All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Animal News Stories

News stories and articles that do not necessarily feature extinct animals.

14 08, 2022

A Majestic Kingfisher

By | August 14th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

Our thanks to model collector and keen bird watcher Elizabeth who sent into Everything Dinosaur a fantastic photograph of a Kingfisher with its lunch. The lack of rainfall in most areas of the UK in recent months has led to water levels in rivers and lakes dropping. This has concentrated fish (the preferred prey of the Kingfisher), into ever decreasing pools and fish-eaters such as the beautiful Kingfisher have been taking advantage of the easier access to prey.

Kingfisher image.
The “King of the River” one of the most spectacular of Britain’s birds – a close-up view of the beautiful plumage of a Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). Picture credit: Elizabeth.

The drought could have long-term implications for local Kingfisher populations, particularly if ponds and other water sources dry up. Team members at Everything Dinosaur do occasionally catch the glimpse of a pair of iridescent wings, or a splash of orange colour, as they walk along the canal and the river on their way to work. There are Kingfishers in our neighbourhood, but these short-lived birds are notoriously difficult to spot.

Our thanks to Elizabeth for sending in her superb photograph. We think this might be a male. Female Kingfishers have an orange/pinkish tinge to their lower beak. In contrast, the males tend to have black beaks. A tip to help you remember the difference between male and female Kingfishers is to think of the female birds wearing pink lipstick on their lower mandibles.

It is a superb, close-up view of one of our country’s most colourful birds.

31 07, 2022

The First Froglet of 2022 Spotted

By | July 31st, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

We have spotted our first froglet of 2022 from our office pond. Team members at Everything Dinosaur had been looking out for the first frogs to complete their metamorphosis and we have been taking care not to disturb the pond area, although it does need some tender care and a good clean out.

Froglet from 2022.
A photograph of a froglet from the office pond. It is a common frog (Rana temporaria). Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

The picture (above), shows the tiny amphibian (Rana temporaria), clinging to the wall of our pond. It has already had probably, its longest journey of its life. We removed a pot plant choked with Elodea weed and drove a few miles to another location where we could safely plant the pond weed. Whilst inspecting the large hopper we used to transport the plants to the new site, we spotted the froglet. We made sure that it was returned to the pond where it was hatched. Hopefully, this frog will hang around the office pond, and perhaps it will return to it in a few years to spawn.

29 06, 2022

If You Want to Live for a Long Time be Cold-blooded

By | June 29th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Compared with most birds and mammals, reptiles like turtles and tortoises are extremely long-lived, but how do they achieve such great ages, with little evidence of age-related decline? Recently published research papers examined ageing rates and lifespans across seventy-seven species of reptiles and amphibians and these studies suggest that “cold-blooded” animals could teach us a thing or two about living to a ripe old age.

Lonesome George
Animals such as the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands are known to live for over 100 years. Picture credit: AFP/Getty Images.

Life in the Slow Lane

An international team, consisting of over one hundred scientists including researchers from Flinders University (Adelaide, South Australia), Pennsylvania State, Northeastern Illinois University and the University of Kent, have provided the first comprehensive evidence confirming that turtles in the wild age very slowly and have long lifespans. In addition, the team concluded that reptiles and amphibians (ectotherms) have highly variable rates of ageing.

Several cold-blooded (ectothermic) species, essentially, do not age and show very little evidence for age-related decline. Unlike warm-blooded (endothermic) animals, ectotherms rely on external heat sources to help them regulate their body temperature, as a result, they tend to have much lower metabolisms than animals like birds and mammals. They way in which these animals regulate their body temperatures could play a role in ageing and potential lifespan (thermoregulatory mode hypothesis).

Sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa).
Native to Australia, the Sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa), which is also referred to as the Shingleback, can live for more than 50 years. Scientists from Flinders University have been working on a long-term study of these slow-moving reptiles, their maximum lifespan is not known. Picture credit: Mike Gardner.

Having a Shell, Armour, Venom or Spines Might Help You Live Longer

In this extensive study programme, the researchers also noted that animals with physical or chemical traits that provide defence and protection such as spines, armour, shells or venom, tend to age slowly and to live longer.

The scientists documented that these protective traits do, indeed, enable animals to age more slowly and in the case of physical protection, live much longer for their size than those without protective phenotypes (protective phenotypes hypothesis).

Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata).
The Radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), native to Madagascar might be critically endangered, but the protective phenotype hypothesis suggests that protective characteristics such as a shell can confer longevity and slow down the ageing process. Picture credit: IUCN

Some Animals Do Not Seem to Age

Discussing the significance of this long-term research programme, Professor Mike Gardner (Flinders University) stated:

“We helped track seventy-seven species for up to sixty years to try to reveal the secrets of long life. Some don’t seem to age at all.”

First author of one of the studies, published in the journal “Science”, Assistant Professor Beth Reinke from Northeastern Illinois University added:

“These various protective mechanisms may reduce animals’ mortality rates within generations. Thus, they are more likely to live longer, and that can change the selection landscape across generations for the evolution of slower ageing. We found the biggest support for the protective phenotype hypothesis in turtles. Again, this demonstrates that turtles, as a group, are unique.”

Aging diagram from the study
Ageing diagram ectotherms compared to endotherms. A supertree diagram showing all the endothermic and ectothermic species included in the analysis. Branch lengths are not scaled. The red in the inner circle represents endotherms and blue represents ectotherms. Green bars are longevity estimates and orange bars are the ageing rates. Silhouettes from Picture credit: Reinke et al.

It might sound a little dramatic to conclude that some cold-blooded animals may show no signs of ageing, but basically their likelihood of dying does not alter to any great extent once they mature. They show “negligible ageing” which means if an animal’s chance of dying in a year when they are ten years old is 1%, if that animal is alive in a hundred years, it still has a 1% chance of dying. In contrast, a study of American women found that the risk of dying at age twenty is 1 in 2,500, but this risk rises as they get older. For example, in this study group, at the age of eighty, their risk of dying was more than a hundred times higher (1 in 24) than when they were twenty years old.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from Flinders University in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Diverse aging rates in ectothermic tetrapods provide insights for the evolution of aging and longevity” by Beth A. Reinke, Hugo Cayuela, Fredric J. Janzen et al published in Science.

27 06, 2022

Frozen Baby Mammoth Discovered in the Klondike

By | June 27th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Gold miners working at Eureka Creek in the Klondike Region of Yukon Province in Canada have discovered the frozen remains of a baby woolly mammoth. The calf, which is female is estimated to have lived around 30,000 years ago and it represents the best-preserved woolly mammoth specimen ever found in North America.

Baby mammoth from the Klondike of Yukon
The baby mammoth identified as a female, is the best-preserved woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) found to date in North America. It is thought to be around 30,000 years old. Picture credit: Yukon Government.

“Big Baby Animal”

The discovery was made on June 21st, the Northern Hemisphere solstice and also appropriately, Canada’s National Indigenous Peoples Day. The Klondike gold fields lie within the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin Traditional Territory. Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin elders have named the mammoth calf Nun cho ga, meaning “big baby animal” in the indigenous people’s (Hän) language.

Ice Age animal remains are quite commonly found in the Yukon area as they erode out of thawing permafrost, however, mummified remains complete with skin and hair are exceptionally rare.

Minister for Tourism and Culture, Ranj Pillai of the Yukon Territory Administration commented:

“The Yukon has always been an internationally renowned leader for ice age and Beringia research. We are thrilled about this significant discovery of a mummified woolly mammoth calf: Nun cho ga. Without strong partnerships between placer miners, Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, and the Yukon government, discoveries like this could not happen.”

Woolly Mammoths.
Woolly Mammoths (M. primigenius) an iconic animal of the Ice Age.

Vertebrate palaeontologist Dr Grant Zazula added:

“As an ice age palaeontologist, it has been one of my lifelong dreams to come face to face with a real woolly mammoth. That dream came true today. Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified ice age animals ever discovered in the world. I am excited to get to know her more.”

Comparisons with Lyuba

The discovery of the superbly preserved corpse will provide scientists with an opportunity to compare Nun cho ga with Lyuba, a mammoth calf discovered in Siberia back in 2007. Lyuba lived a few thousand years earlier than the Yukon mammoth (circa 41,800 years), researchers will have the opportunity to compare the genetic health of the mammoth population and plot any changes between the older Lyuba and Nun cho ga which lived, around 12,000 years later.

The baby Woolly Mammoth known as Lyuba.
The 42,000-year-old baby mammoth Lyuba. Picture credit: Uppa/Photoshot (Daily Telegraph News).

The discovery of Nun cho ga is not the first woolly mammoth calf found in North America. In 1948, a partial mammoth calf, nicknamed Effie, was found at a gold mine in Alaska.

6 06, 2022

Defining the Pecora

By | June 6th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

A few days ago (3rd of June, 2022), we published a blog post about a new species of ancestral giraffe (Discokeryx xiezhi) that had been described from fossils found in Miocene strata in the Junggar Basin in north-western China (Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region).

Discokeryx xiezhi - two males fight.
The recently described Miocene Discokeryx xiezhi. Two males indulge in a head-butting contest. Picture credit: Wang Yu and Guo Xiaocong.

The researchers, writing in the academic journal “Science” had compared the prevalence of head ornamentation amongst giraffomorphs (those animals within the Giraffidae family and their ancestors) to other types of ruminant within the Pecora. They concluded that those animals on the branch of ruminants leading to the extant giraffes evolved more types of headgear than other pecoran groups. The driver for this evolution, was not selective browsing as previously thought, but the variety of headgear had, in part come about due to intensive sexual selection linked to various male combat styles – head-butting, neck banging etc.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur were not familiar with the Pecora and what types of ruminant within the Artiodactyla (even-toed, hoofed mammals) would be described as pecorans. So, we thought we would dedicate this blog post to providing a definition.

The Pecora – A Definition

The order Artiodactyla is the most diverse and abundant group of large mammals on planet Earth. The Artiodactyla consists of the Whippomorpha (hippos), pigs (Suidae), Tayassuidae (peccaries and their relatives), the whales (Cetacea), Tylopods (camels, llamas and their relatives) as well as all the ruminants.

The biggest component of the Artiodactyla is the Ruminantia which are characterised by their four-chambered stomachs. Over eighty-five percent of all the artiodactyls are ruminants. Molecular studies have helped scientists to better understand the evolutionary relationships between the many families that make up this very large and diverse group of mammals. Although the exact taxonomy of this group is still uncertain, attempts have been made to clarify the evolutionary relationships between the different types of ruminant – hence the creation of the infraorder Pecora.

A model of a cow.
Of the 280 species of artiodactyls today, around half of these species are bovines (Bovidae) – cattle, antelopes, sheep, goats and their close relatives.

Most scientists define the Pecora as artiodactyls with a ruminant digestive system. Specifically, those ruminants that possess cranial ornamentation either horns, antlers, bony structures (ossicones) or pronghorns, although Musk deer and their relatives lack cranial ornamentation but are still defined as pecorans.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s recent blog post about the discovery of Discokeryx xiezhi: What Drove the Giraffes to Evolve Long Necks?

3 06, 2022

What Drove the Giraffes to Evolve Long Necks?

By | June 3rd, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

The long neck of the giraffe has often been cited as a classic example of adaptive evolution. Long necks evolved to permit them to access food that other animals could not reach. However, a newly described early giraffe with a toughened skull adapted for head-butting contests suggests that intensive sexual competition may have led to the extremely long neck found in modern giraffes.

Intra-specific combat in giraffoids.
Intraspecific combat in giraffoids. Foreground two male Discokeryx xiezhi indulge in a head-butting context whilst in the background two male extant giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) fight each other by banging necks. Picture credit: Wang Yu and Guo Xiaocong.

Discokeryx xiezhi from the Early Miocene (Junggar Basin)

Scientists led by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have described a new species of ancient giraffe from the northern margins of the Junggar Basin in north-western China (Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region). The early giraffoid named Discokeryx xiezhi did not have a very long neck, instead, based on the analysis of an almost complete skull and four cervical vertebrae, this herbivore had a neck and head adapted to absorbing the immense stresses of head-butting combat.

Writing in the academic journal “Science”, the researchers conclude that the neck bones of Discokeryx xiezhi were extremely stout and had the most complex joints between the head and the neck and between the cervical vertebrae of any mammal. The team demonstrated that the complex articulations between the skull and cervical vertebrae of Discokeryx xiezhi were particularly adapted to high-speed head-to-head impact. They found this structure was far more effective than that of extant animals, such as musk oxen, that are adapted for head butting intraspecific combat. The scientists postulate that D. xiezhi may have been the vertebrate best adapted to head impact known to science.

Lead author of the study, Shi-qi Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences explained:

“Both living giraffes and Discokeryx xiezhi belong to the Giraffoidea, a superfamily. Although their skull and neck morphologies differ greatly, both are associated with male courtship struggles and both have evolved in an extreme direction.”

Climate Change Driving Morphological Changes

Tooth isotope analysis of fossil teeth indicate that Discokeryx lived in a dry, grassland environment. The habitat was more barren and less rich than forest environments and this may have resulted in increased stress on animal populations and greater competition within species for limited resources. Around 7 million years ago, the environment on the East African Plateau was broadly similar with forests being replaced by savannah. The direct ancestors of extant giraffes had to adapt and it is possible that during this period mating males developed a way of attacking their competitors by swinging their necks and heads. This extreme struggle, supported by sexual selection, thus led to the rapid elongation of the giraffe’s neck over a period of two million years to become the extant genus, Giraffa.

Mammalian Fauna of the Junggar Basin (Miocene)
Typical large vertebrate fauna associated with the early Miocene of the Junggar Basin approximately 17 mya. Forests were replaced by barren, open grasslands and this may have been a driver for intraspecific competition amongst early giraffes which led to the evolution of a range of specialist heads and necks and resulted in the extremely long neck associated with extant species. Picture credit: Guo Xiaocong.

Comparing Horn Morphology

The research team compared the horn morphology of several groups of ruminants, including giraffoids, cattle, sheep, deer and pronghorns. They found that horn diversity in giraffes is much greater than in other groups, with a tendency toward extreme differences in morphology. This suggests that courtship struggles (intraspecific combat) are more intense and diverse in giraffes than in other ruminants.

The evolution of complex head ornamentation in giraffomorphs.
The accumulative number of headgears in various pecoran groups during their evolution. Note that giraffomorphs had evolved more types of headgear than other pecoran groups, which may be partly attributable to their various combat styles. Picture credit: Wang Yu and Guo Xiaocong.

The research team conclude that the primary driving force for extreme body shape in giraffes was not the benefit of being able to browse on parts of the canopy other herbivores could not reach, but it was the intensive sexual competition that fostered extreme morphologies.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Sexual selection promotes giraffoid head-neck evolution and ecological adaptation” by Shi-qi Wang, Jie Ye, Jin Meng, Chunxiao Li, Loic Costeur, Bastien Mennecart, Chi Zhang, Ji Zhang, Manuela Aiglstorfer, Yang Wang, Yan Wu, Wen-yu Wu and Tao Deng published in the journal Science.

1 06, 2022

Have we Got Evolutionary Trees All Wrong?

By | June 1st, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

A study led by scientists at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath suggests that a fundamental cornerstone of evolutionary biology could be misrepresenting taxonomic relationships.

It is usual practice for biologists to establish evolutionary trees that set out the relationships between organisms. New research published in the academic journal “Communications Biology”, suggests that most of the evolutionary trees that have been constructed could be inaccurate and that convergent evolution is much more common than previously thought.

Mammal tree of life.
The mammalian tree of life. New research indicates that trees constructed using genetic data (where available) will be more accurate than trees built using anatomical comparisons. Picture credit: Mario dos Reis Barros and Sandra Alvarez-Carretero.

These trees are constructed by comparing anatomical characteristics, but this research suggests evolutionary trees based on the analysis of genetic sequences may be more reliable.

Overturning Centuries of Scholarly Work

Since Charles Darwin erected a “tree of life” in the 19th century, biologists have been trying to develop “family trees” of organisms by carefully examining differences in their anatomy and morphology.

With the development of rapid genetic sequencing techniques, scientists are now able to use genetic (molecular) data to compile evolutionary relationships very quickly and cheaply.

This genetic approach has led to substantial revisions in our understanding. Organisms once thought to be closely related have been demonstrated to belong to very different branches of the evolutionary tree.

Comparing the Two Methods of Building Evolutionary Trees

Scientists at the University of Bath compared evolutionary trees based on a traditional analysis of anatomy/morphology with those created using molecular data. The researchers discovered that the animals grouped together by molecular trees lived more closely together geographically than the animals grouped using the morphological trees, which implies that genetic themed evolutionary trees are more accurate.

Commenting on the significance of this study, one of the co-authors, Matthew Wills, Professor of Evolutionary Paleobiology at the Milner Centre for Evolution (University of Bath) explained:

“It turns out that we’ve got lots of our evolutionary trees wrong. For over a hundred years, we’ve been classifying organisms according to how they look and are put together anatomically, but molecular data often tells us a rather different story. Our study proves statistically that if you build an evolutionary tree of animals based on their molecular data, it often fits much better with their geographical distribution.”

Biogeography – A Reliable Guide to Evolutionary Relationships

Where organisms live, their biogeography, is regarded as an important source of evolutionary evidence that was familiar to 19th century scientists such as Darwin, Owen and Huxley. Genetic studies of animals that bear little similarity to each other such as aardvarks, elephants, golden moles, manatees and elephant shrews demonstrate that they originated from the same branch of the mammalian family tree. Molecular studies place these mammals into a single group called the Afrotheria, so-named because these animals seem to have originated from Africa, so the molecular data matches the biogeography.

An African elephant model.
An African elephant (Loxodonta). Molecular analysis has constructed trees showing that elephants, golden moles, elephant shrews and swimming manatees have all originated from the same branch of the mammalian family tree, although they look very different to each other and occupy different roles in the ecosystem.

Convergent Evolution More Prevalent

The study also found that convergent evolution was more prevalent than previously thought. Convergent evolution occurs when a trait or characteristic evolves separately in two genetically unrelated groups of organisms such as the evolution of tail flukes in cetaceans and the entirely unrelated ichthyosaurs.

Professor Wills added:

“We already have lots of famous examples of convergent evolution, such as flight evolving separately in birds, bats and insects, or complex camera eyes evolving separately in squid and humans. But now with molecular data, we can see that convergent evolution happens all the time, things we thought were closely related often turn out to be far apart on the tree of life.”

Ichthyosaur compared to a cetacean.
An example of convergent evolution. Although unrelated, ichthyosaurs and cetaceans are similar in their appearance.

The Professor explained that people who make a living as celebrity doubles or lookalikes are not usually related to the person that they are impersonating. Individuals in a family do not always look the same, it is the same for evolutionary trees.

Professor Wills stated:

“It proves that evolution just keeps on re-inventing things, coming up with a similar solution each time the problem is encountered in a different branch of the evolutionary tree. It means that convergent evolution has been fooling us, even the cleverest evolutionary biologists and anatomists for over a hundred years!”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bath in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Molecular phylogenies map to biogeography better than morphological ones” by Jack W. Oyston, Mark Wilkinson, Marcello Ruta and Matthew A. Wills published in Communications Biology.

27 04, 2022

21% of All Reptiles Threatened with Extinction

By | April 27th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Key Stage 3/4, Main Page, Teaching|0 Comments

One in five species of reptile is threatened with extinction. A team of international scientists including researchers from the Zoological Society of London, the University of Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa), Monash University (Victoria, Australia) and the Biodiversity Assessment Unit, IUCN-Conservation International based in Washington DC (USA), have conducted a comprehensive extinction-risk assessment of the class Reptilia. Writing in the academic journal “Natural” the team conclude that at least 1,829 out of 10,196 species of reptile (21.1%) are threatened.

Saltwater crocodile (Estuarine crocodile).
A Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). The researchers conclude that crocodilians and turtles are particularly vulnerable to extinction. The study suggests more than half of crocodiles and almost two thirds of turtles are threatened with extinction.

Agriculture, Logging, Urban Development and Invasive Species

A global assessment of the risk of extinction to species of reptile has been lacking, although similar studies have been undertaken for the other tetrapods such as amphibians, mammals and birds. The researchers conclude that reptiles are threatened by the same major factors that threaten other tetrapods— agriculture, logging, urban development and invasive species, although the threat posed by climate change remains uncertain. Many species of reptile live in extremely arid or desert regions, this comprehensive study reveals that it is those reptiles that live in forests that face the greatest threat.

Is the skull that of a lizard?
An Anolis lizard, reptiles that live in forested areas are the most threatened according to a comprehensive study published in the journal Nature.

The scientists discovered that birds, mammals and amphibians are unexpectedly good surrogates for the conservation of reptiles. The study revealed that efforts to conserve other threatened tetrapods (mammals, birds and amphibians) are more likely than expected to co-benefit many threatened species of reptile. Although reptiles are well known to inhabit arid habitats such as deserts and scrubland, most reptile species occur in forested habitats, where they and other vertebrate groups, suffer from threats such as logging and conversion of forest to agriculture. The study found that 30% of forest-dwelling reptiles are at risk of extinction, compared with 14% of reptiles in arid habitats.

Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata).
The Radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), native to Madagascar is critically endangered due to habitat loss and poaching. Picture credit: IUCN/Anders G. J. Rhodin.

An Urgent Multifaceted Plan is Needed

Neil Cox, co-leader of the study and Manager of the IUCN-Conservation International Biodiversity Assessment Unit in Washington DC stated:

“The results of the Global Reptile Assessment signal the need to ramp up global efforts to conserve them. Because reptiles are so diverse, they face a wide range of threats across a variety of habitats. A multifaceted action plan is necessary to protect these species, with all the evolutionary history they represent.”

South American marked gecko (Homonota horrida).
The South American marked gecko (Homonota horrida) is found in Paraguay and Argentina. Reptile species face a significant extinction threat. Picture credit: IUCN/ Ignacio Roberto Hernández.

The report states that although some reptiles including most species of crocodiles and turtles require urgent, targeted action to prevent extinctions, efforts to protect other tetrapods, such as habitat preservation and control of trade and invasive species, will probably also benefit many reptiles.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “A global reptile assessment highlights shared conservation needs of tetrapods” by Neil Cox, Bruce E. Young, Philip Bowles, Miguel Fernandez, Julie Marin et al published in Nature.

29 03, 2022

When Did the Beetles Take Over the World?

By | March 29th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Remarkably, one in four named animal species is a beetle. There are over 380,000 beetle species that have been scientifically described and perhaps several million more awaiting formal description. Members of the Order Coleoptera are distinguished from other insects as their front pair of wings are hardened into wing-cases (elytra) and they exploit a huge range of ecological niches and environments. However, their evolutionary origins remain uncertain and it is not known exactly when these six-legged animals became so numerous and specious.

Seventeen scientists including researchers from the University of Bristol have set about unravelling the evolutionary history of these amazing insects.

Permian beetle fossils and line drawings.
Examples of Permian beetles including fossilised wings and carapaces with (B and D) life reconstructions. Newly published research suggests the first members of the Coleoptera evolved during the Carboniferous. Picture credit: NIGPAS.

Mammoth Mathematical Models

A project to map the evolutionary history of arguably, the most successful and diverse animals of all time was a mammoth task. The researchers used a 68-gene character dataset that had been compiled previously which had sampled 129 out of the 193 recognised beetle families alive today and compared this to the beetle fossil record to provide a refined timescale of beetle evolution. A supercomputer at the University of Bristol’s Advanced Computing Research Centre slogged through the information for 18 months to produce the most comprehensive evolutionary tree of the Coleoptera ever created.

The mathematical models at the very heart of this research demonstrated that different beetle clades diversified independently, as various new ecological opportunities arose. There was no single, immense, all-encompassing divergence event.

One of the corresponding authors of the paper, published by Royal Society Open Science, Professor Chenyang Cai (University of Bristol) commented:

“There was not a single epoch of beetle radiation, their secret seems to lie in their remarkable flexibility. The refined timescale of beetle evolution will be an invaluable tool for investigating the evolutionary basis of the beetle’s success story”.

A beautifully preserved weevil fossil (Crato Formation).
Although beetle fossils are exceptionally rare, the research team used data from a total of 57 beetle fossils to help map the evolutionary development of the Coleoptera. The picture above shows the fossilised remains of a beetle from the Early Cretaceous of Brazil (Crato Formation). Picture credit: Museu Nacional.

Carboniferous Origins but the Evolution of Flowering Plants had Little Impact

The oldest beetle fossils date back to around 295 million years ago (Early Permian), molecular clock studies indicate an origin in the Late Carboniferous. The analysis revealed that all the modern beetle suborders had originated by the Late Palaeozoic with a Triassic-Jurassic origin of most of the extant families.

It had been thought that as flowering plants became the dominant terrestrial plants in a period referred to as the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution (KTR), so beetles diversified to take advantage of new ecological niches as the angiosperms evolved. However, this study concludes that the major beetle clades were present before the KTR. Nevertheless, some scarabaeoid and cucujiform clades underwent diversification during the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous, partly overlapping with the diversification of major angiosperms clades in the Early to mid-Cretaceous.

However, the previously postulated strong link between flowering plant evolution and the rapid expansion of the beetle suborder is refuted by this research.

Ancient weevil life reconstruction.
Newly published research concludes that the rise of the flowering plants did not result in a substantial expansion of the Coleoptera. Picture credit James McKay.

Advances in Technology and Genetics

Professor Cai explained that this research into the Coleoptera would not have been possible without advances in computer technology and genetics. He stated:

“Reconstructing what happened in the last 300 million years is key to understanding what gave us the immense diversity beetles are known for today”.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bristol in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper “Integrated phylogenomics and fossil data illuminate the evolution of beetles” by Chenyang Cai, Erik Tihelka, Mattia Giacomelli, John F. Lawrence, Adam Ślipiński, Robin Kundrata, Shûhei Yamamoto, Margaret K. Thayer, Alfred F. Newton, Richard A. B. Leschen, Matthew L. Gimmel, Liang Lü, Michael S. Engel, Patrice Bouchard, Diying Huang, Davide Pisani and Philip C. J. Donoghue published in Royal Society Open Science.

17 03, 2022

A New Batch of Frogspawn Spotted in the Pond

By | March 17th, 2022|Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

Yesterday, March 16th (2022), a new batch of frogspawn was spotted in the office pond. This spawning has occurred a fortnight after the first frogspawn was observed. Team members at Everything Dinosaur think it is unusual for there to be such a protracted spawning season for the frogs in our area (Rana temporaria).

A new batch of frogspawn on March 16th 2022.
The newly laid frogspawn has been highlighted with a red circle. It is pleasing to note that such a large amount of frogspawn has been laid, indicating a healthy frog population.

2022 Spawning Season

The first frogspawn was observed on the morning of March 2nd, the following day much more frogspawn was laid and team members counted as many as seven frogs in the pond.

The exact amount of frogspawn is difficult to calculate as it tends to congeal into a single mass (making predation and consumption difficult). However, it was estimated on the 3rd March that perhaps seven or eight batches of spawn had been produced. The frog species is the Common frog (Rana temporaria). In 2021, frogs spawned around the 11th of March, in 2020, the spawning occurred around the 22nd of the month. Team members have kept a record of the time of spawning over the last decade or so, for example, in 2018 frogspawn was spotted on the 17th of March, whilst in 2017 spawning occurred six days earlier.

The frogspawn laid on the 16th was produced 14 days later than the first batch. We are not sure why spawning has taken place over two weeks, we have not recorded this protracted spawning previously.

More frogspawn laid in the office pond (16th March 2022).
A closer view of the newly laid frogspawn discovered on Wednesday 16th March. The first frogspawn was spotted on the morning of the 2nd of March, on the 3rd of March several more batches of eggs were laid.

It is pleasing to note that such a large amount of frogspawn has been laid. This indicates a healthy frog population in the local area.

The timing of events such as seasonal spawning can be used as an indicator of climate change, it is likely that as our planet continues to warm events such as frogs spawning will occur earlier in the spring.

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