Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Feathered Dinosaurs Were Venomous Predators

Posted: 21 Dec 2009 12:43 PM PST


Early dinosaurs weren't just covered in feathers. They were also poisonous.

Analysis of skulls belonging to different species of Sinornithosaurus, a group of feathered predatory theropods that lived 125 million years ago in what is now northeast China, shows skeletal features reminiscent of modern rear-fanged snakes and lizards.

Sinornithosaurus' rear teeth were long, with grooves connected to ducts running under their fangs to a pocket that could have housed a venom gland. "These features are all analogous to the venomous morphology of lizards," wrote paleontologists in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

hognose_skull_fangs_webThe researchers speculate that Sinornithosaurus' long teeth could have penetrated the feathers of its avian prey, penetrating just far enough to release their poison. Like most modern rear-fanged reptiles, the venom probably wasn't lethal, but instead shocked prey into immobility.

Short front teeth were probably used "to pluck the feathers off their victims," wrote the researchers, who suggest that other members of Sinornithosaurus' family, including the velociraptors of Jurassic Park fame, had the same venomous capabilities.

Images: 1. Sinornithosaurus skull at left and illustration at right/PNAS
2. A rear-fanged hognose snake scull/WikiMedia

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Citation: "The birdlike raptor Sinornithosaurus was venomous." By Enpu Gonga, Larry D. Martin, David A. Burnham, and Amanda R. Falk. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 106 No. 51, December 22, 2009.

Brandon Keim's Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on a book about ecosystem and planetary tipping points.

East Coast Blizzard Seen From Space

Posted: 21 Dec 2009 11:09 AM PST


The snowstorm that blanketed the East Coast this weekend was so big, it is even impressive from space. NASA's Aqua satellite took this image centered on Washington, D.C., on Sunday with its MODIS instrument.

The blizzard shut down the federal government, stranded travelers, left hundreds of thousands without power and crushed the hopes of many retailers hoping for big sales during the weekend before Christmas.

The image covers 300 miles lengthwise. The two big rivers near the center are the Susquehanna (to the north) and Potomac rivers, which run into Chesapeake Bay. Washington, D.C., sits alongside the Potomac, just north of the river's hook-shaped curve. The inlet to the north is Delaware Bay.

Higher-resolution image from NASA

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