507-million-year-old fossil arthropod discovery


This video from the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada says about itself:

4 July 2012

Associate Curator, Jean-Bernard Caron presents an overview of the fossil collection from the Burgess Shale, B.C., highlighting a number of specimens.

From the University of Toronto in Canada:

Paleontologists identify new 507-million-year-old sea creature with can opener-like pincers

Discovery points to origin of millipedes, crabs and insects among other species

April 26, 2017

Summary: Paleontologists have uncovered a new fossil species that sheds light on the origin of mandibulates, the most abundant and diverse group of organisms on Earth, to which belong familiar animals such as flies, ants, crayfish and centipedes. Named Tokummia katalepsis by the researchers, the creature documents for the first time the anatomy of early mandibulates, a sub-group of arthropods with specialized appendages known as mandibles, used to grasp, crush and cut their food.

Paleontologists at the University of Toronto (U of T) and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) have uncovered a new fossil species that sheds light on the origin of mandibulates, the most abundant and diverse group of organisms on Earth, to which belong familiar animals such as flies, ants, crayfish and centipedes. The finding was announced in a study published today in Nature.

The creature, named Tokummia katalepsis by the researchers, is a new and exceptionally well-preserved fossilized arthropod — a ubiquitous group of invertebrate animals with segmented limbs and hardened exoskeletons. Tokummia documents for the first time in detail the anatomy of early “mandibulates,” a hyperdiverse sub-group of arthropods which possess a pair of specialized appendages known as mandibles, used to grasp, crush and cut their food. Mandibulates include millions of species and represent one of the greatest evolutionary and ecological success stories of life on Earth.

“In spite of their colossal diversity today, the origin of mandibulates had largely remained a mystery,” said Cédric Aria, lead author of the study and recent graduate of the PhD program in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at U of T, now working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Nanjing Institute for Geology and Palaeontology, in China. “Before now we’ve had only sparse hints at what the first arthropods with mandibles could have looked like, and no idea of what could have been the other key characteristics that triggered the unrivaled diversification of that group.”

Tokummia lived in a tropical sea teeming with life and was among the largest Cambrian predators, exceeding 10 cm in length fully extended. An occasional swimmer, the researchers conclude its robust anterior legs made it a preferred bottom-dweller, as lobsters or mantis shrimps today. Specimens come from 507 million-year-old sedimentary rocks near Marble Canyon in Kootenay national park, British Columbia. Most specimens at the basis of this study were collected during extensive ROM-led fieldwork activities in 2014.

“This spectacular new predator, one of the largest and best preserved soft-bodied arthropods from Marble Canyon, joins the ranks of many unusual marine creatures that lived during the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid evolutionary change starting about half a billion years ago when most major animal groups first emerged in the fossil record,” said co-author Jean-Bernard Caron, senior curator of invertebrate paleontology at the ROM and an associate professor in the Departments of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Earth Sciences at U of T.

Analysis of several fossil specimens, following careful mechanical preparation and photographic work at the ROM, showed that Tokummia sported broad serrated mandibles as well as large but specialized anterior claws, called maxillipeds, which are typical features of modern mandibulates.

“The pincers of Tokummia are large, yet also delicate and complex, reminding us of the shape of a can opener, with their couple of terminal teeth on one claw, and the other claw being curved towards them,” said Aria. “But we think they might have been too fragile to be handling shelly animals, and might have been better adapted to the capture of sizable soft prey items, perhaps hiding away in mud. Once torn apart by the spiny limb bases under the trunk, the mandibles would have served as a revolutionary tool to cut the flesh into small, easily digestible pieces.”

The body of Tokummia is made of more than 50 small segments covered by a broad two-piece shell-like structure called a bivalved carapace. Importantly, the animal bears subdivided limb bases with tiny projections called endites, which can be found in the larvae of certain crustaceans and are now thought to have been critical innovations for the evolution of the various legs of mandibulates, and even for the mandibles themselves.

The many-segmented body is otherwise reminiscent of myriapods, a group that includes centipedes, millipedes, and their relatives. “Tokummia also lacks the typical second antenna found in crustaceans, which illustrates a very surprising convergence with such terrestrial mandibulates,” said Aria.

The study also resolves the affinities of other emblematic fossils from Canada’s Burgess Shale more than a hundred years after their discovery. “Our study suggests that a number of other Burgess Shale fossils such as Branchiocaris, Canadaspis and Odaraia form with Tokummia a group of crustacean-like arthropods that we can now place at the base of all mandibulates,” said Aria.

The animal was named after Tokumm Creek, which flows through Marble Canyon in northern Kootenay National Park, and the Greek for “seizing.” The Marble Canyon fossil deposit was first discovered in 2012 during prospection work led by the Royal Ontario Museum and is part of the Burgess Shale fossil deposit, which extends to the north into Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies. All specimens are held in the collections of the Royal Ontario Museum on behalf of Parks Canada.

The Burgess Shale fossil sites are located within Yoho and Kootenay national parks in British Columbia. The Burgess Shale was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Parks Canada is proud to protect these globally significant paleontological sites, and to work with leading scientific researchers to expand knowledge and understanding of this key period of earth history. New information from ongoing scientific research is continually incorporated into Parks Canada’s Burgess Shale education and interpretation programs, which include guided hikes to these outstanding fossil sites.

Dinosaur age beetles, parasites of ants


This video says about itself:

3 October 2014

Beetles have been known to invade ant colonies.

Now, scientists have discovered a 52-million-year old fossil of a beetle preserved in amber, which is the oldest example of that species ever found.

The beetle is part of a group that preys on ants by living along side them in the nest and then eating their eggs, or taking over their supplies.

There are around 370 species of beetles that participate in this kind of behavior, and experts say there could be several hundred more that haven’t yet been discovered.

Other predators give off pheromones that trigger the ants defense system to take down any threats.

These certain kinds of beetles are somehow able to avoid that, and live a comfortable life in the nest with the ants.

Lead researcher Joseph Parker, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University is quoted as saying: “These beetles live in a climate-controlled nest that is well protected against predators, and they have access to a great deal of food, including the ants’ eggs and brood, and most remarkably, liquid food regurgitated directly to their mouths by the worker ants themselves.”

The fossil is believed to be the first of its kind, with marked differences between the beetle’s body and those of modern species.

And now, an even older beetle with a similar lifestyle has been found.

From Science News:

Beetles have been mooching off insect colonies for millions of years

99-million-year-old amber shows two species that pilfered from ancient ants and termites

By Laurel Hamers

4:00pm, April 24, 2017

Mooching roommates are an ancient problem. Certain species of beetles evolved to live with and leech off social insects such as ants and termites as long ago as the mid-Cretaceous, two new beetle fossils suggest. The finds date the behavior, called social parasitism, to almost 50 million years earlier than previously thought.

Ants and termites are eusocial — they live in communal groups, sharing labor and collectively raising their young. The freeloading beetles turn that social nature to their advantage. They snack on their hosts’ larvae and use their tunnels for protection, while giving nothing in return.

Previous fossils have suggested that this social parasitism has been going on for about 52 million years. But the new finds push that date way back. The specimens, preserved in 99-million-year-old Burmese amber, would have evolved relatively shortly after eusociality is thought to have popped up.

One beetle, Mesosymbion compactus, was reported in Nature Communications in December 2016. A different group of researchers described the other, Cretotrichopsenius burmiticus, in Current Biology on April 13. Both species have shielded heads and teardrop-shaped bodies, similar to modern termite-mound trespassers. Those adaptations aren’t just for looks. Like a roommate who’s found his leftovers filched one too many times, termites frequently turn against their pilfering housemates.

Ocellated lizards, new research


This 24 April 2017 video is called Watch how scales change color on real vs. simulated [ocellated] lizard skin.

It says about itself:

The scales on an ocellated lizard change color as the animal ages (more than three years of growth shown in first clip). Circles highlight four instances of color-flipping scales. Blue circles indicate a scale that switches from green to black, the green circle indicates a black to green transformation, and the light blue circle marks a scale that flip-flops from green to black to green. Researchers used a cellular automaton to simulate the adult lizard’s color-swapping scales (second clip), and re-create the labyrinthine patterns that develop on its skin.

From Science News:

The scales of the ocellated lizard are surprisingly coordinated

Lizard grows into its flashy skin using a computer-like process

By Emily Conover

6:00am, April 27, 2017

A lizard’s intricately patterned skin follows rules like those used by a simple type of computer program.

As the ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) grows, it transforms from a drab, polka-dotted youngster to an emerald-flecked adult. Its scales first morph from white and brown to green and black. Then, as the animal ages, individual scales flip from black to green, or vice versa.

Biophysicist Michel Milinkovitch of the University of Geneva realized that the scales weren’t changing their colors by chance. “You have chains of green and chains of black, and they form this labyrinthine pattern that very clearly is not random,” he says. That intricate ornamentation, he and colleagues report April 13 in Nature, can be explained by a cellular automaton, a concept developed by mathematicians in the 1940s and ’50s to simulate diverse complex systems.

A cellular automaton is composed of a grid of colored pixels. Using a set of rules, each pixel has a chance of switching its shade, based on the colors of surrounding pixels. By comparing photos of T. lepidus at different ages, the scientists showed that its scales obey such rules.

In the adult lizard, if a black scale is surrounded by other black scales, it is more likely to switch than a black one bounded by green, the researchers found. Eventually, the lizards’ scales settle down into a mostly stable state. Black scales wind up with around three green neighbors, and green scales have around four black ones. The researchers propose that interacting pigment cells could explain the color flips.

Computer scientists use cellular automata to simulate the real world, re-creating the turbulent motions of fluids or nerve cell activity in the brain, for example. But the new study is the first time the process has been seen with the naked eye in a real-life animal.

Humpback whale mothers whisper to calves to avoid predators


This video says about itself:

Baby Humpbacks Need 150 Gallons of Whale Milk a Day

4 February 2016

Whale milk is some of the richest milk available to any mammal. A baby whale will drink 150 gallons of it a day to sustain its dramatic growth.

From Functional Ecology:

High suckling rates and acoustic crypsis of humpback whale neonates maximise potential for mother–calf energy transfer

Summary

1. The migration of humpback whales to and from their breeding grounds results in a short, critical time period during which neonatal calves must acquire sufficient energy via suckling from their fasting mothers to survive the long return journey.
2. Understanding neonate suckling behaviour is critical for understanding the energetics and evolution of humpback whale migratory behaviour and for informing conservation efforts, but despite its importance, very little is known about the details, rate and behavioural context of this critical energy transfer.
3. To address this pertinent data gap on calf suckling behaviour, we deployed multi-sensor Dtags on eight humpback whale calves and two mothers allowing us to analyse detailed suckling and acoustic behaviour for a total of 68-8h.
4. Suckling dives were performed 20-7 7% of the total tagging time with the mothers either resting at the surface or at depth with the calves hanging motionless with roll and pitch angles close to zero.
5. Vocalisations between mother and calf, which included very weak tonal and grunting sounds, were produced more frequently during active dives than suckling dives, suggesting that mechanical stimuli rather than acoustic cues are used to initiate nursing.
6. Use of mechanical cues for initiating suckling and low level vocalisations with an active space of <100 m indicate a strong selection pressure for acoustic crypsis.
7. Such inconspicuous behaviour likely reduces the risk of exposure to eavesdropping predators and male humpback whale escorts that may disrupt the high proportion of time spent nursing and resting, and hence ultimately compromise calf fitness.
8. The small active space of the weak calls between mother and calf is very sensitive to increases in ambient noise from human encroachment thereby increasing the risk of mother–calf separation.

Triassic beetle discovery in Dutch Winterswijk


This video from the USA says about itself:

New Evidence Connects Dung Beetle Evolution to Dinosaurs

4 May 2016

Dr. Nicole Gunter, invertebrate zoology collections manager at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, discusses research that uncovered an evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and dung beetles. The findings place the origin of dung beetles in the Lower Cretaceous period, with the first major diversification occurring in the middle of the Cretaceous.

By Janene Pieters on April 25, 2017 – 12:25:

A very rare fossil of a beetle that lived in the Netherlands 200 million years ago was found in a quarry in Winterswijk, according to a scientific publication in Paläontologische Zeitschrift written by paleontologists from Utrecht University,

From Paläontologische Zeitschrift:

New fossil insects from the Anisian (Lower to Middle Muschelkalk) from the Central European Basin (Germany and The Netherlands)

22 April 2017

Abstract

The Palaeozoic–Mesozoic transition is characterized not only by the most massive Phanerozoic mass extinction at the end of the Permian period, but also its extensive aftermath and a prolonged period of major biotal recovery during the succeeding Middle to Late Triassic.

Particularly, Anisian insect species from units of the Lower to Middle Muschelkalk from the Central European Basin are rare.

The Anisian is from 247.2 million years ago until 242 million years ago. So, older than the ‘200 million years ago’ of the Janene Pieters article.

The specimens described here originated from the Anisian Wellenkalk facies (Lower Muschelkalk), Vossenveld Formation of the Winterswijk quarry, The Netherlands, and from the orbicularis Member (lowermost Middle Muschelkalk, Anisian) of Esperstedt near Querfurt (Saxony-Anhalt).

Thus, the described insect remains from Winterwijk and Esperstedt expand our knowledge about Middle Triassic terrestrial arthropod communities and their palaeodiversity. A new species of Chauliodites (C. esperstedti sp. nov) is introduced.

Slender-billed curlew, extinct or alive? New research


This video says about itself:

Slender-billed curlew compared to whimbrel and curlew

25 June 2009

The only known video footage and sound-recording of Slender-billed Curlew! The recordings were made at Merja Zerga, Morocco. The video is by Andy Butler, January 1994. The call was recorded by Adam Gretton, January 1999 with subsequent edits, to remove background noise, by J P Gautier and J P Richard at the laboratoire d’Ethologie de Rennes, as publis[h]ed in Oiseax d’Afrique 1 by Claude Chappuis, and by Magnus Robb.

For comparison, footage and calls of Whimbrel and Eurasian Curlew follow. Does anyone have any footage of the orientalis or sushkini subspecies of Eurasian Curlew or the alboaxillaris subspecies of Whimbrel?

For more information about the race to find the Slender-billed Curlew visit www.slenderbilledcurlew.net.

The Slender-billed Curlew call can also be downloaded from this website and makes the ultimate mobile phone ringtone! The more people who become familiar with this call, the higher the likelihood that they will be alert to hearing such a call in the field. It is the distinctive Slender-billed Curlew call described as Eurasian curlew-like immediately followed by 6-7 very short notes “ti-ti-ti…” becoming progressively higher in pitch and reminiscent of certain larger raptors.

The Eurasian curlew-like part of the call is softer, sweeter, faster and higher in pitch, consisting of four identical cour-lee calls with 0.25 seconds pause in between, second syallable distinctly higher in pitch than first. The tittering part of the call is higher pitched than the distinctive ‘bi, bi, bi, bi, bi, bi, bi’ of the Whimbrel. It was given by a single Slender-billed Curlew flying into a feeding area with a small group of Eurasian Curlews (Gretton 1991). This call was not heard during the previous year and as this individual had been shot and wounded in early December 1989 it is possible that the call is atypical.’

With thanks to Paul Doherty of Bird Images DVD Guides www.birdvideodvd.com for making this possible.

From BirdLife:

18 Apr 2017

Chasing ghosts: how technology is helping track the bird that mysteriously disappeared

The Slender-billed Curlew hasn’t been seen since 1995, and could very well be extinct. But before we write it off for sure, we need to scour its vast, inhospitable breeding range for straggling populations. A groundbreaking new technique, which studies tiny atoms left in the feathers of long-dead specimens, is telling us where we should look first.

How do you look for a Critically Endangered species’ final few nesting sites, when you were never really sure where they bred in the first place?

That’s the magnitude of the task facing conservationists who are attempting to chase the tail feathers of the world’s final remaining Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris population. That is of course, if any such population even still exists at all.

In an attempt to narrow the search for this lost species, a new paper published by BirdLife’s journal, Bird Conservation International, involving staff from, or linked to, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), has used data gleaned from tiny atoms, harvested from the feathers of deceased specimens, to pinpoint where in the vast Siberian wilderness we should begin our search.

How do you look for a possibly extinct species, when you didn’t even know where it bred when it was plentiful?

We didn’t always need to resort to such elaborate measures to catch a glimpse of this medium-sized wader. At the beginning of the 19th century, it was a somewhat common bird that wintered all across the Middle East, North Africa and central and eastern Europe.

But even in these bountiful times, the species’ breeding habits were poorly understood. We knew they retreated to remote Central Asia in spring, but not much more beyond that. To date, the only fully-documented Slender-billed Curlew nests are a handful that were discovered in the 1910s and 1920s, near the town of Tara in Omsk, Siberia.

Also poorly understood are the exact reasons for its rapid decline, although we can make a few educated guesses. Widespread hunting across its wintering grounds in the late 19th and early 20th Century had a noticable impact, and the extensive drainage of wetlands across the Mediterranean and North Africa only served to put further pressure on this migratory species. However, the threats the species faces across its breeding grounds, wherever they may be, are largely unknown.

Either way, eventually things got so dire that the Slender-billed Curlew stopped appearing at its wintering grounds altogether. The last fully-verified sighting was in Morocco in February 1995, and although there have since been claimed sightings in places as far apart as France and Ukraine, the species’ visual similarity to more common birds such as Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata and Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus means they are difficult to verify.

Gentoo penguins in Antarctic winter, new study


This video says about itself:

Walk with Penguins in immersive 3D experience

19 April 2017

For the first time, you can instantly transport yourself to a sub-Antarctic penguin colony and immerse in the lives of Southern Rockhopper, King, Magellanic, and Gentoo Penguins. Watch in full HD as the penguins return from challenging journeys back to their colonies of fuzzy chicks.

Beautiful. Inspiring. Under threat.

Despite being loved the world over, penguins are the world’s second most threatened group of marine birds, with 10 of the 18 species threatened with extinction due to competition with fisheries, bycatch, marine pollution, disease, habitat disturbance and climate change.

The world’s largest nature conservation partnership, BirdLife International, has worked with London-based virtual reality and post-production specialist, Visualise, to create Walk with Penguins, an engaging 3D 360 short nature film used to connect audiences with penguin protection.

Urgent action is needed to better protect penguins, please visit here to show your support.

See also here.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office:

Time-lapse cameras provide a unique peek at penguins’ winter behavior

April 19, 2017

Not even the most intrepid researcher wants to spend winter in Antarctica, so how can you learn what penguins are doing during those cold, dark months? Simple: Leave behind some cameras.

Not even the most intrepid researcher wants to spend winter in Antarctica, so how can you learn what penguins are doing during those cold, dark months? Simple: Leave behind some cameras. Year-round studies across the full extent of a species’ range are especially important in polar areas, where individuals within a single species may adopt a variety of different migration strategies to get by, and a new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances uses this unique approach to get new insights into Gentoo Penguin behavior.

Gentoo Penguins are of interest to scientists because they’re increasing at the southern end of their range in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, a region where other penguin species are declining. Little is known about their behavior during the nonbreeding season, so Caitlin Black and Tom Hart of the University of Oxford and Andrea Raya Rey of Argentina’s Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Técnicas used time-lapse cameras to examine patterns in Gentoo Penguins’ presence at breeding sites across their range during the off season. They found both temporal and spatial factors driving winter attendance — for example, more Gentoo Penguins were present at breeding sites when there was open water or free-floating pack ice than when the shoreline was iced in, and more Gentoo Penguins were at breeding sites earlier in nonbreeding season than later.

The researchers deployed the cameras at seven sites including Argentina, Antarctica, and several islands. Each camera took eight to fourteen photos per day, and volunteer “citizen scientists” were recruited to count the penguins in each image via a website. Overall, the seven sites fell into three distinct groups in terms of winter attendance, each with its own patterns of site occupation. These findings could have important implications for understanding how localized disturbances due to climate change and fisheries activity affect penguin populations during the nonbreeding season.

“Working with cameras allows us to understand half of this species’ life without having to spend the harsh winter in Antarctica. It has been exciting to discover more about why Gentoos are present year-round at breeding sites without having to handle a single bird,” says Black. “I believe the applications for this technology are far-reaching for colonial seabirds and mammals, and we are only just beginning to discover the uses of time-lapse cameras as deployed virtual ecologists in field studies.”

“What most seabirds do away from their nest is often anybody’s guess. For Antarctic birds, this is compounded by the long periods of darkness that penguins and others must face in the winter,” adds Mark Hauber, Editor-in-Chief of The Auk: Ornithological Advances and Professor of Animal Behavior at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “This new research in The Auk: Ornithological Advances on Gentoo Penguins colonies reveals critical year-to-year differences in where the birds are when they are not nesting: In some years, only the most temperate sites are visited, and in other years both southerly and northerly locations are busy with penguins.”

Fossils may reveal 20-million-year history of penguins in Australia. Penguin history includes the ‘giant penguin,’ arrivals via multiple dispersals, extinctions: here.

Finding elusive emperor penguins: Both surveyors and satellites needed to study remote penguin populations: here.

Every penguin, ranked: which species are we most at risk of losing? Here.