Elephant Birds, Biggest Ever, Were Creatures Of The Night

By Gemma Tarlach | October 30, 2018 6:01 pm
Giant nocturnal elephant birds are shown foraging in the ancient forests of Madagascar at night. CREDIT John Maisano for the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

Madagascar’s recently extinct elephant birds, once thought to be active during the day, were actually nocturnal, according to new research. (Credit: John Maisano for the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences)

They were enormous, the biggest of the big, and, say authors of a new study reconstructing bird brains, the elephant birds of Madagascar were also nocturnal. The new research reveals surprising details about the animals, their habitats and their closest evolutionary kin.
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Chocolate Was A Thing 1,500 Years Earlier Than Thought

By Gemma Tarlach | October 29, 2018 11:00 am
Millennia before chocolate fountains were mainstays at wedding receptions, the cacao-derived ingredient was an important element for people living in Central and South America. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Millennia before chocolate fountains (above) were mainstays at wedding receptions, the cacao-derived ingredient was important to people living in Central and South America. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s time to rewrite the history of chocolate. Using both archaeological and genomic data, researchers have revealed that consumption of the now globally-loved ingredient started much earlier than thought — and has a different birthplace than many assumed.
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First Americans: Pre-Clovis Projectiles Hint At Multiple Migrations

By Gemma Tarlach | October 24, 2018 1:00 pm
A 15,000-year-old projectile of the stemmed point tradition. (Credit: Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University)

A 15,000-year-old projectile may provide indirect evidence for how and when people first arrived in the Americas. (Credit: Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University)

Thousands of artifacts from a site in Central Texas, including a dozen projectile points, have provided researchers with new clues about the arrival and spread of First Americans on the continent. The items, which are up to 15,500 years old, hint that the Americas may have been populated in multiple waves of migration via different routes.
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Earliest Flesh-Ripping Fish Found (With Nibbled Victims)

By Gemma Tarlach | October 18, 2018 10:00 am
This funky-colored fish was nothing to trifle with: Researchers say newly-described Late Jurassic Piranhamesodon pinnatomus was the piranha of its day. (Credit: The Jura Museum)

This funky-colored fish was nothing to trifle with: Researchers say newly-described Late Jurassic Piranhamesodon pinnatomus was the piranha of its day. (Credit: Jura Museum)

Jumping right out of nightmares and into my heart (it’s kind of cute, isn’t it?), meet Fincutter, the Bavarian Piranha. Less than three inches long, the Late Jurassic fossil is the earliest ray-finned fish with flesh-ripping teeth — and paleontologists say it was preserved alongside some of its prey.
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Oldest Trace Fossils Ever Found Might Not Be Fossils

By Gemma Tarlach | October 17, 2018 12:00 pm
Trace fossils indicating an earlier start to life on Earth or just deformed rock? Seven anomalies (yellow arrows) found in 3.7 billion-year-old rock as trace fossils of early life, but a new study that focused on one portion (blue box) questions the previous findings. (Credit Allword et al 2018)

Trace fossils indicating the first signs life on Earth or just deformed rock? Researchers previously interpreted several anomalies (yellow arrows) found in 3.7 billion-year-old rock as the oldest evidence of life, but a new study, which focused on one portion of the sample (blue box), questions the previous findings. (Credit Allwood et al 2018)

Fossil or faux pas? A 2016 study that interpreted rock anomalies as the oldest evidence of life on our planet got it wrong, say researchers behind a new analysis of some of the same rock. The deformities aren’t relics of early microbial life, says the team, but rather a snapshot of geological forces shaping and reshaping our world.
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Blind Cavefish Provides Surprise Clue To Mammal Evolution

By Gemma Tarlach | October 11, 2018 10:00 am
This image shows a Somalian blind cavefish that, after evolving for millions of years in darkness, has lost the capacity to harness light for repairing DNA CREDIT Luca Scapoli at the University of Ferrara.jpg

Clues to the earliest days of mammal evolution may lie in the genome of the Somalian blind cavefish, Phreatichthys andruzzii. (Credit: Luca Scapoli/University of Ferrara)

If you’re trying to understand the earliest days of mammal evolution, including how our ancestors lived, the genome of a blind cavefish might not strike you as the most obvious place to hunt for clues. A study out today, however, suggests that’s exactly where you can glimpse our distant — and very dark — past. Read More

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Slow (Thunder)Clap for New Giant Dinosaur Ledumahadi

By Gemma Tarlach | September 27, 2018 10:00 am
Dig this big new dino, Ledumahadi mafube, a relative of Brontosaurus. (Credit: McPhee et al 2018)

Dig this big new dino, Ledumahadi mafube, which appears to have been the largest land animal of its time. (Credit: McPhee et al 2018)

They’re among the most iconic of dinosaurs: the sauropods, long-necked, long-tailed herbivores that evolved into the largest land animals the planet has ever seen. They were essentially the cows of their day. Very, very big cows. But they didn’t start out that way. A new dinosaur unearthed in South Africa reveals there are more plot twists to the sauropod story than we thought. Read More

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Elephant Bird Vorombe Titan Was Biggest Bird Ever

By Gemma Tarlach | September 25, 2018 6:01 pm
Big Bird of Sesame Street (credit tk)

Sesame Street’s beloved Big Bird has an official height of 8-feet-2-inches, but that’s nothing compared with an extinct elephant bird that researchers say was the size of a sauropod dinosaur. (Credit: Sesame Street)

There’s Big Bird and then there’s really big birds. The elephant birds of Madagascar, which went extinct about a thousand years ago, have long been counted among the largest birds ever to walk the planet. But a second look at the bones they left behind has led researchers to rethink the birds’ family tree — and just how big they got.
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Dark Data: The Vulnerable Treasures Sitting On Museum Shelves

By Gemma Tarlach | September 4, 2018 6:00 pm
Brazil's Museu Nacional, or National Museum, in a 2015 photo. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Odair Bernardo)

The need to digitize “dark data” — fossils and other unstudied material sitting in archives around the world — takes on new urgency in light of a devastating fire at Brazil’s Museu Nacional, or National Museum. Here, in a 2015 photo, the museum in better times. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Odair Bernardo)

As curators begin the grim work of sorting through what’s left of Brazil’s fire-ravaged National Museum, a new paper quantifies the staggering number of fossils and other scientifically significant finds going unstudied — and vulnerable to loss — in museum collections. It’s a call to action, say the authors.
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The Evolutionary History Of A Malaria Parasite

By Gemma Tarlach | August 20, 2018 2:00 pm
Malaria sporozoites, the infectious form of the malaria parasite that is injected into people by mosquitoes. Credit: NIAID/Wikimedia Commons

Did malaria hitch a ride with ancient humans out of Africa? People typically develop the disease after sporozoites, the infectious form of a Plasmodium parasite, are injected into the bloodstream by mosquitoes. (Credit: NIAID/Wikimedia Commons)

Millions of people annually contract malaria after infection by nasty little parasites belonging to the genus Plasmodium. Thanks to new genomic insights, researchers believe they’ve uncovered a key chunk of the disease’s evolutionary back story — and a potential new path to fight it.
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