An analysis of ancient dog burials finds that the typical prehistoric dog owner ate a lot of seafood, had spiritual beliefs, and wore jewelry that sometimes wound up on the dog.
The study, published in PLoS ONE, is one of the first to directly test if there was a clear relationship between the practice of dog burial and human behaviors. The answer is yes.
“Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries,” lead author Robert Losey, a University of Alberta anthropologist, told Discovery News.
The discovery negates speculation that dogs back in the day were just work animals brought along on hunting trips.
“If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9,000 years ago), when human subsistence practices were focused on these animals,” Losey continued. “Further, we would expect to see them in later periods in areas where fish were never really major components of the diet and deer were the primary focus, but they are rare or absent in these regions.”
For the study, Losey and his team researched dog burials worldwide, but focused particularly on ones located in Eastern Siberia. Siberia appears to have been an ancient hotbed of dog lovers, with the earliest known domesticated dog found there and dating to 33,000 years ago. Dog burials in this region, however, span across a more recent 10,000-year period.
The researchers found that most of the dog burials in this area occurred during the Early Neolithic 7,000-8,000 years ago. Dogs were only buried when human hunter-gatherers were also being buried. When pastoralists later came through, they did not bury dogs, although they did sacrifice them from time to time.
“I think the hunter-gatherers here saw some of their dogs as being nearly the same as themselves, even at a spiritual level,” Losey said. “At this time, dogs were the only animals living closely with humans, and they were likely known at an individual level, far more so than any other animal people encountered. People came to know them as unique, special individuals.”
The burials reflect that association. One dog, for example, was laid to rest “much like it is sleeping.” A man was buried with two dogs, one carefully placed to the left of his body, and the other to the right. A dog was buried with a round pebble, possibly a toy or meaningful symbol, placed in its mouth. Still other dogs were buried with ornaments and implements, such as spoons and stone knives.
An Edward Scissorhands-like fossil has emerged from a national park in Canada, British researchers reported.
Found in the valley of the Stanley Glacier, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, the newly discovered species features the body structure of a 505 million-year-old sea creature with scissor-like claws.
“When I first saw the pair of isolated claws in the fossil records of this species I could not help but think of Edward Scissorhands,” David Legg, who made the discovery while working on his Ph.D. at Imperial College London, said in a statement.
Legg, who detailed the finding in the Journal of Palaeontology, decided to name the new species Kooteninchela deppi (pronounced Koo-ten-ee-che-la depp-eye) in honor of Johnny Depp’s starring role in the 1990 cult movie.
Directed by Tim Burton, the movie was about an artificial man named Edward, built by an inventor who died before giving him hands. This meant he was left with a set of blades in the place of fingers.
“Even the genus name, Kootenichela, includes the reference to this film as ‘chela’ is Latin for claws or scissors. In truth, I am also a bit of a Depp fan,” Legg said.
An ancestor to lobsters and scorpions, Kooteninchela deppi roamed the sea about 270 million years before dinosaurs actually began to appear.
Less than two inches long with an elongate, multi-segmented body and millipede-like legs, the creature boasted large compound eyes similar to that of a fly. These eyes were located on top of movable stalks called peduncles, helping the creature to more easily search for food and look out for predators.
Over half a billion years ago, the cost of British Columbia in Canada was located much closer to the equator and the sea temperature would have been much warmer than it is today.
Living in very shallow seas among wild sponges, the tiny creature — a hunter or scavenger — used its multiple legs to scuttle along the sea floor. According to Legg, its large Edward Scissorhands-like claws and the long spines that enhanced them helped to grab prey or scour the sea floor for creatures hiding there.
Belonging to a group called the “great-appendage” arthropods, or megacheirans, in reference to the enlarged pincer-like frontal claws that they share, Kooteninchela deppi is helping researchers to understand more about life on Earth during the Cambrian period, when nearly all modern animal types emerged.
Indeed, the “great-appendage” arthropods are early ancestors to everything from scorpions and millipedes to insects and crabs.
“The prawns covered in mayonnaise in your sandwich, the spider climbing up your wall and even the fly that has been banging into your window and annoyingly flying into your face are all descendants of Kooteninchela deppi,” Legg said.
He added that current estimates indicate there are more than one million known insects and potentially 10 million more yet to be categorized.
“It potentially means that Kooteninchela deppi has a huge family tree,” he said.
Images: 1.The Kootenichela deppi fossil and Edward Scissorhands. Credit: Imperial College London; Wikimedia Commons. 2. Kootenichela deppi reconstruction. Credit: Imperial College London.
Penguins lost their ability to fly millions of years ago, and now a new study explains why — the birds became lean and mean diving machines, trading flight for such skills.
The study, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points out that good flippers don’t fly very well.
“Once penguins gave up flight, changes to wing structure and overall body size and shape probably followed rapidly because flying no longer placed constraints to body form,” co-author Robert Ricklefs told Discovery News.
“Note that penguins are much more at risk of predation in the water than they are on land, and so there has been strong selection to make their swimming and diving as efficient as possible,” added Ricklefs, who is a professor of biology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.
Ricklefs, lead author Kyle Elliott and their team at first wondered why the ubiquitous black and white birds lost their ability to fly millions of years ago, given how beneficial flying can be. Emperor penguins laboriously walk over 32 miles between their rookeries and the sea. The journey takes them several days, which could be reduced to just a few hours if they could fly. Why then don’t they?
To solve the mystery, the researchers focused on birds– especially the murre — that both fly and dive. The scientists equipped 41 such wild-caught birds with equipment to measure avian energy expenditure. In doing so, the researchers came up with a new world’s record. Murres and pelagic cormorants turn out to have the highest expenditure ever recorded for any flying animal.
“The costs are incurred in providing lift in air,” Ricklefs explained, adding that overcoming drag in the air is also energy costly to the birds.
Much of the South has been living with fire ants for decades, and most youngsters there know to avoid trampling their giant underground nests unless they are looking for a swarm of painful bites. It turns out that these pesky insects are extremely good at running through tunnels without clobbering each other and even using their antennae as extra limbs.
And researchers believe these new findings about their curious locomotion could give engineers lessons for building automated search-and-rescue robots designed to hunt for human victims trapped underground.
Scientists at Georgia Tech have been studying fire ants as they scurry through their nests, some of which can hold up to 100,000 individuals and become evacuated in minutes if they are flooded with water or attacked by larger predators. The ants are an invasive species, brought to the United States from South America where their native habitat is often subject to natural cycles of floods.
After several years of watching ants in two-dimensional and three-dimensional nests constructed in his laboratory, Nick Gravish, a postdoctoral student in the Department of Physics, found that tight spaces and jam-packed passageways didn’t seem to bother them. In fact, with a top speed of 9 body lengths per second, they are basically sprinting past their fellow drones or workers inside the colony.
“We were so surprised to see them move so fast,” said Gravish, first author on a study appearing today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “And their motion was filled with slips and missteps. You get a sense that slipping and falling is not a problem. We see that ants can run over the top of each other, and lift each other up. They can scramble as fast as possible and there’s no penalty for that.”
Gravish and collaborators professor Daniel Goldman and Michael Goodisman, and researcher Daria Monaenkova used X-ray tomography to study tunnels the ants built in the test chambers. They also used video tracking equipment to watch them move through tunnels made between two clear plates. This scientific ant farm was mounted on an air piston which was fired, dropping the maze so the ants would lose their footing and fall. The ants used their antennae as extra limbs to stop their descent. Nobody had really seen them doing that before, he said.
The same kind of crawling and falling movements will likely be faced by search-and-rescue robots in the future.
“We’re very interested in how the next generation of robotics, which is going to be at the millimeter scale, will move through torturous complex environments,” he said. “These ants are a good system to look at locomotion and this is one of the first studies to look at locomotion of ants in their own environment.”
However, one robotics expert agreed that studying insects like ants can give good clues for building some kinds of autonomous devices, but cautioned not to be too optimistic that engineers can duplicate what nature has done over millions of years.
“The characteristics of the animals and response of the (robot) sensors are typically so different that it is problematic to just copy what you see in their behavior to run it on the robot,” said Achim Lilienthal, director of the Mobile Robot and Olfaction Laboratory at the University of Orebro in Sweden.
Lilienthal recently build a “gas-bot” that can follow traces of methane escaping from a landfill using special laser sensors, and is working on problems of robot sensing and smell.
“The world looks very different for the robot,” q he said.
A Navy dolphin training to look for mines off the coast of San Diego found a museum-worthy 19th-century torpedo on the seafloor, military officials said.
The brass-coated, retro wonder of technology was one of the first self-propelled torpedoes used by the U.S. Navy. Just 50 of these so-called Howell torpedoes were made and only one other example has been recovered; it sits in the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Wash., outside of Seattle.
The 130-year-old, 11-foot-long (3.3 meters) weapon was discovered back in March during a mine-hunting exercise that the Space and Naval warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) was conducting with bottlenose dolphins. [Top 10 Animal Recruits in War]
“Dolphins naturally possess the most sophisticated sonar known to man. They can detect mines and other potentially dangerous objects on the ocean floor that are acoustically difficult targets to detect,” operations supervisor Braden Duryee, of the SSC Pacific Biosciences Division, said in a statement.
Dolphins use their natural sonar, called echolocation, to determine the size and shape of underwater objects by sending out a series of clicks that bounce off their targets and boomerang back to them. The marine mammals can be trained to report what they have found to human handlers using certain yes or no responses. Handlers can then investigate what the dolphins find by sending the animals to mark an object’s location with a weighted buoy line.
In this case, one of the dolphins indicated to its handler that it had detected a minelike target. The recovery dive team initially thought the dolphin had found an old tail section off an aerial drop mine, according to a statement from SSC Pacific, but officials soon realized they were handling a much rarer artifact.
A psychological warfare program centered on vomit could help save the marbled murrelet, an endangered seabird that nests in California’s old-growth redwood forests.
The robin-sized murrelet lives at sea but lays one pointy, blue-green egg each year on the flat, mossy branch of a redwood. While breeding, its back feathers morph from black to mottled brown to better match the forest. For two months, both parents race back and forth to the coast as far as 50 miles (80 kilometers) each day at speeds of up to 98 mph (158 km/h) while evading peregrine falcon and hawk attacks. After the chick hatches, it pecks off its redwood-colored down and, flying solo, launches straight for the ocean. Penguins have nothing on the murrelet.
“They’re a seabird like a puffin, and they have this crazy lifestyle that’s like a living link between the old-growth redwood forests and the Pacific Ocean,” said Keith Bensen, a biologist at Redwood National Park. “It’s strange to have an animal with webbed feet in the forest,” he said.
Despite its amazing skills, the marbled-murrelet population is down by more than 90 percent from its 19th-century numbers in California, thanks to logging, fishing and pollution. Murrelets live as far north as Alaska, but the central California population is most at risk. Yet even though the state’s remaining old-growth redwood trees are now protected, the murrelets continue to disappear.
The culprit: the egg-sucking, chick-eating Steller’s jay.
About 4,000 murrelets remain in California, with about 300 to 600 in central California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. Squirrels, ravens and owls also swipe murrelet eggs, but jays are the biggest thieves in California, gobbling up 80 percent of each year’s brood. Unless more eggs survive, the central California population will go extinct within a century, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Biological Conservation.
To boost California’s murrelet numbers, biologists in California’s Redwood National and State Parks are fighting back against Steller’s jays and their human enablers.
With cash earmarked for murrelets from offshore-oil-spill restoration funds, the parks have the rare ability to fund research studies and restore habitat. The two-pronged approach will teach the black-crested jays to avoid murrelet eggs on pain of puking. More importantly, it will shrink the jay population by thwarting access to their primary food source — human trash and food. [Image Gallery: Saving the Rare Marbled Murrelet]
“Every time folks throw out crumbs to bring out jays and squirrels, it’s having a real impact on a very rare bird nesting overhead in an old-growth redwood tree,” Bensen told OurAmazingPlanet.
A Western bird, the blue and black Steller’s jays like to frequent cleared forest edges — which are filled with bugs and berry bushes — and campgrounds littered with tasty trash and crumbs. As humans spend more time in the forest, the jay’s numbers are booming. Their density in campgrounds is nine times higher than in other forest areas, said Portia Halbert, an environmental scientist with the California State Parks.
An Australian politician was left hopping after he was attacked by a kangaroo while on a morning jog in the national capital Canberra.
“Mugged by a kangaroo!,” declared Shane Rattenbury, Australian Capital Territory municipal services minister, on Twitter.
Rattenbury was left with deep scratches and bruising on his leg after the encounter with the bounding marsupial on Thursday morning.
“I’m not sure who got the bigger shock, me or the kangaroo,” he told the ABC.
“He was minding his own business eating some grass, I was minding my own business running.
“Unfortunately the kangaroo jumped up, as they do when they’re a bit startled, and took a defensive pose and unfortunately I came out of it second best with some decent cuts down the back of my leg.”
Rattenbury had his wounds cleaned and was given a tetanus shot.
He later joked on Twitter: “I believe the roo is fine — escaped the scene quickly, but did fail to get my watch or wallet for those who were wondering.”
The swine flu virus that caused a 2009 pandemic has been found in elephant seals off the central California coast, according to new research.
The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, is the first report of the virus H1N1 in any marine mammal.
Researchers are now being advised to wear protective personal gear when working around marine mammals, to avoid the possibility of infection.
“H1N1 was circulating in humans in 2009,” lead author Tracey Goldstein said in a press release. “The seals on land in early 2010 tested negative before they went to sea, but when they returned from sea in spring 2010, they tested positive. So the question is where did it come from?”
“We thought we might find influenza viruses, which have been found before in marine mammals, but we did not expect to find pandemic H1N1,” said Goldstein, an associate professor at the University of California at Davis. “This shows influenza viruses can move among species.”
Goldstein and other UC Davis researchers have been studying flu viruses in wild birds and mammals since 2007. For this study, they tested nasal swabs from more than 900 marine mammals from 10 different species off the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California.
They detected H1N1 infection in two northern elephant seals and antibodies to the virus in an additional 28 elephant seals, indicating more widespread exposure. Neither infected seal appeared to be ill, indicating marine mammals may be infected without showing clinical signs of illness.
“The study of influenza virus infections in unusual hosts, such as elephant seals,” said co-author Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, “is likely to provide us with clues to understand the ability of influenza virus to jump from one host to another and initiate pandemics.”
Image: Tracey Goldstein/UC Davis
“The red structure in the middle is the midgut — part of the digestive system, which is also the dark structure you see in the X-rays of the chrysalis,” Garwood shared. “Early in the development this is quite large, like the one we see in the caterpillar, but as it develops it shrinks and moves backwards, and then changes shape over the next few days to the structure we find in the adult form.”
“On day 13,” he said, “the yellow things you can see are structures called malpighian tubules, which help clear waste out of the adult’s body (a bit like kidneys).”
The five most athletic primates are named in the world’s most comprehensive guide on primates, “Handbook of the Mammals of the World” (Lynx Edicions, 2013), released this week.
The number one athletic monkey, according to the guide, is the Patas monkey. Editors Russell Mittermeier, Anthony Rylands and Don Wilson write that these “are the fastest primates, relying on their speed to escape from predators.” Their running speed can reach up to 34 miles per hour.