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

Some Fish Make Alcohol In Wait For Oxygen

goldfish and some fish besides it in aquarium

Some fish, for example, the goldfish, can produce their own alcohol.

As you see a goldfish pond in the summer, your thoughts might turn to how those beautiful creatures survive in winter under a sheet of ice. Well, a group of scientists with the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom believes that they have discovered what helps keep them and some of their relatives alive. It appears that some fish make alcohol while they are in wait for oxygen. Also, for a few them, that blood alcohol level can rise over the legal limit to drive in most countries.

Some Fish Include Goldfish and the Carp

When ice covers a pond or lake during winter, the oxygen levels can drop quickly depending on how much water volume there is. It also depends on how many creatures live within this body of water using up its oxygen reserve. This can spell death for some fish during an unusually long or harsh cold season.

The bodies of fish and most other animal species produce a substance called lactic acid whenever oxygen levels run low in the bloodstream. Lactic acid is toxic, and it is the same stuff that causes the muscles to feel sore after a hard workout.

Well, it seems that goldfish and their cousins in the carp family have developed a secondary system that kicks in inside their cells when their oxygen levels run low. This causes the cellular mitochondria to make alcohol out of the lactic acid in a process not that different from fermentation.

“The ethanol production allows the crucian carp to be the only fish species surviving and exploiting these harsh environments,” claimed Dr. Cathrine Fagernes, “thereby avoiding competition and escaping predation by other fish species with which they normally interact in better-oxygenated waters.”


Fagernes is the study author and also part of the University of Oslo, which also participated in the study. She then went to point out that this adaptation may be one of the reasons why the goldfish, the ‘carp’s cousin’, ‘is arguably one of the most resilient pets under human care.”

Study results and further details are available in the journal Scientific Reports. 

Image Source: Pixabay

A Massive Toothy Fish Chomped Its Food Just Like A Shark

massive toothy fish fossil

The fossil of a massive toothy fish is offering a new look at marine predators and their evolution.

Scientists recently started analyzing the fossil of a previously unknown fish species, one whose specimens were massive toothy fish with eating habits and an appearance resembling modern-day sharks.

The fossil was detected in northeastern Nevada and is some 5.9 feet long. This bony fish had long jaws filled with sharp teeth. Its dentures suggest that the species could quite easily chomp down on its prey and then swallow it whole, just like sharks are known for doing.

Massive Toothy Fish Offers New Look at the Evolution of Predators

A team of Swiss and US researchers studied this strange fish fossil discovered in Elko County, Nevada. Belonging to a previously unknown species, this was then named the Birgeria americana. This fish is believed to have swum in the waters of the sea that once covered our modern-day Nevada and the surrounding states for about 1 million years following the mass extinction event from 252 million years ago.

“The surprising find from Elko County in northeastern Nevada is one of the most completely preserved vertebrate remains from this time period ever discovered in the United States,” states Carlo Romano of the University of Zurich, the lead author.

The discovered fossil is just 0.85 feet and is a partial skull fragment. This displays three parallel rows of teeth on the exterior and a smaller set on the interior. The outer teeth are up to 2 centimeters long.

According to the study team, this massive toothy fish probably hunted prey just like a shark. It possibly pursued its prey before chomping down on it and swallowing it whole.

The species is also believed to predate the famed Ichthyosaur by more than 30 million years. Discovering this fish fossil was deemed crucial by the researchers as it offers a new look at the evolution of large predators after the mass extinction event mentioned above.

A paper released in the Journal of Paleontology holds further details on the matter. For example, the study showed that a massive fish was capable of surviving in waters previously deemed to have been too warm for it.

The mass extinction event from 252 million years ago is estimated to have wiped out around 90 percent of all marine animals.

Image Source: Wikimedia

Exposure To Oil Is Damaging To Coral Reef Fish

coral reef fish

Coral reef fish can have long term problems because of their early exposure to oil.

Coral reef fish have a hard time as they grow up because of their being exposed to oil in the early stages of their life, at least according to a new study. Even small amounts of this chemical substance in marine environments can lead to more problems than believed.

Research on the matter was conducted by US, Australian, and Norwegian scientists. They published their results in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The paper also brings to attention the risks provoked by an increased industrial activity in regions such as the Great Barrier Reef.

Coral Reef Fish Impaired by Oil As They Look For Home

Study results are based on tests carried out in simulated marine environments which housed six reef fish species. These were all part of the Lethrinidae and Pomacentridae families. All of them can be found swimming in the Great Barrier Reef.

The team introduced minimal amounts of oil in their simulated environments, and then monitored the fish. According to a study co-author, Dr. Jodie Rummer from the James Cook University, the results were “quite alarming”.

The oil concentration in the simulated environments was reportedly the equivalent of ‘a few drops of oil’ in a swimming pool. Even so, they caused significant problems especially to the coral reef fish exposed to them in their early life stages.

These were noted to be worse at escaping from possible predators. Or at choosing a habitat for them to live in. The fish were also observed to be traveling in smaller groups and also towards more dangerous and open waters.

“In such early life stages, if these reef fishes are exposed to oil, they’re experiencing some really dangerous cognitive difficulties,” states Dr. Rummer.

As the coral reef fish seem unable to make proper decisions, this could also lead to “their ultimate demise” according to the study co-author. Oil could be affecting the fish’s neurotransmitters function in the brain.

The study specifically looked at emperor and damselfish that typically live in tropical coral reefs. These brightly colored fish play a significant role in the reef’s survival, as they help remove algae. They are also part of the local food chain as larger fish species prey on them.

Image Source: Flickr

Tardigrades Are Likely To Be Alive Even 5 Billion Years From Now


Tardigrades are seemingly likely to survive another five billion years from now on.

Scientists have known for some time that tardigrades, also known as water bears, are capable of surviving almost anything they can throw at it. Extended periods of dehydration, exposure to vacuum conditions, and even heavy doses of radiation would fail to kill these micro-animals.

Even though they are less than a millimeter long, they may well be some of the toughest creatures in existence. They have also been around for quite some time. Now, researchers predict that they could survive, as a species, for another 5 billion years.

Tardigrades are Quite Indestructible Creatures

A team looked into the issue as a way of examining how life might survive extinction level events and possibly transmit from planet to planet, even between stars. It also helps them predict life on other planets might exist long enough for us to find it. Of all the members of the animal kingdom, the tardigrade appears to be the most likely to survive a major destructive event. Only some microbes might have a greater chance to continue afterward.David Sloan, a physics researcher at Oxford University, stated that this new study considered “the hardiest species”, namely, the tardigrade. It did so as quite a number of previous studies focused on ‘doomsday’ scenarios.

These revolve around Earth and the astrophysical events, such as supernovae, which could wipe out humanity. However, few considered what species could still survive them.

Sloan, a co-author of the study, continued, relating his comments to other recent discoveries. “As we are now entering a stage of astronomy where we have seen exoplanets and are hoping to soon perform spectroscopy, looking for signatures of life, we should try to see just how fragile this hardiest life is.”
The main reason they put the 5 billion years time limit on the tardigrades’ existence is tied to the Sun. This is predicted to expand to such a size that Earth’s oceans would completely boil away. Still, humans will be gone long before that.
Study results are available in the journal Nature.  
Image Source: Wikimedia