Red squirrel drags flower pot up tree

This 10 April 2020 video from the Netherlands says about itself (translated):

Squirrel drags flower pot up a tree

“This [red] squirrel demolished a felt edge of the flower pot to be used as nesting material. After fifteen minutes of hard work, it managed to take the piece of felt with it!”, say Els and Nico de Haan who captured this scene in their backyard.

Maybe this squirrel just wanted a nice plant in its nest …

Free children’s Axel Scheffler e-book on coronavirus

Free coronavirus book for children

From the Internet site of British artist Axel Scheffler, illustrator of, eg, the children’s book The Gruffalo:

Coronavirus – a book for children

Written by Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson and Nia Roberts

This is a FREE digital information book for primary school-age children to help explain the coronavirus and the measures taken to control it. It answers lots of questions in a child-friendly way, and aims to both inform and reassure.

Published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Axel, the text had expert input from Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and also two headteachers and a child psychologist.

You can find out more, download and read the book here.

Axel says:

“I asked myself what I could do as a children’s illustrator to inform, as well as entertain, my readers here and abroad, about the coronavirus. So I was glad when my publisher, Nosy Crow, asked me to illustrate this question-and-answer book. I think it is extremely important for children and families to have access to good and reliable information in this unprecedented crisis, and hope this digital book will reach many children.”

World’s oldest dinosaur eggs, new research

This 9 April 2020 video is called Synchrotron X-ray sheds light on some of the world’s oldest dinosaur eggs.

From the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility:

Synchrotron X-ray sheds light on some of the world’s oldest dinosaur eggs

Dinosaur ‘Easter eggs’ reveal their secrets in 3D thanks to X-rays and high-powered computers

April 9, 2020

An international team of scientists led by the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, has been able to reconstruct, in the smallest details, the skulls of some of the world’s oldest known dinosaur embryos in 3D, using powerful and non-destructive synchrotron techniques at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron in France. They found that the skulls develop in the same order as those of today’s crocodiles, chickens, turtles and lizards. The findings are published today in Scientific Reports.

University of the Witwatersrand scientists publish 3D reconstructions of the ~2cm-long skulls of some of the world’s oldest dinosaur embryos in an article in Scientific Reports. The embryos, found in 1976 in Golden Gate Highlands National Park (Free State Province, South Africa) belong to South Africa’s iconic dinosaur Massospondylus carinatus, a 5-meter long herbivore that nested in the Free State region 200 million years ago.

The scientific usefulness of the embryos was previously limited by their extremely fragile nature and tiny size. In 2015, scientists Kimi Chapelle and Jonah Choiniere, from the University of Witwatersrand, brought them to the European Synchrotron (ESRF) in Grenoble, France for scanning. At the ESRF, an 844 metre-ring of electrons travelling at the speed of light emits high-powered X-ray beams that can be used to non-destructively scan matter, including fossils. The embryos were scanned at an unprecedented level of detail — at the resolution of an individual bone cell. With these data in hand, and after nearly 3 years of data processing at Wits’ laboratory, the team was able to reconstruct a 3D model of the baby dinosaur skull. “No lab CT scanner in the world can generate these kinds of data,” said Vincent Fernandez, one of the co-authors and scientist at the Natural History Museum in London (UK). “Only with a huge facility like the ESRF can we unlock the hidden potential of our most exciting fossils. This research is a great example of a global collaboration between Europe and the South African National Research Foundation,” he adds.

Up until now, it was believed that the embryos in those eggs had died just before hatching. However, during the study, lead author Chapelle noticed similarities with the developing embryos of living dinosaur relatives (crocodiles, chickens, turtles, and lizards). By comparing which bones of the skull were present at different stages of their embryonic development, Chapelle and co-authors can now show that the Massospondylus embryos were actually much younger than previously thought and were only at 60% through their incubation period.

The team also found that each embryo had two types of teeth preserved in its developing jaws. One set was made up of very simple triangular teeth that would have been resorbed or shed before hatching, just like geckos and crocodiles today. The second set were very similar to those of adults, and would be the ones that the embryos hatched with. “I was really surprised to find that these embryos not only had teeth, but had two types of teeth. The teeth are so tiny; they range from 0.4 to 0.7mm wide. That’s smaller than the tip of a toothpick!,” explains Chapelle.

The conclusion of this research is that dinosaurs developed in the egg just like their reptilian relatives, whose embryonic developmental pattern hasn’t changed in 200 million years. “It’s incredible that in more than 250 million years of reptile evolution, the way the skull develops in the egg remains more or less the same. Goes to show — you don’t mess with a good thing!,” concludes Jonah Choiniere, professor at the University of Witwatersrand and also co-author of the study.

The team hopes to apply their method to other dinosaur embryos to estimate their level of development. They will be looking at the rest of the skeleton of the Massospondylus embryos to see if it also shares similarities in development with today’s dinosaur relatives. The arms and legs of the Massospondylus embryos have already been used to show that hatchlings likely walked on two legs.

Main findings:

  1. High powered X-rays were used to reconstruct the skulls of some of the world’s oldest known dinosaur embryos.
  2. The skull could be seen in 3D at an unprecedented level of detail.
  3. Dinosaur embryo skulls appear to develop in the same order as those of today’s crocodiles, chickens, turtles and lizards.
  4. These dinosaur embryos appear to have been fossilised at approximately 60% through their incubation period. This is much earlier than previously thought.
  5. The dinosaur embryos have two types of teeth that range in size from 0.4 to 0.7mm wide. One of these sets would have been shed or resorbed before hatching.

Saudi crown prince-Trump corporate coronavirus bailout

This video from the USA says about itself:

Monday 6 April 2020

Saudi Arabia just bought an 8% stake in Carnival after the cruise ship giant’s stock plummeted this year | Gray Study

The cruise ship company’s stock plunged 80% in the last year, and it’s unclear when business will pick back up.

SAUDI ARABIA BAILS OUT CRUISE COMPANY WITH TRUMP TIES Trump has spent weeks promising to protect cruise lines from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic. Now a fund that Trump ally Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman controls has revealed a big new stake in Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator. The sudden change of fortunes for a company run by Micky Arison, a longtime Trump associate, could be as much about personal relationships and geopolitics as about business. [HuffPost]

One should hope that investing money in these cruise ships will cost Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman so much that he does not have enough money any more to wage bloody war on Yemen.

Bluethroat, barn swallows, butterfly in Naardermeer

This 2015 video is about bluethroats in Belarus.

Today, there was a singing bluethroat in the Naardermeer nature reserve in the Netherlands.

Barn swallows, among the first ones of this spring, flying.

A stonechat. Great egrets. Shelducks and northern shoveler ducks at the hide.

And a female lesser spotted woodpecker on a tree.

An orange-tipped butterfly.

Coronavirus casualty Frenchwoman naked in plastic bag

This 10 April 24020 French TV video is called (translated) Son of a coronavirus victim, Bruno Lefèvre denounces the corporation in charge of his mother’s funeral.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

Dead body in French storage shed: naked in plastic bag in chest

In France, commotion has arisen about the warehouse where corpses are kept. It is a chilled hangar on the wholesale market ‘Rungis’, south of Paris. Normally for meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Now the enormous hall serves to relieve the mortuaries in Paris.

“I was told that my mother had died and that I had to do something quickly: her body could not stay in the hospital”, said Frenchman Bruno Lefèvre on French television yesterday. He himself lived a great distance from Paris. Before he could organize things well by telephone, he was told that his mother’s body had already been taken to the shed in Rungis.

The bill for the unsolicited move also came immediately: 159 euros for the first six days that his mother was there and then 35 euros for each extra day. If he wanted to give his mother one last greeting, in the hangar: 55 euros. These days the cooled warehouse is managed by a funeral corporation. That says that it incurs costs for personnel, security and furnishing. The company suggested Lefèvre could have a small ceremony for his mother. That would then cost another 105 euros.

Lefèvre thought it was a great scandal. He had to pay to deal with his mother’s tragic death and has not been able to say goodbye since her death. If he wants to see her body again, then he has to pull out his wallet. “In the hospital they didn’t even want to give her things to get her dressed. Now she’s in a storage shed, naked in a plastic bag in a chest. I’m ashamed.”

Lefèvre’s story caused quite a commotion in France.

Prehistoric monkeys from Africa to South America

This 10 April 2020 video says about itself:

A crew of now-extinct monkeys made a treacherous transatlantic journey on a natural raft from Africa to settle in South America around 35 million years ago, according to a study of fossilized teeth found in Peru.

It’s believed the prehistoric Ucayalipithecus monkeys made the more than 900-mile trip across the Atlantic (a narrower ocean at the time) on floating islands of vegetation that broke off from coastlines, possibly during a tropical storm.

From the Keck School of Medicine of USC in the USA:

Ancient teeth from Peru hint now-extinct monkeys crossed Atlantic from Africa

April 9, 2020

Four fossilized monkey teeth discovered deep in the Peruvian Amazon provide new evidence that more than one group of ancient primates journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa, according to new USC research just published in the journal Science.

The teeth are from a newly discovered species belonging to an extinct family of African primates known as parapithecids. Fossils discovered at the same site in Peru had earlier offered the first proof that South American monkeys evolved from African primates.

The monkeys are believed to have made the more than 900-mile trip on floating rafts of vegetation that broke off from coastlines, possibly during a storm.

“This is a completely unique discovery,” said Erik Seiffert, the study’s lead author and Professor of Clinical Integrative Anatomical Sciences at Keck School of Medicine of USC. “It shows that in addition to the New World monkeys and a group of rodents known as caviomorphs — there is this third lineage of mammals that somehow made this very improbable transatlantic journey to get from Africa to South America.”

Researchers have named the extinct monkey Ucayalipithecus perdita. The name comes from Ucayali, the area of the Peruvian Amazon where the teeth were found, pithikos, the Greek word for monkey and perdita, the Latin word for lost.

Ucayalipithecus perdita would have been very small, similar in size to a modern-day marmoset.

Dating the migration

Researchers believe the site in Ucayali where the teeth were found is from a geological epoch known as the Oligocene, which extended from about 34 million to 23 million years ago.

Based on the age of the site and the closeness of Ucayalipithecus to its fossil relatives from Egypt, researchers estimate the migration might have occurred around 34 million years ago.

“We’re suggesting that this group might have made it over to South America right around what we call the Eocene-Oligocene Boundary, a time period between two geological epochs, when the Antarctic ice sheet started to build up and the sea level fell,” said Seiffert. “That might have played a role in making it a bit easier for these primates to actually get across the Atlantic Ocean.”

An improbable discovery

Two of the Ucayalipithecus perdita teeth were identified by Argentinean co-authors of the study in 2015 showing that New World monkeys had African forebears. When Seiffert was asked to help describe these specimens in 2016, he noticed the similarity of the two broken upper molars to an extinct 32 million-year-old parapithecid monkey species from Egypt he had studied previously.

An expedition to the Peruvian fossil site in 2016 led to the discovery of two more teeth belonging to this new species. The resemblance of these additional lower teeth to those of the Egyptian monkey teeth confirmed to Seiffert that Ucayalipithecus was descended from African ancestors.

“The thing that strikes me about this study more than any other I’ve been involved in is just how improbable all of it is,” said Seiffert. “The fact that it’s this remote site in the middle of nowhere, that the chances of finding these pieces is extremely small, to the fact that we’re revealing this very improbable journey that was made by these early monkeys, it’s all quite remarkable.”

Coronavirus news update, USA

This 10 April 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

What the Coughing Cop Says About American Policing

A cop caught coughing on residents and video of a man arrested and incarcerated for running a red light illustrates how American policing has evolved into an enforcer of social control.

NEW YORK STATE TOPS ALL COUNTRIES IN CASES The state of New York now has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any country. New York had nearly 162,000 confirmed cases as of Friday morning. After the United States, the country with the highest number of confirmed cases, is Spain with 153,222 cases. The increase in the number of virus patients hospitalized in New York has grown at a slower rate over the past two weeks, but the number of New Yorkers dying keeps growing. Drone footage shows gravediggers loading coffins into a mass grave on New York City’s Hart Island. [HuffPost]

U.S. ECONOMY UNLIKELY TO RECOVER AS FAST AS IT COLLAPSED President Donald Trump has been telling voters that the U.S. economy will leap back to life “like a rocket.” But emerging signs suggest any recovery will fail to match the speed and severity of the economic collapse that occurred in just a few weeks. The 2020 presidential and Senate elections likely will take place as the world’s largest economy is still attempting to climb back from the deadly outbreak. [AP]

GOLF DISTRACTED TRUMP FROM COVID-19, SAYS NEW GOP AD The latest scorcher of an attack ad by the Republican Lincoln Project concedes Trump had other priorities before launching his lackluster battle against COVID-19. But he wasn’t distracted by impeachment, as he claims. Instead, he was busy golfing and packing people into campaign rallies. [HuffPost]

Doctor detained by ICE waits for coronavirus to hit.

LIBERTY UNIVERSITY KEPT STUDENTS IN THE DARK  The CDC first released guidance advising colleges and universities on how to handle the coronavirus outbreak on March 3. You wouldn’t know that if you were a student or faculty member at Liberty University, the evangelical school led by Trump-supporting, virus-denying Jerry Falwell Jr. One student told HuffPost that Liberty’s lack of communication affected his understanding of the disease and its risks. [HuffPost]

SOME CHURCHES PLAN EASTER SERVICES DESPITE VIRUS At the holiest time of year for Christians, churches are wrestling with how to hold services amid the coronavirus outbreak, and in some cases, that has set up showdowns with local governments over restrictions that forbid large gatherings. Governors in several states have deemed church an “essential service”, allowing Easter worship to proceed even as public health officials warn that large gatherings could be a major setback amid a pandemic that has killed more than 14,000 people in the U.S. [HuffPost]

MODLY’S TRIP TO CALL CAPTAIN STUPID COST $243,000 The trip to an aircraft carrier last weekend by the now-outgoing Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly to call ousted Capt. Brett Crozier “stupid” cost taxpayers more than $243,000, according to a Navy official. The astounding cost covered the 35-hour round trip on a Gulfstream 550 business jet modified for military use, which costs $6,946.19 per hour. [HuffPost]

How mantis shrimp find their way home

This 29 May 2019 video says about itself:

Mantis Shrimp Packs a Punch | Predator in Paradise

Armed with the most sophisticated vision and fastest strike of any predator on Earth, the mantis shrimp is an unexpected threat.

From the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the USA:

How do mantis shrimp find their way home?

April 9, 2020

Summary: New research indicates mantis shrimp use path integration to find their way back to their burrows after leaving to seek food or mates. That means they can track their distance and direction from their starting point. A series of creative experiments revealed that to do that, they rely on a hierarchy of cues from the sun, polarized light patterns, and their internal senses.

Mantis shrimps have earned fame for their powerful punching limbs, incredibly unusual eyes, and vivid exoskeletons. And, it turns out, they’re also really good at finding their way home. Through a series of painstaking experiments with these often-uncooperative creatures, Rickesh Patel has produced new findings on mantis shrimp navigation, published this week in Current Biology.

Patel, a Ph.D. candidate in biological sciences at UMBC, found that the species of mantis shrimp he investigated relies on the sun, patterns in polarized light, and internal cues — in that order — to navigate directly back to their non-descript burrows. These straight-line returns often follow forays that meander and zig-zag as the shrimp looks for a meal or a mate. The ability to get home quickly comes in handy when seeking shelter in the presence of predators, or a perceived one, as Patel noted on his first research fieldwork expedition.

After his first year at UMBC, Patel traveled with Tom Cronin’s lab to Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef to collect mantis shrimp for study. “As soon as they notice you, they’ll turn around and zip straight to some sort of shelter,” Patel says. Like a true scientist, “That got me wondering how they go about finding their way home.”

A crucial starting point

Scientists have written a great deal on navigation in other species — primarily bees, ants, and mice — but Patel’s is the first work on navigation in mantis shrimp.

First, Patel had to find a behavior he could work with to test ideas about how mantis shrimp navigate. So he created a small arena with an artificial shrimp burrow buried in sand. He placed the shrimp in the arena, and to his delight, the mantis shrimp was happy to occupy the small section of PVC pipe. Then he placed a piece of food at a distance from the burrow. He watched as the shrimp left its burrow, meandered until it found the food, and then returned to its burrow in a fairly straight line.

From those initial observations, Patel hypothesized that mantis shrimps use a process called path integration to find their way home. In other words, they are somehow able to track both their distance and direction from their burrow.

“That was probably the most exciting part of the experiments for me, because I knew I had a really robust behavior that I could work with,” Patel says. “Everything I did really extended from that initial point.”

Sunshine surprise

After that first discovery, the challenging work began, to figure out what cues the animals were using to determine the path home.

Patel built eight much larger arenas, each about 1.5 meters in diameter, to run his experiments. The first question he asked was whether the shrimp were using internal or external cues to go home.

To test that, Patel created a setup that rotated the animal 180 degrees as it retrieved the food. If the shrimp was using external cues to remember its distance and direction from home, it would still head in the right direction. If it was using internal cues, based on the orientation of its own body, it would head in the opposite direction. In the first round of trials, the animals consistently headed in the exact opposite direction.

“That was really cool, but it didn’t make a lot of sense,” Patel says, “because an internal compass is going to be a lot less accurate than something that is tied to the environment.” Then it hit him: “We just happened to have a really overcast week when I did these experiments, so I waited until we had a clear day, and then every time, they went right back home.”

Putting together the puzzle

Patel realized that his experiment perfectly demonstrated the hierarchy of cues used by the animals. They used external cues first, but when those weren’t available, they used internal cues.

That was the beginning of a long series of creative experiments that further teased out how these animals navigate. When Patel used a mirror to trick the animals into thinking the sun was coming from the opposite direction, they went the wrong way. This indicated they use the sun as a primary cue. When it was cloudy but not totally dark, they used polarization patterns in light, which are still detectable when it’s overcast. And when the sky was completely covered, they reverted to their internal navigation system.

A varied skillset

For Patel, creating the experimental arenas — essentially, the shrimp obstacle course — was almost as fun as getting the results. “That’s something I really enjoy — building things, creating things,” he shares. Patel studied art and biology as an undergraduate at California State University, Long Beach. “I think those skills lent me a hand in designing my experiments.”

Other skills Patel needed were patience and perseverance. “The animals will only behave maybe once a day, so if you scare the animal, you’ve lost that day,” he says.

For example, one of the experiments involved putting the animals on a track that pulled them to a new position, and seeing where they headed from there. “If the track is too jerky or goes too fast, they get scared and just don’t behave,” Patel says. “So I had to design the experiment so that it was so gentle they didn’t realize they were being moved.”

New questions

All of Patel’s patience has paid off with new findings that open up an array of future questions to answer. While path integration is well-documented in other species, mantis shrimp are the first to demonstrate the technique underwater. Looking up at the sky through water is a very different view than doing so through air, so Patel is curious how the animals’ process is different from other species.

Patel is also ultimately interested in the neural basis of navigation behavior, but “before you can investigate what’s happening in the brain, you have to understand what the animal’s doing,” he says. “So that’s why I really focused on the behavior work, to figure out what the animal is doing and what kind of stimuli are appropriate to show the animal that we can use to investigate its neurology.”

So far, other work has demonstrated that a brain region called the central complex has uncanny similarities between insects and mantis shrimps. This is especially interesting considering how far apart bees and shrimp are on the tree of life. The central complex is known to contribute to navigation in bees, so Patel is intrigued to learn more about its function in mantis shrimp. Alice Chou, another graduate student in the Cronin lab, is also investigating the brain structures of mantis shrimp.

Women survivors of religious cults, new books

The former convent in Velddriel, later home of the Dutch Pentecostalist cult, the Assembly of God

This photo shows the former Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity convent in Velddriel, later home of the Dutch Pentecostalist cult, the Assembly of God.

Translated from (Christian) daily Trouw in the Netherlands, by Marijke Laurense, 5 April 2020:

You should be silent when the Lord speaks

Two young women liberated themselves from the cults they grew up in, the Assembly of God and the Apostolic Society.

Cults are timeless. Take a charismatic leader who knows the way and the truth, a select group of followers who are willing to give up their “old” lives and cut all ties with their families. Who want to sacrifice everything for the good cause, often in the expectation that the world will end soon. So that they will then be saved, while the sinful rest of mankind inexorably will go to hell. …

Some more recent examples of cults: the collective suicides (?) in 1978 in the jungle of Guyana under Jim Jones. Bhagwan. Scientology. A family [offshoot of the ‘Unification Church‘] that has been waiting for the end of time in a Drenthe farm for nine years. Gurus and therapists who feel they can be on top of and inside anything. No, whoever is wise should keep far from anyone who claims to be a prophet or the Messiah. Yet they keep popping up again and again, in living rooms, back rooms and villas, where after a warm bath of interest, attention and love you have to let yourself be pushed over and turn in all your savings. And from which it is then incredibly difficult to leave.

But if it is so difficult for adults to turn their back on such a cult, what if you grew up in it? Have been indoctrinated since childhood that the outside world is ignorant and evil? Two books about this were published simultaneously.

The secret world of the Society

Eg, next week there will be “Apostelkind”, the story of Renske Doorenspleet (1973), born in the Apostolic Society, a highly idealistic community of exemplary citizens. …

It must indeed have been difficult for Doorenspleet to commute between two worlds as a child: the first world of school and the second, secret world of the Society, for which you can go to ‘The Building in a long skirt until well into the 1990s, and where ‘being allowed to’ almost always meant ‘should’. …

What amazes Doorenspleet in particular is that the democratic outside world never paid attention to the conservative terror that marked her youth. That no one has ever noticed that it was a totalitarian organisation, which systematically committed itself to emotional abuse and which will have damaged its youth members, eg, the author, for life. No, it is clear that the hurt Doorenspleet twenty-two years after her departure from the Society is far from finished with her anger and sorrow at a troubled youth.

Nightly retreats in the chicken coop

Indeed, it is highly questionable that an “Apostle” interferes so imperatively with the education of the children of his followers. But that it can get even crazier and sicker, according to Frank Krake’s story told him by Hannelore Geerdink (1978), whose parents fell under the spell of the prophet Sipke Vrieswijk, who really meets all the characteristics of a cult leader who gets crazier and crazier.

Book about Hannelore in the cult

It starts with a warm reception at the Assembly of God, where faith healer Vrieswijk can relieve you of a headache. He concludes his instructions and revelations more and more with the phrase “Thus speaks the Lord of hosts.” Those who criticize are “occultly infected”. He also expects his followers to be deeply in debt to buy a former nunnery in Velddriel to live as one big family. Reality soon turns out to be less idyllic: Vrieswijk deals in unpredictable outbursts of anger, senseless cinderella assignments and nocturnal retreats in the chicken coop. He is also not averse to psychological terror to exchange his wife for a mistress, who as “Prophetess” makes herself especially creditable by arranging extra “Brides of Christ” for in bed – the gluttony knows no bounds.

Not allowed to go to your father’s funeral, not to speak to your children anymore. Fines for the silliest offences or on the contrary getting jewellery or a beautiful new name: Vrieswijk knows how to make his followers yearn for his attention. And in that environment, can a child grow up in a balanced way? While Hannelore was raped for the first time by Vrieswijk at the age of eleven? And six years later, very much against her now addicted mind, is liberated thanks to a stubborn police officer?

But in the end she even dares to report the cult leaders to the police and the prophet couple is sentenced to psychiatric imprisonment.