Fossil Of A Giant Burrowing Bat That Walked On Four Legs Discovered In New Zealand

Millions-year-old burrowing bat species discovered in a New Zealand forest.

The fossilized of a quadripedal burrowing bat species have been discovered in New Zealand.

The fossilized remains of a giant burrowing bat that walked on four limbs were found in New Zealand forest, an international team of scientists confirmed on Thursday. The bat species is said to have lived 16 to 19 million years ago on the island country.

Researchers discovered the bones and teeth of an extinct bat that is believed to have been able to burrow itself into the ground. The size of the bat was three times bigger than what we see today and it is believed to have weighed about 40 grams. Researchers claim the new burrowing bat is the first member to be added to the bat genus in New Zealand’s fauna in the last 150 years.

Burrowing bats are present on New Zealand today, although, the species was also found in Australia at some point in the past. The New Zealand species is known for its diverse diet, including insects, flowers, nectar, and fruit. Judging by the teeth of the newly discovered animal, its diet may have extended past small invertebrates and plants.

According to the study, published in the journal, Scientific Reports, the extinct animal belonged to “a bat super-family that once spanned the southern landmasses of Australia, New Zealand, South America and possibly Antarctica”.

The new species has been dubbed Vulcanops jennyworthyae after team member, Jenny Worthy, who discovered the fossilized remains, and the Roman god of fire and volcanoes, Vulcan. This was a reference to New Zealand’s tectonic history.

Lead author of the study, Sue Hand, states that the burrowing bat species is related to vampire bats, ghost-faced bats, fishing and frog-eating bats, and nectar-feeding bats.

Hand and her team of researchers believe that the Vulcanops went extinct due to rising temperatures. The burrowing bat is said to have died off after the early Miocene period when New Zealand’s climate caused major changes to the vegetation and overall environment.

Image Source: WikipediaCommons

Climate Change Is Churning Out More Female Green Sea Turtles

Researchers found that a population of green sea turtles residing in the northern Great Barrier Reef is almost made up entirely by females.

A large population of green sea turtles mostly consists of females thanks to climate change.

Rising ocean temperatures are altering marine life, a feat that will worsen with each passing day. Scientists have focused on a particular population of green sea turtles and discovered that almost all of them are female. According to study dealing with the phenomenon, this sudden shift is directly linked to climate change.

99 percent of green sea turtles currently inhabiting the northern part of Australias’s Great Barrier Reef was found to be almost exclusively female. Researchers warn that this imbalance poses a serious threat to the survival of the already endangered species.

Turtles are very different to humans when it comes to choosing one’s sex, as these animals develop into males and females depending on the temperature outside of their egg, The smallest temperature difference can decide the sex of the turtle. For an even split between males and female turtles, the temperature has to be 29.3 degrees Celsius.

“Within a few degrees Celsius you go from 100 percent males to 100 percent females,” said marine biologist, Michael Jensen.

Researchers looked at green sea turtles which originated from two unique breeding grounds. One population was from the warmer northern Great Barrier Reef while the other population was from a cooler area situated at about 1,200 miles to the south.

The results were worrying to say the least, as the population that hatched in cooler areas was about 69 percent female while the population in the warmer north consisted of 99 percent juvenile and young adult female turtles.

Study co-author, Camryn Allen, and his team were able to compare ratios across turtles of different ages, which soon led them to realize that older turtles from the north had a less extreme ratio. According to Allen, there has been a drastic change in the turtle sex ratio in the past twenty years. Now, it seems that there is one male turtle for one hundred females.

Researchers noted that the problem seems to be getting worse with each generation. If ocean temperatures do not stabilize or decrease in temperature, they warn of a “complete feminization” of this population of turtles.

The study was published in the journal, Current Biology.

Image Source: Seeturtles

150 Million Year Old Plesiosaurus Skeleton Discovered On The Tip Of Antarctica

150 million year old plesiosaurus remains have been discovered on the tip of Antarctica.

The remains of a 150 million-year-old Plesiosaurus have been uncovered in Antarctica.

Scientists from Argentina have recovered the remains of a plesiosaurus in Antarctica. The gargantuan marine carnivore is believed to have roamed the waters surrounding England, Russia, and Germany 150 million years ago. What’s more interesting is that the fossil bears an uncanny resemblance to the Loch Ness monster, the same creature that is believed to be alive to this day. The predator is the first of its species located in Antarctica and the most ancient prehistoric creature found on the continent.

According to paleontologist and main author of the study, José Patricio O’Gorman, the plesiosaurus remains are 80 million years older than what Antarctica was previously thought to contain.

“It was the first paleontological campaign that we carried out in this outcrop that is like a frozen sea of 150 million years in an excellent state of conservation,” said the Museo de la Plata and CONICET researcher.

According to O’Gorman, they discovered the predator’s bones at the tip of Antarctica, a two-hour helicopter ride from Argentina’s Marambio Base. Hundreds of millions of years ago, Antarctica was part of the Gondwana supercontinent, which included New Zealand, Australia, India, Madagascar, Africa, and South America.

Once the remains were brought to the Buenos Aires’ University of La Matanza, the researchers quickly noted the fossils’ near perfect state of preservation. This is very hard to achieve in Antarctica, according to the researchers, mainly due to the continent’s harsh climate.

The plesiosaurus measured up to 12 meters in length, had an imposing body, and an elongated neck. It used its four fins to quickly maneuver its weight through the water to catch fish. The longest plesiosaurus to ever be unearthed stretched as long as 39 feet.

The study was published in the journal, Comptes Rendus Palevol.

Image Source: WikipediaCommons

The Flight Patterns of Peregrine Falcons May Hold The Key To Taking Down Rogue Drones

Two Peregrine falcons in-flight

Peregrine falcons target their prey like guided missiles, according to the study.

A recent study published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the movement of a Peregrine falcon may hold the key to taking out rogue drones. According to the research, Peregrine falcons can modify their trajectory in accordance with their prey, without any discernable pattern. The birds use their eyes to line up parallel to a moving target akin to a guided missile.

Researchers from Oxford University attached GPS units and cameras to eight Peregrine falcons as well as on a number of fake prey decoys.

„We spent four field seasons flying falcons in the Welsh hills, working with an experienced falconer and a qualified drone pilot,” said Caroline Brighton from Oxford University’s Department of Zoology and co-author of the study.

The flight patterns and falcon attacks were captured on video, and the results were eye-opening.  Researchers used data from 23 attacks on stationary targets and 22 attacks on moving targets to accurately pinpoint how the Peregrine falcons adjusted their dives. Instead of trying to guess where their prey might be going and setting and intercept course, Peregrine falcons maintain a line of sight while making adjustments depending on the prey’s movement.

According to the study, the bird’s trajectory follows a law known as proportional navigation, which is most commonly used in visually guided missiles. Researchers believe that such movements can be implemented in small drones that could take out other drones from protected airspace.

The report said that the method does not require any information on a target’s speed or distance but, instead, it relies on the rotation of the attacker’s line of sight to the target. The US Air Force Research Laboratory financed the study.

„Falcons are classic aerial predators, synonymous with agility and speed.”Said Graham Taylor, principal investigator professor, Graham Taylor, of the Oxford Flight Group in Oxford University’s Department of Zoology.

Image Source: Flickr

The Lystrosaurus and Its Survival Skills Can Teach Us a Valuable Lesson about Mass Extinctions

Green Lystrosaurus

The Lystrosaurus survived the biggest mass extinction on Earth

About 252 million years ago, a mass extinction shook our planet, and led to the disappearance of 70 percent of the vertebrates living on land. However, a tusked mammal was among the survivors. This mammal, called Lystrosaurus, might hold the secret of survival in case another mass extinction hit planet Earth.

Earth was shaken by many mass extinction events

At the end of the Permian era, Earth was shaken by the mass extinction known as “The Great Dying”. Since so many species were wiped out and biodiversity suffered a massive blow, our planet was dominated by disaster faunas. This means that there were few species living in certain ecosystems, and the Lystrosaurus was one of them.

This Lystrosaurus was one of the earliest mammal ever known, and its fossils have been found spread all over Africa, Antarctica, Russia, India, and China. A team of researchers decided to study the evolution of this species and of biodiversity in general, and looked at the changes suffered by a number of 900 species which lived on the ancient supercontinent Pangaea starting 260 million years ago, up until 175 million years ago.

The Lystrosaurus survived one of the biggest mass extinctions on Earth

During this period, two mass extinctions took place, and it also coincided with the rise and fall of dinosaurs. However, these extinctions didn’t only lead to the disappearance of a huge number of species. The entire globe came to be dominated by the few survivors left.

Such events play an important role in the evolution of species, and contributed to their ability to survive similar future occurrences. By looking at the survival mechanism of the Lystrosaurus, researchers can find out how animal distribution changes when facing natural disasters of huge extent.

Because of the intense human activity which destroys natural habitats, our planet is again passing through a mass extinction event. Therefore, the Lystrosaurus can show us a possible model of the ecological changes which are to come. The details of the study have been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Guppies Exhibit Complex Personalities Which Vary Across Individuals

Guppies swimming near the bottom of a lake

Each individual guppy reacts differently in a stressful situation

Scientists have been asking themselves quite an unusual question about fish, and have long been debating if these creatures are actually capable of exhibiting any feelings. Recent researches have shown that they have interesting behaviors, and individuals benefit from quite complex personalities.

How uniform are the behaviors of guppies?

A recent study, published in the journal Functional Ecology, analyzed a group of Trinidadian guppies, and looked at the behavior of each fish to see if they have different personality traits. Then, they put these fish under pressure and looked at their reactions. The observations concluded that each individual could react differently, serving as evidence for their complex personalities.

The Trinidadian guppies were put in different situations which involved stress. One of them involved an open-field trial, with milder stress levels, and two others included simulations of attacks, which caused more extreme stress. Then, according to the behavior of each individual fish, researchers characterized them as being more prone to risks, or more careful.

These specimens have complex personalities, which vary from individual to individual

The assumption was that guppies exhibit simple behaviors in stressful situations. However, the variety of their strategies showed how they are complex beings. Some of them try to run away from danger, while others choose to remain in the area and just hide. Other are cautious from the beginning, and explore the surroundings with better care.

Researchers tested different stressful situations on the guppies, some of them being milder, while others being a lot more intense. Even so, the differences between them remained prominent. Each individual had its own way of coping, and each of these ways was different from more points of view.

Now, researchers want to find out what is the secret of such varied behaviors from one individual to another, across the same species. Also, they will continue assessing other specific traits, and see in what manner they are different, and how they are influenced.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Could A Giant Sea Snail Species Help Save The Great Barrier Reef?

crown of thorns starfish food for giant sea snail

The giant sea snail might start being used to stop the spread of crown of thorns starfish across the Great Barrier Reef.

When people think of a hero, the first image conjure is very rarely that of an invertebrate. However, one species of giant sea snail might change that perception, at least in Australia. The giant Triton sea snail, a species which can grow over half a meter in length, is currently being closely studied by the Australian government. This believes that the species might help stem the growth of the crown-of-thorns starfish. These latter are threatening and might contribute to the destruction of the iconic Great Barrier Reef.

Giant Sea Snail to Combat Coral-Eating Starfish?

The starfish has seen its numbers swell to unsustainable levels in recent years due to a variety of ecological factors. This species is known to feed on living corals. Their actual impact, however, was largely overlooked until a 2012 study of the Great Barrier Reef. This found that not only had coral growth halved in recent years, but that crown-of-thorns starfish may actually be responsible for nearly 42 percent of the damage.

So here enter this giant sea snail species. These massive mollusks, it seems, have quite an appetite for the ravenous starfish. The sea snails are seemingly capable of hunting them down on scent alone. According to reports, this gave the Australian government an idea. Rather than attempt to release human-made measures like poisons or hunters to eliminate the starfish, they decided it might be more ecologically sound to „encourage” and let the snails save the reef.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that giant sea snails are so rare that relatively little is known about them. The biologists conducting and part of the study are really only guessing and hoping that their plan will work.

Whether or not the giant triton sea snail can actually do the job assigned to them remains to be seen. Still, ecologists around the world remain hopeful. Saving the Great Barrier Reef is one of the top priorities for marine ecologists across the globe and especially in Australia.

Image Source: Wikimedia

Rare Occultation Will See The Moon Block Out A Bright Star And Three Planets

moon occultation in the night sky

A rare occultation event is taking place on September 18 as the Moon will obscure three planets and Regulus.

On September 18, sky gazers will be able to follow a rare event, a celestial occultation which will have the Moon blocking out three planets and also a bright star. Astronomers use the term “occultation” to describe the event of one celestial body blocking out another space body.

The Rare Lunar Occultation not to Repeat Until 2036

According to reports, lunar occultations are a rare phenomenon. The latest known such event, in which the Moon obscured three planets, took place back in 2008, almost a decade ago. However, the next such sighting is projected for more than a decade from now, namely, in 2036.

On September 18, the Moon will be obscuring from view, in this order, Venus, the bright star Regulus, Mars, and then Mercury. As the Earth’s natural satellite, the moon passes in front of other space objects on quite a regular basis. However, such a planetary alignment is a rare event.

The event was noted to have started at 1 a.m. UTC with Venus continued with Regulus at 5 a.m. UTC and Mars will follow at 8 p.m. UTC, and then Mercury at 11 p.m. UTC.

This event will be and is most visible to people living in Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand. Sky gazers residing in North America can still follow the phenomenon, even if it will mostly be taking place during the daylight hours. Come evening, the rare occultation should be visible to any interested viewer that has access to a telescope.

These will simply have to follow the Moon and observe it as it moves across the sky. In its path, it will be obscuring Mars and Mercury. The three planets and star were aligned in a slightly askew diagonal.

Regulus, the star in question, is one of the 22 known “first magnitude stars”. They were named like this thanks to their property of being among the brightest stars in the night sky. The Moon can occult only four of these 22 space bodies. The three others,  besides Regulus, are Antares, Aldebaran, and Spica.

Image Source: Flickr

500 Million Years Old Fossils Reveal Important New Piece Of The Evolution Theory

500 million years old fossils on a geological evolution scale

Scientists discovered over 500 million years old fossils which could change the ecological evolution scale.

A team of paleontologists discovered over 500 million years old fossils which revealed themselves to be the first creatures capable of moving around on their own. This makes them an important piece in the theory of the human and animal evolution timeline.

The 500 Million Years Old Fossils are the Remains of Almost Microscopic Creatures

The University of Manchester group of researchers behind the discovery revealed that they found these fossils in Brazil. Dating the fossilized remains showed them to go back to the period known as the Ediacaran-Cambrian transition. During this meeting point period, science considers that there was an ‘explosion’ of life on Earth as a great variety of creatures emerged at once.

The oldest examples of bilaterian animals also go back to this same transition point. Bilaterians are animals which have a body that can be divided into a top and a bottom. Also, in a left and a right side, a front and back one.

These recently discovered over 500 million years old fossils were noted to trace back to even earlier than any of the currently known bilaterians.

The creatures were discovered thanks to the burrowed traces they left in the rocks. According to reports, these were just ‘a fraction of an inch in diameter’ or somewhere between 0.002 and 0.0024 inches. Based on this, the university team determined that the creatures to leave these tracks “were similar in size to a human hair”.

They consider that these organisms left behind the burrows as they dug through the sediment layers. The creatures were likely comparable to the present-day roundworms, believes the team.

Such organisms would have propelled themselves through undulating locomotion or the wave-like movement of their body. This also places them in the complex animals class, as they were able to move themselves.

“Our new fossils show that complex animals with muscle control were around approximately 550 million years ago, and they may have been overlooked previously because they are so tiny,” states Luke Parry, the study lead author, part of the University of Bristol.

The team studied the fossils by creating a 3D model of the rocks containing them through X-ray images. This way, they were able to take a closer look at the creatures without damaging them.

Study findings are available in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Image Source: Wikimedia

The Aggressive Southern Pine Beetles May Soon Expand Their Territory

southern pine beetles illustration

Southern pine beetles may soon expand their territory because of the warmer weather.

According to a new study, the southern pine beetle, one of the most aggressive tree-killing insects in the world, may soon extend its territory because of the climate changes and their temperature increases.

Their range may earlier than expected come to include large portions of the northern United States as well as southern Canada, says the new study.

The Aggressive Southern Pine Beetles and Its Effects on Nature

This new study was led by Corey Lesk, a Columbia University graduate student of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Southern pine beetles used to be live only in Central America and the southeastern United States. However, over the past few years, they were spotted in the Northeast and even in Long Island in New York and Connecticut.

This beetle’s range is limited by the weather, more precisely, the annual extreme temperature lows. The study team points out that now, these extreme lows are rising even faster than the average temperatures. If this trend continues, the beetle might have few to no problems in spreading and extending its territory.

Research also points to this possibly resulting in quite serious problems for the environment as it could affect a “vast ecosystem” and make it “vulnerable”.

“We could see loss of biodiversity and iconic regional forests. There would be damage to tourism and forestry industries in already struggling rural areas,” state the researchers.

Radley Horton, a study co-author and Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory researcher points out some of the consequences of the southern pine beetle on a forest.

According to him, infected trees could begin drying out, which would also increase their risks of more easily catching fire and burning. In turn, this would endanger all of their surrounding areas, be it ecosystem or even properties. Large forest fires would also release significant quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect.

The study projects that, by 2020, if this trend continues, the southern pine beetles would have spread and established themselves along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and up to Nova Scotia.

Imgae Source: Wikimedia