New dinosaur species discovered ‘accidentally’

This video says about itself:

Judith’s Discovery—New Horned Dinosaur

18 May 2016

Once a dinosaur fossil is found, it’s quite a process to get the bones out of the ground and then prepare them for research and display. See how this was done for the horned dinosaur identified in 2016 at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Its scientific name is Spiclypeus shipporum. Its nickname is Judith, although we don’t know if it was female or male.

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Novice fossil collector in Montana ‘accidentally’ discovers a new dinosaur species

A retired nuclear physicist made the ‘accidental’ discovery in 2005

Feliks Garcia, New York

An amateur Montana fossil hunter stumbled across a major discovery more than a decade ago when bones he found turned out to be a new species of dinosaur, researchers announced.

Retired nuclear physicist Bill Shipp discovered the leg bone for “Judith”,  known to scientists as Spiclypeus shipporum, after he hired an amateur paleontologist to teach him how to search for fossils, The Associated Press reports.

Judith, named for the Judith River rock formation near where it was found,  is believed to be a close family member of the more well known horned dinosaur, the triceratops, researchers said in a report published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal. It lived in what would become Montana nearly 7million [sic; about 76 million] years ago.

“I found it accidentally on purpose,” Mr Shipp told the AP. “I was actually looking for dinosaur bones, but with no expectation of actually finding any.”

Researchers found evidence of infection in the 15-foot, four ton plant-eater’s leg, that research[er] Jordan Mallon said would have left the animal vulnerable to predators.

“It’s an exciting story, because it’s a new species, and yet we have this sort of pathetic individual that suffered throughout its lifetime,” Mr Mallon, a paleontologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, said.

“If you’re hobbling along on three limbs, you’re probably not going to be able to keep up with the herd.”

Black rosy-finch foraging, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

27 January 2016

A Black Rosy-Finch forages along the ground in Montana. These finches are among the least studied of North American birds because of their often inaccessible habitat in the high mountains of the central U.S. They eat primarily seeds and insects.

Wilson’s phalarope foraging, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

27 January 2016

Wilson’s Phalarope forage in Montana. Note their characteristic spinning, which creates whirlpools in the nutrient-rich waters, stirring up invertebrate prey and bringing it to the surface.

Eared grebes with chicks, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

27 January 2016

Eared Grebe chicks get a ride from one parent and are fed by the other. Chicks are capable of climbing, swimming, and eating within an hour after hatching. However, their downy feathers are not waterproof like adult feathers, and young chicks rely on their parents to keep them warm.

Video recorded by Timothy Barksdale in Montana.

Eocene fossil ant discovery in Montana, USA

Crematogaster aurora queen. This specimen is the oldest known species in its genus

From Smithsonian Science News in the USA:

New Montana ant species emerge from 46-million-year-old rock

By John Barrat

8 January 2016

She was a stunning brown queen; drowned some 46 million years ago in a shallow lake in Montana. Her remains, recently recovered along the Flathead River, consist of a shadowy silhouette pressed upon a piece of reddish brown shale. Named Crematogaster aurora, this winged female ant is the only known member of her species. Her discovery is raising eyebrows among scientists who study ants.

“Molecular data from living ants suggested that the genus Crematogaster had evolved more recently,” explains Dale Greenwalt, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “Now, this 46-million-year-old specimen is requiring scientists to completely rethink when this genus and its related forms appeared. It is obvious it has been around much longer than previously calculated.”

Crematogaster aurora is one of 12 new prehistoric ant species discovered in Kishenehn Formation shale in northwestern Montana by Greenwalt. They are newly described and named in a paper in the journal Sociobiology by Greenwalt and ant expert J.S. LaPolla of Towson University in Maryland. All 12 represent species new to science, known only from the locality in Montana. All are long extinct yet some represent genera that still exist.

These Kishenehn fossils are from the middle Eocene (46 million years ago), a period of great interest for understanding the “evolution of ants and in particular, their march to terrestrial dominance,” the researchers say. It was during the Eocene that many of today’s ecologically dominant and species rich ant families emerged.

Factors that led to this diversification included the evolution and appearance of many new species of flowering plants, as well as high temperatures—in the early Eocene it was as much as 15 degrees C. warmer worldwide than it is today. “A lot of people also think the meteorite that caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs and ended the Cretaceous kind of reset the table for a lot of new things to evolve and diversify,” Greenwalt adds. “This maybe what happened with the ants.”

While LaPolla and Greenwalt name 12 new fossil species in their paper, the specimens are from a much larger pool of 249 ant fossils examined for the study. The majority of the ants discovered are alates, “which are simply winged forms of the ants,” Greenwalt says. “Workers and soldiers don’t have wings and pretty much stayed on land.”

The alates were able to fly over the lake that formed the Kishenehn shale and many of them fell into the water and ended up on the bottom. Almost all of the fossil ants in the Kishenehn are winged, many of them queens.

By comparing Kishenehn ant species and genera with other North American Eocene fossil deposits such as the Green River Deposit along the Green River in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah (48 million years old) and the Florissant Formation in Colorado (34 million years old) scientists can gradually piece together the abundance and distribution of North American ants during this period.

What can the Eocene epoch teach us about today’s global warming? Here.

Rare dragonfly in southern Netherlands

This video from the USA says about itself:

Finding Uncommon Dragonfly Species

Mud Lake is a subalpine fen near Skalkaho Pass, Montana. Fens are infrequent, as such the community of species using this habitat are
uncommon to rare. I have visited this site several times looking for two particular dragonfly species found here: Lake Darner (Aeshna
eremita) and Subarctic Darner (Aeshna subarctica) [aka Bog Hawker]. This video captures the adventure and my happiness in finally finding and photographing them on September 9, 2013.

Translated from the Vlinderstichting in the Netherlands:

Monday, October 5th, 2015

In 2013 there already was a sighting of a bog hawker in the Kampina nature reserve in North Brabant province and this year they are seen again. That seems like this rare dragonfly is establishing itself there. They are otherwise only found in the northern half of the Netherlands.

Mammals, fish listen to birds’ sounds

This video from North America is called Red-breasted nuthatch mini documentary.

From the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia:

When birds squawk, other species seem to listen

May 19, 2015

Christoper Solomon

Scientists believe bird calls are a sophisticated early-warning system alerting birds and other prey over wide areas to the presence and size of predators.

In the backyard of a woodsy home outside Missoula, Montana, small birds – black-capped chickadees, mountain chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches – flitted to and from the yard’s feeder. They were oblivious to a curious stand nearby, topped by a curtain that was painted to resemble bark.

Erick Greene, a professor of biology at the University of Montana, stepped away from the stand and stood by the home’s back door. He pressed the fob of a modified garage-door opener. The curtain dropped, unveiling a northern pygmy owl preserved by taxidermy. Its robotic head moved from side to side, as if scanning for its next meal.

The yard hushed, then erupted in sound. Soon birds arrived from throughout the neighbourhood to ornament the branches of a hawthorn above the mobbed owl, calling out “yank-yank” and “chick-a-dee”.

As a recorder captured the ruckus, its instigator grinned with delight. “For birds, this is like a riot,” Greene said afterward, adding that he heard “a whole set of acoustic stuff going on that’s just associated with predators”. The distinctions are subtle – “even good naturalists and birders can miss this stuff,” he added.

Studies in recent years by many researchers, including Greene, have shown that animals such as birds, mammals and even fish recognise the alarm signals of other species. Some can even eavesdrop on one another across classes. Red-breasted nuthatches listen to chickadees. Dozens of birds listen to tufted titmice, who act like the forest’s crossing guards. Squirrels and chipmunks eavesdrop on birds, sometimes adding their own thoughts. In Africa, vervet monkeys recognise predator alarm calls by Superb starlings.

Greene wants to better understand the nuances of these bird alarms. His hunch is that birds are saying much more than we ever suspected, and that species have evolved to decode and understand the signals. He acknowledged the obvious Dr Dolittle comparison: “We’re trying to understand this sort of ‘language’ of the forest.”

At his laboratory on campus, Greene, 57, plugged the recording of the pygmy owl fracas into a computer that he likened to an “acoustic microscope”. The calls appeared as a spectrogram – essentially musical notation. On the screen, they looked like a densely layered cake fallen on its side. One call may last only a second, but can have up to a dozen syllables. Parsing one of myriad encounters with a pygmy owl or other robo-raptors, even with the help of a computer, will take the researchers hours.

“It’s cutting-edge stuff,” said Jesse Barber, an assistant professor at Boise State University who studies animal acoustics. Greene is looking at communication “across large swaths of habitat, and this is really where the field has yet to go,” Barber said. “It’s a new frontier for animal communication work.”

Greene developed his fascination with birds and sound early on, growing up around Montreal as a “total nature nerd,” he said. As a boy, he listened to and played classical, jazz and Renaissance music. He recalled being “a harpsichord-playing, hockey thug, bird nerd.”

As a teenager, he met Peter and Rosemary Grant, then at McGill University in Montreal, whose studies of Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands were groundbreaking. Offered a year-long job as their field assistant, he dropped out of high school and never returned.

That experience helped him gain admission to Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. There he spent much time playing obscure Renaissance instruments like the crumhorn – “which sounds like a pig being slaughtered,” he said – before attending Princeton for his doctorate in ecology, evolution and behaviour.

“What I’m doing now is really a natural marriage of those sorts of interests,” Greene said of his interest in animal communication. “It’s nature’s music, in a way.”

He and his wife, Anne, met before college while studying birds 800 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Theirs is a science family: Anne teaches science writing at the university, and the couple has two grown daughters working in the field – one teaches at a charter school in Brooklyn that has an environmental-sciences theme, and the other is working towards a master’s degree in aquatic biology.

Greene has spent much of his career at the University of Montana studying the pas de deux of predator and prey. As part of this dance, most animals, including birds, have evolved alarm signals to warn of danger. Greene’s interest in the subtlest bird alarms developed several years ago while studying lazuli buntings.

The buntings occasionally stopped responding to the artificial calls he broadcast and instead dived into the bushes. “And then maybe four, five minutes later, a Cooper’s hawk” – a major predator of small birds – “would cruise by,” he said. Clearly, some signal was spreading among them.

So-called “seet” calls, peeps produced by many small songbirds in response to a raptor on the wing, are well-known to ornithologists. Conventional wisdom held that the calls dissipated quickly and were produced only for other birds nearby. However, that’s not what Greene noticed: chatter sweeping across the hillside, then birds diving into bushes.

Studying the phenomenon, he documented a “distant early-warning system” among the birds in which the alarm calls were picked up by other birds and passed through the forest at more than 45km/h. Greene likened it to a bucket brigade at a fire.

The information rippled ahead of a predator minutes before it flew overhead, giving prey time to hide. Moreover, while raptors can hear well at low frequencies, they are not very good at hearing at six to 10 kilohertz, the higher frequency at which seet calls are produced. “So it’s sort of a private channel,” he said.

Greene turned to chickadees, which are highly attuned to threats. When one sees a perched raptor nearby, it will issue its well-known “chick-a-dee” call, a loud, frequent and harsh sound known as a mobbing call because its goal is to attract other birds to harass the predator until it departs.

In 2005, Greene was an author of an article in the journal Science that demonstrated how black-capped chickadees embed information about the size of predators into these calls. When faced with a high-threat raptor perched nearby, the birds not only call more frequently, they also attach more dee’s to their call.

Raptors tend to be the biggest threat to birds nearest their own size because they can match the manoeuvrability of their prey. So a large goshawk might only merit a chick-a-dee-dee from a nimble chickadee, while that little pygmy owl will elicit a chick-a-dee followed by five or even 10 or 12 additional dee syllables, Greene said.

The researchers next showed that red-breasted nuthatches, which are chickadee-size and frequently flock with them in the winter, eavesdrop on their alarm language, too.

Greene, working with a student, has also found that “squirrels understand ‘bird-ese’, and birds understand ‘squirrel-ese'”. When red squirrels hear a call announcing a dangerous raptor in the air, or they see such a raptor, they will give calls that are acoustically “almost identical” to the birds, Greene said. (Researchers have found that eastern chipmunks are attuned to mobbing calls by the eastern tufted titmouse, a cousin of the chickadee.)

Other researchers study bird calls just as intently. Katie Sieving, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, has found that tufted titmice act like “crossing guards” and that other birds hold back from entering hazardous open areas in a forest if the titmice sound any alarm. Sieving suspects that the communication in the forest is akin to an early party telephone line, with many animals talking and even more listening in – perhaps not always grasping a lot, but often just enough.

Greene says he wants to know not only the nuances of that party-line conversation, but also how far it stretches across the landscape – and who else is listening.

If chickadees indeed issue alarm calls that indicate the size and thus the danger of their predators, how many other species of birds – robins, crows – hear and evaluate those alarms based on their own body size? Perhaps a big Steller’s jay hears a chickadee’s frantic alarm in the face of a little pygmy owl and says, in effect, “I’m not worried”, Greene said.

Conversely, does the same jay hear a half-hearted chickadee alarm and suddenly perk up, understanding that this means a threat now lurks nearby for a bigger bird?

Here is where the stuffed animals come in. The researchers are using predators of different sizes – the owl, Cooper’s hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, goshawks – to elicit responses. Back at the lab, Greene pointed to the alarm call on the spectrogram in response to the pygmy owl.

“All of these notes are acoustically very different, and they might have different meanings,” Greene said. “Sound humans hear simply as ‘chick-a-dee’ actually could contain information differentiating between a Cooper’s hawk and a pygmy owl. We know birds hear this as if it’s slowed down,” he said.