Nature bytes

Nature bytes

Decrease in Himalayan glaciers

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology and National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee have found that the number of glaciers has decreased in a span of 35 years. The findings were published in 2017 in the journal Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research. The study warns of a long-term decline of water resources and impending flash floods due to the glacial lake outburst as warming climate may accelerate the glacial recession in the area.

The researchers studied changes to glaciers in the Baspa basin in the western Himalayan region. Due to their massive size, remote and harsh locations, glaciers are not easy to monitor, the Baspa Basin being no exception. The researchers used a combination of satellite data to demarcate the changes in the glacier area, its length, and how much of it is covered with loose rock material, also called debris cover.

The researchers delineated 109 glaciers having a minimum size of 0.01 km2 in the glacier inventory for the year 2011. To assess glacier changes, they selected glaciers larger than 0.10 km2 in size to reduce inaccuracies in glacier mapping. They found that the number of glaciers had gone down from 103 to 97 and a total area of 41.2 ± 10.5 km2 was lost between 1976 and 2011. The study showed that factors like glacier size and topography influence glacier changes.

A feathered dinosaur

Perhaps it was soft, even fuzzy. But it was also very much a dinosaur. Anchiornis was a four-winged birdlike species that lived about 160 million years ago, and many fossil specimens have been found in China. A number of them were discovered with preserved feathers, but until recently the feathers had not been described in detail. Anchiornis (the name means 'near bird') was about 14 inches long from its beak to the end of its tail, barely larger than a pigeon but much more impressive. It had long feathers on its four wings, and appendages ending in claws. Anchiornis did not, however, have the reverse toe that lets modern birds perch. It climbed trees, clinging with all four feet.

A recent study in Palaeontology takes a close look at its feathers. Anchiornis had small bushy plumes covering its back and neck, unlike its straighter wing and tail feathers. These short feathers provided insulation and may have been water-repellent. But they were not as efficient at either task as the feathers of modern birds. Anchiornis probably glided down from trees, like a flying squirrel, but more likely was incapable of powered flight. The feathers on the wings and tail lacked the curved aerodynamic structure that allows for flight.

"Palaeontologists got excited when we learned that birds are dinosaurs," said the lead author, Evan T Saitta, a doctoral student at the University of Bristol in England. "But we have to remember that these things are much older and more primitive than birds. Feathers don't evolve overnight. These are steppingstones on the way to modern birds."

Ticks trapped in amber

Palaeontologists have found entombed in amber a 99-million-year-old tick grasping the feather of a dinosaur, providing the first direct evidence that the tiny pests drank dinosaur blood. Immortalised in the golden gemstone, its last supper is remarkable because it is rare to find parasites with their hosts in the fossil record. The finding, which was published in a paper that appeared the journal Nature Communications, gives researchers tantalising insight into the prehistoric diet of one of today's most prevalent pests.

David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History and an author of the paper, was inspecting a private collection of amber from northern Myanmar when he and his colleagues spotted the eight-legged stowaway. Upon further inspection, he and his colleagues concluded that the tick was a nymph, similar in size to a deer tick nymph, and that its host was most likely some sort of fledgling dinosaur no bigger than a hummingbird, which David referred to as a 'nanoraptor'.

Galapagos: Realm of Giant Sharks

Darwin Island, a remote oceanic region on the outskirts of the Galapagos Archipelago, is home to a growing population of great whale sharks. All of them are pregnant, about to give birth. What has drawn them here? Where are they going? The documentary, Galapagos: Realm of Giant Sharks (directed by Thomas Lucas), finds out what lures the sharks to the island by following a group of researchers, headed by world-renowned naturalist and photographer Jonathan Green, that has travelled out to Darwin Island to decode the mystery.

In an exciting blend of science and natural history filmmaking, Galapagos: Realm of Giant Sharks draws audiences into the world of one of the ocean's largest and least understood creatures. It also provides illuminating insights on the growing dangers currently threatening the great whale shark population, and efforts underway to protect the species. To watch the documentary, visit


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