SNIPPETS

The Ozzy Osbourne  frog

As soon as I heard its call, I knew it was a new species. I had never heard anything like it,” said Pedro Peloso, one of the frog’s discoverers and a postdoctoral fellow at Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Brazil.

Peloso and colleagues found the 0.75-inch (19.4-mm) amphibian in 2009 as part of a biodiversity survey of Floresta Nacional de Pau-Rosa, a protected area in the state of Amazonas. During the month-long expedition, the team found 21 specimens of the brown-and-orange creature, which has mysteriously long, delicate fingers and toes.

The male frogs also have an unusually large vocal sac, a nearly transparent piece of skin that inflates to produce its unique high-pitched chirping sound. Male tree frogs in general make loud calls to communicate with females in distant treetops, but the new species is the first known to sound like a bat.

Once the team had brought their treasure back to the lab, “We kept talking about the ‘bat frog,’ which led to us talking about being fans of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath,” Peloso said. At a concert in 1981, Osbourne bit the head off a bat that a fan threw on the stage, although Osbourne later said he believed it was rubber. Peloso named his bat frog Dendropsophus ozzyi, and it’s described in the journal Zootaxa.

During the 2009 expedition, Peloso and colleagues travelled up the Amazon by boat, sleeping in hammocks and collecting everything they could find.

Peloso’s collection technique was remarkably low-tech: He carried only a plastic bag, a flashlight, and a digital audio recorder to capture the sounds made by the species he collected. Since the locations were so far apart, and travel between them difficult, Peloso believes the frog is widely distributed in the Amazon and is not in immediate danger of extinction.

Despite the fact that the frog is likely common, he’s not surprised no one had found it before. “To find a species, it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. If the conditions aren’t right, it’s really easy to miss them,” Peloso said.
Even so, the fact that a new species was discovered in a relatively well-studied area of the Amazon further highlights the tremendous biodiversity of the area, said José Padial, an assistant curator at the Carnegie Natural History Museum in Pittsburgh who wasn’t involved in the study.

Carrie Arnold

Monster turtle fossils reunited

Two halves of a fossil bone found more 160 years apart have finally allowed scientists to scale one of the biggest sea turtles that ever lived. Atlantochelys mortoni was originally described from a broken arm bone, or humerus, found in the 1840s in New Jersey. Remarkably, the missing portion has also now been unearthed. The fossil fragments are a perfect match, and indicate A. mortoni must have been 3 m from tip to tail. “When we put the two halves together, we were flabbergasted,” recalls Ted Daeschler, from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

“We even turned them around trying to show they didn’t match, but they’re obviously supposed to be together,” he says. Both parts come from Cretaceous sediments, 70 million to 75 million years old, in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Very little is known about the discovery of the distal end – the end nearest to the elbow. It received its first description from the famed naturalist Louis Agassiz in 1846. For years, it was assumed the bone was picked up in Burlington County.But then amateur fossil palaeontologist Gregory Harpel picked up the proximal end – the end nearest the shoulder – from a brook in the neighbouring Monmouth district.

“I picked it up and thought it was a rock at first,” Harpel said. Rocks tend not to have markings from shark bites, and so he quickly realised the find was something far more significant. Together, the bone fragments give a much clearer view of A. mortoni, a species that would have looked very similar to the modern loggerhead – apart from its size.

“This turtle was a monster, probably the maximum size you can have for a turtle,” said Daeschler. “Scientifically, we now know a lot more about this creature. “Most importantly, we now know precisely which rock formation the original came out of, and so we can more precisely know its age, and we can be much more confident about finding additional material in that same formation.”

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