2nd Tool-Using Crow Species Found

2nd Tool-Using Crow Species Found:

The critically endangered Hawaiian crow can use sticks to deftly fish for food that is out of reach, according to a new study. The discovery means there are now two known tool-using species of crows.

“The Hawaiian crows are incredibly good at using tools,” said lead study author Christian Rutz, a biologist at the University of St Andrews in the United Kingdom. “What we see is similar to the really skilled tool handling in New Caledonian crows.”

Until now, New Caledonian crows had been the only corvid (a group that includes crows, ravens and rooks) species known to use tools. These birds have become famous for their expert ability to fashion hooks from sticks to snag larvae and insects from crevices in logs or branches. [Creative Creatures: 10 Animals That Use Tools]

Rutz had studied the New Caledonian crow for more than a decade. In one paper, published in the journal Nature in 2012, he and his colleagues showed how the birds have physical characteristics that enable their tool control: straight bills and very large eyes with a large field of binocular vision.

Rutz told Live Science he wanted to look for other birds that shared these features, thinking those traits could be preadaptations for tool use. That led him to the Hawaiian crow, also called the ‘alalā (pronounced AH-la-la).

The one problem was that the birds had been declared extinct in the wild by 2004. (Just 131 are alive today.) So Rutz got in touch with San Diego Zoo Global, a nonprofit organization that operates the San Diego Zoo and was breeding the ‘alalā in captivity in Hawaii. People at the captive breeding facility told him they had sometimes seen the birds use sticks but didn’t think much of it.

“I immediately booked my flight to Hawaii,” Rutz said.

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Blood-Guzzling Brain Key To Evolution Of Human Intelligence

Blood-Guzzling Brain Key To Evolution Of Human Intelligence:

The human brain is a fuel hog, and that, it turns out, is key to how our intelligence evolved. It has long been believed that the evolution of human intelligence was simply related to increasing brain size, but a team of researchers from South Africa and Australia have overturned that assumption.

By calculating how blood supply to the brains of human ancestors changed over time, the researchers were able to show that the human brain not only evolved to become larger, but also more blood-thirsty. And the need for blood outpaced the volume increase of the brain itself.

“Brain size has increased about 350% over human evolution, but we found that blood flow to the brain increased an amazing 600%,” project leader Roger Seymour, from the University of Adelaide, said in a statement. “We believe this is possibly related to the brain’s need to satisfy increasingly energetic connections between nerve cells that allowed the evolution of complex thinking and learning.”

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The proto-Aztec bunny farmers of ancient Mexico

1,500 years ago, urbanites in Mesoamerica’s biggest city domesticated rabbits for fun and profit. sci tech news

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DNA revelations from Ötzi the Iceman’s leather and furs

5,300-year-old mummy found in the Italian Alps wore clothes made from many different animals. sci tech news

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Here’s how one man faked one of the biggest archaeological discoveries in history

Here’s how one man faked one of the biggest archaeological discoveries in history:

A new paper published in the Royal Society of Open Science names just one man as the culprit behind one of the biggest scientific crimes ever committed.

It all started in 1912, when Charles Dawson, a professional lawyer and amateur fossil hunter, discovered fragments of a human-like skull, an apelike jawbone with two worn molar teeth, some stone tools, and fragments of animal fossils in a gravel pit in the UK. All of the fossils were stained a dark reddish-brown.

Dawson brought his discoveries to palaeontologist Arthur Smith Woodward. When the two announced their find, it sparked major excitement in the scientific community.

The skull, which scientists decided came from a creature nicknamed Piltdown Man who walked the earth up to 500,000 years ago, was hailed as the missing evolutionary link between apes and humans.

A few more fossil fragments were later excavated from the site, and one year before Dawson’s death in 1915, he claimed that he had found fragments from another skull at a second site a few miles from the first one.

But something was a bit off about the findings.

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First Americans must have arrived by sea, not via Alaska

First Americans must have arrived by sea, not via Alaska:

A study of prehistoric DNA has challenged the established theory of how people first reached the Americas.

It suggests ice age people cannot have migrated to America on a land corridor between two glaciers as it was “biologically unviable”.

Conventional wisdom had it that the settlement of the Americas happened as people moved south through what is now Canada after two glaciers started to recede.

But analysis of DNA extracted from a key pinch-point suggests this was not possible as resources vital to human survival would not have been available in the ice-free corridor.

Researchers suggest it is likely that people travelled by sea instead.

An international team of researchers used ancient DNA extracted from a crucial point in the corridor to investigate how its ecosystem evolved as the glaciers began to retreat.

They created a comprehensive picture showing how and when different flora and fauna emerged and the once ice-covered landscape became a viable passageway.

No prehistoric reconstruction project like it has been attempted before.

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Time to scrap the idea that humans arrived in the Americas by land bridge

Bering Land Bridge fossils show a lifeless area until long after humans hit the Americas. sci tech news

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Incredible discovery reveals the truth behind an ancient Chinese legend

A deluge on the Yellow River 4,000 years ago led to a feat of Bronze Age hydro-engineering. sci tech news

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Tolerance of smoke may have given us an edge over Neanderthals

Tolerance of smoke may have given us an edge over Neanderthals:

Where there’s fire there’s often smoke – which might have been bad news for Neanderthals and other ancient hominins. Modern humans carry a genetic mutation that reduces our sensitivity to cancer-causing chemicals found in wood smoke. But Neanderthals and Denisovans apparently lacked the mutation.

Harnessing fire was one of the key events in hominin prehistory. Fire offered light, warmth, better protection from predators and the possibility of easier-to-digest cooked food. But smoke is something to be wary of. “Even today, smoke inhalation increases susceptibility to lung infections,” says Gary Perdew at Pennsylvania State University.

It might have been a significant problem during the Stone Age, given that hominins often lighted fires in caves or other enclosed areas. “If you were in a cave trying to cook, the amount of smoke you’d breathe in would be ridiculous,” says Perdew.

Our species, Homo sapiens, might have been particularly well suited to those conditions, though. Perdew and his colleagues looked at the genomes of three Neanderthals and a Denisovan, and compared them with genomes from living people and one member of our species who lived 45,000 years ago.

The researchers found that this ancient member of our species already carried a mutation not seen in either Neanderthals or Denisovans. It occurs in the AHR gene, which produces a receptor that helps regulate our response to carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons often found in wood smoke.

The team inserted human and Neanderthal versions of the AHR gene into animal cells in the lab and examined how the cells responded when exposed to these carcinogens. The Neanderthal version proved to be far more likely to cause the production of enzymes that induce a toxic effect.

“We were surprised that the differences between the two were so large,” says Perdew. For some compounds there was a 1000-fold difference in the toxic response.

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