Friday, January 10, 2014

Cockroaches, Spiders, and — Things

Extinct sea monsters, fossilized cockroaches, fence-weaving spiders, and a sort of squirrel-panther, won't make me rich. I'm fascinated by them, anyway.
  1. Adding Color to Extinct Leatherbacks, Mosasaurs, and Ichthyosaurs
  2. Cockroaches: Made in America
  3. A New Oldest-Known Ancestor of Today's Carnivores
  4. Tiny Fence, Made of Webbing

Accepting Reality

(From Joseph Graham, William Newman, and John Stacy; via USGS; used w/o permission.)

God's God and I'm not. I've been over this before:
I think insisting that God's creation conforms to a 17th century Calvinist's ideas is silly.

I don't think we've learned everything there is to know about the universe. I'm also convinced that being interested in this vast and ancient creation is okay.

I believe that God created everything, that God is good, and that what God created is good.

To believe that, and assume that honest study of God's creation is evil, would be — absurd. Studying this creation methodically and honestly cannot work against faith. Ethics apply, as they do with any human activity, and that's another topic. (Genesis 1:31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159, 279-298, 1776-1789)

Seeing science as evil is as crazy as assuming that science can replace God. Putting science, physical fitness, or anything other than God at the top of my world is idolatry, and strictly against the rules. (Catechism, 2113-2114)

"...The Big Problem..."

It's become increasingly obvious that Earth has been around for something like 4,500,000,000 years, and that living creatures here have changed: a lot. Accepting that reality is okay. Pretending that orderly change is the ultimate reality is, quite simply, nuts.

The previous Pope put it more elegantly:
"...the big problem is that were God not to exist and were he not also the Creator of my life, life would actually be a mere cog in evolution, nothing more; it would have no meaning in itself. Instead, I must seek to give meaning to this component of being...."
(Benedict XVI (July 24, 2007); from "The Pontifical Academy of Sciences Yearbook 2008")

Clash of the 'isms'

Some "isms" are okay, and some are really bad ideas. Plagiarism is illegal in some cases, and ill-advised in all: my opinion. I think criticism can be constructive, despotism would work if people were perfect, and that's yet another topic.

Creationism and evolutionism are supposed to be mutually exclusive ideas.

I'd agree, if the choice was either believing that God looks like the dude Michelangelo painted on a ceiling or accepting the idea that change happens.

I'm a Catholic, so I don't have to believe silly ideas.
"...Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called 'creationism' and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God...."
(Benedict XVI (July 24, 2007); from "The Pontifical Academy of Sciences Yearbook 2008")

"This Antithesis is Absurd"

"...This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?..."
(Benedict XVI (July 24, 2007); from "The Pontifical Academy of Sciences Yearbook 2008")
Expecting evolution to explain everything is as silly as looking to Kepler's laws of planetary motion for the meaning of life. (January 2, 2014)

Grimly clinging to the notion that the universe is a few thousand years old, and hasn't changed a bit, doesn't make sense either.

I'm on the same page as Benedict XVI on this: learning more about this creation "...enriches our knowledge and being...." Knowledge isn't the problem: daft ideas are what get us in trouble.

Now, something I'm excited about: turtles and cockroaches. Your experience may vary.

1. Adding Color to Extinct Leatherbacks, Mosasaurs, and Ichthyosaurs

(From Stefan Sølberg, via LiveScience, used w/o permission.)
"Ancient Sea Monsters Were Black, Study Finds"
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience (January 8, 2014)

"Some of the largest beasts in the ancient seas had black skin or scales, new research finds.

"Ancient leatherback turtles, toothy predators called mosasaurs and dolphinlike reptiles called ichthyosaurs all had black pigmentation, researchers report today (Jan. 8) in the journal Nature. The findings come from an analysis of preserved skin from each of these creatures.

"The animals' blackness likely helped them in a variety of ways, said study researcher Johan Lindgren, a mosasaur expert at Lund University in Sweden. 'We suggest … that they used it not only as camouflage and UV protection, but also to be able to regulate their body temperature,' Lindgren told LiveScience...."
Today's leatherback turtles are dark on their backs and light underneath, like many marine animals. It helps them stay inconspicuous, by blending in with their background when seen from above or below. The dark backs absorb sunlight, which warms them a bit: useful in the arctic parts of their range.

It looks like extinct versions of these animals may have had the same color pattern.

Dark Halos

(From Bo Pagh Schultz, Johan Lindgren and Johan A. Gren; via LiveScience; used w/o permission.)
"Skin from a 55-Myr-old leatherback turtle, scales from an 85-Myr-old mosasaur and tail fin of a 196–190-Myr-old ichthyosaur."
"...The study isn't the first to delve into the color of ancient creatures. Paleontologists have found that Microraptor, a small winged dinosaur from 130 million years ago, had black, crowlike feathers. The 'dino-bird' Archaeopteryx had wing feathers with a black-and-white pattern, too, according to a 2012 study detailed in the journal Nature Communications. The color of ancient feathers is somewhat controversial, however, with some scientists suggesting the fossilization process might distort the pigment-containing organelles in the feathers.

"But marine animal color was uncharted territory. Some fossils of extinct sea monsters have been found with black 'halos' around the bones, suggesting remnants of skin. Anatomical analysis suggested these remnants were, in fact, melanosomes, the tiny packets of pigments that give skin, feathers and hair their color. Melanosomes contain melanin, a dark brown or black pigment. In fact, the black pigment eumelanin is extremely persistent in the environment, Lindgren said, so the presence of melanosomes may be the reason these skin halos survived...."

"...the fossil skin samples from the ancient turtle and mosasaur are too small to say for sure whether they shared countershading camouflage.

"Ichthyosaurs are a different story. Some ichthyosaur fossils consist of skeletons surrounded completely by an 'envelope' of dark material. If these envelopes prove to be entirely skin remains, Lindgren said, they would suggest that ichthyosaurs were completely black. That coloration would make them like modern sperm whales, which dive deep into murky waters — as ancient ichthyosaurs also may have done...."
(Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience)
A newish technique called energy-dispersive X-ray spectoscopy showed that tiny objects shaped like melanosomes were part of the critters' skin.

Maybe ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and those extinct leatherback turtles just happened to have something in their skin that looks like contemporary melanosomes, and the dark 'halos' are a coincidence. I think it's more likely that Lindgren is right: but I'm no expert.

Of the three animals Lindgren studied, only leatherbacks survive: not the same species, but the same family, Dermochelyidae. Ichthyosaurs died out about 90,000,000 years back and mosasaurs became the big marine predators more recently, but didn't survive whatever happened 65,000,000 years ago.

Lizards did, though, along with cockroaches: which is my next featured creature.

(From Ryan M. Carney, via LiveScience, used w/o permission.)
"The evolutionary relationship of leatherbacks, ichthyosaurs and mosasaurs. All three species descended from land-dwelling ancestors."

2. Cockroaches: Made in America

(From P. Vrsanksy, R. Oruzinsky, C. C. Labandeira, L. Vidlicka, P. Parna, and the Entomological Society of America; used w/o permission.)
"A complete male fossil of E. kohlsi (right)."
"49-Million-Year-Old Cockroach Fossil Found"
Laura Poppick, LiveScience (January 6, 2014)

" A common European and African cockroach may have gotten its evolutionary start in North America, according to new fossil findings.

"More than 70 species of cockroaches in the genus Ectobius currently crawl through Europe and Africa, making them amongst the most common cockroaches in that part of the world. They measure only about 0.25 to 0.5 inches long (6.35 to 12.7 millimeters), considerably smaller than the American cockroaches (Periplaneta Americana) that can grow to about 1.5 in. long (4 centimeters) and plague major cities and small towns across the United States.

"Researchers have previously thought that Ectobius first evolved in Europe and Africa, scuttling around the region since at least 44 million years ago, based on a specimen preserved in Baltic amber of this age. Now, researchers based at the Slovak Academy of Sciences have discovered 49-million-year-old fossils of four different Ectobius species in northwest Colorado, pushing back the insects' first appearance on Earth by roughly 5 million years and its place of origin as modern-day United States rather than the Old World...."
It's unlikely that many folks are going to brag that the United States is the original home of African and European cockroaches, or blame tawny cockroaches on western imperialism. Stranger things have happened, though, and that's yet again another topic.

'They're Baa-aack!'

"... The ancient species — discovered in sedimentary rocks dating back to a warm, humid geologic epoch known as the Eocene — have since gone extinct, for reasons that remain unclear to the researchers. However, over the past 70 years or so, at least four different Ectobius species have made their way into parts of the United States and Canada.

" 'It was always assumed that these four newcomers were the first Ectobius species to have ever lived in North America,' study co-author Conrad Labandeira of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History said in a statement. 'But the discovery in Colorado proves that their relatives were here nearly 50 million years ago.'..."
(Laura Poppick, LiveScience)
Paramount Studio's "Bug," or "The Hephaestus Plague," is one of the few monster movies I thought was even remotely plausible. Smart cockroaches that travel in automobile exhaust pipes could be a serious problem.

Your typical movie monster, like Godzilla, King Kong, or Rodan, are too big to hide. After folks realized that screaming, running, and firing small-caliber firearms weren't effective strategies — I'm getting off-topic again.

Getting back to Eocene cockroaches, they had it good. At the start of the Eocene, 49,000,000 years back, Earth's climate was so warm that polar ice caps weren't there. Our planet kept getting cooler until something went horribly wrong and lots of critters died. That was about 33,900,000 years ago, and Earth hasn't warmed up since: not by Eocene standards.

Archaeoceti didn't survive when that warm spell ended. Cockroaches, rats, and scorpions carried on; and I've been over that before. Recently. (November 29, 2013)

(From  Christopher R.  Scotese,; used w/o permission.)

3. A New Oldest-Known Ancestor of Today's Carnivores

(From Charlène Letenneur (MNHN) and Pascale Golinvaux (RBINS); used w/o permission.)
"The carnivore ancestor Dormaalocyon latouri, roamed Europe 56 million years ago."
"Tiny Ancestor of Lions, Tigers & Bears Discovered (Oh My!)"
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience (January 6, 2014)

"Lions, tigers, bears and even loyal pups and playful kitties all come from the same line of carnivorous mammals, a lineage whose origins are lost in time. Now, scientists have discovered one of the earliest ancestors of all modern carnivores in Belgium.

"The new species, Dormaalocyon latouri, was a 2-pound (1 kilogram) tree-dweller that likely fed on even smaller mammals and insects.

" 'It wasn't frightening. It wasn't dreadful,' said study researcher Floréal Solé, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. What it was, Solé said, is a clue to the beginnings of today's toothy beasts...."
This diminutive critter may or may not be part of the order of shrews: which is not a fraternal organization of short, hungry men. I'm wandering off-topic again.

Dormaalocyon latouri is a newly-discovered critter, which probably explains the comparative lack of background I could find. "Carnivoraform" may be a newish term, too, and I'm getting ahead of myself.

Look, Up in the Tree — a Squanther?!

(From Charlène Letenneur (MNHN) and Pascale Golinvaux (RBINS).)
"Ankle bones and teeth, including baby teeth, from Dormaalocyon"
"... All modern carnivores descend from a single group, one of four groups of carnivorous mammals found in the Paleocene and Eocene periods, Solé said. The Paleocene ran from 66 million to 56 million years ago, and the Eocene followed from 56 to 33.9 million years ago.

"The carnivoraforms, as they're known, appear widespread during the Eocene, but without earlier fossils, paleontologists are unsure about their origins. Solé and his colleagues examined fossils from the very earliest Eocene, about 56 million years ago, from Dormaal, Belgium, east of Brussels.

"The site was first discovered in the 1880s and has yielded 40 species of mammals over the years. Richard Smith, also of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, and a colleague of Solé's, has sifted nearly 14,000 teeth from the soil in Dormaal...."

"...Part of the challenge of uncovering carnivore history is that, on the whole, meat-eating mammals aren't that common, Gunnell said — there are many more herbivores and omnivores on the planet and in the fossil record. In addition, Solé said, fossils from Europe, which appears to be an important stop for, and potentially the origin of, carnivore evolution and spread, are rarer than fossils from North America...."
(Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience)
The researchers are sure that Dormaalocyon latouri lived in trees because of its ankle bones. Pappas says that this critter probably "...looked like something of a cross between a tiny panther and a squirrel, with a long tail and a catlike snout...."

Since Dormaalocyon latouri isn't a particularly short name, maybe we could call this thing a squanther: since it looks like a subcompact panther with squirrelish tendencies. Then again, maybe not.

4. Tiny Fence, Made of Webbing

(From Troy Alexander / Tambopata Research Center, used w/o permission.)
"A close-up of the structure."
"Mystery of Bizarre Amazon Web Formations Unraveled"
Tia Ghose, LiveScience (January 3, 2014)

"About six months ago, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology first spotted a mysterious web unlike anything scientists had seen before: Each one of the weird webs was a tiny sphere surrounded by a circular fence less than an inch (2 centimeters) in diameter.

"The student, Troy Alexander, found the mysterious formation underneath a tarp at the Tambopata Research Center in Peru and had no idea what it was, so he posted photos of the webs on Reddit. Despite consulting with several experts — who made several wild guesses...

"...Finally, the researchers removed three of the structures from a tree and put them under a glass. After about a week, the mystery was finally solved when two spiderlings came out of two of the structures, and later, a third spiderling hatched from the formation...."
They still don't know what sort of spiders they're looking at, or exactly what the fence is for.

The fence might be there to keep ants away from the spider egg, or as a trap for plant mites: giving the newly-hatched spider a quick meal.

One more oddity: other spiders hatch from egg sacs, but the ones we know about have several eggs in each sac. This variety has one egg inside each fenced-in sac.

Patience and Permits

Troy Alexander and Phil Torres, students who got curious about these undersized corrals, had found a spot with nearly 50 of the odd structures: and watched them for at least 24 hours.

Nothing happened. Nothing that told them what the web structures were, at least. They'd hoped to see some critter interacting with the little fenced-in spheres.

Then the students took three of the web structures and put them under a glass. Two of the spheres opened, releasing the tiny spider inside, after a week. The third hatched later.

Now that these web structures are egg sacs for a previously-unknown sort of spider, the students want to continue their research. The obvious next step is to collect spiders that hatch from these unique objects, and let them grow.

That research will have to wait. Now that we know that spiders come out of those web structures, Alexander and Torres, or anyone else, will need permits to collect spiders and raise them.

It's frustrating, but I know about the 'good old days.'

Martha; passenger pigeon; died September 1, 1914, age 29, in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden; last of her species.Passenger pigeons died out as we were starting to recognize how much influence we have over this world. I don't like regulations, but I realize that they are sometimes necessary. And that's still more topics. (March 17, 2013; March 12, 2012)

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1 comment:

Brigid said...

That little carnivore looks like a coati.

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