How blue whales help remoras


This 2017 video says about itself:

Amazing footage– A Whale Shark covered with Remora Fishes !! ( COMMENSALISM)

This awesome footage was shot at Koh Tao, Thailand courtesy of Underwater Videographer (Lara Dakers).

From the New Jersey Institute of Technology in the USA:

Secret surfing life of remoras hitchhiking on blue whales

October 28, 2020

Summary: A new study of blue whales off the coast of California has given researchers the first ocean recordings of their famous hitchhiking partner — the remora — revealing the suckerfish’s secret whale-surfing skills as well as their knack for grabbing the most flow-optimal spots while riding aboard the world’s largest vertebrate.

Sticking to the bodies of sharks and other larger marine life is a well-known specialty of remora fishes (Echeneidae) and their super-powered suction disks on their heads. But a new study has now fully documented the “suckerfish” in hitchhiking action below the ocean’s surface, uncovering a much more refined skillset that the fish uses for navigating intense hydrodynamics that come with trying to ride aboard a 100-ft. blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus).

In a study published Oct. 28 in the Journal of Experimental Biology, an international team of researchers studying the unique fluid environments of blue whales traveling off the coast of Palos Verdes and San Diego, CA has reported capturing the first-ever continuous recording of remora behavior on a host organism, using advanced biosensing tags with video recording capabilities.

The study shows the secrets behind the remora fish’s success in hitchhiking aboard baleen whales more than 30 times their size to safely traverse the ocean — they select the most flow-optimal regions on the whale’s body to stick to, such as behind the whale’s blowhole, where drag resistance for the fish is reduced by as much as 84%. The team’s findings also show that remoras can freely move around to feed and socialize on their ride even as their whale host hits burst speeds of more than 5 meters per second, by utilizing previously unknown surfing and skimming behaviors along special low-drag traveling lanes that exist just off the surface of the whale’s body.

Researchers say the study represents the highest-resolution whole-body fluid dynamic analysis of whales to date, the insights from which could potentially be used as a basis to better understand the behavior, energy use and overall ecological health of the species, as well as improve tagging and tracking of whales and other migratory animals in future studies.

“Whales are like their own floating island, basically like their own little ecosystems. …To get a look into the flow environment of blue whales within a millimeter resolution through this study is extremely exciting,” said Brooke Flammang, assistant professor of biology at New Jersey Institute of Technology and the study’s corresponding author. “Through lucky coincidence, our recordings captured how remoras interact in this environment and are able to use the distinct flow dynamics of these whales to their advantage. It is incredible because we’ve really known next to nothing about how remoras behave on their hosts in the wild over any prolonged period of time.”

Until now, scientists studying the symbiotic relationships between remoras and their hosts in their natural ocean habitat have predominantly relied on still images and anecdotal evidence, leaving much of how they go about their renown sticking behavior beneath the surface a mystery.

In their recent investigation, the researchers employed multi-sensor biologging tags with dual cameras that they attached to the whales via four 2-inch suction disks. The tags were able to calculate various measurements inside the whale’s ecosystem, such as surface pressure and complex fluid forces around the whales, as well as GPS location and traveling speeds through tag vibrations, all while video recording the remoras at 24 frames per second and 720p resolution.

“Fortunately, the drag on dimple-shaped airplane cockpits has been measured many times and we were able to apply this knowledge to help figure out the drag these remoras were experiencing,” said Erik Anderson, co-author, biofluid dynamics researcher at Grove City College and guest investigator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “But our study still required calculating, for the first time ever, the flow over a blue whale using computational fluid dynamics … it took an international team of biologists, programmers, engineers and a supercomputer to do that.”

The team’s 211 minutes of video footage and whale tag data processed by researchers at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center captured a total of 27 remoras at 61 locations on the whales overall, finding that the remoras were most often podding and traveling between three of the most hydrodynamically beneficial spots where separating flow and wakes are caused by the whale’s distinct topographical features: directly behind the blowhole, next to and behind the dorsal fin, and the flank region above and behind the pectoral fin.

According to the team’s measurements, Anderson says that the sheer force experienced by an average-sized remora in the wake behind the blowhole of a whale swimming at the casual speed of 1.5 m/s can be as low as 0.02 Newtons, half the force of drag in the free stream above. However, Anderson notes that the average remora’s suction force of 11-17 Newtons is more than a match for even the most intense parking spot on the whale, its tail, where the remora experiences roughly 0.14 Newtons of shear force. And though the forces are greater, the same is true even for large remora riding on whales swimming at much higher speeds.

“We learned that the remora’s suction disk is so strong that they could stick anywhere, even the tail fluke where the drag was measured strongest, but they like to go for the easy ride,” said Erik Anderson. “This saves them energy and makes life less costly as they hitchhike on and skim over the whale surface like a NASA probe over an asteroid or some mini-world.”

Remoras Go Surf’s Up

The tags showed that to conserve energy while getting about on their floating island, the remoras take advantage of the whale’s physics by surfing inside a thin layer of fluid surrounding the whale’s body, known as a boundary layer, where the team found drag force is reduced by up to 72% compared to the much more forceful free stream just above. Flammang says the fishes can lift within 1cm from their host in this layer to feed or join their mates at other low-drag social spots on the whale, occasionally changing directions by skimming, or repeatedly attaching and releasing their suction disks on the whale’s body.

Flammang suspects that remoras are able to move freely without being completely peeled from their speedy hosts, which can move nearly seven times faster than the remora, through something called the Venturi effect.

“The skimming and surfing behavior is amazing for many reasons, especially because we think that by staying about a centimeter off the whale body, they are taking advantage of the Venturi effect and using suction forces to maintain their close proximity,” explained Flammang. “In this narrow space between the remora and whale, when fluid is funneled into a narrow space it moves at a higher velocity but has lower pressure, so it is not going to push the remora away but can actually suck it toward the host. They can swim up into the free stream to grab a bite of food and come back down into the boundary layer, but it takes a lot more energy to swim in the free stream flow.”

Along with uncovering new details of the remora’s hitchhiking prowess, the team says they will continue to explore both the flow environments around whales and the mechanisms by which specifically adapted organisms like remoras successfully attach to hosts in order to improve animal tag technologies and designs for extended periods of behavioral and ecological monitoring. The team is also using their new insights into the remora’s preferred low-drag attachment locations to better inform where they might tag whales in studies to come.

“It’s an extremely arduous process to study whales what with permitting, research regulations and the game of chance of finding animals, all for the tags to usually fall off within 48 hours,” said Flammang. “If we can come up with a better way to collect longer-term data through better tag placement or better technologies, it could really advance our learning of the species, and many other animals that remoras attach to.”

Prehistoric bison engravings in Spanish caves


This 2019 video about ancient Moravia says about itself:

A beautiful fictionalized story about the first Europeans, about Gravettian people.

The Gravettian people were the descendants of the Aurignacian, who first thought abstractly as true Homo sapiens.

From PLOS:

Bison engravings in Spanish caves reveal a common art culture across ancient Europe

Study finds ancient Gravettian art culture much more widespread than thought

October 28, 2020

Recently discovered rock art from caves in Northern Spain represents an artistic cultural style common across ancient Europe, but previously unknown from the Iberian Peninsula, according to a study published October 28, 2020, in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Diego Garate of the Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas de Cantabria, Spain, and colleagues.

The history of ancient human art includes various cultural complexes characterized by different artistic styles and conventions. In 2015, new instances of rock art were discovered in three caves in Aitzbitarte Hill in northern Spain, representing an artistic style previously unknown from the Iberian Peninsula. In this study, Garate and colleagues compare this artistic style to others from across Europe.

The artwork in the Aitzbitarte caves consists mostly of engravings of bison, complete with the animals’ characteristic horns and humps. The authors note the particular style in which the animals’ horns and legs are drawn, typically without proper perspective. Pairs of limbs are consistently depicted as a “double Y” with both legs visible, and the horns are similarly drawn side-by-side with a series of lines in between.

This is consistent with the artistic style of the Gravettian cultural complex, characterized by specific customs in art, tools, and burial practices between about 34,000 and 24,000 years ago. This culture is known from across Europe but has not been seen before on the Iberian Peninsula. The authors combine this new discovery with data from around Europe to show that the Gravettian culture was more widespread and varied than previously appreciated.

The authors add: “The study analyses the particularities of Palaeolithic animal engravings found in the Aitzbitarte Caves (Basque Country, Spain) in 2016. These prehistoric images, mainly depicting bison, were drawn in a way that has never before been seen in northern Spain; in a kind of fashion in the way of drawing the engravings that is more characteristic of southern France and some parts of the Mediterranean. The study has shown the close regional relationships in Western Europe cave art since very early times, at least, 25,000 years ago.”

Danish mink fur business COVID-19 disaster


This 4 November 2020 video is called Denmark Wants to Cull All Farmed Minks Over COVID Fears.

By Eddy Wax, 4 November 2020:

Denmark to kill all mink to stop mutated coronavirus spreading to humans

Experts say the virus has been mutating in the animals and there have been 12 cases of those mutations being transmitted to humans in the country.

Denmark will cull millions of mink being farmed for their fur in order to stop a mutated version of the new coronavirus from spreading to humans, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced Wednesday.

Now detected at over 200 Danish mink farms, the virus has been mutating in the animals and there have been 12 cases of those mutations being transmitted to humans in the North Jutland region, the country’s infectious diseases institute has said.

“The mutated virus — via mink — can carry the risk that the upcoming vaccine will not work as it should,” Frederiksen, who is currently self-isolating after possible exposure to COVID-19, said in a virtual press conference.

She said continuing to breed mink during the pandemic “entails a significant risk to public health” and that Denmark has a responsibility to prevent a mutated coronavirus from spreading to other countries.

In October, the Scandinavian country already made plans to cull all infected mink, and those within a radius of around 8 kilometers from infected farms, but Wednesday’s announcement extended the cull to all animals, including those being used for breeding.

Frederiksen also apologized to Danish mink breeders, acknowledging they would lose their livelihoods.

Denmark is the world’s biggest producer of mink fur, with around 1,500 farmers churning out some 16 million furs per year.

Coronavirus outbreaks at mink farms have also been recorded in the Netherlands and Spain.

Good leopard news from China


This 2016 video says about itself:

First ever video footage of snow leopards and common leopards using the exact same location. Filmed in Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve, China.

Footage by Shan Shui Conservation Center, Panthera, Snow Leopard Trust, Government of Zadoi County, Qinghai, and SEE Foundation.

From the University of Copenhagen in Denmark:

Surprised researchers: Number of leopards in northern China on the rise

October 26, 2020

Most of the world’s leopards are endangered and generally, the number of these shy and stunning cats is decreasing. However, according to a recent study, leopard populations in northern China are on the mend.

Leopards are fascinating animals. In addition to being sublime hunters that will eat nearly anything and can survive in varied habitats from forests to deserts, they are able to withstand temperatures ranging from minus 40 degrees Celsius during winter to plus 40 degrees in summer.

Despite their resilience, the majority of leopard species are endangered. Poaching and the clearing of forest habitat for human activities are among the reasons for their global decline.

But in northern China — and specifically upon the Loess Plateau — something fantastic is occurring.

Numbers of a leopard subspecies called the North Chinese leopard have increased according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Copenhagen and their colleagues in Beijing.

“We were quite surprised that the number of leopards has increased, because their populations are declining in many other places. We knew that there were leopards in this area, but we had no idea how many,” says Bing Xie, a PhD student at UCPH’s Department of Biology and one of the researchers behind the study.

Together with researchers at Beijing Normal University, she covered 800 square kilometers of the Loess Plateau between 2016 and 2017.

The just-completed count reports that the number of leopards increased from 88 in 2016 to 110 in 2017 — a 25 percent increase. The researchers suspect that their numbers have continued to increase in the years since.

This is the first time that an estimate has been made for the status of local population in North Chinese leopards.

Five-year reforestation plan has worked

The reason for this spotted golden giant’s rebound likely reflects the 13’th five-year plan that the Chinese government, in consultation with a range of scientific researchers, implemented in 2015 to restore biodiversity in the area.

“About 20 years ago, much of the Loess Plateau’s forest habitat was transformed into agricultural land. Human activity scared away wild boars, toads, frogs and deer — making it impossible for leopards to find food. Now that much of the forest has been restored, prey have returned, along with the leopards,” explains Bing Xie, adding:

“Many locals had no idea there were leopards in the area, so they were wildly enthused and surprised. And, it was a success for the government, which had hoped for greater biodiversity in the area. Suddenly, they could ‘house’ these big cats on a far greater scale than they had dreamed of.”

Leopards are nearly invisible in nature

The research team deployed camera equipment to map how many leopards were in this area of northern China. But even though the footage captured more cats than expected on film, none of the researchers saw any of the big stealthy felines with their own eyes:

“Leopards are extremely shy of humans and sneak about silently. That’s why it’s not at all uncommon to study them for 10 years without physically observing one,” she explains.

Even though Bing Xie has never seen leopards in the wild, she will continue to fight for their survival.

“That 98 percent of leopard habitat has been lost over the years makes me so sad. I have a great love for these gorgeous cats and I will continue to research on how best to protect them,” she concludes.

American pikas fight climate change


This 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

An American Pika runs along his kingdom among the boulders.

From Arizona State University in the USA:

American Pikas show resiliency in the face of global warming

October 13, 2020

The American pika is a charismatic, diminutive relative of rabbits that some researchers say is at high risk of extinction due to climate change. Pikas typically live in cool habitats, often in mountains, under rocks and boulders. Because pikas are sensitive to high temperatures, some researchers predict that, as the Earth’s temperature rises, pikas will have to move ever higher elevations until they eventually run out of habitat and die out. Some scientists have claimed this cute little herbivore is the proverbial canary in the coal mine for climate change.

A new extensive review by Arizona State University emeritus professor Andrew Smith, published in the October issue of the Journal of Mammalogy, finds that the American pika is far more resilient in the face of warm temperatures than previously believed. While emphasizing that climate change is a serious threat to the survival of many species on Earth, Smith believes that the American pika currently is adapting remarkably well.

Smith has studied the American pika for more than 50 years and presents evidence from a thorough literature review showing that American pika populations are healthy across the full range of the species, which extends from British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, to northern New Mexico in the U.S.

Occupancy in potential pika habitat in the major western North American mountains was found to be uniformly high. Among sites that have been surveyed recently, there was no discernible climate signal that discriminated between the many occupied and relatively few unoccupied sites.

“This is a sign of a robust species,” Smith said.

Smith said most of the studies that have raised alarms about the fate of the pika are based on a relatively small number of restricted sites at the margins of the pika’s geographic range, primarily in the Great Basin. However, a recent comprehensive study of pikas evaluating 3,250 sites in the Great Basin found pikas living in over 73% of the suitable habitat investigated. Most important, the sites currently occupied by pikas and the sites where they are no longer found were characterized by similar climatic features.

“These results show that pikas are able to tolerate a broader set of habitat conditions than previously understood,” Smith adds.

Smith’s most interesting finding is that pikas are apparently much more resilient than previously believed, allowing them to survive even at hot, low-elevation sites. Bodie California State Historic Park, the Mono Craters, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Lava Beds National Monument, and the Columbia River Gorge (all hot, low-elevation sites) retain active pika populations, demonstrating the adaptive capacity and resilience of pikas. Pikas cope with warm temperatures by retreating into their cool, underground talus habitat during the hot daylight hours and augment their restricted daytime foraging with nocturnal activity.

This doesn’t mean that some pika populations have not been pushed to their limit, leading to their disappearance from some habitats. Smith’s review points out that most documented cases of local loss of pika populations have occurred on small, isolated habitat patches.

“Due to the relatively poor ability of pikas to disperse between areas, those habitats are not likely to be recolonized, particularly in light of our warming climate,” Smith said. “In spite of the general health of pikas across their range, these losses represent a one-way street, leading to a gradual loss of some pika populations. Fortunately for pikas, their preferred talus habitat in the major mountain cordilleras is larger and more contiguous, so the overall risk to this species is low.”

Smith’s work emphasizes the importance of incorporating all aspects of a species’ behavior and ecology when considering its conservation status, and that all available data must be considered before suggesting a species is going extinct. For the American pika, the data conclusively show that rather than facing extinction, American pikas are changing their behaviors in ways that help them better withstand climate change, at least for now.

BIG BANKS ‘FUEL CLIMATE CHAOS’ Banks provided $3.8 trillion in financing to oil, gas and coal companies — more in 2020 than they did in 2016, the year countries signed the Paris climate agreement. The trajectory of the finance sector is heading “definitively in the wrong direction,” warned a new report published by several nonprofits. [HuffPost]

Mammal-like reptile discovery in Greenland


A team of scientists led by Grzegorz Nied?wiedzki from Uppsala University have investigated the jaw anatomy and tooth structure of a recently described new mammaliaform species named Kalaallitkigun jenkinsi. Credit: Marta Szubert

From Uppsala University in Sweden:

A tiny jaw from Greenland sheds light on the origin of complex teeth

October 13, 2020

A team of scientists led from Uppsala University have described the earliest known example of dentary bone with two rows of cusps on molars and double-rooted teeth. The new findings offer insight into mammal tooth evolution, particularly the development of double-rooted teeth. The results are published in the scientific journal PNAS.

The first mammals originated in the latest Triassic period, around 205 million years ago. An ancestor to mammals were the therapsids, “mammal-like reptiles” referred to as stem mammals or proto-mammals, which originated about 320-300 million years ago. One unique characteristic of the lineage that included mammals and animals related to mammals (synapsids) was that they developed complex occlusion. Close ancestors to mammals, called mammaliaforms, developed rows of cusps on molar-like teeth adapted for more omnivorous feeding. The origin of this multicusped pattern and double-rooted tooth has thus far remained unclear.

A team of scientists led by Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki from Uppsala University have investigated the jaw anatomy and tooth structure of a recently described new mammaliaform species named Kalaallitkigun jenkinsi. It was discovered on the eastern coast of Greenland and was a very small, shrew-like animal, probably covered with fur. It would have been the size of a large mouse and lived during the Late Triassic, around 215 million years ago.

“I knew it was important from the moment I took this 20 mm specimen off the ground,” says Niedzwiedzki, researcher at Uppsala University and the corresponding author of the publication.

Kalaallitkigun jenkinsi exhibits the earliest known dentary with two rows of cusps on molars and double-rooted teeth. The anatomical features place Kalaallitkigun jenkinsi as an intermediate between the mammals and the insectivorous morganucodontans, another type of mammaliaform.

The researchers believe that the structural changes in the teeth are related to changed feeding habits. In this case study, the animals were switching to a more omnivorous/herbivorous diet and the tooth crown was expanding laterally. Broader teeth with “basins” on the top surface are better for grinding food. This development also forced changes in the structure of the base of the tooth.

The biomechanical analysis that was carried out within the study found that multi-rooted teeth are better able to withstand mechanical stresses, including those of upper and lower tooth contact during biting, compared to single-rooted teeth. Human teeth, for instance, have this characteristic. The results suggest that the development of molar-like teeth with complex crowns may have developed together with biomechanically optimised dual roots.

“The early evolution of mammals is a particularly interesting topic in evolutionary studies. This tiny jaw from Greenland shows us how complex mammalian teeth arose and why they appeared,” says Niedzwiedzki.

“Our discovery of the oldest mammalian ancestor with double-rooted molars shows how important the role of teeth was in the origin of mammals. I had this idea to look at the biomechanics and the collaboration with the engineers turned out great,” says Tomasz Sulej, researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences, first author of the publication.

“It seems that the fossils of close mammalian ancestors must be looked for in even older rocks,” says Sulej.

Jurassic mammals lived more like reptiles


This May 2019 video is called The Mammals that Lived Alongside the Dinosaurs.

From the University of Bristol in England:

Ancient tiny teeth reveal first mammals lived more like reptiles

October 12, 2020

Pioneering analysis of 200 million-year-old teeth belonging to the earliest mammals suggests they functioned like their cold-blooded counterparts — reptiles, leading less active but much longer lives.

The research, led by the University of Bristol, UK and University of Helsinki, Finland, published today in Nature Communications, is the first time palaeontologists have been able to study the physiologies of early fossil mammals directly, and turns on its head what was previously believed about our earliest ancestors.

Fossils of teeth, the size of a pinhead, from two of the earliest mammals, Morganucodon and Kuehneotherium, were scanned for the first time using powerful X-rays, shedding new light on the lifespan and evolution of these small mammals, which roamed the earth alongside early dinosaurs and were believed to be warm-blooded by many scientists. This allowed the team to study growth rings in their tooth sockets, deposited every year like tree rings, which could be counted to tell us how long these animals lived. The results indicated a maximum lifespan of up to 14 years — much older than their similarly sized furry successors such as mice and shrews, which tend to only survive a year or two in the wild.

“We made some amazing and very surprising discoveries. It was thought the key characteristics of mammals, including their warm-bloodedness, evolved at around the same time,” said lead author Dr Elis Newham, Research Associate at the University of Bristol, and previously PhD student at the University of Southampton during the time when this study was conducted.

“By contrast, our findings clearly show that, although they had bigger brains and more advanced behaviour, they didn’t live fast and die young but led a slower-paced, longer life akin to those of small reptiles, like lizards.”

Using advanced imaging technology in this way was the brainchild of Dr Newham’s supervisor Dr Pam Gill, Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol and Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum London, who was determined to get to the root of its potential.

“A colleague, one of the co-authors, had a tooth removed and told me they wanted to get it X-rayed, because it can tell all sorts of things about your life history. That got me wondering whether we could do the same to learn more about ancient mammals,” Dr Gill said.

By scanning the fossilised cementum, the material which locks the tooth roots into their socket in the gum and continues growing throughout life, Dr Gill hoped the preservation would be clear enough to determine the mammal’s lifespan.

To test the theory, an ancient tooth specimen belonging to Morganucodon was sent to Dr Ian Corfe, from the University of Helsinki and the Geological Survey of Finland, who scanned it using high-powered Synchrotron X-ray radiation.

“To our delight, although the cementum is only a fraction of a millimetre thick, the image from the scan was so clear the rings could literally be counted,” Dr Corfe said.

It marked the start of a six-year international study, which focused on these first mammals, Morganucodon and Kuehneotherium, known from Jurassic rocks in South Wales, UK, dating back nearly 200 million years.

“The little mammals fell into caves and holes in the rock, where their skeletons, including their teeth, fossilised. Thanks to the incredible preservation of these tiny fragments, we were able to examine hundreds of individuals of a species, giving greater confidence in the results than might be expected from fossils so old,” Dr Corfe added.

The journey saw the researchers take some 200 teeth specimens, provided by the Natural History Museum London and University Museum of Zoology Cambridge, to be scanned at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility and the Swiss Light Source, among the world’s brightest X-ray light sources, in France and Switzerland, respectively.

In search of an exciting project, Dr Newham took this up for the MSc in Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol, and then a PhD at the University of Southampton.

“I was looking for something big to get my teeth into and this more than fitted the bill. The scanning alone took over a week and we ran 24-hour shifts to get it all done. It was an extraordinary experience, and when the images started coming through, we knew we were onto something,” Dr Newham said.

Dr Newham was the first to analyse the cementum layers and pick up on their huge significance.

“We digitally reconstructed the tooth roots in 3-D and these showed that Morganucodon lived for up to 14 years, and Kuehneotherium for up to nine years. I was dumbfounded as these lifespans were much longer than the one to three years we anticipated for tiny mammals of the same size,” Dr Newham said.

“They were otherwise quite mammal-like in their skeletons, skulls and teeth. They had specialised chewing teeth, relatively large brains and probably had hair, but their long lifespan shows they were living life at more of a reptilian pace than a mammalian one. There is good evidence that the ancestors of mammals began to become increasingly warm-blooded from the Late Permian, more than 270 million years ago, but, even 70 million years later, our ancestors were still functioning more like modern reptiles than mammals”

While their pace-of-life remained reptilian, evidence for an intermediate ability for sustained exercise was found in the bone tissue of these early mammals. As a living tissue, bone contains fat and blood vessels. The diameter of these blood vessels can reveal the maximum possible blood flow available to an animal, critical for activities such as foraging and hunting.

Dr Newham said: “We found that in the thigh bones of Morganucodon, the blood vessels had flow rates a little higher than in lizards of the same size, but much lower than in modern mammals. This suggests these early mammals were active for longer than small reptiles but could not live the energetic lifestyles of living mammals.”

Oldest non-African monkey fossils discovered


Mesopithecus

From Penn State University in the USA:

Oldest monkey fossils outside of Africa found

October 9, 2020

Three fossils found in a lignite mine in southeastern Yunan Province, China, are about 6.4 million years old, indicate monkeys existed in Asia at the same time as apes, and are probably the ancestors of some of the modern monkeys in the area, according to an international team of researchers.

“This is significant because they are some of the very oldest fossils of monkeys outside of Africa,” said Nina G. Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology, Penn State. “It is close to or actually the ancestor of many of the living monkeys of East Asia. One of the interesting things from the perspective of paleontology is that this monkey occurs at the same place and same time as ancient apes in Asia.”

The researchers, who included Jablonski and long-time collaborator Xueping Ji, department of paleoanthropology, Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Kunming, China, studied the fossils unearthed from the Shuitangba lignite mine that has yielded many fossils. They report that “The mandible and proximal femur were found in close proximity and are probably of the same individual,” in a recent issue of the Journal of Human Evolution. Also uncovered slightly lower was a left calcaneus — heel bone — reported by Dionisios Youlatos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, in another paper online in the journal, that belongs to the same species of monkey, Mesopithecus pentelicus.

“The significance of the calcaneus is that it reveals the monkey was well adapted for moving nimbly and powerfully both on the ground and in the trees,” said Jablonski. “This locomotor versatility no doubt contributed to the success of the species in dispersing across woodland corridors from Europe to Asia.”

The lower jawbone and upper portion of the leg bone indicate that the individual was female, according to the researchers. They suggest that these monkeys were probably “jacks of all trades” able to navigate in the trees and on land. The teeth indicate they could eat a wide variety of plants, fruits and flowers, while apes eat mostly fruit.

“The thing that is fascinating about this monkey, that we know from molecular anthropology, is that, like other colobines (Old World monkeys), it had the ability to ferment cellulose,” said Jablonski. “It had a gut similar to that of a cow.”

These monkeys are successful because they can eat low-quality food high in cellulose and obtain sufficient energy by fermenting the food and using the subsequent fatty acids then available from the bacteria. A similar pathway is used by ruminant animals like cows, deer and goats.

“Monkeys and apes would have been eating fundamentally different things,” said Jablonski. “Apes eat fruits, flowers, things easy to digest, while monkeys eat leaves, seeds and even more mature leaves if they have to. Because of this different digestion, they don’t need to drink free water, getting all their water from vegetation.”

These monkeys do not have to live near bodies of water and can survive periods of dramatic climatic change.

“These monkeys are the same as those found in Greece during the same time period,” said Jablonski. “Suggesting they spread out from a center somewhere in central Europe and they did it fairly quickly. That is impressive when you think of how long it takes for an animal to disperse tens of thousands of kilometers through forest and woodlands.”

While there is evidence that the species began in Eastern Europe and moved out from there, the researchers say the exact patterns are unknown, but they do know the dispersal was rapid, in evolutionary terms. During the end of the Miocene when these monkeys were moving out of Eastern Europe, apes were becoming extinct or nearly so, everywhere except in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia.

“The late Miocene was a period of dramatic environmental change,” said Jablonski. “What we have at this site is a fascinating snapshot of the end of the Miocene — complete with one of the last apes and one of the new order of monkeys. This is an interesting case in primate evolution because it testifies to the value of versatility and adaptability in diverse and changing environments. It shows that once a highly adaptable form sets out, it is successful and can become the ancestral stock of many other species.”

The National Science Foundation, Penn State and Bryn Mawr funded this research.

Ice Age Texas, USA manatees?


This 2018 video is called Manatees Are the “Sea Cows” of the Coasts | National Geographic Wild.

From the University of Texas at Austin in the USA:

Ice Age manatees may have called Texas home

October 1, 2020

Manatees don’t live year-round in Texas, but these gentle, slow-moving sea cows are known to occasionally visit, swimming in for a “summer vacation” from Florida and Mexico and returning to warmer waters for the winter.

Research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found fossil evidence for manatees along the Texas coast dating back to the most recent ice age. The discovery raises questions about whether manatees have been making the visit for thousands of years, or if an ancient population of ice age manatees once called Texas home somewhere between 11,000 and 240,000 years ago.

The findings were published in Palaeontologia Electronica.

“This was an unexpected thing for me because I don’t think about manatees being on the Texas coast today,” said lead author Christopher Bell, a professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. “But they’re here. They’re just not well known.”

The paper co-authors are Sam Houston State University Natural History Collections curator William Godwin, SHSU alumna Kelsey Jenkins (now a graduate student at Yale University), and SHSU Professor Patrick Lewis.

The eight fossils described in the paper include manatee jawbones and rib fragments from the Pleistocene, the geological epoch of the last ice age. Most of the bones were collected from McFaddin Beach near Port Arthur and Caplen Beach near Galveston during the past 50 years by amateur fossil collectors who donated their finds to the SHSU collections.

“We have them from one decade to another, so we know it’s not from some old manatee that washed up, and we have them from different places,” Godwin said. “All these lines of evidence support that manatee bones were coming up in a constant way.”

The Jackson Museum of Earth History at UT holds two of the specimens.

A lower jawbone fossil, which was donated to the SHSU collections by amateur collector Joe Liggio, jumpstarted the research.

“I decided my collection would be better served in a museum,” Liggio said. “The manatee jaw was one of many unidentified bones in my collection.”

Manatee jawbones have a distinct S-shaped curve that immediately caught Godwin’s eye. But Godwin said he was met with skepticism when he sought other manatee fossils for comparison. He recalls reaching out to a fossil seller who told him point-blank “there are no Pleistocene manatees in Texas.”

But examination of the fossils by Bell and Lewis proved otherwise. The bones belonged to the same species of manatee that visits the Texas coast today, Trichechus manatus. An upper jawbone donated by U.S. Rep. Brian Babin was found to belong to an extinct form of the manatee, Trichechus manatus bakerorum.

The age of the manatee fossils is based on their association with better-known ice age fossils and paleo-indian artifacts that have been found on the same beaches.

It’s assumed that the cooler ice age climate would have made Texas waters even less hospitable to manatees than they are today. But the fact that manatees were in Texas — whether as visitors or residents — raises questions about the ancient environment and ancient manatees, Bell said. Either the coastal climate was warmer than is generally thought, or ice age manatees were more resilient to cooler temperatures than manatees of today.

The Texas coast stretched much farther into the Gulf of Mexico and hosted wider river outlets during the ice age than it does now, said Jackson School Professor David Mohrig, who was not part of the research team.

“Subsurface imaging of the now flooded modern continental shelf reveals both a greater number of coastal embayments and the presence of significantly wider channels during ice age times,” said Mohrig, an expert on how sedimentary landscapes evolve.

If there was a population of ice age manatees in Texas, it’s plausible that they would have rode out winters in these warmer river outlets, like how they do today in Florida and Mexico.