Archive for March, 2014

New Species of Extant Tapir Found in Brazil

March 28, 2014

A paper published a few months ago in the Journal of Mammalogy announced the discovery of a new species of tapir.  This seems  more like a case of scientific oversight than a discovery.  The local Indians were well aware of the existence of this species and often hunt it for food.  President Teddy Roosevelt bagged one and sent it to the American Museum of Natural History in 1914, but the scientists who examined the specimen wrongly assumed it was a small subspecies of the better known Brazilian lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris).  However, some South American mammalogists looked at specimens provided by Indians and determined the Kabomani tapir (Tapirus kabomani) was a unique species previously unnamed by science.  They used a combination of cladistics (comparative anatomy) and genetics to support their conclusion.

Camera trap caught these Kabomani tapirs kissing.  There are none in captivity and like all other living species of tapir, they are endangered.  The scientific name kabomani is from the local Indian name for the region where they live.

The Kabomani tapir differs from the Brazilian lowland tapir–it has darker hair, a broader forehead, and a smaller overall size.  They reach weights of 240 pounds or roughly half the size of a lowland tapir.  The geographical range of the 2 species overlaps, perhaps explaining the long delay before scientists recognized the difference.  The Kabomani tapir lives in 3 states in Brazil and 1 in Colombia.  They probably live in French Guiana as well because the natives report their presence there.

The Kabomani tapir is thought to be a forest edge species absent from open environments and deep, close-canopied forests.  They eat the leaves and fruits of 3 species of palm, but little else is known about their natural history.

There are now 5 species of tapirs still extant in the world, and all of them are endangered.  They are an heavily hunted animal is areas where they still range.  During the late Pleistocene, the Vero tapir (Tapirus veroensis) ranged all across eastern North America south of the Ice Sheet.  (See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/the-extinct-vero-tapir-tapirus-veroensis/).  Fossils of this extinct large species of tapir have been found as far north as Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Missouri.  Tapir fossils have been excavated from north and south Georgia, and in an Alabama cave, tapir fossils were found in association with caribou and long-nosed peccary.  The Vero tapir was capable of surviving in temperate climates.  Tapirs are known to be important seed dispersers, carrying viable seeds for miles before depositing them in their dung.  The tapir’s absence from North America for the last 10,000 years has undoubtedly impoverished the ecosystem here.

Reference:

Cozzuol, Mario; et. al.

“A New Species of Tapir from the Amazon”

Journal of Mammalogy 94 (6) Dec 2013

Logical Flaws in the Study “Northeastern North American Pleistocene Megafauna Chronologically Overlapped Minimally with Paleoindians”

March 25, 2014

Mark Twain popularized the old adage, “there are lies, damned lies, and  statistics.”  Statistics can be used to show just about anything.  David Stockman headed Ronald Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget in the early 1980’s.  He dazzled the media with statistics he used to show the virtues of Reaganonomics.  Today, Mr. Stockman admits it was all a  conjob.  I’m not claiming the recent study entitled “Northeastern North American Pleistocene Megafauna Chronologically Overlapped Minimally with Paleoindians,” an article published in the February Volume of Quaternary Science Reviews, uses statistics in as dishonest a manner, but I do believe the results and conclusions should be viewed with suspicion.

Matthew Boulanger and R. Lee Lyman, anthropologists from the University of Missouri, compiled a list of radio-carbon dated Paleoindian sites from New York, Pennsylvania, New England, and parts of eastern Canada.  They also compiled a list of radio-carbon dated late Pleistocene megafaunal remains from this same region.  They used a statistical method of analysis known as Summed Probability Distribution to compare the overlap in time between the 2 lists of sites.  They determined Paleoindians overlapped only minimally with megafauna in this region.  They concluded that megafauna populations were already in decline before man colonized this area of the continent, and therefore suggest man may have played a role in hunting the last surviving remnants of the megafaunal populations here, but environmental change was the greater factor in their demise.  I became interested in this study because I favor a protracted overkill scenario as the only explanation that makes sense for the North American megafaunal extinctions, and this paper supports environmental change instead as a greater factor in  the extirpation of various megafauna in this particular region. I’ve read and reread this paper and believe there are several logical flaws in the interpetation of the results of this study.

The authors of this study admit “the youngest dated extinct animal and the oldest dated (anthropogenic)  artifact do not represent the last living individual (animal) or the first (human) colonizer.”  This means the theoretical statistical overlap between man and megafauna understates the real world overlap.  Shawnee-Minisk is the oldest dated Paleoindian site in this region at 12,800 calender years BP, while the youngest mastodon specimen is dated to 12,700 BP, supporting this paper’s claim that there was minimal overlap.  However, it seems reasonable to assume that humans not yet detected in the archaeological record colonized this region at least 150 years before Shawnee-Minisk, and it also seems reasonable to assume the actual last mastodon died at least 150 years after the youngest dated specimen known from the paleontological record.  Based on these reasonable assumptions, the actual time of overlap between humans and megafauna would be 400 years–plenty of time for humans to have had a major impact on megafauna populations.  At the very least, these reasonable assumptions invalidate the title of this paper.  Actually, I think adding 150 years to both sides of this spectrum is a conservative assumption and the real overlap is probably much longer.

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This is a surprisingly not too sloppy facsimile of a graph from the paper discussed here.  It neatly sums up the data.  The graph is known as a Summed Probability Distribution Curve.  Click to enlarge.  Blame my poor artistic ability, if it’s not an 100% exact copy.

Figure 4 in the above image illustrates the results of the study.  The graph shows a perfect correlation between a sudden decline in megafauna specimens with the rise of human archeological sites.  The authors of thes study acknowledge the data could be used to support an overkill scenario.  Instead, they have a bizarre interpetation of these results.  They reject the possibility of overkill as the primary cause of the decline because the spike in megafauna specimens just prior to human entrance represents an increase in megafauna death rates from environmental stress, and there’s no evidence of humans exploiting megafauna in the region, so they must not have been an important factor in their extirpation here.  Both of these objections are highly illogical, especially the first one as I shall explain below.

The paleontological record can’t be used to establish the rates of deaths within a population, unless a catastrophe such as a flood or volcanic eruption is involved, and this is not the case in this region.  There is no way of determining there was an increase in deaths within a population because every member of that population eventually did die.  The spike in megafaunal remains found that date to between 13,800 BP and 12,700 BP should be interpeted as an increase in the total megafaunal populations during that time period.  Or a factor, such as higher water levels making it more likely the animals became covered in sediment, increased the odds of preservation. That it was interpeted as being an increase in the death rates due to environmental stress is illogical to the point of being ridiculous, and it’s amazing that none of the dozen or so editors who reviewed this article didn’t point out this logical fallacy.

The author’s second objection is also illogical but widely shared by archaeologists who study this era.  For decades many archaeologists have rejected overkill as a reason for megafaunal extinction because they don’t see enough evidence of human-killed and/or butchered megafaunal remains.  This is an unreasonable expectation.  Not a single skeletal specimen of a paleoindian has ever been discovered in northeastern North America.  Why do archaeologists expect to find remains of the animals they killed?  In fact, only 140 mastodon specimens have ever been found in the state of New York.  The mastodon specimens found in New York date from between 32,000 BP-30,000 BP and from about 14,000 BP-12,000 BP.  In between these 2 time periods most of New York was covered by glacial ice and was not suitable for mastodon inhabitation.  To show just how low the odds are that an archaeologist would find evidence of a human-killed mastodon, let’s estimate the total population of mastodons that lived in what’s now the state of New York in the 4,000 year time frame mentioned above. New York is 49,000 square miles but only about 1/3rd of that was suitable for mastodons which preferred wetlands.  The population of mastodons was not spread evenly throughout the state, and they lived in herds, but we can safely assume an average of about 1 mastodon per 50 square miles.  Based on an estimate of a total suitable habitat of 16,000 square miles this equals an average population of 320 mastodons living in the area of New York at any given time.  The average lifespan of a mastodon was probably about 40 years.  In a 4000 year period this equals 100 generations X 320 = 32,000 total mastodons.  This means the 140 mastodon specimens found in New York represents less than 1% of the total population that ever lived during this 4000 year period.  But the odds of finding  human modified mastodon remains are even less than that because most of the mastodons that ever lived did not die at the hands of man.

The author’s claim that megafauna were under environmental stress between 15,000 BP-12,900 BP is not well supported by the scientific literature.  They cite a study of sporomiella abundance (Robinson 2005) as evidence that megafauna populations declined well before the archaeological evidence demonstrates humans were in the region then.  (Sporormiella are dung fungus spores used as a proxy to estimate megafauna populations.)  However, the authors of sporomiella studies suggest their evidence supports protracted overkill as a cause of extinction because there’s little evidence of a change in plant communities at the time of megafaunal population collapse.  Matthew Boulanger insists humans can’t be responsible for this decline because there’s no archaeological evidence they were in the region then.  But the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  I think Boulanger’s and Lyman’s study presents data that supports an intriguing possibility–a transient human population was attracted to the American northeast by the abundant herds of megafauna that occurred here early during the Boling-Olerod interstadial (15,000 BP-14,000 BP), but these early colonists left the region without leaving much evidence they were here after they reduced large mammal populations.  Megafaunal populations rebounded between 13,800 BP-12,700 BP (as shown in Figure 4) enough to once again attract humans to the region, and this time they stayed long enough to leave archaeological evidence.

Another study cited by Boullard’s and Lyman’s paper to support their opinion that megafauna were suffering nutritional stress during the Boling-Olerod is (Yansa and Adams 2012), a very biased review of scientific literature of mammoths and mastodons that lived in the Great Lakes region during the late Pleistocene.  (Note: I’m not claiming Yansa and Adams are wrong because they are biased.  I freely admit to being biased in favor of protracted overkill.)  Yansa and Adams believe environmental change caused the extinction of mammoths and mastodons in the midwest, but the only studies they cite that actually analyzed stress in proboscidean populations in this region were conducted by Dan Fisher, and he favors overkill over climate change.  The Boling-Olerud was a warm wet interstadial that allowed a greater variety of plant foods to grow in the northeast.  Megafaunal populations should have been on the increase, bolstered by an improvement in nutrition.  Nutritional stress is the opposite from what one would expect to see, and there is little evidence for it.  A decrease in body size and earlier maturation can be attributed to stress from being overhunted.

Climate graph of the past 150,000 years.  The Pleistocene megafauna survived many drastic changes in climate including spikes of global warming.  There are very few known large mammal extinctions that occurred during the transition from the Illinois Ice age to the Eemian (or Sangamonian) or during the many interstadials that occurred during the Wisconsinian Ice Age.  It doesn’t seem likely that the global warming of the Boling Olerud which is so brief it doesn’t even show up on this graph could have caused the extinctions.

I also think Boullard and Lyman error by lumping all of the megafauna together.  The youngest dated megafaunal specimen in their data is from a giant beaver (Casteroides ohioensis) that is at least 800 years younger than Shawnee-Minisk.  That is more than a minimal overlap for this species and invalidates the title of their paper.  They dismiss this specimen because the majority of megafaunal specimens are older than most of the paleoindian sites.  Even if what they claim is true for mastodon, mammoth, stag-moose, and flat-headed peccary, they know it’s not true for giant beaver and they should have considered an alternate title for their paper.

The various species of megafauna had different environmental preferences.  Mastodons and stag-moose should have been on the increase between 15,000 BP-12,900 BP because wetland habitat expanded, and these 2 species preferred mesic environments.  Flat-headed peccaries and helmeted musk-oxen were well adapted to the arid conditions that occurred during the Younger Dryas (12,900 BP-11,000 BP).  Yet both xeric-loving  and mesic-loving species became extinct.  There is no known environmental explanation for the extinction of animals that had such widely disparate habitat preferences.  The entrance of man into the region is the only explanation that makes sense.

Reference:

Boulanger, Matthew; and R. Lee Lyman

“Northeastern North American Megafauna Chronologically Overlapped Minimally with Paleoindians”

Quaternary Science Reviews February 2014

Night Sounds of the Pleistocene

March 21, 2014

Sometimes before I fall asleep, I imagine what summer nights sounded like during the Pleistocene.  I imagine I’m secure in an adobe brick home located in what today is Elbert County, Georgia but 36,000 years ago before there were any  manmade sounds in this part of the world. I’d leave the window open and probably have a difficult time falling asleep because of all the nocturnal activities occurring in the wilderness outside.  I’d almost certainly hear the constant calls of the chuck-wills-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis).  This bird along with whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferus) and common nighthawks (Chordeilis minor) make up America’s contribution to the nightjar family.  These ground nesting birds were likely very common during most of the Pleistocene, thanks to the abundance of large predators such as wolves and big cats.  The larger carnivores reduced populations of smaller predators that might prey on eggs and nestlings.  Without the presence of larger carnivores, the populations of raccoons, foxes, skunks, and possums become abundant.  Nevertheless, chuck-wills-widows have their own fascinating defense mechanisms.  When disturbed they can move their eggs to a new location by carrying them in their mouths.  They are also capable of moving nestlings by carrying them between their legs.

A mouth big enough to swallow sparrows whole!

A Chuck-Wills-Widow’s mouth.  They mostly catch flying insects such as beetles and moths in their huge mouths but occasionally they swallow bats, hummingbirds, wrens, warblers, and sparrows; even actively pursuing these smaller birds.

In ranges where the 3 species of nightjars overlap, they partition habitat.  Chuck-wills-widows prefer low woods but hunt in small openings; Whip-poor-wills live in upland woods but hunt in fields or pastures; and common nighthawks live and hunt in open spaces.

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/chuck-wills-widow/sounds

Link to the call of a chuck-wills-widow.

I’d also be sure to hear owls, perhaps even the unknown extinct species only known from 2 ankles and 3 lower bills found at the Kingston Saltpeter Cave and Ladds fossil sites (See:https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/the-unknown-owl-of-pleistocene-georgia/)

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/barred_owl/sounds

Link to barred owl calls.

I’d probably hear at least 1 species of large cat roar or perhaps a cougar scream.  Maybe I’d discover what a saber-tooth cat vocalization sounded like.

http://www.soundboard.com/sb/Jaguar_audio_Sounds

Link to a jaguar roar.

Of course, I’d probably hear dire wolves howling.  They probably sounded just like timber wolves but who knows?

http://www.soundboard.com/sb/Wolves_audio_clips

Link to wolf howls.

I might hear a herd of proboscideans trumpeting.  The Asian elephant is the closest living relative of the extinct Columbian mammoth.  Click on the link below and listen to the recording of the Asian elephant–that might be what a mammoth sounded like. .

 http://www.soundboard.com/sb/Elephant_Audio_Sounds

After about an hour of listening to those sounds, I’d probably need to shut the window, so I could fall asleep in relative silence.

McCullough Millpond, Burke County, Georgia

March 17, 2014

I planned to visit Big Dukes Pond in Jenkins County, Georgia, but after 3 days of rain, the access road to this Carolina Bay was impassably muddy.  Carolina Bays are interesting geological formations created by a combination of peat fires and wind and water erosion.  Carolina Bay formation was especially prevalent during the last Ice Age (See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/blood-residue-found-on-flamingo-bay-south-carolina-artifacts/)  As a consolation, I visited McCullough Mill Pond in Burke County where I’d spotted a few wood storks while I drove to Big Dukes Pond.  This body of water is near the Burke County/Jenkins County line and is not far away from Big Dukes Pond.  Both host the same species of birds.

Map of Georgia highlighting Burke County

Location of Burke County

Map of McCollough Mill Pond

I can’t find any information on the history of McCollough Mill Pond, a property of Burke County.  It’s a manmade body of water formed by the damming of a creek that flows into the Ogeechee River.  The stream doesn’t seem to be rapid enough to have ever been involved in the operation of a grist mill, but I must be wrong.

Wood storks are federally endangered.  They used to be common in Florida, but most of the larger colonies have been forced to move to Georgia and South Carolina due to suburban development.  Two major nesting colonies occur within a 40 minute drive from my house–Big Dukes Pond and the Silver Bluff Audubon Center in Jackson, South Carolina.

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Photo I took of the wood storks (Mycteria americana) at McCollough Mill Pond.  Click to enlarge. They are in the center way back.

Fort DeSoto County Park, Pinellas County, Florida, USA - Nov 15, 2006 © William Hull

I found this much better photo of wood storks on google images.

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Cypress trees, willows, and red maples grow in and around McCollough Mill Pond.

Wood storks require large areas of shallow water where they can use their big ugly bills to forage for small fish, tadpoles, frogs, and crayfish.  Mark Catesby, an early 18th century naturalist, saw wood storks foraging on open pine savannahs after heavy rains caused flooding in this type of environment.  Vast agricultural fields have replaced much of this habitat.  Farmers dig drainage ditches, so their fields of cotton, peanuts, and corn will drain in time for spring planting.  This is not good for wood storks, though crayfish and amphibians can still survive in the deeper ditches.

I always see many birds when I drive through Jenkins County.  In fact, the name of the road on the south side of Big Dukes Pond is “Birdsville Road.”  Last summer, I even saw a rare swallow tailed kite flying high in the sky in this county.  On this occasion I counted 18 species between Big Dukes Pond and McCollough Mill Pond including wood storks, great blue heron, common egrets, turkey vulture, black vultures, a kestrel, broad-winged hawk, red-shouldered hawk, eastern kingbird, mockingbird, cardinal, crow, mourning dove, robins, and at least 3 small species that wouldn’t stay still long enough to allow me to identify them.  The agricultural fields that form the most common type of environment in this area are ideal hunting grounds for hawks.  The leftover grain attracts rodents, but the open grounds don’t afford much cover.  Still, it’s a poor substitute for the original stands of longleaf pine savannah and extensive wetland sand cypress swamps.

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The pond on the other side of Highway 56.

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I think the small tree in the foreground is some type of bay tree, a characteristic species of Carolina Bays.

Bay trees, the characteristic tree of Carolina Bays are in big trouble.   The invasive ambrosia beetle (Xleborus glabratus) is killing these trees wherever this insect spreads.  It’s probably only a matter of time before it reaches this area.

Looking at Images of Naked Women Naturally Increases Men’s Testosterone Level

March 14, 2014

Warning.   If you are under the age of 18, stop reading or you might go blind and insane.  There are images of naked women on this post.

The subject matter of my blog is often humbling.  Many of the species of animals and even of plants discussed here have been extinct for thousands or millions of years.  I have covered environmental changes that occurred long ago, long before I was born, and long after I’m gone, the earth will experience many more changes.  Time is as vast as space, and it always marches forward.  There is nothing we can do to stop the passage of time.  Compared to the vastness of space and time, all of humanity is of a temporary insignificance for one day, humans will be extinct as well.  Everyone we know and love will age and die, and if we are fortunate enough to leave descendents, they will also age and die.  Eventually, even the sun will lose power, and Homo sapiens will certainly become extinct when this happens.  More probably, Homo sapiens will become extinct long before this real end-of-days apocalypse.

Though no one has ever been able to stop time and the process of aging, there are certain actions we can take to prolong our existence on earth.  As individuals, we can exercise vigorously, eat right, and avoid risky behaviors.  Studies also show that men who maintain active sex lives live longer.  However, sexual performance can become difficult because as men age, their testosterone levels decrease, resulting in a lower  libido.  The medical/pharmaceutical complex refers to this as “low T,” and they use this term to sell products that raise testosterone levels.  Drugs, such as Viagra, are also marketed to help older men get boners.  All this pharmaceutical crap is an unnecessary scam.  Instead, all an average  man has to do to raise his testosterone level is look at images of naked women.  Studies show that male monkeys who viewed images of sexually active female monkeys enjoyed a 400% spike in their testosterone levels.

Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta).  A scientific study found that looking at images of sexually active female macaques raised monkey testosterone levels by 400%, proving that looking at porn is a good, healthy, and cheap way of raising human male testosterone levels.  All it requires is an internet connection.  Free material is abundant.

Porn is beneficial to society, but there are many negative myths about it.  According to David Ley, a clinical psychologist from New Mexico, there is no such thing as a “porn addiction.”  The concept of a “porn addiction”  is not supported by the scientific evidence.  It’s not even listed as a disorder in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual–a textbook used by psychologists to diagnose patients.  This is surprising because the DSM lists all sorts of invented syndromes that crooked psychotherapists use as an excuse to bilk money from chumps.  Dr. Ley claims porn improves attitudes toward sex, increases the quality of sex, and increases the pleasure of long term relationships.  The increased availability of porn is correlated with lower rates of sexual assaults.  Dr. Ley notes that most men seeking treatment for “porn addiction” are homosexuals or religious men whose values conflict with their habit of viewing porn.  There is no scientific evidence that viewing porn causes a “rewiring” of the brain, and there are no published scientific papers linking porn with impotence.

A crooked cottage industry has been born to treat the fictional disorder of “porn addiction.”  Some institutes charge $37,000 to “cure” men allegedly suffering from a “porn addiction.”  Many church ministries charge $500 a day to treat these chumps.  Of course, these money-hungry crooks want society to think there is such a thing as a “porn addiction.”  Wendy and Larry Maltz even wrote a book called The Porn Trap.  They claim  porn can cause men to have difficulty establishing meaningful relationships, and it leads men to participate in risky sexual behavior.  They’re just wrong.  These men they treat would have the same problems, if there was no porn.  It’s a flaw in their character that they were born with.

Porn is nothing new.  Men painted hypersexualized images of women on cave walls 30,000 years ago.  Looking at naked women is an enjoyable activity that helps keep men young.  I look at naked women as part of a healthy routine that naturally raises my testosterone levels, so I don’t have to take unnecessary medication.

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I had my wife take this photo of me after I had consumed a few beers.  I was in the process of saying, if alcohol is supposed to be so bad, why do I feel so good?  Believe it or not this 51 year old man can do a set of over 60 pullups.  I run 3 miles about 4 times a week and still  beat on the heavy punching bag for 20 minutes twice a week.  But the most important activity I use to maintain my health is to look at sexy women.  My wife was making fun of my habit the other day when she caught me checking out a waitress’s backside.  If a women wears skin tight blue jeans, I assume she wants men to look.

I like looking at women with big natural titties and thick jiggily buttocks.  These features are evidence of a woman’ s fertility.  Fertile-looking women are universally attractive to men, and inspire the human race to reproduce.  Below is a selection of fertile-looking women I like to look at.  They all claim to have natural breasts.  I’ll take their word for it.

Christina Hendricks.  She’s the only reason I watch the AMC series Mad Men.  Critics love that show but I think it kind of sucks.  I watch it hoping Ms. Hendricks will do a nude scene.  The only nude photo of her online is photoshopped and I suspect not as good as the real thing.  A shy guy could really hide his face in those bosoms.

Maritza Mendez.  With women like her on the other side of the border, I believe we should let all the Mexicans in…the more the merrier. President Obama, tear down that wall.

jenna shea nude cell phone pic

Jenna Shea.  She’s demonstrating my favorite posture, known as the Reverse Cowgirl.

September Carrino.  Wow! I think I just raised my testosterone level by 400%.  She’s got her own website.

Reference:

Ley, David; et. al.

“The Emperor has no Clothes: A Review of the Pornographic Addiction Model”

Current Sexual Health Reports 2014

The Sheridan Cave Pit Fossil Site in Wyandot County, Ohio

March 10, 2014

The owner of the Indian Trail Caverns tourist site in Wyandot County, Ohio decided to dig through a shallow depression near the cave where on weekends he allows people to visit for a few dollars admission.  He hoped to find a passage that led to his cave.  Instead, his digging uncovered a former sinkhole trap that had developed when rainwater dissolved through Paleozoic-aged limestone bedrock during the late Pleistocene.  The sinkhole cave had since filled with sediment, but his excavation uncovered the bones of the Pleistocene-aged animals that had fallen into the cave.  Gregory Macdonald of Cincinnati University took over and supervised the excavation from 1990-1995.  After human artifacts were found, Ken Tankersley, an archeologist, became the excavator-in-chief.

Map of Ohio highlighting Wyandot County

Location of Wyandot County, Ohio.

The most common fossils in the cave were those of flat-headed peccaries, an extinct species well adapted to living in arid, sandy grasslands.  They lived in herds.  At least 43 individuals became trapped in the cave.  By contrast, only 1 long-nosed peccary, an animal that likely preferred forest edge, fell in the sinkhole.  Fossils of other ungulate species found in the sinkhole include the extinct stag-moose (Cervalces scotti), caribou, and white tail deer.  Two species of bear died in the cave–the extinct giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus) and a black bear.  Fossils of some of the species of smaller animals that lived here at the end of the Ice Age were from species that no longer occur this far south: pygmy shrews, yellow-cheeked voles, heather voles, pine martens, and fishers, though the latter may have survived here till the time of European colonization.  Red squirrels prefer boreal forests and used to range here as well but presently do not.  The extant species of beaver and the extinct giant beaver (Casteroides ohioensis) lived in this area then.  Raccoons, striped skunks, weasels, woodchucks, chipmunks, gray squirrels, porcupines, and rabbits are part of the present day fauna that also lived here during the late Pleistocene.  Bones of turkey, channel catfish, and bullheads were probably brought into the cave by avian predators.  As I noted in an essay last week, I hypothesize bullhead catfish were the most common fish living in southeastern North America during the coldest phases of the Ice Age, and that may have been true in the midwest too.

This bone spear point was found in the sinkhole next to this flat-headed peccary shoulder blade with a hole in it that matches the spear.  This is direct evidence that man did hunt peccaries during the Pleistocene–a fact that some archaeologists bizarrely dispute.  They dispute it because they want to deny that man is responsible for megafauna extinctions.  How much evidence do they need?

Flat-headed peccary bones found in-situ in the sinkhole.

Paleontologists have yet to find the fossils of mammoths, mastodons, horses, bison, elk, helmeted musk-ox, wooly musk-ox, Jefferson’s ground sloth, scimitar-toothed cats (Dinobastis serum),  grizzly bears, or snowshoe hares at this site, but these species have been found in other sites in the region and likely occurred in this area but none happened to fall inside the pit.  I don’t think saber-tooths (Smilodon fatalis) nor dire wolves ranged this far north.  Scimitar-tooths and timber wolves occupied their ecological niches in this region.

Several human artifacts were discovered by paleontologists searching through the vertebrate fossils.  A stone arrowhead and scraper were identified as being from a late Clovis culture.  Two bone spearpoints were also found, and a hole found in a fossil peccary shoulder blade perfectly matches the spearpoints.  One of the points appears as if it had impact damage from striking the bone.  Some of the fossil bones are burned–either by humans or in a forest fire.  Remains of a butchered snapping turtle suggest humans enjoyed a chelonian snack at this site.

Radio-carbon dating of charcoal indicates calender year dates of 12,600 BP-13,000 BP.  Burned bones give ages about 1000 years older than that.

The site of the Sheridan sinkhole trap was under the southern lobe of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the Last Glacial Maximum.  The sinkhole likely formed following the withdrawal of the glacier when an increase in precipitation facilitated the collapse of the underlying limestone bedrock.  The region was mostly bare rock, gravel, and loess (rock ground to dust by glacier movement) for a few centuries; and because it was located at the edge of a receding glacier, conditions were windy.  The first species of plants to colonize this area were the lichens that could grow on the rocks.  Pioneer stands of cedar, aspen, and ash soon took root in the shade-free environment.  Thickets of some unknown thorny shrub species probably spouted, providing protection for the herds of flat-headed peccaries, a species capable of enduring the frequent sandstorms stirred by the winds blowing off the nearby glacier.  Caribou also survived here, able to eat lichens.  After a thousand years or so, grass, spruce, jack and red pines, and even oak colonized the area around the site, creating some forest edge habitat and attracting red squirrels, rabbits, white tail deer, and long-nosed peccary.  The cool moist conditions and an abundance of glacial meltwater created bogs and marshes–habitat for beavers, giant beavers, and possibly the  stag-moose, if the latter had the same habitat preferences as the extant species of moose.  (The stag-moose, despite its name, was not closely related to the modern day moose.)  For a few thousand years, boreal forest elements mixed with deciduous flora and fauna, making for an odd environment for which there is no modern analogue.  Eventually, as the climate warmed, broadleaf trees became dominant in this region, and sediment filled the sinkhole so that it no longer acted as a trap…and a window to the ecology of the past.

References:

Hansen, Michael

“Indian Trail Cavern–A Window of Ohio’s Pleistocene Past”

Ohio Geology Spring 1992

Haynes, Gary

The Early Settlement of North America

Cambridge University Press 2002

http://www.lithiccastinglab.com/gallery-pages/2001octobersheridencavepage1.htm

Black Bears Catching Shad–A Forlorn Scene of Nature

March 6, 2014

Many nature scenes, common just a few hundred years ago, shall never be seen again.  Some examples of forlorn nature scenes from Georgia that I’ve discussed on this blog include herds of elk and bison grazing on surpentine barren hilltops, flocks of migrating passenger pigeons darkening the sky, a forest of gigantic black oaks with each tree measuring between 8-11 feet in diameter, stands of bamboo cane covering many square miles, a river full of spawning sturgeon, etc.  The thought that these scenes will never exist again gives me feelings of melancholy and loss.  One other nearly forgotten scene would be when black bears caught spawning shad in rivers of eastern North America.  This no longer occurs because black bears have been extirpated from regions where shad still spawn.  Black bears probably preyed upon spawning shad and other species of herring for at least 1 million years, but man completely ended this ecological relationship.  For nature lovers this is just sad.

Illustration from John Lawson’s New Voyage to South Carolina, published circa 1710.  Lawson reported black bears regularly catching spawning shad in eastern rivers and such a scene is depicted in the left lower corner of this illustration.  Black bears have been extirpated from regions where shad still spawn.

Black bear (Ursus americanus).  Formerly common for over a million years, it has been eradicated from most of is original range.

Alaskan brown bears (Ursus arctos) are often filmed catching salmon is remote wilderness areas.  Therefore, nature lovers associate a bear catching a fish with wilderness.  That eastern North America was once just as wild as Alaska seems to be largely forgotten or never thought upon by most people.

John Lawson, an early English explorer and settler of the Carolinas (1700-1711), took note of the black bear’s habit of catching shad and herring during their spring runs. Bear was his favorite meat.  He highly praised the culinary properties of bear meat and fat, but he warned his readers not to eat them during spring when the bruins were gorging upon herrings, for then they tasted “filthily.”

The American shad is in the herring family.

The American shad (Alosa supidissima) is a member of the herring family.  It is an anadromous fish, living most its life in deep ocean waters but swimming up freshwater rivers to spawn in the spring.  Adults that spawn in northern rivers survive and swim back to sea, but those spawning in southern rivers die after spawning.  The eggs, laid on sandy pebbly bottoms, hatch after a week, and the fingerlings make it to the ocean by fall.  A female shad can lay up to 150,000 eggs.  Shad feed upon plankton, small shrimp, and other fish’s eggs, and they will bite during their spawning run, unlike salmon.  Two other species of herring spawn in eastern rivers–the blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) and alewife (A. pseudohorega).

Herring are rich in the healthy kind of fat.  The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska destroyed stocks of herring there, and marine life has since struggled to recover.  There are far fewer seals in Prudhoe Bay, even though pollock (the fish most often processed into fish sticks) is still abundant.  Pollock just doesn’t have the nutritive quality of herring.

Planked shad and shad roe with bacon is considered a classic American dish, but I’ve never had the opportunity to eat it.  Herring reportedly have many small bones that make them difficult to eat.  The vinegar in marinated herring dissolves these small bones.  I do enjoy marinated herring on occasion.  I’ve read that some cooks slash the herring and deep fry their slashed fish.  The hot oil supposedly seeps into the slashes and melts the small bones.  I have eaten bream eggs…they taste just like chicken eggs, though a little more bland.  To prepare, drop the fish eggs in boiling salted water for a minute.  Remove with a slotted spoon and serve on toast rounds with mustard.  Expensive caviar pretty much tastes like fish guts but when mixed with cream cheese I can get it down.  Boiled bream eggs are better.

Catfish in Ice Age Braided Rivers

March 2, 2014

The coldest phase of the Wisconsinian Ice Age lasted from about 28,000 BP-15,000 BP.  Much of earth’s atmospheric moisture became locked in glacial ice.  For southeastern North America this meant a much more arid climate than exists today in the region.  Vast stretches of desert scrub grassland separated stands of open oak and pine woodlands.  Rivers shrank in size and were braided in pattern.  Modern day rivers in the south tend to meander all over the river valley, but braided rivers didn’t have as much water and had a greater distance to flow because the Atlantic Ocean had receded far to the east.  Braided rivers tended to stay within a narrow course.

A modern day braided river in Alaska.  Most rivers in Georgia had a braided pattern like this during the Last Glacial Maximum ~28,000 BP-~15,000 BP. 

During excessive periods of drought, Ice Age braided rivers held particularly low water levels.  Many channels became isolated by sandbars.  Shallow channels completely dried, while deeper cut-offs held water that was muddy or silty and polluted.  Catfish are known to outcompete other species of fish in polluted water with high siltation, high turbidity, and low oxygen levels.  Therefore, I hypothesize, catfish were likely the most common fish in most of the Ice Age braided river systems of southeastern North America.

One might ask how waters could become polluted in a pre-human environment.  Man is not the only animal or agent that pollutes water.  When droughts occur in Africa, large populations of animals congregate around shrinking water holes.  They defecate in the water, and sometimes even die and fall in it.  Excess nutrients from the manure cause algal blooms that lower oxygen levels.  Moreover, the animals wade through the water, increasing turbidity as sediment becomes suspended in the water.  Oftentimes, catfish are the only species of fish able to survive in this toxic slew.  I hypothesize the same held true during dry climatic phases of the Pleistocene in southeastern North America.  The grassy desert scrublands held large herds of mammoths, bison, and horses that were attracted to the reduced number of water sources.

Pete’s Pond in Botswana, Africa.  Note all the game trails leading to the pond.  Water holes where megaherbivores congregate are highly polluted with E. coli bacteria.  Catfish, particularly those in the Ameiurus genus, are able to tolerate waters polluted  by megafauna and were likely the most common fish in Ice Age Braided Rivers of southeastern North America.

Bullhead catfish, members of the Ameriurus genus, are notorious for being able to survive in low oxygenated mudholes.  There are at least 5 species in this genus native to southeastern North America–the white catfish, the black bullhead, the brown bullhead, the yellow bullhead, and the snail bullhead.  Many sources wrongly categorize these as trash fish.  The bullhead catfish is the best tasting catfish I’ve ever tasted with a better texture than farm raised catfish, but I caught mine in a clear canal located in Florida. Reportedly, they have a muddy taste, but I attribute this to specimens caught in muddy water.  When caught from fresh clean waters, they taste as good or better than most other species of fish.

White catfish (Ameiurus catus).  Still today one of the most common fish in southeastern rivers.  It’s a tough survivor capable of enduring polluted water.  Water polluted by megafauna manure was common during much of the Pleistocene and especially during stadials.

Brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus).  This is the best tasting catfish I ever ate, yet some consider it a trash fish that tastes like mud.  I guess it all depends on the quality of water within which the fish lives.  Bullheads that live in mudholes probably do taste like mud, but they are just as good as any other fish when taken from clean water.

Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus).  Unlike bullhead catfish, this species prefers clear sandy bottoms over muddy beds.  Pleistocene-aged fossils of this species have been found in Little Kettle Creek, Wilkes County, Georgia.  This is the species that is commercially raised and sold in grocery stores.

Upland fossil sites with freshwater fish are relatively rare in the region.  Fossil bones of bullheads have been found in Kingston Saltpeter Cave, Bartow County, Georgia where they were probably brought by avian predators.  Channel catfish bones excavated from Little Kettle Creek had growth rings, indicating they lived when winters were cold enough for them to go dormant.  Modern day winters in central Georgia are not cold enough for fish to go dormant, and their bones do not have growth rings.

Blue catfish and and flat-head catfish are native to the Mississippi River drainage and formerly only occured in Georgia in the extreme northwestern corner of the state, but they have been introduced to other river systems here.  Scuba divers report seeing 300 lb. blue catfish near the Clark Hill dam.  Flathead catfish may be reducing populations of redbreast sunfish and othe species where they’ve been introduced.  Unlike bullheads, these 2 large species require more oxygenated water.

Other species of fish able to survive in poor quality waters alongside bullhead catfish include green sunfish, white suckers, freshwater drum, and mud minnows (Umbridae).  Fossils of white sucker fish were also found in Kingston Saltpeter Cave, while Pleistocene-aged fossils of freshwater drum were found in Baker Bluff Cave in Tennessee.  Curiously, green sunfish are abundant in Woodbridge Lake in Evans, Georgia where I occasionally fish.  This lake is highly contaminated with E. coli, thanks to an overpopulation of Canadian geese.

Eventually, Ice Age droughts ended, water levels rose, and muddy cut-off channels were flushed with freshwater.  Other species of fish moved into new territories, and catfish numbers dropped because they were forced to compete with a wider variety of fish in the cleaner water.