An exploration of our Earth's ever-captivating fauna through musings on the bizarre side of Zoology, Cryptozoology, Paleontology, and Paleoanthropology

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unexpected Porpoise Predators Revealed As Formidable Gray Seals

Your typical gray seal, Halichoerus grypus, a hunter of small cetaceans? (Source)
Following the regular discovery of mutilated harbor porpoise carcasses on Dutch beaches since 2003, a group of biologists began a ten year investigation into the situation's cause.1 The usual suspects of boat propellers or hostile fishermen were dismissed after the deaths regularly continued their toll, and the enigma continued until a group of Belgian researchers came to a startling conclusion.1 In 2012, these researchers took note of apparent bite marks present in some of the wounds inflicted upon the thousands of porpoise carcasses.1 These matched the canine teeth of an unexpected yet certainly capable mammalian predator: the gray seal Halichoerus grypus. With bulls reaching up to almost eleven feet in length and weighing as much as 310 kilograms this was no huge surprise, especially considering their being relatives of animals like the formidable leopard seals. Further examination of the carcasses showed the marks of pinniped claws and signs of the seals having gone after the nourishment of a porpoise's blubber1, yet the proposition was still subject to some debate.
Harbor porpoise carcass with wounds indicative of gray seal predation. (Source)

Monday, November 24, 2014

New Findings Suggest Odd-Toed Ungulates Originated On Continental "Noah's Ark"

Illustration of the compelling Cambaytherium thewissi by Elaine Kasmer.
As reported on the Science Daily website, John Hopkins University researchers excavating fossils at the edge of a coal mine in India have recently made a discovery which brings revelations on the origins of odd-toed ungulates. Although past research has traced the presence of these animals back to the early Eocene epoch fifty-six million years ago, details on their earlier evolution is shrouded in mystery. The odd-toed ungulates, classified in the order Perissodactyla, include modern day horses and rhinos and are distinguished from other orders due to their uneven number of toes and unique digestive system. Following the proposition of perissodactyls having their origins in Western India, the John Hopkins University research team took to Eocene sediments in this region and unearthed several remains of the little-known ungulate Cambaytherium thewissi. According to these researchers, the teeth, number of sacral vertebrae, and hand and feet bones of Cambaytherium suggest that it is the species most like a common ancestor to all members of Perissodactyla yet discovered. Apart from filling an evolutionary gap, this finding also supports the notion that a diverse number of early mammal groups might have evolved in India while it was still an isolated island continent. This isolation would allow the groups, which included lemur-like primates and both perissodactyls and the even-toed artiodactyls, to evolve without competition from other Paleocene animals.