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Science: Fossil found in Argentina offers clues on terror bird; luckily bumblebees don’t have car keys

Terror bird fossil offers clues

After dinosaurs became extinct, the terror birds arrived. The fierce-looking creatures had sharp, hooked beaks and long hind legs, and could reach 10 feet in height. A new study describes the exquisitely preserved fossil of a South American terror bird and provides new details about its anatomy. Ninety percent of the fossil is well preserved.

“This is the most complete skeleton found of any terror bird,” said Federico Javier Degrange, a paleontologist at the National University of Cordoba in Argentina and one of the study’s authors.

With the fossil, found in Argentina, Degrange and his colleagues were able to reconstruct the bird’s skull, voice box, trachea, eye bones and palate.

Described in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the new species, called Llallawavis scagliai, was about 4 feet tall. The bird’s inner ear structure suggests it was capable of hearing low-frequency sounds, just as running birds like ostriches and emus do.

“They may have used low sounds to communicate with other individuals or for prey detection,” Degrange said. “They may have been listening for small mammals like rodents.”

The fossil adds to the diversity of terror birds and raises new questions as to why they went extinct. Since the species varied in size and weight, terror birds may not have died out because of an inability to compete with placental mammals, as some researchers have suggested.

Luckily bees don’t have car keys

Bumblebees can remember the patterns, colors and scents of different flowers, researchers have discovered. But memory can fail in the bumblebee, just as it does in humans.

In a laboratory, Lars Chittka, a behavioral ecologist at Queen Mary University of London, and his colleagues trained bumblebees to expect a reward when they visited a solid yellow artificial flower and one with black and white rings.

In a follow-up test minutes later in which no rewards were offered, the bees were shown the same two flowers, as well as one with yellow and white rings – a combination of the two originals. The bees showed a clear preference for the original flowers.

But a day later, when Chittka ran the same test, the bees became confused, sometimes heading toward the hybrid flower. After three days, the bees opted for the hybrid flower half the time.

Like humans, bees use memories to create rules about their environment.

– New York Times