Animals

Dino-era Mammal the “Jurassic Mother” of Us All?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: August 24, 2011   View Article

A tiny, shrew-like creature of the dinosaur era might have been, in a sense, the mother of us all.

Named the “Jurassic mother from China” (Juramaia sinensis), the newfound fossil species is the earliest known ancestor of placental mammals—animals, such as humans, that give birth to relatively mature, live young—according to a new study.

The 160-million-year-old specimen pushes back fossil evidence for the evolutionary split between the placental and marsupial lineages by 35 million years. Although it’s unclear if the creature is a direct ancestor of modern placentals, it’s “either a great grand-aunt or a great grandmother,” the study authors say.

Captive male frog coughs up babies

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: June 3, 2011   View Article

A captive male Darwin’s frog coughed up ten babies Thursday at a zoo in Santiago, Chile, a milestone in a project to save the amphibians from extinction.

The vulnerable species is one of two members of the only genus on Earth that rears its young inside of its vocal sac, a job taken on by the males.

Skewed sex ration curbs courtship

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 25, 2011   View Article

When a woman walks into a male-crowded bar she’s unlikely to be showered with courtly attention — that is if findings about mating in the animal kingdom translate to the human realm.

“She might just be watching them fight it out and then have one particularly possessive one making sure others aren’t getting access to her,” Laura Weir, a postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, told me today.

In other words, as the dudes duke it out with each other, one little weasel will sneak over and trap her in a corner and try to keep her all to himself?

“Exactly,” she said, although she stressed her reluctance to take the analogy too far. The data, she noted, is compiled from the mating behaviors of the birds and bees … and alligators, fish, frogs, lizards and lobsters, too.

Military studies squid camouflage

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 25, 2011   View Article

The ability of octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish to instantaneously change the color and pattern of their skin to blend in with their surroundings has caught the eye of the U.S. military. Its goal is a new generation of high-tech camouflage.

The Office of Naval Research has awarded $6 million to a team of U.S. scientists to conduct the basic research required to make the squid-like camo. Precisely how the military will use the technology is classified, noted Roger Hanlon, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Virtual whiskers have the touch

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 8, 2011   View Article

A virtual model of rat whiskers may help scientists unlock the mystery of how our brains turn the mechanics of touch into perceptions.

“Our sense of touch is very mysterious. You can reach into your pocket or your purse and without even looking, you can identify your keys, a coin, or a paperclip,” Mirta Hartmann, who studies sensory and neural systems engineering at Northwestern University, explained to me today.

Fish poop boosts distant forests

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 24, 2011   View Article

The Amazon’s big fish poop seeds far from where they eat fruit, helping to maintain the genetic diversity of the tropical forest, according to new research that shines light on a little-studied mechanism of seed dispersal.

The seed excretions occur during the six- to eight-month-long flood season, when the characid fish Colossoma macropomum swim from lakes and rivers into vast floodplains where they gobble up fruit dropped by trees and shrubs.

Froggy finds raise hope for Haiti

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: January 12, 2011   View Article

Conservationists have rediscovered six species of frogs in Haiti, offering a ray of hope for the country on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that left it in shambles.

“I am very wary of highlighting frogs at this time in Haiti. Obviously the country has very pressing needs, but I think ultimately they are a symbol of something more hopeful,” said Robin Moore, an amphibian expert with Conservation International who helped lead the expedition that found the frogs.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach