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Veverka's Blog for Heritage Interpreters

With so much to discover, learn and experience, keep turning the pages then...

1 December 2022- Hi and welcome to my new December 2022 blog. I had a lot going on for November- new courses and working on new textbooks so had a little break to find new stories to share with you. I have a new interpretive training contract with Parks Canada teaching my "Introduction To Heritage Interpretation" course for new staff members.

Big News - Beginning with my Jan/Feb 2023 issue of InterpNEWS - Legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers, InterpNEWS will only be available by SUBSCRIPTIONS. Don't get scared, subcriptions will only be $20.00 a year. You can go to the updated InterpNEWS website for details - and to subscribe early if you'd liike.

To subscribe go to:

InterpNEWS Nov/Dec 2022 issue.
Interpreting Rising Sea Levels - now available.

Table of Contents

-Antarctica's melting 'Doomsday glacier' could raise sea levels by 10 feet,
scientists say, Julia Jacobo
-Oceans are hotter, higher and more acidic, climate report warns - Jake Spring
-Earth's oceans are getting hotter and higher, and it's accelerating- Rebecca Hersher
-How Fast and How Far Will Sea Levels Rise? Nicola Jones
-NOAA sees sea level rise of up to 6.6 feet by 2100 - Wendy Koch,
-Sea Level Rise Is Inevitable but We Can Still Prevent Catastrophe for Coastal Regions -
Zita Sebesvari
-New Research Affirms Modern Sea-Level Rise Linked to Human Activities, Not to
Changes in Earth's Orbit - Rutgers University
-Climate scientists say building collapse is a 'wake-up call' about the potential impact
of rising seas - Rachel Ramirez,
-Sea Level Rise Projection Map - Miami - Owen Mulhern
-How many people will migrate due to rising sea levels? Why our best guesses aren't
good enough -The Conversation
-Climate Migration: An Impending Global Challenge - Renee Cho
-Climate Change: Global Sea Level - Rebecca Lindsey (NOAA)
-Where America's Climate Migrants Will Go As Sea Level Rises - Linda Poon
-Sea Level Rise to Gobble Up Hundreds of Thousands of US Homes, Buildings by 2050
-Glaciers and "zombie ice": The planet is melting at both ends, research finds.
-How is sea level rise related to climate change? NOAA
-Rising sea levels putting wildlife at risk. Kristen Pope
-Sea-level rise threatens hundreds of U.S. animal species - Doyle Rice
-Rising sea levels are creating 'ghost forests' of coastal trees- PBS
-Oysters at work helping scientists and coastal communities keep the rising waters
from stealing our shores - Sydney Giuliano

This will be the last free issue - starting with the In Jan/Feb 2023 issue, IN will be available by subscrin only (subscriptions are ONLY $20.00/year). For issue details and to subscribe visit the InterpNEWS website:


Updated my two climate interpretation courses for Nov/Dec 2022-23. Start a course anytime - complete the course at your own pace with live online support via zoom or skype.

Climate Courses:

-Interpreting the Climate Crisis - 2022

-Interpretive Planning for Programs, Exhibits, Panels and Related Services To Help You to Interpret Climate Change and Global Warming Issues to Your Audiences, Communities and Regions.

13 Units, 4 CEU's $250.00. Our Climate Change special resource issues will be included.
Interpretive Planning for Climate Change (

Visit my new Climate Crisis/interpretation Resource Center:

Free climate change resource issues still available.


Is ET Real? - Some say YES!

The answer may be hanging in our art galleries or painted on ancient walls.

With this new "fun" course we'll look at whats been left behind for evidence and watch the US Navy fighter jets chasing one (and video taping it). For more about this unique course check out the web site.


New Interpretive Stories to Share For December




Swarming bees may potentially change the weather, new study suggests
By Ben Turner published October 24, 2022

Bees can electrify the air by as much as 1000 volts per meter, or more than a thunderstorm.

A frontal view of a bee swarm. (Image credit: Andreas Häuslbetz /Alamy Stock Photo)

Swarming bees produce so much electricity that they may affect local weather, new research suggests.

The finding, which researchers made by measuring the electrical fields around honeybee (apis mellifera) hives, reveals that bees can produce as much atmospheric electricity as a thunderstorm. This can play an important role in steering dust to shape unpredictable weather patterns; and their impact may even need to be included in future climate models.

Insects' tiny bodies can pick up positive charge while they forage — either from the friction of air molecules against their rapidly beating wings (honeybees can flap their wings more than 230 times a second) or from landing onto electrically charged surfaces. But the effects of these tiny charges were previously assumed to be on a small scale. Now, a new study, published Oct. 24 in the journal iScience, shows that insects can generate a shocking amount of electricity.

"We only recently discovered that biology and static electric fields are intimately linked and that there are many unsuspected links that can exist over different spatial scales, ranging from microbes in the soil and plant-pollinator interactions to insect swarms and the global electric circuit," first author Ellard Hunting, a biologist at the University of Bristol, told Live Science.

Static electricity emerges when the microscopic bumps and pits on two surfaces rub over each other, causing friction. This causes electrons, which are negatively charged, to jump from one surface to another, leaving one surface positively charged while the other surface becomes negatively charged. The transfer across the two ionized surfaces sets up a voltage difference, or potential gradient, across which the charges may leap.

This electrostatic potential gradient — which can give you a shock when touching a doorknob after walking across a carpet — can also charge lightning through the friction of ice clumps inside clouds; legend has it this phenomenon was demonstrated by Benjamin Franklin when he and his son flew a kite during a thunderstorm, noting that the kite's wet string conducted sparks from the stormcloud to a key attached to its end.

Electrostatic effects emerge throughout the insect world; they enable bees to draw pollen to them, and help spiders spin negatively charged webs that attract and ensnare the positively charged bodies of their prey.


Hundreds of medieval skeletons, half of them children, discovered under
Wales department store
By Jennifer Nalewicki published October 25, 2022

More than 240 skeletons have been unearthed from a former medieval friary cemetery, revealing a "snapshot of the community."

Archaeologists uncovered hundreds of skeletons at what was once a medieval cemetery in Wales.
(Image credit: Dyfed Archaeological Trust)

Archaeologists in Wales have unearthed the skeletal remains of more than 240 people — about half of which were children — in a cemetery that they believe was once part of a medieval friary.

Scientists made the discovery during an ongoing excavation of what was once St. Saviour's Priory, a holy site founded in 1256 by a Dominican order of monks. (Earlier this year, archeologists from the same team uncovered 17 skeletons in a different section of the site, which is located in Haverfordwest, a town in the southwestern Welsh county of Pembrokeshire.)

While the cemetery is thought to be associated with the friary, it wasn't uncommon for members of the surrounding community to be buried there for a small fee.

"It was considered the town cemetery," Fran Murphy(opens in new tab), the head of archaeological services at Dyfed Archaeological Trust, the organization that is excavating the site, told Live Science. "It was well used for many years from the 12th to the 16th centuries — everybody was buried there, not just monks and friars. It offers a snapshot of the community."

The friars who lived at St. Saviour's were known as "Black friars" due to the color of their attire, and would often preach Catholic teachings in the streets, becoming a visible part of the surrounding community.

Of the skeletons discovered, several "showed signs of trauma, including puncture wounds in their skulls," Murphy said. However, she said that there could be "many causes for that" and they won't know until the remains undergo further investigation. However, it is known that the area was "besieged in 1405 by [the Welsh military commander] Owain Glyndwr and they could be victims of that conflict," according to BBC News(opens in new tab).

Archaeologists also found several crypts within the cemetery, including one containing the skeletal remains of someone "we think was a priest," Murphy said.

"In his hands he held a pewter bowl on top of a patterned plate similar to the one used during communion to hold the wafer," she said. "This burial in particular indicates the vocation of that person."


What if humans had tails?
By Joanna Thompson

If humans had tails, what would they be like, and how would we use them?

From mermaids to the ancient Babylonian scorpion people, stories of humans with tails abound in mythologies from around the world. Often, these figures possess some sort of magic power or wisdom beyond mortal understanding.

But what would it be like if humans actually had tails? How would the extra appendage change our daily lives? And what would they look like?

For some people, this is more than a thought experiment; in rare instances, babies with spina bifida — a condition in which a baby is born with a gap in the spine — or an irregular coccyx might be born with a vestigial "pseudotail." These fleshy outgrowths often contain muscle, connective tissue and blood vessels, but not bone or cartilage, according to research published in the journal Human Pathology(opens in new tab). They are not functional and are usually removed shortly after birth.

Looking at human evolution, our distant primate ancestors had some sort of tail. Tails disappeared in our direct lineage around 25 million years ago, when great apes diverged from monkeys. Our ancestors may have ditched the extra appendage to save energy and calories as they evolved better bipedal balance. But of course, tailed primates are still hanging around today.


'Dwarf dinosaur' that lived on prehistoric island unearthed in Transylvania
By JoAnna Wendel published about 5 hours ago

The new "dwarf dinosaur" species lends more evidence to the "island rule," which posits that animals evolving on islands become smaller than their mainland counterparts.

Fossil evidence suggests that during the Cretaceous era, "dwarf dinosaurs" populated a tropical archipelago near modern-day Romania. (Image credit: Peter Nickolaus)

If you think of Transylvania, you might imagine a place populated by vampires and werewolves. Now, you can add "dwarf dinosaurs" to that list. A group of researchers recently identified a new species of dinosaur from the region, dubbing it Transylvanosaurus platycephalus, or, "flat-headed reptile from Transylvania." And it's part of a group of dwarf dinosaurs that evolved to be much smaller than their relatives.

T. platycephalus, a member of the Rhabdodontidae family — a group of herbivorous ornithopod dinosaurs — lived about 70 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago). At this point in Earth's past, flowering plants had evolved — and with them the first pollinators — and birds' ancient ancestors were just beginning to experiment with flying. The massive supercontinent Pangea had broken up into several smaller continents and Europe was an archipelago of tropical islands, more like modern-day Indonesia or the Galápagos.

In a new study, published online Nov. 23 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology(opens in new tab), the researchers described the newfound species from bone fragments from the forehead and from the lower back portion of the skull. In life, T. platycephalus would have measured just 6.5 feet (2 meters) long. It had a wide, flat head and lived alongside other reptiles, such as crocodiles and turtles.

Prior research suggested(opens in new tab) that dinosaur diversity had already significantly declined by this point in Earth's history, just prior to the mass extinction that ended the Cretaceous. But this new finding may suggest that diverse dinosaur forms were still very much a part of Cretaceous Europe's landscape.

"With each newly-discovered species we are disproving the widespread assumption that the Late Cretaceous fauna had a low diversity in Europe," Felix Augustin(opens in new tab), lead study author and a doctoral candidate at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said in a statement(opens in new tab).


Meet a medieval woman named 'Tora' who lived 800 years ago in Norway
By Jennifer Nalewicki published about 6 hours ago

Using skeletal remains unearthed in Norway, researchers created a realistic-looking model of what this medieval woman may have looked like.

"Tora" likely lived to be 65 years old in a medieval city in central Norway. (Image credit:
Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum)

A life-size 3D model of a grinning old woman holding a walking stick looks like a contemporary elder on a stroll through her neighborhood. In reality, this woman lived nearly 800 years ago in Norway, and the model is a sculpted life-sized reconstruction based on her skeleton.

On Oct. 7, Ellen Grav(opens in new tab), an archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) University Museum, introduced the world to the lifelike model — named "Tora" — via Facebook(opens in new tab). Tora's likeness is now on display as part of an exhibition(opens in new tab) at NTNU's museum. (Tora's name was selected in a public poll(opens in new tab) conducted by NRK, a Norwegian broadcast company.)

Tora was born near the end of the 1200s and lived in Trondheim, a city in central Norway. During that time, the medieval metropolis was growing rapidly and was inhabited by craftspeople and traders, according to the museum.

While there are no written records about Tora, archaeologists pieced together a story about this medieval woman's life based on clues from her skeletal remains and where her body was exhumed.


Who is Krampus, and what does he have to do with Christmas?
By Owen Jarus published 1 day ago

Krampus is a mythical creature who punished badly behaved children, according to myth.

People often dress as Krampus during parades. Here, a Krampus takes part in a parade, Czech republic, Dec. 10, 2016 (Image credit: Veronika Matejkova via Shutterstock)

Every December, Santa Claus comes out and gives presents to good children around the world, according to popular culture. But according to some myths, children who have misbehaved are instead visited by a far more frightening creature: Krampus.

But who is Krampus? Where do these myths come from? And why does Krampus appear around Christmas time?

Krampus is a mythical creature who is often depicted with horns and a demon-like face. According to myth, which likely originated in what is now Germany and Austria, the creature punished children who behaved badly.

Krampus is also called Klaubauf, Toife, Toifi or Toifl (a word that is similar to devil), Matthäus Rest(opens in new tab), a social anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, told Live Science in an email. Rest suspects that the name “Krampus” was introduced in Vienna in the 19th century but is not certain.


What is the largest squid in the world?
By Charles Q. Choi published 2 days ago

There are two contenders for the world's largest squid, and both are giants.

A giant squid (Architeuthis dux) lies on Newport Beach, California on Jan. 19, 2005 after it washed ashore for unknown reasons. (Image credit: David McNew via Getty Images)

Legends about gargantuan squid have existed for millennia, with photos confirming their existence nearly 150 years ago. But what is the largest squid in the world?

Depending on how you measure, there are two contenders. The giant squid (Architeuthis dux) is the longest squid, and the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) is the heaviest.

The giant squid, found in every ocean, is estimated to reach up to about 40 to 45 feet (12 to 14 meters) long from the tip of its body to the tip of its tentacles and weigh about 600 pounds (270 kilograms), Heather Judkins(opens in new tab), a cephalopod expert at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg, told Live Science. There have been claimed sightings of giant squids up to about 66 feet long (20 m), but they have not been verified, according to Two Oceans Aquarium(opens in new tab) in Cape Town, South Africa.

The colossal squid, which lives in Antarctic waters but may venture as far north as New Zealand, is estimated to reach about 30 to 33 feet (9 to 10 m) long. However, what it lacks in total length compared with the giant squid, it makes up for in weight — it can reach about 1,000 pounds (450 kg), Judkins said. This likely makes the colossal squid the most massive invertebrate on Earth, according to ocean nonprofit Oceana.


New 'oasis of life' filled with ravenous sharks is found hiding beneath Maldives ocean
By Ben Turner

The sharks are following micronekton, which travel from the surface
to the depths at dawn.

The Trapping Zone as seen from inside one of The Nekton Maldives Mission's
submarines. (Image credit: Nekton Maldives Mission (c) Nekton 2022)

Deep-sea divers have discovered a completely new ecosystem 1,640 feet (500 meters) beneath the water’s surface in the Indian Ocean, and it’s filled with hungry sharks.

Scientists described the region — named the "Trapping Zone" and located near the Maldives’ deep-sea volcano Satho Rahaa — as an "oasis of life" in a "very large ocean desert" where swarms of fish and sharks descend to gorge themselves on a cloud of tiny sea creatures.

The creatures are called micronekton and are classified as being from 0.8 to 7.8 inches (2 to 20 centimeters) long, ranging from krill to larger organisms such as fish. Micronekton can move independently of ocean currents; they swim to the ocean surface at night to hunt plankton before diving back to the relative safety of the depths at dawn.

But in the Trapping Zone, steep cliffs below the ocean surface, fossilized reefs, and volcanic rock conspire to deter the micronekton from diving any deeper than 1,640 feet (500 meters). Instead, their lives play out in a nightmarish marathon as they are chased around an endless loop by a train of ravenous sharks.

"This has all the hallmarks of a distinct new ecosystem," Alex Rogers, a marine ecologist at Oxford University, said in a statement. "The Trapping Zone is creating an oasis of life in the Maldives and it is highly likely to exist in other oceanic islands and also on the slopes of continents."

The strange new ecosystem was discovered as part of the The Nekton Maldives Mission, which is sending submarines to around 3,300 feet (1,000 m) below the ocean surface near the Maldives’ 20 natural atolls to systematically survey and document their largely unexplored depths. Satho Rahaa is a roughly 15 nautical mile (28 kilometer) circumference seamount, an ancient extinct volcano which during its formation suddenly rose 4921 feet (1,500 m) from the ocean floor.

The predators that hunt the micronekton and each other during the vertical migration are schools of tuna, large deep-water fish such as the spiky oreo (Neocyttus rhomboidalis) and alfonsino (Beryx decadactylus) as well as sharks. By beaming the lights of their Omega Seamaster II submarine onto the thronging fish, the divers spotted tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), sixgill sharks (Hexanchus griseus), sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus), dog fish, gulper sharks (Centrophorus granulosus) , scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini), silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) and rarely seen bramble sharks (Echinorhinus brucus). The scientists captured footage of the ocean creatures, collected biological samples and scanned the region’s underwater topography with sonar.

“We’ve observed sharks in shallower waters quite extensively in the Maldives before, but for the first time we’ve been able to document an immense diversity of sharks in the deep sea,” Shafiya Naeem, director general of the Maldives Marine Research Institute, which partnered with The Nekton Maldives Mission for the expedition, said in a statement from the mission.


Bacteria could survive underground on Mars for hundreds of millions
of years, new study finds
By Stephanie Pappas

New research suggests that signs of ancient Martian life could be out there – or rather, hidden just beneath the Martian surface, safe from harmful radiation.

D. radiodurans (affectionately known as "Conan the Bacterium") is particularly well-suited to surviving Mars' harsh environment. (Image credit: Michael Daly/USU)

As Elton John once sang, "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids; in fact, it's cold as hell." But new research suggests that Martian chill could allow bacteria to survive for up to 280 million years below the planet's surface.

The finding raises hopes that traces of ancient life — or even viable organisms in suspended animation — could be found on the Red Planet someday.

In the study, scientists found that an Earth bacterium, Deinococcus radiodurans, is so resistant to radiation that it can handle the equivalent of 280 million years of the radiation present 33 feet (10 meters) below the Martian surface. The plucky little microorganism, which has been found thriving in nuclear reactors on Earth, could even last 1.5 million years on the Martian surface, which is constantly bombarded with cosmic and solar radiation.

The key to this survival is Mars' dry, cold environment. When desiccated and frozen to minus 110.2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 79 degrees Celsius) — the temperature of dry ice and the higher-latitude regions of Mars — D. radiodurans "become phenomenally, astronomically radiation-resistant," said study senior author Michael Daly, a geneticist and radiation biology expert at Uniformed Services University in Maryland.

Resisting radiation

D. radiodurans has long been known to be a champ at resisting radiation. It's found in the human gut and in many other places on Earth, and has even survived for years in the vacuum of space. The new research, however, is the first attempt to test the bacterium's upper limit of radiation resistance when it's in a desiccated state. Previously, scientists had found that the bacterium can withstand 25,000 grays of radiation when in a liquid culture, Daly told Live Science. For comparison, a dose of 5 gray would kill a human.

Daly and his colleagues dried and froze D. radiodurans and then bombarded the bacteria with both gamma radiation and proton radiation, mimicking cosmic radiation from deep space and solar radiation from the sun. They found that dried and frozen D. radiodurans could survive a mind-boggling 140,000 gray of radiation. That's equivalent to the dose from 1.5 million years on the Martian surface and 280 million years 33 feet beneath the surface, where the only radiation is from the radioactive decay within rocks and minerals.

The organisms survive irradiation in two ways, study co-author Brian Hoffman, a chemist at Northwestern University, told Live Science. First, they have multiple copies of their genomes, providing a backup for any bits damaged by radiation. Second, they accumulate large amounts of manganese antioxidants, which capture damaging molecules created by radiation. The capture of these molecules prevents damage to the proteins that do DNA repair for the organism.


See the face of an 18th century 'vampire' buried in Connecticut
By Jennifer Nalewicki last updated 27 days ago

Using DNA evidence, forensic scientists created a facial reconstruction of a
"vampire" who lived during the 18th century.

Using DNA extracted from a skull, a forensic artist created a facial reconstruction of
a man believed to be a vampire from the 18th century. (Image credit:
Parabon Nanolabs, Virginia Commonwealth University)

In the late 18th century, a man was buried in Griswold, Connecticut, with his femur bones arranged in a criss-cross manner — a placement indicating that locals thought he was a vampire. However, little else was known about him. More than 200 years later, DNA evidence is revealing what he may have looked like. (And yes, he was genetically human.)

After performing DNA analyses, forensic scientists from a Virginia-based DNA technology company named Parabon NanoLabs, and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL), a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces Medical Examiner System based in Delaware, concluded that at the time of death, the deceased male (known as JB55) was about 55 years old and suffered from tuberculosis. Using 3D facial reconstruction software, a forensic artist determined that JB55 likely had fair skin, brown or hazel eyes, brown or black hair and some freckles, according to a statement.

Based on the positioning of the legs and skull in the grave, researchers suspect that at some point the body was disinterred and reburied, a practice often associated with the belief that someone was a vampire. Historically, some people once thought that those who died of tuberculosis were actually vampires, according to the statement.

"The remains were found with the femur bones removed and crossed over the chest," Ellen Greytak, director of bioinformatics at Parabon NanoLabs and the technical lead for the organization’s Snapshot Advanced DNA Analysis division, told Live Science. "This way they wouldn't be able to walk around and attack the living."

To perform the analyses, forensic scientists began by extracting DNA from the man's skeletal remains. However, working with bones that were more than two centuries old proved challenging.

"The technology doesn't work well with bones, especially if those bones are historical," Greytak said. "When bones become old, they break down and fragment over time. Also, when remains have been sitting in the environment for hundreds of years, the DNA from the environment from things like bacteria and fungi also end up in the sample. We wanted to show that we could still extract DNA from difficult historical samples."


Ancient Romans Brushed Their Teeth with Urine


While today we flush our urine away without giving it a second thought, in ancient times it was considered a valuable commodity. Urine contains a wide array of important minerals and chemicals such as phosphorus and potassium. The Romans believed that urine – both human and animal - would make their teeth whiter and keep them from decaying, so they used it as a mouthwash and mixed it with pummis to make toothpaste. In fact, urine was so effective that it was used in toothpastes and mouthwashes up until the 1700s.

As far as the Romans were concerned, the best and therefore the most expensive urine on the market came from the country of Portugal. It was supposedly the strongest urine in the world and thus, the choice for whitening teeth. Though most people today would decline the option of a urine-based toothpaste, it actually worked!

Reconstruction drawing of the communal latrines at Housesteads Roman fort (Vercovicium) on Hadrian's Wall. This site is now in the care of English Heritage (2010).

When left out in an open vat, urine turns stale and produces ammonia, which is used in many household cleaners today. It is also the component responsible for whitening Roman teeth!

Due to the ammonia content, urine was also important for the textiles industry, which was a booming trade during the Roman Empire. Often urine was used to bleach wool or linen and tan leather. It was also used for doing the household laundry. In fact, urine was so popular in ancient Rome that a tax was imposed by the Roman emperors Nero and Vespasian. The vectigal urinae (‘urine tax’) was placed on the collection of urine at public urinals .


Cobra bites boy, boy bites it back (the boy was fine, the snake wasn’t)
By Harry Baker published 15 days ago

An 8-year-old boy recently killed a venomous cobra in India after recieving a venom-free "dry bite" from the snake and then biting back in retaliation.

A venomous snake has died after being bitten by a small boy. No, you didn't read that wrong.

In a bizarre reversal of nature, an 8-year-old boy in India killed a cobra after biting it in retaliation. The child bit back at the dangerous animal after receiving a rare venom-free "dry bite" from the serpent, according to reports.

The boy, identified in reports as Deepak, was playing outside near his house in Pandarpadh, a village in the Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh state, when he encountered an unknown species of venomous cobra ("cobra" can refer to any snake in the Elapidae family, most of which have hoods). After coiling its body around Deepak's hand, the cobra bit Deepak, which left the young boy "in great pain," The New Indian Express(opens in new tab) reported.

"As the reptile didn’t budge when I tried to shake it off, I bit it hard twice," Deepak told local media. "It all happened in a flash."

Deepak's family rushed him to the nearby hospital where he was treated with anti-venom, but doctors say the bite likely did not contain any venom, even though the snake was probably venomous.

Every year, around 5.4 million snakebites — from venomous and nonvenomous species — occur worldwide, according to a 2020 review published in the journal Toxins(opens in new tab). Approximately 2.7 million of these bites inject venom into the victim, which causes around 138,000 deaths.

It is hard to tell exactly how many snakebites from venomous species are dry bites, because victims can often misidentify which type of snake bit them; and because dry bites can still cause inflammation, which can be misdiagnosed as an envenoming, according to the study.

Experts believe that venomous snakes choose to use dry bites as a defensive mechanism to warn off larger animals that they have no intention of killing; this was probably the case when the cobra bit Deepak. Venom is energetically expensive to produce, so snakes will often choose not to use it unless they have to, according to the study.


Migratory birds in North America are shrinking as their wings get bigger.
Climate change is to blame.
By Jennifer Nalewicki published 25 days ago

As the planet warms due to climate change, North American migratory birds are shrinking.

Out of the 105 bird species studied, the tree swallow experienced the most drastic
decrease in size, shrinking by nearly 3%. (Image credit: Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Getty Images)

North American migratory birds are becoming smaller as the planet warms due to climate change, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) examined more than 30 years of data for adult male birds across 105 avian species that migrate through North America. They found that between 1989 and 2018 the birds' body masses declined by about 0.6% on average, according to an Oct. 27 study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution(opens in new tab).

The species that "experienced the greatest change over time" was the tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), said study lead author Casey Youngflesh(opens in new tab), a quantitative ecologist from UCLA and a presidential postdoctoral fellow in the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior (EEB) Program at Michigan State University. In this songbird, known for its striking iridescent blue feathers, body mass dropped by nearly 3%. Data used in this study came from the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship program (MAPS), part of the Institute for Bird Populations(opens in new tab), a California-based nonprofit that studies bird population decline and has 1,200 bird banding stations throughout North America.

So, what's causing birds to shrink, especially over such a relatively short time period? Scientists suspect that climate change is the most likely culprit, and birds are adapting accordingly.

"If you're a larger person and you're in a cold environment and let's say you have a very small friend, you will probably be able to withstand the cold a little bit better than a smaller person would," Youngflesh told Live Science. "This really comes down to surface area and volume. As a larger person, you'll be losing less heat than a smaller person. The same thing applies to birds."

In other words, smaller-bodied birds have a larger body-surface-area-to-volume ratio, so they need to expend less energy to keep cool. By comparison, birds with larger bodies are better equipped for conserving heat, according to the study.

Scientists also found that the size of a North American bird is largely dependent on where it resides — even for birds of the same species.

"We see that birds are getting smaller over time in response to temperature [change] and we're seeing the same thing over space," he said. "For example, a cardinal living in a really warm area of the United States is going to be generally smaller than a cardinal in a very cold climate, so there's a spatial effect [that's occurring]."

Conversely, while some bird species are decreasing in size, their wings aren't keeping pace, resulting in them having larger wings relative to their bodies. This is especially true for birds living at higher elevations.

"If you've ever spent time at [high] elevation, it's harder to breathe since there are literally fewer air particles, making the air thinner," Youngflesh said. For birds, thinner air at a higher elevation results in less lift. He pointed to helicopters as an example. “[There are] pilots who won't fly at very high altitudes because of this lack of reduced lift," he added.


Protective childbirth tattoos found on ancient Egyptian mummies
By Kristina Killgrove last updated 15 days ago

Some ancient Egyptian mothers got tattoos that were likely meant to protect them during childbirth and during the postpartum period, an analysis of their mummies reveals.

A tattoo on the left hip bone of a mummified Egyptian woman buried at Deir el-Medina. (Image credit: Anne Austin/University of Missouri-St. Louis)

Lower back tattoos may seem like an early 21st century fad popularized by low-rise-jeans clad celebrities, but new archaeological evidence from Egyptian mummies shows the practice is actually more than three millennia old.

At the New Kingdom site of Deir el-Medina (1550 B.C. to 1070 B.C.), researchers Anne Austin and Marie-Lys Arnette have discovered that tattoos on ancient flesh and tattooed figurines from the site are likely connected with the ancient Egyptian god Bes, who protected women and children, particularly during childbirth. They published their findings last month in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology(opens in new tab).

Deir el-Medina(opens in new tab) lies on the western bank of the Nile, across from the archaeological site of Luxor. Beginning in 1922, around the same time that King Tut's tomb was found, the site was excavated by a French team. Known in the New Kingdom period as Set-Ma'at ("Place of Truth"), this was a planned community, a large neighborhood with rectangular gridded streets and housing for the workers responsible for building tombs for the Egyptian rulers. While the men would leave for days at a time to work on the tombs, women and children lived in the village of Deir el-Medina. An important feature of the site is the so-called Great Pit, an ancient dump full of pay stubs, receipts and letters on papyrus that have helped archaeologists better understand the lives of the common people.

But nothing in the Great Pit mentions the practice of tattooing, so the discovery of at least six tattooed women at Deir el-Medina was surprising. "It can be rare and difficult to find evidence for tattoos because you need to find preserved and exposed skin," study lead author Anne Austin, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told Live Science in an email. "Since we would never unwrap mummified people, our only chances of finding tattoos are when looters have left skin exposed and it is still present for us to see millennia after a person died."

The new evidence that Austin discovered came from two tombs that she and her team examined in 2019. Human remains from one tomb included a left hip bone of a middle-aged woman. On the preserved skin, patterns of dark black coloration were visible, creating an image that, if symmetrical, would have run along the woman's lower back. Just to the left of the horizontal lines of the tattoo is a depiction of Bes and a bowl, imagery related to ritual purification during the weeks after childbirth.

The second tattoo comes from a middle-aged woman discovered in a nearby tomb. In this case, infrared photography revealed a tattoo that is difficult to see with the naked eye. A reconstruction drawing of this tattoo reveals a wedjat, or Eye of Horus, and a possible image of Bes wearing a feathered crown; both images suggest that this tattoo was related to protection and healing. And the zigzag line pattern may represent a marsh, which ancient medical texts associated with cooling waters used to relieve pain from menstruation or childbirth, according to Austin.

In addition, three clay figurines depicting women's bodies that were found at Deir el-Medina decades ago were reexamined by study co-author Marie-Lys Arnette(opens in new tab), an Egyptologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who suggested that they too show tattoos on the lower back and upper thighs that include depictions of Bes.

A reconstruction of a tattoo on the lower torso and legs of one of the mummified Egyptian women. (Image credit: Anne Austin/University of Missouri-St. Louis)

The researchers concluded in their paper that "when placed in context with New Kingdom artifacts and texts, these tattoos and representations of tattoos would have visually connected with imagery referencing women as sexual partners, pregnant, midwives, and mothers participating in the post-partum rituals used for protection of the mother and child."


Helmet-headed dinosaurs kickboxed like kangaroos, new study suggests
By Laura Geggel last updated 21 days ago

Pachycephalosaurs probably didn't butt heads at high speeds. Instead, they likely
kickboxed like kangaroos.

Here, we see an illustration of a Pachycephalosaurus, a plant-eating dinosaur that had a thick melon-like dome on its head. (Image credit: Roger Harris/Science Photo Library)

It's dinosaur lore that pachycephalosaurs — bipedal, Cretaceous beasts with massively thick, domed skulls — forcefully butted heads like bighorn sheep do today. But a new analysis suggests that this is far from the case; rather, pachycephalosaurs (pack-ee-SEH'-fa-low-sawrs) may have moved more like kangaroos, using their tail as a tripod that could prop them up as they launched powerful kicks at rivals.

Paleontologists found evidence of this kickboxing behavior by analyzing a well-preserved skeleton of Pachycephalosaurus, making a virtual 3D model of it and noting that parts of the dinosaur's anatomy resembled those of a kangaroo and moved in strikingly similar ways.

"The skeleton in our study supports that they used their tail as a prop like kangaroos do, but not that they ran at each other and bashed their heads together like bighorn sheep [do]," Cary Woodruff(opens in new tab), the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Frost Museum of Science in Miami who is spearheading the research, told Live Science.

The research was presented on Nov. 2 at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's annual conference in Toronto, and has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Pachycephalosaurs are the poster children for bizarre-looking dinosaurs. "They have this big bowling ball thing on top of their head," Woodruff said. "They have these really pointy, meat-eating-dinosaur-like teeth in the front of their mouth, but they ate plants. Everything about them is weird."

A western grey kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus) kickboxes while standing on its tail in John Forest National Park in Perth, Western Australia. (Image credit: Matt Deakin via Getty Images)

It was long thought that these Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago) weirdos ran at each other and bashed their melonheads together, possibly to compete for mates, food or territory. And while a few paleontologists have challenged this head-butting idea over the past two decades, it remains a popular concept.

Although many paleontologists have studied pachycephalosaur skulls, analysis on the rest of the body is scant because their skeletons rarely preserve well, Woodruff said. But, access to a well-preserved Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis specimen from the Hell Creek Formation of the American West meant that Woodruff could examine its spine, as well as other anatomical features that might offer clues about its behavior.

After using a laser scanner to make a virtual 3D model of P. wyomingensis, Woodruff focused on the dinosaur's odd back vertebrae, which had ruffled ends — almost as if someone had placed two ridged potato chips on both ends of each vertebra. These ruffles fit together perfectly, like a stack of potato chips would, Woodruff noted. Previously, paleontologists had suggested that these ruffled vertebrae helped with the head butting behavior, perhaps distributing forces from high-velocity head-butting impacts, Woodruff said.

But when Woodruff and colleagues examined the skeletons of other headbutting animals, including bighorn sheep, muskox and deer, none of them had ruffled vertebrae; however, kangaroos did.

The new study supports the hypothesis, first formulated in the 1970s, that pachycephalosaurs might have used their tail as a prop, like kangaroos do. That's because P. wyomingensis shares several anatomical features with kangaroos — not just on its vertebrae but also its pelvis and tail.

It's even possible that pachycephalosaurs engaged in kickboxing-like behavior. When kangaroos kickbox, they do so from a tripodal position, with the tail supporting some of their body weight. "To kickbox, a kangaroo has to first lean back on its tail, and once it's propped up, then it can kick out," Woodruff said.

While it's just a hypothesis, "the possibility exists that they [pachycephalosaurs] could have engaged in their own form of a kickboxing-like behavior," he said.


The Devils Hole pupfish is so inbred that it shouldn’t be alive
By Joanna Thompson published 20 days ago

New research reveals exactly how inbred the Devils Hole pupfish is.

Speak of the devil. (Image credit: Olin Feuerbacher/USFWS)

The Devils Hole pupfish is small, blue and incredibly endangered. It also may be the most inbred creature on Earth.

All 263 wild Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) live in one location: a 10-foot by 20-foot (3 by 6 meters) cavern in the middle of Devils Hole in Nevada, a detached part of Death Valley National Park, one of the hottest places in the world. Their cavern oasis, located just 50 or so feet (15 meters) below the desert floor, is at least 500 feet (152 m) deep (scientists have yet to find the bottom) and stays at a balmy 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) year-round. The species has lived there, isolated from all other pupfish, for at least 1,000 years, and possibly as long as 20,000 years, according to the National Park Foundation(opens in new tab).

That isolation has led to some very dramatic genetic consequences, scientists reported Nov. 2 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B(opens in new tab). They found that Devils Hole pupfish genomes are 58% identical, on average — "the equivalent of five to six generations of full sibling matings," said Christopher Martin(opens in new tab), an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley and senior author of the new study. That's enough to make the infamously inbred Habsburg dynasty look wildly diverse.

For the new study, the researchers sequenced the genomes of eight Devils Hole pupfish, as well as one preserved specimen from the 1980s. They found that the fish were missing some seemingly important genes. For example, they lacked a gene normally involved in producing sperm — one that causes infertility if knocked out in other species. "It's kind of surprising that they're even able to reproduce at all," Martin told Live Science.

The fish had also lost a gene that helps other types of pupfish survive in low-oxygen environments — a surprise, given that the warm, stagnant pool they call home is very deoxygenated. At the moment, it's unclear to what degree the absence of these genes is harming the pupfish's overall health.

"The genome is a complex place," Martin said. He and his team plan to study the fishes' genetics in greater detail to determine what, exactly, each of their genes is doing and how they're compensating for genomic losses.

The intense inbreeding observed in the fish is likely due to their geographic isolation, coupled with multiple population bottlenecks in recent years. In the past two decades alone, the population nearly crashed twice — dipping to 38 individuals in 2006 and as low as 35 in 2013, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This unique fish was one of the first species to be officially added to the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967, which was later folded into the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Since then, thanks to considerable conservation efforts — including the construction of a 100,000-gallon (379,000 liters) replica of Devils Hole that houses a separate captive-bred pupfish population — the species has survived, though it has not always thrived.

"They're still in a precarious situation," Martin said. "But the good news is that human interventions and accidents haven't really made the population worse than it was … I don't think they're doomed."


50,000-year-old DNA reveals the first-ever look at a Neanderthal family
By Kristina Killgrove published 18 days ago

A new genetic analysis of 50,000-year-old Neanderthal remains found in a
Siberian cave reveals that these humans traveled in small, family-oriented groups.

A Neanderthal daughter rides on her father's shoulders. Researchers found the remains of a father and his adolescent daughter alongside other Neanderthal bones in a cave in Siberia. (Image credit: Tom Bjorklund)

Nestled in a cave in the snowy Altai Mountains of Siberia, fragmented bones and teeth have revealed the first-ever glimpse of a Neanderthal family. More than 50,000 years ago, a group of adults and kids died while sheltering at their hunting camp, and the finding provides archaeologists and geneticists with the most complete set of Neanderthal genomes to date.

About 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Denisova Cave, which produced evidence of an extinct species of hominin called the Denisovans just over a decade ago, lies Chagyrskaya Cave, where in 2019 excavators found(opens in new tab) some 90,000 stone artifacts, bone tools, animal and plant remains, and 74 Neanderthal fossils. The organic remains of Chagyrskaya Cave, which was presumed to be a short-term bison hunting camp, were radiocarbon-dated to between 51,000 and 59,000 years old. Pollen and animal remains show that the climate was quite cold in the short time Neanderthals occupied Chagyrskaya.

A new analysis published Oct. 19 in the journal Nature(opens in new tab) delves further into the genetic makeup of the Neanderthals at Chagyrskaya and neighboring Okladnikov Cave. The study yielded an astounding 13 genomes, nearly doubling the number of complete Neanderthal genome sequences in existence. While previous work estimated the size of Neanderthal communities based on footprints and site-use patterns, the new genomic analysis directly tested the hypothesis that Neanderthals lived in biologically related groups of 20 or fewer individuals.

Genetic data from 11 Neanderthals found at Chagyrskaya Cave gave the researchers the first incontrovertible evidence of Neanderthal familial relationships, according to the paper. The DNA from two individuals — an adult male and an adolescent female — suggested a "first-degree relationship," meaning it was possible for them to be mother and son, brother and sister, or father and daughter.

But their nonmatching mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is generally passed on from mother to child, ruled out the first two pairings, leaving researchers face-to-face with a father and his teenage daughter. The father also shared mtDNA with two other males, who were likely close maternal relatives; "for example, they could have shared a grandmother," the authors suggested.

There is no evidence that these itinerant Neanderthals mingled with the nearby Denisovans, even though they were likely in the same place at the same time. The researchers wrote that, by their estimate, the Denisovans shared a common ancestor perhaps 30,000 years before the Chagyrskaya Neandertals lived and that the Chagyrskaya and Okladnikov individuals "all appear equally related to European Neanderthals and were part of the same Neanderthal population."


Climate 'points of no return' may be much closer than we thought
By Harry Baker published 27 days ago

The "tipping points" are also more numerous than researchers previously realized.

A new study has warned that irreversible climate "tipping points" are more numerous and
close to being triggered than previously thought. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Climate tipping points — the "points of no return" past which key components of Earth's climate will begin to irreversibly break down — could be triggered by much lower temperatures than scientists previously thought, with some tipping points potentially already reached. There are also many more potential tipping points than scientists previously identified, according to a new study.

In climatology, a tipping point is defined as a rise in global temperature past which a localized climate system, or "tipping element" — such as the Amazon rainforest or the Greenland ice sheet — starts to irreversibly decline. Once a tipping point has been reached, that tipping element will experience runaway effects that essentially doom it forever, even if global temperatures retreat below the tipping point.

The idea of climate tipping points first emerged in a 2008 paper published in the journal PNAS, when researchers identified nine key tipping elements that could reach such a threshold due to human-caused climate change. In the new study, which was published Sept. 9 in the journal Science, a team of researchers reassessed data from more than 200 papers on the subject of tipping points published since 2008. They found that there are now 16 major tipping points, almost all of which could reach the point of no return if global warming continues beyond 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels.

Earth has already warmed by more than 2 degrees F (1.1 C) above preindustrial levels and, if current warming trends continue, is on track to reach between 3.6 and 5.4 F (2 and 3 C) above preindustrial levels, the study authors said in a statement.

"This sets Earth on course to cross multiple dangerous tipping points that will be disastrous for people across the world," study co-author Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said in the statement.

When the researchers conducted their reassessment, they eliminated two of the original nine tipping points due to insufficient evidence — but then, they identified nine new ones that had been previously overlooked, bringing the toal to 16, they reported in the study.

"Since I first assessed climate tipping points in 2008, the list has grown and our assessment of the risk they pose has increased dramatically," co-author Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in the U.K. and lead author of the original 2008 tipping points paper, said in the statement.

In the new study, the researchers calculated the exact temperature at which each tipping element would be likely to pass its point of no return. Their analysis revealed that five tipping elements — the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets; Arctic permafrost; tropical coral reefs; and a key ocean current in the Labrador Sea — are in the "danger zone," meaning they are quickly approaching their tipping points.

Two of these danger zone tipping points, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, are already beyond their lowest potential tipping points of 1.4 F (0.8 C) and 1.8 F (1 C) above preindustrial times respectively, which suggests these two systems may already be beyond saving, researchers wrote.

The other 11 tipping points are listed as "likely" or "possible" if warming continues past 2.7 F.


Hi folks - well, that's it for this blog. Hope you found something of interest. I'll start looking for more unusual stories to provoke you with. Any comments about my blog please feel free to let me know if you like it.

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