Dear Readers, back in 2001 the bones of an ancient ape-like creature were recovered from the deserts of Chad by a Frenchman, Alain Beauvilain, and three Chadians, Adoum Mahamat, Djimdoumalbaye Ahounta, and Gongdibé Fanoné, working on an expedition run by Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers. I mention the name of the whole team because so often the local guides, scientists and anthropologists who are integral to a discovery get shunted to one side when it’s reported.
The creature they found was over seven million years old, far older than other human relatives, and the question was, did this animal walk on two legs like a modern-day human, or four legs like a gorilla or chimp? If it was bipedal, that would make it the world’s oldest known hominid. If not, it probably wasn’t that closely related to us.
One way to find out is to look at the way that the bones of the neck support the skull, but sadly these weren’t found. Another is to look at the bones of the leg, such as the femur, one of which was found and photographed by a student, Aude Bergeret-Medina. The bone showed a distinct bow-shape, which made it resemble that of a chimp, and would indicate that bipedalism was unlikely. However, when Bergeret-Medina looked for the femur, it had gone missing. There was nothing published about this find until this year, and the scientists have been on tenterhooks ever since 2001.
The creature was named ‘Toumai’, from the Dazaga language of the region. It means ‘hope of life’ and is given to children born before the dry season, when food is hard to find.
Brunet and his colleagues have always maintained that Toumai did walk on two legs. Bergeret-Medina has recently published a paper based on the photos of the missing femur, which say that the creature most likely walked on four legs. A colleague of Brunets (Frank Guy) has published another paper (not yet through peer review) which maintains that a ridge on the skull does indicate bipedalism.
So, I would like to go out on a limb here and without accusing anyone of skullduggery, suggest that the world of ancient hominid remains is every bit as competitive and Machiavellian as anything the Borgias dreamt up. And if you also think those puns are too bad to be deliberate, you’d be wrong.
You can read the whole article here.
In other news, a tiny parasitic wasp (Microgaster godzilla) has been found to hunt underwater for the caterpillars that it uses as hosts for its larvae. The caterpillars of the Elophila turbata moth live near the surface of the water in cases that they create out of pieces of plant. You might think this would deter the moth, but no. The female taps the surface of the water with her antennae to locate the caterpillars and then dives under the water to harass the caterpillar until it leaves its protective case. Once exposed, the wasp lays eggs on the poor larva, and goes about her business. The eggs will hatch and munch the caterpillar from the inside in that delightful way that parasitic wasp larvae have.
The Japanese team at Osaka Prefecture and Kobe University worked with Jose Fernandez-Triana at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes in Ottawa to make this discovery, and named the wasps ‘godzilla’ after the way that they emerged from the water, which reminded the scientists of the iconic monster. Personally I think it’s a bit of a stretch, but this is extraordinary behaviour for a flying insect.
And the full article, including a short film of the hunting wasp, is here.
And finally, how about this extraordinary creature? This bigfin squid (Magnapinna) was found more than 2 kilometres under water in Australian waters. The squids have large fins that make them nearly as wide as they are long, and long, thin tentacles. The squid have long tentacles that have tiny suckers on them and are retractable. One squid was 1.8 metres long, of which 1.68 metres was tentacle. You can see them in action here. The scientists think that they saw at least five individual squid, which is good news for sure.
Photo One by By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10709964
Photo Two By NOAA – http://www.tolweb.org/Magnapinna, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8831608