Extremely rare white giraffe spotted in Tanzania

Omo the white giraffe (DEREK LEE/ CATERS NEWS)

Omo the white giraffe (DEREK LEE/ CATERS NEWS)

An extremely rare white giraffe has been spotted at Tarangire National Park in Tanzania.

The giraffe calf has a condition called leucism that results in loss of pigmentation.  “Her body surface cells are not capable of making pigment, but she is not an albino,” explained the Wild Nature Institute, in a blog post.

A guide named the giraffe Omo after a popular brand of local detergent.

Experts at the Wild Nature Institute first spotted Omo last year. “We were lucky enough to resight her again this January, almost exactly one year later,” the Institute explained, in its blog post. “We are thrilled that she is still alive and well.”

Leucism occurs when some or all pigment cells fail to develop during differentiation, so part or all of the animal’s body surface lacks cells capable of making pigment. “One way to tell the difference between albino and leucistic animals is that albino individuals lack melanin everywhere, including in the eyes, so the resulting eye color is red from the underlying blood vessels,” explained the Institute.

“[Leucism] is simply a rare genetic condition – drawing four aces in a row from a deck of cards is also a rare occurrence,” noted Derek Lee, quantitative ecologist at the Wild Nature Institute, in an email to FoxNews.com. “Whether a mutation affecting coloration, such as leucism, is adaptive or not over evolutionary time will require continued observations.”

Omo’s unusual coloration, however, has prompted fears that she could become a target for poachers.

Fossil of massive crocodile found on edge of Sahara desert

Artistic rendering of Machimosaurus rex by Davide Bonadonna.

Artistic rendering of Machimosaurus rex by Davide Bonadonna.

Paleontologists have discovered the fossil remains of the
world’s biggest ocean-dwelling crocodile buried on the edge of the Sahara, a creature that was twice the size of anything seen today.

Named Machimosaurus rex, this croc would have weighed in at
least 6,600 pounds and been around 32 feet long. Other than its size, it would have looked much like a modern day crocodile except for its narrow snout – which was designed to allow it swim in the ocean.

Related: Fossils of 3 new crocodile species found in Peru

It would have been the top predator in what was then an
ocean that separated Africa from Europe about 130 million years ago.

“This is an incredibly big crocodile. It is twice as big as
a present day marine crocodile,” University of Bologna’s Federico Fanti, who was part of the team that made the discovery with support from the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration, told FoxNews.com.

“The skull itself is as big I am,” said Fanti, whose
discovery was detailed in a study in the journal  Cretaceous Research.  “Just the skull is more than five feet long.
It’s a massive crocodile.”

Related: 100 Million-Year-Old New Crocodile Species Found in Thailand

Tunisia, where the skeleton and some bones were found, would have been a
lagoon facing the ocean and the environment would have been filled with huge fish and turtles – all favorite prey of the Machimosaurus rex.

“This animal, however, used to feast on the large turtles or
big fishes that it found in the ocean,” Fanti said. “He was so big and so powerful that it was absolutely at the top of the food chain.”

Beyond its size, Fanti said the significance of the find is
what it tells us about a mass extinction event that is believed to have happened between the Jurassic and Cretaceous period about 150 million years ago. Machimosaurus
rex was thought to have died out then but the discovery suggests the extinction event was not as widespread as some paleontologist thought.

Related: 20-Foot Fanged, Galloping Ancient Croc Fossils Found

“The fact that Machimosaurus rex (pertaining to a group that
was well alive in the Jurassic) lived 130-120 million years ago indicate that there was no mass extinction,” Fanti said.

“Everyone thought this group of crocodiles went extinct in
the Jurassic but we found it well into the Cretaceous,” he said. “We simply extended the temporal range of the animals. Twenty million years is a lot of time.”

Fanti, whose team has discovered 20 new species including a rebbachisaurid sauropod Tataouinea hannibalis in the same area, said there is less to learn about crocodile evolution from this new discovery. The reason, he said, is that crocodiles have changed little over time.

“Basically, they are bigger or smaller,” he said of their
evolution, adding that even bigger crocodiles lived on land, many of which also have gone extinct. The largest freshwater crocodile, Sarcosuchus imperator, lived 110 million years ago and grew as long as 40 feet (12 meters). It weighed
up to 17,500 pounds, according to National Geographic.

 

Originally available here

 

 

Mountain lion found with unusual deformity

Mountain lion was found with a set of teeth and whiskers growing out of its head.

Mountain lion was found with a set of teeth and whiskers growing out of its head. (Idaho Fish and Game)

A mountain lion, which was legally killed by an unidentified hunter, was found to have a set of teeth growing out of the side of his head.

The Idaho State Journal reported the lion was harvested near Weston on Dec. 30 and baffled wildlife officials after a conservation official sent a picture to the Idaho Fish and Game’s Southeast Regional Office in Pocatello.

“It has all of us scratching our heads,” biologist Zack Lockyear told the State Journal. “It’s a bizarre situation and a bizarre photo.”

Idaho Fish and Game said in a news release Friday officials cannot fully explain the abnormal deformity on the lion’s head, but did offer some theories as to why the lion had teeth and apparently whiskers growing out of the part of its head.

“It is possible that the teeth could be the remnants of a conjoined twin that died in the womb and was absorbed into the other fetus. It is also possible that deformity was a teratoma tumor. These kinds of tumors are composed of tissue from which teeth, hair, and even fingers and toes can develop. They are rare in humans and animals.”

Lockyer told the State Journal that another possible theory could be that the lion suffered an injury to its jaw and it healed in an odd way. However, he said that theory is probably unlikely.

Officials added in the statement that biologists in the region have never seen this kind of deformity before.

The mountain lion was killed at the end of the year. It was initially seen attacking a dog on the hunter’s rural property in Weston. The lion was chased off, but its tracks were followed through other properties in the area and then through the hills.

Within three hours of the attack, the hunter tracked the animal with the use of hounds and killed the big cat legally. The hunter’s dog survived the mountain lion’s attack, officials said.

Mountain lions can be legally hunted in Idaho and are treated as big game animal much like elk and mule deer. They can only be pursued during certain seasons in areas that are open to hunting and have the proper license and tag.

Click for more from The Idaho State Journal.

Originally available here

Mini T. Rex: ‘Welsh Dragon’ may be earliest Jurassic dinosaur

An illustration of the meat-eating dinosaur <i>Dracoraptor hanigani</i>, which might be the earliest known dinosaur discovered in the United Kingdom.

An illustration of the meat-eating dinosaur Dracoraptor hanigani, which might be the earliest known dinosaur discovered in the United Kingdom. (Bob Nicholls)

Two brothers hunting for ichthyosaur fossils along the coast of the United Kingdom came across something far more astounding: The bones of what may be the earliest known dinosaur from the Jurassic period in the U.K., and possibly even the world, a new study finds.

After finding the bones in 2014, Rob Hanigan contacted his brother, Nick. The two scoured the coast, located just south of Wales, for more of the fossils, taking careful geological notes along the way.

Later, they reached out to paleontologists at the University of Portsmouth, who confirmed that the bones belonged to a theropod, a group of mostly meat-eating dinosaurs. Moreover, the paleo-beast lived at a key point of dinosaur diversification at the beginning of the Jurassic, said study co-author Steven Vidovic, a doctoral researcher of paleontology at the University of Portsmouth.

“It’s a jumbled mix of bones that are a real puzzle to put back together,” Vidovic told Live Science in an email. “It was very rewarding reconstructing it.”

The researchers named the newfound species Dracoraptor hanigani, which roughly translates to “dragon raptor.” (The dragon is the national symbol of Wales.) It also honors Nick and Rob Hanigan for the find and for donating the specimen to the “Amgueddfa Cymru” — National Museum of Wales.

During its lifetime, about 201 million years ago, D. hanigani likely hunted or scavenged meat with its tiny, pointy teeth that measured less than 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) long. However, its teeth weren’t yet full size. A bone analysis suggests that D. hanigani was likely a juvenile, largely because most of its bones had not yet fully formed or fused together, the researchers said.

Given its young age, D. hanigani was a shrimp compared with other theropods. Though its distant relative, Tyrannosaurus rex, stood up to 13 feet (4 meters) tall and measured up to 40 feet (12.3 m) long, D. hanigani stood only about 2.3 feet (70 centimeters) tall and measured about 6.5 feet (200 cm) long.

The newfound dinosaur also sported a long tail, possibly to help with balance, the researchers said.

Little is known about dinosaurs during the earliest days of the Jurassic period,Vidovic added.This is some of the very best fossil evidence that we have for this time,” he said.

There are earlier dinosaur fossils dating to the Triassic period (between 251 million and 199 million years ago) in the United Kingdom. But the timing of this early Jurassic skeleton is important: The end-Triassic extinction led to the demise of more than 75 percent of all marine and land life, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. This extinction event, which wiped out so many others, likely helped dinosaurs diversify and multiply, Vidovic said.

“About 200 million years later, the [newfound] dinosaur looks a little generic, but at the time in the early Jurassic, it was quite new and different,” Vidovic said. “So the reason it might look a bit generic in hindsight is that loads of later dinosaurs repeated the winning formula.”

Scientists discover five extinct species of bird

Artist's impression of the five extinct species discovered in Madeira and Azores. From left to right: Rallus carvaoensis, Rallus adolfocaesaris, Rallus  montivagorum, Rallus lowei, Rallus "minutus". (José Antonio Peñas (Sinc))

Artist’s impression of the five extinct species discovered in Madeira and Azores. From left to right: Rallus carvaoensis, Rallus adolfocaesaris, Rallus montivagorum, Rallus lowei, Rallus “minutus”. (José Antonio Peñas (Sinc))

Scientists have discovered five extinct species of bird in Madeira and the Azores.

Research conducted by Spanish, German and Portuguese scientists has unearthed details of the extinct species of rail, which lost their ability to fly after evolving on the islands.

A new study published in ‘Zootaxa’ describes the discovery of two extinct rail species in Madeira and three in the Azores. The birds “very probably disappeared following the arrival of humans and the animals that came with them, like mice, rats and cats,” explained Josep Antoni Alcover, a Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) researcher working at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies.

By dating the birds’ bones, or other species associated with them, scientists discovered that the extinct species lived until fairly recently, especially the Azores rails. “At least one of these species survived until the 15th Century, so we are looking at a very recent extinction process,” said Alcover, who co-authored the paper.

Famed British naturalist Charles Darwin visited the Azores in 1826 but his diary only mentions the existence of starlings, wagtails, finches and blackbirds.

In Madeira the rail extinction may have been related to a visit by Vikings, who brought mice to the island, according to Alcover.

“The bone remains of native bird species which are now appearing show that if Darwin had been able to study the fossils hidden on these islands, or if he had visited 500 years earlier, he would have found a much more singular ornithofauna, with many indigenous bird species, like that which was found on the Galápagos islands,” said Alcover.

There are only 13 living rail species of the Rallus genus, according to the study.

The extinct birds found on Madeira and the Azores “were smaller in size than today’s continental rails, such as the water rail (Rallus aquaticus), from which they very probably originate,” said Alcover.

Fossil of duck-billed dinosaur found along Alabama creek

The remains of the dinosaur are on display in McWane Science Center. (Jun Ebersole)

The remains of the dinosaur are on display in McWane Science Center. (Jun Ebersole)

Scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of duck-billed dinosaur along a creek in Alabama, suggesting that this scaly behemoth emerged from what was then Appalachia before spreading out to other parts of the world.

This new species, the first ever found in the eastern United States, was probably 20 to 30 feet long as an adult and lived during the late Cretaceous Period, roughly 83 million years ago.  It mostly walked on its hind legs, though it could come down on all four to graze on plants with teeth that are similar to modern day horses and cows. It had a scaly exterior and a large crest on its nose.

Related: Shrink playerTitanosaur on display at American Museum of Natural History

“This is a really important animal in telling us how they came to be and how they spread all over the world,” said Florida State University Professor of Biological Science Gregory Erickson, one of the authors of a paper detailing the dinosaur in the findings the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The researchers named the new dinosaur Eotrachodon orientalis, which means “dawn rough tooth from the east.” The name pays homage to “Trachodon,” which was the first duck-billed dinosaur named in 1856.

The skeletal remains – a complete skull, dozens of backbones, a partial hip bone and a few bones from the limbs – were originally found by a team of amateur fossil enthusiasts alongside a creek in Montgomery County, Alabama in marine sediment. That would suggest the dinosaur likely was washed out to sea by river or stream sediments after it died.

When the group realized they had potentially discovered something of scientific importance, they contacted McWane Science Center in Birmingham, which dispatched a team to the site to carefully remove the remains from the surrounding rock.

During the late Cretaceous Period, North America was divided in half by a 1,000 mile ocean that connected the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. This body of water created two North American landmasses, Laramidia to the west and Appalachia to the east. Back then, Appalachia began roughly in Georgia and Alabama and stretched all the way north into Canada.

“For roughly 100 million years, the dinosaurs were not able to cross this barrier,” Jun Ebersole, director of collections at McWane Science Center, said. “The discovery of Eotrachodonsuggests that duck-billed dinosaurs originated in Appalachia and dispersed to other parts of the world at some point after the seaway lowered, opening a land corridor to western North America.”

“They just needed to get off the island,” he continued. “From there, they became the cows of the Cretaceous.”

The remains of Eotrachodon are housed at McWane Science Center in Birmingham and are currently on display in Ebersole’s laboratory.

Shark found near death in Florida swimming pool

File photo - Children look at a blacktip shark in an aquarium at 'Haus des Meeres' (Aqua Terra Zoo) in Vienna. (REUTERS/Lisi Niesner)

File photo – Children look at a blacktip shark in an aquarium at ‘Haus des Meeres’ (Aqua Terra Zoo) in Vienna. (REUTERS/Lisi Niesner)

Nicole Bonk could be forgiven for thinking she was at an aquarium when she approached the swimming pool of a Florida condominium.

She looked down and saw a 5-foot blacktip shark floundering in the pool.

Bonk, who was visiting friends at the Mariners Cay condo in Hypoluxo, told theSun Sentinel newspaper that she saw two boys dump the shark in the pool earlier this month, with hooks still in its mouth. Figuring it might die in the pool, she and her husband pulled the shark out of the pool and carried to the Intracoastal Waterway.

Once there, her husband held the shark by the tail to get some of the chlorinated pool water out and then released it.

“We tried to revive him but he mostly likely did not live,” Bonk told the newspaper. “He was barely moving after the trauma. We did our best to try to save this creature.”

Bonk reported incident to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which told the newspaper that it was investigating the incident. The commission offices were closed Monday and no one could be reached at the Mariners Cay condo.

The blacktip shark, which reaches up to 6-feet and is named for the black tip on its fins, is common in Florida’s coastal waters, bays and estuaries, according to the commission’s website. Active and fast moving these sharks often forms large schools during annual migration times when they head southward into deeper coastal waters during winter months.

183-year-old giant tortoise gets new lease on life thanks to healthier diet

File photo of Jonathan the tortoise (Steven Humphreys/iStock).

File photo of Jonathan the tortoise (Steven Humphreys/iStock).

Jonathan the 183-year-old giant tortoise has been given a new lease of life thanks to a healthy diet.

The famous tortoise, who lives on the remote Atlantic Ocean island of St. Helena, had suffered declining health, according to The Express, losing his eyesight and sense of smell.

The Seychelles giant tortoise was brought to the British overseas territory of St. Helena in 1882, when he was around 50 years old. He lives in the grounds of Plantation House, the official residence of the island’s governor.

Vet Joe Hollins put Jonathan, the world’s oldest living land animal, on a high-calorie, healthy diet, with impressive results.

Related: New species of tortoise found on Galapagos Island

Hollins is the first permanent vet for St. Helena and cares for a number of giant tortoises on the island, including Jonathan. “By observing Jonathan and his behaviour, it was clear that he was struggling to satisfy his appetite,” he told FoxNews.com, via email. “His beak, made of keratin, the same as hoof or horn, was blunt and quite crumbly, and because he is blinded by bilateral cataracts, he was mouthing and grabbing at inappropriate foods, often being rewarded with mouthfuls of leaf mould or a few straggled bits of coarse grass.”

The fact that Jonathan lost his sense of smell made his life even more difficult, although he still has a strong sense of taste and excellent hearing, according to Hollins, who consulted experts in the Seychelles and the U.K.’s Bristol Zoo before implementing the healthier diet.

“For four years now I have been feeding him once a week on a Sunday, usually a mixture of carrots for fibre, cucumber for moisture, bananas for calories, and a mixture of other items such as guava, lettuce, cabbage, and local fruits loquat and Brazilian guava,” he told FoxNews.com, adding that the results have surpassed his expectations.

Jonathan’s beak has developed a sharp edge, he has put on weight, and has become more active. “Too good to be true in an ancient gentleman of that age!” said Hollins. “I now wear welding gloves as his beak has become lethal, and on one occasion he seized one of my fingers and I lost a nail.”

“Logically what has really happened is I have supplemented him not just with calories, but with vitamins, minerals and trace elements, those unquantifiable items that we all need for healthy tissues,” Hollins added. “It’s a delight to see.”

This is not the first time that an aging tortoise has hit the headlines. Famed Galapagos tortoise Lonesome George, whose failed efforts to produce offspring made him a symbol of disappearing species, died in 2012.

Last year a new species of tortoise was found on Galapagos.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

Originally available here

Dinosaurs may have performed bird-like dances to attract mates

 

Reconstruction of theropods engaged in scrape ceremony display activity, based on trace fossil evidence from Colorado. (Xing Lida and Yujiang Han)

Reconstruction of theropods engaged in scrape ceremony display activity, based on trace fossil evidence from Colorado. (Xing Lida and Yujiang Han)

Some dinosaurs may have engaged in courtship rituals similar to ostriches and other birds, a finding that could shed light on the poorly understood mating behavior of these giants.

The evidence comes from a series of scrapes that were uncovered in 100 million year old Dakota sandstone at four sites in western Colorado. These ancient scrapes from Cretaceous therapods are similar to a behavior known as ‘nest scrape display’ or ‘scrape ceremonies’ among modern birds, where males show off their ability to be good mates by digging up pseudo nests for their prospective partners.

Related: Ancient marine reptiles flew through the water

“These are the first sites with evidence of dinosaur mating display rituals ever discovered, and the first physical evidence of courtship behavior,” Lockley, a University of Colorado Denver geology professor and a co-author on a study of the findings in Scientific Reports Thursday, said in a statement. “These huge scrape displays fill in a missing gap in our understanding of dinosaur behavior.”

Lockley, who also is a world-renowned expert on dinosaur footprints, found evidence of more than 50 dinosaur scrapes, some as large as bathtubs, in an area where tracks of carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs have also been confirmed. The display arenas, also called ‘leks’ were found in two National Conservation Areas (Dominguez-Escalante and Gunnison Gorge) on property permitted by the Bureau of Land Management near

Evidence of mating areas were also discovered by Lockley at Dinosaur Ridge, a National Natural Landmark, just west of Denver.

Related: These dinosaurs liked to get their feet wet

Since it was logistically difficult to remove the scrapes, the researchers turned to technology for help. They created 3-D images of the scrapes using a technique of layering photographs called photogrammetry. They also made rubber molds and fiberglass copies of the scrapes – which are being stored at the Denver Museum.

Until now, theories abounded about dinosaur sex including that it was driven by sexual selection and the idea that male dinosaurs in prehistoric times looked for mates and drove off weaker rivals. Females, meanwhile, would have selected the biggest and strongest mates – much as we see in the animal kingdom today.

The problem was there was no physical evidence – until now.

The scrapes, which the researchers believe were most likely associated with territorial activity during the breeding season, demonstrate that the mating behavior is similar to birds – which makes sense since they are descended from dinosaurs.

“The scrape evidence has significant implications,” Lockley said. “This is physical evidence of pre-historic foreplay that is very similar to birds today. Modern birds using scrape ceremony courtship usually do so near their final nesting sites. So the fossil scrape evidence offers a tantalizing clue that dinosaurs in ‘heat’ may have gathered here millions of years ago to breed and then nest nearby.”

Related: ‘The Good Dinosaur’: Could humans and dinos coexist?

Initially, the authors considered several possible reasons for the scrapes – including a nesting site, territorial markings or evidence that the dinosaurs were digging for food.

They ruled out the nesting site because they found no eggs while the food theory suffers from the fact that such behavior probably would have resulted in deeper digging and “pooling that would wash out scrape marks in sandy sediments.”

As for the scrapes done to mark territory, the researchers said it was unlikely since this behavior is found in mammals but not “known in water-conserving uricothelic reptiles and birds.”

That leaves the mating behavior, which the authors said was consistently supported by the evidence and is similar to the rituals of several modern bird species including ostriches, puffins and shorebirds like Wilson’s plover.

Thomas E. Williamson, curator of paleontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science who did not take part in the study, told FoxNews.com that the findings were “interesting” especially because so little is known about the mating rituals of dinosaurs.

Related: Study sheds fresh light on early relatives of dinosaurs

Williamson said that it is suspected that dinosaurs must have had “a rich repertoire of behaviors related to mating and/or territoriality” based on the “elaborate skull ornamentation, colored plumage, and other structures that many dinosaurs have.” Some were using these structures to visually recognize and communicate with others of their own species, he said, while others dinosaurs such as lambeosaurine hadrosaurs (crested duck-billed dinosaurs), probably communicated through acoustic displays using resonating tubes on their heads.”

Williamson agreed that dinosaur behavior must have been similar to birds and their other closest living relatives, crocodilians. Both groups “use complex behaviors for territorial and courtship displays and based on this, it is likely that dinosaurs did too.”

“However, this new evidence is really something special. Tracks, such as the unusual ones described in this paper, provide actual physical evidence of dinosaur activity – and similar activity appears to be present in some modern birds,” he said in an email interview. “This suggests that some of these behaviors can be traced far back into the dinosaurian heritage of birds. This really brings some of these animals to life!”

Originally available here

Fossil of massive crocodile found on edge of Sahara desert

Artistic rendering of Machimosaurus rex by Davide Bonadonna.

Artistic rendering of Machimosaurus rex by Davide Bonadonna.

Paleontologists have discovered the fossil remains of the
world’s biggest ocean-dwelling crocodile buried on the edge of the Sahara, a creature that was twice the size of anything seen today.

Named Machimosaurus rex, this croc would have weighed in at
least 6,600 pounds and been around 32 feet long. Other than its size, it would have looked much like a modern day crocodile except for its narrow snout – which was designed to allow it swim in the ocean.

It would have been the top predator in what was then an
ocean that separated Africa from Europe about 130 million years ago.

“This is an incredibly big crocodile. It is twice as big as
a present day marine crocodile,” University of Bologna’s Federico Fanti, who was part of the team that made the discovery with support from the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration, told FoxNews.com.

“The skull itself is as big I am,” said Fanti, whose
discovery was detailed in a study in the journal  Cretaceous Research.  “Just the skull is more than five feet long.
It’s a massive crocodile.”

Tunisia, where the skeleton and some bones were found, would have been a
lagoon facing the ocean and the environment would have been filled with huge fish and turtles – all favorite prey of the Machimosaurus rex.

“This animal, however, used to feast on the large turtles or
big fishes that it found in the ocean,” Fanti said. “He was so big and so powerful that it was absolutely at the top of the food chain.”

Beyond its size, Fanti said the significance of the find is
what it tells us about a mass extinction event that is believed to have happened between the Jurassic and Cretaceous period about 150 million years ago. Machimosaurus
rex was thought to have died out then but the discovery suggests the extinction event was not as widespread as some paleontologist thought.

“The fact that Machimosaurus rex (pertaining to a group that
was well alive in the Jurassic) lived 130-120 million years ago indicate that there was no mass extinction,” Fanti said.

“Everyone thought this group of crocodiles went extinct in
the Jurassic but we found it well into the Cretaceous,” he said. “We simply extended the temporal range of the animals. Twenty million years is a lot of time.”

Fanti, whose team has discovered 20 new species including a rebbachisaurid sauropod Tataouinea hannibalis in the same area, said there is less to learn about crocodile evolution from this new discovery. The reason, he said, is that crocodiles have changed little over time.

“Basically, they are bigger or smaller,” he said of their
evolution, adding that even bigger crocodiles lived on land, many of which also have gone extinct. The largest freshwater crocodile, Sarcosuchus imperator, lived 110 million years ago and grew as long as 40 feet (12 meters). It weighed
up to 17,500 pounds, according to National Geographic.