Spinosaurus is First Known Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

By Jon Tennant | September 11, 2014 1:00 pm
Spinosaurus aegyptiacus trawls for mesozoic fish. Illustration by Brian Engh

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus trawls for mesozoic fish. Illustration by Brian Engh

The meat-eating dinosaur Spinosaurus rose to terrifying fame in Jurassic Park III, when it took down the comparatively small Tyrannosaurus rex. Now, thanks to a newly discovered partial skeleton, Spinosaurus has an even greater claim to fame: this fearsome sail-backed beast spent much of its time in the water, a definitive first for dinosaurs.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs

Fossil Discovery Confirms Mammals’ Original Ancestors

By Carl Engelking | September 10, 2014 12:17 pm
xianshou songae

Reconstruction of a new mammal species, Xianshou songae. This mouse-sized animal was a tree dweller in the Jurassic forests. (Credit: Zhao Chuang)

What looks like a rat, climbs trees and has a tail like a lemur? It’s your cousin, of course!

Before you take offense to that statement, please note that we’re referring to Xianshou songae, one of three newly discovered, extinct species that lived roughly 160 million years ago. This trio of species, unearthed in China, helps settle a long debate regarding the origin and earliest evolution of mammals. So by your cousin, we mean the earliest relatives of all mammals. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Blue Heron Kills, Swallows a Gopher In Cold Blood (Video)

By Lisa Raffensperger | September 10, 2014 11:42 am

When Jesse Garza trained a video camera on his backyard earlier this summer he was trying to get to the bottom of a simple mystery — why a blue heron was hanging around his suburban neighborhood. But it didn’t take long for him to discover the answer: This statuesque, water-loving bird was on a hunt for lawn gophers.

Thanks to a well-timed video shoot Garza captured the whole thing on camera. “Huh!” he’s heard to exclaim. “I didn’t know that that’s what they ate.” Neither did we, Jesse.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Iceland Eruption, Largest for a Century, Shows No Signs of Stopping

By Robin Wylie | September 10, 2014 10:57 am

The Bardarbunga eruptive fissure on September 1, 2014. Credit: University of Iceland/Ármann Höskuldsson

Update 9/11/14: This article has been amended to clarify that this is the most extensive eruption by area covered, not necessarily lava volume.

The most extensive lava eruption for over a century is currently underway in central Iceland.

Since August 31, liquid rock has been streaming from a mile-long fissure northeast of Bardarbunga, the country’s second highest volcano. Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist from the University of Iceland, says that the fissure has now spewed more lava, by area, than any Icelandic eruption since the 19th century. The university’s most recent estimate puts the amount of lava at nearly eight square miles — enough to cover a quarter of the island of Manhattan.

The fissure has been erupting regularly and vigorously since it opened, shooting lava fountains more than 300ft into the air; the associated lava flows stretch for up to seven miles.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Whale Pelvis Isn’t Useless After All – It Maneuvers the Penis

By Carl Engelking | September 9, 2014 2:29 pm


Elvis Presley earned the moniker of “Elvis the Pelvis” for his tendency to gyrate his hips in erotic fashion. It turns out that whales and dolphins, known as cetaceans, also use their pelvic bones in the most sexual of ways.

Forty million years ago, whales’ and dolphins’ ancestors walked the Earth and a pelvis was crucial for that task. Today, cetaceans, of course, are ocean dwellers, but their anatomy still includes pelvic bones. Marine biologists had thought that the pelvic bones were purposeless in the marine environment, and would eventually disappear given another million or so years of evolution. But now, a comparative look at different species’ pelvic bones reveals that they may have an unsung benefit: helping maneuver cetaceans’ penises. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, evolution, ocean

Your Fingertips Perform Brain-like Calculations

By Carl Engelking | September 8, 2014 2:54 pm

fingertips touch

Your brain has a lot to think about, so if there’s a way to outsource a few mental tasks to save bandwidth, it’s going to do it. Now researchers have discovered another such workaround: the neurons in your fingertips perform some computational tasks independently of the brain.

Researchers from Umeå University in Sweden demonstrated that nerve endings in our fingertips encode information about touch intensity and shape before those signals ever travel to the brain. Their findings challenge the long-held belief that our skin simply signaled that something was touched, and our brains processed all the bits of information about shape.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Hurricane-Proof Drones Are the Storm Chasers of Tomorrow

By April Reese | September 8, 2014 12:11 pm


When Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans in August of 2005, federal officials couldn’t predict how it would behave with any real certainty until two days before landfall. Next time, their fortune-telling is likely to be far more accurate, thanks to a new type of hurricane-proof data-gathering drone now in development.

Current hurricane-hunting planes gather data on winds, pressure, precipitation and temperature, but they can’t fly below about 5,000 feet because of extreme turbulence. Dropsondes, small cylindrical sensors that can be dropped from a plane, only provide a few minutes’ worth of data before falling into the ocean.

A new unmanned aerial vehicle, however, will go where no machine has gone before: the poorly understood, low-lying guts of a storm.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, top posts

Video: Daredevil Explorers Rappel Into an Active Volcano

By Carl Engelking | September 5, 2014 12:59 pm

Descending into a roiling pit of magma isn’t what most people have in mind when they visit an island nation in the Pacific Ocean. But that’s exactly what these bold adventurers did when strapped on a GoPro and dove into the belly of an active volcano.

Explorers Sam Cossman and Geoerge Kourounis rappelled down the crater inside Mount Marum, which is situated on one of 80 islands that make up the Pacific Republic of Vanuatu. And they’ve just uploaded video of this up-close encounter with one of the world’s most volcanically active locations.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
MORE ABOUT: earth science

Skin Color Still Matters in Video Games

By Jeremy Hsu | September 4, 2014 2:44 pm
Avatars from Second Life video game

Avatars from Second Life. Image by LindenLab via Flickr

Video games represent the ultimate in escapist technology for millions of people — a way to spend a few enjoyable hours slaying fantasy monsters or exploring science fiction worlds. But the dominant skin color of virtual avatars in a game can still have a very real-world impact on the experience of minority gamers, according to a recent study.

The research, conducted by Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee at Ohio State University, used the online game “Second Life” to examine how diversity among virtual avatars affected the experience of both white and black players. She found that low-diversity representations of “Second Life” dominated by white avatars led black players to create virtual avatars that also appeared whiter. Such circumstances even made black players less willing to reveal their real racial identity through their avatars.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

New “Dreadnoughtus” Dinosaur Was One of World’s Largest

By Carl Engelking | September 4, 2014 2:05 pm
dreadnoughtus dinosaur

An artist’s rendering of Dreadnoughtus schrani. (Credit: Jennifer Hall)

The NFL’s season officially opens tonight as Seattle and Green Bay duke it out in prime time. But if you placed both teams’ 53 players on a scale, their combined weight would only be a fifth of a newly discovered supermassive species of dinosaur dubbed Dreadnoughtus schrani.

Weighing in at more than 65 tons and measuring 85 feet from head to toe, Dreadnoughtus is among the largest dinosaurs belonging to the gigantic family known as titanosaurs. To date, it is the most complete skeleton of a gigantic dinosaur, which allowed researchers to accurately calculate its size. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs

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