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Early birds may have dropped teeth to get airborne
9 years ago

12:32 08 December 2009 by Colin Barras

Fad dieting wasn't an option in the Cretaceous, so the earliest birds went to more extreme measures to address weight issues: they lost their teeth.

Archaeopteryx, at 150 million years old still the oldest known bird, had an imposing set of teeth. But within 20 million years, at least some birds were toothless. Now a team led by Zhonghe Zhou at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing believe they know why.

They discovered Zhongjianornis yangi, a toothless bird from 22 million years ago in China's Liaoning province. Their analysis shows that Z. yangi belonged to one of four bird groups that independently lost their teeth, implying that this loss was no evolutionary fluke. Z. yangi's group is the most primitive among them, suggesting it could provide clues as to why tooth loss occurred.

The team compared the body structure of a number of early birds and found that some toothed species were more adapted for flight. They think natural selection may have put pressure on weaker fliers to lose their teeth in a bid to improve their skills by losing excess weight. "It would be especially advantageous to reduce the weight of the head because [it] is further from the centre of gravity," they write.

That theory is "as good as any other", says Mike Benton at the University of Bristol, UK, though he remains sceptical. "Losing teeth wouldn't make a huge difference to balance in the air."

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0885

~Bats Find Fellatio Beneficial~
9 years ago

Bats Find Fellatio Beneficial

By Charles Q. Choi, Special to LiveScience

posted: 30 October 2009 04:07 pm ET

When they do their thing, female Chinese fruit bats add oral sex to get the males to prolong the act, scientists now find, suggesting the behavior confers evolutionary benefits.

Oral sex, or fellatio, is often used in human foreplay, the researchers noted, but rarely seen in other animals. As such, there have been few evolutionary reasons given for oral sex to date, and fellatio is largely thought confined to humans, although juvenile members of the chimpanzee-like bonobo do it for play.

Now scientists find the short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx) routinely engages in oral sex, the first time fellatio has been seen in adult animals other than humans. The researchers argue the act likely has evolutionary benefits.

Scientists at the Guangdong Entomological Institute in Guangzhou, China, and their colleagues investigated bats they captured at a nearby park. Although bats comprise the second largest order of mammals at more than 1,100 species, little is known about their mating habits because of their nocturnal lifestyle and their often-inaccessible roosts. The researchers were originally expecting to watch behaviors such as grooming or the construction of tents from Chinese fan-palm leaves. 

"We did not expect fellatio in fruit bats at the beginning," said researcher Libiao Zhang, a biologist at the Guangdong Entomological Institute in Guangzhou, China. "We were also surprised at how often it occurred."

The investigators took digital videos at night of the bats having sex, with males keeping a tight grip on the females from behind by holding thumbs on the females' wings clamping down with their mouths on the females' necks.

Naturally, the bats copulated hanging upside-down.

Intriguingly, the female lowered her head to lick the male penis during 14 of 20 copulations recorded on video. The licking typically went on for some 19 seconds, or roughly one-twelfth the average time of copulation. The male never withdrew from the female when she performed fellatio.

An explicit video of the act, produced by the researchers, is here.

The researchers found the longer the fellatio went on, the longer the bats often had sex, with each second of licking adding roughly six extra seconds of copulation. The bats spent almost twice as long copulating when oral sex was involved than when not.

"It was difficult to provide some hypotheses for the function of the fellatio behavior," Zhang said. "We held many meetings to discuss the functions."

Prolonging sex might increase the chances of getting pregnant by aiding transport of sperm and stimulating female glandular secretions, they suggested. It might even help prevent sexually transmitted diseases from the male to the female by killing germs with saliva, so while the male may enjoy the act, the female ultimately benefits.

The scientists detailed their findings online October 28 in the journal PLoS ONE.

Link To Story:

Bats Find Fellatio Beneficial (Care2 News) Please Note  

Surprising Sex Behavior Found In Bats

Digital age: Chinese fossil revives bird-dino link
9 years ago


PARIS (AFP) – A young dinosaur that fatefully wandered into a mudpool around 155 million years could help explain the mysterious evolution of birds, says the world's most famous fossil-hunter.

A team led Xing Xu, a Chinese dino expert with scores of astonishing finds to his name, uncovered the fossilised remains of a small, exceptional dinosaur in the Shishugou Formation in western China's Junggar Basin.

The creature is the only known beaked herbivorous therapod -- the family of two-legged dinosaurs that were notorious meat-eaters -- from the Jurassic era, they report in Nature, the London scientific journal.

Xu's team have dubbed it Limusaurus inextricabilis, or dinosaur that could not extricate itself from the mire.

It is the first known ceratosaur, a branch of the theropod family, to be found in Asia.

But Limusaurus' big interest is in its feet, which could settle a raging argument about the evolution of birds.

A widely-accepted theory is that birds emerged from small therapod dinosaurs, developing wings from reptilian forelimbs. The earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx, lived around 150 million years ago.

But in the late 1990s, evidence came forward that appeared to punch a hole in the bird-dino idea.

Therapods have digits corresponding to the first, second and third digits -- the thumb, index and middle finger -- on a human hand.

But scientists discovered that in bird embryos, all five digits start to emerge, yet only the second, third and fourth digits survive to develop into the wing structure. The first and outer digits disappear.

In other words, the 1-2-3 of dino digital orthodoxy ran into the 2-3-4 of avian digital reality.

There was no way that bird's wings could have developed this way, said critics.

They claimed either theropods were not the forerunners of birds -- or else theropods and birds shared some pre-dino common ancestor.

But the new study shows that Limusaurus, startlingly, has a greatly-reduced first digit, while its second, third and fourth digits are far more fully developed.

This could be a sign of a process by which digit use shifted, with ceratosaurs as a sort of halfway house, argues Xu.

Xu, of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing, backs this theory by doing a three-way comparison between Limusaurus, primitive therapods and early tetanurans, a therapod sub-group from which Archaeopteryx emerged.

Early tetanurans have similar wrist-bone features to Limusaurus when it comes to digits 2-3-4.

But their finger-bone features are more similar to primitive therapods in digits 1-2-3.

"The transition to tetanurans involved complex changes in the hand including a shift in digit identities, with ceratosaurs displaying an intermediate condition," he suggests.

Scientists Tell Texas: Time to Evolve
9 years ago

By LiveScience Staff

posted: 24 March 2009 04:31 pm ET

Several leading scientists have sent a letter to the Texas State Board of Education urging board members to reject an amendment that attacks one of evolution's key principles, that all life on Earth is descended from a common ancestor.

Leading members of the Texas scientific community, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS ), urged the state board "to reject amendments to the state's draft science standards that would undermine sound science teaching," according to an AAAS statement released today.

The board is to take a final vote on the standards on Friday.

The letter, sent yesterday, was addressed to Chairman Don McLeroy and the other members of the Texas board. In it, the scientists said certain amendments, introduced and approved during the January 2009 board meeting, "would mislead students should they make it into the final standards."

Among other things the pending amendment says students should "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency and insufficiency of common ancestry." But scientists say there is no real argument about common ancestry, one of the foundational concepts of evolution. "The scientific consensus is that evolution is the backbone of modern biology and many other fields of science, underlying advances in areas such as agriculture and medicine," the scientists write.

The letter acknowledges that the board "did the students of Texas a great service" when it earlier rejected insertion of language in the science standards that spoke of the "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory.

Critics fear that the amendment, using the terms "sufficiency and insufficiency," is little different from the earlier effort to raise questions about evolution. Downplaying evolution's place in science "only serves to confuse students," the scientists say in their letter to the board.

The letter also notes that pending revisions to the Earth and Space Science standards "introduce unwarranted uncertainty to long-settled scientific issues" such as the processes of planet formation.

"We urge you to vote for removing anti-science changes to the draft standards and protect the future of science education and technology-based industry in Texas," the scientists write.

The letter was signed by Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS, and David E. Daniel, president of the University of Texas at Dallas and 2009 president of The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST). They were joined by 23 others, including Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, and Robert F. Curl, a Nobel laureate in chemistry at Rice University.

Evolution has another unlikely supporter in former president George W. Bush, who in the waning days of his administration said he doesn't think that his belief that God created the world is "incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution."

This post was modified from its original form on 25 Mar, 11:57
Synthetic life form grows in Florida lab
9 years ago
Think pink: Galapagos' rosy lizard is new species
10 years ago
Think pink: Galapagos' rosy lizard is new speciesPublished: 1/7/09, 8:25 PM EDT
By JEANNETH VALDIVIESOQUITO, Ecuador (AP) - Hard to believe a giant, pink lizard could be overlooked for almost two centuries.

Charles Darwin missed it during his 1835 study of the Galapagos Islands that led to his theory of evolution. Park rangers ignored the pink and black-striped reptiles after accidentally happening upon them in 1986. Some thought the stripes were just stains.

But scientists now have documented a new species, the iguana "rosada," (pink in Spanish), which may be one of the archipelago's oldest, according to research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Blood and genetic tests on 36 pink iguanas - which average 3-5 feet (more than a meter) in length - show the lizards belong to a previously undiscovered species that appears to live exclusively around Isabela Island's Wolf Volcano, an area Darwin never explored.

Researchers from the University of Rome Tor Vergata and Galapagos National Park began to investigate in 2001 whether the lizards were a different species or an adaptation for environmental or food reasons of the Galapagos' two known land iguanas: the Conolophus subcristatus and Conolophus pallidus.

But the pink iguana, it turns out, is older and likely the predecessor of the two, said Cruz Marquez, a biologist who is part of the research team. It dates back more than 5 million years, researchers say.

The pink iguana has not yet been given a scientific name.

"To discover a large vertebrate that was unknown in an area where there has been a lot of research is very special," Marquez told The Associated Press by telephone from the park.

The pink iguana population size, eating and reproductive habits are still unknown, and no young animals have been discovered, according to a park statement. Further research will determine what resources are needed to guarantee the lizards' survival.

"We need to clarify if reproduction is impeded and for what reasons," lead researcher Gabriele Gentile told the AP, noting that feral cats in the area may be eating the iguana's eggs.

The Galapagos islands, an archipelago located about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) off Ecuador's Pacific coast, were protected as a UNESCO's Natural Heritage site in 1978. In 2007 UNESCO declared them at risk due to harm from invasive species, tourism and immigration.

The islands are known for their unique flora and fauna, including marine and land iguanas, blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises that live up to 150 years of age. The variety of finches on the islands inspired Darwin's theory of evolution.

Could the lizards really be a new species, one that evolved in the period since Darwin's time? Perhaps our assumptions about evolution always being a slow process are not always true.

How the Turtle Got Its Shell
10 years ago

Oct. 8, 2008 -- Famous for carrying its shelled "home" on its back, the humble, plodding turtle has also been toting around one of the biggest mysteries of the animal kingdom. Paleontologists have now unearthed a bizarre fossil beast in the eastern New Mexican desert that might put that mystery to rest.

A foot long and armored from head to tail, the 215-million-year-old fossil Chinlechelys tenertesta is a missing link in turtle evolution that promises to finally settle a controversy that's been raging for the past two centuries over how turtles got their shells.

There are two camps in the debate. As turtle embryos develop, their shells grow directly from the animals' ribs, and adult turtles' ribs are fused to the shell carapace. Some scientists conclude this must have been how the shells originally developed in antiquity, too -- normal rib bones gradually flattened out and spread until they formed a complete shell.

But animals like armadillos have shells that aren't attached to their ribs. Instead the shell is skin that has thickened and hardened to provide protection. This so-called "dermal armor" is also prevalent among ankylosaurs, a group of stoutly built dinosaurs that lived in the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras.

Walter Joyce of Yale University was the first to identify the new fossil as a primordial turtle from just a few bits of the neck and shell. "It's a pretty ugly fossil, really," Joyce said of the jumbled pieces he examined, "almost like a shoebox full of crud."

But the key, Joyce said, was an intact series of three neck spines, a small piece of the belly shell, and a fragment of the back shell with ribs attached.

"That's what really gave it away," Joyce said of the final piece. "You can see that the ribs are not fused to the shell."

Covered in dermal armor, the ancient turtle probably looked a lot like an ankylosaur, though the two species are unrelated. It couldn't yet retract its neck or feet, and its shell was thinner than a modern turtle's, but Chinlechelys tenertesta was bristled with sharp spines along its neck and tail.

"This is very clear evidence that the shell is a composite structure," James Parham of the Field Museum in Chicago said. "It is a missing link. This is one of the most important turtle fossils ever found, I think."

10 years ago

Kool, but will the creationist accept this as fact or fiction? That's the question...

"Walking fish" reveals fresh evolutionary insights
10 years ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An extraordinary fish that existed 375 million years ago had unique features in its head that helped pave the way for vertebrate animals to live on land, scientists said on Wednesday.

Scientists for the first time described features in the underside of the skull of Tiktaalik roseae, the so-called "walking fish" discovered in the Canadian Arctic in 2004. It is considered an important transitional animal in the evolution of fish into amphibians, the first land-dwelling vertebrates.

The findings showed that the migration from water to land was more complicated than merely having a fish's fins transform into legs, the scientists wrote in the journal Nature.

The head showed changes from more primitive fish that helped adapt to the new feeding and breathing conditions presented by a terrestrial environment, the scientists said. Like some other fish of its time, it had gills and lungs.

"It's not to say that Tiktaalik itself is a terrestrial animal. It spent most of its time in water, for sure," Jason Downs of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, one of the researchers, said in a telephone interview.

"So what it's really demonstrating is that many of these changes that are occurring and things that we once associated with terrestrial life are turning out, in fact, to be adaptations for life in shallow water settings that Tiktaalik might had found himself in," Downs added.


It likely inhabited the mudflats of freshwater flood plains of a subtropical environment. It was a large aquatic predator, measuring up to 9 feet long, with sharp teeth and a flattened head like a crocodile and unlike primitive fish.

It may have been able to exit the water for short jaunts on land.

"Fish in the water, insects on land -- it could feed on all of those if you look at the skull," said Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago, another of the researchers.

Tiktaalik is seen as a forerunner of all land vertebrates including amphibians, reptiles, mammals and eventually people.

The scientists described key features in its head and braincase and the decline in size of a bone called the hyomandibula. In fish, this bone links the braincase, roof of the mouth and gill structures and coordinates their motions during underwater feeding and respiration.

As land animals evolved, the hyomandibula eventually became the stapes, one of the tiny bones in the middle ear.

Tiktaalik has features of some of the more primitive fish it lived with as well as features of the first four-legged amphibians that lived on land. Its fins had discernible wrists and elbows in an evolutionary step toward legs that could be used to walk around on dry land.

The underside of the skull remained encased in rock at the time Tiktaalik's discovery was announced. Using a needle to remove rock grain by grain under a microscope, scientists have painstakingly studied the inside of the creature's skull.

Official: Bible and Darwin Could Both Be Right
10 years ago

Official: Bible and Darwin Could Both Be Right

Vatican Plans Conference to Study Evolution Theory

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 19, 2008 ( There is no a priori incompatibility between the Bible and Darwin's theory of evolution, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, also president of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, affirmed this Tuesday when he presented an upcoming international conference that will gather theologians and scientists to discuss Charles Darwin's theory.

The March 3-7 conference, to be held in Rome, marks 150 years since Darwin publicized his findings in "Origin of Species."

The conference is organized as part of the Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest project, a venture sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture. The Pontifical Gregorian University and the University of Notre Dame are also sponsoring the event.

According to Archbishop Ravasi, the congress aims to establish dialogue between philosophy, theology and science.

Theologians, philosophers and scientists move in "different terrains," he said. What is important "is that the line of demarcation not be turned into a 'Wall of China' or an 'Iron Curtain,' which looks upon the other with contempt. [...] The distinction is not separation. The distinction is necessary.

"Hence, an act of humility is also necessary on the part of the theologians who must listen and learn; on the other hand, the arrogance of some scientists must be overcome, [people] who slap those who have faith, and regard faith and theology as a heritage of a Paleolithic intellectual."

Jesuit Father Marc Leclerc, a professor at the Gregorian University, added that "the debate on the theory of evolution is ever more heated, both in the Christian as well as in the strictly evolutionist realm."

Explaining the motives that led to convoking the congress, the Jesuit priest said, "We think it is our duty to try to clarify some points, given that Christian scientists, philosophers and theologians are directly involved in the debate, along with colleagues of other confessions or those who have no confession."

The conference is an attempt to have "an ample exchange of opinions from the rational point of view, to foster fruitful dialogue between experts of different areas," Father Leclerc added. "The Church is profoundly interested in this dialogue, fully respecting each one's field."


Evolution fine but no apology to Darwin: Vatican
10 years ago

By Philip Pullella Tue Sep 16, 4:07 PM ET

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican said on Tuesday the theory of evolution was compatible with the Bible but planned no posthumous apology to Charles Darwin for the cold reception it gave him 150 years ago.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture minister, was speaking at the announcement of a Rome conference of scientists, theologians and philosophers to be held next March marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "The Origin of Species."

Christian churches were long hostile to Darwin because his theory conflicted with the literal biblical account of creation.

Earlier this week a leading Anglican churchman, Rev. Malcolm Brown, said the Church of England owed Darwin an apology for the way his ideas were received by Anglicans in Britain.

Pope Pius XII described evolution as a valid scientific approach to the development of humans in 1950 and Pope John Paul reiterated that in 1996. But Ravasi said the Vatican had no intention of apologizing for earlier negative views.

"Maybe we should abandon the idea of issuing apologies as if history was a court eternally in session," he said, adding that Darwin's theories were "never condemned by the Catholic Church nor was his book ever banned."

Creationism is the belief that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible. The Catholic Church does not read the Genesis account of creation literally, saying it is an allegory for the way God created the world.

Some other Christians, mostly conservative Protestants in the United States, read Genesis literally and object to evolution being taught in biology class in public high schools.

Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for the U.S. vice presidency, said in 2006 that she supported teaching both creationism and evolution in schools but has subsequently said creationism does not have to be part of curriculum.


, said the gathering would be an important contribution to explaining the Catholic stand on evolution.

"In the United States, and now elsewhere, we have an ongoing public debate over evolution that has social, political and religious dimensions," he said.

"Most of this debate has been taking place without a strong Catholic theological presence, and the discussion has suffered accordingly," he said.

Pope Benedict discussed these issues with his former doctoral students at their annual meeting in 2006. In a speech in Paris last week, he spoke out against biblical literalism.

(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Patsy Wilson in Washington; editing by Robert Hart)


Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution
10 years ago

Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution

The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin's ideas. It will call "anti-evolutionary fervour" an "indictment" on the Church".

The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin's views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.

The apology, which has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church's director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians, in their response to Darwin's theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo's astronomy in the 17th century.

"The statement will read: Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of 'faith seeking understanding' and hope that makes some amends."

Opposition to evolutionary theories is still "a litmus test of faithfulness" for some Christian movements, the Church will admit. It will say that such attitudes owe much to a fear of perceived threats to Christianity.

The comments are included on a Church of England website promoting the views of Charles Darwin to be launched on Monday.

LINK to this story

Dale Husband: Why now? And why did it take until the late 20th Century for the Catholic Church to apologize to Galileo? Both men are long dead and the apologies won't make any difference.

The Clergy Letter Project seeks rabbis
10 years ago

As part of its efforts to encourage and support members of the clergy who acknowledge the scientific importance of evolution, the Clergy Letter Project is now asking rabbis to sign its open letter concerning religion and science. The letter begins, "As rabbis from various branches of Judaism, we the undersigned, urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution," and observes, "It is possible to be inspired by the religious teachings of the Bible while not taking a literalist approach and while accepting the validity of science including the foundational concept of evolution. It is not the role of public schools to indoctrinate students with specific religious beliefs but rather to educate them in the established principles of science and in other subjects of general knowledge." Over one hundred rabbis have endorsed the letter so far.

The brainchild of Michael Zimmerman, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University, the Clergy Letter Project was founded in 2004; its activities include a similar letter for Christian clergy, currently endorsed by over 11,000 members of the clergy across the country and around the world; a pool of scientists willing to work with clergy on promoting scientific literacy; a collection of sermons, articles, readings, and websites relevant to the Clergy Letter Project's goals; and Evolution Weekend (formerly Evolution Sunday), in which religious leaders are encouraged to discuss the compatibility of faith and science in their sermons, Sabbath or Sunday schools, and discussion groups, on or about Darwin's birthday, February 12. Over 300 congregations are already planning to celebrate Evolution Weekend in 2009, the Darwin bicentennial year.

LINK to this story

Polling creationism in Canada
10 years ago

Among Canadians, 58 percent accept evolution, while 22 percent think that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, and 20 percent are unsure, according to a new poll from Angus Reid Stategies. The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1007 Canadian adults interviewed on-line on July 29 and 30, 2008, and its margin of error is +/- 3.1%. The results are virtually unchanged from a 2007 poll, in which 59 percent of the respondents accepted evolution, 22 percent preferred the creationist option, and 19 percent were unsure.

In a press release (PDF), a number of further findings were noted: "Men [were] more inclined than women to believe in evolution (69% versus 48%); women [were] more prone to believe in creationism (28% versus 16%) ... Males (69%), younger adults (67%) and those with at least one university degree (71%) [were] more inclined to believe in evolution ... [and] Albertans (40%) and Conservative Party supporters (29%) [were] more likely to think humans were created by God."

Comparing these results with poll results in the United States is not straightforward, since the question that the Gallup Organization has used since 1982 offers two versions of a pro-evolution response: "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process" and "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process." The corresponding Angus Reid response omits any mention of God.

According to a useful summary, in the latest Gallup poll using the question, conducted in May 2008, 50% of respondents preferred the pro-evolution responses, with 44 percent preferring "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so," and with only 5 percent volunteering a different response or declining to answer. It might seem, then, that Canadians are not as much supportive of evolution as they are dismissive of creationism, compared to their American counterparts.

As the political scientist and polling expert George Bishop observes, however, minor changes in the wording of poll questions about creationism and evolution can make a substantial difference in poll results, so it would be premature to jump to any conclusions. Over the years, Reports of the NCSE has carried a variety of reports and analyses of such polls, including Otis Dudley Duncan and Claudia Geist's "The Creationists: How Many, Who, and Where?".

LINK to this story

'Frog-amander' Fossil Fills Evolutionary Gap
10 years ago

By Jeanna Bryner, Senior Writer

posted: 21 May 2008 01:00 pm ET

A frog-like creature with a stubby tail once paddled through a quiet pond in what is now Texas, snapping up mayflies while keeping an ear out for bellowing mates, new fossil evidence suggests.

That was about 290 million years ago.

In 1995, the amphibian specimen was discovered in fish quarry sediments in Baylor County, Texas, though it wasn't until recently that paleontologists inspected and described the new species. Called Gerobatrachus hottoni after its discoverer Nicholas Hotton, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution, the creature represents a transitional amphibian, sporting features of both frogs and salamanders.

"This amphibian is from near to the point where frogs and salamanders first split," said lead researcher Jason Anderson, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Calgary in Canada. "This is kind of an early frog-amander."

The finding, detailed in this week's issue of the journal Nature, supports the idea that frogs and salamanders evolved from one ancient amphibian group called temnospondyls. 

Like modern salamanders, the fossil of Gerobatrachus has two fused bones in its ankle. And like modern frogs, the frog-amander sports a large ear drum, or tympanic ear, which Anderson said the ancient amphibian likely used for hearing calls from mates.

"I suspect that many of the temnospondyls have a similar sort of [tympanic ear] system," Anderson told LiveScience. "But of course unless we were able to build a time machine and go back and listen to these guys call, we won't know for sure."

Rather than hopping, this amphibian likely walked on land and swam in water, with the ability to lunge after prey, Anderson said. In fact, along the evolutionary history of amphibians, frogs didn't begin hopping until the Jurassic or Triassic period. (The most definitive hopping frog fossil is dated to the Triassic, which spans from 248 million to 206 million years ago.)

"It was found in sediments from a quiet pond with a lot of fish fossils, but I suspect it was equally comfortable on land or in water," Anderson said.

The fossil also showed several tiny teeth that had a specialized trapping feature seen in all modern amphibians at some point in development. The teeth are able to hinge inward when catching prey. "It allows food to go in, but it can't get back out," Anderson said.

The new species, spanning less than 5 inches (12 cm) from nose to tip of tail, provides a marker of when frogs and salamanders went their separate ways along the evolutionary path toward modern forms.

"With this new data, our best estimate indicates that frogs and salamanders separated from each other sometime between 240 [million] and 275 million years ago, much more recently than previous molecular data had suggested," said study team member Robert Reisz of the University of Toronto Mississauga.

The research was supported by the Museum of Natural History (le Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle) in Paris and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Earlier this week, a separate team announced finding a yellow tree frog in Panama that also had transitional features.

Bat fossil solves evolution poser
10 years ago

A fossil found in Wyoming has resolved a long-standing question about when bats gained their sonar-like ability to navigate and locate food.

They found that flight came first, and only then did bats develop echolocation to track and trap their prey.

A large number of experts had previously thought this happened the other way around.

Details of the work by an international team of researchers is published in the prestigious journal Nature.

Echolocation - the ability to emit high-pitched squeaks and hear, for example, the echo bouncing off flying insects as small as a mosquito - is one of the defining features of bats as a group.

There are over 1,000 species of bats in the world today, and a great many of them can echolocate to navigate and find food.

But some, especially larger fruit bats, depend on their sense of smell and sight to find food, showing that the winged mammals can survive without their capacity to gauge the location, direction and speed of flying creatures in the dark.

The new fossil, named Onychonycteris finneyi, was found in the 52-million-year-old Green River Formation in Wyoming, US, in 2003. It is in a category all on its own, giving rise to a new genus and family.

Its large claws, primitive wings, broad tail and especially its underdeveloped cochlea - the part of the inner ear that makes echolocation possible - all set it apart from existing species. It is also drastically different from another bat fossil unearthed in 1960, Icaronycteris index, that lived during the same Early Eocene epoch.

Many experts had favored an "echolocation first" theory because this earlier find, also from the Green River geological formation in Wyoming, was so close in its anatomy to modern species.

But the new fossil suggests this wasn't the case.

"Its teeth seem to show that it was an insect eater," said co-author Kevin Seymour, a palaeontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada.

"And if it wasn't echolocating then it had to be using other methods to find food."

The next big question to be answered, he added, was when and how bats made the transition from being terrestrial to flying animals.

LINK to this story

Evolution vs creation row ends in stabbing
11 years ago

By Adam Bennett

December 14, 2007 04:51pm

A FRUIT-picking trip to southern New South Wales ended in the death of a Scottish backpacker who became embroiled in a bizarre row about creationism and evolution.

English backpacker Alexander Christian York, 33, was today sentenced to a maximum of five years jail for the manslaughter of Scotsman Rudi Boa in January last year.

Mr Boa, 28, died on January 27 after being stabbed by York at the Blowering Holiday Park, near Tumut.

Mr Boa and his girlfriend Gillian Brown arrived in Australia from Scotland at the end of 2005 and went to Tumut to pick fruit as their first port of call on a round the world holiday.

York had been in the country since April 2005.

The Scottish couple and York, neighbours at the caravan park, were becoming friends and spent the night of January 27 drinking at the Star Hotel in Tumut.

However, towards the end of the night, an argument between York and the pair about creationism versus evolution escalated into a shouting match at the pub.

The couple, both biomedical scientists, had been arguing the case of evolution, while York had taken a more biblical view of history.

"Although this became perhaps a little sharp edged, it did not really amount to anything," Justice Michael Adams said during York's sentencing in the New South Wales Supreme Court today.

"For some reason, however ... the offender's mood changed suddenly and he began to abuse Mr Boa and Ms Brown.

"There was no hint of a physical confrontation and what a happened amounted to little more than a brief verbal contretemps."

Although the altercation had been defused by the time the Scottish tourists left the hotel, it became inflamed again at the caravan park when all three were quite drunk.

According to Ms Brown, York was making dinner when he attacked the couple outside his tent, stabbing Mr Boa with a kitchen knife as the argument escalated.

York said he had lashed out in self-defence, after being attacked by Mr Boa.

In the NSW Supreme Court sitting in Wagga Wagga in July, York was found guilty of manslaughter but acquitted of murdering Mr Boa.

He was today sentenced to a maximum of five years in jail, with a non-parole period of three years.

He will be eligible for release on January 26, 2009.

Justice Adams said he had given York a sentence at the lower end of the scale, partly because of the accidental nature of the stabbing.

"I do not believe that he took aim but rather thrust out," Justice Adams said.

"I think he knew that the knife was in his hand ... but he did not actually turn his mind to the potentially serious consequences of doing this.

"The offender is a person of good character and the offence is a complete aberration."

York, unshaven and dressed in prison greens, sat impassively as Justice Adams read out the sentence.

Mr Boa's sister Debbie broke down when York was led into court, and during the sentencing.,23599,22924256-29277,00.html

'Nova' documentary features Dover's intelligent design case
11 years ago
In some ways, the life of every plaintiff and person close to Kitzmiller v. Dover will never be the same.

Bill Buckingham says he understands that; things can't return to normal when people keep writing books and making movies and documentaries about the intelligent design case.

Then as if playing his own character, Buckingham calls the judge in the case "a jackass who has the guts of a house plant."

And it seems that some things haven't changed.

The man known for his outspoken -- sometimes outrageous -- exposition in support of intelligent design hasn't altered his frankness.

For good measure, he adds: "And I'll tell that to his face if I ever have a chance, and if I keep shooting off my mouth like this I'm sure he'll make sure I do. ..."

Interviews: Buckingham, a former member of the Dover Area School Board, is one of several people interviewed by "Nova" crews who produced a documentary about the trial.

"Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" features trial re-enactments based on court transcripts and interviews with expert scientists and Dover parents, teachers, and area officials. The documentary will air on WITF-TV as a two-hour special at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13.

Buckingham and several of his former colleagues on the school
board voted in 2004 to include intelligent design -- a notion that life is so complex that a "higher being" must have created it -- in Dover's high school biology classes.

Eleven parents filed a federal civil suit against the school district and the board, saying the policy violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III -- who has won acclaim from scientists and teachers but eludes Buckingham's favor -- sided with the plaintiffs, saying that intelligent design is kin to Christian creationism. He ordered the school board to pay $1 million in legal fees and damages.

Writer, producer and director Joseph McMaster said the documentary about the trial was a natural fit with "Nova's" goal of exploring the world of science.

"We felt, as many people did, that it really was a historic court case but it was also a real beefy science lesson," he said. "Since we're a science series, it was a great chance to look at evolution, which is of course the bedrock of the biological sciences."

Proud of attempt: Buckingham says he's proud of what his former school board tried to accomplish, despite the hefty legal fee and the ire of Dover voters who ousted all of the candidates who supported intelligent design.

"A lot of people misread me through this," he said. "I really do care about people."

Buckingham said he still believes in intelligent design and, as one of the only former board members still willing to talk about the debacle, wants his side of the argument to reach the public.

"I get e-mails from Boston and New York and other board members, people who want to talk to me about it," he said. "This is never gonna go away. I was on the computer the other day and just for the heck of it I typed my name in. You know I'm on YouTube?"

The Internet site features what is perhaps Buckingham's most infamous screen appearance.

It's an airing of a Fox 43 news interview during which Buckingham -- who swore he was not trying to sneak creationism into schools -- said he wanted to balance the teaching of evolution with alternative views, "such as creationism."

One tech-savvy YouTube user created a remix of the video, where Buckingham says over and over, "creationism, creationism, creationism."

About the program
"Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial," a documentary about the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, will air on WITF-TV (Comcast channel 2) as a two-hour episode of "NOVA" at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13.

The documentary features trial re-enactments based on court transcripts and interviews with expert scientists and Dover parents, teachers and area officials.

Evolution in the News III
11 years ago
| Blue Label

This thread will be dedicated to news stories that relate in some way to evolution, like the first two of the same title.


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