Friday, July 30, 2010

Triceratops no more: dinosaur actually a different species

Jimmy remembers a better time, before Kota's deceit and inevitable betrayal.
Turns out that staple of grade-school science is just a phase of growth in another dino's life cycle: the torosaurus. Or maybe it's the either way around. Whatever the case, trike and toro are the same beast at different points in their now singular life. Turns out the frill was the shill--the large frill that adorns the rear of the animals' skulls is not a sign that they were two different species, but the frill itself changed as they matured.

The differences in each species (from New Scientist):
Triceratops had three facial horns and a short, thick neck-frill with a saw-toothed edge. Torosaurus also had three horns, though at different angles, and a much longer, thinner, smooth-edged frill with two large holes in it. So it's not surprising that Othniel Marsh, who discovered both in the late 1800s, considered them to be separate species.
So how did the change occur?
This extreme shape-shifting was possible because the bone tissue in the frill and horns stayed immature, spongy and riddled with blood vessels, never fully hardening into solid bone as happens in most animals during early adulthood. The only modern animal known to do anything similar is the cassowary, descended from the dinosaurs, which develops a large spongy crest when its skull is about 80 per cent fully grown.

Shape-shifting continued throughout these dinosaurs' lives, Scannella says. "Even in the most mature specimens that we've examined, there is evidence that the skull was still undergoing dramatic changes at the time of death.

First Pluto's not a planet, now triceratops isn't...a triceratops! Honestly, it's fascinating to think that we've perceived them as two different animals for decades. Sure it all sounds like a "well, duh!" moment, but think about how many animals we see every day that go through similar changes and we never think twice--a butterfly for instance.

Triceratops wasn't the only casualty, as you can tell by the image, old bone-head pachycephalosaurus is another transforming dinobot--er, saur. This new theory could extend to several other species as well.

Hopefully none of the differences in the frills or horns will effect our ability to saddle them with lasers.

Get the full story from New Scientist.
Also at Live Science.

Hat tip to Boing Boing, and the wonderful Maggie Koerth-Baker who's insight and commentary is always spot-on (and fun!).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Real live Hydra: two-headed, albino snake!

STEP RIGHT UP and feast your eyes on the slithering wonder--a diamond in the rough--an albino aberration with not one but TWO, HUNGRY HEADS! The mighty Hercules himself would feign at the sight of a such a sinister serpent!

Or so the story might go from the Venice Beach freak show proprieter who ponied up a cool $20k for this dual-headed hognose, appropriately called Lenny and Squiggly. It's rarity is enhanced by the genetic crap-shoot that is albinism. Apparently bicephalic animals suffer from many ailments which tend to significantly shorten their lifespans. The snake(s) is/are only 9 months old, but the owner has hopes it will live long and bring him a windfall. From The Examiner:
Like many two-headed snakes, both of their heads are fully functional and independent, though one of them exerts a far greater control over the body. Conjoined animals like Lenny and Squiggly often of difficulty moving due to conflicting orders from the two heads, making survival in the wild all but impossible. Life in captivity fares little better, though several animals have lived their full lifespans.
Not to second guess the founders of Western civilization, but these guys are almost too cute to really be a threat to Mediterranean demigods. Almost (they are snakes after all). Hognoses can be kept as "exotic pets," and it would seem their new owner has hit the mother lode.
Full story..
Also on Boing Boing with video...