A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in China and Canada has identified a turtle egg fossil from the Cretaceous period that contains an embryo. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the group describes where the egg was found and what they learned about it during their examination.
Finding the eggs of dinosaurs or turtles from the Cretaceous period is extremely rare—their fragile nature makes it difficult for them to survive to the present, even in prime conditions. Finding a fossilized embryo still inside such an egg is even more rare. But that is just what the team in China discovered when they visited a farmer in China’s Henan Province. He had inadvertently dug up what he had described as several strange-looking rocks. One of those rocks turned out to be a turtle egg that the team dated to a time during the Cretaceous period, somewhere between 66 and 145 million years ago.
In studying the egg using a variety of techniques, including micro-computed tomography, the researchers were able to see that the egg was from a turtle that had belonged to a group known as nanhsiungchelyids—a land-dwelling species wiped out by the same impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. Prior research has shown that they were all quite large. The specimen that had laid the egg found by the farmer likely had a shell diameter of up to a meter and a half. To learn more about its characteristics, the researchers recreated the embryo with a 3D software application. In so doing, they found flat ribs that are characteristic of modern baby turtles. As the turtle grows, they form the basis of the shell. The researchers suggest that the ancient turtle likely was not much different from modern turtles, with one exception—an extremely thick eggshell.
As a rule, eggshells are pretty thin, whether from birds or turtles. This is because the little creature growing inside must at some point break its way out. With a shell nearly two millimeters thick, the baby inside the ancient egg would have required some special abilities to make its way into the world.
Yuzheng Ke et al, A large and unusually thick-shelled turtle egg with embryonic remains from the Upper Cretaceous of China, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2021). DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1239
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World's most dangerous bird raised by humans 18000 years ago, study suggests – CTV News
The earliest bird reared by humans may have been a cassowary — often called the world’s most dangerous bird because of its long, dagger-like toe.
Territorial, aggressive and often compared to a dinosaur in looks, the bird is a surprising candidate for domestication.
However, a new study of more than 1,000 fossilized eggshell fragments, excavated from two rock shelters used by hunter-gatherers in New Guinea, has suggested early humans may have collected the eggs of the large flightless bird before they hatched and then raised the chicks to adulthood. New Guinea is a large island north of Australia. The eastern half of the island is Papua New Guinea, while the western half forms part of Indonesia.
“This behavior that we are seeing is coming thousands of years before domestication of the chicken,” said lead study author Kristina Douglass, an assistant professor of anthropology and African studies at Penn State University.
“And this is not some small fowl, it is a huge, ornery, flightless bird that can eviscerate you,” she said in a news statement.
The researchers said that while a cassowary can be aggressive (a man in Florida was killed by one in 2019), it “imprints” easily — it becomes attached to the first thing it sees after hatching. This means it’s easy to maintain and raise up to adult size.
Today, the cassowary is New Guinea’s largest vertebrate, and its feathers and bones are prized materials for making bodily adornments and ceremonial wear. The bird’s meat is considered a delicacy in New Guinea.
There are three species of cassowary, and they are native to parts of northern Queensland, Australia, and New Guinea. Douglass thought our ancient ancestors most likely reared the smallest species, the dwarf cassowary, that weighs around 20 kilograms (44 pounds).
The fossilized eggshells were carbon-dated as part of the study, and their ages ranged from 18,000 to 6,000 years old.
Humans are believed to have first domesticated chickens no earlier than 9,500 years ago.
NOT FOR SNACKING
To reach their conclusions, the researchers first studied the eggshells of living birds, including turkeys, emus and ostriches.
The insides of the eggshells change as the developing chicks get calcium from the eggshell. Using high-resolution 3D images and inspecting the inside of the eggs, the researchers were able to build a model of what the eggs looked like during different stages of incubation.
The scientists tested their model on modern emu and ostrich eggs before applying it to the fossilized eggshell fragments found in New Guinea. The team found that most of the eggshells found at the sites were all near maturity.
“What we found was that a large majority of the eggshells were harvested during late stages,” Douglass said. “The eggshells look very late; the pattern is not random.”
These late-stage eggshells indicate people living at these two rock shelter sites were harvesting eggs when the cassowary embryos had fully formed limbs, beaks, claws and feathers, the study said.
But were humans purposefully collecting these eggs to allow them to hatch or collecting the eggs to eat? It’s possible they were doing both, Douglass said.
Consuming eggs with fully formed embryos is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, but Douglass said the research team’s analysis suggested people were hatching the chicks.
“We also looked at burning on the eggshells,” Douglass said in the news release. “There are enough samples of late stage eggshells that do not show burning that we can say they were hatching and not eating them.”
BIG BIRD AS VALUABLE RESEARCH
Less mature eggshells showed more signs of burning — suggesting that when cassowary eggs were consumed they were cooked and eaten when their contents were primarily liquid.
“In the highlands today people raise cassowary chicks to adulthood, in order to collect feathers, and consume or trade the birds. It is possible cassowaries were also highly valued in the past, since they are among the largest vertebrate animals on New Guinea. Raising cassowaries from chicks would provide a readily available source of feathers and meat for an animal that is otherwise challenging to hunt in the wild as an adult,” she explained via email.
However, there is still much the researchers don’t know.
To successfully hatch and raise cassowary chicks, people would need to know where the nests were, know when the eggs were laid and remove them from the nest just before hatching. This is no easy feat as birds don’t nest at the same sites each year. Once a female lays the eggs, male birds take over nest duty and don’t leave for 50 days while incubating the eggs.
“People may have hunted the male and then collected the eggs. Because males don’t leave the nest unattended they also don’t feed much during the incubation period making them more vulnerable to predators,” she said.
The research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PNAS on Monday.
Atlas V: Rocket launch creates strange lights in UK sky – BBC News
Amateur stargazers in the UK were sent rushing for their cameras by strange cone-shaped lights in the sky created by a US rocket.
Nasa launched the Atlas V, carrying the Landsat 9 satellite, at about 20:00 BST on Monday.
About two hours later it performed a reversing manoeuvre, releasing two glowing clouds of vapour.
Clear skies made for an out-of-this-world view of the stellar spectacle, visible above large parts of UK.
Photographer Simon Woodley “couldn’t believe his eyes” when he snapped the launch from South Shields.
Mr Woodley was out taking photos of the moonrise when he saw the unknown bright light for “three or four minutes”.
“I went through the possibilities of comet or aircraft or even a laser beam. It was only when I got home I found out what it was,” he said.
Education charity UK Astronomy said the light was the rocket’s deorbit burn, created as it fires its engines to commence its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere before burning up.
Astronomer and science writer Will Gater said the glowing, tear drop-shaped clouds were a result of sunlight scattering off material released into space.
Elliott Stone, who snapped the rocket from his garden in Keighley, West Yorkshire, thought he was seeing a comet at first.
“I noticed it was travelling the wrong way, so I thought it must have been a plane with its light on,” Mr Stone said.
What is the Landsat 9 satellite?
- Landsat 9 is part of a satellite array photographing and measuring the Earth’s surface
- The first Landsat satellite launched in 1972
- Designed to measure changes on Earth such as deforestation
- Launched into orbit using an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California
In Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, Ian Sproat was left “scrambling” to set up his camera when he saw the light above him.
“I was gobsmacked, I honestly thought it was a meteor or a comet, never did I expect to see the Landsat 9,” he said.
Mr Sproat only went to the spot near St Mary’s Lighthouse because he thought he might be able to see the northern lights.
“When I got there and was setting up, a ball of light appeared above me,” he said.
He felt “truly blessed to have witnessed this spectacular sight”, he added.
Fellow astronomy enthusiast Freddy Lees snapped a photo of the rocket from Nottingham as it climbed above the tree line shortly after 22:00.
The NASA Atlas V rocket was launched from California’s Vandenberg Space Force base 20:11 BST.
Visible rocket burns are rare in European skies and more often seen above Florida or California.
This Canadian 'Dark Sky Highway' is a stargazer dream – The Weather Network
E.C. Manning Provincial Park is one of the most popular provincial parks in British Columbia.
Located in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, its climate and geography have combined to make this park a go-to destination for stargazers across the country.
The park is within a three-hour drive from either the Lower Mainland or the Okanagan, with the closest city being about 45 minutes away. Road trippers can get there using BC Highway 3, also known as the Crowsnest Highway, located along what has become known as the Dark Sky Highway, due to the limited light pollution.
Photo of the night sky captured along B.C.’s Dark Sky Highway. The five bright stars stretched out through the right-hand side of the image are part of the constellation Ursa Major, aka the Big Dipper. (Mia Gordon)
Every year, photographers from around the country come out here to get a good glimpse of the Milky Way and other incredible constellations, and now the Manning Resort and the park are working towards becoming a dark sky designation.
“That means it is a continued commitment to preserve and protect the night and the environment but more specifically the organisms that live in the park that rely on the night to hunt and navigate,” explained Manning Park Communications Manager Emma Schram.
Every year, the resort partners with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada for an Astronomy Weekend, where visitors can speak with experts, learn how to use a telescope, and even participate in yoga under the stars. This year’s event is taking place October 15-17, and while it is sold out, any time of year is the perfect time to go stargazing in the park.
Learn more about this stargazer’s dream destination in the video above.
Thumbnail image courtesy: Getty Images
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