Taung child was eagle’s prey

Darren Naish points to evidence that the famous African hominid fossil called the Taung child was killed by an eagle—or at least eaten by one.

This is the famous juvenile australopithecine specimen described by [Raymond] Dart in 1925, and thought to have been a 3 or 4 yr old. Following up on Brain’s observations of 1981 that the Taung assemblage represented an accumulation produced by a large carnivore, probably a leopard, Lee R. Berger and Ronald J. Clarke (1995) showed in Journal of Human Evolution that a large eagle was the most likely killer of the juvenile. The case was good: the assemblage consists of smallish mammals (like mole rats, spring hares and small antelopes), evidence for carnivorous mammals is absent, nick marks corresponding to those produced by eagle beaks and talons are present on some of the bones, and eggshell was also discovered at the site. The new discovery is that nick marks around the orbital margins of the Taung child demonstrate once and for all that an eagle really was the killer. Great stuff – I look forward to the paper.

And elsewhere, there are limericks about it.

Baby panda

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Note five toes and enlarged wrist bone, the “panda’s thumb.” It is said that the “thumb” is used in stripping leaves off bamboo stalks. The hind feet have a similar enlargement, which presumably is used less often or not used at all. However, that’s not surprising: all the limbs are governed by the same genes acting on their development in similar ways. (A person with long fingers is likely to have long toes as well.) So if a “pseudothumb” on the front foot is useful, the genes that produce it will produce a corresponding lump on the hind foot, whether it’s of any use there or not.

Cuttlefish sashimi (dolphin style)

ino_squidlegs-smHop over to The Science Pundit for a quick look at how dolphins prepare fresh, in fact very fresh, cuttlefish. They de-ink and de-bone it, which is pretty clever when they have no hands.

Spell with flickr

From Spell with flickr by Erik Kastner:

v O l U - peugeot t- i P1060841

Scary cat

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Speaking of lethal raids, as we were below, there’s still a traditional English prayer to ward off Vikings: “From the fury of the Northman, Good Lord deliver us.”

Lethal raids are an ancient tradition

From “Why they kill“:

Finding the weakling

In lethal raids, a party of allied males collectively seeks a vulnerable neighbor, assesses the probability of success, and conducts a surprise attack. This coalitionary violence has been favored by Darwinian natural selection. Even during the brief 150,000 years of Homo sapiens’ history– 90 percent of which they spent as hunter-gatherers– men have been ruthlessly violent. Males evolved brains that allow them to assess and seek opportunities to impose such deadly violence. This complex behavior arose in our ape ancestors prior to the chimp/human split.

In 1974, a field worker in Jane Goodall’s preserve in Africa watched a group of male chimpanzees– a species with whom we share 98 percent of our DNA– come together and with coordination, stealth, and surprise, move through a neighboring community to find and kill a lone victim. Since then, such violent raids have been observed repeatedly. Chimpanzees do not engage in one-on-one killing: All murderous violence occurs in male-bonded coalitions. This behavior offers the strongest evidence that murderous violence existed in our common ancestor and has remained in the two separate developmental trajectories, chimp and man, over the next five to seven million years.

Lethal raids reflect the essence of primitive war; 20 to 40 percent of male deaths in the few still-remaining hunter-gatherer societies are at the hands of other men. The equivalent death rate– if the world’s population were still hunter-gatherers– would be two billion war deaths in the 20th century alone.

Why? What’s happened? How could such deadly behavior ensure or enhance survival? Why would that be part of human nature?

It is, literally, a long story.

New species: Galapagos rosy iguana


Galapagos Pink IguanaThe rangers for the Galápagos National Park have been noticing a pinkish iguana on the island of Isabela, around the Wolf Volcano, since the mid-80s. They didn’t attach much importance to it. Perhaps it was a regular-coloured lizard stained by dust or plant material. But eventually in 2001, researchers from the University of Rome Tor Vergata and Galápagos National Park came and took samples from 36 of the animals—all they could find. Genetic material shows that this is a separate species from the other land iguanas.

By the way, it’s an area that Charles Darwin didn’t visit on his famous voyage in 1835.

Greg Laden explains that the new Galápagos iguana is likely closely related to the basal ancestor from which the other two species developed.

On the right, Gabriele Gentile, an Italian researcher, holds one of the newly recognized iguanas.

Blogger in Chief

Technorati is listing Barack Obama as the first blogging president of the U.S.

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