Monthly Archives: May 2009

Give Up, Seahorse.


Two years after the preserved proteins of a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex were published by NCSU paleontologist, Mary Schweitzer, and her team, they’ve come back to describe the discovery of some 80-million-year-old femur bone proteins belonging to the duckbilled hadrosaur, Brachylophosaurus canadensis. The specimen’s deep burial within a block of sandstone gave it optimal protection, so even though it was twelve million years older than the Tyrannosaurus rex femur, they were still able to find double the amino acids in the hadrosaur protein sequence.

By using these protein sequences to reconstruct ancient evolutonary trees, Schweitzer’s team have become the pioneers of a new area in palaeontology known as palaeomicrobiology. Comparing the dinosaur proteins with living bird and reptile samples, they were able to demonstrate the close relationship between dinosaurs and modern birds, their sequences far more similar to those of chickens and ostriches than they were to those of modern alligators and lizards.

Also worth a mention because it’s, you know, a SEA CREATURE: a fossil of the oldest preserved seahorse has been uncovered in Slovenia by researcher, Jure Žalohar, when he was washing his hands in a stream after a jog. The 13-million-year-old specimen reveals the only known extinct species of seahorse, known as the Hippocampus sarmaticus.

Now I don’t want to be all, “Seahorse, this is a competition, and you lose,” because I really do enjoy seahorses, especially the pygmy ones, but it kind of is a competition and Seahorse, you kind of did lose. I mean, shit, all hadrosaur had to do was hand over one lousy femur bone to produce a better news story than you. What, my advice, Seahorse? Well gosh, I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess for one thing, you should probably stop harping on about your decision to stand up 25 million years ago, because the dinosaurs already had that idea eons before you. Yes, Seahorse, eons.

Maybe you should just stick to what you’re good at. Don’t try and beat the dinosaurs at the fossil/being upright game, because trust me, you won’t win. Perhaps just concentrate on being dainty and and making those trumpeting sounds with your snout. Remember, Seahorse, the dinosaurs might be way more news worthy, but no one can comb a mermaid’s hair quite like you.

– bec



Filed under Archosaurs, Fossils, Sea Creatures

Fox, I’ve Got Some More Bad News.


Well it’s bad enough that foxes already have to deal with increasing amounts of frost-resistant Trichina worms being all up in their shit (hopefully not literally), but it’s just been reported that the rabies virus could become a real threat to their US populations too.

Originating from bats, rabies would ordinarily be passed from bat to fox via a scratch or a bite, the infected fox unlikely to spread the virus any further before death. However, a particular strain of the disease, the northern-Arizona rabies virus, appears to be evolving faster than any new strain on record, and has mutated to be transmitted in much the same way as a common cold.

And it’s not just foxes that are affected by the strain, skunks and possibly raccoons can also pass the disease on to their kin, so northern Arizona is likely to become borderline-apocalyptic in the near future. Thousands of foamy-mouthed twitchy small- to medium-sized woodland creatures are going to be running up and down trees and onto hiking tracks all snappy and incapable of reason before unfortunate nature enthusiasts know what’s hit them. And the only solution I could come up with to stifle this epidemic is to have them all wear tiny cotton face masks over their snouts.

Of course this was work-shopped and admittedly ended in disaster, the foxes and skunks momentarily removing them to gnaw at a persistent tick on their haunch, only to find that there was no one around with hands to help put them back on when they were done. Good one, woodland creatures. Now we’re all going to have to stockpile hundreds of tins of pear halves and board our windows because it’s going to be like 28 Days Later. Only with foxes.

Picture from the Smithsonian Museum’s Nature’s Best Photography Exhibition 2007.

– bec

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Filed under Animals, Science

Tiny Gypsies: Beware The Bad-Luck Froglets


For those of us who have a problem with weeny thimble-gypsies trying to steal our shoelaces to put into their stews, West Australian herpetologists have just found the ultimate solution. Sure, you could just continue to throw regular-sized bad-luck frogs at them, but you kinda don’t want to have to actually kill them just to keep their grimy mitts off of your wares. Which is why the recent discovery in the Kimberley region of the Tiny Toadlet (Uperoleia micra) and Kimberly Froglet (Crinia fimbriata) should come in tremendous handy. At just two centimetres long, you could pelt a handful of these coy miniatures at those roguish troublemakers and their disease-ridden caravans before they’ve even managed to take a tiny (stolen) pocket knife to your shoe. Just be sure to do it before they start throwing their babies at you and spitting Hepatitis at your friend.

– bec

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Filed under Animals, New Species!, Science