Dinosaur bodies are covered in all sorts of spikes, horns, plates that were used for defence, combat and identification. But sometimes, these body parts are so bizarre that their purpose is a mystery. The latest in these strange projections belongs to Concavenator, a new giant predator with two spikes sticking up from the vertebrae just in front of its hips. They would probably have given the dinosaur a strange hump on its back.
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Image: Raúl Martín
Behold its minute majesty.
The micro frog’s moniker is Microhyla nepenthicola. It grows to just a half-inch long or less. It lives in pitcher plants, and it’s the smallest Old World frog species ever found. (The only smaller frog in the entire world is found in Cuba.)
Dr Indraneil Das of the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said the sub-species had originally been mis-identified in museums. “Scientists presumably thought they were juveniles of other species, but it turns out they are adults of this newly-discovered micro species,” he said [Reuters].
The good news: After decades of wondering whether this immaculately bearded monkey really existed, but not being able to confirm it because of never-ending violence in Colombia, scientists say they’ve finally found evidence of the Caqueta titi monkey. The bad news: Because of habitat destruction, the cat-sized redbeard primate is critically endangered.
The new species joins about 20 other titi monkeys known in the Amazon basin. They appear to be monogamous to a level that puts humans to shame, says expedition leader Thomas Defler, whose study (pdf) appears in Primate Conservation. The Caqueta monkey couples have about one child per year that they raise together, and that isn’t the end of their absurd adorableness. Read More
Want to know what early or extraterrestrial life might look like? You might try looking at Earth’s extremes: the coldest, highest, and deepest places on our planet. One unmanned research vehicle just tried the last of these strategies, and took samples from a hydrothermal vent plume 16,000 feet under the sea–about 2,000 feet deeper than the previous record-holding vent.
A research team led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and including scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory studied three hydrothermal vents, found along an underwater ridge in the Caribbean called the Mid-Cayman Rise. They published their findings yesterday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Hydrothermal vents are usually found in spots where the Earth’s tectonic are moving away from each other, creating a weird zone of raw chemistry. A mixture of hot vent fluids and cold deep-ocean water form plumes, which can contain dissolved chemicals, minerals, and microbes. Instead of searching the entire 60-mile-long ridge with the vehicle, the team scouted for chemicals from the plume to zero-in on the vents.
“Every time you get a hydrothermal system, it’s wet and hot, and you get water and rocks interacting. Wherever this happens on the seafloor, life takes advantage,” said geophysicist Chris German of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. “Every time you find seawater interacting with volcanic rock, there’s weird and wonderful life associated with it.” [Wired]
Twelve million years ago, one sperm whale was king. Between 40 and 60 feet in length the beast scientists named Leviathan melvillei wasn’t any bigger than today’s sperm whales, but look at those teeth!
As described in a paper published in Nature today, Olivier Lambert discovered the whale’s fossils in a Peruvian desert. The creature’s name says it all:
[It] combines the Hebrew word ‘Livyatan’, which refers to large mythological sea monsters, with the name of American novelist Herman Melville, who penned Moby-Dick — “one of my favourite sea books”, says lead author Olivier Lambert of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. [Nature News]
The prehistoric sperm whale may have eaten baleen whales, and its largest chompers are a foot long and some four inches wide. For all the details, check out Ed Yong’s post on Not Exactly Rocket Science.
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A flying frog that changes colors, a stick insect that’s a foot and a half long, and a “ninja slug” that shoots “love darts.” These are among the 120 new species discovered or described over the past three years on the lush island of Borneo–the Southeast Asia island divided between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.
On Earth Day, the conservation group WWF released a report on some of the recent discoveries in a 54-million-acre nature preserve known as the Heart of Borneo. WWF ecologist Adam Tomasek says that on an average, three new species were found every month.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Slugs?
This colorful green and yellow slug species, named Ibycus rachelae, was discovered atop high mountains in the Malaysian section of Borneo. The slug has a tail three times the length of its head, and it wraps the tail around itself when it is resting. From the Ariophantidae family, this unusual species makes use of so-called ‘love darts’ in courtship. Made of calcium carbonate, the love dart is harpoon-like which pierces and injects a hormone into a mate, and may play a role in increasing the chances of reproduction [Guardian].
Image: Peter Koomen / WWF
For one species to diverge into two, you typically need physical separation so that two populations can breed independently and evolve in different ways. That may happening to the blackcap warblers of Central Europe, Martin Schaefer says in a new Current Biology study, thanks to … bird feeders.
The birds are native to Germany and Austria, and migrate in the winter. Blackcap migration routes are genetically determined, and the population studied by Schaefer has historically wintered in Spain. Those that flew north couldn’t find food in barren winter landscapes, and perished [Wired.com].
Call it an evolutionary beta test. About 125 million years ago a dinosaur stalked the world, and this predator had a familiar shape: It stood on strong back legs but had runty forelimbs, had a whip-like tail, and had a disproportionately large head with vicious teeth. But while that sounds like a description of the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, this beast actually lived 35 million years before T. rex–and it was only 9 feet tall.
The discovery of the new species, which has been named Raptorex kriegsteini, has upended previous theories about how the king of the lizards evolved. Says study coauthor Stephen Brusatte: “The thought was these signature Tyrannosaurus features evolved as a consequence of large body size…. They needed to modify their entire skeleton so they could function as a predator at such colossal size” [The New York Times]. Instead, it appears that these features evolved in the early ancestors of T. rex, and that over the epochs the animals simply scaled up.
In the depths of the Pacific Ocean, several never-before-seen species of worm have been found that have a remarkable defense mechanism. Take, for example, the newly named species Swima bombiviridis. Thousands of meters below the sea, a tiny worm wriggles through the darkness, its dozens of paddle-shaped bristles moving in beautiful coordination. Suddenly, a hungry predator appears. The worm releases a glowing green sac, and the fish homes in on this bright new trophy. By the time the fish realizes the sac is no meal, the worm is long gone [ScienceNow Daily News].
Of the seven new species described in a paper in Science, five drop luminescent “bombs” that researchers think distract their predators, allowing the worms enough time to wriggle away backward. Study coauthor Greg Rouse explained that a common ancestor of the species had gills that appeared to be “in exactly the same places as the bombs”, from which the bombs could have evolved. “The gills (of their relatives) can fall off very easily so there’s a similarity of being detachable, but for some reason the gills have transformed to become these glowing little detachable spheres” [BBC News].