Minute fossil sea creatures recovered from sediments containing ancient DNA. Image: Lejzerowicz et al./Biology Letters
In the middle of the South Atlantic, there’s a patch of sea almost devoid of life. There are no birds, few fish, not even much plankton. But researchers report that they’ve found buried treasure under the empty waters: ancient DNA hidden in the muck of the sea floor, which lies 5000 meters below the waves.
The DNA, from tiny, one-celled sea creatures that lived up to 32,500 years ago, is the first to be recovered from the abyssal plains, the deep-sea bottoms that cover huge stretches of Earth. In a separate finding published this week, another research team reports teasing out plankton DNA that’s up to 11,400 years old from the floor of the much shallower Black Sea. The researchers say that the ability to retrieve such old DNA from such large stretches of the planet’s surface could help reveal everything from ancient climate to the evolutionary ecology of the seas. Read more
Two-Headed Shark Courtesy of Patrick Rice, Shark Defense/Florida Keys Community College
This is a shark fetus, with two heads. Sharks, according to Michael Wagner, MSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife, who confirmed the discovery, usually have only one head (I’m paraphrasing). Read more
“Basically, the sperm whales had huddled together like logs, creating a protective wall against the orcas.” — Shawn Heinrichs
If killer whales lived on land, we’d be in trouble. Highly intelligent and social, the black-and-white marine mammals hunt in packs, launching coordinated attacks on other whales and sharks, and even wave-wash seals off Antarctic ice floats.
On April 18, a half-dozen orcas battled a pod of sperm whales off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. The unusual encounter is one of fewer than a dozen such recorded conflicts — and the first observed in the Indian Ocean. Read more
Yie Jang (Yunnan University) Scientists have unearthed a stunningly preserved arthropod, called a fuxhianhuiid, in a flipped position that reveals its feeding limbs and nervous system.
Scientists have unearthed extraordinarily preserved fossils of a 520-million-year-old sea creature, one of the earliest animal fossils ever found, according to a new study.
The fossilized animal, an arthropod called a fuxhianhuiid, has primitive limbs under its head, as well as the earliest example of a nervous system that extended past the head. The primitive creature may have used the limbs to push food into its mouth as it crept across the seafloor. The limbs may shed light on the evolutionary history of arthropods, which include crustaceans and insects. Read more
The beaches of Mauritius contain fragments of a type of rock typical of ancient continental crust — rock which could have been brought to the surface by volcanic eruptions. JACK ABUIN/ZUMA PRESS/CORBIS
A a group of international scientists have found evidence that an ancient, lost continent may be buried beneath the Indian Ocean floor.
Spinner dolphins off the coast of Hawaii. Image: Steve Dunleavy/Flickr
What might dolphins be saying with all those clicks and squeaks? Each other’s names, suggests a new study of the so-called signature whistles that dolphins use to identify themselves.
Whether the vocalizations should truly be considered names, and whether dolphins call to compatriots in a human-like manner, is contested among scientists, but the results reinforce the possibility. After all, to borrow the argot of animal behavior studies, people often greet friends by copying their individually distinctive vocal signatures.
“They use these when they want to reunite with a specific individual,” said biologist Stephanie King of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. “It’s a friendly, affiliative sign.” Read more
Fossils uncovered during construction of a roadway in Southern California have revealed four new species of ancient whales, according to research presented here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Sunday (Feb. 17).
One of the species, dubbed “Willy,” is much larger than the others and may have eaten sharks, said Meredith Rivin, a paleontologist at the Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center in Fullerton, Calif., and part of the team that studied the fossils. Read more
A scientist from the University of Utah has confirmed that two continent-sized “thermochemical piles” are slowly converging at the bottom of Earth’s mantle about 1,800 miles (2,900 km) beneath the Pacific Ocean. This process, says geologist Michael Thorne, could eventually lead to a cataclysmic eruption that could “cause very massive destruction on Earth.” But don’t panic quite yet. His research suggests that this super-volcano-in-the-making may not erupt for another 100 to 200 million years. Read More