Scientific discoveries this week: 11-1-10

Woods Hole, Massachusetts – A 10-million-year glaciation may have been the driving factor in the evolution of mammals on Earth. Bio-geochemist Noah Planavsky at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts discovered that a phenomenon known as “snowball Earth” could be the cause of a rapid increase in atmospheric oxygen that allowed mammals to develop. Snowball Earth is the idea that in the past the entire earth was wrapped in an ice age, and most land masses were covered in glaciers. The glaciers would have advanced and receded over time, grinding down the land masses and releasing massive amounts of phosphorous into the oceans. This phosphorous would cause algae blooms which would in turn produce organic matter and oxygen.

Leicester, United Kingdom – Decaying fish may offer insight into how to interpret the fossil record. Paleontologists at the University of Leicester in the UK have closely watched the process of decay in two different fish species, and noticed that it follows a very similar pattern for all fish. Bones react with minerals in the ground to make fossils that last for millions of years. Soft tissues decompose very rapidly, and leave no record of their structure or composition. Understanding modern-day decay patterns will help researchers to better interpret the fossil record.

Sahara Desert, Libya – 39-million-year-old monkeys may be mankind’s oldest ancestors. A group of paleontologists from around the world have been working on archaeological digs for three years and have discovered a group of primates believed to be the earliest members of the subgroup of primates known as anthropoids. The subgroup of anthropoids includes monkeys, apes, and humans, and is believed to have evolved from a group of tiny 45-million-year-old primates from Asia. Some believe that the advancement of the species is due to these anthropoids moving from Asia to Africa.

Sydney, Australia – Assassin bugs may help humans by killing unwanted pests. Researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, have been studying how the assassin bug lures and kills spiders. The insect uses a technique known as “aggressive mimicry” to lure spiders or other prey to within it’s reach by sitting on the web and plucking the silk fibers, imitating a trapped insect, and then stabbing the spider in the back of the head when it comes to kill the trapped insect.

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