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Ancient 'crazy beast' mammal classified as new species
It's likely the most complete skeleton that's ever been discovered of the strange Gondwanatheria mammal group, which roamed the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana alongside dinosaurs.
- Gondwanatherians were mammals that roamed present-day Madagascar.
- The new species likely resembled a badger and was about the size of a cat, which was relatively big for its time.
- The discovery highlights how isolation often leads to strange, evolutionarily distinct creatures.
After discovering an extraordinarily well-preserved fossil, scientists have classified a new species of extinct mammal: Adalatherium hui, or "crazy beast."
It's likely the most complete Gondwanatherian skeleton that's ever been discovered. Gondwanatheria is an extinct group of mammals that roamed the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana in the Southern Hemisphere 70 million years ago, during the Maastrichtian age of the Late Cretaceous.
Today, the land that was Gondwana is Madagascar. Like many large and isolated islands, Madagascar is known for its unique flora and fauna that have evolved over the ages since it separated from the Indian Plate about 88 million years ago.
Krause et al
The newly reported "crazy beast" species is unique, in part, for its weight: about 3 kilograms, or 6.6 pounds. That may seem small. But this badger-like creature would've been relatively big for its time, when most mammals that coexisted with dinosaurs were about the size of a mouse.
"Long isolated places produce very unique results in biology," Guillermo Rougier, a paleontologist at the University of Louisville and co-author of the paper, said in a press release. "These fossils keep reminding us of the unexpected forms and shapes that evolution can take over long periods of time in an isolated place."
One such unexpected feature: a bone in its snout that had disappeared millions of years earlier in the ancestors of modern mammals.
"Knowing what we know about the skeletal anatomy of all living and extinct mammals, it is difficult to imagine that a mammal like Adalatherium could have evolved," vertebrate palaeontologist David Krause from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, who helped discover the skeleton during an expedition in Madagascar in 1999, told Science Alert.
"It bends and even breaks a lot of rules."
Krause et al.
Adalatherium hui is also distinct for its teeth, which are arranged backward compared to all other mammals, suggesting the creature evolved from a remote ancestor uncommon to similar species.Gondwanatherians were once thought to be related to modern sloths, anteaters and armadillos. But as lead study author Dr. David Krause told the New York Institute of Technology, this group of mammals is "now known to have been part of a grand evolutionary experiment doing their own thing, an experiment that failed and was snuffed out in the Eocene, about 45 million years ago."
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A study looks at the ingredients of a good scare.
Catching fear in a bottle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDYyNzg1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTQwMTcyMn0.WtpJ1E_dhK2o09fBpKARynj4_p5NXeklgsXsbd7xr9w/img.jpg?width=980" id="8ff51" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f10dd9188b173f4a36e85e9325507c6b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Photo Boards/Unsplash<p>Previous studies have tracked physiological signs of fear arousal, but none have established a one-to-one correlation between that arousal and specific, actual fear events.</p><p>Andersen says that much of the research has been conducted in lab settings with weak fear stimuli, observing subjects as they experience things like scary videos. Scares in these situations tend to be weak and difficult to measure. Even harder to track in these situations is the link between enjoyment and fear. </p>
Eyes everywhere<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/109695164" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="267ba87cfb8591ed5830499574d2272a"></iframe><p>Andersen and his colleagues conducted their experiments at <a href="https://dystopia.dk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dystopia</a> Haunted House, a commercial attraction in Vejle, Denmark constructed in an old, run-down factory. The Recreational Fear Lab has a long-standing partnership with the spook shack.</p><p>They outfitted 100 volunteers with heart monitors and sent them on their terrifying way through the 50-room horror mansion. The facility incorporates a number of fright mechanisms including frequent jump scares in which a sudden threat takes a visitor by surprise.</p><p>Researchers surreptitiously observed their participants on closed-circuit video as they made their way through the attraction. They tracked each individual's scares, scoring them for intensity according to their visible reactions. After exiting the attraction, individuals self-reported their experiences in the haunted house.</p><p>Combining these self-reports with observer notes and each participant's heart-rate data gave the researchers subjective, behavioral, and physiological insights into the ways in which fear is experienced, and when it's a good thing or not.</p>
A pair of inverted U-shapes<p>In analyzing their data, the researchers saw two separate inverted u-shape curves. One depicted participants' enjoyment based on their self-reports and observed behavior. A similar u-curve was detected in their heart rates showing that just the right amount of heartbeat acceleration is associated with fun, but too much is too much. It's the terror Goldilocks zone.</p><p>Says Andersen, "If people are not very scared, they do not enjoy the attraction as much, and the same happens if they are too scared. Instead, it seems to be the case that a 'just-right' amount of fear is central for maximizing enjoyment."</p><p>The research suggests that being scared is enjoyable when it represents just a quick minor physiological deviation from one's normal state. When it goes on too long, however, or triggers too severe a physiological change, it becomes disturbing. Game over.</p><p>Andersen notes that this is not dissimilar to the factors known to make interpersonal play enjoyable: just the right amount of uncertainty and surprise. These are, maybe not coincidentally, also the ingredients of a successful joke.</p>
A meteorite that smashed into a frozen lake in Michigan may explain the origins of life on Earth, finds study.
- A new paper reveals a meteorite that crashed in Michigan in 2018 contained organic matter.
- The findings support the panspermia theory and could explain the origins of life on Earth.
- The organic compounds on the meteorite were well-preserved.
Meteor streaks through Michigan sky<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80b7f30820153b35fc515592d7475f53"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EPu2qnqMYBo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The meteorite that smashed into Strawberry Lake carried pristine extraterrestrial organic compounds.
Credit: Field Museum