Large cache of dinosaur eggs discovered in China

More than 200 dinosaur eggs have been discovered in China, including 16 that hold embryonic remains.

The eggs, from a flying reptile known as a pterosaur, were discovered by researchers working in the Turpan-Hami Basin in northwestern China during a 10-year span ending in 2016.

The cache shines new light on the development and nesting behavior of pterosaurs (Hamipterus tianshanensis), which were believed to have a wingspan of up to 13 feet, and likely ate fish with their large teeth-filled jaws.

Pterosaurs lived during most of the Mesozoic Era: from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous, some 228 million to 66 million years ago.

The discovery, announced through the journal Science, sparked debate about whether the creatures could fly as soon as they hatched, according to National Public Radio.

There had been previous theories that hypothesized that they could, but the paper suggested differently. The research team found that the pterosaur’s hind leg bones were more developed than the wings at the time of hatching, and none of the embryos were found with teeth.

“Thus, newborns were likely to move around but were not able to fly, leading to the hypothesis that Hamipterus might have been less precocious than advocated for flying reptiles in general … and probably needed some parental care,” the paper stated.

Science added that it cautioned against drawing firm conclusions about how the animal moved immediately after hatching because it’s hard to pinpoint just how close the embryos were to hatching.

One single sandstone block held at least 215 well-preserved eggs that have mostly kept their shape, with 16 of those eggs featuring embryonic remains.

The massive discovery does not appear to include a nest, as the eggs had been moved from the place they were originally laid and may have been carried by water after a series of storms hit the reptiles’ nesting ground.

The fossils in the area are so plentiful that scientists refer to it as “Pterosaur Eden,” said Shunxing Jiang, a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

“You can very easily find the pterosaur bones,” he said, adding that they believe dozens more eggs might still lie hidden within the sandstone.

Prior to this discovery, only five other well-preserved pterosaur eggs had been found in this area and one had been found in Argentina, according to NPR.

“The 16 fossilized embryos are at different stages of growth, revealing new information about how the reptiles developed,” NPR added. “None of the embryos are complete, the paper states, and the scientists used computed tomography scanning to view what was inside.”

(Artist’s depiction of pterosaurs, which lived between 228 million and 66 million years ago.)

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Herpetophobes beware: Some snakes found to hunt in unison

Snakes, central characters in many a nightmare, may have just added to their bad reputations: Researchers have found that some of the slithering reptiles attack in packs.

Cuban boas hunt as a team to increase efficiency, providing evidence of the creature’s intelligence, a University of Tennessee scientist has found.

“Coordinated hunting requires higher behavioral complexity because each animal has to take other hunters’ actions into account,” said Vladimir Dinets, the study author and an assistant research professor in the school’s psychology department.

While increased food consumption is believed to be the main reason for the behavior, it’s also possible there is a social function linked to working together, according to RedOrbit.com.

Snakes have been observed to hunt together previously, but the amount of coordination was questionable, and Dinets’ research is the first scientific recording of such behavior.

A recent much-viewed video by the BBC’s Planet Earth showing a young iguana barely escaping a seemingly endless number of attacking snakes would seem to be evidence of the reptiles working toward the same goal, though necessarily in a coordinated effort.

The new research showed how individual snakes take into account the location of others.

The snakes Dinets studied were hunting fruit bats in Cuba. At dawn and dusk, they positioned themselves around the mouth of the cave in such a way as to increase the chances of catching prey.

“Snakes arriving to the hunting area were significantly more likely to position themselves in the part of the passage where other snakes were already present, forming a ‘fence’ across the passage and thus more effectively blocking the flight path of the prey, significantly increasing hunting efficiency,” an extract from the study explained.

The Cuban boa can reach 6 feet in length, which makes the fact that they hang upside down from the roofs of caves even more remarkable.

“After sunset and before dawn, some of the boas entered the passage that connected the roosting chamber with the entrance chamber, and hunted by suspending themselves from the ceiling and grabbing passing bats,” Dinets said.

Dinets observed that the positions taken up by the snakes lowered the chances of bats getting out of the cave. Brilliantly, those hanging positions also meant they behaved like the bats they were trying to catch, according to RedOrbit.com.

For the 2 percent of us that like snakes, this is fascinating; for everyone else, it’s more fodder for bad dreams.

Ancient set of antlers found on beach in Wales

red deer antlers wales

Weeks after first being spotted on a beach along the coast of Wales, researchers have recovered an impressive set of antlers that belonged to a red deer believed to have lived at least 4,000 years ago.

Researchers from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David are examining the remains, which include part of the skull, discovered on a beach in Borth, seven miles north of Aberystwyth, in the Welsh county of Ceredigion.

The remains were first sighted in early April but could not be recovered until recently because of the tides, according to the BBC.

The find comes from a channel cut through an area which in the 1960s turned up bones of an auroch, large wild cattle that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa, and the ancestor of domestic cattle.

“The individual was certainly in the prime of his life showing full development of the large antlers,” according to Dr. Ros Coard of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Map showing Borth, along the coast of Wales, where ancient antlers were found.

Map showing Borth, along the coast of Wales, where ancient antlers were found.

When the skull and antlers were first seen, they were reported to the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth which alerted officials at the school’s archaeology, history and anthropology department.

The individuals who originally located the antlers and partial skull photographed the area where it was spotted. The images were used by the team, who manually searched the water at low tide until the skull was found in approximately three feet of water, according to the BBC.

The forest and peat deposits on either side of the channel date to between about 6,000 and 4,000 years ago – the time of the last hunter-gatherers and the earliest farmers in Britain.

“This is a wonderful discovery that really brings the forest and its environs to light,” said Dr. Martin Bates of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. “Although the exact age of the skull has yet to be confirmed, it’s probable that the channel within which the find was made is contemporary with the forest and so an age in excess of 4,000 years old is likely.”

Coard, a faunal specialist at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, added: “Although the antlers and partial skull still have to undergo full analysis, the antlers can be said to come from a very large, mature male red deer.”

(Top: Antlers and part of skull of red deer believed to be at least 4,000 years old, recovered along coast of Wales. Photo credit: University of Wales Trinity Saint David.)

Good Samaritan hopes for best in deer-car incident

get well

As I sputtered toward the local metropolis Sunday afternoon, I spotted an animal carcass on the side of the road. Nothing unusual there, but tied to the foreleg of the white-tailed deer was a silvery foil balloon festooned with the words “Get Well Soon,” not unlike that pictured above.

Once I comprehended the words on the balloon I started laughing raucously, and asked my daughters if they’d caught a glimpse of the decidedly optimistic note attached to the lifeless ruminant.

Daughter No. 4, blessed with her father’s cynical sense of humor, immediately found the above image on the Internet, and soon we were all laughing.

The Internet also offered up: a roadside memorial to a dead raccoon in Toronto, a dead armadillo and various other deceased deer adorned with get-well balloons and, in a completely serious story, a 2013 memorial that was held in Portland, Ore., for 50,000 bumblebees, honeybees and ladybug, said to have been killed by pesticides.

One supposes the last item would be funnier if not for the fact that more people showed up to honor the “slain insects” than often appear at the funerals of those who die with few family or friends.

Update: I spotted said white-tailed deer on the way into work this morning. It’s condition could best be described as “stable.”

Elegant fountain recalls waning days of horse and buggy

Humane Society Alliance Fountain

Sprinkled throughout the United States are five-ton granite fountains, remnants of a simpler time.

Between 1906 and 1912, the National Humane Alliance presented approximately 125 horse watering troughs to cities and towns across the country. The idea was to instill “ideas of humanity both to the lower animals and to each other,” according to Alliance founder Hermon Lee Ensign.

One such fountain still sits where it was originally placed in Abbeville, SC. Installed in 1912 in the town square, it was designed so that water flowed from regal lions’ mouths into a basin of polished Maine granite trimmed with bronze.

It was designed with an upper bowl, or trough, for horses to drink from and small cups at the bottom for cats and dogs. Birds could also use it, as could humans, who could drink the clean water as it came from the founts.

At least one community in each state in the Union, then composed of 48 states, was presented with a fountain, and at least two were placed in Mexico, as well. Fountains were presented to several cities in South Carolina, including two in Columbia and single fountains in Abbeville, Camden, Georgetown and Laurens.

The National Humane Alliance was established in 1897. Ensign, its founder, compiled a moderate fortune from advertising and several inventions in the newspaper business.

An individual with a lifelong affection for animals, Ensign had a deep appreciation for their welfare. The National Humane Alliance emphasized the education of people to be kind to one another and considerate of animals.

Detail from National Human Alliance fountain in Abbeville, SC.

Detail from National Human Alliance fountain in Abbeville, SC.

Ensign, who died in 1899, dedicated his fortune to the Alliance, which used the money to fund the granite fountain program.

While the fountains aren’t identical, there are many similarities.

The granite used in their construction was quarried in Maine and manufactured in the coastal Maine communities of Rockland and Vinalhavan. The large bowls are around six feet across. Most are about six feet tall.

They can be found across the country, from San Diego, Calif., to Houlton, Maine, and from Spokane, Wash., to Jacksonville, Fla.

At least 70 fountains still survive, with others likely forgotten in municipality storage.

Most have been moved from their original locations, which was often near city or town centers.

The irony in the National Humane Alliance’s well-intentioned investment was that as it was donating these beautiful fountains to towns and cities across the country, the need for them was drawing to a close.

The United States was rapidly becoming a nation of car enthusiasts, and it wouldn’t be too many years before individuals traveling to town by horse were an anomaly.

(Top: National Humane Alliance fountain, Abbeville, SC.)

An unintended foray into falconry proves fulfilling

hawk paint

One of my many blessings is that my children love the outdoors and wildlife as much as I do. They’re always up for wading in a creek, tramping through the woods or driving to some distant unpopulated region for a gander at local fauna. Yesterday, I was rewarded once again for their willingness to abide by their dad’s need to get outside.

While trying to make the best of a wet afternoon we took a drive through rural farmland 15 miles north of home. Along one stretch of rural countryside we saw a red-tailed hawk go hopping across the road. A vehicle came slowly in the other direction and the bird of prey, rather than flying away, bounded off the road and into a ditch.

As the other vehicle passed, I pulled my car over and told my girls to take pictures of the hawk, which was about 15 feet away. I then got out of the car and slowly moved toward it. I could tell something wasn’t right, but I expected it to burrow into the nearby hedgerow and thereby elude me.

Instead, it stayed where it was, eyeing me warily. I got within about three feet and had one of my daughters bring me a sweatshirt. Given the size of the raptor’s beak and talons, I very carefully tried to wrap the sweatshirt around it. The hawk fell back at first, but didn’t put up too much of a fight.

I was able to carefully pick it up and show it to my girls, who, being 15, 14 and 12, were all “oohs” and “ahs.”

Me with somewhat confused red-tailed hawk. No hawks or humans were harmed in the making of this image.

Me with somewhat confused red-tailed hawk. No hawks or humans were harmed in the making of this image.

The hawk was wet and cold. We decided that given the weather – cold and rainy with more of the same expected for the foreseeable future – we would take it to a wildlife rescue shelter about 20 miles away.

One of my girls brought me another sweatshirt, this one pink, so we could make sure his talons were wrapped up and dad didn’t end up with deep lacerations about his body, and I slowly lowered myself into the car holding the hawk. Gently clutching our new companion with my left hand, I started the car and pulled forward, steering with my right hand.

My daughters were transfixed by the bird. Although most of the cinnamon-colored hawk was wrapped up, they could easily see its sharp beak and proud eyes, which gave it a fierce visage.

It was, like most birds, incredibly light for its size, weighing no more than 3 or 4 pounds. But it was two feet tall from head to talons, and its wingspan would likely have been at least four feet, had it had an opportunity to show off its plumage.

Not surprising given the car’s occupants, it was quickly given a series of names: Cooper (we initially thought it was a Cooper’s Hawk); Cosmo and Xenon (being a noble-looking bird, Daughter No. 4 thought it should be named for one of the noble gases and helium, neon, krypton and radon weren’t cutting it.) Ultimately, it ended up with three different names – one from each daughter – none of which, of course, the bird showed any interest in responding to.

A good portion of the trip was on an Interstate, and while I was busy keeping my eyes either on the road or the bird, hoping it wouldn’t decide to crane its neck around and take a nip at my neck or face, I can only image what fellow drivers thought as they passed our car and caught a glimpse of a middle-aged man driving down the road with a fierce-looking raptor sitting on his lap.

We eventually made our way to the Carolina Wildlife Center with neither man nor hawk suffering injury or embarrassment.

As I carried the bird of prey into the center I noticed the other rescued animals on hand, including a baby possum, a squirrel and a blue jay. I somehow resisted the urge to thump my chest, swagger around and crow about how my beast could not only best all the others, but eat each one, as well.

Instead, we filled out an information card, thanked them for taking our hawk and went on our way.

Hummingbirds: A near-constant whirl of motion and wonder

Hummingbirds are among nature’s most fascinating creatures.

While hovering, their wings beat up to times 80 times a second, and they have one of the highest metabolic rates of any animal, with heart rates up to 1,260 beats per minute.

Even at rest, their breathing rate is that of about 250 breaths per minute.

Hummingbirds, of which there are approximately 340 species, have amazing dexterity, demonstrating the ability to stop instantly while in flight, hover and adjust their position up, down, or backwards with exquisite control.

If you’ve ever held a hummingbird, you know they are small and extremely light, about three inches in length and weighing at most three-quarters of a pound.

The ruby-throated hummingbird, seen in the above video, is found in the eastern United States, Mexico and Caribbean.

The adult male has a patch of iridescent red on its throat bordered above with velvety black. Both sexes have beautiful emerald-green backs and white undersides.

On average, hummingbirds are on par with helicopter in terms of power required to lift their weight, according to findings published last in the Royal Society journal Interface.

One hummingbird species – the Anna’s hummingbird – was more than 20 percent efficient than a helicopter, researchers discovered.