New sauropodomorphic dinosaur species identified in South Africa

A fossil dinosaur specimen preserved at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, was analyzed again following an erroneous identification made years ago.
Paleontologist Paul Barrett, along with several South African colleagues, aided in particular by student Paul Barrett, has identified a new species of sauropodomorph, as well as a new genus.

The new dinosaur has been named Ngwevu intloko, which can be translated as “gray skull” in the Xhosa language. As Barrett also specifies, the samples of this dinosaur were collected in the areas of Johannesburg some thirty years ago and have been examined by other scientists and paleontologists. Eventually, it was concluded that it was a specimen of Massospondylus, a sauropodomorph and one of the first dinosaurs to appear at the beginning of the Jurassic.

By analyzing the fossil remains more closely, Barrett and Chapelle understood that it is a new species. The differentiation was possible thanks to the fact that there are various dead Massospondylus specimens at various stages of growth, from the embryo to the adult specimens. The remains were represented by “extraordinarily well preserved” pieces of the skull. It was a bipedal dinosaur, quite large, with a long, slender neck but a small square head.

It measured about three meters from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail and was probably omnivorous. This specimen must have lived around 200 million years ago, on the border between the Triassic and the Jurassic, a period characterized by a mass extinction phase.

The discovery is important because until a few years ago it was thought that there was only one type of sauropodomorph with regard to the area of ‚Äč‚Äčtoday’s South Africa. With recent discoveries, including this one, “we now know that there were actually six or seven of these dinosaurs in this area, as well as varieties of other dinosaurs from less common groups. It means that their ecology was much more complex than we thought. Some of these other sauropodomorphs were like the Massospondylus, but some were close to the origins of true sauropods, if not true sauropods themselves,” as Professor Barrett points out.

The study was published in PeerJ.


Fuels created with carbon dioxide, solar energy and modified cyanobacteria

Fossil fuels could soon be replaced by a product made with solar energy, carbon dioxide and water: this is the purpose undertaken by a group of researchers from the University of Uppsala, Sweden.

The process involves the use of appropriately modified cyanobacteria, thanks to which it is possible to produce butanol using solar energy but without resorting to solar cells. The sector related to the use of modified bacteria to produce different chemicals using carbon dioxide and solar energy is emerging more and more powerfully and more and more laboratories around the world are experimenting with new methods and new combinations to make the process more and more efficient.

Even the same production of butanol with this process had already been identified by past research but in the study carried out by the researchers of the Swedish Institute the production, according to the same statement published on the website of the Swedish University, is significantly higher.

Butanol can be used as a fuel, for example for traveling vehicles, and is considered a fourth-generation biofuel. It is a carbon-neutral fuel whose creation is totally sustainable since only solar energy, carbon dioxide and water are needed.

The procedure uses cyanobacteria, the most efficient photosynthetic organisms, to capture the energy of the sun.


Bats use leaves as “mirrors” to understand the presence of resting insects

Bats have a particular localization system that involves sight and hearing to understand, even in darkness, the position of obstacles and even prey, and this is a well-known thing. However, a new study, published in Current Biology, shows how sensitive these animals are through their echolocation system.

Capturing insects and intercepting them in the dark is an impossible task for many, but not for bats. The experiments that the scientists of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) have conducted, in fact, show that bats are able to trace even acoustically camouflaged prey, that is to say silent prey on the leaves.

Bats are able to hunt these insects thanks to a sort of sixth sense: they flood the surrounding area with sound waves and then use the return echoes to navigate through the environments. However, they also do this with regard to objects of limited extension such as the leaves: the latter reflect the signals and if the latter is a little weaker because there is an insect resting on the bats they can recognize the difference. And this also in a tropical forest, in the thick foliage that characterizes this environment.

Scientists have discovered that if the sound bouncing off the leaves comes from oblique angles greater than 30 degrees, the leaves themselves can behave like “mirrors” like a lake reflects the surrounding forest at dusk at dawn. This means, according to the researchers, that the same angle of approach makes the insect at rest detectable. Therefore the same researchers have deduced that the bats tend to approach the insects that rest on the leaves through angles comprised between 42 and 78 degrees, considered optimal angles to discern the same presence of the insect on the leaf.