Fresh ferns, loaded with spores, lightly dusted with leaves and twigs and perfectly seasoned with locally sourced charcoal.
Sound good? It did to an ankylosaur about 110 million years ago, as evidenced by amazingly complete fossils of what was certainly the tank-like dinosaur’s last meal.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Caleb Brown, a curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and co-author of a paper published Tuesday on what is one of probably only three fossilized dinosaur stomachs discovered.
“We can start recontructing the life histories and ecologies of these animals.”
The dining dinosaur was first unearthed in 2011 in a northern Alberta Suncor oilsands mine, where many excavators have learned to look for fossils as they dig. When this one turned up, a crew from the Tyrrell followed shortly afterward.
It was an amazingly well-preserved ankylosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Low but large — the species could reach eight metres long and weigh eight tonnes — the fossil took two weeks to remove.
It then took five and a half years for technician Mark Mitchell to clean and prepare it, which is why the species now bears the Latin name markmitchelli. The restored specimen, complete with body armour and outer skin, was remarkable enough for a 2017 National Geographic magazine feature.
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But for paleontologists, the fun was just starting. They began looking at a fossilized structure that co-author Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan described as looking like a “squashed basketball.”
It was in the right place for a stomach and it held gastroliths, small stones dinosaurs used to help digest their food, much as some birds do today.
“There’s a great mess of them and they’re quite distinctive,” said Basinger.
The scientists eventually compiled 16 pieces of evidence that the squashed basketball was, in fact, a stomach.
“It’s unquestionable,” Basinger said.
There are only two other fossilized stomachs in the world that scientists are this sure about. Neither opens doors to the past the way this one does.
About 80 per cent of this last meal was a particular species of ferns. The fossils are so well preserved their spores identify them.
There are bits of other plants and twigs so immaculate that their growth rings are being used to estimate weather at the time. And there is charcoal from burned woody material.
Brown points out ferns aren’t that nutritious. A beast this size would need digestion capable of getting the most from them.
That means this dinosaur may have fermented its food, much like many animals today.
“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”
Which raises other interesting questions: How much fermented fern does it take to move an eight-tonne lizard? How much energy might it need? Where might that much fodder be found?
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The charcoal provides a clue. It probably came from an ancient forest fire where ferns would have been abundant in the first flush of new growth, much as they are today.
“(The dinosaur) was taking advantage of a charred landscape,” Basinger said. Many modern animals do the same, chowing down on tender, nutritious and low-hanging new growth that follows the flames.
More than just reassembling skeletons, modern paleontology is starting to rebuild ecosystems that haven’t existed for millions and millions of years.
“That’s something we can start playing with,” Brown said.
The fossils tell individual stories, too.
Basinger said, given the undigested contents of its stomach, this ankylosaur died quickly. It was surrounded by marine fossils, and researchers believe it slipped or fell into a large river, where it drowned and was swept out to sea.
“Whatever happened to the poor dinosaur, it would have happened pretty fast after it had eaten.”
© 2020 The Canadian Press
White-throated sparrows have changed their tune, BC study unveils – Terrace Standard
White-throated sparrows are changing their tune — an unprecedented development scientists say has caused them to sit up and take note.
Ken Otter, a biology professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, whose paper on the phenomenon was published on Thursday, said most bird species are slow to change their songs, preferring to stick with tried-and-true tunes to defend territories and attract females.
But the shift to this new tune went viral across Canada, travelling over 3,000 kilometres between 2000 and 2019 and wiping out a historic song ending in the process, he said.
“The song is always described as being ‘Oh My Sweet Canada Canada Canada Canada — so that Canada is three syllables. It’s a da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da sound. That’s the traditional description of the song going back into early 1900s,” Otter said in an interview Wednesday.
But now, the song has changed.
“The doublet sounds like Oh My Sweet Cana-Cana-Cana-da. They are stuttering and repeating the first two syllables and they are doing it very rapidly. It sounds very different.”
From British Columbia to central Ontario, these native birds have ditched their traditional three-note-ending song for a two-note-ending variant, he said, adding researchers still don’t know what has made the new tune so compelling.
Otter drew a comparison to people picking up the accent, phrases and pneumonics of a new area they move into.
“This is actually the opposite,” he said.
Male sparrows are showing up singing atypical songs but then others are starting to adopt that, and over time the dialect is actually changing within that site to the new type and replacing the old tune, he said.
“So it’s like somebody from Australia arriving in Toronto and people saying, ‘hey, that sounds really cool,’ mimicking an Australian accent and then after 10 years everybody in Toronto has an Australian accent,” he said.
“That’s why, at least within the scientific community, it’s getting so much interest. It is completely atypical to what you would predict around all the theories that you have about dialects.”
Otter and a team of citizen scientists have found that the new tune is not just more popular west of the Rocky Mountains, but was also spreading rapidly across Canada.
“Originally, we measured the dialect boundaries in 2004 and it stopped about halfway through Alberta,” he said in a news release.
“By 2014, every bird we recorded in Alberta was singing this western dialect, and we started to see it appearing in populations as far away as Ontario, which is 3,000 kilometres from us.”
The scientists predicted that the sparrows’ overwintering grounds were playing a role in the rapid spread of the two-note ending, he said.
Scientists believed that juvenile males may be able to pick up new song types if they overwinter with birds from other dialect areas, and take them to new locations when they return to breeding grounds, which could explain the spread, he said.
So they fitted the birds with geolocators — what Otter called “tiny backpacks” — to see if western sparrows that knew the new song might share overwintering grounds with eastern populations that would later adopt it.
“They found that they did,” he said in the release.
Otter said he does not know what has caused the change, and his team found that the new song didn’t give male birds a territorial advantage over others.
“In many previous studies, the females tend to prefer whatever the local song type is,” he said.
“But in white-throated sparrows, we might find a situation in which the females actually like songs that aren’t typical in their environment. If that’s the case, there’s a big advantage to any male who can sing a new song type.”
The new song can be chalked up to evolution, he said in the interview.
Otter said he prefers the two-note song because it sounds smoother.
“But I’m not a sparrow so it doesn’t really matter which one I prefer,” he said with a laugh.
But the tune may be continuing to change, he said adding scientists were supposed to study it this year but COVID-19 has put a damper on the field season.
“The two note is not the be all and end all because in the last five years we noticed a male that was singing something slightly different than the standard two note doublet song,” Otter said.
“And when we recorded it we noticed he was modifying the amplitude of the first note. And more of them are doing it now. We could be seeing waves of these things that we just never noticed before.”
Hina Alam, The Canadian Press
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Full buck moon with a lunar eclipse visible this weekend – BC News – Castanet.net
British Columbians were treated to a glorious full Strawberry Moon this June, but they’ll have the opportunity to view a magnificent full Buck Moon this July in addition to a lunar eclipse.
Named after the time of year when young bucks begin to grow new antlers from their foreheads, the July full moon marks a time of renewal. The full Buck Moon will be at its fullest on July 4.
As the full moon increases in fullness, British Columbians will also be able to view a “penumbral lunar eclipse.” Timeanddate.com explains is set to begin July 4 at 8:07 p.m. but that it won’t be directly visible at that time.
At 9:22 p.m., “it will be rising but the the combination of a very low moon and the total eclipse phase will make the moon so dim that it will be extremely difficult to view until moon gets higher in the sky or the total phase ends.”
The moon will be closest to the centre of shadow at 9:29 p.m. (-0.644 Magnitude). It will end at 10:52 p.m.
During this penumbral lunar eclipse, the Earth’s main shadow does not cover the Moon.
How to watch the Fourth of July weekend's "buck moon" lunar eclipse – CBS News
Fourth of July celebrations look a little bit different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but skywatchers are still in for a special Independence Day treat. The weekend brings not only a full moon, but also a lunar eclipse.
The “buck moon” lunar eclipse will be visible the night of July 4 into the morning of July 5. Viewers across most of North and South America, as well as parts of southwestern Europe and Africa, will be able to spot the celestial phenomenon.
The event will be a penumbral eclipse, not a total lunar eclipse, meaning part of the moon will pass through the outer part of Earth’s shadow.
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, July’s full moon is called the “buck moon,” because early summer is when male deer grow new antlers. It’s also called the thunder moon — because of summer storms that occur in July — the guru moon and the hay moon.
According to NASA, the full moon will peak early Sunday morning, at 12:30 a.m. EDT. At that time, about 35% of the moon will be in the partial shadow.
The full moon peaks just a few minutes later, appearing opposite the sun at 12:44 a.m. EDT. However, it will appear full all weekend, from Friday evening into Monday morning.
Clear skies will reveal the moon in all its glory, but moon gazers may need the help of a telescope or binoculars for the full effect. It’s also possible the events could be overshadowed by Fourth of July fireworks across the U.S. — despitefrom officials.
Not only does the Fourth of July weekend mark a full moon and lunar eclipse, it also highlights the closest grouping of Saturn, Jupiter and the moon, forming a triangle of celestial celebration.
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