New Bird-Like Dinosaur Identified in Spain #

Many of these animals exhibited peculiar features that may have been generated by lack of space and resources in their insular habitats.

Tamarro insperatus was a type of troodontid (Troodontidae), a group of bird-like theropod dinosaurs that includes kiwi-size (i.e. 0.8 kg for Mei long) to rhea-size species (i.e. 47 kg for Troodon formosus).

Helsingin Sanomat's 'Climate Crisis' font weights shrink with the Arctic sea ice

Climate change font graph

Helsingin Sanomat is Finland’s largest subscription newspaper, based in the nation’s capital, Helsinki. In response to the growing climate crisis, the publication created The Climate Crisis Font, a variable font with weights that change gradually but dramatically:

The font’s design is based on data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (https://nsidc.org) and predictions provided by the IPCC (https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/). The heaviest font weight represents the minimum extent of the Arctic sea ice in the year 1979, when satellite measuring began. The lightest weight represents IPCC’s 2050 forecast, when the Arctic sea ice minimum is expected to have shrunk to only 30 % of the 1979 extent.

How a clownfish earns their stripes #

Charismatic clownfish, the coral reef fish made famous by the film Finding Nemo, are instantly recognizable by their white stripes. These stripes, which scientists call bars, appear as clownfish mature from larvae into adults in a process called metamorphosis, but how these distinctive patterns form has long remained a mystery.

Now, a new study has found that the speed at which these white bars form depends on the species of sea anemone in which the clownfish live. The scientists also discovered that thyroid hormones, which play a key role in metamorphosis, drive how quickly their stripes appear, through changes in the activity of a gene called duox.

Something else I didn’t know about clownfish is how they transition from male to female over time:

Anemonefish are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they develop into males first, and when they mature, they become females. If the female anemonefish is removed from the group, such as by death, one of the largest and most dominant males becomes a female. The remaining males move up a rank in the hierarchy.

I’ve got an idea for a Finding Nemo sequel!

Fish related: The ‘vantafish’ that absorbs nearly all light that hits it and how fish skin is used for leather

The Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan

Deep in the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan lies something extraordinary: a 230ft-wide hole with fire in it. Known to locals as “The Gates of Hell”, the crater (officially known as the Darvaza gas crater) was the result of a disputed accident:

[…] a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Having punctured a pocket of gas, poisonous fumes began leaking at an alarming rate.

To head off a potential environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. Decades later, and the fiery pit is still going strong. The Soviet drilling rig is believed to still be down there somewhere, on the other side of the “Gates of Hell.”

The hole has been on fire for 40 years. For more pictures and the story of a Canadian explorer who went down, check out this Guardian article.

(via Atlas Obscura)

Grizzly bear + polar bear = pizzly bear

Vanderbilt researcher explains Pizzly bear hybrid species

Climate change sucks but nature has an uncanny knack for adapting to new environments. After all, it’s been doing it for billions of years. An example that piqued my interest was the breeding of grizzly and polar bears to produce hybrids known as pizzly bears (or grolar bears if you prefer that portmanteau).

Pizzly bears were first discovered in the wild in 2006 and the reason for the pairing relates to both species moving to better climates: grizzlies are looking for warmth and polar bears are looking for cold. They meet halfway, come into contact when hunting, and engage in “opportunistic mating,” according to Larisa DeSantis, an associate professor of biological sciences at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University.

DeSantis also says they’re “more resilient to climate change and better suited for warmer temperatures”:

“We’ve known about pizzlies for quite some time, but their occurrence may be more common with ongoing Arctic warming […] Usually hybrids aren’t better suited to their environments than their parents, but there is a possibility that these hybrids might be able to forage for a broader range of food sources.”

Animal related: that time when the UN claimed a million species were close to extinction

La Soufrière's eruption: before and after photos

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission captured the above images of La Soufrière before and after its eruption on 9th April.

La Soufrière is an active stratovolcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. A series of explosive events began in April 2021, forming a plume of volcanic ash reaching 8 km in height, and generating pyroclastic flows down the volcano’s south and southwest flanks.

According to the BBC, La Soufriere had been inactive for decades before it started erupting last week. No reported injuries but thousands have fled their homes.

(via SciTechDaily)

A Japanese study classified fish-shaped soy sauce containers into species #

The fish-shaped soy sauce container

A Japanese entomologist has ventured from his area of expertise to delve into the taxonomy of these plastic fish and he has actually sorted them into distinct families and genera. You may wonder, why? Perhaps it is an ode to the humble soy sauce container, perhaps another outlet for a taxonomist to channel OCD, or perhaps just because.

The author of the book, Yoshihisa Sawada, is an expert in Japanese insect taxonomy and has worked at the Museum of Nature and Human Activities in Hyogo, having published several scientific papers in this field. He took his taxonomic expertise and applied it to an unlikely subject, seemingly below his expertise: plastic fish-shaped soy sauce bottles. He applies his same methodology and treats his subject with all the reverence and seriousness of an actual taxonomic study on living animals. The book was published in 2012 and, alas, is only available in Japanese. The rough translation of the title into English is “Soy sauce sea bream”. “Bream” refers to freshwater and marine fish from a variety of genera that are typically narrow and deep-bodied.

More on fish: Europe’s only fish tannery, did Danny DeVito eat a real fish in Batman Returns, and the vantafish that absorbs nearly all light.

(via Alex Cassidy on Twitter)

Bees' brain cell density is higher than birds #

Many bees have a brain cell density greater than that of small birds – but most ant brains contain a far lower density of neurons. The difference may be down to the insects’ lifestyles: because bees fly, they may need more brain cells than ants do in order to process visual information […]

However, the difference in the insects’ brain cell counts probably has little to do with intelligence, says team member Wulfila Gronenberg, also at the University of Arizona. The researchers think flying insects probably need more neurons to power the enhanced vision they need for flight, an idea that they will test in future.

See also: stingless bees and murder hornets

(via New Scientist)

Tam Tam: the cutest baby pygmy hippo in Japan

Tam Tam, the pygmy hippo looking at the camera

Tam Tam is a pygmy hippo from Osaka, Japan. He was born in February 2019.

As pygmy hippos are classed as Endangered, it’s remarkable to see newborns anywhere, let alone Far East Asia where they aren’t native. But the World Conservation Union estimates that fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos are left in the wild so captivity is unfortunately the safest place for them.

The video below shows Tam Tam at swimming in the pool showing his growing teeth and nursing underwater. But above all else, it shows him being the cutest baby pygmy hippo in Japan.

Stream it below and consider a donation to the Pygmy Hippo Foundation.

ミニカバの赤ちゃん 手乗りサイズだったけど大きくなりました! / Adorable baby pygmy hippo at Japanese aquarium

Hippo related: Pablo Escobar’s hippos and 10 hippos from cartoons, literature, and other media.

The 'vantafish' that absorbs nearly all light that hits it

Last year, a Smithsonian marine biologist called Karen Osborn and her colleagues found a unique specimen while hauling deep-sea fish. But when she tried to use strobe lights to take a photo for cataloguing, she could only make out its outline. It was as if the fish was absorbing the light. Except it was.

But wait a second, Osborn figured. “I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can’t see any detail,” she says. “How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?”

It disappears because the fangtooth, along with 15 other species that Osborn and her colleagues have found so far, camouflage themselves with “ultra-black” skin, the deep-sea version of Vantablack, the famous human-made material that absorbs almost all the light you shine at it. These fish have evolved a different and devilishly clever way of going ultra-black with incredible efficiency: One species the researchers found absorbs 99.956 percent of the light that hits it, making it nearly as black as Vantablack.

99.956% is as good as 100% to the naked eye so “Vantafish” seems like the perfect name.

Colour and fish related: Anish Kapoor banned from colour-changing paint, fish leather, and gefilte fish!

(via Wired; photograph: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian)

Dwindling animal populations as dot density images

A Redditor by the name of WhiteCheeks (lol) posted some images he made from a script that “builds the face of an animal based on the population number of the species”.

Each dot represents a single animal, as the population numbers rise and fall the image will either become more legible or disappear completely.

He did so using data from the WWF and created the script using P5.js. We often hear the numbers attached to dwindling animal populations but having visuals really puts the message across. After all, in an article I wrote last May, a million species are already close to extinction.

We need to do more.

The emerald cockroach wasp: a true parasite

The emerald cockroach wasp: a true parasite

(Content warning: this article contains bugs and nasty stuff they do)

Yesterday, I wrote about the concept of parasitic architecture and questioned how parasitic it was. After all, it didn’t really “feed” off its host as such; it was more of an extension and had benefits for people needing places to live. And then I found out about a true parasite and just how wild they can be.

The emerald cockroach wasp aka the jewel wasp aka Ampulex compressa is a parasitoid wasp that feeds off cockroaches in order to reproduce and survive. Parasitoids aren’t uncommon in nature or films (see the Alien series and, to a certain extent, The Thing) but the emerald cockroach wasp is fascinating to me. Here’s how it reproduces:

  1. A female wasp stings a cockroach and its venom paralyses its front legs
  2. Then, the wasp stings it again in its brain, specifically in the area that controls the escape reflex.
  3. Once the host is immobilised, the wasp chews off some of its antennae and then begins feed on the hemolymph (a blood-like substance) that comes out.
  4. The wasp “walks” the roach to its burrow by dragging it in by the remaining antennae. Then, it lays one or two eggs between the roach’s legs.
  5. The roach (which is still alive at this point by the way) rests in the burrow while the eggs hatch, which takes about 3 days. But that’s the start of the end for the roach as the larva then feed off the insides of the roach for the next 4–5 days.
  6. After a week or so, the larva will have eaten all of the roach’s internal organs and go into its cocoon.
  7. After that process, the wasp emerges from the roach’s body and starts adulthood.

I’m not super squeamish but even that turned my stomach. The mating process is efficient too. Time is of the essence as adults only live for a few months and, in line with that, mating only takes a minute (Missy Elliott probably wouldn’t be a fan). One session is all it takes for a female wasp to successfully parasitize several dozen roaches.

One of the most unique ways it uses its venom isn’t to immobilise and then eat but to alter the host’s ability to escape and nothing else. It can still technically fly and flip over. If only the roach could just believe in itself!

Emerald cockroach wasps live in tropical regions, mostly Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands. Some are found in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as well. They were introduced to Hawaii in 1941 as a form of pest control but that didn’t work out. I guess Edgar the Bug would have been grateful for that too.

Stingless bees make healthy honey

stingless bees

What a wild year 2020 has been. First, we had (or still have) murder hornets in the news and now we have stingless bees making headlines in the science community. But unlike their Hymenopteran relatives, they could be a help rather than a hindrance.

Scientists from Australia and Malaysia have found trehalulose, a rare sugar in honey made by stingless bees with “many reported health benefits”. Researchers tested five species from Australia, Malaysia, and Brazil and found the sugar amongst 85% of those analysed. Honey is also said to fend off liver cancer symptoms and keep one healthy.

Trehalulose is made up of fructose and glucose bound together. The trehalulose found in these stingless bees had a low glycaemic index (GI), meaning it digests slower and causes a lower and slower rise in blood glucose. In other words, it’d be better for diabetics and people with high blood pressure. It’s also non-cariogenic, which means it doesn’t cause tooth decay and I’m sure 5/5 dentists would agree.

“Keeping native stingless bees is gaining in popularity in Australia, for their role as pollinators as well as for their unique honey. As well as having health benefits, stingless bee honey is valued for its flavor and is in high demand from chefs.:

Dr. Mary Fletcher, an organic chemist at the University of Queensland

You can read the full study in Scientific Reports, hosted by Nature.com.