Evidence that First Butcher Worked Over 10,000 Years Ago.
A juvenile mammoth carcass that is exceptionally well preserved has been uncovered in Siberia. The animals flesh, pink in color, and its reddish-blond thick fur are in excellent condition. What makes this find particularly interesting to scientists is that the carcass shows what they believe are the first documentable human butchery marks on an animal of this era. The debate will no doubt continue as to whether the cuts found on the carcass were in fact produced by human-crafted instruments. At the very least, however, this find adds to the ongoing efforts to understand mammoth DNA.
More at Discovery.
Catastrophic Chain of Events Might Start With Coral.
In 1998, an unusual series of natural events cause an unnatural spike in the water temperature off the coast of Kenya. The resulting “bleaching” of the local coral led to a 10% coral survival rate over the next six months. However, the chain of events that followed has alarmed scientists. Four years following the coral collapse event, far fewer fish were being caught of the same Kenyan coast. When combined with the negative affects of increased land temperatures, the loss of fisheries could become catastrophic to the millions who depend upon coastal economies of Africa and Southeast Asia.
More at Scientific American.
Another Suspect in Bee Colony Collapse Disorder.
In the 1990’s, a new pesticide was embraced by the agriculture industry in order to boost corn production. Neonicotinoids are absorbed by plants and the chemical finds its way through all plant tissue; it also ends up in the nectar upon which bees feed. Now, two studies, one from England and the other from France, point to Neonicotinoids as a possible contributing factor in colony collapse disorder. In both studies, bees fed sugar water with a Neonicotinoid additive showed decreased ability to navigate back to their hives and decreased fertility in producing queen bees. How much of this serious problem can be attributed to Neonicotinoids is as yet unknown, but the call for its removal as a pesticide is growing.
More at New York Times.
Hunting Zoo or Rare Species Preserve – It’s All About Perspective.
In the Hill country of south-central Texas, much effort has been spent on building an expansive habitat for endangered African wildlife. On thousands of ranches made up of thousands of acres across this part of Texas, the hot, dry climate resembles the African savanna. Imported from Africa, oryx, dama gazelle, addax and other exotic species roam the ranches in large numbers at the same time that they are disappearing from their native Africa. Water is pumped in and the environment is managed to insure breeding success. Sounds like a conservation success story, right? The problem, however, is the quid pro quo. The sole purpose of these ranches is to provide hunters with the opportunity to bag exotic species without having to travel to Africa. The generated income supports the ranches – some trophies can cost the hunter up to $15,000 for the hunt. The ranchers are now locked in a battle with federal endangered species regulators and animal conservationists over what restrictions ought to be placed on their hunting practices.
More at Kansas City Star.
Robosquirrel Outsmarts Snake.
In this odd experiment, a robotic squirrel was built to test a theory about snakes and squirrels. When they meet in the wild, a squirrel will heat up its tail and wave it back and forth while facing the snake head-on. In this posture, the snake rarely strikes successfully. Experimenters from the University of California, Davis, wondered if it was the tail movement or tail heat build-up that worked magic for the squirrel. Their robotic squirrel can do either or both, independently. As the video shows, the robotic squirrel performs as well as the real McCoy. However, to find out which decoy, movement or heat, is confusing the snake, stay tuned because the experiment has not yet concluded.
More at New Scientist.
For Fruit Flies, Outdoor vs. Indoors Is a Big Deal.
For many decades, the fruit fly has become a virtual mainstay for biological research. However, recent research in Italy suggests that the fruit fly’s daily biological rhythms — well known to laboratory researchers — may be quite different outdoors. In an experiment, Italian scientists found that although engineered genetic mutations will disable indoor or laboratory fruit flies’ genetic clock, those clocks show little apparent effect if the insects instead are studied outdoors. The many more cues that are found in an outdoor environment are probably responsible. But the experiment demonstrates the danger of extrapolating lab results to the real world.
More at Science News.
Hyenas Eating Habits Affected by Lent.
During the 55-day fast that Ethiopian Christians observe during the Lent season, they eat no meat. For Hyenas, this means that there will be no meat scraps to scavenge. But Hyenas are, if nothing else, resourceful and adaptable. They can and do eat virtually anything that comes from an animal. And, if pressed by religious practices, they will resort to hunting, which they also do very well. This is particularly bad news for donkeys, which quickly become the Hyenas favorite prey during the Lent season.
More at Science Daily.
Canada’s Beef with Transgenic Pork.
Pig manure from large pig farms is a major source of water pollution, especially when it comes to phosphates. Excess phosphates cause algal blooms which adversely affect fish and other wildlife. Enter the “enviropig.” In 1999, a Canadian team of scientists used genetic engineering to create a pig that produced fewer phosphates in its feces. But the combined force of the generally unappetizing nature of transgenic animals among many consumers, push back from environmental groups, and the development of other less expensive means of reducing phosphate excretion, means that the research project will end … at least for now
More at New York Times.
New Exhibition Gets Under Animals’ Skin.
Those who remember “Bodies: the Exhibition,” an interesting if controversial exhibition of human bodies from beneath the skin, might be interested in a similar effort that focuses on animals. The Natural Museum of London will host “Animals Inside Out,” where patrons will get to see the inner workings of many common and not so common animals.
More at Discovery.
Dino Feathers More Common Than Thought.
Speculation has persisted for some time that even large dinosaurs might have had feathers. A team of scientists working in northeastern China have now found proof. In this case, the dinosaur, named Yutyrannus huali, or “beautiful feathered tyrant,” was a distant relative of the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex. At 30 feet long and weighing one and a half tons, this is the largest dinosaur known to have had feathers. What function the feathers served is open to question. Since it is unlikely an animal of this size would have needed insulation from feathers, it may be more likely that the feathers were useful as some sort of display
More at New York Times.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.