Science Links of the Week 

A passion for the natural world drives many of our adventures. And when we’re not actually outside, we love delving into the discoveries about the places where we live and travel. Here are some of the best natural history links we’ve found this week.

Ocean secrets

Sea dragon skeleton found in the UK: Conservationists have found the fossilized remains of an ichthyosaur at the bottom of a reservoir in England. The “sea dragon” is one of the largest and most complete skeletons of the species found to date.

The conservationists were draining Rutland Water Nature Reserve as part of a landscaping project when they stumbled across the remains in 2021. “We sort of looked at it and scratched our heads…we could see these ridges and bumps. That’s when alarm bells started to ring,” said Mr. Davis. He took photos and sent them over to the geology department at the University of Leicester. “I immediately recognized them as ichthyosaur vertebrae,” said Dr. Lomax, who went on to lead the excavation.

Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that first appeared 250 million years ago. This skeleton dates back 180 million years, to the early Jurassic period. The intact skeleton amazed Paleontologists, they had expected to only find fragments. Icy conditions meant they were unable to extract the skeleton, so they covered it with plastic sheets and mud and then returned in August. Researchers are now preserving the skeleton and removing rocks from the bones.

World’s largest fish breeding ground discovered: Scientists have discovered the world’s largest fish breeding ground in Antarctica. Marine biologists discovered approximately 60 million icefish nests on the floor of the Weddell Sea. Each nest contains up to 2,500 eggs.

Scientists started exploring the Weddell Sea in the 1980s but found only small clusters of nests previously. A German research vessel found the huge expanse of nests whilst conducting routine observations. “The idea that such a huge breeding area of icefish in the Weddell Sea was previously undiscovered is totally fascinating,” says Dr. Autun Purser. Scientists are calling for governments to create a Marine Protected Area to safeguard the breeding grounds.

Biologists found millions of ice-fish nests in the Weddell Sea. Photo: AFI Ofobs

Warrior women

Remains of 3,000-year-old warrior women found in Armenia: Three millennia ago, many civilizations across the Mediterranean collapsed. Archeologists have now discovered the remains of two female warriors in the Jrapi cemetery, Armenia. Initially, they assumed the skeletons were male as they were buried like honored warriors. Testing has proved they were women.

Both women would have been horse-riding warriors who fought for their communities. Their remains show that both women experienced significant trauma before they died. The first skeleton is of a 45 to 50-year-old woman; she had a dent in the back of her skull. The arrow that killed her was still lodged in her ribcage. The second woman was much younger. She had been shot in the ankle, stabbed in the jaw, and had blunt force dents in the back of her head.

A new frog and ageless ants

New Rainfrog species discovered in Panama: You can find Rainfrogs across South America, with a few species present in Central America. There are 574 known species of these often-colorful frogs, but they are relatively understudied. Their variation in color and morphology can make it difficult for biologists to decipher between species by sight alone.

Scientists have found a previously unknown species of rainfrog in Panama. They have named it Pristimantis Gretathunbergae after climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Pristimantis Gretathunbergae. Photo: Konrad Mebert

The never-aging ants with a terrible secret: In the forests of Germany a group of ants has done the seemingly impossible, they have stopped the aging process. While some temnothorax ants in the colony age as normal and die after a few months, some live for years. These ants maintain the soft outer shells and tawny shading signifying a juvenile. All these ageless ants have one thing in common, their bellies are teeming with tapeworms.

The parasites prolong the lifespan of their host dramatically. Researchers think the affected ants can live for over a decade. The temnothorax ants become host to the parasites when they ingest bird feces containing tapeworm eggs as larvae. Researchers found that the tapeworm-infected ants also did less work than other ants in the colony. The normal ants treated them as juveniles and groomed, fed, and carried them around due to their youthful appearance.

Climate change is destabilizing the Arctic

Climate change destroying homes across the Arctic: The Arctic is warming two to four times faster than the rest of the planet. The rising temperature is causing permafrost to thaw across Russia, North America, and Scandinavia. This poses a huge problem for the five million people who live on the Arctic permafrost.

The usually frozen ground is forming sinkholes. Landslides and flooding are becoming more common. Studies suggest that 70% of existing infrastructure is at high risk of damage by 2050. Across communities on the permafrost, water mains are rupturing, houses are becoming unstable, and ponds are forming due to all the meltwater. “If you think about the Arctic, landscape stability is dependent on the threshold of zero degrees Celsius. And as the ground temperature approaches zero, we are seeing huge waves of problems,” said Arctic geologist Louise Farquharson.

Elizabeth-Ann celebrates her first birthday. Photo: USFWS National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Centre

Could a clone bring this ferret species back from the brink?

Cloned ferret celebrates first birthday: Elizabeth-Ann, the world’s first cloned black-footed ferret, has celebrated her first birthday. This is a major milestone for conservationists; the little ferret is one of the first clones to reach sexual maturity.

Black-footed ferrets are one of the most endangered species in North America. Conservationists plan to mate Elizabeth-Ann in spring. If she gives birth to healthy kits it will be the first time cloning has been successfully used to try and save a species from extinction. If successful it opens the door to use the technique on other endangered species, but if it fails the team worries it will boost skepticism about the value of cloning. “Everything about Elizabeth Ann is much bigger than the science behind it, and it’s much bigger than helping the ferrets,” says Ben Novak.

Scientists cloned Elizabeth-Ann using cells of a female ferret that died over three decades ago. Scientists classed the species as endangered in 1973. Their numbers fell dramatically in the 1970s after prairie dog colonies and their burrows were almost wiped out by farmers and ranchers. Prairie dogs are a crucial prey species for the ferrets.