Dinosaur age mammalian human ancestors discovery in England


This video from England says about itself:

6 November 2017

Fossilised teeth of 145 million year-old ‘rat’ that is mankind’s oldest ancestor

Fossil remains of two rat-like creatures understood to be the oldest known ancestors of humans have been discovered in Dorset.

The small furry animals scurried in the shadow of the dinosaurs 145 million years ago.

Scientists believe they can draw a direct evolutionary line from the ancient mammals to people living today.

Two teeth belonging to two different species were sifted out of samples of Cretaceous period rock collected from exposed cliffs near Swanage.

From the University of Portsmouth in England:

Humankind’s earliest ancestors discovered in southern England

November 7, 2017

Fossils of the oldest mammals related to humankind have been discovered on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset.

The two teeth are from small, rat-like creatures that lived 145 million years ago in the shadow of the dinosaurs. They are the earliest undisputed fossils of mammals belonging to the line that led to human beings.

They are also the ancestors to most mammals alive today, including creatures as diverse as the Blue Whale and the Pigmy Shrew. The findings are published in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, in a paper by Dr Steve Sweetman, Research Fellow at the University of Portsmouth, and co-authors from the same university. Dr Sweetman, whose primary research interest concerns all the small vertebrates that lived with the dinosaurs, identified the teeth but it was University of Portsmouth undergraduate student Grant Smith who made the discovery.

Dr Sweetman said: “Grant was sifting through small samples of earliest Cretaceous rocks collected on the coast of Dorset as part of his undergraduate dissertation project in the hope of finding some interesting remains. Quite unexpectedly he found not one but two quite remarkable teeth of a type never before seen from rocks of this age. I was asked to look at them and give an opinion and even at first glance my jaw dropped!”

“The teeth are of a type so highly evolved that I realised straight away I was looking at remains of Early Cretaceous mammals that more closely resembled those that lived during the latest Cretaceous — some 60 million years later in geological history. In the world of palaeontology there has been a lot of debate around a specimen found in China, which is approximately 160 million years old. This was originally said to be of the same type as ours but recent studies have ruled this out. That being the case, our 145 million year old teeth are undoubtedly the earliest yet known from the line of mammals that lead to our own species.”

Dr Sweetman believes the mammals were small, furry creatures and most likely nocturnal. One, a possible burrower, probably ate insects and the larger may have eaten plants as well.

He said: “The teeth are of a highly advanced type that can pierce, cut and crush food. They are also very worn which suggests the animals to which they belonged lived to a good age for their species. No mean feat when you’re sharing your habitat with predatory dinosaurs!”

The teeth were recovered from rocks exposed in cliffs near Swanage which has given up thousands of iconic fossils. Grant, now reading for his Master’s degree at The University of Portsmouth, said that he knew he was looking at something mammalian but didn’t realise he had discovered something quite so special. His supervisor, Dave Martill, Professor of Palaeobiology, confirmed that they were mammalian, but suggested Dr Sweetman, a mammal expert should see them.

Professor Martill said: “We looked at them with a microscope but despite over 30 years’ experience these teeth looked very different and we decided we needed to bring in a third pair of eyes and more expertise in the field in the form of our colleague, Dr Sweetman.

“Steve made the connection immediately, but what I’m most pleased about is that a student who is a complete beginner was able to make a remarkable scientific discovery in palaeontology and see his discovery and his name published in a scientific paper. The Jurassic Coast is always unveiling fresh secrets and I’d like to think that similar discoveries will continue to be made right on our doorstep.”

One of the new species has been named Durlstotherium newmani, christened after Charlie Newman, the landlord of the Square and Compass pub in Worth Matravers, close to where the fossils were discovered.

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English pro-badger campaigner Sue Chamberlain, RIP


This video from England says about itself:

6 May 2013

Meet a couple of sweet and mischievous baby badgers at the Secret World Rehabilitation Wildlife Centre in the English countryside for jam sandwiches and bottled milk.

By Lesley Docksey in Britain:

Indomitable badger campaigner Sue Chamberlain dies

Thursday 11th February 2016

Dorset’s wildlife protectors thought it was bad enough when the badger cull arrived last year. Given that the level of bovine TB in Dorset had been falling since 2012 — without resorting to the needless and unscientific killing of badgers — people found it hard to believe that Natural England had given the go-ahead for culling.

Dorset for Badger & Bovine Welfare (DBBW) and the Dorset Hunt Saboteurs moved from frantic sett mapping to equally frantic organising of setting up Camp Badger (for those who came from across the country to help protect the badgers) and organising nightly “wounded badger patrols.”

Central to it all was a remarkable woman, Sue Chamberlain. On January 13 this year, however, Dorset’s badgers were left reeling from another blow as Chamberlain lost her battle with cancer.

The founder of DBBW, Andrew Butler, wrote this heart-breaking tribute: “In May 2013 there was a meeting at Dorchester town hall to discuss the impending badger cull and the possibility of it coming to Dorset. All eyes were focused on the stage, where the stars of the movement against the cull including Brian May and the head of the RSPCA spoke. But it was in the crowd, listening quietly and unassumingly, that the real lynchpin of the group to protect Dorset’s badgers sat — she just didn’t know it yet.

“Sue Chamberlain came to the very first meeting of what became DBBW and she didn’t miss a single one from that moment on. In fact it was Sue who organised the meetings; setting the dates, letting people know, answering the emails, posting on Facebook, circulating minutes… and that was just the beginning.

“We cannot overstate just how much Sue did to grow, maintain and keep the group grounded. Sue was our rock; our administrator, our merchandise queen, our fundraiser, co-ordinator, liaison with the authorities, the person who got things done, who made sure that when the badger cull came to Dorset everyone knew where they needed to be in order to save as many animals as possible. Sue could be out in the field one night, and on the phone dealing with any problems that arose all the next day. Nothing was ever too much trouble, no problem was insurmountable.

“This is all the more remarkable given that Sue was fighting her own private battle against cancer, and on Wednesday January 13 it became the fight she could not win, and the animals and a great many people lost a true and brave friend.

“Sue, we love you and miss you. Rest well, you more than earned it.”

Not many of the people turning out for the wounded badger patrols or phoning in reports knew that Sue had cancer. Her dedication to badgers, her energy and wish to be fully involved gave no sign of it.

At her funeral, which her family rightly dubbed a thanksgiving service, the village church was packed with people whose lives Sue had touched, for whatever interest Sue took up, she became fully involved. She was the greatest co-ordinator and bringer-together of people one could ever meet.

Pews were stuffed, people stood in the aisle and at the back of the church and all were greeted with Queen’s music as Sue was a supporter of Brian May and his Save Me Trust. The village hall could barely cope with the numbers who gathered after the service to share tea, cake, wine and their memories of Sue.

Among the mourners were representatives of Dorset Police, in full dress uniform. She ensured that Dorset went into the culls with a police liaison team already in place and supportive of how the wounded badger patrols were going to operate.

This made Dorset’s first cull far less difficult for patrollers than either Somerset or Gloucester and the team remains in place for the duration.

DBBW is coming to terms with just how much she did, reorganising themselves to cover all her many roles. One thing is certain — they will be stronger and even more active in their protection of badgers.

Think of it as a lasting memorial to an amazing person.

Ladybird spiders in Dorset, England


This is a ladybird spider video from Turkey.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Strictly not for arachnophobes

Friday 15th January 2016

PETER FROST reports on the interminable and complex initiative to re-establish the ladybird spider – once thought extinct in Britain –in its natural habitat of a Dorset heathland

One of Britain’s rarest and most colourful spiders the Ladybird spider (Eresus sandaliatus) was thought to be extinct in Britain for over 70 years, until a tiny population was rediscovered on a tiny patch of land, barely 50 yards square, in Dorset in 1980.

Since then no other populations have been detected. It is believed to have once been found in Cornwall and the Isle of Wight but no more.

The spider gets its name from the bright red body of the male decorated with four large ladybird-like spots. The male body is 6-9 mm long excluding legs. The male’s legs are bright black with white stripes. The female is larger, 10-16 mm excluding legs and totally velvety black. She rarely leaves her nest. Young spiders too are velvety black.

The species lives in burrows with silk trip-wires covered with dense fluffy threads that radiate outwards to catch their prey, which includes large insects like devil’s coach horse and violet ground beetles.

The male only emerges for two weeks in May to breed. Having found a burrow containing a female he plucks at the trip wires in a way that distinguishes him from prey. This protects him from becoming a meal.

After mating, the female lays up to 80 eggs in a cocoon in her burrow during the summer and guards them until the spiderlings hatch in July or August.

She feeds them on regurgitated food and finally, rather ungratefully, the young spiders eat their own mother. Females only breed once.

The spiderlings disperse to make their own burrows in the following April, and take three or four years to reach breeding age.

The Ladybird spider is still so endangered in Britain that it has been possible to count each individual spider in Dorset, the only place it has managed to keep a small but determined eight-legged foothold.

The spider can only live on lowland heathland — and this is its main problem. Our native heathland has suffered drastic decline over the last century, being ploughed up for agriculture and forestry, or built over.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve at Arne, just four miles from Wareham, Dorset, is a great place to see avocets and little egrets but it is just as important for its preservation of the native heathland in its original form and, of course, the Ladybird spider.

Arne boasts over 250 species of spider and hundreds of insect species including the threatened silver studded blue butterfly and the Purbeck mason wasp which is only found in Dorset.

As well as insects and spiders the heathland is also home to endangered reptiles such as smooth snakes and sand lizards, and rare birds such as the Dartford warbler, stonechat and nightjar.

The Ladybird spider’s long life-cycle, very specific requirements and the fact that it is not good at colonising new sites have all added to its vulnerability.

When it was first rediscovered in 1980, the last remaining site supported just seven individual spiders, but successful habitat management has resulted in the population expanding to its current level of nearly a thousand individuals.

Over the last five years other colonies have been established on Dorset heathland. Spiders have been carefully released onto new sites — increasing their populations in Dorset from one to eight. But there is still a lot of work to do.

For a start conservation charities like the RSPB want to establish at least 20 Ladybird spider populations in the wild.

If this spider is to thrive we need to continue the programme of releasing spiders onto new sites and to monitor existing populations to ensure that they are healthy and doing well. The habitat needs to be managed to ensure that the sites remain in the right condition for the spider.

In 2011, it was first released onto the RSPB’s Arne reserve. Surveys here carried out this year show that the spiders are doing well and are now expanding outside of the original release areas.

During the original translocation, scientists used an ingenious low-tech method of transferring the spiders. They used recycled empty plastic mineral water bottles which are an ideal shape and size for the spiders to make their nests in.

The bottles are filled with heather and moss and captured spiders from the donor site placed inside and monitored while they settled in and made a web. The bottles were then buried in holes in the ground offering some protection but allowing the spiders to venture out to colonise adjacent areas.

Toby Branston, RSPB Dorset reserve ecology manager told us: “It’s great to see this incredible little spider doing well in its new home. The hard work has started to pay off. Searches this year have found five new webs away from the release sites as well as others in their original bottle-homes. A great sign that the spiders are feeling settled here at Arne.”