A spider recently discovered in caves in the Pacific Northwest is an odd beast: not only is it a new species, it’s got its own genus and even family to itself. Up to three inches wide with its legs extended, it sports long, sharp claws that suggest it’s a keen predator of some sort, but scientists currently have no idea what it eats. It was discovered hanging from rather messy webs on the ceilings of caves, as well as in undergrowth in redwood forests. Its genus name, Trogloraptor, means cave robber.
Former 80beats blogger Doug Main, now at Our Amazing Planet, has interviewed the scientists who made the discovery and has plenty more interesting details. Head on over to learn more, and to see pictures of its claws.
Image courtesy of Griswold CE, Audisio T, Ledford JM
The scientists’ blood-sucking accomplices
What’s the News: Scientists searching for new and endangered species in tropical highlands face a Catch 22. Spotting shy creatures is the order of the day, but bushwhacking through forests is anything but subtle. How can you get a sense of what’s there when you can’t get close enough to see it?
Environmental DNA analysis is one of the answers—checking out the DNA in soil, for instance, can reveal what pooped there recently in amazing detail. But for a technique that can reach beyond a given patch of ground, scientists have been investigating using leeches from streamwater as their source of DNA. It turns out that blood from their last meal sticks around in their gut for a good long time, and they happen to be partial to human blood too—which makes them, in the scientists’ words, “easy to collect.” A new paper gives proof that the technique is valuable: blood in leeches collected from a Vietnamese rainforest reveals the presence of six mammalian species, some of them rare.
In the 1980s, scientists identified a crab species in the Philippines and gave it the delightful of name of Insulamon unicorn. Twenty years later, scientists have found some of its cousins (pdf): four new freshwater crab species in the same genus. This purple one with red-tipped claws is I. palawanese.
Isolated on the island, the Insulamon have evolved to live in freshwater rather than seawater, hiding out under roots and rocks near stream beds. This little guy is remarkably colorful and easy to spot, despite being less than two inches across.
[via Discovery News]
Whatcha looking at? This is just my face.
This new leaf-nosed bat species was recently discovered in Vietnam. What’s with the strange nose? Scientists think that its protuberances and indentations help the bat in echolocation. Come to think of it, it does kind of resemble another excellent sound detector: the inside a cat’s ear.
As strange as the Hipposideros griffini’s nose is, it’s really got nothing on the star-nosed mole.
[via National Geographic News]
Image courtesy of Vu Dinh Thong / Journal of Mammalogy
A botanist has discovered a new species of plant in eastern Brazil whose branches bend down upon bearing fruit and deposit seeds on the ground, often burying them in a covering of soft soil or moss. This trick is an example of geocarpy, a rare adaptation to survival in harsh or short-lived environments with small favorable patches. The adaptation ensures seedlings germinate near their parents, helping them stay within the choice spots or microclimates in which they thrive. One well-known practitioner of geocarpy is the peanut, which also buries its fruit in the soil [PDF].
What’s the News: The oldest recovered dinosaurs, including two-legged predators like Herrerasaurus, tromped around Argentina and Brazil some 230 million years ago. But exactly what happened after those beasts is a mystery: paleontologists have puzzled over an evolutionary gap in the fossil record between these early creatures and the more complex theropods, a suborder of bipedal dinosaurs—including Tyrannosaurus rex—that eventually comprised all dino carnivores. In the rocks of New Mexico’s Ghost Ranch, paleontologists have discovered the skull and vertebrae of a new dinosaur species that may fill this evolutionary gap. Dubbed Daemonosaurus chauliodus, this up-to-five-feet long, 205-million-year old predator has characteristics of both the first dinosaurs and the more advanced predators. As Hans-Dieter Sues, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., told National Geographic, the skull is unusual because “it has a … short snout and these monstrous front teeth. That’s a kind of skull structure for a predatory dinosaur that’s really unexpected for this early point in time.”
When it come to dinosaurs, names say a lot: “tyrant lizard king” sums up the towering stature and carnivorous ways of Tyrannosaurus rex, and “arm lizard” gestures toward the Brachiosaurus‘s long front legs. And the same is true for the newest discovered dinosaur species, which has been dubbed “thunder-thighs.” That’s because scientists think its muscular thighs were so strong that it used them to boot its enemies.
The official name of this new sauropod species is Brontomerus mcintoshi. The first name is Greek for “thunder-thighs,” and the species name honors the Wesleyan University physics professor and amateur paleontologist Jack McIntosh. This dino is believed to have bigger leg muscles than any other sauropod.
A team of American and British scientists discovered the dinosaur in a quarry in Utah, and published their findings in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. Fragments from two skeletons were found: one from an adult (believed to be the mother) and a juvenile. These specimens are roughly 110 million year old, and the larger one would have weighed in at six tons and measured over 45 feet long.
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DISCOVER: 10 Science Hotspots–Where Mother Nature Reveals Her Secrets
Marine scientists have completed the first ever census of the myriad creatures living in the world’s deep blue seas, a monumental accomplishment that took 2,700 researchers 10 years to accomplish. While the scientists didn’t count every single fish head, they now know more than ever before about what kinds of life inhabit the oceans, what lives where, and the number of creatures that remain. They hope that this sound science will produce sound decisions on environmental policy and fishery management.
The Census of Marine Life was officially launched in 2000. After a decade of work, some of the most interesting findings are the delineations of the ocean’s unknowns. For example, the Census upped the estimate of the number of known marine species to nearly 250,000, but still couldn’t estimate the total number of species in the ocean. It might be millions, the report says, or tens or hundreds of millions, when all the ocean’s microbes are accounted for.
Here’s a new creature for the record books. In Chile, paleontologists have found the fossilized remains of a huge, toothy bird whose wingspan stretched 17 feet across. That means the bird, Pelagornis chilensis or “huge pseudoteeth,” had one of the longest wingspan ever recorded–a wingspan that was about as long as a giraffe is high.
This newly named species belongs to a group known as pelagornithids, birds that had bony tooth-like projections and long beaks. The well-preserved fossil that researchers turned up belonged to a bird that weighed about 64 pounds and had relatively light, thin-walled bones, according to the description published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. It cruised the skies between 5 and 10 million years ago.