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Nature Bytes

The New York Times Jan 29 2018, 23:16 IST
Ankylosaurus boasted a fearsome weapon: a bone-crushing clubbed tail.

Ankylosaurus boasted a fearsome weapon: a bone-crushing clubbed tail.

Where did animals with tail weapons go?

With a nearly impenetrable hide covered in spikes, the ankylosaurus was like a dinosaur version of an armoured tank. And like any battlefield behemoth, it boasted a fearsome weapon: a bone-crushing clubbed tail. The ankylosaurus was not the only prehistoric beast to have an intimidating backside. Stegosaurus sported spear-like spikes on its tail.

Some sauropods flailed fused clumps of bones from their posteriors towards predators. But in living animals today, formidable tail weaponry is nearly absent. A pair of palaeontologists has pieced together a series of traits shared among extinct species that had weaponised their fifth extremity. Their study, published in the journal Proceeding of the Royal Society B, may help explain why tail weaponry has gone missing since dinosaurs and some ice age animals went extinct.

The team has identified three characteristics in land-dwelling mammals, reptiles and non-avian dinosaurs that may be linked with evolving bony tail weapons. They include being large, eating plants and already having an armoured body. "That's a really rare combination no matter what time period you're looking at," said Victoria Arbour, a palaeontologist at the University of Toronto, Canada and an author on the study.

Climate models and polar warming

A new international analysis of marine fossils shows that warming of the polar oceans during the Eocene, a greenhouse period that provides a glimpse of earth's potential future climate, was greater than previously thought. By studying the chemical composition of fossilised
foraminifera, tiny single-celled animals that lived in shallow tropical waters, researchers generated precise estimates of tropical sea surface temperatures and seawater chemistry during the Eocene
Epoch, around 56 million years ago.

Using these data, researchers fine-tuned estimates from previous foram studies that captured polar conditions to show tropical oceans warmed substantially in the Eocene, but not as much as polar oceans. Importantly, when modern climate models were run under Eocene conditions, many could not replicate these findings. Instead, the models consistently underestimated polar ocean warming in the Eocene.

This discrepancy may result from a gap in our understanding of the climate system or from what we know about the Eocene, said David Evans, the study's lead author. If it does indeed relate to the climate system, it raises the possibility that predictions of future polar warming are also too low.

Moustached monkey is separate species

A monkey from Ethiopia with a 'handlebar moustache' has been identified as a distinct species. Scientists took a fresh look at the distribution and physical appearance of patas monkeys in Ethiopia, confirming there were two species rather than one. It was originally described as a separate species in 1862, but was later folded in - incorrectly - with other patas monkeys to form a single species. The study has been published in the journal Primate Conservation. Patas monkeys are found from west to east across sub-Saharan Africa.

Spartaco Gippoliti, from the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group, reassessed the species status of patas monkeys in the Blue Nile region of Ethiopia and Sudan. His analysis led him to revive the classification of the Blue Nile patas monkey (Erythrocebus poliophaeus). That designation was dropped in 1927, when zoologist Ernst Schwarz rearranged the primate group's taxonomy and decided there was just one species. Their faces and noses are black and they lack the characteristic band between the ear and eye found on other patas monkeys.

The secret world of the jellyfish

At the mere mention of the name 'jellyfish' most of us imagine shapeless, rubbery and even disgusting creatures. However, it isn't until when we get to see them under water that they transform into graceful beings.

In reality, jellyfish are smooth, soft, and what is even more interesting is that their history goes back to 500 million years. Over time, they have developed the most fascinating shapes and most interesting lifestyles. In the course of evolution, jellyfish have developed unbelievably clever skills and have conquered every habitat in our oceans.

In Vicious Beauties - The Secret World Of The Jellyfish, the host Dr Gerhard Jarms, a scientist, takes us to the unusual life cycle
of these animals. Some basic questions such as 'Where do jellyfish come from?' and 'How and where do they reproduce?' are
answered in the documentary. To watch the documentary,
visit www.bit.ly/2DFb6aB.

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