Budgerigars and linguistics, new research


This video says about itself:

Budgies are grammar pedants too

20 June 2016

Just like us, these parrots use the grammatical structure of unfamiliar phrases to work out what they mean.

From New Scientist:

20 June 2016

Budgies use grammar to find meaning in unfamiliar phrases

By Colin Barras

Budgerigars are grammar pedants too. Just like us, these parrots use the grammatical structure of unfamiliar phrases to work out what they mean.

There is evidence that some birds pay attention to the order of sounds in a song, but this grammatical behaviour has not been well studied.

Michelle Spierings and Carel ten Cate at Leiden University in the Netherlands made new songs by piecing together three different snippets of recorded bird melodies. They played budgies and zebra finches certain patterns – such as AAB or ABA – and trained them to peck only when they heard AAB.

Order of play

The researchers then played new combinations to the birds. Because the zebra finches had learned not to peck for ABA, they also did not peck for CCA – apparently focusing on the fact the A snippet was in the final position in both cases.

But the budgies were different, focusing instead on the structure of the song. They pecked when they heard CCA, recognising that this is the same pattern as AAB. “They followed the structure and were not distracted by the positional changes,” says Spierings – the budgerigars are structural learners when it comes to grammar, like humans.

The results provide more evidence for convergent evolution of vocal learning in humans and birds, say the researchers. For instance, a study in 2014 found that dozens of genes involved in human vocal learning are active in a similar way in the brains of birds including both the zebra finch and the budgerigar.

New Triassic marine reptile species discovery


This 2012 video, in Italian, is about Lariosaurus valceresii and Lariosaurus balsami Triassic marine reptiles.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Amateur paleontologist finds skull of prehistoric reptile

Today, 06:05

Never before the animal had been found in the Netherlands; Lariosaurus. Now a 4.5 centimeter skull of the flippered fish-eater has been found in a quarry in Winterswijk.

Amateur paleontologist Remco Bleeker was the lucky one who found the skull. Bleeker, in everyday life a concrete repairer, is pleased with the find. …

Bleeker brought the skull for examination to Germany, where it was found that it was a Lariosaurus.

Muschelkalk

In the quarry at Winterswijk Triassic limestone is extracted from rock layers from the Triassic geological period some 240 million years ago. In the quarry Bleeker also once found a peculiar fossil of a toothy marine animal. This fossil, which was seen by experts as a missing link was even named after him: the Palatodonta bleekeri.

The skull of the lariosaurus has been given the name of the hamlet where it was found. “The first is named after me. Now it was time to honor the quarry,” says Bleeker, who gave his find on loan to Museum TwentseWelle.

The name of the newly discovered species is Lariosaurus vosseveldensis; after Vosseveld hamlet.

See also here.

The scientific description of the new species is here.

Attenborough on Darwin and the Galapagos


This June 2016 video says about itself:

Charles Darwin‘s Galapagos Discovery – #Attenborough90BBC

Sir David retreads Charles Darwin’s footsteps to follow how he made the discovery of evolution on the Galapagos Islands.

Planet Neptune’s big dark vortex


This video says about itself:

Huge Dark Vortex in the Atmosphere of Neptune Confirmed by Hubble & Amateur Astronomers

24 June 2016

New images obtained on May 16, 2016, by Hubble Space Telescope and amateur astronomers confirm the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune.

By Ed Mazza in the USA:

Neptune’s Massive New ‘Dark Vortex’ Is As Big As The United States

The high-pressure system is accompanied by bright “companion clouds.”

06/24/2016 02:46 am ET

An unusual new feature has appeared on Neptune: a “dark vortex” so massive that it would swallow the United States if it was here on Earth.

Dark vortices coast through the atmosphere like huge, lens-shaped gaseous mountains,” Berkeley research astronomer Mike Wong, who led the team that analyzed the Hubble data, said in a news release. “And the companion clouds are similar to so-called orographic clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features lingering over mountains on Earth.”

A dark vortex on Neptune is a high-pressure system that usually is accompanied by bright “companion clouds,” NASA said.

We speculate that these dark spots on Neptune (which are most visible at blue wavelengths) are probably ‘clear’ areas, openings in the cloud decks that see to deeper layers,” Heidi Hammel, a researcher at the Space Science Institute, told Astronomy magazine. “The bright companions (which are most visible at redder wavelengths) are thought to be higher-altitude clouds.”

Those companion clouds form by air being diverted over the vortex, which then causes gases to freeze, probably into methane ice crystals, NASA said.

The bright companion clouds were first spotted last summer by several observers, including amateur astronomers, who suspected that they might be indications of a dark vortex. However, since the vortex was best viewed in blue wavelengths, more detailed observation required aiming the Hubble Space Telescope at the feature.

Hubble’s image taken last month confirmed the vortex. While a similar feature was spotted by Voyager 2 in 1989, this was the first one seen on the planet in the 21st century.

“Neptune’s dark vortices have exhibited surprising diversity over the years, in terms of size, shape and stability (they meander in latitude, and sometimes speed up or slow down),” the space agency said. “They also come and go on much shorter timescales compared to similar anticyclones seen on Jupiter; large storms on Jupiter evolve over decades.”

Also on Thursday, NASA announced that it had extended Hubble’s science operations for another five years — until 2021.

“After the final space shuttle servicing mission to the telescope in 2009, Hubble is better than ever,” NASA said. “Hubble is expected to continue to provide valuable data into the 2020’s, securing its place in history as an outstanding general purpose observatory in areas ranging from our solar system to the distant universe.”

Stone age ax discovered by five-year-old girl


Lisa Dennemann with her discovery, photo by Ecomare

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Antlers made into ax found – 22-06-16

A very special find on the Texel beach. The 5-year-old German girl Lisa Dennemann discovered at beach post 17 an old piece of a red deer antler. The special thing about the discovery is that the antlers have been worked on. Some 3,000 to 9,000 years ago someone made them into an ax head. It is a tool from prehistory. The ax is from the Mesolithic or Neolithic, the time of the hunter-gatherers. They hunted here, including red deer.

Made with flint

The antler ax is made of the lower piece of an antler of a deer, with a round hole between eye branch and another branch of the antlers. This hole was for the stem of the ax. This piercing was made with a flint tool. The bezel was made by scraping it against a flat stone. Experts call this type of ax a type A basic ax …

Rare

This type of ax has been found throughout northwestern Europe, including Denmark, Germany, Austria, Belgium, England and the Netherlands. From the provincial depot for archeology of North Holland two such axes are known. We are delighted that Lisa Dennemann wanted to give us her rare find, because it is important for research into the history of the inhabitants of that ancient time!

The antlers ax is exhibited now in Ecomare.

Rare pink grasshopper photographed


Pink grasshopper in Hoofddorp, photo by Suzanne Wieringh

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Rare pink grasshopper spotted in Hoofddorp

Today, 15:21

It’s unlikely that you will ever really see one, but it happened to Suzanne Wieringh in Hoofddorp: she spotted a pink grasshopper. The rare animal was in her garden.

Suzanne wanted to pick up her daughter’s shoe when she saw something that was pinkish. “At first I thought it was a rose petal, but then it started to jump,” she says to the regional broadcasting organisation of North Holland.

A professor of entomology at Wageningen University explains that the phenomenon is known among biologists as erythrism. This is a deviation which is similar to albinism, only erythrism causes a reddish color instead of white.

It is difficult to determine how many pink grasshoppers are born. These grasshoppers quickly fall prey to predators because of their poor camouflage.