Adventurous By Nature? – For Honeybees It’s All in the Genes.
Speculation that thrill seeking behavior in humans has a genetic component received a boost from a study showing that at least in honeybees, it’s all in the genes. Gene E. Robinson, a geneticist at the University of Illinois, authored a study that describes how honeybee scouts, which specialize in daredevil missions to find new food locations or hive sites, differ from their hive-bound brethren. By manipulating the gene expression involved in certain neurological pathways in the scouts, the scientists could dial up or down the degree of adventurousness in both scouts and ordinary hive members. Doctor Robinson puts it this way, “We find this intriguing parallel, and we see these molecular similarities (with humans).”
Read more at the New York Times.
Another New Human Species?
As if the human family tree were not complicated enough, paleontologists are debating whether human skull fossils found in southwest China in 1989 are actually a new species of hominid. Dubbed the “Red Deer Cave People,” this group probably lived only between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago, making them contemporaries of China’s Homo sapiens population. Based on the skull fossils, these hominids appear to have had unusually primitive morphology: thick skulls, medium sized brain, prominent brow ridges, and were nearly chinless. Numerous photos and an artist rendition can be found at Live Science.
Plant Uses Catapult Action to Disperse Spores.
The horsetail plant has an interesting method of dispersing its spores. Rather than rely on the wind, the plant employs a catapult-like reaction. In this mechanism, the spore is attached by natural adhesion to a flexible part of the plant known as an elater. As the elater unfurls, tension builds up along its surface. Then bubbles form, which suddenly break the surface tension of the water, releasing the stored energy and launching the spore as if by catapult.
Read more at Science News.
Pyrenees Mountain Area Yields Fossilized Ancient Turtle.
Around the time the dinosaurs vanished from the landscape, they were joined by a now extinct turtle. Named Polysternon isonae, this creature was around 20 inches long with an oval shell. Many other turtle remains have been found in this mountainous area, which probably looked quite a bit different 65-70 million years ago.
Read more at Reptile Channel.
Coral Reefs Show Adaptive Climate Response.
When sea temperatures rise, the result for coral is not good. They suffer a form of degradation known as bleaching, which can kill up to 90% of the fast growing variety of coral. However, in studying the effects of recent bleaching in 2010, the scientists noticed what might be an adaptive response. It appears that coral subjected to a bleaching event in 1998 actually showed less susceptibility and less damage than the newly exposed coral. Further study will be required to determine if coral is adapting to the bleaching effects of warmer ocean temperatures.
Read more at Red Orbit.
Hiding in Plain Sight: Galapagos Yields A New Species of Shark.
Researchers have been studying the fauna in around the Galapagos Islands since the days of Darwin. However, much to the surprise of shark experts, a new species of catshark had escaped everyone attention. The new species is a bottom feeder, about two feet long, with brown scales and randomly distributed pale spots. As one researcher observed, however, the find is bittersweet. “There is great irony to be discovering new species of sharks, as sharks are disappearing worldwide… Ninety percent of the sharks that were in the ocean when I was born are gone.”
Read more at Wired.
New Rust Disease Threatens Australia’s East Coast.
A form of rust disease, Myrtle rust, has apparently spread from South America to Australia’s east coast. Because its importation is recent, Australia’s plants and trees are highly susceptible to its effects. The disease attacks young leaves and can weaken or kill the plants. There is special concern for koalas, which feed on the new foliage that will most likely be rust prone. Unfortunately, the disease will be in Australia to stay – the most officials can hope for is to mitigate the damage.
Read more at ABC News.
Why Carnivores Aren’t Sweet Tooths.
Animals that are strictly carnivores lose their ability to taste sweetness. In the cat family, including domestic cats, a genetic change does not allow their taste buds to recognize sugars. Why? It seems that tasting sweetness is a need-based ability. Omnivores need to detect the presence of carbohydrates as a matter of survival. Carnivores do not, and hence those sweetness detecting mechanisms have been lost for lack of any survival advantage. As to you cat lovers, the researchers say that your protests that your cat likes sweets are irrelevant. Cats like ice cream and cake only because they contain a fair amount of fat, which assists their natural diet. They could not care less that these treats also taste sweet to us
Read more at Discovery.
Western U.S.A Immigrant Flies to New Jersey and Stays.
Bird watchers in Cape May New Jersey were treated to a first of its kind find. Called a “broad-tailed hummingbird,” this adventurous fellow usually makes its home in the western United States. Although some 465 bird species have been documented in New Jersey, this is a first. The spectacle has drawn hundreds of bird watchers from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, perplexing neighborhood residents.
Read more at Press of Atlantic City.
Two New Dinosaur Species from Canada.
In southern Alberta, Canada, many dinosaur remains have been unearthed over the years. Recently, two new species of plant eaters have been identified by paleontologists. These small plant eaters are related to the triceratops. Gryphoceratops morrisoni was around six feet long and weighed in at around 90 kilograms. What is exciting to scientists about this find is that is seems to fill in an evolutionary gap in the line of dinosaurs that are the ancestors of triceratops.
Read more at Canada.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.