New extinct gibbon species discovery in Chinese tomb


This 2015 video is called Singing Gibbons.

By Bruce Bower, 2:00pm, June 21, 2018:

A 2,200-year-old Chinese tomb held a new gibbon species, now extinct

Researchers suspect that humans drove this previously unknown lineage to extinction

A royal crypt from China’s past has issued a conservation alert for apes currently eking out an existence in East Asia.

The partial remains of a gibbon were discovered in 2004 in an excavation of a 2,200- to 2,300-year-old tomb in central China’s Shaanxi Province. Now, detailed comparisons of the animal’s face and teeth with those of living gibbons show that the buried ape is from a previously unknown and now-extinct genus and species, conservation biologist Samuel Turvey and colleagues report in the June 22 Science. His team named the creature Junzi imperialis.

There’s currently no way to know precisely when J. imperialis died out. But hunting and the loss of forests due to expanding human populations likely played big roles in the demise of the ape, the researchers contend.

“Until the discovery of J. imperialis, it was thought that the worrying global decline of apes was a modern-day phenomenon”, says Turvey, of the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology. “We’re now realizing that there may have been numerous human-caused extinctions of apes and other primates in the past.”

The climate was relatively stable several thousand years ago, and no vertebrate extinctions have been definitively linked to natural climate shifts over the past 10,000 years. So “it is reasonable to conclude that Junzi became extinct as a result of human impacts”, says study coauthor Alejandra Ortiz, a paleoanthropologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Historical records indicate that gibbons with features similar to those of J. imperialis, as well as some other distinctive-looking gibbon populations no longer observed in the wild, inhabited central and southern China up to around 300 years ago, the researchers say. Most gibbons today are found in Southeast Asia.

The tomb is thought to have belonged to the grandmother of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, who ordered the building of the Great Wall of China and the famous terra-cotta warriors (SN: 9/16/17, p. 19). Twelve pits with animal remains, including those of the gibbon, were found in the crypt. During Qin’s reign and throughout much of Chinese history, gibbons were thought to have noble traits, and royals often acquired gibbons as high-status pets. Ancient Chinese art includes many depictions of gibbons, too.

Turvey’s group compared a 3-D digital reconstruction of the gibbon’s skull, based on its skeletal remains, with 477 skulls from nearly all living species of gibbons and siamangs, a closely related ape. Digital images of the recovered gibbon’s upper and lower molar teeth were compared with 789 molars from 279 present-day gibbon and siamang individuals.

“The science in this paper is strong, but its message for the future of apes and all animals and plants on Earth today is dismal”, says biological anthropologist Brenda Benefit of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. All species of gibbons living today remain imperiled, as do most other primates, due to serious challenges from habitat loss, hunting and the international trade in exotic pets (SN: 3/17/18, p. 10).

While the new report highlights long-standing human threats to gibbons’ survival, the ancient gibbon’s remains may not represent a new genus, holds biological anthropologist Terry Harrison of New York University. A partial skull from a captive ape of unknown geographic origin leaves crucial questions unanswered, including what the creature’s lower body looked like, Harrison says. Relatively complete skeletons of wild gibbons from Chinese sites dating to the past 10,000 years are needed to check the Shaanxi ape’s evolutionary ID, he contends.

See also here.

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Bird nests webcams update


This video from the USA says about itself:

Early Morning Feeding Bout On Wisconsin Kestrel Cam – June 20, 2018

Watch the female kestrel arrive with a small rodent and parcel out food to her chicks.

Watch the cams live at www.allaboutbirds.org/cams

The American Kestrel cam is a collaboration between the Cornell Lab or Ornithology and the Raptor Resource Project. Four downy American Kestrel nestlings are tucked into a gravel-bottomed nest on private property near Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. The nest box is located on the side of a traditional limestone-footed barn, overlooking a rolling grassland that slopes away into folded hills and forests.

Our partners at the Raptor Resource Project have watched kestrels breed at this site for over 25 years, and the wonderful combination of grassland, forest, and water that surrounds the property is an excellent example of the habitat that kestrels need to survive and thrive.

The young birds began hatching out of their eggs on June 14th, and the remaining egg in the nest is unlikely to hatch at this point. Over the next 3-4 weeks the nestlings will transform from downy bobbleheads to sleek, dull versions of their parents on a diverse diet of invertebrates, small mammals, and birds (watch this highlight of the female feeding the young).

After fledging, the young will continue to be cared for by their parents, remaining near the nest as they learn to hunt and master flight.

Don’t miss the outside view! A second camera has been installed to give views of the nest box opening from the outside so viewers can observe the kestrels’ comings and goings, as well as the nestlings once they begin peering outside. To toggle between the two camera views, click the “switch camera” icon in the lower right of the livestream player, next to the settings wheel.

In the Netherlands, there are nest webcams for various bird species. Including for a barn owl nestbox. However, at the barn owl webcam nestbox at the moment, not barn owls nest, but another species: a stock dove couple.

Finally, back to the USA.

This video is called Osprey Chick Fledges In Savannah, Georgia! (edited) – June 11, 2018.

Donald Trump’s theocratic USA


This video says about itself:

Caliph Donald Trump and the Rise of the Christian Taliban

20 June 2018

Mehdi Hasan is here to warn you about a growing threat to the laws and values of the United States from a group of religious extremists and fanatics.

No, he’s not talking about so-called jihadists or Islamists, or to “creeping Sharia”. Mehdi is referring to what he like to call the “Christian Taliban” — those Bible-thumping fundamentalists who are bent on theocratizing the U.S. government.

There’s the attorney general of the United States, Mullah Jeff Sessions, who wants Sharia law, but of the biblical variety. And there’s Mullah Ted Cruz, who calls himself a Christian first and an American second.

As in the Middle East, to really politicize religion, you need a bunch of politicized clerics. Caliph Donald Trump can call on some of America’s finest to make the case for Christian supremacism.

Mullah Robert Jeffress said God gave Trump the authority to “take out” Kim Jong-un. Mullah Jim Bakker says we have to “obey” Trump because God “had him elected”.

If that isn’t the language of theocracy, of zealotry, then what is?

Trump rally

Deporting refugees in the name of Jesus: here.

BACHMANN: GOD WORKING THROUGH TRUMP Michele Bachmann thinks she knows why everything Trump touches has “turned to gold” — because God is working through the thrice-married accused sexual predator. [HuffPost]

In God We Trust‘ now must be displayed in all Florida schools, school buildings: here.

TRUMP WARNS OF VIOLENCE IF GOP LOSES MIDTERMS Trump pleaded with evangelical leaders to promote him from the pulpit, warning of violence if Republicans lose in November elections. [HuffPost]

Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant children policies, update


This 20 June 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Child Prison Camps: More Evil, More Expensive

“Family separation at the border is not a cost-cutting measure for President Donald Trump: Newly created “tent cities” for migrant children being separated from their parents cost $775 per night per person, according to a new report.

That’s two to three times what it costs to put them in a permanent facility or to keep them with their parents. NBC News’s Julia Ainsley, citing an official at the Department of Health and Human Services, reported on Wednesday that the “tent cities” the US government is setting up to hold the influx of migrant children cost nearly $800 per night, much more than other alternatives. There’s a lot of urgency to get these temporary facilities up and running fast, and bringing in security, air conditioning, medical workers, and other government contractors at such a pace is expensive.

For comparison, NBC News reports holding a child in a permanent HHS facility in Brownsville, Texas, costs $256 per night per person. And keeping kids with their parents in a detention center costs about $298 per resident per night. In other words, it’s most cost-effective to keep kids with their parents or, at the very least, in preexisting facilities.”

Read more here.

‘PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS FORCED ON CHILDREN’ Migrant children are being routinely drugged with psychotropics by staff working on the behalf of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to legal filings. The allegations center on a mental health facility in Texas, but lawyers claim the practice is widespread. [HuffPost]

TRUMP ORDER ABANDONS KIDS President Donald Trump’s executive order to end his administration’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant families likely won’t apply to the more than 2,300 children who have already been taken from their parents, the Department of Health and Human Services said. But that didn’t stop Ivanka Trump publicly thanking her dad for ending the family separation policy he started. [HuffPost]

TOYS SNATCHED The kids who are being separated from their parents at the border are having their toys confiscated, too, while AP is reporting that immigrant children as young as 14 were beaten, handcuffed and left in solitary for long periods at a juvenile detention center in Virginia. [HuffPost]

Trump barely mentioned the immigration uproar at his rally in Minnesota. [HuffPost]

HOUSE OF STRAIN Tensions in the House boiled over Wednesday night when Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had a heated exchange on the floor over two immigration bills that lawmakers will vote on today. [HuffPost]

This 21 June 2018 video says about itself:

A day after us president Donald Trump signed an executive order to stop the separation of migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border, the House of Representatives is set to vote on a new immigration bill. Democrats have opposed the bill as they say it will increase funding for the border wall and will limit the intake of legal migrants to the country.

‘DON’T COLLABORATE’ A former government employee who quit his job after refusing to hand over information about immigrants to ICE has explained why he left: “You don’t collaborate with fascists.” [HuffPost]

Bruce Springsteen went off script last night at his concert to slam the “disgracefully inhumane” crisis on the U.S. border.

Splitting families may end, but migrant kids’ trauma needs to be studied, by Laura Sanders, 5:39pm, June 20, 2018.

Evangelicals keep misusing the same Bible verses to give Trump a pass.

Is Donald Tusk any better than Donald Trump? There are some differences between the European Union and United States anti-immigrant policies, but the effect is the same; according to Dutch daily NRC Next, 21 June 2018.

Dinosaur tongues, new research


This 2017 video is called How to Sculpt a Dinosaur Part 2 – Eyes, Teeth, Tongue & Skin Texture – PREVIEW.

From the University of Texas at Austin in the USA:

T. Rex couldn’t stick out its tongue

June 20, 2018

Dinosaurs are often depicted as fierce creatures, baring their teeth, with tongues wildly stretching from their mouths like giant, deranged lizards. But new research reveals a major problem with this classic image: Dinosaurs couldn’t stick out their tongues like lizards. Instead, their tongues were probably rooted to the bottoms of their mouths in a manner akin to alligators.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and the Chinese Academy of Sciences made the discovery by comparing the hyoid bones — the bones that support and ground the tongue — of modern birds and crocodiles with those of their extinct dinosaur relatives. In addition to challenging depictions of dino tongues, the research proposes a connection on the origin of flight and an increase in tongue diversity and mobility.

The research was published June 20 in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Tongues are often overlooked. But, they offer key insights into the lifestyles of extinct animals,” said lead author Zhiheng Li, an associate professor at the Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.He conducted the work while earning his Ph.D. at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences.

The researchers made their discovery by comparing the hyoid bones of extinct dinosaurs, pterosaurs and alligators to the hyoid bones and muscles of modern birds and alligator specimens. Hyoid bones act as anchors for the tongue in most animals, but in birds these bones can extend to the tip. Because extinct dinosaurs are related to crocodiles, pterosaurs and modern birds, comparing anatomy across these groups can help scientists understand the similarities and differences in tongue anatomy and how traits evolved through time and across different lineages.

The comparison process involved taking high-resolution images of hyoid muscles and bones from 15 modern specimens, including three alligators and 13 bird species as diverse as ostriches and ducks, at the Jackson School’s High-Resolution X-Ray Computed Tomography Facility (UTCT). The fossil specimens, most from northeastern China, were scrutinized for preservation of the delicate tongue bones and included small bird-like dinosaurs, as well as pterosaurs and a Tyrannosaurus rex.

The results indicate that hyoid bones of most dinosaurs were like those of alligators and crocodiles — short, simple and connected to a tongue that was not very mobile. Co-author and Jackson School Professor Julia Clarke said that these findings mean that dramatic reconstructions that show dinosaurs with tongues stretching out from between their jaws are wrong.

“They’ve been reconstructed the wrong way for a long time”, Clarke said. “In most extinct dinosaurs their tongue bones are very short. And in crocodilians with similarly short hyoid bones, the tongue is totally fixed to the floor of the mouth.”

Clarke is no stranger to overturning dinosaur conventions. Her 2016 study on dinosaur vocalizations found evidence that large dinosaurs might make booming or cooing sounds, similar to the sounds made by crocodiles and ostriches.

In contrast to the short hyoid bones of crocodiles, the researchers found that pterosaurs, bird-like dinosaurs, and living birds have a great diversity in hyoid bone shapes. They think the range of shapes could be related to flight ability, or in the case of flightless birds such as ostriches and emus, evolved from an ancestor that could fly. The researchers propose that taking to the skies could have led to new ways of feeding that could be tied to diversity and mobility in tongues.

“Birds, in general, elaborate their tongue structure in remarkable ways”, Clarke said. “They are shocking.”

That elaboration could be related to the loss of dexterity that accompanied the transformation of hands into wings, Li said.

“If you can’t use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food”, Li said. “That is one of the hypotheses that we put forward.”

The scientists note one exception linking tongue diversity to flight. Ornithischian dinosaurs — a group that includes Triceratops, ankylosaurs and other plant-eating dinosaurs that chewed their food — had hyoid bones that were highly complex and more mobile, though they were structurally different from those of flying dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

Further research on other anatomical changes that occurred with shifts in tongue function could help improve our knowledge of the evolution of birds, Clarke said, giving an example of how changes in the tongues of living birds are associated with changes in the position of the opening of the windpipe. These changes could in turn affect how birds breathe and vocalize.

However, the researchers note that the fossil record as yet can’t pin down when these changes to the windpipe occurred.

“There is more work to be done,” Li said.

The study was funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Institution and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

How primates got fingernails, new research


This 2016 video says about itself:

Nails evolved from claws roughly 50 million years ago. Why did this happen and what purpose do nails serve?

Oldest evidence of nails in modern primates: “From hot pink to traditional French and Lady Gaga‘s sophisticated designs, manicured nails have become the grammar of fashion. Scientists have now recovered and analyzed the oldest fossil evidence of fingernails in modern primates, confirming the idea nails developed with small body size and disproving previous theories nails evolved with an increase in primate body size.” Read more here.

“Which came first, the nail or the claw? The answer is unclear, but researchers have discovered a clue: an early primate that had a toe bone with features of both a grooming claw and a nail. A fossil of the 47-million-year-old primate, Notharctus tenebrosus, had a lemur-like grooming claw on its second digit, but it was flattened, a bit like a nail, according to a new study in the journal PLoS One.” Read more here.

Evidence for a Grooming Claw in a North American Adapiform Primate: Implications for Anthropoid Origins: “Among fossil primates, the Eocene adapiforms have been suggested as the closest relatives of living anthropoids (monkeys, apes, and humans). Central to this argument is the form of the second pedal digit. Extant strepsirrhines and tarsiers possess a grooming claw on this digit, while most anthropoids have a nail. While controversial, the possible presence of a nail in certain European adapiforms has been considered evidence for anthropoid affinities.” Read more here.

From the University of Florida in the USA:

Fossils show ancient primates had grooming claws as well as nails

Why don’t we have them? Maybe because we have each other

June 20, 2018

Humans and other primates are outliers among mammals for having nails instead of claws. But how, when and why we transitioned from claws to nails has been an evolutionary head-scratcher.

Now, new fossil evidence shows that ancient primates — including one of the oldest known, Teilhardina brandti — had specialized grooming claws as well as nails. The findings overturn the prevailing assumption that the earliest primates had nails on all their digits and suggest the transition from claws to nails was more complex than previously thought.

“We had just assumed nails all evolved once from a common ancestor, and in fact, it’s much more complicated than that,” said Jonathan Bloch, study co-author and Florida Museum of Natural History curator of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Florida.

The findings are scheduled to be published today in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Grooming in mammals is not just about looking good. Thick body hair is a haven for ticks, lice and other parasites — possible health threats, as well as nuisances. Having a specialized claw for removing pests would be an evolutionary advantage, said Doug Boyer, an associate professor in the department of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University and the study’s lead author.

It’s one that has been retained in many primates. Lemurs, lorises, galagoes and tarsiers have nails on most of their digits and grooming claws on their second — and in tarsiers, second and third — toes.

So, why did the ancestors of monkeys, apes and humans lose their grooming claws? One possible answer: because we have each other.

“The loss of grooming claws is probably a reflection of more complex social networks and increased social grooming”, Boyer said. “You’re less reliant on yourself.”

This could explain why more solitary monkey species, such as titi and owl monkeys, have re-evolved a grooming claw, he said.

Researchers had thought grooming claws likely developed independently several times along the lines that gave rise to living primates. But these fossils suggest grooming claws were hallmark features of the earliest primates, dating back at least 56 million years.

They also come from five different genera of ancient primates that belonged to the omomyoids, the ancestors of monkeys, apes, humans and tarsiers — not the branch of primates that gave rise to lemurs, lorises and galagoes.

In 2013, Boyer was at the University of California Museum of Paleontology, sifting through sediment collected in Wyoming several decades earlier, when he found several curious primate fossils. They were distal phalanges, the bones at the tips of fingers and toes, from omomyoids. The shape of these bones reveals whether they support a claw or nail. Bones topped with a claw mimic its narrow, tapered structure while bones undergirding a nail are flat and wide. The distal phalanges that Boyer discovered looked like they belonged to animals with grooming claws.

“Prior to this study, no one knew whether omomyoids had grooming claws”, Boyer said. “Most recent papers came down on the side of nails.”

Meanwhile, Bloch, picking through collections recently recovered from Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, came across what looked like a “strange, narrow nail” bone. But when he compared it to modern primates, “it looked just like a tarsier grooming claw.” Smaller than a grain of rice, it matched the proportions of Teilhardina brandti, a mouse-sized, tree-dwelling primate.

Bloch and Boyer had co-authored a 2011 study describing the first fossil evidence of nails in Teilhardina. At the time, they believed the primate had nails on all its digits. Now, fossils were making them reevaluate their assumptions, not only about Teilhardina, but other omomyoids.

On the off-chance that they could add one more ancient primate to the growing list of claw-bearers, the pair drove out to Omomys Quarry, Wyoming, once inhabited by another genus of omomyoid, Omomys.

“We spent a day combing that site, never expecting to find something as tiny and delicate as a grooming claw,” Boyer said.

The team picked one right off the surface. They had found grooming claws at three independent sites from omomyoids spanning about 10 million years in the fossil record.

“That was the last nail in the coffin”, Boyer said.

Why did primates develop nails at all? The question is a contentious one, but Bloch and Boyer think the transition away from claws could have mirrored changes in primate movement. As we ramped up climbing, leaping and grasping, nails might have proven more practical than claws, which could snag or get in the way.

Grooming claws might seem insignificant, but they can provide crucial insights into ancient primates, many of which are known only from fossil teeth, Bloch said. These tiny claws offer clues about how our earliest ancestors moved through their environment, whether they were social or solitary and what their daily behavior was like.

“We see a bit of ourselves in the hands and feet of living primates”, Bloch said. “How they got this way is a profoundly important part of our evolutionary story.”

‘British government, stop your nuclear weapons’


This video from London, England says about itself:

House of Commons Singing No Trident Occupation

On 17 July [2017], as the UK Parliament was debating whether to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system, and Prime Minister Theresa May misled the House by not mentioning that a Trident missile test had gone badly wrong, a small group of campaigners occupied the Central Lobby of the House of Commons, singing No Trident songs continuously for six hours until the final vote.

By Ceren Sagir in London, England:

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Anti-Trident activists chain themselves together and demand government bans nuclear weapons

ANTI-NUCLEAR activists chained themselves outside Parliament today to demand the government signs a treaty to ban destructive weapons and disarm Trident.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, campaigners from across Britain echoed the women’s suffrage movement from 100 years ago, calling on Britain to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

The activists from campaign group Trident Ploughshares chained themselves along 13 sections of wrought iron fence stretching from Big Ben to Parliament Square and hung banners reading “Denuclearise the World” and “Trident Terrorises.”

Activist Brian Larkin said the Trump-Kim summit should have been a “wake-up call.”

He added: “Trump and Kim have agreed to ‘denuclearise’ the Korean Peninsula, but Britain, the US and the other nuclear powers can’t expect Kim to give up his nuclear weapons while we keep ours.”

Britain had, along with other nuclear weapons states, promised negotiations to disarm their weapons nearly 50 years ago.

Campaigner Sylvia Boyes said: “We’ve come from all parts of the UK to call on the government to live up to its claims that it supports multilateral nuclear disarmament and sign the treaty.

“For 20 years we have been saying that nuclear weapons are illegal because of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that their use would mean.

“It’s just ridiculous that Britain won’t sign this treaty. It’s sheer hypocrisy.”

TPNW was agreed at the UN last year by 122 countries who took part in drafting it. It has been signed by 59 countries and ratified by 12 out of the 50 countries it needs in order to come into force.

The Tory government boycotted the talks and has encouraged other countries not to support the treaty.

Campaigner Janet Fenton, who had travelled down from Edinburgh, said: “The Scottish government, civil society groups, faith community leaders and most people in Scotland want nuclear disarmament.

“A majority of our MPs voted against Trident replacement in the debate last summer. The government refuses to listen to our elected representatives, so we’ve come to London to remind Theresa May that Scotland totally rejects the UK’s nuclear weapons.”

Current research states that a nuclear war using as few as 100 weapons would disrupt the global climate and agricultural production putting billions of lives at risk.