Science News Roundup: 4/17/12

Sometimes I have trouble finding enough interesting science stories to fill up this post, but the last two weeks have been chock-full of cool news! Hopefully we’ll have something to tickle everyone’s fancy. Unless y’all hate dinosaurs and penguins, which I highly doubt. :)

New dinosaurs! The largest feathered dinosaur ever found was recently discovered in northeastern China. Yutyrannus huali (“beautiful feathered tyrant”) is a distant relative of T. Rex but actually lived 60 million years earlier. It doesn’t have full-fledged feathers, but tiny fluffy ones like we see on baby birds today. Aww. Another new species was found in the Patagonia region of Argentina, along with several of its eggs. 70 million year old Bonapartenykus ultimus is most notable because its skeleton is very similar to that of the Nandu, a flightless bird that lives in the region today, and it may lend new insight into how some dinosaurs evolved into modern birds.

artist rendition of feathered dinosaur
Artist's rendition of Yutyrannus Huali by Brian Choo

Skipping forward in time to about a million years ago, evidence has been found of the oldest definitively man-made fire. Ashes and burned bone fragments were found deep inside the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa and were likely started by Homo erectus. Previously, the oldest known fire was about 700,000 years old; other fire evidence has been found in the intervening years, but in those cases it was impossible to say if the fire was man-made or started by lightning strikes.

Satellites are being put to a really cool use in Antarctica: counting penguins! It turns out there are about 595,000 emperor penguins, about twice as many as were thought to live there based on previous estimates. Scientists used satellite images to look for brown patches on the ice (indicating vast swathes of penguin poop, the more you know!), then took high-resolution pictures and counted the penguins (which isn’t as easy as it sounds).

Four emperor penguins against blue sky
These guys have a lot of buddies

Ranchers may hate them, and few people want wolves or bears hanging out in their backyards, but healthy predator populations are vital to keeping balance in the ecosystem. The disruption in the food chain caused by overhunting of wolves and bears is causing the deer, moose, and elk populations to explode. These large plant-eaters are changing the compositions of some forests by eating all the young maple trees, annoying homeowners by invading yards to eat up their gardens, and causing an increased number of automobile collisions, which can be extremely dangerous for all involved parties.

Monkeys can read! Well, not exactly, but some baboons have learned to distinguish between real four-letter words and strings of four random letters.

56 out of 82 coral species in US waters are being considered for inclusion on the Endangered Species List amid fears they could go extinct by the year 2100. Increased carbon dioxide levels are making oceans more acidic and water temperatures are increasing, putting the survival of our reefs in peril. Coral extinctions would have widespread effects on ocean life, since reefs are home to about one quarter of all species in the sea.

Glaciers in the Karakoram range may actually be increasing in mass! This is good news considering earlier fears that all glacial ice could disappear from the region in the near future.

snow-covered mountain K2 in the Karakoram range
K2, one of many glacier-topped mounains of the Karakoram

Talks are under way that may lead to the UK importing geothermal energy from Iceland via undersea cables.

Have you ever wanted to donate money for scientific research? Now you can! allows scientists to ask for donations to fund various projects. Recently funded projects include a search for new ant species in threatened forests in Madagascar and a quest to find moons orbiting planets outside our solar system. Eighteen projects are currently soliciting donations; maybe one will be right up your alley!

By [E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

19 replies on “Science News Roundup: 4/17/12”

I was really lucky to get to go to Antarctica a few years ago and see the penguins up close. WHile we had to stay 15 meters away at all times, when we stopped at this island, Bailey Head, which has the largest Chinstrap penguin colony in the world, there was no way to stay that far away. They were everywhere! And since they have no land predators, they aren’t afraid of people and they just kept strolling right on up.

It was freaking amazing. I love penguin news!!


SERIOUSLY.  There is SO MUCH AWESOMENESS in the ocean and we know like one tiiiiiiiiiiny bit of it.  Awesome and ridiculously complicated fluid dynamics!  Biogeochemistry!  Climate pumps!  Geothermal vents!  Plankton blooms!  Enormous carbon sinks!  Penguins!  Giant squids!  OCEANS ARE SO COOL.


I love/am almost equally scared of the sea too!  I live in Melbourne and it is crazy how much stuff you can see by just taking a mask and snorkle to the beach! And that public transport easily goes to the beach!

There is good news on the water front (see what I did there?) in that the Australian Government is close to making the Coral Sea a giant marine park.

It is nutter butters that they allow shipping through the Great Barrier Reef.  Blows my mind!

As much as I love coral reefs, I kind of don’t even think people should be allowed to interact with them at all. Eco-tourism and reef gawking do enough damage as it is, and the shipping thing, well, I can’t even believe that. I think I had intentionally forgotten about it because it makes me so mad.

I have no idea! The other article explained the etymology (Yutyrannus huali = “beautiful feathered tyrant”) but I have no idea about Bonapartenykus ultimus. If I had to make a completely ridiculous guess, I’d say it means “Bonaparte’s last Nike.”

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