Snakes with hind legs were the old normal

A tiny, perfectly preserved 3D fossil from Argentina tells us more about an early snake.

Illustration: Raúl Gómez
  • It turns out legs, and least back legs, were no passing fancy for some serpents.
  • Hind legs were found on Najash snakes, a bridge species between lizards and snakes.
  • A new study provides several new insights into Najash rionegrina.
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'Squeaky Curtain' divides Europe’s Eastern and Western mice

Two house mouse subspecies meet again in a hybrid zone strangely reminiscent of the Iron Curtain

Image source: Macholán, M., Baird, S.J., Munclinger, P. et al. Genetic conflict outweighs heterogametic incompatibility in the mouse hybrid zone?. BMC Evol Biol 8, 271 (2008) doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-271
  • The house mouse diverged into two subspecies depending on which humans they followed.
  • The Western and Eastern European house mice can interbreed, but the results are, well, mixed.
  • The continent remains divided between Eastern and Western mice except for a narrow contact zone where hybrids eek out a living.
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Study claims to identify the homeland of all modern humans

A DNA study looks for the home of the earliest modern humans.

Credit: Justin Hall/Wikimedia
  • A DNA study traces the homeland of modern humans to the Makgadikgadi-Okavango wetland.
  • The area is shared by the modern-day countries of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
  • The researchers drew conclusions from the mitochondrial DNA of humans living in that area today, but some scientists question their methodology.
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Why clear definitions are key to intelligent discussions

Being precise about our ideas doesn't just allow us to have better conversations, it's also an incisive way to learn.

  • The best way to have an intelligent conversation with others is to ensure everyone understands the terms being used. They need to be clearly defined. If this isn't done, people may get into false arguments over nonsense — they may be talking about very, very different things.
  • Dogmatism is often the enemy of knowledge because it often prevents us from opening ourselves up to the possibility that we may be wrong — it's this humility that allows us to consider different people's perspectives, some of which may be more accurate than our own.
  • Besides the ability to helpful discussions with others, being precise about our ideas and having well-defined terms allows us to also find out precisely where we are wrong. It's a quick and incisive way to learn.
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Truth vs Reality: How we evolved to survive, not to see what’s really there

Take the circumstances in your life seriously, but not literally. Here's why.

  • Galileo was quite controversial, in part, because he argued that Earth moved around the sun, despite people's senses deluding them that the world was static.
  • Evolution may have primed us to see the world in terms of payoffs rather than absolute reality — this has actually helped us survive. Those who win payoffs are more likely to pass on their genes, which encode these strategies to get to the "next level" of life.
  • It's important to listen to people's objections because they may bring something to your attention outside your ken. Learn from them to make your ideas sharper.
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