Dinosaur discovery in Mexico


This video is called Duck-Bill Dino Parts Explained.

Not only news about maybe the oldest dinosaur ever discovered.

Also news about a comparatively late (upper Cretaceous) dinosaur; from Discovery News:

New Dino Had Giant Nose

by Jennifer Viegas

Thu Dec 6, 2012 12:33 PM ET

A new dinosaur with a large, prominent nose has been discovered in northern Mexico.

The duck-billed dinosaur, Latirhinus uitstlani (“lati” is Latin for “wide” and “rhinus” means nose in Greek), lived during the Late Cretaceous approximately 73 million years ago. Found in Coahuila state, it is described in the latest issue of Historical Biology: An International Journal of Paleobiology.

Its wide nasal cavity might have given it incredible smell-detecting ability.

“Also, it might have supported and provided enhanced space for a soft tissue structure, sort of like an inflatable bladder, for display, recognition and communication purposes in general,” lead author Albert Prieto-Márquez told Discovery News.

World’s oldest dinosaur discovery in Tanzania?


This video is called Dinosaur Evolution, 1 of 5.

From Discover magazine:

Scientists Discover the Oldest Dinosaur Yet…Maybe

By Breanna Draxler

December 6, 2012 11:13 am

Paleontologists in Tanzania have unearthed fossils from a new species of prehistoric reptile. The bones may have belonged to the world’s oldest dinosaur—or they may be from a reptile that kind of looks like a dinosaur.

Currently, the oldest confirmed dinosaur fossil dates back 230 million years. By this point in time, dinosaurs had grown in size and population to dominate the Earth. But when exactly did dinosaurs first enter the prehistoric picture, and how long did it take them to rise to such prominence? Paleontologists have narrowed the timeline down to the early or middle Triassic—the period of 20 million years before the oldest known dinosaur came to be.  The newfound species, dubbed Nyasasaurus parringtoni, predates this fossil by another 10 to 15 million years, and falls right in the middle of paleontologists’ projected timeframe for the first appearance of dinosaurs.

With only one upper arm bone and six vertebrae to work with, the researchers were able to glean a surprising amount of information about the newly discovered two-legged creature. It measured between 6 and 10 feet from head to tail, and only weighed between 45 and 130 pounds. Certain indicators in the fossils are unique to dinosaurs, namely an “elongated deltopectoral crest”—the attachment necessary to support strong chest muscles. Without more material the researchers cannot definitively declare the creature a dinosaur, rather than a silesaurid, the dinosaurs’ closest relative. Still, scientists say the fossils are the best available evidence of the presence of dinosaurs in the middle Triassic period, and regardless of how it ends up being classified, the new species offers a valuable view of the lives of early reptiles.

Image courtesy of Sterling J. Nesbitt, et. al.

A cross-section through the outer portion of the cortex shows the deltopectoral crest, among other indicators

Portugal’s midwife toads threatened


From Wildlife Extra:

Outbreak of chytrid fungus threatens Portugal’s Midwife toads

Post-metamorphic Alytes obstetricians individual found dead in a pond in Serra da Estrela Natural Park (Portugal)

Toads have disappeared from 2/3rds of known habitats

December 2012. The emergence of chytridiomycosis is now widely recognized as a major cause of amphibian declines and biodiversity loss on local and global scales. Amphibian mortalities caused by the pathogenic chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd)) were first recorded in Iberia, Europe over a decade ago.

In August 2009, hundreds of post-metamorphic common Midwife toads (Alytes obstetricans) were found dead in the water and margins of a pond in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, north-central Portugal, and analyses confirmed their infection with Bd. Given the likelihood of a new outbreak of chytridiomycosis, staff from Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, School of Anthropology and Conservation, evaluated the possible impacts of this disease on populations of Midwife toads within the Park by conducting field surveys during 2010 and 2011.

Recently metamorphosed Alytes obstetricians from Serra da Estrela Natural Park (Portugal)

They compared the present distribution and abundance of Midwife toads with historical records, and quantified the present prevalence and intensity of infection by Bd. Results showed that Midwife toads had disappeared from 67% of the 1 x 1 km squares where it had been recorded previously. Results also showed that breeding is currently limited to just 16% of the confirmed known breeding sites and that larvae are now less abundant. There is also a high incidence of Bd in the remaining sites.

These effects were most pronounced at altitudes above 1200 m. The findings suggest that an outbreak of chytridiomycosis is responsible for the rapid decline of Midwife toads in Serra da Estrela, and it is believed that urgent conservation measures are needed to prevent local extinction of the species.

Read the full scientific paper here.

Presence/absence data of post-metamorphic common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricians) at Serra da Estrela Natural Park (PNSE). Past map summarize data prior to 2009, and present map show the result of surveys carried out during 2010/2011. Axes show 1 x 1 km UTM coordinates

Great tits’ individual personalities


This video is called Great Tit (Parus major.

From Living Bird magazine in the USA:

The Bold and the Bashful

by Abby McBride

Spend enough time watching chickadees at your feeder, and you might start to recognize individuals by their behavior. Maybe one chickadee acts like a little tyrant, monopolizing all the food. Another chickadee might have a penchant for skulking timidly on the outskirts.

If you think feeder birds have personalities, you’re not imagining things. In recent years biologists have tested animal personality in everything from mammals to mollusks, showing that individuals really do have consistent differences in behavior. But we’re still learning why those differences matter in the wild. What’s the point of having a shy personality, for instance, if it makes you miss out on a meal?

A European bird called the Great Tit—which looks like a chickadee dressed up in a yellow vest—recently shed some light on that question. When Oxford biologist John Quinn and colleagues experimented with a wild population of 156 individually tagged Great Tits, they found that being shy isn’t always a bad thing, according to their paper in The Proceedings of the Royal Society. First, Quinn identified each bird’s personality type by testing how many hops and flights it used to explore an artificial space. He knew from previous studies that this behavior would be a good measure of overall personality: the slapdash explorers tend to be bold and reckless, whereas the slow-but-thorough explorers are usually timid.

Once he had gauged the birds’ personalities, Quinn wanted to see how they behaved in the great outdoors. So he set up two bird feeders 30 feet apart in the woods, putting one in a “dangerous” spot out in the open. The second feeder went in a “safe” spot near dense shrubbery, where the Great Tits could hide from Eurasian Sparrowhawks.

Quinn stocked the safe feeder with whole peanuts and put less-appetizing nut granules in the dangerous feeder. He kept track of how much time individual birds spent at each feeder in the morning, when they were hungriest, and in the afternoon, when they were less hungry. Unsurprisingly, most birds visited the safer and more enticing food source, regardless of the time of day—until Quinn pulled a switch.

He swapped the desirable food into the dangerous feeder, forcing the Great Tits to make a choice between eating well and being safe. Quinn found that the two personality types approached this predation-starvation tradeoff in opposite ways. Adventurous birds risked their necks to fill their stomachs. But cautious birds stuck with the sheltered feeder even in the morning, risking starvation to stay safe. “It’s the first evidence, really, that they handle these risks differently in the wild,” Quinn says.

Both strategies have advantages, in theory. A shy bird is more likely than its bolder compatriots to die of starvation when food is scarce. But the same bird in an exposed site is less likely to wind up as a sparrowhawk’s lunch. André Dhondt, director of Bird Population Studies at the Cornell Lab, says that the world is an uncertain place for a Great Tit, full of shifting dangers. That’s why both adventurous and cautious birds survive in a population.

Quinn has not yet tested whether these survival behaviors are actually translating into life or death for the Great Tits. But he does know from previous research that Great Tit personalities are partly hereditary, which suggests that each bird’s behavior choice—whether to venture forth or stay hidden—has been molded by natural selection.

So the next time you see a shy chickadee getting edged out at a feeder, don’t worry too much: it just might be shy for a reason.

Kidnapped Libyan blogger survives, for now


This is a music video of Libyan blogger and doctor Hamid al-Tubuly, singing a song in English.

From Magharebia:

Libya: Tripoli Blogger Freed By Kidnappers

5 December 2012

Armed gunmen freed a social networking activist Hamid al-Tubuly one day after abducting him in Tripoli’s Ain Zara neighbourhood, Libya Herald reported on Wednesday (December 5th).

“He has been active on Twitter, commenting on everything that has gone on, but he wasn’t criticising any one group or anything. If he was criticising anything, it would be the security situation,” al-Tubuly’s niece was quoted as saying.

Al-Tubuly is a professor at Tripoli’s medical school.

So, an armed gang grabbed Dr Hamid al-Tubuly, even though his tweets did not criticize that gang, any other group, or anything else. He is alive, and free again. I hope that this horrible experience will never happen to him again.

How about Libyan bloggers who do criticize one of the many armed gangs in NATO’s post-2011 war ‘new’ Libya? Will they be released after kidnapping as well? Or should one rather fear that the kidnappers will imprison for a long time, or kill, bloggers of that kind?

So much for freedom of speech in the brave ‘new’ Libya, the result of the bloody war by the NATO-CIA-Pentagon-Sarkozy-Berlusconi-Cameron-king of Bahrain-king of Saudi Arabia-emir of Qatar-al Qaeda alliance.

The ‘new’ Libya where armed extreme fanatics kill their recent ally, the United States ambassador. Where women’s rights have gone down the drain. Where people are tortured and killed because of their complexion.

Who were the armed gang which kidnapped Dr Hamid Al-Tubuly? The Libya Herald reports:

Tripoli, 5 December:

The prominent social networking activist taken from his home yesterday morning by armed gunmen has been freed. …

It now transpires, however, that Tubuly’s “kidnappers” were none other than the Supreme Security Committee, Libya’s de facto police force responsible for internal security under the authority of the Ministry of Interior.

“The men who took him belonged to the SSC’s 10th brigade in Dahra” said Tubuly’s niece Hajer Sharif. …

Sharif says her uncle is not in a state to discuss the details of what he was asked during his questioning and that neither he nor the family could explain the arrest.

UPDATE: Twitter message by Tubuly, 5 December 2012:

I’m safe home. Thanks to all of you who helped me out. Details coming soon. Pray for those who can’t find the support/help I got. #FreeHamid

Birds in 2012, video


This video from the USA says about itself:

2012: What a Year for the Birds!

Dec 5, 2012 by LabofOrnithology

We shared many memorable online moments during the past year. Take a look at just a few here and help the Cornell Lab of Ornithology bring you more of these touching encounters with birds with a year-end gift. Thank you for all your support over the past year!

Cigarettes killing people, helping city birds?


Smoking is bad for people. Especially for women. Especially for young women.

However, for one group of living beings, tobacco does not seem to be only harmful.

This video from North America is called House Finch – HD Mini-Documentary.

From Nature:

City birds use cigarette butts to smoke out parasites

Lining nests with material from discarded cigarettes may help keep out parasitic mites.

Matt Kaplan

05 December 2012

Stuffing cigarette butts into the lining of nests may seem unwholesome. But a team of ecologists says that far from being unnatural, the use of smoked cigarettes by city birds may be an urban variation of an ancient adaptation.

Birds have long been known to line their nests with vegetation rich in compounds that drive away parasites. Chemicals in tobacco leaves are known to repel arthropods such as parasitic mites, so Monserrat Suárez-Rodríguez, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, and her colleagues wondered whether city birds were using cigarette butts in the same way.

In a study published today in Biology Letters, the researchers examined the nests of two bird species common on the North American continent. They measured the amount of cellulose acetate (a component of cigarette butts) in the nests, and found that the more there was, the fewer parasitic mites the nest contained.

The team also used heat traps to test whether the repellent effect of the cigarette butts was related to their nicotine content, rather than to their structure or other features. Suárez-Rodríguez and her colleagues placed traps in the nests of 27 house sparrows (Passer domesticus) and 28 house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) on their university campus. The traps, which use warmth to lure parasites close, were fitted with cellulose fibres and filters from either smoked or unsmoked cigarettes, as well as adhesive tape to catch the arthropods.

After 20 minutes, the team found that devices with unsmoked butts had many more parasites attached to them than devices with smoked butts — which contain more nicotine as the cigarette smoke has passed through them. Indeed, in nests that contained bird eggs, traps with unsmoked butts caught on average more than twice as many parasites.

“It really makes me wonder: might these birds show a preference for cigarette brands high in nicotine? If they did, that might suggest this behaviour has truly evolved as an adaptive response to challenges from parasites,” says Timothy Mousseau, an ecologist at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

As well as having anti-parasite effects, Suárez-Rodríguez cautions there may be as-yet unknown negative effects for the birds, because many compounds in cigarette butts are known carcinogens, and some are pesticides.