similar neurons to humans that process social information and empathy.

Its categorically wrong to say that animals dont have thoughts and emotions, just like its wrong to say they are completely the same as us, said Carl Safina, a biologist and author of a book called Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, which argues that sneering at anthropomorphism risks eroding our empathy with species we are helping wipe out at a rate unseen since the time of the dinosaurs.

Great apes have large brains and complex social lives, wolves live in structured families. But herrings dont have social structures. So we cant say all animals are the same.

But humans are an extreme example of everything. We are simultaneously the most compassionate and the cruelest animal, the friendliest and most destructive, we experience the most grief and cause the most grief. We are a complicated case.

The idea that a kangaroo would hold anothers head to say farewell as they die is overdone, Safina said, but its inaccurate to dismiss any notion of understanding or even loss.

Its fair to say many animals have richer social lives and a richer palette of strategic abilities than we give them credit for, he said. We should get better acquainted with the animals we share the world with. If only because they are so beautiful and so interesting.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Quest to Make a Robotic Cat Walk With Artificial Neurons

The little robot finger’s favorite color is blue. Wave a handful of blueberries in front of it and the finger will follow, transfixed. If you’re wearing a blue shirt, congratulations, you’re its new best friend. If you painted everything around it blue, the robo-digit could well have a heart attack.

You can program a robot to fall in love with a color easily enough. But this robot is thinking in a fundamentally different way—not with line after line of complicated code, but with simulated neurons.

“These neurons, each one may cause a little twitch in the muscle,” says the robot’s master, USC biomedical engineer Terry Sanger. “It can push the muscle left, right, up, and down. All the robot knows is when it sees blue things it wants to go toward blue things and avoid everything else.”

The system is a glimpse at a potentially powerful approach to robotic intelligence: To create machines that move more naturally, maybe the trick is to first make them clever, yet kind of simplistic. Maybe you replicate the primitive functioning of neurons, governed by a relatively simple supervisory code, instead of relying on complicated algorithms.

Across the USC campus from Sanger’s office lives Kleo the robotic cat. Well, more like struggles than lives—Kleo is a remotely piloted machine that ambles awkwardly. But biomedical engineer Francisco Valero-Cuevas has big plans for Kleo: Get it walking on its own with the help of simulated neurons on a chip that can mimic the operation of neurons in a biological spinal cord.

But why not just mimic the brain? “The spinal cord is not just some cables that go from brain to muscle,” says Valero-Cuevas. “The spinal cord has its own low level circuits that do a lot of the micromanagement of muscles. So our goal is to reverse engineer the entire system.”

That begins with the neurons. Scientists know generally how neurons are arranged in a spinal cord. What’s less clear are the strengths of the connections between neurons as they form into networks that drive, say, the movement of legs.

So Kleo would start with lots of simulated neurons connected to each other with random strengths, or perhaps the same strengths. “You have Kleo just sitting there doing nothing and the neurons are spiking at random,” says Valero-Cuevas. “And then one of these random spike patterns causes an accelerometer to feel forward progression. That minute forward progression is fed back to the system and says, Hey, for that spiking pattern, reinforce the connections among neurons that did that.

This is known as reinforcement learning. Bit by bit, Kleo’s artificial spinal cord learns which neuronal connections, and connection strengths, trigger the desired outcome. Some move the robot ever so slightly forward and are rewarded. Over many, many iterations, Kleo could begin to crawl and eventually walk.

Yeah, it’s not exactly brilliance in motion. It’ll be awkward at first. “Where is the intelligence here?” Valero-Cuevas asks. “You realize there is no intelligence. It's all dumb parts, but put together the emergent behavior is at the very least useful.” A single neuron means nothing, but formed up as a whole network they build something special.

Such a system could be big for robotics. To get a robot to move, typically you’ve had to program its actions. Move leg, balance, move other leg, etc. It’s hard as hell to do, as evidenced by the bumbling antics of entrants in Darpa's Robotics Challenge.

By reverse-engineering how the spinal cord drives movement in biological beings, roboticists could get lower-level behavior like walking to develop automatically without complicated algorithms. “The way we walk through the world is not by estimating the contact forces with our feet or trying to identify every single thing in the field of view or trying to estimate to precise levels what our velocity is,” Sanger says. “We don't do that. We just see and we feel and we move.”

Not that robots of the future will be able to rely entirely on this system to navigate their world. Neurons on a chip help something like a robotic finger fall in love with the color blue or a robotic cat learn the basics of locomotion. “Then you add a brain to the system,” Valero-Cuevas says. “The brain is the one who starts saying, Well now that I can walk, why don't I walk right or left, why don’t I chase a mouse?

So having an underlying neuron-like system to handle basic movements could be critical for developing truly useful machines that can adapt to their environments. Oh, and for laughing at poor Kleo as it struggles like hell to learn to walk. After all, if cats are good for anything, it’s comic relief.

More robot learning

—Kleo may one day have simulated neurons, but in a UC Berkeley lab, Brett the robot has been teaching itself to play children’s games with reinforcement learning.

—Researchers from that lab have also launched a company that’s exploring using VR to teach robots how to handle objects.

—If this is all making you nervous about the pending robot singularity, fear not. We’re actually living in the harmless multiplicity.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Shifting spring weather is messing with birds’ delicate clocks

A great crested flycatcher, one of the songbird species struggling to adapt to climate change.
Image: michael jeffords and sue post/illinois natural history survey

Timing is everything for migratory songbirds chirping away in North America’s trees.

If they arrive too late, they’ll get only the scraps of spring’s insect buffet. Plus, the best nesting spots and mates will be taken, leaving them with lackluster prospects for making baby birds. Arrive too early, and they’ll face a hostile winter chill.

Yet climate change is making it harder for birds to get it right. Spring is arriving earlier in the eastern states and later in the west, disrupting the timing of dozens of songbird species, a new study found.

As birds struggle to settle in and lay eggs, it could create a “domino effect” that threatens the survival of many popular backyard species, U.S. and Canadian researchers said in a study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports.

“The long-term concern is that this growing mismatch can lead to population declines,” Stephen Mayor, the study’s first author and a postdoctoral researcher with the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, said in an interview.

“Getting the timing right not too early but not too late is really important for the birds,” he added.

Migratory birds that winter in Central and South America take their cues from seasonal changes in daylight, which stay constant from year to year. But the conditions they encounter when they arrive up north are becoming more variable and unpredictable due to rising air temperatures and shifting weather patterns, two effects of human-caused global warming.

Nine species in particular are struggling most to get that timing right, the study found. They are: great crested flycatchers, indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, eastern wood pewees, yellow-billed cuckoos, northern parulas, blue-winged warblers, and Townsend’s warblers.

This year, after a mild U.S. winter, spring weather arrived more than three weeks earlier than usual in some places. The date of “first leaf,” a temperature-based calculation of when dormant vegetation shows signs of life, came much earlier than the 30-year average, according to a study by World Weather Attribution.

Climate change is pushing songbirds and springtime out of sync.

Image: Florida museum of natural history

Spring is also arriving earlier in three-fourths of the 276 natural resource parks that U.S. scientists examined, resulting in seasonal changes in vegetation such as pollen, seed, and fruit production, a 2016 report found.

For the bird study, researchers looked at satellite images from across North America for the period 2001 to 2012. Over that time, plants in the eastern half of the continent put out new leaves a process called “green-up” increasingly earlier in the season. In the west, however, green-up typically came later.

The team also combed through tens of thousands of bird observations for 48 common songbird species. They wanted to see when those populations first arrived, and whether their arrival coincided with the first signs of spring.

Researchers found the gap between green-up and the birds’ arrivals grew by an average of more than half a day per year across all 48 species, at a rate of five days per decade. For the nine species in particular, however, the mismatch is growing at double or triple that rate.

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Image: michael jeffords/illinois natural history survey

Mayor said it’s still unclear why those nine birds species are far more discombobulated than the rest of the group. “That’s something we’re trying to tease apart with follow-up research,” he said.

Still, the outlook might not be entirely dire for songbirds and other avian species.

Previous studies have shown that some birds are shifting the timing of major life events, such as reproduction and laying eggs, in an effort to keep pace with the changing climate. Scientists are watching to see if birds can keep it up long term.

“If anything could adapt to climate change, you’d think that birds that migrate thousands of miles could,” Mayor said in a press release.

Source: http://mashable.com/

‘Angry Birds’ makers release a game to teach kids particle physics

Image: lightneer

Five-year-olds and particle physics don’t usually go in the same sentence together.

But the guys that made Angry Birds is trying to change that with the launch of Big Bang Legends, its new game that introduces particle physics concepts to kids.

Five years ago we’d joke that one day well teach quantum physics to five-year-olds,” said Peter Vesterbacka, co-founder of Lightneer, speaking at the game launch in Singapore on Thursday.

Vesterbacka was formerly with Rovio, the Finnish game firm that won fame and fortune with Angry Birds. Together with other Rovio alums, Vesterbacka started Lightneer, which aims to make high-quality educational games.

“Now were seeing five-year-olds playing Big Bang Legends and having conversations about quarks, protons and atoms. Its pretty amazing,” he said at a launch event in Singapore.

You play the game as a scientific element, collecting quarks along the way and blasting anti-matter.

For all those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t until today), quarks are the building blocks that make up protons and neutrons.

After a couple of minutes of playing the game, I learnt that there were three quarks to a proton not bad for a kid’s game.

You also collect characters, which are represented by different elements, as you go along.

The game is an example of what Vesterbacka calls “stealth learning.”

“As you start playing the game, and getting enough quarks to unlock the next character, you’re [actually] figuring out the composition of an atom,” he says.

“So you’re having fun without noticing you’re learning.”

Image: mashable

CERN, Harvard and Oxford brains contributed.

But making the game itself was no child’s play.

Vesterbacka and his co-founder Lauri Jarvilehto, roped in experts from the likes of Oxford and Harvard University and the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) to help develop the game.

“We’re working with CERN so we’re bringing the best science [to the game],” Vesterbacka told us.

Like how Rovio turned Angry Birds into a media empire beyond just a mobile game, Lightneer will launch a TV show some time next year, starring characters from Big Bang Legends.

Image: lightneer/handout

“Kids are proficient in Squirtle and Pikachu and Bulbasaur,” says Vesterbacka. “We hope one day they will be as proficient in Beryllium and Helium.”

The game is only available for now in Finland and Singapore, although the founders add that it will soon be available in other markets.

The game is free for download on all Apple devices, with an Android version available in May.

WATCH: NASA’s origami-inspired robot can operate on Mars-like surfaces

Source: http://mashable.com/

Watch a Human Try to Fight Off That Door-Opening Robot Dog

Hey, remember that dog-like robot, SpotMini, that Boston Dynamics showed off last week, the one that opened a door for its robot friend? Well, the company just dropped a new video starring the canine contraption. In this week's episode, a human with a hockey stick does everything in his power to stop the robot from opening the door, including tugging on the machine, which struggles in an … unsettling manner. But the ambush doesn’t work. The dogbot wins and gets through the door anyway.

The most subtle detail here is also the most impressive: The robot is doing almost all of this autonomously, at least according to the video's description. Boston Dynamics is a notoriously tight-lipped company, so just the few sentences it provided with this clip is a relative gold mine. That information describes how a human handler drove the bot up to the door, then commanded it to proceed. The rest you can see for yourself. As SpotMini grips the handle and the human tries to shut the door, it braces itself and tugs harder—all on its own. As the human grabs a tether on its back and pulls it back violently, the robot stammers and wobbles and breaks free—still, of its own algorithmic volition.

The robot is able to correct for extreme forces, all the while handling a relatively precise task. Boston Dynamics is, as it says in the title of the video, “testing robustness.” That is, a robot’s ability to deal with our crap. It’s hard as hell to get a robot to not fall on its face, much less fight off a human and go about its business as if nothing happened.

Now, we can't be sure just how autonomous SpotMini is. A human could still be controlling it with a joystick from afar. But could a robot really do this all on its own? "I think it probably is, because actually teleoperating a robot to behave that way is pretty challenging," says Noah Ready-Campbell, founder and CEO of Built Robotics. "It's extremely impressive, no doubt."

If you're looking for reassurance, though, consider that SpotMini's autonomous capabilities are probably pretty limited. Humans are still good at human things like planning (driving the robot to the door), while machines are getting ever better at repetitive tasks (like opening doors). There are actually already plenty of robots working in concert with humans in the wild: Security robots, for instance, work as eyes and ears for human guards, and robots deliver food in hotels and hospitals. But in both those cases, a human is in the loop. Robots just aren't ready to wander on their own, leading to the proliferation of call centers where robots in distress can get help from human teleoperators.

So beyond opening doors and stabilizing itself, just how capable is SpotMini on its own? Could the robot do something like wander out of the building and find a particular room in another building? "I doubt that," Ready-Campbell says. "The sheer variety of obstacles it would encounter like going up stairs, different shaped doors, all those kinds of things, it would probably break down."

When it comes to needling by hockey stick, though, Boston Dynamics seems to have things covered. In 2016 the company released a video in which a human used one to push around Atlas, the company's famous humanoid robot. This did not suit everyone. Some called the human offender a jerk, and praised the poor robot as hard-working. So this time, Boston Dynamics made its intentions clear in its video's description: "(Note: This testing does not irritate or harm the robot.)"

How SpotMini might be used is unclear, but it's worth noting that Boston Dynamics developed the robot's older brother, BigDog, as a pack mule for the military. (Though the Marines rejected it because it was too noisy.) It's also worth noting that it's rare for the company to drop videos like this so close together, much less give so much information in the video's description. Might it finally be getting ready to release a machine into the market?

Time will tell. But before you freak out about robots breaking into your house, please keep in mind that robots are here to help humanity, no matter how much we attack them with hockey sticks. Maybe open doors for them, just to be safe.

Good Dog

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Green-haired turtle that breathes through its genitals added to endangered list

With its punky green mohican the striking Mary river turtle joins a new ZSL list of the worlds most vulnerable reptiles

It sports a green mohican, fleshy finger-like growths under its chin and can breathe through its genitals.

The Mary river turtle is one of the most striking creatures on the planet, and it is also one of the most endangered.

The 40cm long turtle, which is only found on the Mary river in Queensland, features in a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Despite the turtles punk appearance derived from vertical strands of algae that also grow on its body its docile nature made it historically popular as a pet.

Gill-like organs within its cloaca an orifice used by reptiles for excretion and mating enable it to stay underwater for up to three days, but it was unable to hide from the pet collectors who raided its nests during the 1960s and 1970s.

The turtle is placed at 30th on ZSLs Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) list for reptiles. First established in 2007, Edge lists have previously been published for amphibians, birds, corals and mammals, helping guide conservation priorities for 100 most at-risk species. Each species is given a score which combines extinction risk with its evolutionary isolation or uniqueness, with the latest list supported by a study in the journal Plos One.

Top of the list is the Madagascar big-headed turtle, which has an Edge score higher than that of any other amphibian, bird or mammal, and is still taken for food and global trade.

Other unusual and endangered species include the Round Island keel-scaled boa from Mauritius, a snake which is the only terrestrial vertebrate known to have a hinged upper jaw; the minute leaf chameleon from Madagascar which is the size of a human thumbnail; and the gharial, a slender-snouted fish-eating freshwater crocodile. Less than 235 gharial survive in the rivers of northern India and Nepal.

The Mary Rriver turtle is one of the most striking creatures on the planet, and it is also one of the most endangered.

Rikki Gumbs, co-ordinator of Edge reptiles, said: Reptiles often receive the short end of the stick in conservation terms, compared with the likes of birds and mammals. However, the Edge reptiles list highlights just how unique, vulnerable and amazing these creatures really are.

He added: Just as with tigers, rhinos and elephants, it is vital we do our utmost to save these unique and too often overlooked animals. Many Edge reptiles are the sole survivors of ancient lineages, whose branches of the tree of life stretch back to the age of the dinosaurs. If we lose these species there will be nothing like them left on Earth.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

British couple celebrate after birth of first cloned puppy of its kind

West Yorkshire couple Laura Jacques and Richard Remde enlisted South Korean firm offering dog-cloning service for £67,000

A British couple have made history after a surrogate dog gave birth to the first cloned puppy of its kind on Boxing Day.

In the first case of its kind, the boxer puppy was cloned from the couples dead dog, Dylan, almost two weeks after it died. The previous limit for dog cloning was five days after death.

Laura Jacques, 29, and Richard Remde 43, from West Yorkshire, were grief stricken after their boxer died at the age of eight in June, having been diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumour.

The pair decided to try to clone Dylan and enlisted the services of the controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which offers a commercial dog-cloning service for $100,000 (67,000) per procedure. It is the only laboratory of its kind in the world. They have hailed the birth as a miracle.

The male puppy has been named Chance, after a character in Jacques favourite film, Disneys Homeward Bound. He is expected to be joined in three days time by a second cloned puppy this one will be named Shadow after another character in the film.

Jacques said she and Remde were overwhelmed after witnessing the birth by caesarean section on Saturday in the operating theatre at Sooam.

Dylan,

Dylan, who died in June this year. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The whole thing just feels surreal, she said. I lost all sense of time. I have no idea how long everything took, the whole thing made me feel very disoriented. I was just clinging on to Richard for about an hour and a half after Chance was born.

After they got him out I still couldnt quite believe it had happened. But once he started making noises I knew it was real. Even as a puppy of just a few minutes old I cant believe how much he looks like Dylan. All the colourings and patterns on his body are in exactly the same places as Dylan had them.

Remde said: I was much more overwhelmed with emotion at the birth than I expected to be.

The couple said the puppy was feeding well from his mother. Im trying to get my head round the fact that this puppy has 100% of the same DNA as Dylan, said Jacques. Its quite confusing but Im telling myself that Chance is just like one of Dylans puppies.

I had had Dylan since he was a puppy, she said. I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.

Sooam, the leading laboratory in the world for dog cloning, has produced more than 700 dogs for commercial customers. The technique involves implanting DNA into a blank dog egg that has had the nucleus removed.

Jacques heard about dog cloning from a documentary about a competition Sooam ran for one UK dog owner to have their dog cloned free of charge. Rebecca Smith was the winner and her dachshund, Winnie, who is still alive, was successfully cloned.

David Kim, a scientist at Sooam, said the birth of the two cloned dogs was exciting for the laboratory because samples were taken from Dylan 12 days after he died. This is the first case we have had where cells have been taken from a dead dog after a very long time, he said. Hopefully it will allow us to extend the time after death that we can take cells for cloning.

There are no regulations on the cloning of pets, although the cloning of human beings is illegal, and in August the European parliament voted to outlaw the cloning of farm animals.

Hwang Woo-suk, one of the leading researchers at the Sooam laboratory, is a controversial figure. In 2004, he led a research group at Seoul University, in South Korea, which claimed to have created a cloned human embryo in a test tube. An independent scientific committee found no evidence of this and in January 2006 the journal Science, which had originally published the research, retracted it. He was part of the team delivering the cloned puppy on Boxing Day.

The RSPCA expressed concern about dog cloning. A spokesperson said: There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.

Jacques, a dog walker, and Remde, who runs a building company, Heritage Masonry & Conservation, had to take two sets of samples from their dead dog after the first set of samples did not grow in the laboratory. Remde made two trips in quick succession to South Korea to deliver the cell samples. They are now waiting for the birth of the second puppy and are hoping to adopt the puppies two surrogate mothers and bring four dogs back to the UK next July after the quarantine period has ended.

Key dates in the cloning of Dylan

11 June: Couple told their eight-year-old boxer dog Dylan has an inoperable brain tumour. They were told he might live for up to 18 months with treatment.

30 June: Dylan dies after a cardiac arrest.

1 & 2 July: Vet allows the couple to keep Dylan with them for a few days before burying him. Jacques starts researching the possibilities of cloning a dead dog.

2 July: Dylan is refrigerated in a funeral parlour. Couple purchase medical equipment from Boots to take a skin sample from Dylan to send to Sooam in South Korea in the hope that they can clone him.

4 July: Remde flies to South Korea with the samples, delivers them to laboratory staff waiting at the airport and immediately gets on a plane back to the UK.

5 July: Dylans remains are frozen until a date is fixed for his burial.

6 July: Sooam says it does not think the samples Remde has flown to South Korea could be used to create a cloned puppy.

7 July: Sooam asks whether the couple still have the dog and if so whether they want to try to extract more samples for cloning.

10 July: The couple struggle to take samples from Dylan, whose body remains frozen before burial. A small sample of cells is finally secured around midnight.

11 July: Remde flies to South Korea again to deliver the samples. Sooam receives the cells having never attempted to clone a dog 12 days after its death.

21t October: Sooam confirms the cells have grown to a sufficient degree that the cloning process could start.

23 November: Sooam says a pregnancy has been verified.

24 November: Sooam says a second pregnancy has been verified.

26 December: First boxer puppy is born on Boxing Day.

29 December: Second puppy due.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Great Barrier Reef: rising temperatures turning green sea turtles female

Complete feminisation of northern population is possible in near future, researchers find

Rising temperatures are turning almost all green sea turtles in a Great Barrier Reef population female, new research has found.

The scientific paper warned the skewed ratio could threaten the populations future.

Sea turtles are among species with temperature dependent sex-determination and the proportion of female hatchlings increases when nests are in warmer sands.

Tuesdays paper, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California State University and Worldwide Fund for Nature Australia, is published in Current Biology. It examined two genetically distinct populations of turtles on the reef, finding the northern group of about 200,000 animals was overwhelmingly female.

While the southern population was 65%-69% female, females in the northern group accounted for 99.1% of juveniles, 99.8% of subadults and 86.8% of adults.

Combining our results with temperature data show that the northern GBR green turtle rookeries have been producing primarily females for more than two decades and that the complete feminisation of this population is possible in the near future, the paper said.

The temperature at which the turtles will produce male or female hatchlings is heritable, the paper said, but tipped to produce 100% male or 100% female hatchlings within a range of just a few degrees.

Furthermore, extreme incubation temperatures not only produce female-only hatchlings but also cause high mortality of developing clutches, it said. With warming global temperatures and most sea turtle populations naturally producing offspring above the pivotal temperature, it is clear that climate change poses a serious threat to the persistence of these populations.

The lead author, Dr Michael Jensen from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the research provided a new understanding of what the turtle populations were dealing with.

Green
Green sea turtles are among species with temperature dependent sex-determination. Photograph: Alamy

He said the findings were surprising and a bit alarming, with significant conservation implications.

While we can hope there might be some cooler years to produce a few more males, overall we can expect the temperatures to increase, he said.

Jensen said the researchers worked around ethical implications of past studies that required sacrificing some hatchlings to accurately determine sex ratios and pivotal temperature ranges.

This team instead studied more than 400 turtles at foraging grounds, gathering information on the sex of turtles from multiple generations.

Knowing what the sex ratios in the adult breeding population are today, and what they might look like five, 10 and 20 years from now when these young turtles grow up and become adults, is going to be incredibly valuable, Jensen said.

The research was facilitated through the Great Barrier Reef Rivers to Reef to Turtles project by the World Wildlife Fund Australia.

The chief executive of WWF Australia, Dermot OGorman, said it was yet another sign of the impact of climate change, following recent research that coral bleaching events were occurring far more frequently.

Weve had two years where weve had mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef, he told Guardian Australia. Thats a very visible sign of the impact of climate change. But this is an invisible change. We cant see the impact its having on a turtle population until a study like this shows some long-term trends.

OGorman said more urgent action on climate change was clearly needed but conservationists were taking some practical measures, including trialling the use of shadecloth on known nesting beaches to lower the sand temperature, and reducing bycatch in the fishing industry.

[Shadecloths] can be done in certain places but theres a limit to the scale you can do that, he said.

The green turtle is one of the most populous species of turtle in the world but the Great Barrier Reef settlement was significant and turtles were under enormous pressure outside Australian waters, OGorman said.

An additional threat to them really does sound alarm bells, he said. Now every large reproductive male is going to be even more important.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Worlds Most Metal Bird Makes Darkness Out of Chaos

The mating dance of the male superb bird of paradise is like nothing else on Earth. To win the affection of a female, he forms a sort of satellite dish with his body, revealing an entrancing band of blue. He jumps about like this, clicking in the face of the rather drab female, who appears simultaneously intrigued and horrified.

Other species of birds of paradise may vary in their plumage and tactics, but they share something remarkable: their black feathers. OK, maybe not remarkable at first glance, but a study out today in the journal Nature Communications reveals that those feathers absorb 99.95 percent of light. That’s nearly none more black, and virtually identical to the 99.965 percent of light that Vantablack, the world’s darkest artificial substance, can absorb. And it’s all thanks to black feathers structured like a forest of chaos.

The black feathers of the male bird of paradise eat light. Which again, metal. That’s because unlike your typical bird feather, which is more or less neatly structured with branches that branch off of branches, kind of like a fractal, the bird of paradise feather looks like an irregular forest of trees (see the image below for a comparison).

This leads to a whole lot of cavities in the feather. “Light strikes the feather, and is repeatedly scattered within these cavities,” says Harvard evolutionary biologist Dakota McCoy, lead author of the paper. “Each time it scatters, a little bit is absorbed, so that's how they become so black.” (Nitpicky thing I should probably mention: The feathers absorb 99.95 percent of directly incident light, meaning light coming from straight ahead, where the female would be standing. When it comes to light from all sides, the figure is more like 96.86 percent.) Which is particularly odd because human-made super-blacks rely not on chaos, but strict patterning of structures.

A comparison of a normal feather, top left, and a feather from a paradise riflebird, top right. The bottom panels are the feathers coated in gold. Notice how the riflebird’s still appears a deep black.
Dakota McCoy

This is known as structural absorption, and it’s fundamentally different from how pigment works in the animal kingdom. A pigment on, say, a parrot, absorbs certain wavelengths of light and reflects others, manifesting as color. The idea behind the structural absorption of the bird of paradise's super-black, on the other hand, is light keeps bouncing around the "forest" of structures, absorbing and absorbing.

The male bird of paradise takes things to the next level for a very good reason: sex. Let’s return to the example of the superb bird of paradise and its dance of seduction. The little prince of darkness creates that satellite dish with his wings, revealing a striking band of blue set against that striking black. This blue is also a structural color, though in this case it’s structural reflection, not absorption. So it bounces light around the structure to give a sort of sheen that changes depending on the angle. Again, this is different from straight pigment in that pigment reflects or absorbs certain wavelengths of light without all the bouncing around.

“The whole point, we think, of these feathers is to trick her eye and brain into thinking that there's less light illuminating the male than there really is,” says McCoy. “So to her eye, when her world is an incredibly dark black background and then a vivid blue spot, the spot looks even brighter, and it even looks like it's glowing.” It may even look like it’s floating in space.

This delicate dance isn't about hubris—it's about sexual selection. The male puts on his show because females can afford to be picky about who they mate with. The debate over why this evolved is still a contentious one, but it may have been that long ago, nice feathers were an indication that a bird of paradise male was healthy and parasite free. Females picked the highfalutin males, and an arms race ensued, with males developing ever more ostentatious displays. So it may be that these days, a male with super-black feathers and a pretty blue band isn't necessarily more healthy. It might be that he's bluffing. Which would all explain why females are so drab—this isn’t an adaptation to, say, camouflage better at night, otherwise you’d expect both sexes would rock it.

What’s curious is why we don’t see these kinds of feathers more often among birds. After all, absorbing almost all the photons that hit the feathers can in a sense make a bird invisible. “It may be that it really affects the waterproof-ability of those feathers, it may be that it's more costly to produce those feathers,” says Jack Dumbacher, curator of ornithology and mammalogy at the California Academy of Sciences. “There must be some kind of downside. Maybe they wear out more quickly and have to be replaced more often.”

Clearly, though, evolution has deemed super-black feathers to be useful for the bird of paradise, which means they may well be useful for humans too. Because the black magic of the bird of paradise feather literally goes deeper. McCoy and her team imaged the feathers with a scanning electron microscope, but with this technique the electron beam tends to electrostatically charge specimens and mess with image quality. So they had to ground the feathers.

“We blasted it with gold so that we could look at it under a microscope,” says McCoy, “but then we noticed amazingly that it still looked black even though we had put a 5 nanometer layer of gold over the entire surface.” The super-black feather, it seems, just won’t quit being super black.

Which could be great news for materials science. Super-black materials made in the lab rely on regularity to scatter light—a bunch of tiny cones, for instance, one after another across a surface. That’s like precise and elegant classical music compared to the bird of paradise’s metal-as-hell method. So maybe engineers can embrace that chaos to create new materials out of keratin, the same stuff that makes up feathers (and your hair and nails, by the way). Especially since traditional super-black materials tend to be fragile.

“Feathers are really robust, they're hard to break, and they're made of this super cheap thing,” says McCoy. “So if we can easily 3-D print or some other simple cheap way of manufacturing this, I think it could be useful.”

So metalheads, rejoice. New super-black materials may be headed your way, thanks to the sexual adventures of the bird of paradise. Which if it isn’t the name of a metal band out there, it should be.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Should we stop keeping pets? Why more and more ethicists say yes

Ninety per cent of Britons think of their pet as part of the family 16% even included them on the last census. But recent research into animals emotional lives has cast doubt on the ethics of petkeeping

It was a Tupperware tub of live baby rats that made Dr Jessica Pierce start to question the idea of pet ownership. She was at her local branch of PetSmart, a pet store chain in the US, buying crickets for her daughters gecko. The baby rats, squeaking in their plastic container, were brought in by a man she believed was offering to sell them to the store as pets or as food for the resident snakes. She didnt ask. But Pierce, a bioethicist, was troubled.

Rats have a sense of empathy and there has been a lot of research on what happens when you take babies away from a mother rat not surprisingly, they experience profound distress, she says. It was a slap in the face how can we do this to animals?

Pierce went on to write Run, Spot, Run, which outlines the case against pet ownership, in 2015. From the animals that become dog and cat food and the puppy farms churning out increasingly unhealthy purebred canines, to the goldfish sold by the bag and the crickets by the box, pet ownership is problematic because it denies animals the right of self-determination. Ultimately, we bring them into our lives because we want them, then we dictate what they eat, where they live, how they behave, how they look, even whether they get to keep their sex organs.

Treating animals as commodities isnt new or shocking; humans have been meat-eaters and animal-skin-wearers for millennia. However, this is at odds with how we say we feel about our pets. The British pet industry is worth about 10.6bn; Americans spent more than $66bn (50bn) on their pets in 2016. A survey earlier this year found that many British pet owners love their pet more than they love their partner (12%), their children (9%) or their best friend (24%). According to another study, 90% of pet-owning Britons think of their pet as a member of their family, with 16% listing their animals in the 2011 census.

Domestic
In the US, 1.5m shelter animals are euthanised each year. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is morally problematic, because more people are thinking of pets as people They consider them part of their family, they think of them as their best friend, they wouldnt sell them for a million dollars, says Dr Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and one of the founders of the budding field of anthrozoology, which examines human-animal relations. At the same time, research is revealing that the emotional lives of animals, even relatively simple animals such as goldfish, are far more complex and rich than we once thought (dogs are people, too, according to a 2013 New York Times comment piece by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns). The logical consequence is that the more we attribute them with these characteristics, the less right we have to control every single aspect of their lives, says Herzog.

Does this mean that, in 50 years or 100 years, we wont have pets? Institutions that exploit animals, such as the circus, are shutting down animal rights activists claimed a significant victory this year with the closure of Ringling Bros circus and there are calls to end, or at least rethink, zoos. Meanwhile, the number of Britons who profess to be vegan is on the rise, skyrocketing 350% between 2006 and 2016.

Widespread petkeeping is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the 19th century, most animals owned by households were working animals that lived alongside humans and were regarded unsentimentally. In 1698, for example, a Dorset farmer recorded in his diary: My old dog Quon was killed and baked for his grease, which yielded 11lb. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, animals began to feature less in our increasingly urban environments and, as disposable income grew, pets became more desirable. Even as people began to dote on their pets, though, animal life was not attributed any intrinsic value. In Run, Spot, Run, Pierce reports that, in 1877, the city of New York rounded up 762 stray dogs and drowned them in the East River, shoving them into iron crates and lifting the crates by crane into the water. Veterinarian turned philosopher Bernard Rollin recalls pet owners in the 1960s putting their dog to sleep before going on holiday, reasoning that it was cheaper to get a new dog when they returned than to board the one they had.

Maine
Nine per cent of British pet owners love their animal more than their children. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

More recently, however, several countries have moved to change the legal status of animals. In 2015, the governments of Canada and New Zealand recognised animals as sentient beings, effectively declaring them no longer property (how this squares with New Zealands recent war on possums is unclear). While pets remain property in the UK, the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 stipulates that pet owners must provide a basic level of care for their animals. Pets are also property in the US, but 32 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington DC, now include provisions for pets under domestic violence protection orders. In 2001, Rhode Island changed its legislation to describe pet owners as guardians, a move that some animal rights advocates lauded (and others criticised for being nothing more than a change in name).

Before we congratulate ourselves on how far we have come, consider that 1.5m shelter animals including 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats are euthanised each year in the US. The number of stray dogs euthanised annually in the UK is far lower 3,463 but the RSCPA says investigations into animal cruelty cases increased 5% year on year in 2016, to 400 calls a day.

Can I stick my dog in a car and take him to the vet and say: I dont want him any more, kill him, or take him to a city shelter and say: I cant keep him any more, I hope you can find a home for him, good luck? says Gary Francione, a professor at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey and an animal rights advocate. If you can still do that, if you still have the right to do that, then they are still property.

Crucially, our animals cant tell us whether they are happy being pets. There is an illusion now that pets have more voice than in the past but it is maybe more that we are putting words into their mouth, Pierce says, pointing to the abundance of pets on social media plastered with witty projections written by their parents. Maybe we are humanising them in a way that actually makes them invisible.

If you accept the argument that pet ownership is morally questionable, how do you put the brakes on such a vast industry? While he was writing his 2010 book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Herzog was studying the motivations of animal rights activists and whether it was emotion or intellect that pushed them towards activism. One of the subjects, Herzog says, was very, very logical. After he had become a vegan, eschewed leather shoes and convinced his girlfriend to go vegan, he considered his pet cockatiel. I remember; he looked up wistfully. He said he got the bird, took it outside, let it loose and it flew up, Herzog recalls. He said: I knew she wouldnt survive, that she probably starved. I guess I was doing it more for myself than for her.

Although Pierce and Francione agree that pet ownership is wrong, both of them have pets: Pierce has two dogs and a cat; Francione has six rescue dogs, whom he considers refugees. For now, the argument over whether we should own animals is largely theoretical: we do have pets and giving them up might cause more harm than good. Moreover, as Francione suggests, caring for pets seems to many people to be the one area where we can actually do right by animals; convincing people of the opposite is a hard sell.

Tim Wass, the chair of the Pet Charity, an animal welfare consultant and a former chief officer at the RSPCA, agrees. It has already been decided by market forces and human nature the reality is people have pets in the millions. The question is: how can we help them care for them correctly and appropriately?

If the short history of pet ownership tells us anything, it is that our attitude towards animals is prone to change. You see these rises and falls in our relationships with pets, says Herzog. In the long haul, I think petkeeping might fall out of fashion; I think it is possible that robots will take their place, or maybe pet owning will be for small numbers of people. Cultural trends come and go. The more we think of pets as people, the less ethical it is to keep them.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Scientists are hoping Pokmon Go will get you interested in actual animals

Science Twitter is totally into Pokmon Go, and not just because most scientists are nerds who played the games, collected the cards, and watched the show when they were kids. Instead, theyre seeing it as an opportunity to help people get closer to nature.

The LA Times reported that many researchers are using a hashtag #PokeBlitz for people who run into actual animals while catching virtual ones to get some species identified.

And its actually working!

Some naturalists are even reaching out to people who arent using or dont know of the hashtag.

Another group has splintered off to create a Pokdex-style index of their animals of study using the #PokemonIRL hashtag.

And, once people get sick of playing Pokmon Go (if they ever do, that is) perhaps theyll be interested to know that theres a non-augmented reality Pokmon Go-style game thats been around for literally centuries.

Source: http://www.dailydot.com/

This Lion quickly learned that giraffes are not to be messed with

Giraffes are more badass than they look.
Image: bbc

LONDON If someone asked you to predict the outcome of a pack of lions hunting a fleeing giraffe, you probably wouldn’t bet too heavily on the giraffe.

But that’s where you’d be wrong.

As we found out during Sunday’s episode of Planet Earth II, giraffes are significantly tougher than their spindly frames suggest.

Early on in the episode, David Attenborough narrated a scene in which a hungry pack of lions were hunting down a giraffe.

“The giraffe has the speed and stamina to outrun the pride,” said Attenborough. “But it’s being chased into a trap.

“Up ahead, the lead female waits.”

Turns out the trap wasn’t as effective as the lions were hoping, though.

Twitter really got behind the giraffe.

There were some inevitable jokes.

The clip made some people realise just how easy they’ve got it.

All in all, though, this person probably summed the whole thing up best:

The lesson? Don’t ever get on the wrong side of a giraffe.

BONUS: This tent could help millions of homeless people

Source: http://mashable.com/

Polar bears could become extinct faster than was feared, study says

The animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment

Polar bears could become extinct faster than was feared, study says

The animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment

Polar bears could be sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared, with the animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment.

New research has unearthed fresh insights into polar bear habits, revealing that the Arctic predators have far higher metabolisms than previously thought. This means they need more prey, primarily seals, to meet their energy demands at a time when receding sea ice is making hunting increasingly difficult for the animals.

A study of nine polar bears over a three-year period by the US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz found that the animals require at least one adult, or three juvenile, ringed seals every 10 days to sustain them. Five of the nine bears were unable to achieve this during the research, resulting in plummeting body weight as much as 20kg during a 10-day study period.

We found a feast and famine lifestyle if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them, said Anthony Pagano, a USGS biologist who led the research, published in Science.

polar bear map

We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears arent able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.

Paganos team studied the bears in a period during April over the course of three years, from 2014 to 2016, in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. They fitted the bears with GPS collars with video cameras to measure activity levels. Blood chemistry was also taken from the bears.

Previously, polar bears were thought to expend relatively little energy during days where they often wait for hours beside holes in the ice, which seals emerge from in order to breathe. But the researchers found that they actually have an average metabolism 50% higher than prior estimates.

With previous studies showing recent drops in polar bear numbers, survival rates and body condition, scientists said the new research suggests the species is facing an even worse predicament than was feared.

The Arctic is warming twice as rapidly as the global average, diminishing the sea ice that polar bears rely upon for food and forcing many to embark from water on to land where they desperately forage for goose eggs or rubbish from bins in far-flung towns.

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Footage of starving polar bear exposes climate change impact video

A recent widely-shared video of an emaciated polar bear is a horrible scene that we will see more of in the future and more quickly than we thought, according to Dr Steven Amstrup, who led polar bear research for 30 years in Alaska.

This is an excellent paper that fills in a lot of missing information about polar bears, said Amstrup, who was not involved in the USGS research. Every piece of evidence shows that polar bears are dependent on sea ice and if we dont change the trajectory of sea ice decline, polar bears will ultimately disappear.

They face the choice of coming on to land or floating off with the ice as it recedes, out to the deep ocean where there is little food. We will see more bears starving and more of them on land, where they will get into trouble by interacting with humans.

Polar bears are listed by the US government as a threatened species but the Trump administration has reversed measures that tackle climate change, with the president himself seemingly unaware of the situation in the Arctic.

During an interview on Sunday, Donald Trump said that the ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now theyre setting records. Theyre at a record levels.

In fact, when measured at its September minimum, Arctic sea ice has declined by around 13% per decade since 1979. Last year was the eighth lowest minimum extent in the 38-year satellite record.

The huge glacial ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are reacting more slowly to the warming atmosphere and oceans but scientists are watching them closely as they will heavily influence sea level rise if theres significant melting. In just the past decade, Greenland has lost two trillion tons of its ice mass.

I hope we will have an awakening, but we havent really done much to save polar bears over the past decade, said Amstrup. With this administration, Im not exactly confident well see a major switch in that.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

New artificial womb helps preemie animals grow

A newly-tested artificial womb could change the way doctors care for babies born prematurely, according to new research.

The new study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, details the testing of a “womb-like device” on fetal lambs, which develop lungs in utero much the same way humans do.

The lambs involved in the study lived inside the device which uses a container filled with liquid for about four weeks, breathing amniotic fluid inside of a temperature-controlled environment.

While video footage of the lamb within the artificial womb may look startling at first, the device could one day be a “bridge between the mother’s womb and the outside world,” said Dr. Alan Flake, co-author of the study, n a statement.

Image: The Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia

“If we can develop an extra-uterine system to support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies,” Flake, a doctor at the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, added.

This study wasn’t designed to replace a mother’s natural womb, but the invention could one day help keep premature infants off ventilators and out of incubators when they are born.

But that day isn’t here yet.

Assuming the team’s animal results can be translated into human healthcare settings, Flake estimates that clinics could be using this type of system sometime in the next 10 years.

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Source: http://mashable.com/

Good news, cat lovers: Your cat really does like you, according to new study

Image: Wang He/Getty Images

Cat lovers rejoice!

It’s time to stop trying to convince your dog-lover friends that your cat doesn’t hate you by sharing riveting stories of that one time Fluffers sat on your legs or the time you pet Cupcake and she didn’t slink away. Now you can prove they love you with science!

New research from Oregon State University,published on Friday inBehavioural Processes, states that cats enjoy human contact more than they like eating.

A cat and human being pals

Image: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Wait…are you saying…?

Yep, cats like hanging out with their humans more than they like eating. Honestly, I don’t even know any humans who like hanging out with other humans more than they like eating.

The authors of the study wrote that cats are often seen as not especially sociable or trainable because there is a “lack of knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer, and thus may be most motivated to work for.”

In order to test the widespread “cats are antisocial assh*les” belief, researchers subjected them to a series of tests to prove what they would choose in different situations. They took 50 cats from both shelters and people’s homes and deprived them of food, human contact, scent and toys for a few hours. They then reintroduced stimuli in these four categories to see which the cats chose.

Do you think this cat likes humans?

Image: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The cats have spoken: Most of the fur balls preferred human socialization over any of the other category. The authors of the study wrote,

While it has been suggested that cat sociality exists on a continuum, perhaps skewed toward independency, we have found that 50% of cats tested preferred interaction with the social stimulus even though they had a direct choice between social interaction with a human and their other most preferred stimuli from the three other stimulus categories.

There you have it. You can stop buying your cat’s love with expensive food or fancy toys because it just wants you for you.

All you dog owners will just have to get over it.

[H/T: The Telegraph]

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Source: http://mashable.com/

Animals Kept In Deep Freeze For 30 Years Brought Back To Life

Microscopic creatures kept frozen for more than three decades have been successfully brought back to life.

The 1mm long tardigrades were collected from a frozen moss sample in Antarctica in 1983, according to a new paper published in the journal Cryobiology. 

Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research stored the 8 legged, segmented critters at -4F for just over 30 years. They thawed and revived two of the animals, which are also known as water bears or moss piglets, in early 2014.

Credit: Photolibrary via Getty Images
The previous record for a tardigrade being revived from a deep freeze was 8 years.

One of them died 20 days into the experiment, reports the BBC. But its companion survived and managed to reproduce with a third tardigrade that had been hatched from a frozen egg. It went on to lay 19 eggs, of which 14 survived.

Tardigrades, found living in water across the world, are renowned for being tough and have previously survived several days after being blasted into space.

According to Japan’s The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, their metabolism shuts down and they enter a cryptobiotic state when faced with low temperatures. 

The previous record for tardigrades surviving extreme cold was eight years. “The present study extends the known length of long-term survival in tardigrade species considerably,” researchers wrote in the newly released paper.

Credit: STEVE GSCHMEISSNER via Getty Images
Anematode worm was revived after 39 years in deep freeze.

Lead researcher Megumu Tsujimoto said the team now wants to “unravel the mechanism for long-term survival by looking into damage to tardigrades’ DNA and their ability to repair it.”

The tardigrade has some way to go beat the record for surviving in a frozen state, however, which is currently held by the nematode worm – which managed 39 years in deep freeze before being revived.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Why Are So Many Dead Whales Washing Up in the Bay Area?

There’s no one way to describe the scent of a beached, rotting whale. See, it really depends on time and space: So long as you’re more than 20 feet away, you don’t smell a thing. But if you’re downwind, the sour stench will just about bowl you over. Its bite sits heavily instead of sharply in your throat. If a zombie wore week-old gym socks, this is what it would smell like.

Then consider the time of death. Whales are full of bacteria, just like us, so when they wash up dead, their body cavities play host to microbial anarchy. As the whale lies there on the beach in the sun, the bacteria multiply. Lots of different kinds of bacteria, spreading and eating up nutrients and giving off gas—which builds up, bloating the body to the point that it’s dangerous to deflate.

Video by Matt Simon

Which is why on a beach 13 miles north of San Francisco, a dozen scientists are carefully prodding a 58-foot female fin whale laid out on her back. “You'll usually see the stomach swell quite big, almost like if you have a stomach that's too full,” Barbie Halaska tells me—standing more than 20 feet from the whale, of course. She’s coordinator for strandings at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, and this is her necropsy (that’d be an autopsy for a non-human being). Wearing a teal hat and orange waders and elbow-length gloves, she walks around the whale, poking at it.

When you cut through the blubber layers, she adds, you start to see the muscle tense under the pressure of gas. “So you just poke little holes and you go along to let the gas escape.” It hisses like an inflatable mattress full of death.

Halaska and a dozen other scientists from the MMC and the California Academy of Sciences aren’t here to learn whale anatomy. They’re here to understand what happened to this bleached-white whale, which shows no outward signs of trauma, other than the typical nicks and scratches that come with being a massive animal swimming through the sea. Maybe the whale got tangled up in fishing nets and drowned. Or a ship struck it and the animal had manifested all its damage internally. Or disease had felled the whale.

Whatever the cause, its appearance builds on a bad omen: This is the third reported stranding in the Bay Area in a week. The average here for an entire year is five to seven. So what’s going on?

What these folks know for sure is that this particular whale is in an “advanced” state of decay. Someone reported it stranded on Duxbury Reef, near the town of Bolinas, three days before, and it died who knows how long before that. “Every time you go into a whale,” Halaska tells me before turning and heading back to her subject, “you go into it with an open mind.”

The scientists, armed with foot-long knives that look like miniature pirate swords, slice through blubber, peeling the flesh off in sheets. (Please be advised that you're coming up on a photo of this scene, which contains gore.) At this stage of decay, it’s easier to slice than if it were fresh, like cutting through a grape. A blond gentlemen in a backwards cap uses a meat hook to drag chunks of blubber into a tide pool, tossing them with a schlop when the stuff hits rock and a splash when it hits standing water. Rivers of whale blood make their way through the pools and into the sea. All the while, a gang of seagulls inches closer, eventually getting the courage to snag a piece of meat. They fight over it at first, but then seem to lose interest. Again, advanced state of decay.

Halaska comes back to my safe aromatic distance from the whale and invites me to get a real whiff. She leads me along the animal’s split-open abdomen.

“So this first layer that you're probably smelling is most likely blubber,” she says, “maybe a little bit of muscle. You can kind of smell the iron a little bit.”

“Can you smell it?” Halaska laughs. “I can’t smell it anymore.”

I can smell it, alright. Really, I'm lucky to be here for this relatively early necropsy, because with some other whales, the team doesn’t do just one. If the whale is big enough, they’ll do an initial exploration, then come back after it’s rotted more for better access to bones. At that point, the insides are more or less soup.

Matt Simon

Halaska brings me toward the tail. “Then if you stand here, this will be the intestinal contents, so you've got a little bit of brownish red material,” she says. That’d be the foul puddle on the ground. “It's just a different smell, it's almost like feces combined with a little bit of fat.”

“Not bacon grease fat,” she clarifies.

I leave her to her work. The team slices deeper, every so often puncturing cavities and letting out a hiss of gas. Beneath all that blubber, they’ve revealed a massive band of purple flesh running down the whale’s left side. It’s severe hemorrhaging, and pretty much only one thing can do that to an animal this size: a ship strike.

But you know what they say about assumptions. Just days before, a gray whale had washed ashore on Tennessee Valley Beach, nine miles to the south. “When we went out the first day, we saw that there were clear skull fractures, so we were thinking maybe a ship strike,” says Halaska. After all, this is a major shipping area. “But when we got in there, she had clear lines on her neck and into the muscle layer where she had this chronic bruising from an entanglement.” She’d run into a net, probably drowned or died of exhaustion, and then was struck by a ship.

Hemorrhaging on this new whale, though, is a big clue. That only happens to tissue while an animal is still alive. So the team digs deeper.

On the right side of the whale, a scientist cutting through flesh pulls out worm-like endoparasites—those would be parasites that live inside their host, common for a whale—and puts them in a plastic baggy. Then he pulls out a rib fragment about six inches long. He holds it in the air and calls out to Halaska over the top of the whale. She yells back to set it aside, so he lays it carefully on a slice of blubber on the beach.

Next Halaska climbs atop the whale's belly. She’s after the sternum, that bit of bone in the middle of your ribs. She slices away with her mini-sword, cutting out a huge square of flesh that she kicks to the ground. She too finds rib fragments.

Rib fragments from the stranded whale. Note the bruise on the second from the top.

Matt Simon

Halaska scrambles down. At this point, her waders are not only covered in whale muck, but she’s also got a small purple smear of it on the right side of her face. “I actually found one rib that has bone bruising,” she tells me. “So what happens is, it was hit and it causes the bone itself to bleed, it taints the bone pink. So it was definitely alive when it was hit.”

The team finds more fractured ribs, as well as fractured vertebrae near the head. The skull itself is fractured, all with associated hemorrhaging.

A ship strike, through and through—you just couldn’t tell it from the outside, likely because the skin was so decayed. The damage stretches from the whale’s left side, up and over into her sternum, with fractures also on the left side, where that fellow found his own rib fragment. “So it looks almost like she rolled when she got hit,” Halaska says. “It's unfortunate. It really sucks. It sucks for her.”

“I honestly hope for that animal's sake it was instant,” she adds.

That doesn’t make us humans merciful. This fin whale was a victim of the Bay Area’s bustling commerce, ships steaming through the Golden Gate with little regard for our ocean-going mammalian relatives. So long as the Bay Area exists, that won’t end.

But by proving that ships are killing whales—by slicing through rotten flesh and hunting for rib fragments and crawling atop massive bodies—Halaska and her team can help influence policy. Getting ships to slow down in certain areas, for instance. “Every case that we do just helps to further inform the public and inform policymakers what's happening in the oceans,” Halaska says.

It’s increasingly clear something has to change. That other whale that got tangled and then was struck by a ship? Someone reported it beached on May 18, two days after NOAA got word of a ship entering San Francisco Bay with yet another fin whale draped across its bow. That animal sank and resurfaced in Alameda, near Oakland. It was towed to Angel Island in the bay, where scientists tied it to a post at high tide. Then once low tide came along, they did their necropsy, found fractures and hemorrhaging, and confirmed the cause of death.

The fin whale sprawled at my feet will enter the annals of science, but will see little ceremony beyond that. Towing it out to sea and sinking it would be too difficult. You certainly can’t blow it up, as Oregon learned the hard way in 1970. You could bury it, sure, but that’s not really necessary. This whale will be left to rot where it lies. That may not please beachgoing humans, but the scavengers will certainly appreciate it—seagull company excluded.


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Source: http://www.wired.com/

Puppies’ response to speech could shed light on baby-talk, suggests study

Baby-talk and pet-talk might have a common purpose in attempting to engage with a non-speaking listener, say researchers

Puppies prick up their ears to human cooing but adult dogs are unmoved by it, according to a new study.

Scientists have found that humans use a sing-song cadence, similar to that used towards babies, when talking to dogs regardless of the age of the animal. But the tone only draws the attention of puppies: older dogs showed no preference over normal human speech.

The use of pet-directed speech is extremely widespread, but its functional value has barely been studied, said Nicolas Mathevon, lead author of the research from the University of Lyon at Saint-Etienne.

The research, he adds, could also shed light on human use of baby-talk: both might have a common purpose in attempting to engage with a listener that cannot speak.

In the first stage of the research, 30 women were each presented with images of a puppy, an adult dog and an elderly canine and recorded uttering a sentence involving phrases such as hello cutie!, whos a good boy? and come here sweetie pie!. They were also asked to repeat the phrase in their normal tone to a researcher.

The researchers found that when talking to dogs, humans typically use higher-pitched, slower tempo speech with a greater degree of variation in pitch than when talking to each other. The effect was most pronounced when chatting to puppies, with participants increasing their pitch by 21% on average compared to normal speech.

Mathevon says the results, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researchers from the UK, US and France, provide clues as to why humans address their pets in a similar way to babies. The fact that human speakers employ dog-directed speech to communicate with dogs of all ages is interesting because it could mean that we use this kind of speech pattern when we want to facilitate interaction with a non-speaking listener, and not only a juvenile listener, said Mathevon.

The researchers also found that while puppies showed no difference in response between puppy-talk over speech directed at adult dogs, they did show a greater response to puppy-talk over human-directed speech. Adult dogs, on the other hand, showed no difference in their response to the recordings.

That is unexpected, the authors say, and could be down to dogs showing less interest in the voices of strangers as they age. Alternatively, the use of dog-directed speech might tap into an innate receptiveness to high-pitched sounds in puppies a trait that disappears as they age.

Evan MacLean, evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Arizona, said that the research was another piece of evidence of the overlap between human-dog and parent-child relationships. As a result of selection for juvenile traits, dogs emit a lot of signals that scream baby to humans, which can facilitate special kinds of interactions with dogs, normally reserved for children, he said. The question we dont have a great answer to is whether there are long term functional consequences of interacting with dogs in this way (e.g. effects on word learning), or if this is just a byproduct of the baby-like cues that dogs inundate us with.

But Catherine Laing, a researcher in neuroscience at Duke University in North Carolina who was not involved in the study, disagreed with the suggestion that similarities in the pitch of baby-talk and pet-talk indicates a link to non-speaking listeners. She points out that the two forms of speech have many differences not only in the type of words used and how they are articulated, but also in the interactions between listener and adult.

Baby-talk [or infant-directed speech] is complex and aimed at supporting language learning, and we cant say the same about the observations made in this paper, she said.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

Some
Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Litter of seven puppies are first born through IVF

Nineteen embryos, seven pregnancies, one female beagle … scientists say procedure could save endangered species and prevent genetic disorders

From the paint on their toes and the tips of their tails, the puppies stand out as unusual. But the litter of seven will go down in history for more than the colours that tell them apart. Now five months old and doing well, the dogs are the first to be born through IVF.

The healthy delivery of the dogs by caesarean section on 10 July marks a success that has eluded scientists for 40 years since efforts began in the mid-1970s. The procedure could transform attempts to save endangered dog species, and potentially help prevent the genetic disorders that afflict so many breeds.

Born to the same beagle mother, the puppies included two produced from a different beagle mother and a cocker spaniel father, and five from two other pairings of beagles. The seven pregnancies came after 19 IVF embryos were transferred to the mother, according to a report in Plos One.

We had people lined up, each with a towel, to grab a puppy and rub them and warm them up, said Alex Travis, a specialist in reproductive biology at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York. When you hear that first cry and they start wriggling a bit, its pure happiness. Youre ecstatic that theyre all healthy and alive and doing well.

The team used small daubs of coloured nail varnish to tell the dogs apart. Since they were born, all but one has been adopted. Their names are Ivy, Cannon, Beaker, Buddy, Nelly, Red and Green. Travis gave a home to Red and Green, and while Reds name honours the informal name for the Cornell sports teams, Travis says Green has yet to be renamed because his children cannot reach a consensus. Nelly will be homed after she has had her own litter of puppies.

The struggle to make IVF work in dogs is down to the curiosities of the canine reproductive system. Dogs ovulate only once or twice a year and the eggs they release are very immature. They are also unhelpfully dark, thanks to fatty molecules inside them, making them hard to work with under a microscope. The list of problems goes on.

The seven puppies have three sets of biological parents and are said to be healthy and doing well. Photograph: Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine/PA

Travis and his colleagues first worked out how to obtain eggs that were mature enough to fertilise. The solution turned out to be leaving the eggs in the dogs oviducts the canine equivalent of human fallopian tubes for a day longer than usual, allowing them to reach a later stage of natural development.

The next hurdle was mimicking the effect of the female reproductive tract, which prepares incoming sperm for fertilisation. Jennifer Nagashima and Skylar Sylvester, researchers in Traviss lab, found that adding magnesium to the sperm culture did the job. With those two changes, the scientists achieved fertilisation rates of better than 80%.

The final part of the process was to freeze the embryos, so they can be stored until the surrogate mother is at the right stage in her reproductive cycle. Travis had worked out how to do this before, and in 2013 oversaw the birth of the first dog, named Klondike, from a frozen embryo.

Travis said the breakthrough could help conserve threatened and endangered species of dogs in captivity. If you are managing a species such as the African painted dog, and a male dies, you can collect sperm. And if a female dies, you can collect ovarian follicles from the ovaries and try to mature oocytes in vitro. But then what? To be able to use these resources, you need IVF to be able to produce an embryo from the sperm and eggs, he said.

Travis added: Because dogs share so many genetic traits and diseases with people over 350, which is vastly more than any other species this technique also gives us new opportunities both to study genetic disease, and with gene editing, potentially prevent it from happening. This will have important implications for both veterinary and human medicine.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Three-eyed extinct reptile was a bone-headed dinosaur mimic 100 million years early

Newly discovered Triopticus primus is one of many copy-cat animals

A bizarre new extinct reptile with a domed skull of solid bone has been unearthed in Texas. If this sounds familiar, it could be because you have heard of a group of dinosaurs called the pachycephalosaurs that possessed very similar characteristics. One could almost call Triopticus a mimic were it not for the fact that it dates to 228-220 million years ago, meaning that it predates the pachycephalosaurs by over 100 million years. Moreover, Triopticus is one of numerous animals from this period (the Late Triassic) that were in some way copies of other reptiles that evolved later.

Triopticus is a small animal the preserved dome of the skull is only around 5 cm long even though it is from an adult animal, but what there is of it is very unusual. There is a large pit in the skull that resembles the eye sockets of reptiles and gave rise to the animals name, as Triopticus means three eyes. This hole does not represent an extra eye, however, but may simply be a result of the surrounding bones having enlarged and expanded leaving this space behind, rather than there being a bit missing.

Aside from the difference of this divot, comparisons to the pachycephalosaurs are more than superficial. Both have greatly enlarged domes of solid bone that sat at the back of the head above the brain, both show some extra bumps and bosses, and both even show some similarities in the microstructure of the bone. Although the rest of Triopticus is missing, it is hard not to suggest that these animals may have bashed heads with one another as the pachycephalosaurs are thought to do (although this is not covered in the paper). Such similarities of form between only distantly related organisms is termed convergent evolution and there are numerous examples of this in the fossil record and alive today (think of the hydrodynamic shapes of fish, dolphins and penguins).

Convergent
Convergent evolution between Triassic animals (left) and those that came later (right) and in particular Triopticus and pachycephalosaurs (both top) Photograph: Stocker et al., 2016

However, Triopticus and a number of the reptiles that lived alongside it show some remarkable convergences with other reptiles that came later, and most notably the dinosaurs. In the Late Triassic there were various animals showing adaptations and body plans that will be familiar to those who have browsed even childrens books on dinosaurs. There were bipedal plant eating reptiles similar to the ornithomimosaurs, herbivorous forms with leaf-shaped teeth covered in armour like the later ankylosaurs, large-headed reptiles with sharp teeth that looked like predatory dinosaurs (if on four legs rather than two), and even long-snouted semi-aquatic animals that resembled extinct and even living crocodilians.

These pairs are already known to palaeontologists, but an analysis of skull and body shapes shows how similar animals were to each other in the ages before the dinosaurs and others diverged, and then later how similar these various different forms became, despite their fairly distant relatedness. Its notable that Triopticus is a particular outlier, being even more distant from the ancestral form that the pachycephalosaurs it has quite an extreme set of anatomical features.

That convergent evolution is rampant within some groups is not big news, but the sheer range of extinct reptile species that ended up taking on similar forms (and often more than once) is a reminder of the selective pressures that evolution can bring to some lineages. Even so these are typically limited to classic ecological features like specialised teeth for eating or claws for digging, so modify the skull in such a shape more than once as seen here is quite a surprise and one hopes that more will come to light in the future. It will certainly be interesting to see if the rest of Triopticus matches the thick-headed dinosaurs in any other areas.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

The Weirdest Senses Animals Have That You Dont

People like to imagine that theyre the pinnacle of evolution, but the animal kingdom suggests otherwise. The discovery that bumblebees use hair on their legs to detect a flowers electromagnetic field offers another reminder that human senses dont always measure up. You share the planet with creatures that can smell veins, see colors you cant imagine, and communicate through their feet. Here are just a few animals with senses sharper than yours.

01

Bumblebees

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

Credit: Getty Images

Bumblebees rely on many things to find those roses in your garden, including voltage. They accumulate a small positive charge as they fly, and flowers have a negative charge just by sitting there. Mechanosensory hairs on a bees legs respond to the attraction between these opposite charges, guiding them to a bloom. A flowers charge changes once a bee stops by, something their sisters pick up on so they know to move along to the next one.

02

Sharks

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

Credit: Getty Images

Beyond being among the most skillful predators on the planet, sharks possess the best biological conductor of electricity yet discovered. Its called Lorenzini jelly, and it fills a network of pores all around the sharks face. As Jaws swims toward lunch, the jelly detects minute differences between the electrical charge of the animal and the water around it. Its like a homing device that guides the shark right to a meal, even in the darkest, murkiest water.

03

Octopuses

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

Credit: Getty Images

If youve ever worn Ray-Bans, youve tasted life as an octopus. Their skin has patterns that are entirely invisible to human eyes because theyre hidden in lights polarization the direction (up and down or side-to-side) that light waves oscillate as they travel. The world usually doesnt look too different through polarized sunglasses, which only show you light oscillating in one direction, because human eyes cant tell the difference between the two. But photoreceptors in octopuses eyes can differentiate between them, revealing those subtle patterns that people cant see without special cameras.

04

Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

Credit: Getty Images

Mantis shrimp are famous for striking prey so hard that the water around them gets as hot as the sun. Its a cool trick called cavitation, but its not their only superpower. Lights polarization can also rotate clockwise or counterclockwise, giving it whats called a circular polarization. Mantis shrimp have patterns in this circularly polarized light that are invisible to every animal on Earth except for other mantis shrimp. To facilitate signalling and mating, their eyes have evolved filters that can distinguish between the two circular polarizations. Score one more for the mantis shrimp.

05

Vampire bats

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

Credit: Getty Images

Everyone hates a phlebotomist who keeps poking away in search of a vein. Vampire bats avoid this by sniffing out veins using the same TRPV1 proteins that tell you that your tea is scalding hot. Instead of alerting them to danger, these proteins concentrated in a bats nose tell them when theyre above skin warmer than about 86 , where theres a big, juicy blood vessel hiding underneath.

06

Pit vipers

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

Credit: Getty Images

Pit vipers have night-vision goggles built into their faces. One of their namesake pits resides below each nostril, and these pits act like a pair of eyes that only see infrared light, which we feel as heat. So they distinguish temperatures instead of colors. Though the pits arent focused well enough for the snake to pinpoint prey without visual help, theyre so sensitive that they can notice temperature variations of as little as a thousandth of a degree.

07

Elephants

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

Credit: Getty Images

Elephants communicate in all sorts of wonderful ways. They trumpet, of course, and flap their ears and rumble at frequencies so low you might feel it, but never hear it. Cooler still, their feet and trunks are sensitive enough to pick up vibrations created by elephants as far as 10 miles away. These messages convey more than the presence of food or danger, too. Elephants can tell if the stomper is a friend or a stranger, and use subtle differences in what each foot feels to triangulate the source—like how you know where someones yelling from just by hearing them.

08

Roundworms

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

Credit: Getty Images

Even the lowly roundworm needs to know which way is up as it shimmies through dead plants or squirms in a petri dish. These creatures, just a millimeter long, rely on a single nerve that detects Earths magnetic field and orients them accordingly. Although roundworms are among the most exhaustively studied species, no one realized this about them until last year, when scientists in Texas discovered their worms from Australia burrowing in the wrong direction.

09

Honeybees

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Credit: Getty Images

Bees are another animal that can detect the Earths magnetic field, but unlike birds and other creatures with this ability, no one is quite sure how they do it. The leading theory is a magnetic mineral called magnetite lining cells in the bees abdomens creates something akin to a compass telling them which way is north. But others think that sunlight sets off a chemical reaction in the bees whose products are affected by magnetic fields. While humans work that out, the bees will just continue using Earths magnetic field mocking our limited senses in the process.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Volunteers document race to save surviving whales after 400 stranded

New Zealand has suffered one of its worst whale strandings in history.
Image: Tim Cuff/New Zealand Herald via AP

416 pilot whales have been stranded on a New Zealand beach Friday morning, in one of the worst incidences of its kind in the country’s history.

The whales are located at Farewell Spit near the city of Nelson, with volunteers doing what they can to help save the surviving 100 whales. 250 to 300 are already dead, according to the Department of Conservation.

“It can be really quite distressing seeing so many dead whales,” Kath Inwood, a ranger with the Department of Conservation, told AP. “People need to be resilient and handle that and then get on with what needs to be done.”

There are 300 volunteers working onsite alongside staff from the Department of Conservation and organisation Project Jonah, with some people coming across the country to help. Inwood said that volunteers refloated the whales at high tide, forming a chain to stop them from swimming back onshore.

The area seems to confuse whales, as it’s been the site of previous mass strandings.

Earlier, volunteers had tried to keep the surviving whales damp and cool by placing blankets over them, as well as throwing buckets of water on them while waiting for high tide to come.

There was only one opportunity on Friday to float the whales at high tide, as no work will be done overnight due to the risk to people. According to Newshub, half of the 100 whales have been re-stranded after they were refloated.

While strandings have occurred before at Farewell Spit, the incident has shocked locals due to its magnitude.

There are various theories as to why whales strand, with reasons including old age, injury, navigational errors.

Associated Press contributed reporting.

Source: http://mashable.com/

Boston Dynamics’ Robot Dog Will Be Available Next Year

It’s been a hell of a two days for Boston Dynamics’ fantastical quadruped robot SpotMini. Yesterday, it starred in a new video that may seem, well, a bit ho-hum at first glance—at least compared to the company’s other recent reveals. The robot doesn’t open doors for its friends or fight off a human assailant brandishing a hockey stick. It simply traipses down corridors, through doorways, and up a staircase. Yet within that short journey lies a tantalizing detail about SpotMini the robot dog.

Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert followed that up today at the TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics conference at UC Berkeley with surprising news for the secretive company: SpotMini is coming to market, and soon. The company is planning to build 100 units later this year.

“That's the prelude to getting them into a higher rate production,” Raibert said on stage, “which we hope to start about the middle of next year.” He declined to disclose the price, but did say the machine in the most recent video is about 10 times cheaper to produce than a previous iteration. “And we think we can go further,” Raibert said.

Boston Dynamics has long been research-focused, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been thinking about what consumers want out of SpotMini. For one, buyers will be able to mount their own hardware on SpotMini’s back, Raibert said. Boston Dynamics is also working on its own add-on packages. “For instance, we have a surveillance package where we have special cameras that can mount on the back,” he said. And that famous arm that helped the robot open the door for its friend? That’s an extra option that’ll be removable.

Notably, the new video helps explain how Boston Dynamics is getting SpotMini to operate autonomously. According to the video’s description, an operator first manually drives the robot around its surroundings, as the machine captures the view with cameras on its sides and front and back. Then when SpotMini is unleashed to walk the same route on its own, it uses that captured visual data to get its bearings. Self-driving car companies get their machines rolling in much the same way. First, they map routes with lidar, which sprays the road and trees and such with lasers to build a 3-D model of the world. That helps give the robocar a better understanding of its surroundings. The difference with SpotMini, though, is that it’s using stereo cameras instead. It’s devoid of the lidar essential to so many robots, Boston Dynamics confirms.

Take a look at the 1:00 mark in the video above. That “Obstacle Avoidance Data” panel at lower left? “That looks like an occupancy grid from a stereo point cloud,” says Kevin Peterson, cofounder and software lead of Marble, which makes autonomous delivery robots. “A stereo point cloud is you have two cameras next to each other, like your eyes.” Thus, stereo vision.

That could give the robot more visual resolution than a lidar system. Lidar is better for some things; its range is greater, and it works better in bright conditions than an optical camera. But “what's interesting here is they are going indoors and outdoors on a reasonably bright day,” says Peterson, “so that means their stereo system is working in pretty bright conditions.”

SpotMini’s predecessor, Spot, was indeed equipped with lidar, but it would make sense for this smaller iteration to ditch lidar in favor of stereo cameras. “On a vehicle that small lidar is challenging, it's extra weight and it's extra power,” says Peterson. “It's just volume that you would rather not take up.”

So SpotMini is destined to see the world more like we do (unless humans start firing lasers out of their eyeballs). And other robotics outfits are exploring ways to get advanced robots to navigate our world with cameras alone. It’s a more energetically efficient way, both in terms of power consumption and bulk, to have increasingly advanced robots make their way around.

“What I take away form this is they're really trying to perfect how they walk through the world,” says Peterson, “and in order to do that they need to understand something about the world.”

And that seems to be working. Boston Dynamics is real close to pushing SpotMini into the real world, only this time without using hockey sticks.

Bananas Bots

  • Not to throw shade, but SpotMini has some competition for most impressive robotic feat. Just a few months ago, Boston Dynamics released this video of its two-legged Atlas robot doing … wait for it … a backflip.

  • Before that, the best it could do was bounce back after a solid kick from a mean-spirited human.

  • Guys, just in case it's not clear: Please don't kick the robots.

Source: http://www.wired.com/

Scientists announce the discovery of strange hammerheaded reptile fossil

A newly discovered fossil of reptile hailing from the middle Triassic period reveals a very unusual hammerhead-shaped jawcompletely dismantling the way researchers thought the ancient creature lived.

First described in 2014, researchers thought the crocodile-sized Atopodentatus unicus (whose name means unique strangely toothed), had a downturned snout shaped like a flamingos beak. And boy, was it weird looking. According to that report, Atopodentatus used its strange jaw to stir up small crustaceans and other little critters from the soft mud of the sea floor. But researchers discovered a new fossil in Southern China that was better preserved and revealed an even stranger jaw that harkens to the hammerhead shark. They published a new description of the ancient reptile in the open access journal Science Advances.

This reptile is the first of its kind, Olivier Rieppel, a paleontologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, and one of the papers authors told the Daily Dot in a phone interview. The original fossil was very poorly preserved with its skull bones separated from one another.

Only when the new specimen came up, you saw this hammerhead, Rieppel said. No one would have expected the reptile to be so strangely built.

But the new specimen was in much better shapealbeit a little flat.

The reptile was very compressed during fossilization, Rieppel said. The skull was compressed dorsoventrallyit was flattenedbut everything stayed in place. The contours of the skull are immediately obvious.

Nick Fraser, National Museums Scotland

Rieppel specializes in working with flattened reptiles, reconstructing them through 3-D modeling using very advanced materialslike Playdough and toothpicks.

Olivier Rieppel, The Field Museum.

Rieppel and his modeled the clay after the bones of the flattened skull, using toothpicks as a stand-in for the creatures peg-like teeth. They think Atopodentatus used its unique jaw to scrape up algae from rocks and then pushed water back out its sieve-like teethsimilar to how blue whales filter tiny krill from huge gulps of sea water.

The jaw isnt the only thing that makes Atopodentatus unique. Now that researchers think it was exclusively into eating plants instead of munching on tiny animals, that makes it the oldest known herbivorous marine reptile. Reptiles are not often plant-eaters, Rieppel said, because of the way reptile skulls are built. Their skulls have moving parts, which make them really good at eating insects. In order to become good plant-eaters, those moving parts need to fuse together.

One of the things that makes this important scientifically not only the earliest marine herbivorous reptile with a very strange anatomy, Rieppel said, its also an indication for how fast the marine biota proliferated after the mass extinction at the end of the Permian.

The Permian extinction event occurred about 252 million years ago and was the largest extinction event in the history of life on Earth. According to National Geographic, the eventfor which scientists have no favored explanationwiped out around 90 percent of the animals and plants on Earth. It hit marine animals particularly hard: Less than 5 percent survived the event. Yet paleontologists are continuously uncovering evidence of a quick recoveryAtopodentatus lived about 242 million years ago.

Rieppel said he couldnt comment on what this evidence may suggest about current and future extinction events. But he said the current diversity crisis in Earths living species has inspired a greater scientific interest in studying mass extinction events of the past, so we can model them and understand the conditions that allowed for animals to bounce backor not.

Source: http://www.dailydot.com/

Dog DNA study reveals the incredible journey of man’s best friend

Descended from the grey wolf, domesticated dogs have been companions to humans for about 33,000 years, a genetic study has shown

Mans proverbial first best friend was probably a grey wolf that may have made contact with the first human companions about 33,000 years ago, somewhere in south-east Asia.

About 15,000 years ago, a small pack of domesticated dogs began trotting towards the Middle East and Africa. Canis lupus familiaris made it to Europe about 10,000 years ago, and when civilisation began in the Fertile Crescent, and humans began to build farmsteads and villages with walls, dogs were already there to help keep guard, herd the first flocks, and demand to be taken for a walk.

The details of the story the characters, the action and the precise locations are unknowable. But the outlines of the great adventure are written in DNA.

Scientists from China, Canada, Finland, Singapore, Sweden and the US report in the journal Cell Research that they compared the genomes, or genetic inheritances, of 58 canids. These included 12 grey wolves, 12 indigenous dogs from the north Chinese countryside, 11 from south-east Asia, four village dogs from Nigeria and 19 specimens of selective breeding from Asia, Europe and the Americas, including the Afghan hound, the Siberian husky, the Tibetan mastiff, the chihuahua and the German shepherd.

Because each genome is a text copied (with regular misspellings, or mutations) through the generations, and every genome is related to every other genome, any comparison begins to tell a story of family connections and separations long ago. The more texts that can be compared, the more certain the story they start to tell.

After evolving for several thousand years in east Asia, a subgroup of dogs radiated out of southern East Asia about 15,000 years ago to the Middle East, Africa as well as Europe. One of these out-of-Asia lineages then migrated back to northern China and made a series of admixtures with endemic east Asian lineages, before travelling to the Americas, the scientists say.

Our study, for the first time, reveals the extraordinary journey that the domestic dog has travelled on this planet during the past 33,000 years.

The grey wolf connection has been made before, along with the link with East Asia. The scientists, led by Guo-Dong Wang, a molecular biologist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, have once more confirmed it. The indigenous Chinese dogs revealed closer links to their wolf ancestors, and retained the greatest genetic variety, another indicator that the domestic canine began somewhere in East Asia. The modern European specialist breeds showed less genetic diversity, suggesting that they descended from a subset of the first dogs, and the DNA of village dogs of Africa showed even less diversity, implying that they owed their origins to an even smaller set of migrant ancestors.

But the same genetic evidence suggests that at least some dogs from Europe and western Asia may have travelled back into China to interbreed, complicating the story. The ancestral dog and wolf may have continued to interbreed for a while, but the scientists are confident enough of their findings not only to put a date for the emergence of what became the domestic dog around 33,000 years ago but even to guess at an original or founder population of about 4,600 individuals.

Whether these joined forces with Ice Age human hunter gatherers, or whether they stayed as wild as the wolves, scavenging on human kills, and subsequently joined up with human companions as part of the civilisation package about 15,000 years ago on the journey to the west, is still uncertain.

Our study, for the first time, begins to reveal a large and complex landscape upon which a cascade of positive selective sweeps occurred during the domestication of dogs, the scientists write. The domestic dog represents one of the most beautiful genetic sculptures shaped by nature and man.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us