One of these is a deadly viper. The other is a harmless toad. Can you tell the difference? - Science Magazine - Canadanewsmedia
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One of these is a deadly viper. The other is a harmless toad. Can you tell the difference? – Science Magazine

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Eli Greenbaum

The Congolese giant toad, which grows to the size of a small hand, would be a hearty meal for any predator. But it escapes being eaten by birds, lizards, and snakes with a trick never seen anywhere else in the world: It looks and acts just like the Gaboon viper, one of the most venomous snakes in Central Africa.

Many animals imitate dangerous ones to avoid being eaten. Viceroy butterflies are colored like the toxic monarch, for example, and many harmless snakes mimic venomous ones. But this is the first time a toad has been found to mimic a snake.

To make sure researchers weren’t seeing things, a team of herpetologists spent 10 years comparing dead toads from museums with live toads from 11 sites throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the deadly viper. First, the researchers noticed that the toad’s body has a triangular shape similar to that of the viper’s head (above, left and right, respectively). Then, they observed a striking—and consistent—color pattern: Just like the viper, the toad has two dark brown spots and a dark brown stripe that extend down its back. Finally, when the toad senses danger, it lets out a long, low hissing noise, similar to the warning hiss a Gaboon viper might make before it strikes.

Taken together, these similarities suggest the toad is a near-perfect mimic for the viper, the researchers write today in the Journal of Natural History. Further, given their close evolutionary history (both evolved between 4 million and 5 million years ago) and the fact that the toad is found only in locations where the viper is present, it’s likely that the toads and vipers coevolved together, the authors write.

The toad’s color and shape are not an exact match. But most predators are likely to avoid anything that looks similar to the snake—because a single mistake could be deadly. 

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China's huge mysterious extinct ape 'Giganto' was an orangutan cousin – The Province

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WASHINGTON — Genetic material extracted from a 1.9 million-year-old fossil tooth from southern China shows that the world’s largest-known ape – an extinct creature dubbed “Giganto” that once inhabited Southeast Asia – was an oversized cousin of today’s orangutans.

The findings, announced on Wednesday, shed light on a species, called Gigantopithecus blacki, that has been shrouded in mystery because its fossil remains are so sparse – just a collection of teeth and remnants of several lower jaws.

By some estimates, Gigantopithecus reached up to 10 feet (3 meters) tall, making it not only the largest-known ape but the biggest primate, the mammalian group that includes lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans.

Scientists were able to obtain genetic material – dental enamel proteins – from a broken molar with thick enamel discovered in Chuifeng Cave in China’s Guangxi region. The researchers concluded the tooth may have belonged to an adult female.

“Our data, for the first time, provides independent molecular evidence that the closest living relative of Gigantopithecus is the modern orangutan,” said University of Copenhagen molecular anthropologist Frido Welker, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.

“Not only do proteins survive, but they survive in sufficient quantities to enable resolving the evolutionary relationships between Giganto and extant great apes,” Welker added, referring to the group that includes orangutans, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees.

The orangutan and Gigantopithecus evolutionary lineages split about 12 million years ago, the researchers said.

“A long-unresolved issue comes to a solution,” said paleoanthropologist and study co-author Wei Wang of Shandong University in China. “Its origin and evolution have puzzled paleoanthropologists for more than half a century.”

It marked the first time that genetic material this old has been recovered from a fossil found in a warm, humid environment – conditions usually inhospitable to such preservation. The researchers expressed hope the same technique can be used on other fossils, perhaps including species in the human evolutionary lineage.

Wang said Gigantopithecus may have had an orangutan-like appearance and most likely was a ground-dweller, unlike orangutans, which spend most of their time in trees. It likely had a plant-based diet, perhaps eating sweet foods like fruit in forested environments, judging from the cavities seen in its teeth, Wang said.

Gigantopithecus appeared roughly 2 million years ago and went extinct about 300,000 years ago for reasons not fully understood. Wang said environmental and climate changes may be to blame.

Our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared about 300,000 years ago in Africa, only later reaching Southeast Asia, meaning it is unlikely the two species met. Wang saw no evidence of other now-extinct human species playing a role in the Gigantopithecus demise.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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China's huge mysterious extinct ape 'Giganto' was an orangutan cousin – Windsor Star

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WASHINGTON — Genetic material extracted from a 1.9 million-year-old fossil tooth from southern China shows that the world’s largest-known ape – an extinct creature dubbed “Giganto” that once inhabited Southeast Asia – was an oversized cousin of today’s orangutans.

The findings, announced on Wednesday, shed light on a species, called Gigantopithecus blacki, that has been shrouded in mystery because its fossil remains are so sparse – just a collection of teeth and remnants of several lower jaws.

By some estimates, Gigantopithecus reached up to 10 feet (3 meters) tall, making it not only the largest-known ape but the biggest primate, the mammalian group that includes lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans.

Scientists were able to obtain genetic material – dental enamel proteins – from a broken molar with thick enamel discovered in Chuifeng Cave in China’s Guangxi region. The researchers concluded the tooth may have belonged to an adult female.

“Our data, for the first time, provides independent molecular evidence that the closest living relative of Gigantopithecus is the modern orangutan,” said University of Copenhagen molecular anthropologist Frido Welker, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.

“Not only do proteins survive, but they survive in sufficient quantities to enable resolving the evolutionary relationships between Giganto and extant great apes,” Welker added, referring to the group that includes orangutans, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees.

The orangutan and Gigantopithecus evolutionary lineages split about 12 million years ago, the researchers said.

“A long-unresolved issue comes to a solution,” said paleoanthropologist and study co-author Wei Wang of Shandong University in China. “Its origin and evolution have puzzled paleoanthropologists for more than half a century.”

It marked the first time that genetic material this old has been recovered from a fossil found in a warm, humid environment – conditions usually inhospitable to such preservation. The researchers expressed hope the same technique can be used on other fossils, perhaps including species in the human evolutionary lineage.

Wang said Gigantopithecus may have had an orangutan-like appearance and most likely was a ground-dweller, unlike orangutans, which spend most of their time in trees. It likely had a plant-based diet, perhaps eating sweet foods like fruit in forested environments, judging from the cavities seen in its teeth, Wang said.

Gigantopithecus appeared roughly 2 million years ago and went extinct about 300,000 years ago for reasons not fully understood. Wang said environmental and climate changes may be to blame.

Our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared about 300,000 years ago in Africa, only later reaching Southeast Asia, meaning it is unlikely the two species met. Wang saw no evidence of other now-extinct human species playing a role in the Gigantopithecus demise.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Mercury spotted passing between Sun & Earth in rare 30-year event – TweakTown

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Just this past Monday, astronomers viewed Mercury sliding past the face of our Sun in quite a rare celestial event.

Astronomers equipped themselves to see the most inner-planet in our solar system go in-between Earth and the Sun. From the above image, we can see a tiny black dot, that’s Mercury in comparison to the size of the Sun. US, Canada, and Central and South America managed to get the transition for around 5.5 hours, while Asia and Australia only got a brief show.

Why is this a rare transition? Due to the orbit of Mercury, astronomers don’t expect to this occur until 2032, and North America, in particular, won’t be able to see it again until 2049. Unfortunately, there was some weather coverage in Maryland for NASA solar astrophysicist Alex Young, he said “It’s a bummer, but the whole event was still great. Both getting to see it from space and sharing it with people all over the country and world.” A set of images have been provided in the entirety of this article.

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