Cthulhu Found In The Depths – UPDATED!

In the Proceedings of the Royal Academy B tomorrow (later today for those a few hours ahead of me) there will be an article announcing the description and naming of a new critter, Sollasina cthulhu. Related to the sea cucumber, Sollasina is definitely ancient at ~430my old, squarely in the middle of the Silurian. As a benthic scavenger and/or grazer, it was also definitely lurking in the deeps, though perhaps no more than a couple hundred meters at most. NewAtlas has a popular article up right now, including this artist’s reconstruction created by Elissa Martin at the Peabody Museum, Yale:

Elissa Martin’s artistic reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu. Credit: Peabody Museum, Yale

 

Expect public access to the Proceedings B paper to go live within the next few hours. For now, you’ll just have to make do with that link to Proceedings B’s recent articles and hope it shows up. There is currently no word on the sanity of the paleontologists who originally uncovered the specimen or the preparators who spent countless hours staring into its tentacle-dominated face.

 


 

UPDATE: The paper is out!

The title is exactly what you’d expect from someone driven mad by the thing:

A new ophiocistioid with soft-tissue preservation from the Silurian Herefordshire Lagerstätte, and the evolution of the holothurian body plan

Dig in!

 

Hunter/Gatherer Serial Killers: Guess who hunts their victims & who gathers them…

Oy.

There’s a new paper out by Marissa Harrison (of Penn State) et. al. collected historical data on the crimes of 112 murderers who killed 3 or more people with at least one week between each murder (killing more quickly did not disqualify one so long as there were at least 3 periods of single/multiple murder that were separated from all other periods of single/multiple murder by a full week on each side). 55 of the killers were women. This is the all but 9 of the women serial killers in the US from 1821 to 2008 – at least that they could find. From the men serial killers during that period they selected “matches” of the women subjects. “Matches” here means that they were approximately equivalent to their women counterparts on certain variable which the researchers wanted to control.

Then they ran some criminological statistics on the gender-separated populations & looked for differences. The resulting research was published in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. NewAtlas, reporting on the study, tells us that:

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Andy Lewis Is A Stable Genius Who Wishes You Morans Would Get A Brian

So, I deliberately stayed out of PZ’s When humanists go bad thread. But y’know, I didn’t realize it had gone on quite this long. When I saw a spate of comments all directed to that thread, however, I had to check in again just to know what is keeping that thread alive.

The answer? Andy Lewis.

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Science Magazine is Failing Us

Science journalism is failing us in important ways. This post will be far shorter than I might like it to be, but I want it to be readable, and in any case I plan on following up soon with more information and also, I hope, a detailed action plan.

Here I simply want to point out a single article. In another post, I’ll also be discussing an article on the dismissal of Francisco Ayala from UC Irvine and the pattern of sexual harassment that led to that dismissal. But right now, let’s tackle an interesting article with a headline that is … terrible, in ways we will investigate later. The headline reads thus:

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What Constitutes A Tool? Orca Are Freuding Amazing Edition

So, apparently some folks have known about this for a long time, but I just came across a reference to orca gathering together several members of a pod who then swim, dive, and surge synchronously to produce a wave displacing several tons of water.

Why would they do that? Well, it turns out it’s a good way for orca to wash prey animals who rest on ice floes – mainly seals – off the safety of their floating islands and into the open water where the orca can eat them.

Here’s one video which culminates in three orca using the strategy:

 

However, there are others. I came across a 45 minute TV program that would be inconvenient to use in demonstrating the tactic. Still if you’re willing to scan through and find it, you can see five orca swimming, diving, & surging synchronously to form a massive wave. While synchronized action isn’t unusual in the animal kingdom (think of birds migrating in V formations or schools of fish turning in near-unison among other things), this involves not only planning, but very possibly also either communicating a plan to one’s companions or, even more spectacularly, a theory of mind where the means to communicate a plan are absent, but other orca recognize what one orca is attempting to achieve in the future, then thinking about how to enhance the success of that other animal’s plan. Thinking from that other animal’s perspective, if that’s what’s happening, is a stupendous intellectual feat.

It would not be the only time one can see theory of mind operating in non-human animals, but the operation of theory of mind is rare.

And yet, the thing that completely disarms me intellectually is the thought that in this instance, the very water in which they swim has probably been rendered into a tool, which would challenge the very definition of the word. Wikipedia’s discussion of tool use by animals has a brief discussion of the difficulties inherent in defining “tool”. The first example they present, though, is sufficient to the point:

The external employment of an unattached or manipulable attached environmental object to alter more efficiently the form, position, or condition of another object, another organism, or the user itself, when the user holds and directly manipulates the tool during or prior to use and is responsible for the proper and effective orientation of the tool.

Is the seawater an “environmental object” or the orca’s environment itself? I’m not sure, but this is an incredible bit of cooperative hunting a raises a great many questions about orca, their intelligence, and even the nature of tool use itself.

 

A Paleontologist Gets ‘Off The Hook’ Excited

Paul Selden, a paleontologist with enthusiasm for ancient arthropods, went crazy discussing spider/acarine interactions that helped him interpret a new find in which a spider-silk wrapped tick was found in Burmese amber:

“Just last year, I was on a field trip in Estonia and took a photo of a Steatoda spider wrapping up a red spider mite,” said Selden. “That was serendipitous.”

Ooh, baby: talk academic to me.

 

Paleontology Day Continues: Devonian Antarctic Tetrapods!

While ScienceDaily isn’t a science journalism site (it’s an aggregator for university press releases excited about a faculty member’s latest publication) that doesn’t mean there’s nothing of value there, it just means that the value varies wildly with the priority (and personnel) different universities assign to writing up good press releases.*1

My latest find there not only details a great new Devonian find (if it holds up, as always, IANAB), but it’s also fairly well written in that it details where and how the crucial fossils were found, why the authors believe they are significant, and what they might tell us, all in sentences constructed to be understandable. Joy!

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BILATERIAN EDIACARAN ICHNITES!

Oh, yeah!

This one’s awesome, evo/devo nerds: in the uppermost Ediacaran Dengying Formation (in the Three Gorges region of China, with the formation apparently centered in or largely in Guizhou province), Phys.org is reporting that researchers from Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech have found footprints arranged in two irregular but separate rows that are almost certainly the result of an ancient bilaterian traveling over the sea floor.

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