Brown Bear Uses Rock as Tool.
Tool use by animals is increasingly documented in the wild. New Scientist reports that a brown bear in Alaska’s Glacier National Park was seen using a paw-held rock to exfoliate molting fur from its face and neck area. This appears to be the first documented instance of bear tool use, but does it really count as tool use?
New Deadly Sea Serpent Discovered.
As if the bull sharks, crocodiles and poisonous jelly fish in the waters off Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria were not dangerous enough, a new venomous sea serpent has been discovered. The new species, Hydrophis donaldi, has oddly shaped projectiles on its scales. The snake has not been documented before because it is quite rare and lives in such an uninviting habitat. Further study will determine just how dangerous the venom is to humans and what adaptive purpose the strange projections on its scales serve.
Read more at Global Animal.
Velociraptor’s Last Meal Was Fowl.
Paleontologists analyzing a Gobi Desert fossil of a Velociraptor discovered that its stomach contained the bones of a much larger animal — the pterosaur, a flying reptile. Of course, you remember the Velociraptor from Jurassic Park fame. The researchers analyzing this Velociraptor’s skeletal remains do not believe that it hunted and killed the larger pterosaur. Rather, like other predators, the Velociraptor probably was a part-time scavenger and was dining on a pterosaur carcass.
Read more at Live Science.
Arrival of Land Animals Now Earlier Than Thought.
The telltale five-digit fossil in the mud in Scotland has moved back the date when it is believed animals from the sea became four-legged and fully adapted to the land. The new fossil dates back to at least 345 million years, which betters the existing estimate by about 20 million years. These land animals followed on the heels (actually, about 10 million years) of a mass extinction that wiped out most vertebrate groups on the planet.
Read more at Science News.
Sawfish Snout a Dual-purpose Instrument.
Have you ever wondered what a sawfish actually does with its hedge trimmer-like snout? Scientists have finally come up with a surprising conclusion. In experiments, sawfish used their snouts for two distinct purposes. The first is to detect prey by using the snout as a sort of electromagnetic sensor. The second is to clobber the prey with its snout once it is detected. Apparently, a good swipe by a sawfish can cut another fish in half. Unfortunately, the long snout is easily trapped in fishing nets and this has been a major reason for sawfish decline.
Read more at Nature.
20 million years ago, the area of Central America in what is now Panama was host to the ancestors of today’s camels. Camels are distantly related to cattle, goats and sheep and were common to North America in the Miocene epoch (between 5 and 24 million years ago). The fossil discovered in Panama had a long toothy snout reminiscent of a crocodile. It is believed that these ancient camel ancestors migrated from North America south into South America and evolved into today’s llamas, alpacas, and similar species.
More at Discovery.
Extremophile Life Keeps Getting Stranger.
Beneath the sea near Costa Rica, divers have come across a new and extremely odd organism that might be dubbed a tubeworm bush. It looks like shrubbery, but it is actually composed of thousands of individual tubeworms. The submersible that was used in the expedition is called the Jaco Scar and its mission is to explore an underwater mountain that is being pushed by a tectonic plate. There are both hydrothermal vents as well as “cold seeps” in the area of the discovery. Cold seeps are cracks in the sea floor from which methane and other organic chemical seep out. Inspired by the discovery, one of the researchers commented, “It was not until human eyes saw shimmering water coming from beneath a large tubeworm bush that we really understood how special Jaco Scar is.”
Read more at Discovery.
Antarctica, once off-limits to all but a handful of intrepid explorers, has become a tourist destination in recent years. For example, during the 2007-08 Antarctic summer, some 33,000 tourists visited the coastal area. The problem is that hitchhiking on the clothing of the tourists are thousands of seeds from far-away lands that have no business in this continent. Already, invasive species are taking root, most of them, not surprisingly, cold-hardy species. It is unlikely that tourism will do anything but increase in the future, so the solution will be a redoubled effort to vacuum the clothing of visitors and attempt to prevent an Antarctic invasion.
Read more at National Geographic.
Policing New Forests in the Philippines.
Deforestation has been one of the prime culprits in habitat destruction and possibly climate change. In the Philippines, the government is taking a stand. By executive order, the Philippine police force will be tasked with planting 10 million trees in just one year. The program is called “Police for Nature: 10 Million Trees Heritage for the Future.” The program is part of an effort to restore over 500,000 acres of destroyed forest cover.
Read more at Tree Hugger.
Humans and Dingoes: A Peculiar Relationship.
When semi-domesticated dogs were brought to Australia by Asian mariners thousands of years ago, they thrived in the wild and became Australia’s dingoes — a cross between a wolf and a dog. Dangerous interactions with humans have been rare, but the few that have been documented have caused great controversy over whether and under what conditions dingoes can be tolerated. As reported in the New York Times, the infamous case of 9-week old Azaria Chamberlain, who may or may not have been killed by dingoes thirty-two years ago, may be concluded with a coroner’s report this month. However, just as wolves in the United States have been demonized, dingoes in Australia face a similar fate as the paths of humans and dingoes increasingly intersect.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.