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.)

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.

Corrupt officials scarier than death, snakes, terrorists?

corruption

Given your choice, what’s your worst fear: homicidal maniacs, venomous snakes or corrupt government officials?

The third annual Survey of American Fears by Chapman University reports that most Americans are afraid of “C,” corrupt government officials, according to a story on the report published by Bloomberg.

After corrupt government officials came terrorist attacks and not having enough money for the future.

Other items which garnered significant fear among Americans included Obamacare (35.5 percent), reptiles (33.2 percent) and being killed by a stranger (21.9 percent).

Curiously, 50 percent more Americans are more afraid of corrupt government officials (60.6 percent) than terrorist attacks (41 percent).

What the above points out is that either those conducting the survey or those taking the survey don’t understand the difference between what it means to be afraid of something and what it means to be concerned about something.

To say one is afraid of corrupt government officials implies that one lives in a third world banana republic where there is constant fear that Stasi-like thugs will kick open doors in the middle of the night and drag away opponents, rather than referring to unscrupulous politicians who misuse public funds.

To be afraid of snakes is a very real fear; to be afraid of corrupt government officials, at least the garden variety ones we breed in the US, is not the same thing.

To state a fear of Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, indicates a terror of the government program, rather than worry that it won’t work, will cost taxpayers more money or will bring chaos to the country’s medical-insurance infrastructure. You may not like Obamacare, you may think it unwise politically or economically, but do you fear it in the same way as, say, you fear finding a large, angry scorpion in one of your work boots?

Other issues with the survey:

Nearly 30 percent of Americans are afraid of a devastating tornado, just over 23 percent are afraid of a devastating hurricane, slightly more than 22 percent are afraid of a devastating earthquake or a devastating flood, and 15 percent are afraid of a large volcanic eruption.

If you’re a resident of Phoenix, Az., it’s unlikely that any of those items rank high on your list, while someone in Omaha, Neb., might be worried about tornadoes and flooding, but have little fear of earthquakes, hurricanes or volcanic eruptions, at least if they’re rational.

Hawaiians have reason to worry about volcanos, but with the rare exception of eruptions like that of Mount St. Helens in 1980, the rest of the US is pretty safe from this threat.

In other words, it depends on your location, and even then, is it a “fear” or a “concern?”

Residents of Miami have reason to be concerned over a hurricane, but is it a fear that hangs over their heads like the sword of Damocles? If so, they may want to relocate. Same if you’re a San Franciscan fearful of earthquakes.

Finally, 7.8 percent of Americans are afraid of clowns. Personally, it’s not the clowns I’m concerned with, but the people who dress up as clowns.

Riding the rails with a small green unrelenting reptile

anole 1 cropped

How tough are times in parts of the US these days? Look at the grade of hobo that can be found wandering the rails of the Deep South.

The above Carolina anole, about six inches long, kept up a steady pace about four feet in front of me as I walked down the Norfolk Southern tracks in the late afternoon hours near Silverstreet, SC, earlier this week. That the steel tracks, having baked in the broiling sun all day, were quite hot didn’t dissuade the diminutive reptile from its smooth, straight path.

When I would attempt to get a close-up photo, the anole would hop off the rail, scamper across a railroad tie and jump up onto the other rail. This went on for several minutes before it finally grew tired and sat atop the track with its mouth agape, a threat of sorts, one supposes.

Carolina anoles have the ability to change colors, from dark brown to bright green, depending on their background, though they’re not considered true chameleons.

While their bite is relatively painless, anoles will grip hard enough and with enough tenacity that they can dangle from an earlobe and even a nose if given the opportunity. This tends to be more entertaining for children than spouses, or so I have heard.

I eventually took the above critter, worn out from its rail-hopping antics, and placed it in a patch of cool, leafy shade. It scuttled away into the green grass, blending in quickly.

anole 3

Besieged by a (very small) plague of (very cute) toads

Girls Riding Small Frog 5 29 2016 049

There are many advantages to spring in the South, but for wildlife lovers few things beat getting out and spending time in the woods, swamps and countryside this time of year.

During the latest three-day weekend I was able to capture or catch a view of a multitude of critters – including largemouth bass, bream, box turtles, yellow-bellied sliders, cowbirds, painted buntings, egrets, blue herons, black racers, damsel flies, dragonflies, tadpoles, leopard frogs, river rats, blue crabs, fiddler crabs and hermit crabs.

In addition, I came across a hive of bees holed up in an abandoned building, a four-foot copperhead and six-foot alligator, all of which I chose to leave undisturbed.

Those that I caught – the bass, box turtles and fiddler crabs – were all freed.

But perhaps the most interesting beast I came across this weekend was the one shown at the top of this post. Near as I can tell, it’s a very young Fowler’s toad. I found it when I opened my garage Sunday morning. And there wasn’t just one of the little amphibians, but a whole slew of them hopping about.

Pharaoh besieged by plague of frogs. Note: Believed to a depiction, not a real image of the biblical plague.

Pharaoh, apparently a deep sleeper, besieged by plague of frogs. Note: Believed to be a dramatization.

I was initially reminded of the Plagues of Egypt, one of which featured the land of Pharaoh being overwhelmed with frogs, except my driveway featured perhaps a dozen of the tiny beasts and even had there been, say, millions, they were so small the only way they could have overwhelmed anyone would have been with their cuteness.

The one in the photo was desperately intent on making his way into my garage.

Recognizing that it would likely either end up under the wheel of a car or dying of heat prostration once I closed the door, I spent the better part of thirty seconds trying to convince it to head back to whence it came. It would have none of it.

Recognizing that the diminutive toad was either very bold or very stupid, I gently scooped it up and placed him on some nearby grass.

As I did so I noticed several other small toads hopping toward me. I quickly shut the garage, hopped in my car, which was parked in the driveway, and drove off. I had no desire for anyone else to take note of my newfound talent as the Pied Piper of tiny toads.

Florida pythons getting bigger and bigger

usa-florida-python

If it’s true that fear of snakes is among the most common phobias known to humans – and personal experience would indicate this is the case among nearly every adult woman and most men – then the Greater Everglades Chamber of Commerce has some mighty big obstacles to overcome.

Earlier this week, officials in the Sunshine State said they shot and killed a Burmese python in the Everglades that stretched more than 18 feet and weighed 150 pounds.

If confirmed, it would make it the largest snake ever captured in the famed wetlands region of Florida, which is noted for its wildlife, particularly reptiles.

The Burmese python is able to thrive in the Everglades because it’s an invasive species with no natural predators in the area.

“The number of pythons has skyrocketed, with more than 300 pythons being removed from the Everglades every year since 2007,” according to the online publication LiveScience. “Researchers don’t know their true numbers but estimate at least tens of thousands of the giant snakes inhabit the National Everglades Park.”

Tens of thousands?!? Even non-herpetophobes get creeped out by those numbers.

The snakes are wiping out native wildlife like bobcats, foxes and raccoons, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

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Critters, daughters & other wonders of nature

Newberry Fairfield 19 20 May 2013 283

Hot, muggy weather returned to my realm this past weekend, and with it came an abundance of wildlife.

Yesterday, while spending the day with Daughter No. 4, we caught four turtles, one rat snake, one glass lizard, wildflowers galore, and, the highlight of the day, a baby turkey, or poult.

(Of course, we rang up a big fat zero on the day’s stated goal: catching fish.)

Now, no offense to aficionados of turtles, snakes or glass lizards, but catching the baby turkey was definitely the highlight.

While driving in a rural part of a rural county toward mid-afternoon we spied a hen on the side of the road. My daughter also caught sight of several youngsters, so I stopped the car and set off into the underbrush while she grabbed the camera.

The hen immediately began clucking and trotting in large circles around me, trying to draw me away from her babies. My daughter began taking pictures every time the hen ventured near her while I crouched in the brush stock still, trying to catch sight or sound of the youngsters.

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