Biology news

Early Humans

There was an excellent TV programme a few weeks ago featuring Alice Roberts and human history (the Denisovans, Neanderthals, and the arrival of modern humans etc). Whilst it seemed to glaringly omit earlier but related versions of humanity it did serve to update her earlier TV programme (and book) 'The Incredible Human Journey' - which kept strictly to the BBC propaganda line on 'Out of Africa' (for better or worse).

Ice Age Cattle

At ... Ice Age artists depicted an unknown hybrid species of bison and cattle in great detail on cave walls around 15,000 years ago (in the Magdalenian cultural period). Research published in October (2016) Nature Communications, suggests this animal was the ancestor of modern European bison (now largely extinct across its former habitat) - yet the DNA from one to the other differs. Why?

Frigate Bird

You can see why scientists like to visualise dinosaurs as having had bird bones when you consider the remarkable feats of the frigate bird. Bird bones are lighter bones otherwise birds would never be able to launch themselves and remain in the air - and frigate birds have extremely light bird bones. They migrate over thousands of miles of ocean, rarely touching down for a breather, between Africa and Indonesia. They are inclined to avoid the doldrums, that equatorial region of unpredictable winds that becalmed so many sailing ships prior to the 20th century.

Mammoth Island

At ... the discovery of a mammoth tooth in a cave on St Paul's island, off the coast of Alaska (in the Bering Sea) was dated just 6500 years ago (that is 4500BC). Mammoths died out around the time of the Younger Dryas Boundary event but seem to have continued, albeit in a dwarf form, on Wrangel Island in the Siberian Arctic - and the tooth from St Paul's Island seems to indicate they survived on other bits and pieces of stranded land as Beringia was swamped by the rising seas.


The psittacosauros was a small dinosaur dating back to the early Cretaceous (around 120 million years ago). See ... and for a response see (as forwarded by Robert). The full article is at the link and is an interesting read concerning colours and camouflage amongst other things. The specimen of psittacosauroscame from a Chinese fossil bed and appears to have been buried instantaneously as some of its soft parts have survived.

A kinder hump back

A nice piece of observation by a marine ecologist doing work for NOAA - evidence that humpback whales drive off orca pods attacking other marine species. Orcas will attack the young of humpback whales so there is no love lost. However, they appear to thwart killer whale attacks on sea lions, harbour seals, sunfish and gray whales, if they get the chance. The article was published in the August issue of Marine Mammal Science (2016). See

fossil DNA

At ... the link is provided by Robert Farrar and concerns an open access paper in the journal Geology that documents the existence of DNA in ocean bottom sediments up to 1.4 million years of age. Not sure if this is a straw man argument but the claim is that scientists expressed surprise - as DNA is not supposed to last that long. However, it was preserved in bottom sediments, under water, and this might be a mitigating factor.

Birds in Amber

At ... life evolved three times faster after the extinction of the dinosaurs than it evolved in the preceding 80 million years. Is this more evidence of faulty geochronology - the assumption layers of sediment were laid down over an inordinately long period of time whereas an asteroid impact hardly created a whisper in the geological record? The research is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (June 2016).

Bees and Flowers

Bees and electricity feature in this month's Thunderbolts videos - go to ... but we also have the same subject but more nuanced at ... in which the aforesaid Dr Wile, a Creationist rather than an EU advocate, begins by saying that flowers attract bees by a variety of means including flower shape, scent, colour and ultra-violet reflection patterns. The point is that electricity is one of several factors that make up the relationship between flowers and pollinating insects.

Magnetic Pigs

At ... some fish have evolved the ability to live on land, such as blennies. One can see fish adapting in an environment of seasonal water holes or streams that dry up in high summer. Sme of them of course bury themselves in the mud at pond and lake bottoms - waiting for the rains to come round again. On islands the situation differs and it seems blennies can live in water and on dry land - which is quite remarkable.