Nov 26, 2008 | 10
Ever wonder how a turtle got its shell? You're not the only one. Evolutionary biologists and paleontologists have long been stumped by the question. But a recently unearthed turtle fossil, the oldest on record, may hold the answer. Researchers report in Nature today that the fossil indicates shells evolved as an extension of turtles' backbones and ribs.
"Its discovery opens a new chapter in the study of the origins and early history of these fascinating reptiles," says vertebrate paleontologists Robert Reisz and Jason Head of the University of Toronto, in a commentary accompanying the article.
Scientist have been in the dark until now because all fossilized turtles previously discovered had complete shells. But this 220 million-year-old fossil is an ancestor of the modern turtle at a stage when its shell was still evolving.
Jul 17, 2008 | 1
Tasmanian devils aren't just hyperactive on Looney Toons. Seems a fatal facial cancer coursing through the population has driven the much-maligned marsupials to procreate earlier than normal. The devils—named for Tasmania, the Australian island off the continent's southeastern coast, where they reside—live an average of five years and typically begin mating when they've reached adulthood at around two years of age. But researchers at the University of Tasmania report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that the animals are mating by or before the age of one—some 16 times more frequently than they did before the disease was detected a decade ago. Unfortunately, the researchers say this race against the clock isn't doing the trick: Tasmanian devil populations continue to decline, dropping by up to 89 percent from what they were 10 years ago in some groups. The scientists hope, however, breeding early and often will buy the animals time and beat the cancer.
(Picture: © Istockphoto/Leo Stanners)
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