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Puffins scratch their itches with sticks in first example of seabirds using tools

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Perhaps puffins aren’t as bird-brained as previously believed.

A team of animal experts observed two Atlantic puffins, more than 1,500 kilometres apart, spontaneously scratching themselves with sticks — the first time wild seabirds have been spotted using tools, according to new findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s exciting for a few reasons, author Annette Fayet said: It could mean wild birds are capable of using tools and have a reason to use them. Animals who use tools typically have higher cognitive abilities.

What’s more, the birds exhibited the same behavior on different islands — so while it may be rare for the swollen-chested birds to scratch themselves with branches, the behavior isn’t restricted to a single population.

“Seabirds’ physical cognition may have been underestimated,” the authors wrote.

 

An itch their beaks couldn’t scratch

Researchers observed two puffins — one in Wales, one on an Icelandic island (where researchers planted a camera) — using a stick to scratch themselves.

In footage from Iceland, a puffin toddles toward the camera, picks up a stick in its beak, then reaches under its chest to scratch itself with the tiny branch.

The authors aren’t sure just why the puffins picked up sticks, though they assume it needed to knock off seabird ticks that plague coastal populations. Perhaps the branch was a more effective removal method than its beak.

 

Stick scratching is the second type of tool use in birds

The study rules out any doubt that the birds were merely building nests — puffins are particular, and prefer lining their burrows with softer materials, like grass and feathers. The footage shows the puffin in Iceland collecting both.

The stick it used to scratch its chest, meanwhile, remains on the grass, right where the puffin dropped it.

Animals use tools for a few reasons, researchers noted, mainly to feed. It’s not uncommon for some creatures to maintain themselves using tools, like chimpanzees that groom or wipe themselves with natural objects and captive parrots that scratch with sticks.

The puffins’ scratching is only the second type of tool use related to body care spotted in wild birds — the first is “anting,” when birds smear ants all over their plumage to fight parasites.

“Our observations alone cannot solve the puzzle of the evolution of animal tool use,” Fayet told CNN. “Many more species may also be using tools, but we simply haven’t observed them yet.”

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NASA says there is definitely water on the moon – Al Jazeera English

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NASA scientists announce the first unambiguous detection of water molecules on the lunar surface – a breakthrough that could help facilitate an eventual crewed mission to Mars.

The moon lacks the bodies of liquid water that are a hallmark of Earth, but NASA scientists said on Monday that lunar water is more widespread than previously known, with water molecules trapped within mineral grains on the surface and more water perhaps hidden in ice patches residing in permanent shadows.

While research 11 years ago indicated water was relatively widespread in small amounts on the moon, a team of scientists is now reporting the first unambiguous detection of water molecules on the lunar surface. At the same time, another team is reporting that the moon possesses roughly 40,000sq km (15,400sq miles) of permanent shadows that potentially could harbour hidden pockets of water in the form of ice.

Water is a precious resource and a relatively plentiful lunar presence could prove important to future astronaut and robotic missions seeking to extract and utilise water for purposes such as providing a drinking supply or a fuel ingredient.

A high-resolution mosaic of our moon’s north polar region is seen in this undated handout image taken by scientists using cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [File: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University/Handout via Reuters]

A team led by Casey Honniball of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland detected molecular water on the lunar surface, trapped within natural glasses or between debris grains. Previous observations have suffered from ambiguity between water and its molecular cousin hydroxyl, but the new detection used a method that yielded unambiguous findings.

The only way for this water to survive on the sunlit lunar surfaces where it was observed was to be embedded within mineral grains, protecting it from the frigid and foreboding environment. The researchers used data from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a telescope and serve as an airborne observatory.

“A lot of people think that the detection I’ve made is water ice, which is not true. It’s just the water molecules – because they’re so spread out they don’t interact with each other to form water ice or even liquid water,” Honniball said.

The second study, also published in the journal Nature Astronomy, focused upon so-called cold traps on the moon, regions of its surface that exist in a state of perpetual darkness where temperatures are below -163C (-260F). That is cold enough that frozen water can remain stable for billions of years.

Using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, researchers led by planetary scientist Paul Hayne of the University of Colorado, Boulder detected what may be tens of billions of small shadows, many no bigger than a small coin. Most are located in the polar regions.

“Our research shows that a multitude of previously unknown regions of the moon could harbour water ice,” Hayne said. “Our results suggest that water could be much more widespread in the moon’s polar regions than previously thought, making it easier to access, extract and analyse.”

NASA is planning a return of astronauts to the moon, a mission envisioned as paving the way for a later journey carrying a crew to Mars. Accessible sources where water can be harvested on the moon would beneficial to those endeavours.

“Water is not just constrained to the polar region. It’s more spread out than we thought it was,” Honniball said.

Another mystery that remains unsolved is the source of the lunar water.

“The origin of water on the moon is one of the big-picture questions we are trying to answer through this and other research,” Hayne said. “Currently, the major contenders are comets, asteroids or small interplanetary dust particles, the solar wind, and the moon itself through outgassing from volcanic eruptions.”

Earth is a wet world, with vast salty oceans, large freshwater lakes and ice caps that serve as water reservoirs.

“As our closest planetary companion, understanding the origins of water on the moon can also shed light on the origins of Earth’s water – still an open question in planetary science,” Hayne added.

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Guelph reports 17 new coronavirus cases from weekend, active cases at 42 – Global News

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Guelph reported 17 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, bringing the city’s total to 406.

Monday’s data encompasses the entire weekend as active cases rose by 11 to 42, including two people being treated in the hospital.

Read more:
Coming days will be crucial in Ontario’s fight against 2nd wave of COVID-19, expert says

The city has now seen 353 people recover from the disease, which is six more than Friday’s count. Guelph’s death toll of 11 has remained unchanged since June.

In one week, Guelph has added 34 cases of COVID-19 and 19 cases have been resolved.

As of Sunday, Guelph’s COVID-19 assessment centre has conducted just under 47,000 tests during the pandemic. Over 94 per cent of tests have come back negative, but 2,162 are still pending.

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Wellington County added five cases from the weekend, for a total of 120. Five cases are currently active, 113 have been resolved and two people have died.


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Guelph and Wellington County school boards are reporting 10 cases in five schools.

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There are currently no active COVID-19 outbreaks in any of Guelph’s or Wellington County’s schools and long-term care facilities.

Read more:
How to help your kids get through a COVID-19 test

Ontario reported 851 new cases on Monday and six more deaths. That brings the provincial total to 71,224 cases and 3,099 deaths.

Ontario has 295 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, which up by 17 from Sunday. Meanwhile, 60,839 Ontarians have recovered, which is up by 679 from Sunday.

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— With files from Global News’ Gabby Rodrigues

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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These Tiny, Little-Winged Dinosaurs Were Probably Worse at Flying Than Chickens – ScienceAlert

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The discovery of two small dinosaurs with bat-like wings a few years ago was a palaeontologist’s dream. Just how flight evolved in birds is something we’re still trying to nail down, and looking at this early evolution of bat-like wings in dinosaurs could give us a clue.  

But a team of researchers has now pointed out that just because you have wings, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actually any good at flying.

Yi qi and Ambopteryx longibrachium are two species of theropod dinosaurs that lived around 160 million years ago, both of which had unusually elongated fingers, and a skin membrane stretching between them, similar to a bat’s wing.

This is an entirely different kind of wing to the one theropod dinosaurs evolved to fly with – the dinosaurs that eventually became birds. And, unlike them, after only a few million years, Yi and Ambopteryx became extinct, which is the first hint that these unusual wings could not match those birds-to-be. 

However, weird wings on extinct critters mean it’s likely multiple types of wings (and therefore flight) evolved over the years, and that Yi and Ambopteryx’s attempts were not the winning strategy.

But before you can write off Yi and Ambopteryx as complete evolutionary flight failures, you have to know how good (or bad, as the case may be) the two species were at flight.

In 2015, when Yi was found, that team of researchers suggested that the size of its wings and other flight characteristics could mean it was a gliding creature – however it’s unlike any other glider we know of, and its centre of mass might have made even gliding difficult. We just weren’t sure.

A new study, by researchers in the US and China, has now looked into the flight potential of Yi and Ambopteryx in a lot more detail, and come to the conclusion that they really weren’t good at getting their little feet off the trees they lived in.

“Using laser-stimulated fluorescence imaging, we re-evaluate their anatomy and perform aerodynamic calculations covering flight potential, other wing-based behaviours, and gliding capabilities,” the team writes.

“We find that Yi and Ambopteryx were likely arboreal, highly unlikely to have any form of powered flight, and had significant deficiencies in flapping-based locomotion and limited gliding abilities.”

The team’s analysis of the fossils (Yi pictured below) was able to pick up tiny details in soft-tissue that you can’t see with normal light.

Fossil of Yi qi. Look how fluffy it is! (kmkmks/Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0)

Then the team modelled how the dinosaurs might have flown, adjusting for things such as weight, wingspan, and muscle placement (all stuff we can’t tell just from the fossils).

The results were… underwhelming.

“They really can’t do powered flight,” says first author, biologist Thomas Dececchi from Mount Marty University.

“You have to give them extremely generous assumptions in how they can flap their wings. You basically have to model them as the biggest bat, make them the lightest weight, make them flap as fast as a really fast bird, and give them muscles higher than they were likely to have had to cross that threshold. They could glide, but even their gliding wasn’t great.”

gr1Soft-tissue map of Yi qi. (Dececchi et al., iScience, 2020)

So, according to Dececchi and his team’s model, we’re looking at flying capabilities considerably worse than a chicken, perhaps worse than the flightless New Zealand parrot, the kakapo, which is also mostly limited to gliding from trees, but can at least flap to control descent.

But although it’s a bit sad for the Yi and Ambopteryx, it’s good news for us – the findings give even more evidence that dinosaurs evolved flight (or at least tried to) multiple times.

As the team points out, considering all the types of bats, gliders, flying squirrels, and other gliding or flying mammals, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise.

“We propose that this clade was an independent colonisation of the aerial realm for non-avialan theropods. If true, this would represent at least two, but more likely three or more attempts at flight (both powered and gliding) by small pennaraptoran theropods during the Mesozoic,” the team writes in their paper.

“Given the large number of independent occurrences of gliding flight within crown mammals, this should perhaps be unsurprising, but it does create a more complex picture of the aerial ecosystem.”

Seems like some things don’t change much, even in a hundred million years.

The research has been published in iScience.

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