A Mass Die off of the Endangered Saiga Antelope

Why owning a pet makes you happier and more likely to live longer

Owning a lively pet may sometimes prove exasperating, but it appears all the effort is worth it.

Pet owners are healthier, have greater self-esteem and are less lonely than those who don’t have animals at home, according to a study.

Not only that, but they are also more conscientious, extroverted and less fearful, researchers at the American Psychological Association said

Man’s best friend: Owning a pet brings with it many benefits including improved health, greater self-esteem and less loneliness, according to scientists

They believe that pets serve as important sources of social and emotional support for the average person, and not just individuals facing significant health challenges.

Lead researcher, Allen R McConnell, of Miami University in Ohio, said: ‘We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions.

‘Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.’

Pet owners are just as close to key people in their lives as to their animals, the study found.

This indicates no evidence that relationships with pets come at the expense of relationships with other people, or that people relied more on pets when their human social support was poorer.

The scientists, from Miami University and Saint Louis University in Missouri, conducted three experiments to examine the potential benefits of pet ownership among what they called ‘everyday people’.

They questioned 217 people with an average age of 31 and family income of $77,000, 79 per cent of whom were women.

The group answered a survey aimed at determining whether pet owners differed from people without pets in terms of well-being and personality type.

Researchers now believe that pets serve as important sources of social and emotional support for the average person, and not just individuals facing significant health challenges

Several differences between the groups emerged – in all cases, pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted than were non-owners.

A second experiment involved 56 dog owners with an average age of 42 and family income of $65,000, 91 per cent of whom were women.

This group were questioned about whether they benefit more when their pet is perceived to fulfill their social needs better.

The researchers here found greater well-being among owners whose dogs increased their feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.

The last group, made up of 97 undergraduates with an average age of 19, found that pets can make people feel better after experiencing rejection.

Subjects were asked to write about a time when they felt excluded. Then they were asked to write about their favourite pet, or to write about their favourite friend, or to draw a map of their campus.

The researchers found that writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend when it came to staving off feelings of rejection.

‘The present work presents considerable evidence that pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically, by serving as an important source of social support,’ the researchers wrote.

‘Whereas past work has focused primarily on pet owners facing significant health challenges…the present study establishes that there are many positive consequences for everyday people who own pets.’

The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

New Species of Ancient River Dolphin Actually Lived in the Ocean

The fossilized remains of a new species of ancient river dolphin that lived at least 5.8 million years ago have been found in Panama, and the discovery could shed light on the evolutionary history of these freshwater mammals.

Researchers found half a skull, a lower jaw with an almost complete set of conical teeth, a right shoulder blade and two small bones from a flipper. The fossils are estimated to be between 5.8 million and 6.1 million years old, making them from the late Miocene epoch, researchers said in a new study.

The ancient river dolphin, named Isthminia panamensis, was calculated to be more than 9 feet (2.7 meters) long, according to the study. [Deep Divers: A Gallery of Dolphins]

The ancient mammal was discovered on the Caribbean coast of Panama, at the same site where other marine animal fossils have been found, which suggests that I. panamensiswas also a saltwater species, the researchers said.

I. panamensis is the only fossil of a river dolphin known from the Caribbean, the researchers said in the study.

“We discovered this new fossil in marine rocks, and many of the features of its skull and jaws point to it having been a marine inhabitant, like modern oceanic dolphins,” study lead author Nicholas Pyenson, a curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

But despite dwelling in the salty waters of the Caribbean Sea, I. panamensis is actually more closely related to modern-day freshwater river dolphins, the researchers said. In fact, “Isthminia is actually the closest relative of the living Amazon river dolphin,” study co-author Aaron O’Dea, a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, said in a statement.

Only four species of river dolphins exist today (although one, the Yangtze river dolphin, is now likely extinct), all living in freshwater or coastal ecosystems. All of these river dolphins moved from marine to freshwater habitats, developing broad, paddlelike flippers; flexible necks; and heads with particularly long, narrow snouts as they evolved, according to the study. These adaptations allowed the river dolphins to better navigate and hunt in winding, silty rivers, the researchers said.

“Many other iconic freshwater species in the Amazon — such as manatees, turtles and stingrays — have marine ancestors, but until now, the fossil record of river dolphins in this basin has not revealed much about their marine ancestry,” Pyenson said. “[I. panamensis] now gives us a clear boundary in geologic time for understanding when this lineage invaded Amazonia.”

Whales and dolphins evolved from terrestrial ancestors into marine animals, but river dolphins represent a backward evolutionary path, moving from oceans inland to freshwater ecosystems, the researchers said.

“As such, fossil specimens may tell stories not just of the evolution of these aquatic animals, but also of the changing geographies and ecosystems of the past,” O’Dea said.

Bizarre Human Size Sea Scorpion Found in Ancient Meteorite Crater

About 460 million years ago, a sea scorpion about the size of an adult human swam around in the prehistoric waters that covered modern-day Iowa, likely dining on bivalves and squishy eel-like creatures, a new study finds.

The ancient sea scorpions are eurypterids, a type of arthropod that is closely related to modern arachnids and horseshoe crabs. The findings — which include at least 20 specimens — are the oldest eurypterid fossils on record by about 9 million years, said study lead researcher James Lamsdell, a postdoctoral associate of paleontology at Yale University.

The findings are also the largest known eurypterids from the Ordovician period, which began approximately 488 million years ago and ended 443.7 million years ago. The sea creatures measured up to 5.6 feet (1.7 meters) long. [See Images of the Ancient Sea Scorpion]

Researchers dubbed the newfound species Pentecopterus decorahensis, named for Greek warships (penteconter) and the Greek word for wings (pterus) because the sea scorpion was likely a top predator that sped through the water, the researchers said. The species name also honors the Iowa city of Decorah, where the fossils were uncovered.

“The best way to describe this animal is bizarre,” Lamsdell told Live Science. “For a long time, I had trouble being sure that this was one species because there are so many strange things about it.”

Paddle-shaped limbs

An analysis showed that P. decorahensis had specialized limbs that developed as it aged. Its rear limbs are shaped like paddles with joints that appear to be locked in, suggesting that the predator used them as paddles to swim or dig, the researchers said.

Its second and third pairs of limbs were likely angled forward, which suggests they helped the ancient arthropod grab prey. Moreover, the three back pairs of limbs are shorter than the front pair, indicating that P. decorahensis walked on six legs instead of eight.This appendage shows movable and fixed spines. The scale bar represents 0.4 inches (1 cm).

Interestingly, juveniles had different spines on their legs than adults did.

“It looks like the juveniles would have behaved more like horseshoe crabs, sort of walked around on the seafloor, grubbing in the mud, just eating worms or whatever they could find,” Lamsdell said.

With age, their back legs shrank and probably helped the eurypterids balance while swimming. The front legs grew, as did the sharp spines growing on them, “and they could have been used for catching larger prey,” Lamsdell said.

Like other arthropods, P. decorahensis probably molted as it aged. Researchers speculate that eurypterids molted “en masse, and accumulations of molts have been reported from a number of sheltered, marginal marine environments,” the researchers wrote in the study. Perhaps the specimens found in Iowa are molted skin, they said. [Skin Shedders: A Gallery of Creatures That Molt]

Even so, the fossils provide exquisite detail, showing scales, follicles and stiff bristles that once covered the animals. For instance, its rear limbs are covered with dense bristles. Horseshoe crabs have similar bristles that expand the surface area of its paddles as it swims, but P. decorahensis’ smaller bristles suggest they may have been sensory in nature, the researchers said.

The Iowa Geological Survey discovered the fossils during a mapping project of the Upper Iowa River. Researchers subsequently found at least 20 P. decorahensis individuals, and had to dam the river to safely remove the specimens.

Credit: Iowa Geological Survey

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Workers with the Iowa Geological Survey uncovered the fossils in the Upper Iowa River during a mapping survey.

The fossils were found at the bottom of a meteorite impact crater, a scar left from when Earth was battered about 470 million years ago, Lamsdell said. The so-called Ordovician meteor event left a “series of pockmarks” across the United States, and predated the newfound eurypterid fossils by several million years, he added.

Researchers found more than 150 fossil fragments from the site — an 88.5-foot-thick (27 m) formation in northeastern Iowa known as Winneshiek Shale. The fossils are also well preserved, and can be peeled off the rock and studied under a microscope.

“It really looks like an animal that has just shed its skin,” Lamsdell said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

The new study is “exciting material,” said Roy Plotnick, a professor of paleontology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was not involved in the study.

“To find something as well preserved as this is pretty exciting, especially given that it’s old and yet has features of more advanced forms,” Plotnick said. “That tells us that somewhere in even older rocks should be even more ancestral forms to find.”

Bird Mummy’s Secret Why Raptor Was Force-Fed by Ancient Egyptians

Mummification wasn’t reserved for people in Egypt. The archaeological record is full of examples of cats, dogs, crocodiles and birds that were mummified and used as religious offerings to their corresponding animal gods, a practice that was popular from about 600 B.C. until around A.D. 250, well into the Roman period. Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, has made a living studying these animal mummies, and for her latest research, she examined the ancient remains of a European kestrel from the Iziko Museums of South Africa in Cape Town. [See Photos of Dog Mummies in Ancient Egyptian Catacomb

An X-ray revealed a mouse tail extending from the ancient bird’s stomach up through its esophagus.

Credit: Stellenbosch University, via Salima Ikram

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New imaging technologies have made it possible to see through mummies without butchering ancient corpses: Ikram and her colleagues used an X-ray computed tomography scanner at Stellenbosch University in South Africa to see the insides of the kestrel in 3D. The images revealed the bird’s stomach was stuffed with bones and teeth from at least two mice —one with its tail inside the raptor’s esophagus —and a partially digested sparrow.

The kestrel’s skeleton showed no signs of trauma. And whereas other bird mummies in Egypt had their gizzards removed or their beaks packed with food after death, this specimen also had no signs of evisceration. The kestrel was likely desiccated with natron (a naturally occurring soda ash) embalmed with resin and wrapped in bandages (in this case, quite haphazardly) with its stomach contents intact.

“We were extraordinarily surprised by the virtual autopsy as we had no expectation of any contents within the kestrel’s body,” Ikram said. “To learn that it choked was amazing.”

Ikram and her colleagues say it’s unlikely the kestrel accidentally or deliberately ate itself to death, as the birds are known to store food when they catch too much for a single meal. Rather, the bird likely had lots of help dying from its captors.

In Egyptian art, images show a variety of animals, from hyenas to geese, being force-fed by people, Ikram told Live Science. But this is the first time archaeologists have identified an animal mummy that died of overeating. The kestrel in the Iziko Museums might also be among the earliest evidence of falconry.

“The fact that wild birds that were not of use for food themselves were tamed and controlled provides an insight into Egyptian religious practices,” Ikram said. “The ability of the Egyptians to tame and control wild bird populations, and the possible use of these creatures in falconry, either as sport or in obtaining small game, is of interest as it documents the evolving relationship between humans and animals.”

The mummy arrived at the Iziko Museums in the early 20th century, but unfortunately the authors of the study don’t know where it came from. Ikram thinks it likely was unearthed in a catacomb or special burial linked with the sun god. Her team is going through the museum archives to try to trace the artifact to a specific geographic area.