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Author Topic: ANIMAL NEWS FOR DAEMON SOULS AND ALL ANIMAL LOVERS  (Read 416003 times)
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« on: Nov 21, 2015, 10:16 AM »

All,

We had to take down the thread we had on animals because of being notified by the Guardian newspaper out of England that we had to do so because we had been posting article from their website. Anyway, I am a great lover of animals, and a champion for their well being. So I want to start up a new thread that will not post articles from the Guardian. Hopefully, what I do post from whatever source will just let us be because, in the end, it is about doing whatever we can to help our animal friends.

God Bless, Rad

*******************************************************************************

All friends of animals,

I would like to direct your attention to a world wide organization who is doing all it can for our animals friends. They really need all the support and help possible, including donations of money. Please visit their website at http://www.worldanimalprotection.org/ to learn more about all that they do, and how you can donate to them if you feel so inclined. Below is just some of the incredibly important things that they are doing. Please help them if you can.

God Bless, Rad

                                          World Animal Protection


We move the world to protect animals.

Animals in communities: We move the world to protect the one billion animals that live in communities.
We move the world to protect the one billion animals that live in communities

Animals in farming: We move the world to protect the 70 billion animals farmed each year.

Animals in disasters: We move the world to protect and rescue animals in disaster zones. Animals in disasters

We move the world to protect and rescue animals in disaster zones

Animals in the wild: We move the world to protect wild animals – and keep them in the wild.

Global animal protection: We move the world to put animal protection at the heart of global thinking.

Education: We move the world to teach students and vets that animal protection is vital.


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« Last Edit: Dec 16, 2015, 09:22 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: Nov 21, 2015, 10:17 AM »

Swimming Pigs and Other Surprising Animals That Love Water

Some cats, spiders, and moose are among nature's super swimmers.

By Liz Langley, National Geographic
PUBLISHED Sat Jun 06 08:00:33 EDT 2015

It's almost summertime, which means many of us will be hitting the pool or the beach for some watery fun. But we're not the only creatures who like to make a splash.

When Dana Smith asked via Facebook, "My four-year-old wants to know, do pigs swim?" Saturday's Weird Animal Question of the Week decided to look at some typically terrestrial animals who also like the life aquatic.

Swine Dive

"Pigs are excellent swimmers," crossing water to seek food sources, escape danger or find better habitat, Billy Higginbotham, of Texas A&M University, says via email.

"For example, all of the heavy rainfall the last month in Texas has caused wild pigs to move—and in some cases, swim—out of bottomland areas and seek higher ground."

Some are even beach bums.

The Bahamas' Big Major Cay is home to feral pigs who swim with tourists.

Aaron Shultz of the Cape Eleuthera Institute, an environmental-education center in the Bahamas, says local lore is that Europeans once stocked the islands with pigs, enabling them to resupply ships returning home. But it's uncertain how the animals got to Big Major Cay.

Shultz speculates that "over time the pigs associated boats, boat-engine noise, and tourists with food," and learned to swim out to the tempting treats.

Many arachnids are landlubbers, but not fishing spiders. When arachnologist Catherine Scott of Simon Fraser University tried to photograph a six-spotted fishing spider, it kept disappearing. She eventually discovered the little escape artist was going underwater.

These spider swimmers can submerge for up to 30 minutes to avoid predators or literally grab dinner (aquatic spiders are surprisingly fond of fish).

They breathe underwater by trapping air in the water-repellent hairs on their abdomens, Scott says.

But they're not the only scuba spider.

Diving bell spiders trap air in webs that cover their bodies like their namesake apparatus. Oxygen in the surrounding water diffuses into the bell, allowing them to stay submerged for long periods.

Dog-Paddling Cats

Not all cats hate water. The endangered fishing cat of Asia is a fine swimmer that fishes by tapping the water to imitate insects, then diving in after their quarry, according to the National Zoo.

Among domestic felines, the Turkish van is known for its unusual love of water.
Tiger Cubs Pass Swim Test November 7, 2013 - It was a big day for Bandar and Sukacita. The two Sumatran tiger cubs learned to swim the hard way—by getting dropped in the deep end. The cubs successfully passed their swim test, much to the delight of their keepers at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Moose Munch

North American moose have a big summer job to do in a short time: shedding and regrowing winter coats and antlers, which are two-thirds grown by mid-July, says Vince Crichton, a retired wildlife biologist at Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship in Canada.

In early summer, these excellent swimmers (see video) feast on aquatic plants—including bladderwort, ribbon grass, and yellow water lilies—that contain replenishing sodium and minerals, he said by email.
Moose also swim to beat the heat, get rid of pesky flies, and escape danger; moose moms in particular will swim to islands to give birth as a means of avoiding predators.

The kids can swim too… but sometimes they just like to play in the sprinklers (see video below).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPDUTgQFpq0


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« Reply #2 on: Nov 21, 2015, 10:36 AM »

CS Monitor

How does a Brazilian spider reveal our connection to Middle Earth?

Scientists have named a newly discovered spider, Smeagol, after a 'Lord of the Rings' character. The arachnid joins a host of other areas in which 'Lord of the Rings' has fused with reality.

By Lucy Schouten, Staff November 20, 2015   

Scientists have found the pitiable but villainous Smeagol at last, but to the relief of Middle Earth, the blind, pale yellow spider cannot leave the caves of Brazil.

Technically a daddy-long-legs, not a spider, the discovery of the arachnid Iandumoema smeagol was announced in the journal Zookeys, USA Today reported.

Researchers named their many-legged find after "the hobbit named Smeagol, created by J.R.R. Tolkien, being the original name of Gollum – the dweller of the caves located below the Misty Mountains of Middle-earth of the "Lord of the Rings" book," authors Ricardo Pinto-da-Rocha, Rafael Fonseca-Ferreira, Maria Elina Bichuette wrote in the article.

This overlap of 20th century literature and arachnids, fantasy and reality, suggests that in modern thinking, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy has morphed into more of a cultural touchstone than a six-time box office sensation.

Fantasy series with rich cult followings have joined the founding myths that are passed down as part of Western civilization's cultural heritage, Ben Hammersley wrote for the BBC:

    Our shared mythos, the cultural touchpoints we can use as a framework to tell each other stories, is no longer the Bible or the Odyssey. It's Star Wars and Star Trek, Gotham City, and Westeros. The average person in the street probably would not be able to tell you the plot of Macbeth, but they all know who Luke Skywalker's father is ... Our modern civilization, like all civilizations before it, has settled around a set of myths and legends as the basis of its culture.

In the case of "Lord of the Rings," this manifests itself not only in cave-dwelling arthropods in Brazil, but also in Tolkienesque stories, street names, and even children.

A Dutch city called Gerlop pays tribute to Middle Earth with street names in clusters of related characters, Manuel Pangaruy reported in Oddity Central. The savvy Gerlop traveler might go down Balin Street, take a right on Laan van Tolkien, and continue onto Galadriel.

Writers in a Goodreads thread confessed to naming pets, laptops, and children after Frodo, Belladonna Took, Mithril, and even Elessar Maikael (he goes by "Elf").

"Just because it's an invented language, doesn't make it less valid – all language is invented, and languages come and go," one person commented.

Another said the reason for the names' popularity was how familiar they felt, perhaps because of how people can use the stories to relate to each other.

"I think that a lot of Tolkien's Elvish names and words lend themselves to proper names," he wrote. "They're unusual (that is, uncommon) and yet somehow familiar at the same time."

The researchers in Brazil are not the first scientists to bring Middle Earth to life in their work. On Titan, a moon of Saturn, ambitious astronauts could someday wander through a set of six hills named after characters from Tolkien's Middle Earth, according to the International Astronomical Union.

If the "Lord of the Rings" world is becoming a cultural touchdown with the longevity of Penelope and Hamlet, a walk toward Titan's hills of Arwen, Bilbo, and Faramir might leave these futuristic space travelers feeling oddly at home.


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« Reply #3 on: Nov 21, 2015, 10:38 AM »

100 eyes and counting: What this weird mollusk can teach materials scientists

Tiny, primitive chitons - a type of sea mollusk - have hundreds of eyes embedded in their plated shells.

By Patrick Torphy, Staff November 20, 2015   

A tiny marine creature built with hundreds of eyes hidden in it's armored shell could become the inspiration for futuristic building materials.

Chitons, a type of sea mollusk, are related to slugs, octopuses, and mussels. Their tough shells are composed of overlapping plates that can defend against lurking predators. But what looks like minuscule dots covering the shell are actually hundreds of eyes made of the same armor-like material, a crystalline mineral known as aragonite. Scientists have known about chiton's armored eyes for decades but have only recently begun to understand the extent of their capability.

A group of scientists from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge discovered that each microscopic eye has it's own complex structure, including photoreceptive cells that can sense approaching predators. The researchers now know chitons can see an eight-inch-long fish from six and a half feet away, according to Live Science. The fact that these aragonite structures are able to both defend and provide vision, intrigues scientists interested in creating multifunctional building materials.

“To date, artificial materials that have the ability to perform multiple and often structurally opposite functions are not available. We can not yet rationally design them but studying different multifunctional biomaterials present in nature should ultimately allow us to deduct the key principles for this relatively new area of materials science,” said Joanna Aizenberg, Harvard professor of materials science, in a press release.

Researchers have long looked to mollusks and their sturdy shells for inspiration when it comes to constructing innovative, artificial, building materials. As Live Science reported:

    The goal, Ling Li told Live Science, is to use nature's designs for improvements in engineering and technology. Windowpane oysters, for example, might inspire stronger windshields for combat vehicles. And chiton shells could provide a basis for creating self-monitoring materials, such as walls embedded with sensors that would detect cracks, Li said.

But, as The Atlantic reported, the dual role of these eyes do come with limitations:

    They may help the animal to see threats, but they also compromise its defenses. Each eye consists of a large pear-shaped chamber beneath the lens, and these cavities, full of soft sensory tissues, create weaknesses in the chiton armour. The same aligned grains that help the lenses to collect more light also make them uniquely fragile. Li and [Matthew] Connors found that they collapse under forces that barely dent the rest of the plates.

Researchers seemed pleasantly surprised by this primitive creature’s complexity and capability: Sonke Johnsen, who was one of the scientist’s graduate advisers, told The Atlantic, “They're forming decent images in an animal that, to be really blunt, is not that smart.”


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« Reply #4 on: Nov 21, 2015, 10:41 AM »

CS Monitor

How fish can turn invisible in the open sea

A new study shows how some fish are able to reflect and manipulate vibrations from polarized light to affectively disappear from predators.

By Cathaleen Chen, Staff November 19, 2015   

Forget camouflage prints – the stealthiest fish species manipulate light itself in order to remain unseen by predators.

A new study published Thursday in the journal Science reveals that certain fish have developed microscopic structures in their skin cells, or platelets, that scatter polarized light underwater. By reflecting their adjacent light patterns, these slippery vertebrates can render themselves virtually invisible.

“The open ocean is not a uniform environment by any means, even though it might appear to be in our eyes. For animals, it’s walking through a kaleidoscope,” the report’s primary investigator Molly Cummings tells The Christian Science Monitor. “So, these animals have evolved a means to camouflage with their crazy diverse optical environment.”

For five years, Dr. Cummings; her colleague, Parrish Brady, at the University of Texas in Austin; and other academic collaborators worked on this project to examine how fish are able to adapt to the variations of polarized lights in their surroundings.

The vibrations of polarized light waves all travel on the same plane. Most light, however is unpolarized, and gives off vibrations that move on a multitude of planes.

Sunlight, for instance, is not polarized above the ocean until it hits the surface of the water, creating that glittering glare from the reflection.

Once underwater, however, sunlight is typically polarized. And many fish happen to have the ability to detect and mimic the polarized vibrations because of the platelets in their skin.

Fish platelets, not to be mistaken for the platelets found in mammalian blood, are tiny nanoscale crystals, Dr. Brady says. Scientists have long known that the luminous scales of fish had something to do with their camouflage abilities, but not necessarily how and to what degree.

“The platelets are organized in a way to scatter reflective light away from the animal and give it its silvery sheen when you look at the fish,” he explains. “They’re aligned in a specialized way that we believe in the study gives it its reflective properties.”

What does this mean for humans? According to Cummings, studying how our friends in the waters are able to reflect polarized light could lead to innovations in human camouflage.

"Fish have evolved the means to detect polarized light," she said in a statement. "Given that, we suggested they've probably evolved the means to hide in polarized light. If we can identify that process, then we can improve upon our own camouflage technology for that environment."

Especially for military optics, polarization contrast is a helpful way of detecting targets in the open ocean. With the support of the US Navy, the research conducted by Cummings and her team could inspire future technologies that home in on such natural phenomena.

The experiment itself was quite tedious, Cummings says. It involved building an apparatus called the video polarimeter that continuously records the polarized light properties around a fish subject held against a mirror. The fish is held on a rotating platform and after each recorded 360-degree spin, researchers would switch to another angle.

The crew ended up with more than 1,500 different angular configurations, with two weeks worth of recorded data packed into each figure, for five different species of fish. The results showed that two of them – the lookdown and the bigeye scad, both open ocean fish – were dramatically better at camouflaging in polarized light.

Up next, the scientists plan on looking into specifically how these fish use their abilities, perhaps by adjusting their platelets or swimming at different angles.

“It’s been one of those cases of science where all the elements aligned and allowed us to do this dream experiment,” Cummings says.

“I think it’s a great example of how human applications can take advantage of evolutionary solutions and the value of evolutionary biology.”


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« Reply #5 on: Nov 21, 2015, 10:44 AM »

CS Monitor

Some birds 'tap dance' to woo potential mates, say scientists (+video)

Researchers captured high-speed video of cordon-bleu songbirds' courtship behaviors revealing rhythmic dance steps. Watch the video to see and hear the birds' 'tap dancing' below.

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer November 19, 2015   

To woo mates, birds might sing songs or ruffle their feathers. But that's not all they might try.

Scientists captured video of blue-capped cordon-bleu songbirds, socially monogamous birds native to Africa, performing complex, rhythmic courtship dances.

The songbird forms a sort of one-man-band, combining percussive dance steps and melodic tweets to serenade a potential mate. The researchers describe the cordon-bleu's tap dancing, as they call it it, in a new paper published Thursday in Scientific Reports.

"They show very quick steps and make sounds by such steps. They perform tap dance to impress potential mates," study author Masayo Soma, an ornithologist at Hokkaido University in Japan, explains in an email to The Christian Science Monitor.

The cordon-bleu's dance steps are so quick that, to the naked eye, they just look like hops or bobs. But the researchers were able to take a closer look by slowing down film they captured.

As you can see in the video clips, says Dr. Soma, "they move both feet up and down alternately, which might look more similar to the foot movements of flamenco dancers than to tap dancers."

Courtship display of male and female blue-capped cordon-bleus recorded with normal and high-speed video camera. Credit: Nao Sota, Scientific Reports...Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI2D_V9DQeY

The birds hop into the air, performing up to 6 steps at a time.

"What we know is that the number of steps decreases while they are singing, which can be interpreted as that they avoid interference between singing and step sounds, or that it is too physically demanding to sing and perform many-step dancing simultaneously," Soma says.

The researchers aren't quite sure what in a bird's dancing particularly attracts a mate.

"One possibility is that cordon-bleus are looking for best tap-dance performers, but according to our observation, there was no tendency that particular male or female with more number of steps was popular among the other sex," says Soma. "So, we are puzzled."

The researchers "predict that the number of the steps included in one hopping (or bobbing) might be important to show their ‘vigor’ or physical quality," says Soma.

"But there might be other factors that contribute to mate choice, which we need to look at in the future studies," she says

A balanced duet

The male cordon-bleu isn't performing this song and dance alone. Both sexes engage in a sort of courtship duet, each performing their own show to woo a partner.

Researchers have previously focused their attention on males' courtship behaviors, assuming that females were in charge of mate selection.

"Often the females are ignored in these displays," ornithologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Anastasia H. Dalziell, who wasn't involved in the study, tells the Monitor in an interview. "We don't even give them a second glance," she says of researchers' attention to the females. This research shows that "we really should be paying more attention to what the females are doing in these duets."

How unique is this percussive duet?

Hints of such mutual mate choice has appeared in other birds such as storks, albatrosses, and some seagulls, says Dr. Dalziell. But there has been less evidence of mutual selection among songbirds.

Dancing might not be unique to the cordon-bleus, but their tap dancing does stand out.

"Many related species (Estrildid finches) show some dance, which typically include hopping and singing, but none of the species that we observed so far showed rapid stepping," says Soma. "Some other species, such as blue-footed boobies show stepping dance, but their steps are much slower and probably make no conspicuous sounds."

A hint of humanity in the love birds

Courtship may look different across species, but the songbirds might be more like us than they seem.

"Humans' way of courting might be different from that of our birds, but I believe that courting behaviors of birds have many parallels with human music and dance, and can give us a hint of biological meaning of them," says Soma.

Dalziell agrees. "We often find that we define ourselves, as humans, as different in some way from other animals," she says "But often we look at other animals and from our data we realize that we have a lot more in common with other species than we first realized."

This newfound tap-dancing duet is a fun surprise, says Dalziell. And that might just mean more interesting discoveries in the natural world to come.

"The more we look at it," she says of the natural world, "the more we discover that we may think that we know a lot, but in fact there's a lot out there to be discovered."

"We live in this extraordinary world and we still have all these surprises coming at us," Dalziell says.


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« Reply #6 on: Nov 21, 2015, 10:47 AM »

CS Monitor

These slimy deep-sea worms are actually quite close cousins to humans

New research finds that humans and a type of marine worm share some 70 percent of genes.

By Mindy Weisberger, Livescience.com November 19, 2015      

People have more in common with deep-sea worms than one might suspect. Over 500 million years ago, humans and certain worms shared a common ancestor, and people still share thousands of genes with the worms, said scientists who recently sequenced genomes from two marine worm species.

The results suggest humans and acorn worms, so called because of their acorn-shaped "heads," are distant cousins, said the researchers, led by Oleg Simakov of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University in Okinawa, Japan. The researchers analyzed genes from two acorn worm species: Ptychodera flava, collected off Hawaii, and Saccoglossus kowalevskii, from the Atlantic Ocean.

Clearly, acorn worms look nothing like people; the worms have no limbs and breathe through slits in their guts. But they share approximately 14,000 genes with humans, scientists found, comprising about 70 percent of the human genome. These genes can be traced back to an ancestor of both acorn worms and humans that lived more than 500 million years ago, during a period known as the Cambrian explosion.

Genes from this ancient ancestor exist today not only in humans, but also in sea stars and their relatives, in cephalopods (octopuses and squid), and in all animals with backbones. The animals in this lineage are called "deuterostomes" (pronounced DOO-teh-roe-stomes.)

Of all deuterostomes alive now, acorn worms have been around the longest. "Acorn worms are our most ancient deuterostome relatives, dating back to the origin of deuterostomes, around 570 million years ago," Simakov told Live Science in an email.

Species like the acorn worms can help scientists understand how genes that first appeared hundreds of millions of years ago control the development of different but related physical features across animal species. This happens even in species as different as acorn worms and humans.

As deuterostomes evolved, many species emerged that were more complex than their acorn-worm cousins. But even in later species, some physical features can still be linked to genes in acorn worms for simpler structures that perform the same jobs, Simakov and his colleagues found.

"The genomic data fills in the gaps in our understanding of their evolution," Simakov explained.

After sequencing the worms' genomes and comparing them with genomic data from a range of diverse animals, scientists found 8,716 gene families, or sets of similar genes, in the acorn worms that are shared across all deuterostomes.

One family contained a gene cluster unique to deuterostomes, linked to feeding and breathing in acorn worms. These genes were particularly interesting to the scientists, they said. Acorn worms feed using specialized slits near their gut regions, located between the mouth and the esophagus. The slits allow water to pass through the worm's mouth but bypass the animal's digestive tracts. No animal outside the deutorostome group has structures like these, so the scientists took a closer look at the genes that controlled them.

The researchers found that these genes could be linked to gill development in deuterostomes. Even in humans, the researchers suggest, these genes could play a part in the development of the pharynx, the tube connecting the esophagus with the nose and mouth.

As much as acorn worms can tell scientists about many species alive today, there is still much to discover. Simakov said he is eager to expand genomic analysis to include more under-sampled regions across the sprawling tree of life. The more genetic data scientists gather, the better their ability to investigage humans' own genetic legacy and pinpoint the parts of human DNA connected to all life on Earth.

The finding is detailed today (Nov. 18) in the journal Nature.


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« Reply #7 on: Nov 21, 2015, 10:54 AM »

Which Animals Have Barely Evolved?

 Some species have managed to maintain their original looks—even over millions of years

The platypus is the only remaining descendant of an ancestor that diverged from all the other mammals about 150 million years ago.

By Liz Langley, National Geographic
PUBLISHED November 14, 2015

“You haven’t changed a bit!”

It’s nice when people lie about our Throwback Thursday pictures this way, but it’s also true that some of us stay better preserved than others.

David Gohman Luke wondered which animals have maintained their look the longest—but he's talking millions of years, not decades. Luke asked Saturday’s Weird Animal Question of the Week via Facebook: “What is the oldest surviving mammal that has gone unchanged by evolution?”

Don’t Go Changin'

“'Unchanged' is a tricky word,” Nizar Ibrahim, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago and 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, says via email.

With only fossils to go by, scientists can examine an ancient animal's skeletal structure, but it's not the whole story. Physiology and DNA change somewhat over time, he says, both through the basic process of evolution as well as random genetic changes.

That said, two mammals that have undergone the fewest evolutionary shifts are the  platypus and the opossum, says Samantha Hopkins, associate professor of geology at the University of Oregon.

Put That on My Bill

You could say the platypus is a survivor: It's one of the few living descendants of an ancestor that diverged from all the other mammals about 150 million years ago, Hopkins says.

The platypus has “a number of primitive features,” Ibrahim says, “both from what we know from fossils and from what we can see in their modern-day anatomy."

Those include their leathery eggs and a lack of nipples, both traits that don't exist in mammals that evolved after platypuses.

Eggs, you might be wondering? You heard right. Egg-laying mammals are called monotremes, and though once more diverse, today that group contains only the platypus and two species of echidna.

Skulls of platypus-like ancestors have been found dating back to the Cretaceous period (63 million to 138 million years ago), Hopkins says. Their duck-like bill and unique jaws help scientists identify such fossils.

Ibrahim adds that the oldest fossils that look like the modern platypus date to the Quaternary period, which is about 2.5 million years ago.

Playing Possum

They don’t go back as far as the monotremes, but opossums are also quite ancient, "with little change over the last few tens of millions of years,” Ibrahim says.

Today there are more than 60 species of possum, which live throughout the Americas, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and New Guinea.

A 2009 study published in the journal PLOS ONE traces the opossum lineage back to a sister group of marsupials called the peradectids, which lived at the time of dinosaur extinction in the Cretaceous–Paleogene period. The evolutionary split of opossums from other marsupials occurred about 65 million years ago. (See "Did Grandma Have a Pouch? And Other Thoughts oh the Opossum’s Genome.")
An unwary marsupial suddenly finds itself face to face with its fifteen minutes of fame.

It Pays Not to Be Picky

It’s not fully understood why some species remain unchanged for such a long time, Ibrahim says, but stable environments and little competition might play a role.

For instance, there aren't many Australian mammals that have evolved to be aquatic—which means the water-loving platypus doesn't have much competition to deal with.

And sometimes, evolution just gets it right.

For instance, Hopkins points out that most species of opossum, like North America's Virginia opossum, are "dietary generalists." Their attitude toward food is “No bugs right now? I can eat trash. No trash? I’ll just forage on this rotting fruit," she says—an adaptability that lets them live just about anywhere.

There are more than 60 species of opossums (pictured, a Virginia opossum), most of which haven't changed much over the millennia.

On the other hand, extremely specialized animals like giant pandas, whose diet is 99 percent bamboo, are more vulnerable to extinction if their preferred food is no longer available.

See there? The more agreeable you are to change, the more you might just get to stay the same.


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« Reply #8 on: Nov 21, 2015, 11:03 AM »


Giant Platypus Found, Shakes Up Evolutionary Tree

Three-foot mammal lived about 5 to 15 million years ago.

By Christine Dell'Amore, National Geographic
PUBLISHED November 06, 2013

What's cooler than a venomous, duck-billed mammal that lays eggs? A giant one—and that's just what researchers have found.
   
A newly discovered species of three-foot-long (one-meter-long) platypus, dubbed Obdurodon tharalkooschild, swam through freshwater pools in Australian forests about 5 to 15 million years ago, according to a new study. That's a much bigger critter than a modern-day platypus, which at 15 inches (38 centimeters) long is about the size of a small domestic cat.

Scientists fleshed out the animal based on a single tooth found several years ago in limestone collected from the fossil-rich Riversleigh World Heritage Area of northwest Queensland.

The limestone fossils were stowed in a cupboard and forgotten until study leader Rebecca Pian, a Ph.D. student at Columbia University in New York City, pulled them out in 2012 while studying at Australia's University of New South Wales.

One tooth struck her as odd: It was bigger than any known platypus tooth. After closer study, "I said, 'Wait a second, not only is it quite big, it's quite different as well,'" Pian remembers. When she showed it to study co-author Mike Archer, he immediately agreed it was new.

For instance, the tooth clearly had the unique shape known to belong only to platypus teeth. But it also had bumps and ridges never before seen in the group. To estimate the size of the animal the tooth came from, Pian and colleagues compared the tooth with other platypus teeth and made a rough extrapolation of the size of the new species.

It was bigger than any platypus known before. The team had just shaken up platypus evolution.

Filling in the Gaps

The ancient platypus belongs to a tiny group of egg-laying mammals called monotremes, of which only three modern species remain: the platypus and two species of echidna, all of which are found in Australia and New Guinea.

Only four extinct platypus species have been discovered, each in different periods of time, leading scientists to believe that either there are huge gaps in the fossil record or the platypus family tree is simply not very diverse. Part of the problem is that most of the time, only the teeth with their hardy enamel survive the wear and tear of time.

Now, with the discovery of O. tharalkooschild, researchers know that "the evolution of the platypus is potentially more complicated than we thought," said Pian, whose study was published in the November issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

That's because its larger size and possibly more carnivorous teeth suggest it had a different diet from other platypuses—which mostly eat soft invertebrates—possibly taking on bigger prey such as frogs, Pian said. Such a hearty diet may have also been why the newfound platypus was so big, she added.

The fact that the ancient species had such a big tooth was surprising, since older platypus fossils have suggested they evolved smaller and fewer teeth over time. Today's platypus, for example, only has teeth as a youngster. Later in life, an adult chews its soft prey using horny pads in its mouth.

It's even possible the new fossil platypus was part of a now-extinct side branch of the main platypus lineage.

Solid Research

"This seems like a solid piece of research—if I'd found it, I'd have given it a new name as well," noted Timothy Rowe, director of the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory at the University of Texas, Austin.

Platypus teeth are so "exceedingly unique" that it's clear the new tooth is from a platypus, added Rowe, who wasn't involved in the new study.

The paleontologist also said the finding reinforces that "we don't really know" a lot about the evolution of platypuses and echidna.

But, he said, "we're starting to fill in some of the gaps, and that's always a happy thing."

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« Reply #9 on: Nov 21, 2015, 11:16 AM »

Evidence of a 'mid-life crisis' in great apes

Date:  November 19, 2012
Source: University of Warwick

Chimpanzees and orangutans can experience a mid-life crisis just like humans, a study suggests.

This is the finding from a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that set out to test the theory that the pattern of human well-being over a lifespan might have evolved in the common ancestors of humans and great apes.

An international team of researchers, including economist Professor Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick and psychologist Dr Alex Weiss from the University of Edinburgh, discovered that, as in humans, chimpanzee and orangutan well-being (or happiness) follows a U shape and is high in youth, falls in middle age, and rises again into old age.

The authors studied 508 great apes housed in zoos and sanctuaries in the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and Singapore. The apes' well-being was assessed by keepers, volunteers, researchers and caretakers who knew the apes well. Their happiness was scored with a series of measures adapted from human subjective well-being measures.

Professor Oswald said: "We hoped to understand a famous scientific puzzle: why does human happiness follow an approximate U-shape through life? We ended up showing that it cannot be because of mortgages, marital breakup, mobile phones, or any of the other paraphernalia of modern life. Apes also have a pronounced midlife low, and they have none of those."

The study is the first of its kind and the authors knew their work was likely to be unconventional. Dr Weiss said: "Based on all of the other behavioural and developmental similarities between humans, chimpanzees, and orang-utans, we predicted that there would be similarities when looking at happiness over the lifespan, too. However, one never knows how these things will turn out, so it's wonderful when they are consistent with findings from so many other areas."

The team included primatologists and psychologists from Japan and the United States. In the paper the team point out that their findings do not rule out the possibility that economic events or social and cultural forces contribute part of the reason for the well-being U shape in humans. However, they highlight the need to consider evolutionary or biological explanations. For example, individuals being satisfied at stages of their life where they have fewer resources to improve their lot may be less likely to encounter situations that could be harmful to them or their families.


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« Reply #10 on: Nov 21, 2015, 11:20 AM »

Hummingbirds rely on raw power, not physique, to outmaneuver rivals

Date:  November 19, 2015
Source: University of Faculty of Science British Columbia

Brute strength is surprisingly important to the ability of hummingbirds to outmaneuver rivals for nectar and evade predators, according to new University of British Columbia research published in eLife.

An intensive study of 20 Anna's hummingbirds, Calypte anna, led by the University of British Columbia, revealed that birds with the highest muscle capacity are able to accelerate faster and make more demanding, complex turns.

"We had expected wing morphology and body mass to have more of an influence on maneuverability so were surprised that muscle capacity is so important," says Doug Altshuler, lead author from the University of British Columbia.

The scientists will repeat the experiments with other tropical species that have greater variation in body mass and wing morphology. These field studies will help determine whether the findings are common to other hummingbirds.

The muscle capacity of the birds was determined by attaching a necklace of weighted beads to each bird. Hummingbirds are able to fly directly upwards, and their maximum weight-lifting ability could be measured by how many of the beads they were able to lift. A two-hour solo flight of each bird was filmed to record and analyse their aerial displays.

The research could find an application in the development of autonomous vehicles.

"A fundamental question is what we should focus on for engineering the autonomous vehicles predicted to be an increasing part of our lives," says Altshuler.

"Our work suggests that for increasing maneuverability, we should focus on increasing the maximum force that the motors are able to produce."

For hummingbirds, the burst capacity of their muscles has an important evolutionary function. Their natural escape response is to fly vertically. They might need to employ this while hovering at a flower to feed. So, in addition to the power needed to hover normally, they need a reserve of power to accelerate away from predators or competitors. Competition within species can be severe, with birds defending a patch of individual flowers for access to nectar and often using their bills as daggers to stab other birds in flight.

Such airborne combat could explain why the birds in the study deployed some extra dazzling moves when paired. These competition trials, filmed over an additional two hours, involved chases, displacements and aerial displays but very little direct contact. Paired birds were found to use more arcing turns than pitch-roll turns in the presence of a competitor. Pitch-roll turns require the birds to slow down, which may make them a target for aggression by a competitor. The scientists believe they prefer arcing terms during competition so that they are always on the move when in flight.

They had expected to see even greater effects of competition, such as higher acceleration. However, they found that the paired birds actually accelerated more slowly during horizontal flight. This may be a result of the experiment being carried out in a chamber rather than in the wild. The benefit of this approach is that a large number of measurements from the same individuals can be combined with other data, allowing the new insights to be uncovered.


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« Reply #11 on: Nov 22, 2015, 06:08 AM »

November 22, 2015

Extremely rare, insanely adorable pygmy hippo born in UK

by Brett Smith
Red Orbit

Classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, pygmy hippopotamuses are extremely rare in the wild, with only about 2,000 individuals thought to be left. So it's no surprise then that zookeepers at the Bristol Zoo in the United Kingdom are particularly excited about the recent birth of a baby pygmy hippopotamus.

Zookeepers told BBC News they don’t know the sex of the baby hippo yet, and as a result haven’t decided on a name.

"The calf is looking very strong and it certainly feeds well,” said Lynsey Bugg, assistant curator of mammals at the zoo. "It spends short periods of time in the water but is not quite as good at swimming as its parents.”

What's a pygmy hippo?

Pygmy hippos are much smaller than most the common hippopotamus and only grow to a maximum size of around 2 feet 7 inches. Bristol Zoo is a part of an international breeding program, and Bugg noted that the baby’s father is a "genetically important animal," adding that, "by default, so will be his offspring.”

There are only two known species of hippo: the pygmy and common hippopotamus. Both species are semi-aquatic and rely on water to skin moisturized and body temperature cool, and behaviors such as mating and having a baby may take place in water or on land. The pygmy hippo is plant-eating, preferring to feed on ferns, broad-leaved plants, grasses, and forest fruits.

An uncommon nocturnal forest creature, the pygmy hippopotamus is a hard animal to examine in the wild. Unknown outside West Africa until the 1800s and brought to zoos in the early 20th century, pygmy hippos reproduce well in captivity and the majority of study comes from zoo specimens. The success of the species in captivity is more certain than in the wild.

In a study published in 2012, researchers found that common hippos living in Europe more than 1 million years ago had likely evolved to shrink to the size of pygmy hippos. This evolution was driven by climate change, and another shift in global climate likely forced the animals toward the equator, the study team said.


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« Reply #12 on: Nov 22, 2015, 06:11 AM »

November 22, 2015

These pigeons peck to detect breast cancer

by Chuck Bednar
Red Orbit

Despite having brains no larger than the tip of a person’s index finger, pigeons can be trained to become pathologists capable of distinguishing between normal and cancerous breast tissues, new research published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One and reported by Futurity has revealed.

In the study, experts from the University of California, Davis and the University of Iowa taught pigeons to discriminate between cancerous and non-cancerous images and slides using a method called operant conditioning, in which they were given a food reward for choosing correctly.

“With some training and selective food reinforcement, pigeons do just as well as humans in categorizing digitized slides and mammograms of benign and malignant human breast tissue,” lead author Richard Levenson, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at UC Davis, said in a statement.

Over time, the pigeons were able to generalize what they had learned, meaning that when they were exposed to a additional sets of normal and cancerous tissues on digitized slides, the birds were still able to correctly identify them.

Birds demonstrated 85 percent accuracy after just two weeks

The pigeons were subjected to a few weeks of training using stained pathology slides, including many benign and cancerous samples from routine cases at UC Davis Medical Center. Some of the first started by recognizing differences between the samples in full color at low magnification (4X) before moving on to medium (10X), and high (20X).

They were also tested using monochrome samples to eliminate color and brightness as possible cues, as well as with multiple levels of image compression. The birds even performed well on a series of images they had never seen before—effectively demonstrating that they were learned the difference between the two types of tissue and were able to learn limited pathology.

According to Levenson, the birds “were remarkably adept at discriminating between benign and malignant breast cancer slides at all magnifications, a task that can perplex inexperienced human observers... Pigeons’ accuracy from day one of training at low magnification increased from 50 percent correct to nearly 85 percent correct at days 13 to 15.”

Like humans, the pigeons’ accuracy rating was “modestly affected by the presence or absence of color in the images, as well as by degrees of image compression,” the UC Davis professor added. “The pigeons also learned to correctly identify cancer-relevant microcalcifications on mammograms, but they had a tougher time classifying suspicious masses on mammograms – a task that is extremely difficult, even for skilled human observers.”


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« Reply #13 on: Nov 22, 2015, 06:17 AM »


CS Monitor

Yellowstone National Park proposes killing 1,000 bison. Why?

Yellowstone National Park proposes to kill roughly 1,000 wild bison this winter. It is part of Montana's agreement to reduce the animals' migration and the risk of the bison sickening livestock.

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press November 22, 2015   

BILLINGS, Mont. — Yellowstone National Park proposes to kill roughly 1,000 wild bison this winter — mostly calves and females — as officials seek to reduce the animals' annual migration into Montana.

Park officials are scheduled to meet Thursday with representatives of American Indian tribes, the state and other federal agencies to decide on the plan.

It marks the continuation of a controversial agreement reached in 2000 between Montana and the federal government that was meant to prevent the spread of the disease brucellosis from bison to livestock.
Recommended: Think you know the US? Take our geography quiz.

Almost 5,000 bison roamed the park this summer. A harsh winter could drive thousands into areas of southwestern Montana.

Hunters, including from tribes with treaty rights in the Yellowstone area, are anticipated to kill more than 300 of the animals this winter. Others would be captured and slaughtered or used for research.

"Through the legal agreement the National Park Service has to do this," said Yellowstone spokeswoman Sandy Snell-Dobert. "If there was more tolerance north of the park in Montana for wildlife, particularly bison as well as other wildlife, to travel outside the park boundaries, it wouldn't be an issue."

Yellowstone has one of the largest wild bison herds remaining in the world. Since the 1980s, more than 6,300 have been slaughtered and almost 1,900 killed by hunters.

Despite that aggressive effort, the park's herds remain at near-record levels. Last winter, officials removed 737 of the animals, falling short of their target of up to 900 animals.

This year's proposal puts more emphasis on killing females and calves, to reduce the population's reproductive rate.

"They are a hardy species," said Stephanie Adams with the National Parks Conservation Association. "But until there's more room for bison to range beyond park boundary, we're going to have to rely on larger numbers of bison being sent to slaughter."

The burly species, also known as buffalo, once roamed most of North America and numbered some 30 to 60 million animals, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As the West was settled, commercial hunting drove bison nearly extinct. By 1884, an estimated 325 remained in the United States.

Attempts to relocate portions of Yellowstone's herds to avoid mass slaughters have seen minimal success, amid opposition from ranchers and landowners worried about disease and competition from bison for grazing space.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock last year proposed allowing bison to roam year-round in an area west of Yellowstone if the population drops to fewer than 3,500 bison. The Democrat has yet to make a final decision, spokesman Mike Wessler said Wednesday.


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« Reply #14 on: Nov 22, 2015, 06:29 AM »

Meet Uyan and Dina, Frozen Cave Lion Cubs from the Ice Age

Two cubs discovered frozen in August have turned out to be an extraordinary find: the only fully preserved examples of a lion species that has been extinct for thousands of years.

Photograph courtesy of The Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)

By Brian Switek, for National Geographic
11/22/2015

New photographs of a pair of cave lion cubs found frozen in Siberia give an unprecedented look at a species that has been extinct for about 10,000 years.

Russian researchers revealed new details about the cubs in a press conference on Tuesday, including how they were found, and how they died.  (See "Frozen Cave Lion Cubs from the Ice Age Found in Siberia.")

Collectors unearthed the cave lions while looking for mammoth tusks in Yakutia, Siberia, and at first were not sure what they had found. They placed the cubs in a glacier to keep them frozen, and then sent them to scientists in Yakutsk for analysis.

Nicknamed Uyan and Dina for the Uyandina River where they were found, the kittens will provide scientists with more details about the lions that roamed Eurasia and North America during the most recent Ice Age. They are the first prehistoric cats to be found in such an exceptional state.

The cubs were only two to three weeks old when they perished, says Sakha Republic Academy of Science paleontologist Albert Protopopov. They were so young that their baby teeth had not yet started to poke out from their gums.

Most likely, Protopopov says, the cubs died when the soil of their den collapsed. While tragic, the way Uyan and Dina died played an important role in their preservation, keeping them frozen for over 12,000 years until flooding this past summer exposed them.

Scientists estimate that the cubs were only a few weeks old when they died, possibly more than 12,000 years ago. Here, researcher Gennady Boeskorov of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha examines a cub.
Photograph courtesy of The Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)

But the real research has only just begun. Until now, the cave lion—a subspecies of Panthera leo related to today’s lions—was known only from bones and tracks. Uyan and Dina will provide the first look at the soft tissues of these cats, from the characteristics of their thick coats to the anatomy of their internal organs.

Protopopov also says that genetic analyses are in the offing. “We will be able to know the degree of kinship between cave lions and African lions,” he says.

The scientists also hope to use radiocarbon analysis to determine how long ago the cats died, thought to be at least 12,000 years, and additional studies will likely provide new insights into what they ate and how they adapted to the frigid conditions of the chilly steppe habitats they one prowled.


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