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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
  • Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
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This ancient crocodile walked on two legs 'like humans'

Batrachopus grandis, an ancient crocodylomorph, may have chased down land prey on its own two feet.

(Photo: Anthony Romilio/University of Queensland)
  • The Jinju Formation, South Korea,houses nearly 100 well-preserved fossilized footprints.
  • An analysis of the footprints suggests they were left by a 3-meter-long crocodile that walked on human-length hindlegs.
  • The animal, named Batrachopus grandis, is another potential addition to the widely diverse family of the crocodylomorphs.
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    The great white shark has surprising dining habits

    Scientists are befuddled by where the shark gets most of its food.

    Photo by Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
    • A University of Sydney research team found that the great white shark spends an unexpectedly large amount of time feeding close to the sea bed.
    • The group examined the contents in the stomachs of 40 juvenile white sharks and found the remains of a variety of fish species that typically inhabit the sea floor or are buried in the sand.
    • The scientists hope that the information gained from this research will assist conservation and management efforts for the species.
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    Urban foxes self-evolve, exhibiting Darwin’s domestication syndrome

    A new study finds surprising evidence of the self-evolution of urban foxes.

    Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
    • A study from the University of Glasgow finds urban foxes evolved differently compared to rural foxes.
    • The skulls of the urban foxes are adapted to scavenging for food rather than hunting it.
    • The evolutionary changes correspond to Charles Darwin's "domestication syndrome."

    How much can living in the city change you? If you were an urban fox, you could be evolving yourself to a whole new stage and becoming more like a dog, according to a fascinating new study.

    Researchers compared skulls from rural foxes around London with foxes who lived inside the city and found important variations. Rural foxes showed adaptation for speed and hunting after quick, small prey, while urban fox skulls exhibited changes that made it easier for them to scavenge, looking through human refuse for food, rather than chasing it. Their snouts were shorter and stronger, making it easier to open packages and chew up leftovers. They also have smaller brains, not meant for hunting but for interacting with stationary food sources, reports Science magazine.

    Interestingly, there was much similarity found between the male and female skulls of the urban foxes.

    The observed changes correspond to what Charles Darwin called the "domestication syndrome," comprised of traits that go along with an animal's transition from being wild, to tamed, to domesticated.

    The study was led by Kevin Parsons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Glasgow.

    "What's really fascinating here is that the foxes are doing this to themselves," Parsons told the BBC. "This is the result of foxes that have decided to live near people, showing these traits that make them look more like domesticated animals."

    The researchers are not suggesting you should go out and get a fox as a house-pet just yet. But they are seeing the evolutionary process taking place that's moving the urban foxes along the path towards becoming more like dogs and cats, explained the study's co-author Dr. Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

    A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London

    A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London on May 14, 2020.

    Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP

    "Some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today," said Kitchener. "So, adapting to life around humans actually primes some animals for domestication."

    The specimen came from the National Museum Scotland's collection of around 1,500 fox skulls.

    You can read the study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

    fox sleeping beneath stadium seats

    A fox at the LV County Championship, Division two match between Surrey and Derbyshire at The Brit Oval on April 9, 2010 in London, England.

    Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

    A mammoth graveyard: 60 pachyderm skeletons discovered together in Mexico

    While building a new airport, construction crews uncover a gigantic collection of ancient bones.

    • During digging for a new airport in Mexico, workers came across three sites containing the remains of mammoths, as well as some pre-Spanish human burial sites.
    • It's unclear why the mammoths were all found in this one spot, though it may have to do with an ancient lake.
    • Retrieving this massive sample will likely give experts new insights into a long-lost North American pachyderm.

    In the Mexico Basin about 45 miles north of Mexico City in the Santa Lucía region, the new Felipe Ángeles Airport is under construction. According to Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), workers there have dug up a massive surprise: a trove of 60 ice-age mammoth skeletons. They've also unearthed 15 pre-Hispanic human burial sites.

    Mammuthus columbi

    Image source: Sergiodlarosa/wikimedia

    The pachyderm bones belong to Colombian mammoths, Mammuthus columbi, who last lived in North America in the Pleistocene epoch between 2.6 million and 13,000 years ago, when they are believed to have become extinct. They're the mammoths that visitors to Los Angeles' La Brea Tar Pits encounter. (No woolly mammoth remains were found in Santa Lucía.)

    It's not yet known how many of the mammoth skeletons are complete. It is clear, though, that males, females, and their young are there. The bones are being found between 80 centimeters and 2.5 meters below the surface and spread across three exploration areas. First discovered in October 2019, the digs are still being stabilized and undergoing analysis and classification, according to INAH National Coordinator of Archaeology, Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava.

    How 60 mammoths wound up together in death at this location is an interesting question. No signs of human tracks leading to or from the site are evident nor have any indications of hunter accommodations have been found. By contrast, the prehistoric mammoth hunting site discovered in the Mexican municipality of Tultepec in November 2019 does exhibit such signs of human interaction.

    Archaeologists suspect the 60 mammoths got stuck in a muddy swamp over time — the site is near the shores of the former Lake Xaltocan. Researchers say the most complete skeletons found are those close to the former lake's shoreline. It remains possible that the immobilized mammoths were then preyed upon by hunters even without clear evidence of that so far.

    Once the remains are retrieved, they'll be studied by a team of 30 archaeologists, supported by a trio of restorers, to make a full account of what's been found. They hope to learn more about how and precisely when the animals lived, ate, and what health issues they may have had as evidenced in their skeletal remains.

    An old home, a new home

    Image source: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia

    Meanwhile, construction of the new airport continues. Says Salvador Pulido Méndez, director of INAH Archaeological Salvage, "So far, no findings have been recorded on the land that lead to the rethinking of the construction site, either totally or partially. Rather, the works have allowed INAH a research conjuncture in a space where, although it was known of the existence of skeletal remains, they had not had the opportunity to locate, recover and study them."

    Prior to the beginning of construction, the Santa Lucía region had been used by the Santa Lucía Military Air Base, and the national defense organization Sedena has preserved its historic Santa Lucía hacienda, integrating it within the new airport. The various parties involved plan to create a museum within the hacienda that will allow visitors to learn about the Santa Lucía region and its amazing mammoth mammoth graveyard.

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