Ancient Egyptian high priest’s tomb discovered


This 15 December 2018 video says about itself:

Archaeologists in Egypt have made an exciting tomb discovery – the final resting place of a high priest, untouched for 4,400 years.

From the BBC today, with photos there:

Egypt tomb: Saqqara ‘one of a kind’ discovery revealed

Archaeologists in Egypt have made an exciting tomb discovery – the final resting place of a high priest, untouched for 4,400 years.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, described the find as “one of a kind in the last decades”.

The tomb, found in the Saqqara pyramid complex near Cairo, is filled with colourful hieroglyphs and statues of pharaohs. Decorative scenes show the owner, a royal priest named Wahtye, with his mother, wife and other relatives.

Archaeologists will start excavating the tomb on 16 December, and expect more discoveries to follow – including the owner’s sarcophagus.

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Dinosaur age shark teeth discovery in Dutch Maastricht


Cretaceous fossil shark's tooth from the Dutch Maastricht ENCI quarry, photo by Frans Frenken

This photo by Frans Frenken shows a Cretaceous fossil shark‘s tooth from the Dutch Maastricht ENCI quarry.

Translated from Dutch ANP news agency today:

Old shark teeth in Limburg ENCI quarry

Five teeth of an extinct mackerel shark were found in the ENCI quarry in Maastricht. According to conservation organisation Natuurmonumenten the animal was about 4 to 5 meters long. It lived about 66 to 68 million years ago.

Just before the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event which killed the dinosaurs and many other animals.

South Limburg was then a shallow subtropical inland sea.

Mackerel shark

The triangular teeth are about 2.5 centimeters. The mackerel shark used to eat sea turtles, fish and other animals. The first tooth was accidentally found during a guided tour of Natuurmonumenten volunteers on 17 November. On December 1 someone else found four more shark teeth.

The ENCI quarry has been used since 1926 to extract limestone. That stopped this year. The area is now being transformed into a nature and recreation area, to be opened in 2020. In the limestone layers in the quarry are many remains of prehistoric animals, such as sea urchins, corals, cephalopods and seashells.

Fossils

Fossils are often found in the ENCI quarry, such as sea urchins, but also a gigantic dinosaur age marine predator, a mosasaur.

This dinosaur age shark species is called Squalicorax pristodontus.

New sea slug species discovered


This 12 December 2018 video says about itself:

New nudibranch species discovered

Nudibranchs are marine slugs that come in a variety of whimsical colors. They are found throughout the world ocean from surface waters to the deep sea. However, only three species were known from the Northeast Pacific Ocean until scientists from Cal Poly Pomona, Western Australian Museum, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and MBARI [Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the USA] recently described five new species from this region.

Four of these were observed during MBARI research expeditions off the California coast and in the Gulf of California, off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. We used morphological characteristics and molecular tools to distinguish these animals from all previously described species of nudibranchs.

These new species Tritonia nigritigris*, Dendronotus claguei*, Ziminella vrijenhoeki*, Cuthona methana, and Aeolidia libitinaria* were given distinct names which honor MBARI scientists or describe their physical appearance or the habitat in which they were found.

As with many other deep-sea regions, we predict the number of new species from the Northeast Pacific to increase with further exploration. This area is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change emphasizing the urgency of documenting this fauna.

*Collected by MBARI remotely operated vehicles.

For more information see: Valdés, A., Lundsten, L., & Wilson, N.G. (2018) Five new deep-sea species of nudibranchs (Gastropoda: Heterobranchia: Cladobranchia) from the Northeast Pacific. Zootaxa 4526 (4): 401–433

Bats cooperate for finding food


This 2014 video says about itself:

Secrets and Mysteries of Bats – Nature Documentary

This 48-minute documentary explores the world of bats and the scientists who study them — including the late Donald Griffin, a Harvard zoologist who was the first to describe their echolocation ability in the 1940s. Using 3-D graphics to recreate the bats’ acoustic vision and shooting with infra-red and high-speed cameras, this film offers an exhilarating “bat’s-eye” journey into the night.

From the University of Maryland in the USA:

Unpredictable food sources drive some bats to cooperatively search for food

December 13, 2018

Summary: With the help of novel miniature sensors, biologists have found that bat species foraged socially if their food sources were in unpredictable locations, such as insect swarms or fish schools. In contrast, bats with food sources at fixed locations foraged on their own and did not communicate with one another while foraging or eating.

Humans aren’t the only species that have dinner parties. Scientists have observed many animals, including bats, eating in groups. However, little was known about whether bats actively help each other find food, a process known as social foraging.

With the help of novel miniature sensors, an international group of biologists that included University of Maryland Biology Professor Gerald Wilkinson found that bat species foraged socially if their food sources were in unpredictable locations, such as insect swarms or fish schools. In contrast, bats with food sources at fixed locations foraged on their own and did not communicate with one another while foraging or eating. The results of the study were published in the November 19, 2018 issue of the journal Current Biology.

“We were able to show that bats who can’t predict where their food will be are the ones that cooperate with each other to forage”, Wilkinson said. “And I don’t think they are unique — I think that if more studies are done, we will find that other bat species do similar things.”

The researchers selected five bat species from around the world for the study — two species with unpredictable food sources and three with predictable food sources. They fit each bat with a small, lightweight sensor that operated for up to three nights. Because the sensor only weighed approximately 4 grams, it did not hinder the bat’s movements. The sensor recorded GPS data to log each bat’s flight path and audio in ultrasonic frequencies to document bat calls. The researchers recaptured each bat to download the data. In all, the researchers tracked 94 bats in this study.

Edward Hurme, a UMD biological sciences graduate student in Wilkinson’s laboratory and a co-lead author of the paper, tracked one of the bat species — the Mexican fish-eating bat, which lives on a remote Mexican island.

“We took a fishing boat to an uninhabited island where these bats live and camped there for a month at a time”, Hurme said. “Field work can be challenging. One time, a hurricane came and all we could do was hide in the tent. Fortunately, we survived and so did our data.”

After collecting data on all five bat species, the researchers charted the bats’ flight paths and analyzed the audio recordings. They listened for the distinctive, species-specific calls the bats make during normal flight and when trying to capture prey. The research team used this information to map where and when the bats found and ate food and whether other bats were nearby.

The results showed that the three species of bats that eat predictable food sources, such as fruits, foraged on their own. When they found food, they also ate alone. This makes sense, according to Wilkinson, because they didn’t need any help finding food. In fact, having other bats around could create harmful competition for food.

In contrast, the two species of bats with unpredictable food sources often flew together with other members of their species. Moreover, when a tracked bat found prey, other individuals nearby also began to forage. The findings suggest that these bats forage cooperatively and socially within their own species.

The researchers also found that socially foraging bats may eavesdrop on one another by staying close enough to hear each other’s feeding calls.

“We tested this hypothesis by playing recordings of white noise, normal calls and feeding calls for these bats to hear”, Hurme said. “We found that bats who heard normal calls became more attracted to the speakers than those who heard white noise. And when we played feeding calls, bats dive-dombed the speakers.”

The next step for this research is to investigate what strategies bats use in social foraging. In particular, Hurme hopes to discover whether these bats pay attention to the identity of their fellow foragers.

“We would like to know if socially foraging bats will follow any member of their own species or if they prefer specific individuals who are the most successful at finding food”, Hurme said. “There is some evidence that bats can recognize each other by voice, so we are working on ways to identify individuals by their calls.”

Ordovician animals, marine or terrestrial?


This 2014 video says about itself:

The origins of advanced forms of life began 500 million years ago during the Ordovician period ending with the Silurian extinction event. Australian biologist Richard Smith travels across the continent to study the fossil record of living things that continued to flourish at this time as it did in the earlier Cambrian period.

Invertebrates, namely mollusks and arthropods, dominated the oceans and fish, the world’s first true vertebrates, continued to evolve, with jaws appearing late in the period, not yet to diversifying onto land. About 100 times as many meteorites struck the Earth during the Ordovician compared with today.

From the Geological Society of America:

Early animals: Death near the shoreline, not life on land

December 13, 2018

Our understanding of when the very first animals started living on land is helped by identifying trace fossils — the tracks and trails left by ancient animals — in sedimentary rocks that were deposited on the continents.

Geoscientists Anthony P. Shillito and Neil S. Davies of the University of Cambridge studied the site of what has widely been accepted as the earliest set of non-marine trackways, in Ordovician (ca. 455 million-year-old) strata from the Lake District, England.

What they discovered is that the trackways occur within volcanic ash that settled under water, and not within freshwater lake and sub-aerial sands (as previously thought). This means that the site is not the oldest evidence for animal communities on land, but instead “is actually a remarkable example of a ‘prehistoric Pompeii‘”, says Shillito — a suite of rocks that preserve trails made by distressed and dying millipede-like arthropods as they were overcome by ash from volcanic events.

Shillito and Davies directed their research at this site in particular because it seemed unusual — at every other known trackway site in the world the evidence for when animals came onto land dates to the latest Silurian (ca. 420 million years ago), so something about the Borrowdale site didn’t seem right. Further investigation proved that this was the case. In the course of their study, they found 121 new millipede trackways, all within volcanic ash with evidence for underwater or shoreline deposition.

Volcanic ash is known to cause mass death in some modern arthropod communities, particularly in water, because ash is so tiny it can get inside arthropod exoskeletons and stick to their breathing and digestive apparatus. Shilllito and Davies noticed that most of the trails were extremely tightly looping — a feature which is commonly associated with “death dances” in modern and ancient arthropods.

This study, published in Geology, overturns what is known about the earliest life on land and casts new light onto one of the key evolutionary events in the history of life on Earth. Shillito notes, “It reveals how even surprising events can be preserved in the ancient rock record, but — by removing the ‘earliest’ outlier of evidence — suggests that the invasion of the continents happened globally at the same time.”

Understanding how life engineered major evolutionary advances within environments, and the rate and impact of these advances on the functioning of the Earth system, provides vital context for understanding global change at the present day, and underlines the inseparable relationship between life and the planet.

Hummingbirds at urban feeders, new study


This 2016 video says about itself:

When this man peered out his window, he discovered that a swarm of hummingbirds had overtaken his front yard to feast at the feeders that he hung.

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Tiny tech tracks hummingbirds at urban feeders

Method shows around-the-clock interactions, gives insight into hummingbird health

December 12, 2018

Summary: Urban hummingbird feeders are highly prevalent. Researchers want to understand the health implications for birds congregating and sharing food resources at these bird buffets. Data from a new study using RFID technology is one piece of that puzzle.

“Beep” is not a sound you expect to hear coming from a hummingbird feeder. Yet “beeps” abounded during a study led by the University of California, Davis to monitor hummingbirds around urban feeders and help answer questions about their behavior and health.

For the study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, veterinary researchers tagged 230 Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and recorded their visits to feeders equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) transceivers. This is the same technology animal rescue shelters use when placing microchips under the skin of cats and dogs so they can be tracked if lost.

Similar to when a grocery item is swept across a supermarket scanner, little beeps sounded each time a hummingbird fluttered inside one of the study’s feeder stations. This gave researchers around-the-clock information about how often individual hummingbirds visited the feeders and how long they stayed there.

Such information can help explain how hummingbirds interact with each other at feeders, as well as inform veterinarians about potential disease transmission that could occur from such interactions.

In the wild, hummingbird species do not tend to directly interact much with each other. But with urban feeders, that dynamic changes.

“Hummingbird feeders attract birds to gather in areas where they normally wouldn’t congregate”, said co-leading author Lisa Tell, a professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “This is a human-made issue, so we’re looking at how that might change disease transmission and dynamics in populations.”

FREQUENT FLYERS

RFID technology has been used to monitor hummingbirds before, but this is the first time it has been used to monitor multiple hummingbirds at feeders at the same time, which is critical when studying their interactions.

The study, conducted September 2016 to March 2018, recorded about 65,500 visits to seven feeding stations across three California sites. These included the UC Davis Arboretum Nursery, a private home in Winters and The Gottlieb Native Garden in Beverly Hills. More than 60 percent of the tagged birds returned to feeders at least once — some immediately, some months later. During spring and summer, most visits occurred in the morning and evening hours.

Behavioral differences by gender were also recorded. Females tended to stay longer at feeders than the males. And males overlapped their visits with other males more frequently than with other females.

“It’s the first time we were able to truly quantify not only the time spent at feeders but also time spent co-mingling with fellow hummingbirds at these feeders”, said co-leading author Pranav Sudhir Pandit of the UC Davis EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics within the School of Veterinary Medicine.

THE SCIENCE ON BACKYARD FEEDERS

Science has yet to make an informed judgment call on whether backyard hummingbird feeders are “good” or “bad” for hummingbirds. The authors note that planting native plants known to attract hummingbirds, such as salvias and those with tubular-shaped flowers, provide a clear benefit to the birds. But given that urban hummingbird feeders are highly prevalent, researchers want to understand the health implications for birds congregating and sharing food resources at these bird buffets. Data from the study is one piece of that puzzle.

“The aggregation of hummingbirds in urban habitats due to feeders is the new normal and now it’s time to understand the implications of this”, said co-leading author Ruta Rajiv Bandivadekar, a visiting research scholar in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

SMALL CHALLENGES

Before she was tagging hummingbirds, Bandivadekar was radio collaring tigers to monitor their movements at a national park in India. The collar itself weighed about 5 pounds, whereas a hummingbird’s entire body is about 5 grams, the weight of a nickel.

Their small size is the main reason finding the proper technology to monitor hummingbirds can be challenging. For instance, before the study, researchers weren’t sure they could successfully tag and monitor Allen’s hummingbirds, a smaller species the Audubon Society has determined to be a “climate endangered” bird.

Regulations require that tracking devices weigh no more than 3 percent of an animals’ body weight, a maximum Tell and colleagues did not want to risk approaching. But the efficient use of PIT tags is providing valuable insight into their movements and behaviors, which could ultimately help their health and conservation in a changing landscape.

Northern cardinals in American deserts, new study


This August 2018 video from the USA is called 10 Fun & Interesting Facts About Northern Cardinals.

From the American Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Cardinals living in adjacent deserts are sharply distinct in genetics and song

New research investigates whether dialect differences might indicate new species

December 12, 2018

New research suggests that populations of the Northern Cardinal –one of the most ubiquitous backyard birds in the United States– are undergoing speciation in two adjacent deserts. This study, which analyzed genetics and vocal behavior, gives clues about the early steps in bird speciation. The study is published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

“In general, songs are really important for describing and identifying birds”, said lead author Kaiya Provost, a comparative biology Ph.D. Candidate in the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School. “Most studies assume that differences in song are important in the process that gives rise to new bird species. But looking at speciation using both genetics and behavior in wild birds can be really difficult. We went out to test both of these spheres of biology on wild desert birds to look at the full story.”

The researchers focused on Northern Cardinal populations in two deserts: the Sonoran Desert, which covers parts of Arizona, California, and Mexico; and the Chihuahuan Desert, which covers parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. The deserts are separated by about 120 miles of high-elevation plains. Analysis on the DNA of the birds in these areas shows that the two populations have been separated for at least 500,000 years and possibly for as long as 1 million years, which “might be old enough for the speciation process to finish”, Provost said.

In parallel, the researchers examined the song-related behavior of these populations. Songs play a crucial role in a bird’s ability to attract and impress a potential mate. If two birds can’t communicate with each other, for instance, by singing different types of songs, they are less likely to breed. Over time, populations that don’t reproduce with each other will accumulate more and more genetic differences. As time goes on, these two processes can feed back into each other and lead the populations down the path of speciation.

To investigate, Provost and her collaborators–Brian Smith, an assistant curator in the Museum’s Department of Ornithology, and William Mauck III, a researcher at the New York Genome Center–created a bird song experiment that they played in each desert. Each audio series contained four recordings of male birds: neighboring cardinals, cardinals from the same desert but a distance away, cardinals from the adjacent desert, and a control recording of a Cactus Wren.

In the Sonoran Desert, male cardinals reacted to the recorded songs from neighboring birds with aggression–flying around looking for the “intruder” and singing loudly. Songs from birds living further away, both from within the same desert and from the adjacent one, were ignored.

“We saw that the birds are really aggressive to songs by their next-door neighbors, as you would expect, but once there is enough distance between them, they don’t understand the songs anymore,” Provost said. “It’s like if you speak Portuguese in Portugal, you can probably understand Spanish, and you might understand French, but if you keep going further and further away, eventually you’ll hit German or Arabic–languages that are unfamiliar, that you can’t parse.”

In the Chihuahuan Desert, the cardinals also acted aggressively to songs from close neighbors. And, just like the Sonoran birds, they ignored songs from birds across the plains. But, in contrast to Sonoran cardinals, they were aggressive to songs from distant neighbors in the same desert.

“We’re not sure why there’s a difference, but you can think of it as these Chihuahuan birds singing in Portuguese and hearing songs in Spanish. It’s a little different but they still understand it, and they still think it’s an intruder”, Provost said. “There’s something that’s keeping those two groups of songs linked together.”

One of the major challenges taxonomists face is how to identify young species, or draw the line between species and populations. In the case of the Northern Cardinal, the authors say there is mounting evidence that there are multiple species in the United States. “By combining behavioral experiments with genetic estimates of population history, we found corroborating evidence that the speciation process is well advanced”, Smith said. “It is getting harder to argue that they are a single species.”