Missing link dinosaur nests-bird nests discovery

This video from Canada says about itself:

First feathered dinosaur from North America introduced by Darla Zelenitsky

26 October 2012

Canadian researchers discover fossils of first feathered dinosaurs from North America.

From Science magazine:

Missing link between dinosaur nests and bird nests

By Sid Perkins

25 November 2015 2:00 pm

The links between dinosaurs and birds keep getting stronger: skeletal structures, feathers—and now nests. Whereas some dinosaurs buried their eggs crocodile-style, a new analysis suggests that other dinosaurs built open nests on the ground, foreshadowing the nests of birds.

Interpreting the fossil record is always tough, but analyzing trace fossils such as nests is especially daunting. Those structures, and the materials used to make them, usually aren’t preserved, says Darla Zelenitsky, a paleobiologist at the University of Calgary in Canada. When paleontologists do find a nestlike structure that includes material such as sticks or other vegetation, the question arises: Was this stuff part of the original nest, or just carried there with the sediment that buried the nest and helped preserve it?

To gain insight into dinosaur nesting habits, Zelenitsky and her colleagues studied the most durable parts of nests—the eggs themselves. (Being largely made of the mineral calcium carbonate, they’ve got a head start on fossilization and are sometimes incredibly well preserved.) In particular, the team looked at the size and arrangement of small pores in the ancient shells, because those details are telling in modern creatures.

In crocodiles’ buried nests, the heat needed to incubate the eggs comes from decomposition of overlying organic matter or the sunlight absorbed by the soil. Plus, in buried nests airflow is somewhat limited, thus requiring eggs to be relatively porous to help increase the flow of oxygen into and carbon dioxide out of the eggs. But birds that brood in open nests can get by laying eggs with fewer or smaller pores.

So the team compared the porosity of eggshells from 29 species of dinosaurs (including large, long-necked herbivores called sauropods; bipedal meat-eaters called theropods; and duck-billed dinosaurs) with that of shells from 127 living species of birds and crocodiles.

Most of the dinosaur eggs were highly porous, suggesting that they buried their eggs to incubate them, the researchers report online today in PLOS ONE. But some of the dinosaur species in one group—a subset of well-evolved theropods considered to be the closest relatives of modern-day birds—laid low-porosity eggs, which suggests they incubated their eggs in open nests.

“This is a well done paper; the results make a lot of sense,” says Luis Chiappe, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California. The findings, he says, line up other studies suggesting that some birdlike dinosaurs were warm-blooded, which would have enabled them to incubate eggs in an open nest rather than depend on rotting vegetation or sunlight. Chiappe adds that the trend toward open nests could have allowed some dinosaurs to take another step toward birdlike nesting by moving their nests into the trees.

But considering only two types of nests—open versus buried—may be too simplistic, suggests Anthony Martin, a paleontologist at Emory University in Atlanta. Some dinosaurs—like a few of today’s birds—may have nested in burrows, which could have offered the stable temperature and protection from predators of a buried nest but resulted in low-porosity shells. Also, covered nests come in different types: Loose vegetation piled atop a buried nest can have a lot of airflow through it, allowing eggs to have relatively small pores, whereas eggs buried in soil or similar materials might not breathe as well and thus require larger pores, he notes. Nevertheless, Martin adds, the team’s study “is a good first start toward answering the question about what early dinosaur nests looked like.”

See also here.

The findings were published online on Nov. 25 2015 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Saving Cuban crocodiles

This video says about itself:

Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer)

17 October 2011

Watch the Cuban Crocodile and learn how to recognize its unique characteristics. This video captures behaviors and identifies the size, shape and distinctive markings of the Cuban Crocodile. The Cuban Crocodile can be found in the wild and at a number of zoos around the world. Our Cuban Crocodile video is an ideal study guide for students, kids and children who want to learn more about wild animals.

From Phys.org:

April 19, 2015

Kids of Cold War crocs going to Cuba on conservation mission

Cuba’s efforts to sustain the critically endangered Cuban crocodile are getting a boost from Sweden, home to a pair of reptiles that Fidel Castro gave to a Soviet cosmonaut four decades ago.

A Stockholm zoo on Sunday is sending 10 of the couple’s children to Cuba, where they will be placed in quarantine and eventually released into the Zapata Swamp, said Jonas Wahlstrom, the zookeeper who raised them.

“It’s the dream of any zoo director to be part of releasing animals into the wild,” said Wahlstrom, 62, clutching one of the stout-legged youngsters outside its enclosure at the Skansen aquarium and zoo in Stockholm. The 10 crocodiles each are about 1 ½ years old and a meter (yard) long.

The Cuban crocodile, once found across the Caribbean, is restricted today to two swamps in Cuba, where it is threatened by interbreeding with American crocodiles, habitat loss and illegal hunting.

Wahlstrom said he received his original couple during a 1981 trip to Moscow. They had ended up in the Soviet capital after Castro gave them to cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov in the 1970s as a token of friendship between the communist nations.

“He (Shatalov) brought them back to Moscow and he had them in his flat until his wife said: ‘No more!’ And then he had to give them to the zoo in Moscow,” Wahlstrom told The Associated Press.

But the zoo officials didn’t have a good space for the aquatic reptiles so they asked Wahlstrom if he could take them to Sweden.

“I had them as my hand luggage back from Moscow,” Wahlstrom said.

Zoo officials in Moscow confirmed the background of the crocodiles and their handover to Wahlstrom.

Later named Hillary and Castro—in a nod to international politics—the two crocodiles have become a star attraction at Wahlstrom’s zoo, where they have been breeding since 1984.

Wahlstrom said he’s sent hatchlings to zoos worldwide, but this is the first time he’s given any to Cuba for introduction into the wild.

Cuba’s representative to Sweden welcomed the move.

“We need this type of crocodiles,” Cuban Ambassador Francisco Florentino said as he inspected the animals before their departure Sunday.

With only about 4,000 animals remaining in the wild, the Cuban crocodile, or Crocodylus rhombifer, is red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The population is restricted to Cuba’s Zapata Swamp and the Isle of Youth.

This would be the first time that Cuban crocodiles raised abroad are introduced into the wild in Cuba, according to Natalia Rossi of the Wildlife Conservation Society. She’s been involved in other efforts to protect crocodiles in the Caribbean island nation but not the Swedish project.

However, the crocodiles first would be genetically screened to ensure that they come from a pure breed, Rossi said.

The Cuban crocodile can be distinguished from its American cousin by the way it walks and its characteristic bony ridge behind the eyes. But you cannot distinguish hybrid crocodiles from pure-bred Cuban crocodiles by their appearance, Rossi said.

Wahlstrom said he was sure his crocodiles were pure Cubans and expected them to adapt quickly to the real world.

“A crocodile is always ready for the wild,” Wahlstrom said. “They are always aggressive.”

As if to emphasize his point, the baby croc he was holding briefly writhed out of his grip and snapped at an AP journalist’s jacket.

World’s oldest crocodile dies

This video from the USA says about itself:

The American Crocodile: Waterways

8 June 2013

They’ve been around since the dinosaurs and are certainly as scary as T-Rex (not the band), the American Crocodile has consistently lost habitat, and decreased in numbers. Follow the decades long research and work to save this wonderful, toothy creature.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Rotterdam Zoo mourns after death of the ‘oldest crocodile in the world’

Today, 11:50

In Blijdorp Zoo crocodile Hakuna has died. According to the zoo, he was probably the oldest crocodile in a zoo in the world. How old Hakuna was exactly is not known, but he came to the park in 1930 and was already an adult. He must have been certainly over 85 years.

The zoo has announced the death of Hakuna on Facebook.

Hakuna came along with his female partner Matata to Rotterdam Zoo. They were a gift from singer and actress Josephine Baker. Matata died last year. The two American crocodiles were among the few animals in the zoo which survived the bombing of Rotterdam [by Hitler’s air force] in 1940.

See also here.

Crocodiles enjoy sliding, surfing and playing with balls

This video is called Biology documentary on Crocodiles.

From Wildlife Extra:

Research reveals crocodiles enjoy sliding, surfing and playing with balls

Fancy a game of something?

A research assistant professor in psychology at the University of Tennessee, Vladimir Dinets, who has been studying crocodiles and alligators for 10 years, has revealed that they enjoy playing with objects, as well as other animals and fellow crocodilians.

Alongside his own observations of crocs displaying play-like behaviours in surfing waves, tossing balls and giving each other piggyback rides, he conducted an informal survey of groups on social media and attendees at conferences who were interested in crocodiles.

His results show a gentler aspect than is usually associated with these predators. They are seen to engage in all three main types of play identified by behaviour specialists as locomotor play, play with objects, and social play.

Play with objects was reported most often. Crocs have been seen playing with wooden balls, noisy ceramic items, streams of water, their prey, and debris floating on the surface of the water.

Cases of locomotor play include young alligators repeatedly sliding down slopes, crocodiles surfing waves and caimans riding currents of water in their pools.

Observed cases of social play include baby alligators riding on older animals’ backs, baby caimans playfully “courting” each other, and a male crocodile giving his lifetime mate rides on his back.

Crocodiles have also been seen playing with other animals. Dinets observed a juvenile alligator playing with a river otter.

In rare cases, individual crocodilians have even been known to bond closely and enjoy the company of people. There is a story of a man who saved a crocodile that had been shot and the two played together for 20 years.

“The croc would swim with his human friend, try to startle him by suddenly pretending to attack him or by sneaking up on him from behind, and accept being caressed, hugged, rotated in the water and kissed on the snout,” says Dinets.

His work, published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition, is the first study of play in crocodiles from a scientific basis. The full study can be viewed here.

Dinets’ research builds on the work of colleague Gordon Burghardt, a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, whose work defined “play” in connection with a species not previously thought capable of play.

Dinets’ work provides further evidence that play is a universal feature of “intelligent” animals, with complex, flexible behaviour.

He believes that providing crocodiles in captivity with amusements and objects to play with will give them happier, healthier lives.

The finding of this research may contribute to the knowledge of how intelligence evolves and what is needed for its development.

Previous research by Dinets discovered that crocodiles are able to climb trees, work as a team and use lures such as sticks to hunt prey. More of his crocodile research can be found in his book Dragon Songs.

Saving crocodiles in Burundi

This is a video about Nile crocodiles.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

One man’s bid to save Burundi’s crocodiles from the cooking pot

In Burundi’s capital, Albert Ngendera has turned his home into a refuge to save the country’s declining crocodiles from being snapped up for dinner. But with 45 babies due in January, the crocs will soon outgrow their home

Hannah McNeish in Bujumbura

Wednesday 31 December 2014 16.07 GMT

People in Burundi are keen to tell you that it’s famous for having the largest fresh water crocodiles on Earth, reticent to admit they’ve eaten a few and sad to say that they have disappeared from the shores of Lake Tanganyika and are clearing out of the Ruzizi river due to over-poaching.

In one of the world’s poorest countries and Africa’s hungriest, crocodiles were munched and pillaged during a 12-year civil war that ended in 2005 but did not end poverty.

It was during this time that Albert Ngendera, who like many Burundians ate crocodile, decided to snap up 12 baby crocodiles and save them from the pot by putting them on his porch at his home in the capital Bujumbura.

“I had dogs before – about 10 – but dogs have no benefit. They’re there for security but nothing else. These animals, they’re nice to look at,” he says, crouching next to the small pen where his scaly pets lounge around all day and enjoy the odd dip in small ponds.

Four crocodiles died from poisoned food that neighbours threw over the fence, perhaps remembering the beast that put Burundi on the map for wildlife as well as war 10 years ago: Gustave. This 20ft-long, 2,000 pound heavy croc allegedly gorged himself on hundreds of villagers.

National Geographic spent years searching for “the largest, most fabled crocodile in all of Africa – a demonic Loch Ness monster of incredible proportions and, according to legend, appetite,” but Gustave vanished.

Despite the setback, Albert’s croc stock is about to go through the roof, with up to 45 babies expected in January. So far, he has nowhere to put them, but he hopes that the land the government promised him will one day come through so that he can finally develop his wildlife park, complete with a restaurant where crocburgers are off the menu.

“People can just eat bread and fish, like Jesus,” he says, likening his home to Noah’s Ark as he shows off his collection of cobras, chimpanzees, tortoises and monkeys that he rescues by buying from hunters.

He’s never watched the Crocodile Dundee films, or seen the late broadcaster and wildlife expert Steve Irwin, but thinks “it’s not good to play with animals like crocodiles”, and learns from the South African conservationists he sees on TV.

Burundi’s president has called Albert in to discuss his dilemma, but getting land for animals in one of the most densely-populated countries on Earth is difficult.

At Bujumbura’s Musee Vivant (‘living museum’), star-crossed crocodiles Romeo and Juliet can only gaze at one another from tiny pens to avoid the pitter patter of tiny feet, while giant Lacoste – the shirtfront emblem of any self-respecting Frenchman – may as well be embroidered for all the pool space he has to wallow in.

The zoo relies on selling £3 guinea pigs and £7 rabbits for tourists to feed to the crocodiles to keep the place afloat.

The government lacks the funds to lock up the crocodiles, says Feruzi Mohamed, director general of Burundi’s environment ministry. “But even if we did, we wouldn’t enclose this species away from their natural habitat.”

Mohamed is relying on a law that threatens crocodile hunters with a six-month jail term and fine. But if Burundi really wants to save its crocs, it had better make it snappy or they will be immortalised only in legends.

World’s smallest monitor lizard discovery in Australia

This video says about itself:

24 March 2014

Sir David Attenborough narrates a documentary about the life and crimes of Africa’s most notorious raider the monitor lizard. To feed its monster appetite, it will steal from under the noses of humans, lions and crocodiles, but with its criminal lifestyle comes extreme danger. The Nile Monitor is Africa’s largest lizard and most notorious ‘raider’ – its ultimate challenge is to steal the heavily guarded eggs and young of the Nile crocodile – can this expert thief pull it off?

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Newly discovered Dampier peninsula goanna to go on display at WA Museum

The lizard, which grows to a maximum length of 23cm, is the world’s smallest and newest addition to the genus that includes monitors and Komodo dragons

Tuesday 30 December 2014 07.36 GMT

A newly discovered species of reptile, the Dampier peninsula goanna, has gone on display at the Western Australian Museum. The lizard is the world’s smallest addition to the Varanus genus, the family that also includes monitors and Komodo dragons.

The lizard on display, a female named Pokey, may look ordinary to the untrained eye but for scientists she’s an evolutionary marvel.

Unlike her relatives, who are often large and found over a widespread area of Australia, Pokey and her fellow Dampier peninsula goannas are found only on the peninsula north of Broome and Derby in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. The species is quite tiny, growing to a maximum 23cm in length and weighing only 16 grams.

WA Museum’s reptile expert, Dr Paul Doughty, said the discovery of the Dampier peninsula goanna was significant because it is a new species.

Doughty said this goanna diverged from its closest living relative – the short-tailed monitor – about six to seven million years ago, about the same time humans and chimpanzees split off from their common ancestor.

Museum visitors will be able to observe her small head, tiny legs, stretchy body and short tail, which Doughty described as a “funky” shape for a goanna.

See also here.

Obscure and attractive monitor lizards to know and love: here.

Paleontology helping to restore Abaco, Bahamas biodiversity?

A new University of Florida study shows scientists are only beginning to understand the roles of native species in prehistoric island ecosystems. Researchers discovered this 3,000-year-old fossil skull of a Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, in the Bahamas. Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History, by Kristen Grace

From the University of Florida in the USA today:

Answer to restoring lost island biodiversity found in fossils

Many native species have vanished from tropical islands because of human impact, but University of Florida scientists have discovered how fossils can be used to restore lost biodiversity.

The key lies in organic materials found in fossil bones, which contain evidence for how ancient ecosystems functioned, according to a new study available online and in the September issue of the Journal of Herpetology. Pre-human island ecosystems provide vital clues for saving endangered island and re-establishing , said lead author Alex Hastings, who conducted work for the study as graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF department of geological sciences.

“Our work is particularly relevant to that are currently living in marginal environments,” said Hastings, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. “A better understanding of species’ natural roles in ecosystems untouched by people might improve their prospects for survival.”

Thousands of years ago, the largest carnivore and herbivore on the Bahamian island of Abaco disappeared. The study reconstructs the ancient food web of Abaco where these two mega-reptiles, the endangered Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and the now-extinct Albury’s Tortoise (Chelonoidis alburyorum), once flourished. Today, there is no modern terrestrial ecosystem like that of ancient Abaco, with reptiles filling the roles of largest herbivore and carnivore.

In the study, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society, researchers embarked on the difficult task of reconstructing an ecosystem where few of the components still exist. To understand these missing pieces, scientists analyzed the types of carbon and nitrogen in well-preserved from the Cuban Crocodile and Albury’s Tortoise, which was unknown to scientists before its 2004 discovery in the Bahamas. The data reveal the crocodile and tortoise were both terrestrial, showing that reptiles “called the shots” on the island, Hastings said.

The terrestrial nature of these creatures is a great indicator of how biodiversity has changed in the Bahamas and what the ideal circumstances would be for these or similar species to return, said Florida Museum ornithology curator and study co-author David Steadman.

“On islands like Abaco that have always been dominated by reptiles, the flora and fauna are more vulnerable because they have evolved to lead a more laid back, island existence,” Steadman said. “Understanding this is important to designing better approaches to conservation on the island.”

Early paleontological sites in the Bahamas have yielded bones from numerous species of reptiles, birds and mammals that no longer exist on the islands. James Mead, a vertebrate paleontologist with East Tennessee State University, said more research into the evolutionary history of native plants and animals on Abaco is needed as well as conservation programs based on paleontological research that aims to restore these species.

“The Cuban crocodile is living today in small numbers in Cuba, but this new research shows that it is not living to its fullest potential,” Mead said. “The crocodile could live more abundantly in a much wider habitat if we allowed it.”