Ancient sharks bit plesiosaur

Fossil shark feeding frenzy

From National Geographic:

“Sea Monster” Bones Reveal Ancient Shark Feeding Frenzy

Matt Kaplan
for National Geographic News

September 28, 2009

A gang of ancient sharks took on an enormous “sea monster” 85 million years ago, according to a new fossil analysis.

The bones of the prehistoric reptile, known as a plesiosaur, were found in Japan in 1968. But a lack of comparative samples and other resources meant that scientists didn’t release a formal description of the fossil until recently.

“As a child in Japan, I had heard that there were some shark teeth embedded in the plesiosaur,” recalled Kenshu Shimada, a paleontologist at DePaul University in Chicago.

“But the [new] description revealed over 80. That is a lot of teeth to have in a fossil,” he said.

After reading the report, Shimada wanted to take a closer look at the types of shark teeth. Based on his findings, he estimates that at least seven sharks of different ages attacked the plesiosaur.

The scientist was even more shocked when he identified the species of attacking shark: the extinct, nine-foot-long (three-meter-long) Cretalamna appendiculata.

By contrast, the sharks’ plesiosaur prey was a roughly 23-foot-long (7-meter-long) animal armed with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth and powerfully muscled, paddlelike limbs.

Feeding Frenzy

Sharks regularly lose some of their many teeth whenever they bite prey. These teeth fall out and are regrown throughout their lives.

Shimada and colleagues found that the teeth they removed from the plesiosaur were from the same species but of different sizes and shapes.

This suggests there was a multigenerational feeding frenzy, said Jürgen Kriwet, a paleontologist at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany.

Among modern-day great white sharks, for instance, juveniles will ravenously bite prey in a group but flee as soon as larger adult sharks arrive, said Kriwet, who was not involved in the new research.

A similar event may have taken place when the ancient sharks attacked, he said.

(See shark pictures submitted by National Geographic readers.)

Wounded Prey

Harder to determine is whether the sharks went after a live, wounded, or dead plesiosaur.

(Related: “Giant ‘Sea Monster’ Fossil Discovered in Arctic.”)

“In the modern day, we usually see sharks of this size scavenging on animals larger than themselves,” Kriwet said.

“And if they do attack, they are often attacking large animals that are already wounded.”

DePaul University’s Shimada said he thinks the plesiosaur was dead or nearly so.

“A healthy plesiosaur,” he said, “would have badly beat up these sharks.”

Findings reported last week at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Bristol, England

Tags reveal white sharks have neighbourhoods in the north Pacific, say Stanford researchers: here.

Brown shyshark (Haploblepharus fuscus): here.

US soldiers kill 13-year-old Afghan boy

From the site of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan:

US soldiers gun down schoolboy in Paktika

The teenager was hit in the head by foreign soldiers.

Obaid Kharotai

SHARAN: US forces shot dead a schoolboy on his way home in the southeastern province of Paktika on Monday, the victim’s father said.

Ghulam Shah, father of the 13-year-old Zeeshan, told Pajhwok Afghan News his son was returning home on a bicycle from school. He alleged NATO-led soldiers opened fire on the boy in Madatkhel area on the outskirts of Sharan, the provincial capital.

“No one can ask American troops about the killings of our sons, brothers and sisters,” an angry Ghulam Shah said, adding that his son also worked with a mechanic in the main Sharan bazaar during his free time.

A Sharan Civil Hospital employee, Najibullah, confirmed receiving Zeeshan’s bullet-riddled body. The teenager was hit in the head by foreign soldiers. The ISAF press office in the eastern zone also confirmed the incident and admitted it was a mistaken firing incident.

USA: Anti-war cafe opens in the shadow of Fort Hood: here.

Torosaurus, Triceratops, the same species?

From Scientific American:

Sep 28, 2009 12:00 PM

Are Torosaurus and Triceratops one and the same?

By Kate Wong

A rare horned dinosaur known as Torosaurus may not be a distinct species after all, according to a presentation given Friday at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Bristol, England.

Researchers have long recognized similarities between Torosaurus and Triceratops, the main distinctions being that Torosaurus is larger and has an expanded frill at the rear of the skull. But John Scannella, a doctoral student at Montana University, and his advisor, John R. Horner, have found that specimens attributed to the two species actually form a developmental continuum rather than falling into discrete groups. A Triceratops skeleton on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, for example, exhibits a number of skull traits reminiscent of Torosaurus, including thin parietal bones and elongated squamosal bones. In addition, microscope examinations of thin slices of bone from Triceratops and Torosaurus specimens reveal that individuals attributed to Torosaurus are more mature than any of the ones assigned to Triceratops. Scannella and Horner therefore believe that the fossils that have been categorized as Torosaurus are just Triceratops individuals that reached mature adulthood before they died.

Scientists have wondered how two such similar groups could have shared the landscape—both ranged from Colorado to Saskatchewan at the end of the Cretaceous period. If Scanella and Horner are right, the answer is simply that the animals are one and the same species.

But the finding raises the question of why fossil hunters have recovered so few of the mature “Torosaurus” specimens—fewer than a dozen, compared to the many dozens of younger Triceratops. “If Torosaurus is Triceratops, then we’re finding a lot of animals that had a lot of growing up to do,” Scannella comments. Insights may come once researchers determine a more precise age at death for the individuals.

The finding provides more evidence that dinosaur diversity was declining before the animals became extinct, which, Scannella says, supports the idea that something other than an asteroid impact extinguished them.

A three-horned dinosaur long known as Torosaurus may actually represent an adult Triceratops, according to paleontologists: here. And here.

Stolen Montserrat orioles are back

This video from England says about itself:

Three small clips of birds at London zoo.

My favourite birds here are the little hooded pitta. They look like little bandits on a rescue mission.

The rarest species in these clips is the Montserrat oriole. They only live on the tiny island of Montserrat, and are Critically endangered.

The other bird in these clips is the beautiful wood hoopoe. The complexity of the colours in its plumage are too hard to describe!

From Dutch news agency ANP:

Stolen rare birds are back in Avifauna

29 September 2009

The rare Montserrat oriole couple which had been stolen nearly two weeks ago from bird park Avifauna in Alphen aan den Rijn, are back.

A man who, according to a park spokesperson, had bought them in good faith, got suspicious after reading in the media about the theft. ‘When he bought them, he did not know which birds they were’, the spokesman said on Tuesday. The man also brought back four other birds, which ‘were not as irreplaceable’. He said about five hundred Montserrat orioles are still alive in the wild, and fifty live in zoos worldwide.

During the theft, about twenty birds [of various species] disappeared, so most of them are not back yet.

Update 2012: young Montserrat oriole born in Alphen.

Aided by recent advances in technology, scientists have discovered new populations of several seriously imperiled species: here.

Bullock’s Oriole Icterus bullockii: here.

St Lucia oriole: here.

Bahama Oriole on the edge: The recently recognised Bahama Oriole is one of the rarest birds in the Caribbean: here.

A previous BirdLife Community Blog highlighted the threat posed by feral livestock to the Centre Hills on Montserrat and actions being taken by the Darwin Initiative funded project ‘Reducing the impact of feral livestock in and around the Centre Hills’ to tackle this: here.

Documenting new seabird-colony Important Bird Areas, finding previously undocumented colonies and colonies thought to be extirpated: these are just some of the exciting discoveries reported within Environmental Protection in the Caribbean’s (EPIC’s) ground-breaking Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles: here.

World’s second longest insect in botanical garden

This video says about itself:

Believe it or not but this long thing isn’t adult yet… it gets twice the size. Spieces: Phobaeticus serratipes Instar: 5th Gender: female Length: 30 cm

From Groninger Internet Courant in the Netherlands:

The world’s second longest insect can be seen by the public now in the insectarium of the botanical garden in Haren. This stick insect is a Phobaeticus serratipus.

sic; serratipes

This species may reach about 50 cm long, including the legs. The longest insect, also a Phobaeticus species, is 55 cm. The animals here, juveniles still, are already over 30 cm. Newly born animals, called nymphs, are already about 8 cm.

Some of the strangest (and large!) insects in the world: here.

Honduran dictators attack civil liberties

This video says about itself:

Thousands of Hondurans took to the streets this day (8-10-09) demanding the return of their elected government and President, Zelaya. Filmed by Shaun Joseph.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Coup plotters try to silence resistance

Monday 28 September 2009

LITTLE COMPETITION: A soldier reads El Heraldo while on guard near the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. The pro-coup newspaper bragged on Monday that government edicts were only being aimed at dissenting media such as Channel 36 and Radio Globo

Honduran coup chiefs suspended constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties on Sunday night in a pre-emptive strike against democracy activists.

The repressive measure was launched three months to the day after the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya.

National Front Against the Coup activists vowed to ignore the decree and march in the streets as planned.

The decree gives authorities the green light to ban public meetings, detain people without warrants and close news media outlets.

It was announced just hours after Mr Zelaya called on his backers to stage mass protest marches in what he called a “final offensive” against the increasingly isolated regime.

Mr Zelaya, who has now been holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa for over a week, called on his supporters not to be provoked into violence.

But he insisted that the coup chiefs, who have snubbed repeated calls from the international community to form a national unity government under the constitutional premier, must ultimately be forced from office.

Talks between Mr Zelaya and interim officials aimed at resolving the political standoff triggered by the coup have gone nowhere.

And prospects for a compromise deal appeared to recede further after the government expelled at least four members of a team from the Organisation of American States who had arrived on Sunday to re-open negotiations.

OAS special adviser John Biehl told reporters that he and four other members of the advance team – including two US citizens, a Canadian and a Colombian – were stopped by pro-coup forces after landing at Tegucigalpa’s airport on Sunday.

Mr Biehl, who is Chilean, said that he had later been told he could stay, but the others had been put aboard flights out of the country.

“We were detained in the airport before a high-ranking official told us we were expelled,” he said.

Officials loyal to the de facto administration also issued an ultimatum to Brazil on Sunday, giving it 10 days to decide whether to turn Mr Zelaya over for arrest or grant him asylum and, presumably, take him out of Honduras.

They did not specify what they would do after the 10 days were up.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva responded by saying that his democratically elected government “doesn’t accept ultimatums from coup plotters.”

See also here. And here.

Honduras: Restore Press Freedom Immediately. Emergency Decree Prohibits Criticism of De Facto Government: here.

HONDURAS: Crackdown Prompts International Outcry: here.

German government parties lose election

This video from Germany is called People and Politics | Death in Afghanistan – The Bundeswehr under fire.

By Stefan Steinberg in Germany:

Historic defeat for Social Democrats in German federal election

28 September 2009

The German federal election held Sunday produced a historic defeat for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a sharp drop in support for all of the parties involved in Germany’s outgoing coalition government.

The SPD polled just 23.0 percent, down more than 11 percent from the last federal election in 2005, when the party polled 34.2 percent. The result is the worst ever for the SPD since World War II. Its decline of over 11 percent is the biggest loss ever recorded by a German party in a federal election since 1949.

The SPD’s main partners in Germany’s grand coalition government, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU), were also punished by voters. The so-called “union” parties emerged with the largest share of the vote—a combined total of 33.8 percent—but recorded their second worst result in postwar history.

The tally for the union parties was 1.4 percentage points less than their result of 35.2 percent in 2005, and far removed from the 40 percent-plus vote recorded in the majority of elections held in the postwar period. Many CDU-CSU voters evidently switched to the pro-“free market” Free Democratic Party (FDP), which polled 14.8 percent, a gain of 5 percentage points compared to 2005.

The Christian Social Union (CSU) also registered its worst ever result in a federal election since World War II. The party which has long dominated politics in Germany’s biggest state gained just 41.0 percent in Bavaria—less than the disastrous 43.4 percent recorded by the party in the last Bavarian state election.

Even under conditions where voters turned away in droves from the conservative CSU, the SPD was unable to benefit. Instead, the SPD also recorded its worst ever result in Bavaria, receiving just 16.5 percent of the vote.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of the CDU announced Sunday evening that she would form a coalition government with the pro-business Free Democrats. It is estimated that this coalition will control some 323 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, giving it a majority of approximately 15 seats.

Under conditions where the electorate turned away from all of the parties involved in the CDU-CSU-SPD grand coalition, opposition parties were able to increase their share of the vote.

The Green Party won 10.6 percent, up 2.5 percentage points from 2005, while the Left Party won 12.5 percent, 3.8 percentage points higher than its result in 2005.

A comment on the SPD defeat, by Fredrik Jansson from Sweden:

European Social Democracy needs to get over the cul-de-sac that the third way and the new middle were. We must understand that we can’t win elections through triangulation and great coalitions. SPD lost this election when they discarded the red-green majority that the German people elected in the last election.

See also here.

Germany: Big gains for Die Linke as Social Democrats’ support collapses: here.

A top German court ruled on Wednesday that spooks have the right to “monitor” members of the increasingly popular Left Party, Die Linke, which won representation in the Bundestag in 2005: here.

Elections in Germany, Japan, Greece, Portugal: here.