Tagged With evolution

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Humans and dogs have a long history of working together, leading to the assumption that the collaborative abilities of dogs are the result of domestication. New research suggests this isn't the case, and that wolves are far better at cooperation than their domesticated cousins, at least when they're cooperating with one another.

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Imagine an animal with the body of a chameleon, the feet and claws of an anteater, the humped back of a camel, and a tail that is both flattened like a beaver's, but also like that of a scorpion. If you're thinking this sounds like someone just threw your local zoo into a blender -- or that it's not far off from mythical creatures like the chimera or manticore -- this would be understandable. But this bonkers description fits a real, long-extinct group of tree-dwelling reptiles that lived more than 200 million years ago. Now, a new species of these freaky little critters has been identified, and its fossilized remains pile onto the anatomical strangeness, showing that this ancient reptile evolved a toothless, remarkably bird-like head in a world 100 million years before birds with heads like this even existed.

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A international team of researchers has completed one of the most detailed analyses of a Neanderthal genome to date. Among the many new findings, the researchers learned that Neanderthals first mated with modern humans a surprisingly long time ago, and that humans living today have more Neanderthal DNA than we assumed.

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A reanalysis of a heavily damaged fossil found nearly 150 years ago has revealed the existence of an absolute monster of the ancient seas. And the discovery of the new species, nicknamed the "Melksham Monster", shows that an extinct group of ancient reptiles appeared on Earth millions of years earlier than previously thought.

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Last year brought some rare good conservation news: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the folks who determine which species are endangered and which aren't, bumped pandas from endangered to vulnerable. That's a sign that conservation efforts have begun to reverse the effects of the human activity that wiped out the original bamboo-filled panda habitats in the first place. It also makes sense I guess, because science journalists spent all of last year talking about pandas screwing.

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He was just seven-and-a-half when he died some 49,000 years ago, an otherwise healthy Neanderthal boy whose cause of death remains a mystery. An analysis of his well-preserved skeleton is providing new insights into how these extinct humans developed and matured, revealing an extended period of growth in certain aspects compared to modern humans.

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Stand in awe of the small but mighty pumpkin toadlet. He might only be an inch long, but his skin is packed with some of the most potent toxins on Earth. Strutting proudly through the mulch, he lets out a series of high-pitched buzzes to let nearby females know that in this patch of damp, decomposing leaves, he is king -- and ready for a queen. There's only one problem. As scientists explain in a new study published in Scientific Reports, those boastful calls fall on deaf ears. Literally.

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Poison aside, frogs are generally weak and pathetic. Dinosaurs, meanwhile, range from weak and pathetic to huge and strong, so I'm going to say they're generally "not weak." But 70 million years ago, things were different. Extinct species of frogs like the Beelzebufo ampinga grew to be ten pounds in size. Maybe they even ate the weakest dinosaurs.

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The life of a hermit crab is one of repetition. Find an abandoned snail shell. Live in it. Nom on some flecks of detritus. Grow bigger. Find a slightly bigger shell. Repeat all steps for the rest of your crustacean life. The most onerous part is continually upgrading the shell, a process that can get pretty intensely competitive with other crabs around. However, a newly-discovered species of hermit crab avoids the shell renting game altogether, opting to reside in a living coral, one that grows alongside the crab, meaning no more relocating once the square footage gets a bit tight.

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You probably think you know how giraffe necks evolved. Maybe the ancestors of giraffes ate leaves from trees, and the ones who could reach the most leaves were the fittest, and therefore passed that trait down to the silly-looking long-necked animals we see today. But scientists don't know that -- in fact, there are at least six hypotheses as to how and why giraffes got their long necks.

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Burying beetles (Nicrophorus) are hard to miss. The insects aren't big, but most species are painted with vibrant, orange blotches on a glossy black background. According to new research, walking around dressed in their Halloween best may have an important function. The coloration may be "aposematic," bright and conspicuous to sternly warn other animals of the wearer's unsuitability as a meal. So, what is it about the burying beetle that makes it noxious to would-be predators?

Anal secretions. That's right, butt juice.

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When pallid bats are stung by an Arizona bark scorpion, they shrug it off as if nothing even happened, which is odd considering this predatory arachnid is the most venomous scorpion in all of North America. New research explains how this unusual level of immunity is possible -- a finding that could translate to an entirely new class of painkillers for humans.

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Below the tangle of vines and branches of the East Malaysian rainforest, a small contingent of ants scuttles frenetically along the shaded leaf litter. But these are no mere picnic pests -- these are Myrmoteras trap-jaw ants, fearsome predators armed with long, spiky, widely-agape mandibles -- and they are on the hunt. Suddenly, an insect-like springtail comes into the view of a trap-jaw's compound eye. With a quick rush from the ant, it's all over, and the springtail is pitifully pinned in the ant's prickly jaws.

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All living whales are descended from terrestrial mammals, but how these aquatic creatures evolved into giant filter-feeders remains a biological mystery. New research shows that ancient whales had razor-sharp teeth similar to land-based carnivores -- an observation that's upsetting a prevailing idea that ancient whales used their teeth for filter feeding.

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Being bitten by an Australian tiger snake is a wholly unpleasant experience. Within minutes, you start to feel pain in your neck and lower extremities -- symptoms that are soon followed by tingling sensations, numbness and profuse sweating. Breathing starts to become difficult, paralysis sets in, and if left untreated, you'll probably die. Remarkably, the venom responsible for these horrifying symptoms has remained the same for 10 million years -- the result of a fortuitous mutation that makes it practically impossible for evolution to find a counter-solution.

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During the 65 million years following the extinction of the dinosaurs, the success story of the mammals has been more than a little imbalanced. Eutherians (placental mammals like dogs, horses, you and I) had an evolutionary rager, exploding in diversity and filling vacant ecological roles across the Northern Hemisphere. Metatherians (including marsupials like kangaroos and koalas) only got a modest foothold in the smaller, southern continents of South America and Australia. For tens of millions of years, everything north of the equator seemed to be a land of total placental mammal dominance -- but the fossilised remains of a cat-sized metatherian carnivore in Turkey are now challenging that story.