Wildlife provides a context for teaching empathy

Parents can use wildlife as a valuable context for teaching their children to care for others.

According to National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski, wildlife provides valuable context for teaching children to care about others. “All of these are fellow creatures who need a happy and safe habitat,” he said.

Kevin Coyle, the NWF’s vice president of education says research shows that even very young kids can develop a sense of caring about things other than themselves. He and Mizejewski agree that parents who want their children to become empathic adults should take time to explore nature with them.

They urge parents to use the following strategies:

1. Create an awareness of backyard wildlife.

The first stage is awareness. Give your child something to focus on. Talk about how the wild animals living around humans deserve respect and understanding.

2. Help local wildlife.

Children need help putting into action what they know and making the connection between something they do and the benefits to others. A good idea is to set up a bird feeder and allow your child to refill it.

3. Plan meaningful outdoor experiences

Getting outside is important for kids’ growth. Focus on interpreting nature together. A good place to do this is a park.

4. Learn about lifecycles.

Observing a plant or animal pass through its life cycle can be mesmerizing for children. For example, a monarch butterfly has a four-stage life cycle and only lives for a few weeks. However, a turtle’s life cycle is similar to a human’s and the phases are egg, hatchling, juvenile and adult.





Epic safaris outside of Africa

Experience amazing wildlife expeditions outside of Africa.

Many people identify Africa with wildlife safaris. However, if travel to the African Continent is not in your immediate plans, you can experience incredible expeditions in the following five places:

1. The Pantanal Wetlands, Brazil

This is the world’s biggest tropical wetland system. It is in Midwestern Brazil and has a spectacularly biodiverse environment. The best time to go is during the dry season between July and October.

2. Ranthambore National Park, India

India has the world’s largest tiger population. Ranthambore is one of the country’s best tiger reserves. Other wildlife there includes panthers, bears, wolves and monkeys. The best time for tiger sightings is from April to June.

3. Jungles of Malaysian Borneo

Borneo is an exotic land of unexplored jungles and obscure tribes. The rainforests are home to extraordinary wildlife including 44 mammal species found nowhere else in the world. Any time of year is a good time to go.

4. Kamchatka Coast and Chukotka Autonomous District, Russia

These remote areas are some of the most wildlife-rich places in the Arctic region. Kamchatka is famous for its brown bears. The summer salmon run takes place in Chukotka every year. The best time to visit is in the summer from June to August.

5. Kakadu National Park, Australia

Kakadu is a land of monsoonal rivers and waterfalls. Wildlife safaris traverse the park by 4WD and boat. The most breathtaking spectacle is the annual bird migration. The best time to go is the dry season from May to October.


‘Snowball Earth’ may have helped give rise to Earth’s first animals

Those new conditions perfectly allowed algae to spread across the globe. That then created the burst of energy needed for more complex organisms to thrive.

A group of researchers led by scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have shed light on the mystery of how animals first appeared on Earth, a recent study published in the journal Nature reports.

The team began their researcher after uncovering ancient sedimentary rocks in central Australia. While researchers had previously been aware of such formations, new technology helped them look into the stones in a way that was not possible in the past. After looking into the rocks, scientists crushed them into powder and took molecules from the long-dead organisms inside them. This analysis revealed algae first began to rise some 650 million years ago.

That finding is important because, not only does it give a more concrete timeline of when multi-celled organisms first appeared on Earth, but it also sheds light on one of the most important ecological revolutions in the history of the world. In fact, without that event modern animals — including humans — would not exist today.

“Before all of this happened, there was a dramatic event 50 million years earlier called Snowball Earth,” said lead author Jochen Brocks, an associate professor at the Australian National University, according to Phys.org. “The Earth was frozen over for 50 million years. Huge glaciers ground entire mountain ranges to powder that released nutrients, and when the snow melted during an extreme global heating event rivers washed torrents of nutrients into the ocean.”

Those new conditions perfectly allowed algae to spread across the globe. That then created the burst of energy needed for more complex organisms to thrive. It was also the first time the oceans were dominated by life other than bacteria.

This discovery is the first evidence that Snowball Earth was directly evolved in the evolution of large and complex life. Researchers hope it will lead to further research into the origins of animals and spur other studies on one of the world’s oldest mysteries.

“The reason why [the timeline] is so exciting is it is just before animals appeared and also exciting because it happened after the biggest climatic catastrophe in Earth’s history,” added Brocks, according to ABC Online.

The findings will be presented this week at the Goldschmidt Conference in Paris, France.

Baby snake from dinosaur age found frozen in amber

Scientists discovered an ancient baby snake encased in 105-million-year-old amber.

For the first time ever, scientists discovered an ancient snake embryo contained in 105-million-year-old amber. The discovery reveals important information on the evolution of modern snakes.

“This snake is linked to ancient snakes from Argentina, Africa, India and Australia,” said paleontologist Michael Caldwell, lead author of the study and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. “It is an important—and until now, missing—component of understanding snake evolution from southern continents, that is Gondwana, in the mid-Mesozoic.”

Caldwell and his team, which includes researchers from China, Australia, and the United States, tracked the migration of the ancient Gondwanan snakes all the way back to 180 million years ago when they were transported by tectonic movements created by continents and their parts.

The team also gained information from the amber fragment that encased the specimen.

“It is clear that this little snake was living in a forested environment with numerous insects and plants, as these are preserved in the clast,” Caldwell said. “Not only do we have the first baby snake, we also have the first definitive evidence of a fossil snake living in a forest.”

The team used computerized tomography (CT) scans to study the ancient snake and compare it with the children of modern snakes, shedding light on the embryology and development of the ancient specimen.

“All of these data refine our understanding of early snake evolution, as 100-million year-old snakes are known from only 20 or so relatively complete fossil snake species,” Caldwell said. “There is a great deal of new information preserved in this new fossilized baby snake.”

The findings were published in Science Advances.

New model identifies main factors that shaped evolution

Scientists have created a new model that attempts to identify the primary influences of evolution and climate change.

A new computer simulation takes into account the numerous factors that drive evolutionary extinction and adaptation. The study outlining the model attempts to bring us closer to understanding the complex interactions between climate change and topography, and how these interactions affect the biodiversity and evolutionary histories of species in their natural ecosystems.

“We had hoped to be able to model in the simulation the most fundamental processes that shape the geography of life on Earth,” said Robert Colwell, who led the research with Brazilian colleague Thiago F. Rangel in collaboration with Neil Edwards and Philip Holden in the United Kingdom.

To create their model, the team looked to South America, which is the most biologically diverse continent on the planet. And since the Andes mountain range started developing 25 million years ago, it created an extremely varied landscape that gave rise to a plethora of biodiversity, making it a perfect area to study the evolution and ecology of biodiversity.

“The Andes are the longest mountain range on Earth, and the only trans-tropical one,” Rangel said. “They sit right beside the Amazon, the planet’s largest tropical rainforest and river basin. This is the reason South America has such exuberant biodiversity.”

“Our results demonstrate how intimately the evolution of life depends on the changing physical environment,” said Neil Edwards of The Open University modelling team.

The model comes at a time of unprecedented climate change, highlighting the unique and dynamic power of climate change and the many ways it shapes the evolution of life on Earth.

“The current pace of human driven climate change is much, much faster than anything in our model, but the same processes are happening in terms of species’ range shifts today,” Colwell said.

The findings were published in Science.

Genetic legacy of first dogs lives on in sexually transmitter cancer

The DNA of the first domesticated dogs of the Americas lives on in a sexually transmitter cancer.

A new study suggests that the domesticated dogs that firsts traveled to the Americas were brought by humans that were migrating from Asia. And although they were eventually wiped out in the 15th century, their genetic legacy appears to live on as a sexually transmitter cancer.

The cancer is called canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT) and has spread around the world. It is essentially a mutated version of animal DNA, which was traced back to the first domesticated American dogs.

“It’s quite incredible to think that possibly the only survivor of a lost dog lineage is a tumor that can spread between dogs as an infection,” said Maire Ní Leathlobhair, a researcher from the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge and co-lead author of the study.

Although the examination into the genetic history of dogs is far from finished, the new data sheds light on more clues.

“I think it’s an important technical achievement to get more ancient dog genomes,” said Krishna Veeramah, a geneticist at Stony Brook University who has studied ancient dog evolution. He also claims that until now, we have only sequenced the nuclear DNA of three other breeds of ancient dog.

“While the study does not really address the ultimate origins of dogs from wolves (this will need older samples from Eurasia), it sheds new light on an important aspect of dog-human history,” he said.

Ultimately, the new data will add to our current archaeological and genetic research and continue painting a picture of the history of the world’s most iconic domestic animals.

The findings were published in Science.

‘First giant’ dinosaur fossil discovered in Argentina

The discovery of the ‘first giant’ dinosaur fossil could shed light on their ancient evolution.

Researchers just discovered the “first giant” dinosaur fossil in Argentina, which should shed light on evolutionary process that helped dinosaurs become some of the largest creatures to ever traverse the Earth. Researchers are calling the discovery “a huge evolutionary finding.”

“We could see that it was a new species that we named Ingentia prima,” said Cecilia Apaldetti, first author of the study from the Universidad Nacional de San Juan in Argentina.

The fossil in question dates all the way back to the Triassic period approximately 30 million years prior to the arrival of the long-neck Jurassic Brachiosaurus. Scientists believe that the finding is important because it reshapes the conversation surrounding dinosaur evolution.

“We used to think that the first giant dinosaurs arose in the early part of the Jurassic Period, after supervolcanoes caused a global extinction at the end of the Triassic,” Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, who wasn’t involved in the study, said in a BBC analysis. “But the lessemsaurids tell us that at least some dinosaurs were able to attain giant sizes during the latest part of the Triassic, before the extinction.”

Before the discovery, researchers believed that Triassic dinosaurs were significantly smaller in size..

“What is really unexpected is that the lessemsaurids achieved their huge bodies independently of the gigantic sauropods like Brontosaurus and Diplodocus, which did indeed evolve later during the Jurassic,” Brusatte said in his BBC analysis.

“The development of huge size wasn’t just a one-off event for the sauropods, but rather different types of dinosaurs were able to become colossal, which speaks to just how incredible these animals were,” he added.

The findings were published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Extinct cave bear DNA discovered in living bears

A new study reveals the DNA of an extinct cave bear species in living bears.

A new study discovered that approximately 0.9 to 2.4 percent of living brown bears’ DNA can be traced back to the extinct cave bears species, which died out approximately 24,000 years ago.

The discovery is the second time that scientists have discovered the DNA of extinct ice-age creatures in living relatives.

“By any standard definition, [cave bears] are extinct, but it doesn’t mean that their gene pool is erased, because they continue to live on in the genomes of these living animals,” said Axel Barlow, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Potsdam and one of the lead authors of the study.

The data also suggests that some species interbreed regularly. For example, the DNA of Tibetan cattle and yak exhibit signs of interbreeding.

“The old-fashioned idea of a species [is that] it’s reproductively isolated from other species,” said Rasmus Nielsen, a geneticist at the University of California who wasn’t involved in the study. “This paper is a part of a series of papers that have been saying that worldview really is wrong.”

And since animal genomes are so massive, there’s plenty of room for variation in some genes. Just by chance alone, similar genes located in distantly related animals can appear similar, and identical genes in closely related animals can appear different.

“If we get an overabundance of genome positions where cave bears and brown bears are showing more similarity to each other than to polar bears, then something else must have happened,” Barlow said. “And that something is hybridization between the two species.”

The findings were published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Tortoise beats the hare every time in race of life, study says

A new study reveals why, much like in the iconic parable, the tortoise beats the hare in the race of life,

“The fable of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ is a metaphor about life, not a story about a race,” said Adrian Bejan, a Duke University professor who led a recent study on animal speed. “We see in animal life two starkly different lifestyles—one with nearly steady feeding and daily sleep and another with short bursts of intermittent feeding interspersed with day-long siestas. Both of these patterns are the rhythms of living that Aesop taught.”

Bejan examined the reported speeds of animals based on air, water, and land data. The results reveal that some of the fastest animals in the world are actually the slowest in terms of average speed throughout their lifetime.

And apparently, this result is also reflected in the aviation industry, where the general pattern is that speed and size increase hand-in-hand.

The only exception is the jet fighter, which although faster than others in short bursts, spends most of its time on the ground. And across their lifetime, they are very slow compared to transport models.

The study was created following a previous paper that utilized Bejan’s constructal theory to show that animals’ speed tends to rise with body mass.

“When I would give speeches on this topic, somebody would always bring up outliers to this principle such as the cheetah as counterexamples,” Bejan said. “But this study shows that these ‘outliers’ are to be expected and, when looked at over their lifetimes, are not so different from their lumbering cousins after all.”

The findings were published in Scientific Reports.

Study suggests narwhals and beluga whales experience menopause

Narwhals and beluga whales experience menopause, which brings the total number of species known to experience the process to five.

A team of scientists discovered that narwhals and beluga whales experience menopause, which brings the total number of species known to experience the process to five. Humans aside, the species known to experience menopause all belong to the toothed whale parvorder.

“For menopause to make sense in evolutionary terms, a species needs both a reason to stop reproducing and a reason to live on afterwards,” said Sam Ellis of the University of Exeter, first author of the study. “In killer whales, the reason to stop comes because both male and female offspring stay with their mothers for life—so as a female ages, her group contains more and more of her children and grandchildren.”

“This increasing relatedness means that, if she keeps having young, they compete with her own direct descendants for resources such as food,” he added.

“The reason to continue living is that older females are of great benefit to their offspring and grand-offspring. For example, their knowledge of where to find food helps groups survive.”

More than four decades of intense study has documented the existence of menopause in killer whales.

“It’s hard to study human behaviour in the modern world because it’s so far removed from the conditions our ancestors lived in,” said Darren Croft, senior author of the study. “Looking at other species like these toothed whales can help us establish how this unusual reproductive strategy has evolved.”

Despite the fact that many individuals in various species fail to reproduce later in life, the team looked for evidence that suggested an “evolved strategy” where females had a post-reproductive lifespan.

The findings were published in Scientific Reports.