Video: 5 Final Videos of Extinct Animals Right Before They Disappeared

Here’s the video:

The Laysan Crake was a 6-inch tall creature with reduced tail and wings that rendered it unable to fly. It used its wings to keep balance when running and jumping, and fed on invertebrates and seabirds’ eggs. The Hawaiian bird almost became extinct early in the 20th century, but a relocation to Midway Atoll slowed the natural process down. Still, the last crake was seen in 1944, around the time a US Navy landing craft drifted ashore…

The Laysan Crake’s coloration resembled that of the Baillon’s crake, with a mixture of dark grays and pale browns, a yellow bill, red eyes, and long dark legs. British BBC footage taken in 1936 shows the crake in its Hawaiian habitat.

Also known as the Laysan Rail, the small yet aggressive birds fed on invertebrates and eggs. They were highly active during mornings and afternoons, and they had no known natural predators that actively hunted them down. Also, their distinctive chirping resembled two marbles thrown on a glass roof.

According to biologists, the introduction of rabbits and guinea pigs on Laysan Island that consumed vegetation and reduced the availability of insects would have led to the birds’ extinction. But the relocation to the Midway Atoll in an attempt to save the species showed promising results.

However, the population started to decrease before the outbreak of World War II, and no further attempts were made to preserve the species.

In June of 1944, a US Navy landing craft drifted ashore carrying black rats that ate the remaining birds. Since then, no Laysan Crake has ever been spotted…

Dinosaurs thrived in the Arctic all year round: Dinosaurs lived in the Arctic around 70 million years ago

[This is pretty cool. It turns out the Arctic was warmer by ten degrees back then. Jan]

We have been discovering dinosaur fossils in the Arctic for 70 years. However, most palaeontologists assumed that these came from dinosaurs that ventured north during summers and migrated south to avoid the harsh winters. Now, the discovery of infant dinosaur fossils suggests that some species might have thrived year-round in the frigid tundra.

“We knew dinosaurs had been there, but we didn’t know if they could deal with the cold or even the darkness of winter,” says Patrick Druckenmiller at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

Although migration has long been assumed as the answer to this question, it has its problems. “In order to migrate from our field site [to below the Arctic circle], you’re looking at a minimum 3000-kilometre round trip on foot,” says Druckenmiller.

He and his colleagues found an assemblage of hundreds of bones and teeth of between 1 and 2 millimetres long at a site in the Prince Creek Formation in northern Alaska. This included the remains of seven species of dinosaur that had either died within the egg or soon after hatching, suggesting that the dinosaurs weren’t visitors but year-round residents able to weather the dark night of the Arctic winter. The species were from eight families, including Ornithopoda, Hadrosauridae, Tyrannosauridae and Deinonychosauria.

Read more: 75-million-year-old eggshells suggest most dinosaurs were warm-blooded

“There’s good evidence that these dinosaurs had incubation periods of over five months,” says Druckenmiller. He argues that if they laid their eggs in spring when most vegetation appears, their eggs would hatch with winter on the horizon. Migration at that time is something a newborn is unlikely to survive.

The Prince Creek fossil site is the furthest north that dinosaurs have been confirmed to have lived. Accessing the site today involves landing a small aeroplane on a gravel bar along the creek and then assembling rafts to float through a series of sheer cliffs held together by permafrost.

It is a frozen tundra now, but the climate was very different 70 million years ago. Petrified logs at the site suggest the area was at least partially forested then. “It’s all the more amazing that, thanks to plate tectonics, Alaska was actually 10 degrees farther north than it is today,” says Druckenmiller.

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.05.041


NEW SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY: Newly identified ancestor of Neanderthals complicates the human story

[I am not sure what to make of this. But there are earlier people who lived in Europe as well. Jan]

A previously unknown group of ancient humans lived in what is now Israel for hundreds of thousands of years. They lived alongside modern humans for some of that time, and the two groups may have interacted and learned skills from each other.

The newly discovered people were the ancestors of the Neanderthals, who later roamed Europe and western Asia, argues the team behind the work. If that is true, Neanderthals originated in western Asia, not in Europe as many researchers have previously suspected.

The hominin remains were found at Nesher Ramla in Israel, in a quarry operated by a cement factory. Following its identification, the archaeological site within the quarry was briefly protected to allow excavations to proceed in 2010 and 2011, after which it was quarried. “The site itself is gone,” says Israel Hershkovitz at Tel Aviv University in Israel, a member of the team.

Nesher Ramla was once a shallow depression in the landscape that gradually filled with sediment. “It was used by hominins for quite a long time, and it’s very rich in terms of archaeological material and very well preserved,” says Yossi Zaidner at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a member of the research team.

Read more: Human evolution: The astounding new story of the origin of our species

The team found parts of the roof of a hominin skull and a near-complete jawbone. “We believe it’s of the same individual,” says Hila May, also at Tel Aviv University, another author of the work.

It isn’t clear if they were male or female, because the most telltale bones are missing. “But we can say it’s a young adult based on the teeth,” says Rachel Sarig, a member of the team, also at Tel Aviv University.

The sediments in which the bones were found are between 140,000 and 120,000 years old. Our species had emerged in Africa by this time, and made some forays outside: Homo sapiens specimens from 210,000 years ago have been found in Greece, and a seemingly more sustained population existed in the Israel region from at least 177,000 years ago. But H. sapiens wasn’t the only hominin: Europe and western Asia were home to the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis), while eastern Asia was home to a related group called the Denisovans.

To find out if the Nesher Ramla hominin belonged to one of these groups, the team compared the shapes of the bones with those of dozens of other hominin remains. “It was easy to say that it’s not Homo sapiens,” says May. The skull was low and flat, rather than rounded and tall, and the jawbone lacked the chin that is characteristic of our species.

But it didn’t fit any of the other groups either. In some ways, the bones resembled Neanderthal ones, but in others they looked like those of hominins that lived earlier in prehistory.

However, the Nesher Ramla bones do resemble several other hard-to-classify fossils. These include bones from the Qesem, Zuttiyeh and Tabun sites in Israel, and from Atapuerca in northern Spain, some of which are considerably older. Hershkovitz says there are also specimens from China and India that might fit.

Read more: We are in the midst of rewriting our understanding of Neanderthals

The team argues that all these bones should be considered together as a new hominin group, which lived in western Asia between 420,000 and 120,000 years ago. The hominin at Nesher Ramla was “a residue or survivor of this source population”, argues Sarig.

The team hasn’t given the group a species name like Homo neanderthalensis, and simply calls them “Nesher Ramla Homo”. This is because the group says it doesn’t like classing hominins as distinct species if they can interbreed, so also wouldn’t count Neanderthals as a species distinct from us.

“They’re very careful not to call it a species,” says Mirjana Roksandic at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. She says that requires “more discussion”.

The Neanderthal-like features of Nesher Ramla Homo can be explained if they were the ancestors of the Neanderthals, the team argues. On this account, the usual story of the origin of the Neanderthals – that they evolved from earlier European hominins – is wrong. Instead, they originated in western Asia as a subgroup of Nesher Ramla Homo, and entered Europe only when the climate was favourable.

Explore key Neanderthal and Palaeolithic sites: On a Discovery Tour of France

Roksandic is intrigued but not convinced. “These morphological traits of Neanderthals that they see could be easily interpreted as the movement of Neanderthals back,” she says – in which case, Nesher Ramla Homo may have picked them up from Neanderthals, rather than the other way around.

However, May thinks the research team’s scenario makes more sense. Moreover, it would explain a mystery. A Neanderthal who lived in northern Europe 124,000 years ago had some H. sapiens DNA, around 80,000 years before modern humans got there. This could be explained if modern humans interbred with Nesher Ramla Homo in western Asia and some of the resulting hybrids interbred with European Neanderthals.

The Nesher Ramla Homo may also explain other unusual fossils. The bones from the caves of Skhul and Qafzeh in Israel have sometimes been classed as H. sapiens, but don’t look typical of our species. The team suggests they are actually the result of interbreeding between H. sapiens and Nesher Ramla Homo.

There is clear evidence that Nesher Ramla Homo and H. sapiens were interacting, says Zaidner. They made very similar tools, using exactly the same process. This suggests that one group learned the skills from the other. But “we don’t know… who learned from who.”


Science: Discovered off coast of S.Africa: Coelacanth: This ‘living fossil’ could reach 100 years old

[When it was discovered, it had been believed by scientists to have been extinct for many millions of years. Then they discovered them off the coast of South Africa … alive and well! Jan]

Few animals live as long as humans do. The West Indian Ocean coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae), an endangered species of fish that can grow to 2 meters long and weigh about 100 kilograms, might be a rare exception. A new study finds the underwater giant may live to be 100 years old.

To arrive at that figure, researchers counted tiny, ringlike calcium structures on the scales of coelacanths preserved in a French museum. They discovered that, like tree rings, a new calcium ring forms every year. By counting the rings, the team found the oldest specimen was 84 years old. But the researchers believe some individuals could live as long as 100 years.

In addition to having one of the longest life spans of any marine fish, the study, published today in Current Biology, also found that coelacanths age slowly and do not reach sexual maturity until about 40 to 60 years old. That would be like humans reaching puberty at middle age.

The findings could help explain why there are so few coelacanths. The fish were once thought to be extinct and are often referred to as “living fossils” because of their similarity to prehistoric fish. Because they take so long to reach reproductive age and have relatively few offspring, coelacanths that die early in life may not be able to replace their population fast enough. And, the authors say, overfishing and habitat destruction are probably not helping.


Science: DNA Jumps Between Animal Species. No One Knows How Often – My Comments

[One of my friends who read a lot of science literature, claimed that even the act of eating meat, might actually put foreign DNA into you. But I'm not fully sure I trust that statement. But DNA does move between animal species. This is part of the weirdness of history and evolution and how we change. Jan]

The discovery of a gene shared by two unrelated species of fish is the latest evidence that horizontal gene transfers occur surprisingly often in vertebrates.

Smelt can survive in icy temperatures because their cold adaptations include an antifreezing protein. New work reveals that smelt obtained the gene for this protein through a direct transfer from another cold water fish, the Atlantic herring.

Sean Landsman


Christie Wilcox

Contributing Writer