Is Mammoth Blood Find More Media Hype Than Science?
National Geographic focuses on the recent find of a wooly mammoth carcass in Russia’s frozen north. Media reports that the carcass might contain red blood and possible intact blood cells, with complete DNA, have been overblown according to paleontologist Beth Shapiro of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Shapiro points out that the likelihood of finding intact blood cells and DNA in the carcass are small and that the hype surrounding this find and the public discussion of de-extinction in general is detracting from other more important issues such as species preservation.
Feeling Stressed? Take a Lesson from Baby Sloths.
This adorable video of baby sloths doing what sloths do best will destress anyone. The video was filmed at a sloth orphanage in Costa Rica.
New “Pirate Ants” Still a Mystery to Science.
A new ant species found in the Philippines has an unusual pattern of pigmentation. The ants’ bodies are almost translucent and have a glasslike appearance. Dubbed the “pirate ant” because of a dark patch over the female’s eyes, scientists are puzzling over the evolutionary function of the strange pigmentation. Since the ants have extremely limited vision and mate in the dark, the pigmentation is unlikely needed to differentiate genders. Officially named Cardiocondyla pirate, researchers are considering whether the pigmentation developed as a warning to some yet unknown predators of the ants.
Mountain Niche for Hot Pink Slugs.
Mount Kaputar is a volcanically dormant peak in Australia that last erupted some 17 million years ago. When it blew its top, it created a special six square mile niche for plants and animals a cool misty mountain top ecology that is unlike anything else in the area. Among its unique inhabitants is a newly discovered slug that is colored hot pink. But Mount Kaputar is no paradise for these pink snails. Cannibal snails also share the environment and as their name implies, they have this newly discovered species looking over their hot pink shoulders.
Australia’s “Little Penguins” Get Dogged Protection.
Little penguins are the smallest penguin species and their continued existence on Australia’s Middle Island was very much in doubt that is until the reinforcements arrived. Bred to defend Italian sheep from wolves, a pair of imported Maremma dogs has been guarding the penguins as if they were sheep. The dogs have been on patrol since 2006 and since then there have been no penguins lost to their enemy, the fox. In fact, since 2006 the little penguin population has boomed, jumping from less than 10 to over 200 individuals. The project has been so successful that it is being implemented to protect another species, the endangered gannet birds.
Mosquitoes, Disease and Climate Change.
It is well known that mosquitoes are a dangerous vector in disease transmission, especially for viruses. A new study finds that mosquitoes that breed in cooler temperatures tend to have more compromised immune systems, making them more susceptible to virus infection, and therefore a greater risk to human health. That ties in with climate change which increases weather variability and short term temperature fluctuations. Thus, an overall increase in worldwide temperatures does little to protect us. Instead, “The rate of transmission of [West Nile fever and chikungunya fever] has increased with outbreaks occurring in unexpected places, such as the introductions of West Nile virus to New York in 1999, and chikungunya virus to Italy and France in 2007 and 2010.”
A New Three-horned Dinosaur.
Remember the dinosaur triceratops from your childhood? Well, it has a new cousin. Judiceratops tigris was an earlier relative that roamed what is now Montana about 80 million years ago. Apparently, the horned dinosaurs in North America speciated quite quickly, and at least 18 different versions are known to have existed. Judiceratops had a quite elaborate display of scalloped horns around its head. “Very bold, conspicuous display structures,” according to Yale researcher Nicholas Longrich, who made the find.
The New Player in Evolution: Epigenetics.
It has become axiomatic that inherited DNA makes us who we are. However, the relatively new field of epigenetics is demonstrating that nature does in fact make room for outside influences. Epigenetics concerns chemical markers that sit atop DNA and are picked up from the environment in which an organism lives. These epigenetic markers can drastically change the way DNA is expressed in an organism. But just like the DNA on which it resides, epigenetic markers too can be inherited. For example, a person who smoked before having children might have accumulated epigenetic chemical alterations to her DNA that can be passed on to her offspring. If epigenetic research continues along this line, theories of evolution might have to be modified to take into account the role of environment in speciation.
Extinct Frog Species Not So Extinct After All.
The Hula painted frog was declared extinct in 1996, the first amphibian species to get that unwanted designation. But in 2011, an Israeli park ranger caught a glimpse of a frog in the road. To the astonishment of scientists, it was the Hula painted frog which had not been seen alive in 60 years. What makes the Hula painted frog especially interesting is that it is consider a “living fossil” an animal like the coelacanth that has hardly evolved at all over the past millions of years. The Hula painted frog is far from out of danger. While perhaps a hundred or so still exist in the Hula Valley, much needs to be done to prevent its permanent extinction.
Tiger Breaks Into Zoo.
Spurred on by an attractive captive female tiger, a wild bengal male tiger wandered into India’s Nandankanan Zoo in April. Once inside, he made himself at home and indulged in the zoo’s free meals and laid back lifestyle. After a few weeks, however, he appeared to grow tired or bored of zoo life and just as ably as he broke in, he scaled a two-story wall, left the zoo and went back into the forest. He has not been seen since.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.
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