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Imaginary Feathers Found on “Turkey” Dino

Last month, we reported on announcements of a dinosaur fossil with imaginary feathers (02/08/2006); at least, all the news stories mentioned feathers and some had pictures of them, but the original paper said nothing about feathers.  Now, National Geographic has done it again: “Giant Turkey-Like Dinosaur Found in Utah,” the title reads, with a picture […]

Experimental Biologists Look to Animals for Inspiration

Whether insects, fish, birds or mammals, animals have a lot to teach scientists and engineers.  Here are some recent stories that begin to answer, “How do they do that?” with hopes that humans might be able to mimic their feats. Hard sponges:  Aimee Cunningham in Science News (03/25/2006; 169:12, p. 184) described the astonishment Joanna […]

“This Is a Problem”: Dino-Feather Story Gets Scaly

Just when proponents of dinosaur-to-bird evolution were getting agreement on their story, along came Juravenator.  Announced in Nature,1 this new dinosaur fossil from Germany is dated later than the earliest alleged “feathered dinosaur,” but had no feathers.  The finely-preserved specimen, in the same Solnhofen limestone that preserved Archaeopteryx (dated 2-3 million years later), had clear […]

March of the “Selfish Darwinians”?

Penguins: are they moral models, or evolutionary examples?  Ever since last year’s surprise blockbuster documentary March of the Penguins, the well-dressed seabirds and their harsh lives have provoked empathy and commentary.  Marlene Zuk (UC Riverside) took issue in Nature1 with those who try to moralize about monogamy from taking their cues only from the movie.  […]

Treasure Trove of Rare Species Found in Papua New Guinea

There are still untouched areas on our planet.  Scientists announced the discovery of a “lost world” of new species of birds and mammals in a remote section of Papua New Guinea with no sign of trails or roads.  The news media are all abuzz with the exciting announcement: see MSNBC, National Geographic, BBC News, EurekAlert […]

Birds Sing Duets

The little wrens in your backyard are not only soloists; they sing duets.  A number of birds have been found to sing together in unison, or in antiphonal pairs.  Some alternate melodic lines in rapid-fire succession and some sing in choirs.  This was described by Susan Milius in Science News.1  One ornithologist was stunned in […]

Observing Animals for Fun and Profit

Whether scientists watch Animal Planet for inspiration or not, they often are fixated on the wonders in the animal kingdom and want to understand and imitate them.  Here are some recent examples: Waddle of the Penguins:  Max Kurz at U of Houston enjoys watching cuddly penguins like most of us, but wonders how they waddle […]

Archaeopteryx in the Headlines Again: New Specimen Reported

The best-preserved fossil yet of Archaeopteryx was announced in Science this week,1 the tenth in all.  This one, described by Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Natural History Museum (Frankfurt, Germany), had a better-preserved foot than the others (all found in the Solnhofen Limestone beds of Bavaria) with indications it had a hyperextendable second toe somewhat […]

News from the Cretaceous

Here are some recent stories about extinct reptiles and bird-like creatures from the age of dinosaurs. T. Rex Smelled Good:  A story in Science1 listed evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex had a large olfactory bulb, giving it a good sense of smell.  Analysis of the visual and auditory parts of the skull suggest that it also […]

March of the Little Penguins Down Darwin Lane?

Penguins are on people’s minds since the movie, but there are other species of the handsome-yet-funny waddlers besides the reigning emperors.  The news media are saying one species demonstrates evolution – another word on the public mind these days.  MSNBC News talked about “Penguin evolution,” and Science Now proclaimed “Evolution on Ice.”  Actually, it’s only […]

Emperor Penguins Get More Respect

A handsomely-dressed emperor penguin made the cover of Science News this week.  Gerald Kooyman of Scripps Institute is gratified over the success of the documentary March of the Penguins; “I’ve been telling people they’re remarkable for years,” he said.  In the article, Susan Milius brought out several additional amazing facts not mentioned in the film. […]

Archaeopteryx Meets Its Younger Grandpa, and Other Flights of Fancy

Science Now said that a “slightly embarrassing gap” in the fossil record has been filled by a find in Wyoming.  The oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx was older than its presumed ancestors, the Maniraptorans, its closest dinosaurian relatives.  A team near Thermopolis, Wyoming found a maniraptoran dating from about the same time as Archaeopteryx.  This new […]

Have We Been Sold a Bill of Goods About Feathered Dinosaurs and Bird Evolution?

Most people remember the poignant moment at the end of Jurassic Park when the professor, on a flight away from his harrowing experiences on the island of dinosaurs run amok, sees a flock of modern birds and ponders their peaceful existence as descendants of the velociraptors and tyrannosaurs that nearly killed him and his friends.  […]

Bird Brains: No Evolutionary Pattern in Size

A scientist went looking for evolutionary patterns in bird brain size, but his chart shows data all over the map.  Fahad Sultan (U of Tuebingen, Germany) measured brains in a wide variety of birds, and published his results in Current Biology.1 How does brain size and design influence the survival chances of a species?  A […]

Darwin’s Finches Evolve – Back and Forth

What’s new on the Galápagos?  For those needing an update on Darwin’s famous finches, the researchers who have spent the most time studying them – Peter and Mary Grant (Princeton) – wrote a Quick Guide in Current Biology1 in question-and-answer format.  We’ll skip the introductory material about how the birds got named after Darwin, and […]
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