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"Horse Dragon," Colossus Dinosaurs Found in Utah

A shield-toothed horse-dragon may sound like a mythical creature, but the newly described dinosaur once roamed the U.S. West, a new study says.

The 125-million-year-old herbivore Hippodraco scutodens—whose partial skull and skeleton were unearthed in 2004 in eastern Utah—has a long, low skull like a horse's and a mouth filled with shield-shaped teeth.

Hippo and draco are Latin for "horse" and "dragon," respectively, while scutum means "oblong shield" and dens means "tooth."

Also revealed recently, fossils of another newly described species from the same time period, Iguanacolossus fortis, were found in 2005 not far from Hippodraco. (Take a dinosaur quiz.)

That "ponderous beast" is named for its relatively large size—about 30 feet (9 meters) long, compared with Hippodraco's 15 feet (4.5 meters), according to the study.

Iguanacolossus's teeth resemble those of Iguanodon, a related, 33-foot (10-meter) North American herbivore that likely lived a few million years before Hippodraco.

(Related: "'Amazing' Dinosaur Trove Discovered in Utah.")

Both of the newfound dinosaurs are iguanodonts, an "extremely successful" group of plant-eaters that expanded worldwide during the early Cretaceous period, the study team wrote. (See pictures of other Cretaceous creatures.)

Despite their abundance, North American iguanodonts from this period are rare in the fossil record—except in one Utah rock formation, which spans about 40 million years and contains fossils of many types of creatures, according to study leader Andrew McDonald, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.

"They're part of this really interesting window into the early Cretaceous that's been emerging in western North America during the past two decades," McDonald said.

"They're filling in another chapter of what will eventually be a complete and intricate story."

Iguanodonts: Cows of the Cretaceous

Already the new species are causing some shifts in the iguanodont family tree, McDonald said.

His team discovered that North American iguanodonts are less closely related to duck-billed dinosaurs—the most evolutionarily advanced members of this dinosaur group—than some European and Asian iguanodonts.

(See "Giant Duck-Billed Dino Unearthed in Utah.")

Hippodraco, for example, has more primitive skull bones than its kin in Europe and Asia, suggesting that these continents were "centers of evolution for iguanodonts in the early Cretaceous," he said.

Even so, any visible differences between living iguanodont species would have been subtle, noted Catherine Forster, a paleontologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

That's because, regardless of their locations, the creatures all looked pretty much the same—an unusual trait in the dinosaur world, said Forster, who was not involved in the research.

"I don't know of another dinosaur group where you see such morphological closeness."

Likewise, the research may begin to explore how the adaptable animals were able to spread so far and so fast.

"A friend of mine once likened them to the bovines of the Cretaceous," Forster said. "They're big, they're everywhere, and they're food for the theropods"—two-legged predators such as Tyrannosaurus rex.

"I think they're fascinating."




Christine Dell'Amore


National Geographic News


How Charcoal Demand Threatens Haiti's Rare Frogs

In Haiti, some 10 million people depend on charcoal for their main source of cooking fuel. The demand for charcoal is so great that teams of tree cutters fell acre after acre of Haiti's tropical forest. They convert the wood they gather to charcoal which is sold for profit in cities such as Port au Prince. This clear-cutting practice is so widespread that today just one percent of Haiti's original forest remains intact. Such vast deforestation has devastated the wildlife of Haiti.

Of particular concern are Haiti's frog species. The forests of Haiti provide habitat for 50 species of frogs and 46 of those species are threatened. Since 30 of Haiti's frog species live nowhere else in the world, they will disappear from Haiti if their habitat is destroyed.

Now, a group of scientists and conservation organizations is working to ensure a brighter future for Haiti's rarest frogs. Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at Penn State, is working with the Philadelphia Zoo to set up a captive breeding program for rare Haitian frogs. With funding provided by the National Science Foundation, Hedges has led several rescue missions to Haiti to search for and bring back rare frogs for breeding. So far, Hedges and his colleagues have collected ten critically endangered frog species from the wild. One of the species has already produced hatchlings at the zoo. This year, Hedges has discovered five new frog species during his expeditions.

Haiti has suffered many environmental and human disasters. Most recently, the country was struck by a devastating earthquake and the country is now battling a cholera outbreak. In the midst of these human struggles, the natural environment of Haiti is also being pushed to the brink of collapse. Without the immediate action by international conservation organizations and government agencies, Haiti is mass extinctions.

Source: About.com


Elephant Listening Project’s Katy Payne Coming To St. Johnsbury

For 20 years Katy Payne has been listening to sounds most humans will never hear. The sounds are the ultra-low rumblings of elephants that carry messages over great distances, and inspired what's come to be known as the Elephant Listening Project. Katy Payne will be speaking about the project and
her new book this weekend at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury. The Elephant Listening Project is part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where Katie Payne now works, and that's where we got in touch with her recently. Katy Payne says the Elephant Listening Project was born quite un-intentionally during a visit she made to see elephants at the zoo. Payne speaks with VPR's Mitch Wertlieb.

Learn more about elephants, visit our discovery section

Source : Vermont Public Radio



Gorillas play competitive games just like humans, according to scientists at the University of St Andrews. The gorillas at San Francisco Zoo were observed over a period of five years playing with a variety of equipment. The study found that gorillas like to keep games going and even give younger apes a fair chance to play. The psychologists said the research would help trace the evolutionary origins of how humans understand each other. Dr Joanne Tanner and Professor Richard Byrne watched gorillas play games to learn more about how apes are able to take account of each other's aims and abilities.[...] The players were also considerate of other's abilities. An older and more skilled
gorilla seeming to realise that if it used all of its potential, the younger one wouldn't be able to compete, so the older gorilla would slow down the pace.

Learn more about gorillas, visit our discovery section

Source : BBC

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