You might have missed: Fossil “echidnapus”; bigger is better for proboscis monkeys; Alaska’s rivers turn orange, and more

Opalised fossil of “echidnapus” discovered

Australian scientists have described 3 new genera of fossil monotremes from opalised jaws dating back to the Cenomanian Age of the Cretaceous Period, between 100 million to 96.6 million years ago.

Chief Scientist and Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI) Kris Helgen says one of the most striking of the new monotremes, Opalios splendens, shares characteristics of both echidnas and platypus.

“It’s the first evidence we’ve seen of an ‘echidnapus’ – a species which looks like it could have been ancestral to all of the living monotremes,” says Helgen.

The other genera include Dharragarra aurora, a platypus species with molars, and an additional species named Parvopalus clytiei.

The fossils were found in the Lightning Ridge opal field in New South Wales by Elizabeth Smith of the Australian Opal Centre in Lightning Ridge.

Bigger is better for the proboscis monkey

Male proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus) endemic to the island of Borneo are best known for their large, droopy noses (the largest of any primate!). Females of the same species sport a much smaller schnoz.

Now, researchers from the Australian National University have used 3D scans of proboscis monkeys’ skulls to explain why.

Photograph of a monkey with a long, bulbous nose screaming.
Male proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus). Credit: Cn0ra/Getty Images

They found that males have bigger, differently shaped nasal cavities compared to females. This unique nasal anatomy allows them to emit louder and deeper calls such as “honks and nasal roars”.

“Proboscis monkeys live in coastal mangroves and forested environments and often can’t see each other through the trees. So loud, nasalised calls are important to communicate with each other,” says biological anthropologist Katharine Balolia, lead author of the new paper in Scientific Reports.

“Being able to emit louder and deeper calls thanks to a longer and larger nasal cavity helps male monkeys to assert their health and dominance. This helps the male monkeys attract females and ward off other males.”

Alaska’s rivers and streams are turning orange

Dozens of Alaska’s most remote streams and rivers are turning cloudy orange and satellite images show stained waters as far back as 2008, according to new research in the Nature journal Communications: Earth and Environment.

The staining could be the result of thawing permafrost. Metal ores that were once locked up become exposed to water and oxygen, resulting in the release of acid and metals.

The researchers found some water samples had a pH of 2.3, compared to the average pH of 8 for these rivers. Elevated levels of iron, zinc, nickel, copper and cadmium were also measured.

An aerial photograph of rivers, one is a clear blue colour and the other a milky orange colour
An aerial view of the rust-colored Kutuk River in Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska. Credit: Ken Hill / National Park Service

“There’s a lot of implications,” says lead author Jon O’Donnell, an ecologist for the US National Park Service’s Arctic Inventory and Monitoring Network.

“As the climate continues to warm, we would expect permafrost to continue to thaw and so wherever there are these types of minerals, there’s potential for streams to be turning orange and becoming degraded in terms of water quality.”

Culinary traditions of prehistoric Central Europe

A new study has analysed fat residues trapped in 124 pottery vessels from central Germany dating back to between the Early Neolithic and the Late Bronze Age, 7,500 to 3,500 years ago.

The analysis reveals a variety of changes in the use of pottery and food preparation during this period.

“Although livestock populations, dominated mainly by cows and to a lesser extent by goats, sheep and pigs, remained stable over time, the consumption of animal products changed substantially during the period we studied,” says Adrià Breu, a researcher in the Department of Prehistory at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain, and first author of the article.

Left is a photograph of a skeleton and broken vase in the ground. Right is a clos-up photograph of the broken vase.
Tomb of an adult male (30-50 years old) from the Corded Ware Culture (dating back 4,500 years). The large decorated amphorae forming part of the grave goods usually contained pig-derived fats. Credit: © State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt.

For example, the first signs of a generalised consumption of dairy products occurred in the Middle Neolithic period about 5,500 years ago. But by the end of the Neolithic 4,500 years ago, culinary preferences had shifted towards pig.

At the beginning of the Bronze Age, 4,000 years ago, food was characterised by a greater variety of animal and plant products.

The research is published in PLOS One.

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