A passion for the natural world drives many of our adventures. And when we’re not really outdoors, we like to dive into the discoveries of the places we live and travel. Here are some of the best natural history links we found this week.
Scientists use YouTube to study elephants: There are many stories of elephants mourning their dead, but very few scientific accounts exist. Studying their behavior is almost impossible. Asian elephants are elusive and getting to them during this behavior is unlikely. So the researchers turned to YouTube, based on the fact that millions of pairs of eyes may have witnessed this a few times, and recorded it.
Indeed, they found 24 videos where elephants were in mourning. The elephants stood over the bodies and touched them to investigate. They also reassured others with their heads and trunks. In some cases, mothers moved the bodies of their young.
The mourning suggests what we have long suspected, that elephants are very intelligent. The study “helps bridge that emotional gap between humans and other species,” said biologist Jack Tamisiea.
The great white shark dominated an old rival
The great white shark may have caused the extinction of the megalodon: Scientists have used a new method to study the diet of Otodus megalodon, an extinct species of mackerel shark. The megalodon lived between 23 and 3.6 million years ago. It is the largest known shark to ever exist, reaching up to 20m in length.
Competition for food probably drove the sharks to extinction. The researchers compared the zinc isotopic composition of the teeth of megalodon and the modern great white shark. It showed that their diets had a surprising overlap. Both hunted the same prey, supporting the theory that the great white’s superior adaptability drove the megalodon to extinction.
Singing lava lakes predict eruptions: Lava began to build up in a crater on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano in 2007. More than a decade later, the volcano erupted. The researchers found they could predict when the volcano would erupt again by listening to the vibrations produced by these lava lakes.
A rock falling from the crater rim into the lava produces a seismic wave. The height and the length of the wave store information about the state of the magma. The duration of seismic waves is related to the temperature of the magma and indicates the gas content of the bubbles in the magma. This, in turn, may indicate the next eruption of the volcano.
The Surprising Reason For A Giraffe’s Long Neck
Giraffes have developed long necks to compete for mates: We have long believed that giraffes developed long necks to feed on plants inaccessible to other animals. But new research suggests they may have actually evolved their mega-necks to compete for mates.
A 17 million year old fossil of an ancient relative of giraffes has a complex series of joints between the head and spine and a hard ossicone on the head. These two structures made the animal very adept at high-speed headbutts.
Giraffes today also compete for mates by headbutting and have hard horn-like ossicones on their heads. Their long necks allow them to put more force into their butts with whipping action. People with longer necks are more likely to win fights and mates. This suggests that being able to eat hard-to-reach plants was only a marginal advantage of their competition for mates.
A factory bigger than Manhattan
The largest plant in the world discovered in Australia: The largest known plant on Earth grows off the coast of Australia. The seagrass covers an area of 200 km², three times the size of Manhattan.
Researchers were analyzing samples from the Shark Bay seagrass prairie to learn more about the genetic diversity of the grass and the number of plants that made up the prairie. “The answer blew us away – there was only one!” said marine biologist Jane Edgeloe. The entire seagrass has grown from a single seed over 4,500 years.
The ancient city reappears after the drought: Kemune is a Bronze Age city located in a reservoir on the Tigris River in northern Iraq. The 3,400-year-old city emerged from the water during a drought in 2010, but archaeologists couldn’t dig anything before a drought in 2018.
Now they had a second opportunity to study the site. A severe drought in early 2022 forced Iraq to use water from the reservoir to irrigate crops. During this period of low water, archaeologists discovered more than 100 clay tablets from the Assyrian period. They also covered sections of the site with plastic sheeting to help protect buildings as the water began to rise again.
The city is again completely submerged. “It is completely unpredictable when the site will reappear. It could emerge as early as this summer or as late as a few years from now,” said archaeologist Ivana Puljiz.