Archive for September, 2019

The Alum Bluff Fossil Site in Northwest Florida

September 28, 2019

Scientists have known about the Alum Bluff fossil site for 100 years, but a recent study looked at 475 plant macrofossils and identified 46 species.  The site is located along the Apalachicola river where currents have eroded away sediment, revealing strata estimated to be between 13-16 million years old.  The site was dated using mammalian index fossils found in the same geological formation. Index fossils are used for estimating ages when there are no rocks at a site that can be radiometrically dated, but certain fossil species are known from specific ages based on radiometric dating from other sites.  Rhinos, 3-toed horses, and 4-tusked mastodons roamed the earth during the time these leaves, fruits, and seeds were deposited and preserved.  There are only 9 Miocene-aged fossils sites in North America containing plant remains.  In addition to Alum Bluff other Miocene plant macrofossil sites are found in Tennessee, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

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Alum Bluff alongside the Apalachicola River.

The most common plant macrofossils at Alum Bluff are species of palm, hickory, and elm.  The authors of this study believe this site is just a random sample of the local flora as it existed then, and they don’t think it exactly matches the floral composition of the time.  Pine was rarely represented, and surprisingly no oak was found at all.  The species of elm they examined was new to science and extinct, though it may be ancestral to modern species of elm.  Other interesting species included sequoia, ephedra, Jerusalem thorn, elderberry, magnolia, cypress, beech, sweetgum, willow, grape, and sedge.  Sequoia no longer occurs in Florida, and Jerusalem thorn no longer ranges into North America, though it is still found in Eurasia.  The presence of ephedra suggests an arid sandy habitat within a moist forest.  There are also plant fossils that compare favorably in appearance to sycamore and mulberry  but weren’t conclusively identified. 7 species just could not be identified.

Stock Photo: Christ's thorn, Jerusalem thorn Paliurus spina-christi, fruiting.

Jerusalem thorn.  Found throughout Eurasia it became extinct in North America millions of years ago.

Based on the species of plants present, the authors of this paper estimate it was a subtropical climate with an average annual temperature of 66 degrees F and average annual precipitation of 43 inches.  Modern day Tallahassee enjoys an average annual temperature of  67 degrees F and average annual precipitation of 59 inches.  Miocene Florida experienced similar temperatures as modern Florida but was noticeably drier.

Reference:

Lott, Terry; S. Manchester and S. Corbett

“The Miocene Flora of Alum Bluff, Liberty County, Florida”

Acta Paleobotanica June 2019

https://content.sciendo.com/view/journals/acpa/59/1/article-p75.xml?tab_body=pdf

The BDS Movement is Ignorant Anti-Semitism

September 21, 2019

I need a periodical to read when I sit on the can every morning.  Lately, I haven’t been able to settle on any particular magazine or newspaper.  For a while I subscribed to  The Nation, but I got tired of reading their articles unfairly criticizing Israel.  By subscribing to  The Nation I got on the mailing list for a periodical known as  The Progressive Populist. I am a progressive but not a populist.  Populism gave us the likes of Trump and Brexit.   The Progressive Populist also publishes articles unfairly critical of Israel written by Juan Cole–a regular contributor for them.  I never heard of this jerk, but the Wikipedia entry for him notes he espouses the stereotypical anti-Semitic trope that Jews hold dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel.  (Incidentally, Trump expresses this same belief.)  The column he wrote for  The Progressive Populist that I read was nothing but a grotesquely distorted version of Middle Eastern history.

Adolf Hitler talking to Grand Mufti Haj Amin el Husseini

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was an ally of Adolf Hitler.  Cole didn’t mention this fact in his column glossing over the history of the region.

Juan Cole is considered by some to be an academic fraud.  They say his research is unoriginal and from what I have read merely parrots the ridiculous anti-Semitism taught in Arab schools.  In the column of his that I read he skipped 30 years of history and started with stating how Jewish militants attacked Arabs in 1948, making it sound like the Arabs were innocent victims.  Arab murderers had been attacking and even wiping out Jewish settlements for decades prior to the birth of Israel.  Jews were finally defending themselves, but much of the world considers it a war crime when Jews fight back.  The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an ally of Adolf Hitler, began a war of anti-Jewish terrorism and violence during 1947, and when Israel declared independence a year later the entire Arab world declared war against them and started an invasion.  The dictatorships of all these Arab nations were patterned after Nazi Germany.  So Israel was battling for its life against Arabs influenced by Nazis.  Cole never mentions this.  Despite an enormous manpower advantage, the Arabs were defeated.

Juan Cole, an anti-Semitic professor on the faculty of the University of Michigan.  The University of Michigan should be renamed anti-Semite University.  John Cheney-Lippold, another professor on the faculty, refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to study in Israel because the professor supports the BDS movement. This professor was sanctioned (he had tenure and couldn’t be fired), but 200 professors on the faculty signed a letter supporting him. Other professors host blatantly anti-Semitic guest speakers. Perhaps not coincidentally, there are more anti-Semitic incidents on the campus there than on the campus of any other university in the country.

Many Arabs living in Israel left their homes during Israel’s war of independence, hoping to come back after the Arab armies wiped out the Jews.  Cole accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” but the only real “ethnic cleansing” that would have occurred in this region would have happened if Israel would’ve lost that war.  This left many Arab refugees who were forcibly kept in refugee camps by their fellow Arabs.  Instead of helping their fellows, Arabs wanted their misfortune to fester, so they would feel hostility toward Israel, and the world would become sympathetic toward the so-called Palestinian fate and not Israel.  But there is really no such thing as a Palestinian.  There was never a country known as Palestine.  Zahir Muhsein, a founding member of the PLO executive committee, once admitted as much.  This is what he said: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.  It is just an Arab tactic for the destruction of Israel.”  The so-called Palestinians are just Arabs who happen to live in the region.  They are no different from any other Arab.  Arabs who remained in Israel and didn’t flee are now Israeli citizens and can vote and hold political office.

Omir Barghouti, a citizen of Qatar, has lived in Israel since 1994.  He founded the BDS movement in 2006.  The BDS stands for boycott, divest, and sanction; and the goal of this movement is to economically strangle Israel.  Barghouti admittedly doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, and he wants to see it completely destroyed.  The movement has been a colossal flop–Israel’s GDP has doubled since 2006.  Nevertheless, many liberal academic professors and brainwashed students support the BDS movement.  It is nothing more than ignorant anti-Semitism.  Why are they singling out the Jewish state?  There are hundreds of countries in the world with a worse human rights record than Israel.  For example why don’t they boycott Chinese goods to show solidarity with the Muslims in China who are oppressed by the Chinese government?  It is a moral double standard.  The call to boycott Israeli made products recalls the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses during the 1930s in Germany.

It is popular among critics of Israel to accuse them of “apartheid.”  This is just ridiculous.  Jews live side by side with Arabs throughout Israel.  Israel does restrict movement of Arabs living in occupied territories, but this is self-defense.  Those Arabs have started countless wars of terror against Israel, and many still want to see Israel destroyed.  I would like to ask these people critical of Israel, if they would let someone live in their house who has threatened to kill them.  If not, they are practicing apartheid.

Arabs unhappy living on the West Bank should just move to Jordan.  The West Bank was part of Jordan until 1967 when Israel won that land fair and square in a war.  West Bank Arabs were not clamoring for an independent state when the territory belonged to Jordan.  Over 20 years ago, there was a deal on the table that would’ve given West Bank Arabs an independent state, but they rejected it because they didn’t want to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

The BDS movement is the left’s version of anti-Semitism, but there is plenty of anti-Semitism on the right as well.  Whenever right wingers start talking about George Soros conspiracies, they are engaging in age old accusations that Jews control all the money and power–a classic tool of anti-Semitic propagandists.

Genetic Study Suggests Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) and Gray Squirrels (S. carolinensis) May Interbreed

September 14, 2019

Naturalists have observed male fox squirrels chasing female gray squirrels.  Male Squirrels chase female squirrels during mating season, and if they catch the opposite sex, it demonstrates their fitness for procreation.  Fox squirrels have never been observed actually mating with gray squirrels, and as far as I can determine, nobody has ever reported an hybrid between the 2 species.  However, a new study suggests they may interbreed or have interbred in the past.

Fox squirrel a coat of many colors

Black fox squirrel.

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Melanistic fox squirrel I photographed outside Spring Island, South Carolina.  This was before I had the benefit of a telephoto lens.  Click to enlarge.

It is estimated there could be as many as 25,000 black squirrels in the east of England

Melanistic gray squirrel.

The mutation for having a black coat (melanism) arose twice in fox squirrels from 2 different populations–an example of convergent evolution.  Western fox squirrels have 1 allele associated with melanism, while eastern fox squirrels have a different allele associated with melanism.  (An allele is defined as 1 of 2 or more alternative forms of a gene that arose by mutation and are found on the same place in the chromosome.)  Scientists believe the alleles for melanism in fox squirrels arose for different reasons.  The black coat on western fox squirrels helped them stay warm and more active in a region with colder climate.  The black coat on southern fox squirrels helps camouflage them because it makes them harder for hawks to see in a shady canopy.  The allele for melanism in western fox squirrels is exactly the same as found in melanistic gray squirrels.  Statistical models suggest the most likely explanation is interbreeding between fox and gray squirrels, though they can’t rule out 2 other explanations.

The allele for melanism may have originated in the common evolutionary ancestor of both species.  Alternatively, the allele for melanism may have arisen first in gray squirrels and was passed on to fox squirrels.  But the most likely explanation is it arose in fox squirrels and was passed on to gray squirrels during interbreeding.

Melanistic gray squirrels are more common in the northern region of their range because the darker coat keeps them warmer when they are outside during winter.  The authors of this study believe the black coat helped gray squirrels colonize newly deglaciated territory following the end of the last Ice Age when the climate was still quite cold.  They didn’t estimate how long ago fox squirrels passed on the melanistic mutation to gray squirrels.  It seems likely this may have occurred a long time ago when both species had recently split from their common ancestor.

Gray squirrels were introduced to England and have now almost completely displaced native Eurasian red squirrels ( Sciurus vulgaris).  Melanistic gray squirrels are replacing the original population of gray squirrels that outcompeted red squirrels in England.

It’s easy to tell the difference between gray and fox squirrels.  The latter are generally twice the size of the former.  A juvenile fox squirrel may be about the same size as an adult gray squirrel, but it is still easy to identify the correct species.  Gray squirrels generally have a white belly, while fox squirrels are solid-colored on the torso and belly.  Fox squirrels often have masks; gray squirrels almost never do.

Reference:

McRobie, H.; N. Moncrief, and N. Mundy

“Multiple Origins of Melanism in Two Species of North American Tree Squirrels (Sciurus)”

BMC Evolutionary Biology   2019

 

 

17,000 Year Old Cougar Crap Found in Argentina

September 7, 2019

When I was researching cougars for my book about 12 years ago and typed the word into a google search, the page was dominated by information about older women who wanted to have sexual relationships with younger men.  This was an unexpected result.  I wanted to learn more about the big cat,  Puma concolor, not about older women seeking younger men.  I see that has changed since then and there are more balanced results with equal representation between the 2 different definitions.

Image result for cougar

Female cougar and young.  I hypothesize Pleistocene adult cougars were spotted.

Cougars were a common large predator throughout most of North America from about 500,000 years BP, until European colonization.  They apparently share a common ancestry with an extinct species of pseudo-cheetah known as Miracinonyx inexpectus.  The cougars that lived in North America then were an extinct ecomorph that was replaced from a population of cougars originating in eastern South America after the great Pleistocene megafauna extinction.  Recently, a cougar coprolite (fossilized feces) was found inside a rock shelter in Catamarca, Argentina.  This region is mountainous and dry, explaining why it was so well preserved.  Scientists used DNA to identify the turd came from a cougar.  They also found DNA belonging to Toxascaris leonine, a parasitic roundworm.  This is the oldest parasitic DNA ever recorded.  Scientists previously thought this species of roundworm was brought to North America inside the guts of domesticated dogs and cats, but this coprolite dates to 17,000 years BP before domesticated pets were brought to the New World.  The species of cat ancestral to the cougar likely brought this parasitic roundworm across the Bering Land Bridge millions of years ago.

Image result for Toxascaris leonina

Toxascaris leonine.

Cougars often ingest roundworms when they eat rodents.  Ingested eggs hatch in the small intestine, and the worms mate and lay eggs that are then passed in the feces.  Rodents consume the eggs and are in turn eaten by the cats and the lifecycle continues.  Adult worms can reach lengths of 3-7 inches.  This species of roundworm can make cats sick, but not as bad as other species that can cause fatal parasitic infections.  T. cati and T. canis  may travel to an animal’s lungs, causing death.  Most kittens are infested with T. cati  through their mother’s milk.  Most survive and naturally get rid of the parasites.  De-worming medications cure infections too.

Reference:

Petrigh, R.; J. Martries, M. Monding, and M. Fugass

“Ancient Parasitic DNA Reveals Toxascaris leonine Presence in Fossil Pleistocene of North America”

Parasitiology 146 (10) 2019