Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Glass Squids

Squids in the family Cranchiidae are referred to as glass squid because of the transparent nature of most species. They are characterized by a swollen body and short arms. They are also sometimes referred to as cockatoo squid because several deep-sea species have been observed exhibiting a peculiar posture (cockatoo posture) with the arms and tentacles folded back over the head. 

Top: Galiteuthis phyllura; Middle: Taonius borealis; Bottom: Helicocranchia pfefferi

The combined Horn, Synthetoceras (1932)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Protoceratidae
Genus : Synthetoceras
Species : S. tricornatus
  • Late Miocene (13,6 - 5,3 Ma)
  • 2 m long and 250 kg (size)
  • North America (map)
Synthetoceras was the latest, and largest, member of the obscure family of artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates) known as protoceratids; it lived a few million years after Protoceras andSyndyoceras and was at least double their size. The males of this deer-like animal (which was actually more closely related to modern camels) boasted one of nature’s most improbable head ornaments, a single, foot-long horn that branched off on the end into a small V shape (this was in addition to a more normal-looking pair of horns behind the eyes). Like modern deer, Synthetoceras seems to have lived in large herds, where the males maintained dominance (and competed for females) according to the size and impressiveness of their horns.

cedar apple rust

Milford, MA // Cedar-Apple Rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) is a fungus that infects the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana, not actually a cedar) wherever there are apples or crabapples in the same range. The fungus cycles between Juniperus and apple trees from season to season, and the galls on Juniperus are very distinctive in my neighborhood once they mature. The orange spore horns become bigger in the rain and will shrivel and swell with the weather, and some of them get so big they would fill the palm of my hand. If you were wondering, the galls are squishy and slimy when hydrated, and they look a lot less cool once they release their spores and start to decompose. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

katie scott

Illustrations by Katie Scott.

Absurd Creature of the Week: The Pearlfish

This Fish Swims Up a Sea Cucumber’s Butt and Eats Its Gonads

by Matt Simon
(You’re a Sea Cucumber…) You’re breathing through your anus, by the way, and when you take a breath, the pearlfish strikes — squirming up your butt, making itself comfortable in your respiratory organ, and eating your gonads. Or, they’ll go up in pairs and have sex in your body cavity. And that’s when you realize that you must have been a really awful human being in a past life. Like, the type of person who talks on their phone in a movie theater kind of awful.
Such pearlfishes come in a range of species, and don’t necessarily limit themselves to invading sea cucumbers. They’ll also work their way into sea stars, and are so named because they’ve been found dead inside oysters, completely coated in mother-of-pearl. Beautiful, really, though I reckon the pearlfish would beg to differ.
This behavior is the strange product of a housing crisis. You see, shelter is in short supply on many seafloors, particularly those that lack reefs. And there are few better shelters than sea cucumbers, little mobile homes that pearlfishes will enter pretty much as they please, leaving to hunt and returning for protection. If they can’t return to the same one, no worries at all. There’s plenty of decent housing squirming around the seafloor — if you’re willing to live in a sea cucumber’s bum…
(read more: Wired Science)

cork table

Weird New Mite Species Discovered

by Gwen Pearson
Here’s a brand new species of mite described this week. Is it from some strange sulfur deep sea vent? A parasite recovered from the pores of a pangolin? Nope, it’s from soil on the main campus of Ohio State University. The main author described the collection of this new species as an “event as lackluster as it was serendipitous.”
Bolton, Samuel & Hans Klompen. 2014. A new genus and species of Nematalycidae (Acari: Endeostigmata). Journal of Natural History. DOI: 10.1080/00222933.2013.859318
This tiny animal is so odd, it’s not just a new species; it’s been placed in a new genus within a very bizarre group of mites. Mites, you may remember, are close cousins of ticks. Most ticks and mites look like a blobby body with 8 legs.
This particular group of mites are long and wormy-looking. And they have a really fascinating outer cuticle; it looks like it’s covered with strings of beads…
(read more: Wired Science)


Brochoadmones came from the Early Devonian of Canada, about 435-430 million years ago. Around 10cm long (4in), it was a type of “spiny shark" — an extinct group that shared features with both bony and cartilaginous fish.
And it had a lot of extra fins. Six paired “finlets” running from below the gills to the pelvic fins, each consisting of a spine with a web of scaled skin. They look very much like what would be expected for multiple fins evolving from a lateral fin-fold (essentially a single elongated fin subdividing).

The Rhinocerus Viper - Bitis nasicornis

The Rhinocerus Viper  - Bitis nasicornis is a venomous viper species found in the forests of West and Central Africa. A big viper, it is known for its striking color pattern and prominent horns on its nose. Its commonly known as the River-Jack Viper.

Why We Can Blame A Warm Arctic For This Winter’s Icy Chill

Arctic amplification is affecting the jet stream and letting weather systems persist longer, atmospheric scientist says
by Sarah Zielinski
Warm weather thousands of miles away would seem an unlikely cause of the United Kingdom’s freakishly wet winter or the bone-deep chillexperienced this year by the eastern United States. But a warming Arctic can be blamed for both, said Rutgers University atmospheric scientist Jennifer Francis at the recent AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.
“It’s because the pattern this winter has been basically stuck in once place ever since early December,” Francis said. And the pattern—which has included cold, cold temperatures in the eastern United States, for instance—has been stuck because of the Arctic.
Back in 1896, the Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius first calculated [pdf] how pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would warm the planet through the greenhouse effect. That warming, he wrote, would be most pronounced in the Arctic regions, a phenomenon known as Arctic (or polar) amplification. And it is now able to be seen above the noise of the world’s weather—below is a NASA animation of temperature differences compared to averages, from 1950 through 2013…
(read more: Smithsonian Magazine)

Weird Purple Frog Seduces Females From Underground

by Mary Bates
Meet the Indian purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), also known as the pig-nosed frog. Only formally discovered in 2003, the colorful amphibian is an endangered species native to the mountains of India’s Western Ghats.
With a chubby, purple body and pointed, piglike snout, it’s unlike any other frog on Earth. Some of the purple frog’s unusual looks are adaptations for its burrowing lifestyle: The animal spends most of the year underground, using its short, stout limbs like spades to dig as far as 12 feet (3.7 m) below ground. (See pictures of more frogs found in western India, including the meowing night frog.)
When the frogs emerge for a brief period during the monsoon season to mate, the males call out to attract females—not exactly unusual among frogs…
(read more: National Geo)
photograph: SD Biju, University of Delhi

Atopodentatus Will Blow Your Mind

by Brian Switek
The fossil record is replete with wonders. Humungous fungusdazzling dinosaursintricate ammonites, and perplexing protomammals just scratch the surface of such a wide array of fantastic organisms that sometimes it’s easy to become acclimated to the enigmatic and weird. Yet, even then, there are fossils so strange that they make me jolt upright in my seat and think “Wait, what the hell is that?” The latest prehistoric creature to leave me gobsmacked is Atopodentatus unicus.
The roughly 245 million year old marine reptile is beautifully preserved. Uncovered in southwest China and described by Wuhan Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources paleontologist Long Chen and colleagues, the reptile’s nearly complete, nine-foot-long skeleton is laid out as charcoal-colored bones against gray rock. And while not as wholly adapted to an aquatic lifestyle like the eel-like ichthyosaurs found in the same deposits, the stout limbs, hips, and geological context of Atopodentatus hint that this reptile divided its time between land and sea. Then there’s the skull.
Preserved in profile, the cranium of Atopodentatus looks like a bony version of a Scotch tape dispenser.  In front of a rounded orbit, the creature’s snout is a downturned hook that creates an arc of tiny, needle-like teeth that are fused to the sides of the jaw rather than sitting in sockets. Stranger still, most of the teeth in the upper jaw faced each other in a split running between the two halves of the upper jaw. Head-on,Atopodentatus had a zipper smile of little teeth…
illustration by Julius Csotonyi.; photo: Cheng et al.

darwin's cladogram tree

"Charles Darwin’s first ever sketch of a tree of life, in the shape of an actual tree, with finches perched on the branches. Each branch and minute detail of Darwin’s original drawing is represented, and each finch represents the A, B, C and D marks on his sketch. The sketch appeared in his private notebook (“Notebook B on the transmutation of species,” 1837–1838).
If you look carefully, you’ll notice that each finch is slightly different, and the more apart they are from each other in the evolutionary tree, the more distinct the differences are.”

Étienne Léopold Trouvelot

Beautiful astronomical illustrations by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, all based on observations made by the French artist-astronomer in the 1870s and 1880s. Fun fact: Trouvelot, also an entomologist, is somewhat infamous for the unfortunate introduction of the gypsy moth into North America. Those pesky things are known to feast on the leaves of over 300 species of trees, shrubs and plants. (New York Public Library)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

ammonite jaws to reconstruct ocean temps

Scientists at the American Museum of Natural History and Stony Brook University have demonstrated a new way to calculate the temperature of the ocean 80 million years ago: through the jaws of ammonites.
The new approach provides an alternative technique for gathering information about the habitats of ammonites—an extinct type of shelled mollusk that’s closely related to modern-day nautiluses and squids. The study was recently publishedin PLOS ONE.

 “As geologists, one of our goals is reconstructing past climates of the planet in order to put our present climatic changes in context,” said Neil Landman, a curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology and an author on the paper. “This new approach allowed us for the first time to reconstruct sea temperatures over large stretches of ancient marine environments.”
About 80 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the Atlantic Ocean was much narrower than today, and what is now North America was divided in half by a broad sea that covered much of the continent. These waters, called the Western Interior Seaway, were home to a diverse set of marine life, including an abundant population of ammonites.

To reconstruct the temperature of ancient ocean environments like this one, scientists have traditionally turned to geochemical proxies, namely oxygen isotopes that are preserved in the shells of fossils. But in many fossil sites, the ammonite shells have dissolved. To find an alternative method, Landman, Museum postdoctoral fellow Isabelle Kruta, and Stony Brook professor J. Kirk Cochran focused on ammonite jaws, which tend to be well preserved even when their shells are not.
The group’s first test was on modern nautiluses collected off of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. After determining that the temperatures calculated from these shells match those calculated from the jaws, the group extended its experiment to ammonite fossils (Baculites sp.) that were collected from two locations: the Pierre Shale in South Dakota, which was part of the Western Interior Seaway; and the Mooreville Chalk in Alabama, along the proto-Gulf of Mexico.

The two sites have fossils from the same era—the Upper Cretaceous—but the quality of ammonite preservation is quite different. In the Pierre Shale, ammonite jaws are found inside the body chambers of well-preserved ammonites, while in the Mooreville Chalk, the jaws are fossilized but the ammonite shells are gone. However, the use of ammonite jaws to derive ancient temperatures permits a comparison of these two sites.

Calculations based on the oxygen isotopes of the ammonite shells and jaws from the Pierre Shale yielded temperatures of about 28 degrees Celsius (about 82 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature obtained using the ammonite jaws from the Mooreville Chalk were lower, about 22 degrees Celsius (about 71 degrees Fahrenheit). This discrepancy suggests that the Western Interior Seaway was warmer than the proto-Gulf of Mexico, probably because it was more restricted in its distribution.
 “The use of ammonite jaws for paleo-temperature determination opens up new avenues of research for paleoenvironmental reconstruction,” Landman said.  
 You can read the scientific paper here.

valentines for biologists

Enoploclyta leachi (Mantell, 1822)

Cretaceous Crustacean from the Bila Hora Formation near Prague, Bohemian Cretaceous Basin


Litopterna is an extinct order of fossil hoofed mammals (ungulates) from the Cenozoic period that displayed toe reduction - three-toed forms developed; there was even a one-toed horselike form. This order, known only from South America, was common and varied in early faunas and persisted, in decreasing variety, into the Pleistocene. The Litopterna occupied ecological roles as browsers and grazers similar to horses andcamels in Laurasia
(read more: Wikipedia)

michael sam

Oldest Sea Monster Babies Found; Fossil Shows Reptiles Had Live Birth

Mother ichthyosaur died while giving birth, scientist says.
by Christine Dell’Amore
The oldest embryos of a Mesozoic marine reptile have been unearthed in China, pre-dating the previous record by ten million years, a new study says.
The 248-million-year-old fossil from the Mesozoic era (252 to 66 million years ago) reveals an ichthyosaur baby inside its mother (orange) and another stuck in her pelvis (yellow). A third embryo discovered nearby suggests it was stillborn; scientists believe the mother died during a difficult labor.
The narrow, eel-like ichthyosaur belongs to the genusChaohusaurusand is the oldest known species of the group.
It’s not just the age of the Mesozoic-era discovery that is surprising; it’s the shattering of the belief that ichthyosaurs—also dubbed sea monsters—gave birth in water, not on land.
The scientists reached their conclusion because the fossil showed the offspring emerging head-first—a behavior found only in animals that give birth on land. The babies of most marine animals, such as whales and sea cows, are born tail-first…
(read more: National Geo)
fossil images: Ryosuke Motani, UC DAVIS; Chaohusaurus illustration by Nobu Tamura

Friday, February 14, 2014


Greyhound II, 2014 (Pencil crayon on paper, 4.5”x8.5”)


storm trooper valentine


This unusual ammonite came from the Late Cretaceous of Japan, between about 90-85 million years ago. Most specimens are approximately 5cm (2in) across.

Most ammonites had tightly coiled spiral shells, but somepossessed partially uncoiled or irregular shapes. Nipponiteswas perhaps one of the strangest, with a highly meandering pattern and “ox-bow” bends. It was so weird that the first specimen was thought to be a deformed or diseased member of another species, and it wasn’t until more were discovered that it became apparent Nipponites was something else altogether.
Although it doesn’t look very hydrodynamic, and it may not have been a particularly strong swimmer, the shape of the shell does appear to be very stable — self-righting in turbulent water currents.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tripod Fish (Bathypterois sp.)

Bathypterois is a genus deep sea fish known as the tripod fish. As their name suggests, the fish stands on the sea floor using three fins as support. In some species, these fins can be up to 1m long.
The fish perch on the substrate with their heads facing the current. The fins allow for their heads to be at the right level to catch drifting crustaceans and small fish.
Due to the complete darkness of the deep sea, the fish does not rely on eyesight to catch prey. Instead, it faces its pectoral fins forward and uses tactile and mechanosensory cues to identify food. Once they feel prey and realise it is edible, the fins sweep the food into the fish’s mouth.