Police killings of unarmed black Americans and mental health


This video from the USA says about itself:

22 June 2018

Large crowds of protesters, angry over a deadly police shooting, shut down a major highway near Pittsburgh overnight. The protest halted traffic for hours. It marked the second day of unrest following Tuesday’s shooting of unarmed teen Antwon Rose Jr. Jericka Duncan reports.

“I see mothers bury their sons / I want my mother to never feel that pain”, Antwon Rose Jr. wrote in a haunting poem during his sophomore year of high school. Two years later, he was shot and killed by a police officer as he ran from a car during a traffic stop in East Pittsburgh. Rose, 17, was unarmed and was shot in the back three times: here.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Friday, 22 June 2018

Police killings of unarmed black Americans impact on community

Police killings of unarmed black Americans have adverse effects on the mental health of black American adults in the general population, according to a new population-based study.

With police killings of unarmed black Americans widely perceived to be a symptom of structural racism, the findings highlight the role of structural racism as a driver of population health disparities, and support recent calls to treat police killings as a public health issue.

The study was led by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University School of Public Health (USA), in collaboration with Harvard University, and is published in The Lancet.

Police kill more than 300 black Americans – at least a quarter of them unarmed – each year in the USA. Black Americans are nearly three times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police and nearly five times more likely to be killed by police while unarmed. Beyond the immediate consequences for victims and their families, the population-level impact has so far been unclear.

The quasi-experimental study combines data from the 2013-2015 US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a nationally-representative, telephone-based survey of adults, with data on police killings from the Mapping Police Violence (MPV) database.

By using statistical analysis, the authors estimate the ‘spillover’ effect of police killings of unarmed black Americans on the mental health of other black Americans living in the general population. A total of 103,710 black Americans took part in the BRFSS survey during the three-year study period and rated how many days in the past 30 days they felt their mental health (in terms of stress, depression and problems with emotion) was ‘not good.’

Half of the respondents were women, and half had been to university. 38,993 respondents (49% of the weighted sample) resided in a USA state where at least one police killing of an unarmed black American had occurred in the 90 days prior to the survey.

Each additional police killing of an unarmed black American in the 90 days before the survey was associated with an estimated 0.14 additional days of poor mental health among black Americans who lived in the same state. The greatest effects were seen 30-60 days after the police killing.

Black Americans are exposed to an average of four police killings in their state of residence each year.

Extrapolating their findings to total population of 33 million black American adults, the authors estimate that police killings of unarmed black Americans could contribute 55 million excess poor mental health days per year among black American adults in the USA.

These estimates suggest that the population mental health burden due to police killings is nearly as large as the population mental health burden associated with diabetes among black Americans.

‘Our study demonstrates for the first time that police killings of unarmed black Americans can have corrosive effects on mental health in the black American community’, says co-lead author Atheendar S. Venkataramani, a health economist and general internist at the University of Pennsylvania.

‘While the field has known for quite some time that personal experiences of racism can impact health, establishing a link between structural racism – and events that lead to vicarious experiences of racism – and health has proved to be more difficult.’

Adverse effects on mental health were limited to black Americans, and exposure to police killings of unarmed black Americans was not associated with any changes in self-reported mental health of white Americans. Exposure to police killings of armed black Americans was also not associated with changes in self-reported mental health among black or white Americans.

‘The specificity of our findings is striking’, says co-lead author Jacob Bor, a population health scientist at the Boston University School of Public Health. ‘Any occasion in which police resort to deadly force is a tragedy, but when police use deadly force against an unarmed black American, the tragedy carries with it the weight of historical injustices and current disparities in the use of state violence against black Americans.

‘Many have interpreted these events as a signal that our society does not value black and white lives equally. Our findings show these events also harm the mental health of black Americans.’ The authors suggest that the mental health effects of police killings of unarmed black Americans might be conveyed through several different channels, including heightened perceptions of threat and vulnerability, lack of fairness, lower social status, lower beliefs about one’s own worth, activation of prior traumas, and identification with the deceased. The authors note several limitations that should prompt further research in the field.

First, the BRFSS public-use dataset was limited to state-level identifiers, and there was no information on the extent to which respondents were directly aware of police killings nor whether respondents were aware of police killings in other states. If police killings affected the mental health of black Americans living in other states, then the study findings would be an underestimate of the true effect. Secondly, the measures used in the BRFSS are self-reported.

Thirdly, the study does not focus on other ways in which the criminal justice system disproportionately targets black Americans, and it is likely that other forms of structural racism – such as segregation, mass incarceration, and serial forced displacement – also contribute to poor population mental health.

Finally, the study did not include data on other vulnerable populations, such as Hispanics or Native Americans, nor did it consider the impact of police killings on the mental health of police officers themselves.

Senior author Alexander Tsai, a psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said: ‘Therapists and first responders are all too familiar with the potentially devastating effects of vicarious trauma. ‘By highlighting the effect of police killings on the wider community, our study provides evidence on a national scale that racism can be experienced vicariously.

‘Interventions are needed to reduce the prevalence of these killings and to support the mental health of communities affected when they do occur. ‘For example, in the wake of such killings, affected police departments could deploy greater resources to community problem oriented policing, give community stakeholders subpoena powers in investigating officer-involved shootings, and pursue disciplinary actions against involved officers with greater transparency.’

In a linked Comment, Dr Rhea W Boyd, Palo Alto Medical Foundation (USA) wrote: ‘Racism lands, violently, on bodies – not as a function of race but as a function of how humans order society (racial hierarchy), assign power (racial supremacy), and distribute resources (racial inequity).

‘Labelling the attributable mental health outcome a “spillover effect”, the authors adjoin the taxonomy of terms such as “weathering” and “toxic stress” to articulate potential pathophysiological mechanisms for the built harm of racism.

‘This intentional naming of racism is crucial to advancing an anti-racist praxis in medicine and public health… Despite (the) limitations, the findings (of the study) are urgent and instructive. (The authors’) work to acknowledge and address the clinical impact of police killing black Americans sits within a broader clinical imperative to rigorously define and intervene in the relationship between structural racism and clinical outcomes. ‘This evidence should ignite inquiry into the broader health impacts of police violence and advance the challenge to confront racial health inequities as products of racism.’

Advertisements

Wolves in Yellowstone, USA, new study


This video is called [2017] – National Geographic Documentary Wild – Wild Yellowstone She Wolf HD.

From S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University in the USA:

Wolf reintroduction: Yellowstone’s ‘landscape of fear’ not so scary after all

June 22, 2018

After wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s, some scientists thought the large predator reestablished a ‘landscape of fear’ that caused elk,

North American elk should not be confused with still larger moose (Alces alces) to which the name “elk” applies in British English and in reference to populations in Eurasia.

the wolf‘s main prey, to avoid risky places where wolves killed them. This fueled the emerging idea that predators affect prey populations and ecosystems not only by eating prey animals, but by scaring them too. But according to findings from Utah State University ecologists Michel Kohl and Dan MacNulty, Yellowstone’s ‘landscape of fear’ is not as scary as first thought.

“Contrary to popular belief, the wolf is not a round-the-clock threat to elk; it mostly hunts at dawn and dusk, and this allows elk to safely access risky places during nightly lulls in wolf activity”, says Kohl, who completed a doctoral degree at USU in 2018 and is lead author of the paper. “Despite their Hollywood portrayal as nighttime prowlers, wolves tend to hunker down at night because their vision is not optimized for nocturnal hunting.” With colleagues Daniel Stahler, Douglas Smith, and P.J. White of the U.S. National Park Service, Matthew Metz of University of Montana, James Forester of University of Minnesota, Matthew Kauffman of University of Wyoming, and Nathan Varley of University of Alberta, Kohl and MacNulty report their findings in an Early View online article of Ecological Monographs. The article will appear in a future print edition of the Ecological Society of America publication. The team’s research is supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

The researchers revisited data from 27 GPS radio-collared elk that had been collected in the early years after the reintroduction, 2001-2004, but never fully analyzed. These collars recorded the location of each elk every 4-6 hours. This was the first time GPS technology had been used to track Yellowstone elk, and no one imagined that elk might sync their habitat use to the wolf’s 24-hour schedule. Little was known about this schedule until researchers first equipped wolves with GPS collars in 2004.

“In the days before GPS, when we tracked wolves by sight and with VHF radio-telemetry, we knew they hunted mainly in the morning and evening, but we didn’t know much about what they did at night” says MacNulty, a veteran Yellowstone wolf researcher and associate professor in USU’s Department of Wildland Resources and the USU Ecology Center. “GPS data showed that wolves were about as inactive in the middle of the night as they were in the middle of the day.”

Kohl used the GPS data to quantify the 24-hour schedule of wolves, and he compared how elk use of risky places — sites where wolves killed elk — differed between periods of high and low wolf activity. “Elk avoided the riskiest places when wolves were most active, but they had no problem using these same places when wolves were least active,” says Kohl. “An elk’s perception of a place as dangerous or safe, its landscape of fear, was highly dynamic with ‘peaks’ and ‘valleys’ that alternated across the 24-hr cycle in response to the ups and downs of wolf activity.”

The ability of elk to regularly use risky places during wolf downtimes has implications for understanding the impact of wolves on elk and the ecosystem at large. “Our results can explain why many other studies found no clear-cut effect of wolf predation risk on elk stress levels, body condition, pregnancy, or herbivory”, says MacNulty. “If our results reflect typical elk behavior, then actual killing rather than fear probably drives most, if not all, of the effect of wolves on elk and any cascading effect on the plants that elk eat such as aspen and willow.”

This conclusion runs counter to popular views about the ecological importance of fear in Yellowstone and elsewhere. “Although our study is the first to show how a prey animal uses predator downtime to flatten its landscape of fear, I suspect other examples will emerge as more researchers examine the intersection between prey habitat use and predator activity rhythms”, says Kohl.

Snowshoe hares’ camouflage, new study


This 2015 video is called Epic Hunting Chase of the Canadian Lynx and Snowshoe Hare in HD.

From The University of Montana in the USA:

How snowshoe hares evolved to stay seasonally camouflaged

June 21, 2018

Many animals have evolved fur or feather colors to blend in with the environment and hide from predators. But how do animals stay camouflaged when their environment changes with each new season? Researchers at the University of Montana recently discovered that hybridization played an important role in snowshoe hares’ ability to match their environment.

An international scientific team led by UM Associate Professor Jeffrey Good and graduate student Matthew Jones set out to discover how snowshoe hares have evolved to molt to a white coat in areas with prolonged winter snow cover while populations from mild coastal environments of the Pacific Northwest retain brown fur year-round.

“Like other seasonal traits, the autumn molt in snowshoe hares is triggered by changes in day length”m Good said. “But the color of their winter coat is determined by genetic variation that has been shaped by evolution to match the local presence or absence of snow.”

In a new article published in the journal Science, Good’s team discovered that the development of brown or white winter coats in snowshoe hares is controlled by genetic variation at a single pigmentation gene that is activated during the autumn molt.

“This result is exciting because it shows that critical adaptive shifts in seasonal camouflage can evolve through changes in the regulation of a single gene,” Jones said.

The genetic discovery came with a surprising twist.

“When we looked at the same gene in other closely related species”, Jones said, “we found that the brown version of the gene in snowshoe hares was recently acquired from interbreeding with black-tail jackrabbits, another North American species that remains brown in the winter.”

Hybridization between species has played a key role in the development of many domestic plants and animals, and recent research suggests that it is also surprisingly common in nature. In snowshoe hares, hybridization with black-tailed jackrabbits provided critical coat color variation needed to adapt to coastal areas where winter snow is ephemeral or absent. But what does this mean for snowshoe hares going forward?

“Brown winter coats are currently rare across the range of snowshoe hares”, Good said. “If snow cover continues to decrease due to climate change, brown winter coats may become more common in the future and play a critical role in the resilience of this species. These discoveries are helping us understand how organisms adapt to rapidly changing environments.”

UM Professor Scott Mills is a co-author on the paper. For this research, UM partnered with the Universidade do Porto and CIBIO-InBIO in Portugal, North Carolina State University, Arizona State University, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Zebrafish see well, new study


This 2017 video is called Eyes of Zebra fish may help unveil cure for human blindness, say scientists.

From the University of Sussex in England:

Zebrafish‘s near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View

June 21, 2018

Summary: A zebrafish view of the world has been forensically analyzed by researchers to reveal that how they see their surroundings changes hugely depending on what direction they are looking.

Tiny freshwater fish have a view of the world that blows Google Street View out of the water — using different parts of their eyes to deliver optimum uses of colour, black-and-white and ultraviolet.

A zebrafish view of the world has been forensically analysed by researchers at the University of Sussex to reveal that how they see their surroundings changes hugely depending on what direction they are looking.

The study of the colour vision system of zebrafish larvae, published today in Current Biology, reveals they use their near 360 degree view of their world to detect threatening silhouettes above them in black-and-white but can seek out the almost transparent single-cell organisms they feed on by detecting the scattering of light in UV.

Dr Tom Baden, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at the University of Sussex who led the research, said: “By measuring the activity of thousands of neurons in the live animal while presenting visual stimuli, we established that different parts of their retinas, looking at different parts of the visual world, do different things. This multi-faceted view makes perfect sense for zebrafish as that’s how colour is distributed in their natural habitat. In their natural visual world, most colour information is on the ground and the horizon but above them the objects of most interest are dark silhouettes, so colour vision here is rather pointless.”

The study is the first in-depth physiological description of any vertebrate’s retinal setup for colour vision that uses “4 input colours” which includes a large proportion of non-mammal species such as most birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. By comparison humans only use three and mice, dogs and horses only two.

The researchers say little is understood on how colour vision based on four or more spectral inputs works at a neuronal level but their paper, should help pave the way for further discoveries in this field. The team custom-built a hyperspectral scanner that allowed them to capture the full spectrum of light in the zebrafish natural world at each pixel including for UV vision.

The study found that zebrafish, who during larval and juvenile life stages live mostly in shallow, low current pockets on the sides of streams and rice paddies, only seem to use their colour vision repertoire for looking down and along the horizon, use colour-blind circuits for looking straight up and extremely sensitive ultraviolet vision for looking forward and upwards.

The zebrafish has made a supreme evolutionary effort to develop this superior vision, with about half of all its neurons inside the eyes making up nearly a quarter of their total body volume and requiring substantial metabolic investment. Similar ratios on a human being would mean eyes around the size of a large grapefruit which would require an optic nerve the width of an arm.

Dr Baden said: “Clearly, animals like zebrafish use specialised strategies to better navigate their natural environment by adjusting their eyes to look out for different things in different parts of their visual field. In contrast, technology has not really caught up with these types of ideas. For example, most standard camera systems still “blindly” use the same type of light detection and compression across an entire image even if half the image shows bright blue sky and the other half the overgrown and shadowed ground.”

New Sri Lankan spiders get Enid Blyton names


This video says about itself:

Science Bulletins: Seeking Spiders—Biodiversity on a Different Scale

4 October 2012

Recognizing the tiny species of any ecosystem is hugely important for defining its overall diversity. But miniscule forms of life are often invisible to conservation efforts because they have yet to be described in detail. Dr. Norman Platnick of the American Museum of Natural History is leading an important initiative to discover biodiversity on a smaller scale. Having devoted decades to the study of spiders, Dr. Platnick now leads a team of 45 investigators from 10 countries in the largest-ever research project on spiders, identifying members of the goblin spider family. This group of spiders is widely distributed but largely unknown, primarily due to their small size—at 1.2-3mm, they measure one-half to one-third the length of the average spider. This video follows Dr. Platnick’s team into the Ecuadorian jungle as they collect and identify scores of unrecognized goblin spiders, showing how little we know about the full breadth of global biodiversity.

From ScienceDaily:

Six new species of goblin spiders named after famous goblins and brownies

June 21, 2018

Summary: A remarkably high diversity of goblin spiders is reported from the Sri Lankan forests. Nine new species are described in a recent paper, where six are named after goblins and brownies from Enid Blyton‘s children’s books. There are now 45 goblin spider species belonging to 13 genera known to inhabit the island country.

Fictional characters originally ‘described’ by famous English children’s writer Enid Blyton have given their names to six new species of minute goblin spiders discovered in the diminishing forests of Sri Lanka.

The goblins Bom, Snooky and Tumpy and the brownies Chippy, Snippy and Tiggy made their way from the pages of: “The Goblins Looking-Glass” (1947), “Billy’s Little Boats” (1971) and “The Firework Goblins” (1971) to the scientific literature in a quest to shed light on the remarkable biodiversity of the island country of Sri Lanka, Indian Ocean.

As a result of their own adventure, which included sifting through the leaf litter of the local forests, scientists Prof. Suresh P. Benjamin and Ms. Sasanka Ranasinghe of the National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka, described a total of nine goblin spider species in six genera as new to science. Two of these genera are reported for the very first time from outside Australia.

Their paper is published in the open access journal Evolutionary Systematics.

With a total of 45 species in 13 genera, the goblin spider fauna in Sri Lanka — a country taking up merely 65,610 km2 — is already remarkably abundant. Moreover, apart from their diversity, these spiders amaze with their extreme endemism. While some of the six-eyed goblins can only be found at a few sites, other species can be seen nowhere outside a single forest patch.

“Being short-range endemics with very restricted distributions, these species may prove to be very important when it comes to monitoring the effects of climate change and other threats for the forest habitats in Sri Lanka”, explain the researchers.

In European folklore, goblins and brownies are known as closely related small and often mischievous fairy-like creatures, which live in human homes and even do chores while the family is asleep, since they avoid being seen. In exchange, they expect from their ‘hosts’ to leave food for them.

Similarly, at size of a few millimetres, goblin spiders are extremely tough to notice on the forest floors they call home. Further, taking into consideration the anthropogenic factors affecting their habitat, the arachnids also turn out to be heavily dependent on humans.

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.

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.