Human-sized fossil penguin discovery

This video from the USA says about itself:

Ancient penguin was as big as a (human) Pittsburgh Penguin

12 December 2017

NEW YORK — Fossils from New Zealand have revealed a giant penguin that was as big as a grown man, roughly the size of the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The creature was slightly shorter in length and about 20 pounds heavier than the official stats for hockey star Sidney Crosby.

It measured nearly 5 feet, 10 inches long when swimming and weighed in at 223 pounds. If the penguin and the Penguin faced off on the ice, however, things would look different. When standing, the ancient bird was maybe only 5-foot-3.

The newly found bird is about 7 inches longer than any other ancient penguin that has left a substantial portion of a skeleton, said Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. A potentially bigger rival is known only from a fragment of leg bone, making a size estimate difficult.

The biggest penguin today, the emperor in Antarctica, stands less than 4 feet tall. Mayr and others describe the giant creature in a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature Communications.

They named it Kumimanu biceae, which refers to Maori words for a large mythological monster and a bird, and the mother of one of the study’s authors. The fossils are 56 million to 60 million years old. That’s nearly as old as the very earliest known penguin fossils, which were much smaller, said Daniel Ksepka, curator at the Bruce Museum of Greenwich, Connecticut.

He has studied New Zealand fossil penguins but didn’t participate in the new study. The new discovery shows penguins “got big very rapidly” after the mass extinction of 66 million years ago that’s best known for killing off the dinosaurs, he wrote in an email.

That event played a big role in penguin history. Beforehand, a non-flying seabird would be threatened by big marine reptile predators, which also would compete with the birds for food. But once the extinction wiped out those reptiles, the ability to fly was not so crucial, opening the door for penguins to appear.

Birds often evolve toward larger sizes after they lose the ability to fly, Mayr said. In fact, the new paper concludes that big size appeared more than once within the penguin family tree. What happened to the giants? Mayr said researchers believe they died out when large marine mammals like toothed whales and seals showed up and provided competition for safe breeding places and food. The newcomers may also have hunted the big penguins, he said.

From LiveScience:

Giant Penguin: This Ancient Bird Was As Tall As a Refrigerator

By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer

December 12, 2017 03:21pm ET

The fossils of a refrigerator-size penguin were so gargantuan that the scientists who discovered them initially thought they belonged to a giant turtle. The ancient behemoth is now considered the second-largest penguin on record.

The newfound penguin species would have stood nearly 6 feet tall (1.8 meters) and weighed about 220 lbs. (100 kilograms) during its heyday tens of millions of years ago.

The bird’s gigantism indicates that “a very large size seems to have developed early on in penguin evolution, soon after these birds lost their flight capabilities,” said study co-lead researcher Gerald Mayr, a curator of ornithology at the Senckenberg Research Institute, in Germany. [In Photos: The Amazing Penguins of Antarctica]

At first, the researchers thought the penguin fossils belonged to a turtle, said study co-lead researcher Alan Tennyson, a vertebrate curator at the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa), who discovered the fossil with paleontologist Paul Scofield on a beach in New Zealand’s Otago province in 2004.

But shortly after a fossil technician began preparing the specimen in 2015, he found a part of the shoulder blade, known as the coracoid, which revealed that the fossils came from a penguin, Tennyson told Live Science.

Further analysis dated the penguin to between 55 million and 59 million years ago, meaning that it lived a mere 7 million to 11 million years after an asteroid slammed into Earth and killed the nonavian dinosaurs, Mayr said.

The researchers named the late-Paleocene penguin Kumimanu biceae. Its genus name, Kumimanu, was inspired by the Maori indigenous culture of New Zealand. In the Maori culture, “kumi” is a mythological monster, and “manu” is the Maori word for “bird.” The species name, biceae, honors Tennyson’s mother, Beatrice “Bice” A. Tennyson, who encouraged him to pursue his interest in natural history.

K. biceae didn’t look much like modern penguins. Although researchers could not find its skull, they “know from similarly aged fossils that the earliest penguins had much longer beaks, which they probably used to spear fishes, than their modern relatives [do],” Mayr told Live Science. Like its modern cousins, however, K. biceae would have already developed typical penguin feathers, waddled with an upright stance and sported flipper-like wings that helped it swim, he added.

Researchers have discovered other ancient penguin fossils in New Zealand, including those of Waimanu manneringi, which lived about 61 million years ago. However, the largest penguin on record is Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, which lived about 37 million years ago in Antarctica. P. klekowskii stood about 6.5 feet (2 m) tall and weighed a whopping 250 lbs. (115 kg), according to a 2014 study in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol (Palevol Reports).

Given that the Antarctic penguin was larger than K. biceae, it’s likely that “giant size evolved more than once in penguin evolution”, Mayr said.

K. biceae is a “cool fossil,” said Daniel Ksepka, a curator at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, who was not involved in the research. “It’s very old; it’s almost as old as the oldest known penguins anywhere”, Ksepka told Live Science. “That shows that [penguins] got big really quickly. And it all seems to have happened in New Zealand.” [Photos of Flightless Birds: All 18 Penguin Species]

But why was New Zealand a penguin paradise? The archipelago was surrounded by fish for penguins to eat, and it originally had no native mammals (although today it’s home to many sheep, weasels and domestic pets), meaning that there were no predators to bother the penguins when they came ashore to molt their feathers and lay eggs, Ksepka said.

The study was published online today (Dec. 12) in the journal Nature Communications.


Ticks drank dinosaur blood

This 2017 video says about itself:

In this video we will explore 10 bugs, insects and invertebrates from the dinosaur times [and earlier].

By Laurel Hamers:

Ticks had a taste for dinosaur blood

But it’s not clear which species the bloodsuckers preferred

Ticks once tickled dinosaursfeathers.

The tiny arthropods have been surreptitiously sucking blood for more than 100 million years, but evidence of early ticks’ preferred hosts has been scant. Now, samples of amber from Myanmar have caught the critters with their spiny mouthparts inside the cookie jar. A hunk of 99-million-year-old amber holds a tick tangled in a dinosaur feather, researchers report December 12 in Nature Communications. Other pieces of amber suggest that a different tick species from the same period, dubbed Deinocroton draculi, hung out in feathered dinosaur nests (SN: 8/23/14, p. 15).

The tick enmeshed in the feather belongs to the same group of ticks as the deer ticks that bite humans and other animals today. But it’s hard to say what type of dinosaur the tick dined on.

While the researchers say the age of the feather places it on a dinosaur, they can’t tell how birdlike that creature may have been. The feather shares characteristics with the plumage that helps modern birds fly, such as longer barbs on one side of the feather’s shaft than the other. But that shape doesn’t necessarily mean that the feather’s former owner could fly, says study coauthor Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, a paleobiologist at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

“In the future, we may be able to further narrow down the range of potential hosts, but this is currently the best that can be done with an isolated feather,” adds Ryan McKellar, an invertebrate paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina who wasn’t part of the study.

Another chunk of amber contained two ticks preserved so close together that they were likely entrapped at the same time. Both had what looked like tiny barbed hairs stuck to their bodies — these hairlike structures are frequently found on beetle larvae that hung out in dinosaur nests. “So we think that those beetle hairs were acquired by the ticks in a feathered dinosaur nest”, says Pérez-de la Fuente. That’s further evidence that early ticks fed on dinos, he says.

There’s a “strong case” for that interpretation, McKellar says. “It is impressive to see small clues and associations build up to form a larger picture of ancient ecosystems.”

Madagascar Henst’s goshawks, new study

This is a Henst’s goshawk video from Madagascar.

From the University of Cincinnati in the USA:

How do you track a secretive hawk? Follow the isotopes

Isotope research could help steer the conservation of many threatened species

December 11, 2017

Summary: A study has found that the rare Henst’s goshawk of Madagascar hunts lemurs in low-lying areas that are most at risk to deforestation. Researchers could use this isotope analysis to study the habitat and prey needs of other threatened species that are difficult to track.

University of Cincinnati professor Brooke Crowley wanted to know the hunting range of the Henst’s goshawk, a large forest-dwelling bird of prey that ambushes small animals.

Henst’s goshawks are difficult to find because of the rugged, inaccessible forest where they live. Little is known about their population. But because of their limited distribution, they are listed as near-threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Locating even a single goshawk nest required weeks of exploration by Crowley’s research collaborators.

So Crowley decided to conduct an elemental analysis using strontium, naturally occurring isotopes found everywhere on Earth that travel the food chain from the soil to plants to herbivores and predators.

Specifically, Crowley compared the ratio of strontium 86 and strontium 87 isotopes in rainforest leaves collected across Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park to isotopes found in the remains of 19 partially consumed lemurs collected in or around goshawk nests to learn where the birds of prey were hunting.

Crowley, an associate professor of geology and anthropology at UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, found that goshawks appeared to hunt almost exclusively at lower elevations in forest that is most at risk to agriculture and other human impacts.

The findings could help steer conservation efforts for goshawks and other vulnerable species.

“It’s hard to observe goshawk behavior in the wild. This is a good, indirect way of tracking habitat use,” Crowley said.

Her findings were published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Crowley has been to Madagascar four times for various research projects. For this study, she partnered with an eclectic team of experts, including wildlife biologist Sarah Karpanty, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, who conducted fieldwork on goshawks for her dissertation. (Her brother, Jeff Karpanty, is a UC graduate).

Karpanty scoured Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park, which protects 160 square miles of mountainous rainforest. The park is rich in biodiversity with more than a dozen kinds of lemur, primates found only in Madagascar. The park varies in elevation from 1,500 to 5,000 feet above sea level, which provides a variety of habitats for its many plants and animals.

But between the mountainous terrain and frequent drenching rains, finding even a single goshawk was a challenge.

“It’s not easy. You have to cover a lot of ground on foot. You’re in remote sections of Madagascar. So you try to get to high points where you can watch where birds are flying,” Karpanty said.

Used in falconry since the Middle Ages, goshawks have a telltale white stripe over their eyes that gives them an especially fierce countenance. Goshawks inhabit dense forests on six continents, taking advantage of cover to ambush prey from small animals to other birds. Their short wings and long, rudder-like tails make them supremely adapted to maneuvering through the tree canopy.

“They rely on surprise,” Karpanty said. “They live in dense, older forest. They sit and wait and then go into a quick dive after prey. They can tuck their wings to get through narrow gaps in the forest.”

Goshawks are at the top of the food chain wherever they are found. Having good numbers of apex predators is a sign of a healthy or intact ecosystem.

Karpanty donned rappelling gear to climb 40 feet into abandoned nests after nesting season to see what Henst’s goshawks were eating. They used a slingshot to fire a fishing line over a sturdy branch to rig the climbing ropes.

“I practiced climbing a lot at gyms. I was young, childless at the time and fearless!” Karpanty said. “My guides were really good with the slingshot.”

Not surprisingly, she found the skeletal remains of several kinds of small lemur.

Conventional tracking methods of tracking wildlife such as using radio-telemetry were impractical in the park’s rugged terrain, she said.

“We radio-tagged some birds but were unsuccessful in tracking them,” Karpanty said. “You have to do everything by foot so we’d lose the birds all the time. From our radio-transmitter data alone, we couldn’t know the extent of their range.”

Karpanty sent Crowley bones from 19 lemurs she found at four goshawk nests.

Crowley also enlisted the help of lemur expert Andrea Baden, an assistant professor at Hunter College. Baden studies anthropological biology and has spent years following endangered lemurs in Ranomafana and other parts of Madagascar.

“It’s tough. We’re working in montane rainforest. A lot of people have a misconception that all tropical rainforests are hot. But this is cold and rainy. You’ll have months of nonstop rain. Everything is damp constantly,” Baden said.

Crowley has also explored this park on Madagascar’s verdant eastern coast.

“The cold and wet got to me quickly,” Crowley added. “I deeply respect the people who go into the forest and live there among the lemurs. I couldn’t do it.”

Baden studied a variety of lemurs, in particular the critically endangered black-and-white ruffed lemur.

“It’s cat-sized. They’re comical to watch. They’ll come down to check you out and cock their heads to one side like a dog,” Baden said.

Lemurs navigate the forest from the treetops. But the terrain is harder for their two-legged relatives on the ground.

“You’ll be following animals and they can keep going in the trees, but you run into a cliff edge and you’re stuck,” she said.

“Lemurs are the most endangered mammals in the world,” Baden said. “Unfortunately, what’s left of the forest in Madagascar are these higher-elevation places because nobody can use them for agriculture.”

Philip Slater of the University of Illinois and primatologist Summer Arrigo-Nelson with the California Institute of Pennsylvania also contributed to the study.

Baden and Arrigo-Nelson collected leaf and fruit samples of plants the lemurs were observed eating in different habitats and elevations in Ranomafana, recorded their location and shipped the dried specimens to Crowley for strontium analysis.

Researchers measured the ratio of strontium 86 and strontium 87 isotopes in lemur bones and the leaves collected from different forest habitats. These isotopes are released to varying degrees into streams and soil from the weathering of rocks. Plants absorb the strontium with other nutrients in the soil. Strontium then gets absorbed by animals when they eat the plants. In this way, the widely varying ratios of strontium isotopes creates a unique geographic signature.

By measuring strontium in lemurs and the many diverse habitats of the park, Crowley could infer where goshawks caught their prey.

Crowley used a similar analysis to track the movement of extinct mammoths and mastodons that roamed what is now Ohio.

Crowley said her findings suggest that vulnerable species could be susceptible to development pressures even in large parks such as Ranomafana, which is nearly 40 percent bigger than Ohio’s biggest protected area, Shawnee State Forest.

“We make population estimates based on the area of protected land, assuming that animals are equally distributed over that space,” Crowley said. “We may be protecting land that animals may not be able to use.”

The study concluded that conserving and restoring lowland forest could be critical for the survival of goshawks on the island.

The research was funded in part by grants from the Fulbright Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Leakey Foundation, Primate Conservation, Inc., and the National Geographic Society.

Lemur expert Baden said the study’s findings support what she has observed firsthand about lemurs and their predators. Improving or restoring habitat for goshawks will help endangered lemurs, too, she said.

“Lemurs are in trouble. They’re in dire straits,” Baden said.

Habitat loss is the biggest cause of their decline. And now there is an emerging threat: the bushmeat trade.

“The Malagasy people have a taboo against hunting lemurs. It’s related to ancestor worship. They long believed that lemurs resembled their ancestors,” Baden said.

Still, a 2016 study published in the journal PLOS One found widespread consumption of bushmeat. And for at least some of the Madagascar families surveyed, lemur was on the household menu, the study found.

Worse, because of its rich deposits of precious metals such as gold and other natural resources, Madagascar has been called “the next El Dorado.” Foreign workers employed by mining companies have no cultural prohibitions against eating lemurs or other forest animals they poach, Baden said.

“Those taboos just fall apart. So now we’re seeing a bigger bushmeat trade that is completely unsustainable,” Baden said.

Karpanty said Madagascar can enlist the help of the goshawk for future conservation efforts. Predators such as bald eagles make good ambassadors for wildlife conservation, Karpanty said.

“It’s easier to motivate people to conservation action when you’re talking about interesting top predators,” Karpanty said. “In this case you have an endangered predator and endangered prey, the lemurs. It highlights the fragility of the ecosystem.”

What a Dutch wildcat ate

This video is about European wildcats in Bavaria in Germany.

Since a few years ago, wildcats are back in the Netherlands; where they had been extinct for a long time.

Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant, 10 December 2017:

A wildcat that was killed in February at the village of Nijswiller in the south of Limburg province had nine prey animals in his stomach: five wood mice, two yellow-necked wood mice, one harvest mouse and one common vole. He was not only well fed with a varied menu, but also very healthy and only had bad luck when crossing the N281 highway.

Crabs decorating themselves, new research

This video from the USA says about itself:

Decorator Crabs Make High Fashion at Low Tide | Deep Look

9 May 2017

When you live by the seashore, one day you’re in, the next day you’re lunch. So these crabs don the latest in seaweed outerwear and anemone accessories to blend in.

From the University of Delaware in the USA:

Sandy claws: Like holiday enthusiasts, majoid crabs decorate their shells

December 8, 2017

Summary: Majoid crabs — known as decorator crabs — adorn themselves with items secured from their surroundings such as sponges, algae and other marine debris. Scientists are exploring what factors drive this behavior.

‘Tis the holiday season and it seems homes are festively trimmed at every turn. Ornaments of all shapes and sizes embellish everything from trees to windows and yards.

While tinsel originated in 17th century German decorating and modern day Christmas lights can be traced to the Victorian era, the idea of decorating is not an exclusively human trait.

Majoid crabs — known as decorator crabs — are well-known among marine scientists for adorning their surface with items secured from their surroundings. About 75 percent of majoid crab species are notorious for decorating with sponges, algae and other marine debris.

Scientists are uncertain what physical and environmental factors drive this decorating behavior, though it appears to be used as a means to hide from, or deter, predators.

University of Delaware marine scientist Danielle Dixson and a team of researchers that included undergraduate students studied the majoid species Camposcia retusa to identify the factors that determine patterns of, and investment in, decorating.

“The decorator crab is a perfect study example because the IndoPacific species has velcro-like substances on its shell and hooks on its appendages that enable it to secure items on its exterior,” Dixson said.

The researchers ran a series of experiments with decorator crabs that were placed in individual containers and provided with craft pom-poms that had been soaked in water so they would sink to the bottom.

Half of the crabs were given a shelter for habitat to see whether having somewhere to hide affected how much or how fast the crab decorated.

Over a 24-hour period, the team photographed the crabs every hour for the first 12 hours, and at hour 24, and analyzed the images to determine where the crabs decorated, whether they rearranged things and what parts they decorated first.

Arms and legs first

In the study, all of the crabs were fully decorated within 24 hours. Most of the crabs were decorated within six hours of having access to the pom-poms. According to Dixson, this shows that decorating is an important predator adaptation because the crabs do it very quickly.

While other species of decorator crabs adorn their body first, the UD research team’s study showed that Camposcia retusa decorated their appendages (arms/legs) first when a habitat was present.

This was different than other crabs that typically protect their vital organs first, but according to Dixson, still made sense because when they hide, a little bit of Camposcia retusa’s arms remained outside their enclosure.

“This tells us they decorate the parts that stick out,” Dixson says.

A perfect project for undergraduates

According to Dixson, this is a perfect project for undergraduates because the approach is straightforward and the students can have results in just a couple days, making it easy to add layers to the project as they go along.

It’s also good way for undergrads to develop the skills to design an experiment and to refine their design based on the data collected.

For example, when no habitat was present the crabs decorated everywhere.

“The students were able to say, ‘now that we know habitat matters, let’s take the habitat away and see how quickly they decorate,’ ” Dixson said.

But just like in the holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, more decoration is not necessarily better. For the decorator crab, more decoration means the animal requires more energy to move around, and the slower they will be to escape predators.

Visual vs. chemical camouflage

Through ongoing research, Dixson and her students are investigating whether the crabs can actually see and choose items based on color — meaning they are visually hiding themselves — or whether their decorating habits are motivated by smell, known as chemical camouflage.

Sea sponges, for example, emit a scent that the crab may be using to chemically mask or camouflage itself from predators like eels, which have terrible eyesight but are known to hunt through smell.

They also plan to explore what could make the crabs decorate faster, such as if it could see an eel in the next tank or if the predator smell suddenly was introduced into their environment and the stakes were higher.

The report on this research is here.

Wandering albatross individuality, new study

This 2007 video from South Georgia is called Nature of wandering albatross birds – David Attenborough – BBC wildlife.

From the Ecological Society of America in the USA:

Life of an albatross: Tackling individuality in studies of populations

A study follows 9,685 wandering albatrosses throughout their long lives, seeking the intrinsic differences that make some individuals outstanding performers

December 7, 2017

When ecologists study populations of animals, they commonly round off the individuality of individuals, treating animals of the same species, sex, and age like identical units. This has practical utility for studies focused on how populations change in size and composition and how they respond to their environment.

Rémi Fay, a student at Université de La Rochelle, in Villiers-en-Bois, France, is interested in the peculiarities that make some animals more successful than others. Unrecognized differences in performance between individuals can sometimes have demographic effects that skew the interpretation of data at the scale of whole populations, if the differences are not due to chance but to an underlying variability in “individual quality”. If, for example, low-quality individuals die young, the population as a whole would appear to gain in performance with age.

In a study published in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Monographs, Fay and his colleagues pursued the elusive individual quality in a population of wandering albatross, a singular bird possessed of several helpful characteristics for distinguishing the influence of individual quality: they live a very long time, grow to adulthood slowly, and breed infrequently, investing all of their parental energy into a single egg every few years.

Fay and colleagues observed that some birds consistently performed better throughout their lives on distinct measures of survival and procreative success. Birds that began reproducing early also had more chicks, and were more likely to successfully rear their chicks to fledge and take flight. These high-performing birds were more likely to live a long time. Failed breeders were more likely to fail again.

The concordance in success in several life history traits, the authors say, is an indication that these individuals have an intrinsic quality that makes them successful, rather than occasional good luck. Quality varied strongly between birds born in different years. This observation suggests that the early-life environment has a powerful, lifelong influence, Fay says. Birds born in warm years, when there is less food, were smaller. Birds born in years of high population density also performed more poorly throughout their lives.

Although fundamental to natural selection, individual quality is notoriously difficult to pin down. Teasing out performance differences due to inherent individual quality from the luck of the environmental draw requires life-long monitoring of many individuals that are known to be the same age. Individuals must be marked at birth. High sample sizes are needed, because the juvenile years are a big hurdle; many young animals do not make it to adulthood.

Fay had at his disposal a remarkable dataset collected by researchers from his institution on Possession Island in the Crozet Archipelago (46°S; 52°E) in the southern Indian Ocean. From 1965 to 2013, researchers banded all newly hatched wanderings albatross chicks and followed the birds throughout their lives. Researchers returned every summer to record the important events of a bird’s life: hatching, fledging, juvenile years at sea, the first egg, successful rearing of chicks, death of chicks, missed breeding opportunities, and aging.

Wandering albatrosses are delightfully weird and charismatic birds. They spend most of their long lives in the air, coming to ground in the southern summer to breed on rocky islands near the A[nta]rctic Circle. They famously trail behind fishing vessels, waiting for cast-offs. Their distinctive wingspan, extending over 11 feet (up to 3.5 meters), is the largest of all living birds. On this great span, the birds can glide long distances with minimal effort, riding favorable winds for hundreds of miles per day with rarely a need to flap. Some circumnavigate Antarctica multiple times a year.

They mate for life and produce just one egg in a season, with the male and female taking turns to warm their solitary charge through an 11-week incubation. The parents feed their nest-bound chick for another 8-10 months, remaining through the ensuing winter snows. They forage over thousands of miles to feed their enormous chick until it reaches a weight heavier than their own. The juveniles will need their stored calories to survive long enough to learn the skills necessary to stay aloft, cruising the open waves of the southern hemisphere oceans, looking for fish and squid meals they can scoop from the surface.

After rearing their chick, the parents take a sabbatical year at sea before returning to the colony to breed again. Juveniles leave the nest and head out alone to the open sea. They don’t return for at least 3 years, perfecting their flying and foraging skills through an extended adolescence. Their age when they begin breeding varies greatly. Albatrosses may conceive their first egg as young as 6 and as old as 15, with most beginning parenthood at 9 to 10 years. Body weight and health factor strongly into the birds’ decision to breed.

A precocious advancement to parenthood, Fay and colleagues say, could indicate superior foraging ability. In individuals of the same age, that shared the same environment, such idiosyncrasies could depend on differences in an underlying quality intrinsic to the individual. A pattern of lifelong success in reproduction supports the conclusion that an underlying quality drives their performance, the authors say.

More females than males performed highly after two years of age. The authors do not know if male and female birds travel different paths during their youthful years at sea, and thus experience different challenges. Old males, but not old females, take long trips to sea and their blood contains corticosterone at levels that indicate stress. The team observed that male birds also face a trade-off in performance and longevity that does not affect females. After 30, albatrosses begin to age. High-performing males, the authors found, declined faster than other birds that survived into their golden years.

Plastic killed albatross chick on nest, bycatch a huge threat at sea: here.

Plesiosaurs’ ears, new research

This video says about itself:

29 September 2015

Sauropterygia” is an extinct, diverse taxon of aquatic reptiles that developed from terrestrial ancestors soon after the end-Permian extinction and flourished during the Mesozoic before they became extinct at the end of that era. Sauropterygians are united by a radical adaptation of their pectoral girdle, designed to support powerful flipper strokes. Some later sauropterygians, such as the pliosaurs, developed a similar mechanism in their pelvis.

From the University of Oxford in England:

It’s all in the ears: Inner ears of extinct sea monsters mirror those of today’s animals

Inner ears of fossil marine reptiles called sauropterygians are revealed for the first time

December 7, 2017

A new study led by Oxford University Museum of Natural History has revealed that an extinct group of marine reptiles called sauropterygians evolved similar inner ear proportions to those of some modern day aquatic reptiles and mammals. The research is published in Current Biology today.

Sauropterygians were swimming reptiles from the ‘Age of Dinosaurs‘ that included some semi-aquatic forms, nearshore swimmers and fully-aquatic ‘underwater-flyers’. Their most well-known members are the plesiosaurs, ferocious sea monsters with four flippers, which hunted anything from small fish and squid to large marine reptiles.

The inner ear is a structure shared by all vertebrates, containing an important sense organ that helps maintain balance and orientation. Aquatic animals move more naturally in a three-dimensional environment, so have different sensory inputs compared to animals which live on land. The inner ear is therefore very useful for detecting differences in locomotion in extinct animals, especially by comparing with living organisms.

Researchers were surprised when sauropterygians with very different lifestyles had evolved inner ears that were very similar to those of some modern animals.

“Sauropterygians are completely extinct and have no living descendants,” said Dr James Neenan, lead author of the study. “So I was amazed to see that nearshore species with limbs that resemble those of terrestrial animals had ears similar to crocodylians, and that the fully-aquatic, flippered plesiosaurs had ears similar to sea turtles.”

The similarities don’t end there. Some groups of plesiosaurs, the ‘pliosauromorphs‘, evolved enormous heads and very short necks, a body shape that is shared by modern whales. Whales have the unusual feature of highly miniaturized inner ears (blue whales have a similar-sized inner ear to humans), possibly the result of having such a short neck. Neenan and colleagues have now shown that ‘pliosauromorph‘ plesiosaurs also have a reduced inner ear size, supporting this idea.

These interesting results are the product of convergent evolution, the process in which completely unrelated organisms evolve similar solutions to the same evolutionary hurdles.

“Nearshore sauropterygians swam in a similar way and had comparable lifestyles to modern-day crocodiles, so had similar inputs on the inner ear organ,” said Dr Neenan. “Plesiosaurs also ‘flew’ under water with similar flippers to those of sea turtles. So it’s not surprising that the organ of balance and orientation evolved to be a similar shape between these unrelated groups.”