CHURCH OF THE APES: Scientists think chimps may have religious beliefs

London – VIJAY SHAH via ANDREW GRIFFIN and The Independent

Scientists are studying footage shot by the Chimbo Foundation and PanAf of strange behaviour by a group of African chimpanzees, which they may think indicate the chimps are performing rituals, which may indicate belief in a religion, according to Britain’s The Independent newspaper, and first reported last year (2016).

The footage shows chimps in a forest clearing in an unnamed part of West Africa, carrying stones and arranging them in little ‘cairns’. Mainly though, the chimps, including a mother carrying her baby, are seen hurling rocks against the bases of certain wide-bottomed trees, while screeching loudly. Other apes have been seen throwing smaller rocks into holes in the trees, creating deposits of material. It is surmised that this unusual behaviour, which has only so far been among this West African band of chimps, could be the beginnings of ritual behaviour. The participation of the mother and younger apes means the stone-throwing is highly unlikely to be mating behaviour, and the throwing does not also point to territorial marking.

 

Scientists studying the apes say their strange activities can give an insight into early human rituals and religious beliefs. Ancient humans constructed cairns and other rock formations as part of nature worship, one of the most famous and advanced examples being the UK’s Stonehenge monument. Chimps and other great apes have already shown the kind of intelligence associated with humans, for example in using sticks as tools to extract grubs and ants. Yet the stone-throwing in West Africa does not fulfill a functional purpose, such as finding food.

The researchers, whose institution was not mentioned in the Independent report, but described in the video above as being from Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Biology, wrote in their report abstracts on the chimp rituals: “This represents the first record of repeated observations of individual chimpanzees exhibiting stone tool use for a purpose other than extractive foraging at what appear to be targeted trees,”

“The ritualized (sic) behavioural display and collection of artefacts at particular locations observed in chimpanzee accumulative stone throwing may have implications for the inferences that can be drawn from archaeological stone assemblages and the origins of ritual sites”

Interestingly, the scientists also found in their research that people in West Africa who follow traditional religions also enact similar rituals involving the construction of cairns at sacred trees.

In a piece written around the findings, researcher Laura Kehoe described the experience of watching the chimp look around and then fling a rock at the tree trunk.

Nothing like this had been seen before and it gave me goose bumps,” she wrote.

Marking pathways and territories with signposts such as piles of rocks is an important step in human history,” wrote Kehoe. “Figuring out where chimps’ territories are in relation to rock throwing sites could give us insights into whether this is the case here.”

SOURCES:

The Independent, Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/TheIndependentOnline/

“Mysterious chimpanzee behaviour could be ‘sacred rituals’ and show that chimps believe in god” – Andrew Griffin, The Independent (4 March 2016) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/mysterious-chimpanzee-behaviour-could-be-sacred-rituals-and-show-that-chimps-believe-in-god-a6911301.html

VIDEO CREDIT:

“This Could Be First-Ever Observed Ritual Practice Among Chimpanzees” – Hjalmar Kuehl and team/Scientific Reports/MPI-EVA/PanAf/Chimbo Foundation/GeoBeats News, YouTube (1 March 2016) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEQOThqq2pk

 

A MEAL FOR EIGHT (LEGS): How spiders catch their food

Our planet is home to around 35,000-50,000 species of spider (the estimates vary), the vast majority of which spin webs made out of silk generated inside the spider’s body. As any arachnid expert will tell you, spiders weave their silky masterpieces primarily as a means of obtaining food. With strands stronger than the equivalent thickness of steel, spider webs are covered with sticky substances that ensnare their prey, trapping flies and even birds and snakes, ready for the web’s resident to deliver its venomous coup de grâce.

When an insect flying about and minding its own business collides with a web, which is often designed to be invisible until it is too late, the impact creates vibrations that alert the spider. Spiders have extra sensitive hairs on their legs, which are attuned to pick up the slightest movement coming from the web’s fabric.

However, arachnologists have not yet figured out how exactly the spider interprets the movement signals when its equivalent of a pizza delivery happens. In 2016, a team of scientists from the American state of Oregon decided to try and solve this puzzle by creating a web of their own.

Using nylon from parachutes, the team built a web that replicated a traditional ‘spoke’ layout, popularly associated with spiders. The strands of yarn were arranged radially and were held taut by a specially constructed machine with an aluminium frame, alongside an attachment resembling a spider placed centrally, as can be seen with garden spiders and orb weavers.

 

 

The vibrations caused by insects were reproduced with the help of a subwoofer-type speaker, and the spiral of the web was emulated with elastic cords. Ross Hatton, a member of the research team at Oregon State University, told GrandesMedios.com, the source of this story, of how realistic they made the web experiment, explaining that they used two different types of nylon rope, just as spiders use two different types of silk.

The artificial spider in the middle was calibrated to pick up vibrations from the speaker, even the slightest ones. As Hatton explained: “We started with the hypothesis that if you moved one of the radial lines slightly, the arachnid perceived that one moved more than the others,

“We also speculated, that the spider would go towards the line that undergoes a variation in its movement”

In other words, Hatton and his team expected the spider in real life to gravitate towards the line of silk from which the most movement was travelling from. However the result of the experiment was quite different from the team’s original hypothesis.

Far from being a simple case of only a single strand of the web notifying that it caught dinner, the team discovered that the cobweb gave off a complex pattern of vibrations, with some sections of the web being more sensitive than others. According to Hatton, at different frequencies of sound from the speaker, different web strands and layouts did not vibrate at all. Different parts and strands of the web vibrated only at certain frequencies and remained unresponsive at others.

These different frequencies of vibration are believed to help the spider identify what type of prey had crashed into its web, and perhaps also help it distinguish between live prey and inedible objects such as leaf fragments and debris. The study, which redrew the way people thought about how arachnids predate, was presented at the American Physical Society conference recently.

SOURCES:

Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/VShah1984

Tecnología GM, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/TecnologiaGM

“Cómo perciben las arañas a las víctimas que caen en su red” – GrandesMedios.com/Grandes Medios (6 April 2016) https://www.grandesmedios.com/asi-detectan-las-aranas-a-sus-victimas/

IMAGE CREDIT:

“Spider and web” – Dwight Sipler, Flickr (23 September 2009) https://www.flickr.com/photos/62528187@N00/3948508109/in/photolist-71V8U2-9ReV6c-aqKQGv-dpdK7M-5roAqX-5roEwn-5roBTv-DV9Eq-mYCVp-6Hu2Eb-5tj1DG-9oBvU-jG4wh-8JZa3e-a9A2a9-8WDwtQ-afhCqA-8yN4WL-5vSbKd-e2eBjU-aj8tGX-6QTWyn-4VgnTS-4Vc9mt-9aCUoX-4WYuxd-6bSLvd-51ycz-4rhGUq-31bfxS-316GzT-316xNt-316yCg-31b8K7-31b9dh-31b4TG-316z6p-316wva-31bbq9-31bdXs-31b3iw-31b64m-316EZD-31b7tU-316xwZ-31b8nG-31bdvo-31bcvw-316y1V-31baXE-316w2a

UK HOLIDAYS: Natural sights most popular for holidaymakers in 2017

London – VIJAY SHAH and SWNS digital

 

A recent poll on holidays and days out choices among British tourists has found that trips to the country’s peaks are the most popular. The scenic Lake District area of north England topped the choices at number one attraction people most want to visit, overtaking the Peak District in the county of Derbyshire and Wales’ highest mountain, Snowdon.

While mountains were the most popular options for communing with nature, the poll participants also voted for seaside locations like piers and beaches, as well as museums. The results were drawn from a list of fifty leading U.K. attractions devised by transport firm National Express. A thousand people were surveyed for the poll.

National Express’ managing director, Chris Hardy, said: “They say the best things in life are free and we hope our list inspires people to get out and explore somewhere new – without breaking the bank.

“It’s great to see that Brits appreciate the natural sights that the UK has to offer, and the sheer volume of beauty spots on this list goes to show that you’re never far from something stunning to see on a day out.”

Despite being the epicentre of British tourism for both national and international visitors, London made a poor showing in the results, with only one of the capital’s prime attractions, the Natural History Museum, making the top ten locations for days out. The museum only made it to ninth place. Twenty-three other museums across the country also featured, including smaller, region-specific museums such as the Royal Pump Rooms in Leamington Spa, central England. A few cathedrals also made the list.

SOURCE/IMAGE CREDIT:

“Natural Views and Scenery Dominate in List of UK’s Favourite Days Out” – SWNS digital/72Point (23 April 2017) http://www.swnsdigital.com/2017/04/natural-views-and-scenery-dominate-in-list-of-uks-favourite-days-out/

PHOTO MOMENT: Canadian elf coin

 

A 25-dollar pure silver coloured coin issued by Canada in 2016. The coin, part of a popular and recent tradition of countries issuing coinage with full-colour scenery and even holographic elements, shows a mythological ‘woodland elf’ on the reverse. The elf, dressed in green hat and suit, is busy at work building a wooden birdhouse amidst typical northern Canadian forest scenery. The obverse features a unique profile portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

The coin was recently launched by the Royal Canadian Mint, based on a design by local artist Jesse Koreck, and is being sold at face value in Canada and the United States.

 

SOURCES/IMAGE CREDIT:
Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/VShah1984
Numismatics, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/numismatics_rr
“2016 $25 Woodland Elf Silver Coin for $25” – CoinNews.net via NUMISMATICS (14 October 2016) http://www.rightrelevance.com/search/articles/hero?article=c1d0c3c908112d8b82a9fe698eabfed619d40934&query=numismatics&taccount=numismatics_rr

UPS: Petition calls for the banning of animal trophy shipments

gb

London, UNITED KINGDOM
VIJAY SHAH

A petition launched five months ago on the website change.org by people angry that delivery parcel service UPS are shipping the remains of wild animals by hunters as trophies is receiving renewed attention and larger ground among supporters, the Half-Eaten Mind exclusively reports. The petition, created by Briton Paul Tully from Durham, calls on UPS, one of the world’s largest shippers, to cease providing services for people to send back ‘trophies’ from animal safaris in locations such as Africa.

The trading in such animal trophies has come to the fore following the slaughtering of a protected Zimbabwean lion named Cecil earlier this year by a dentist from Minnesota, USA. The hunter, Walter Palmer, became public enemy number one, and his dental practice in Bloomington was the target of protests.

The petition, which has so far reached 2,417 of the required 10,000 signatures and has gained more than 7,500 supporters on change.org, demands that UPS and David Abney, its chief executive officer “immediately ban the shipment of hunting trophies of endangered and threatened species”.

Paul Tully has lent his support to fellow protestors from the United States who have already rallied against UPS’ policy on importing hunters’ trophies, but he claims in a statement on the petition that UPS has so far ignored pleas to end its role in this controversial trade.

Tully also urged UPS to “urgently reassess (their) current unethical and immoral stance” and their “injustice to wildlife”. He also urged the company to take a stand and to not give into alleged pressure from the hunting lobby.

Several U.S. and international airlines had already banned the carrying of animal parts from hunting expeditions on their flights, including Delta Airlines, United Airlines, the U.K’s British Airways and the UAE’s Emirates SkyCargo cargo service.

According to U.K paper The Express, UPS and fellow delivery firm FedEx has so far refused to stop shipping of trophies from big game hunts. A previous petition against UPS attracted 200,000 signatures, causing the firm to hold a public relations meeting. The company’s head of PR, Steve Gaut agreed to view protesters’ concerns but later said that the policy of freely accepting business from hunters would continue, citing that trophies made up less then 1 per cent of UPS’ business.

A spokesman for UPS told VICE that it “is strongly against the trafficking or trade of endangered species” but “accepts for shipment taxidermy items that are legally obtained and appropriately documented”.

Anti-hunting protestors and environmental groups claim that over 26,000 wild hunting trophies were shipped around the world between 2010 and 2014, ranging from eggs to pelts.

SOURCES:
Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind
“Londoners” – Wind Smoke, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/windsmoke_uk/lists/londoners
Julie Stevenson, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/JulieMcKie
“Ban the Shipment of Hunting Trophies” – Paul Tully, change.org/Change.org, Inc. https://www.change.org/p/united-parcel-service-david-abney-ban-the-shipment-of-hunting-trophies?recruiter=68965565&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_twitter_responsive&rp_sharecordion_checklist=control
 “Customers boycott UPS and FedEx after firms REFUSE to stop shipping big game hunt trophies” – Scott Campbell, Express – News – Nature/Northern and Shell Media Publications (28 August 2015) http://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/601325/UPS-FedEx-big-game-hunting-trophies-petition-Cecil-lion-animal-Walter-Palmer
IMAGE CREDITS:
Getty Images via Zemanta.

MY JOURNEY THROUGH A LENS: New photography book by Alex Smithson

Alex Smithson, the blogger behind news, photography and music blog Mother Nature has now celebrated nearly a month since the successful launch of his latest published photography project, a book entitled “My Journey Through A Lens”. It is the third such book created by the Croydon College photography student, a firm supporter of the Half-Eaten Mind, and follows the success of his earlier works “My Journey Through Photography” and “A Year in Photography”.

Alex’s third book of his amazing nature and scenery photography had been many months in the making, combining both pictures and articles published on the Mother Nature site, as well as external projects Alex worked on in his free time and also as part of his photography and art course at Croydon College, a further education institute located just south of the UK capital, London.

By March 2015, Alex was already putting the final touches to My Journey Through A Lens, a book chronicling his career as a budding photographer and graphic designer. Like any author, Alex spent much time ironing out spelling and grammar mistakes as he sought to make his third book just ripe for the picking and reading, as well as tackling the inevitable umm and aahs of getting a suitable set of photographs prepared. He also spent considerable time designing the front and back covers of My Journey. He at first went for a simple and minimalistic, yet visually powerful format in design, with his favourite nature photo taking pride of place. Alex prepared two such designs, one featuring plants silhouetted in a sunset sky and the other depicting exploding fireworks taken over the New Year period of 2014-2015. Alex however decided to fire up his graphic design skills for the final choice of cover concept, dispensing with the photography altogether. Alex’s final design is a proud homage to his proficiency with the open source graphical software GIMP. Reflecting a recent re-haul of Mother Nature, Alex chose to adopt the blog’s new colour scheme for the final front and back covers, opting for bold squares of blue and bright orange bordering a white square with the book’s title in bold black capitals. The new cubed logo of Mother Nature, with its slogan ‘Life at the touch of a button’ neatly tucked into one side, also makes an appearance.

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By March 2015, Alex had crossed the 400-page barrier and was excited at getting the book up-and-running, offering it for free download via cloud service Dropbox. Not only would My Journey showcase Alex’s photography, but also case studies he wrote on key personalities in British history, such as the once prime minister Winston Churchill and notoriously oft married monarch Henry VIII, and musical tributes to Madonna, a favourite singer of Alex and to Ben Haenow, a fellow Croydon resident, who had won the final of UK musical talent show The X Factor in 2014.

By the beginning of this month (July 2015) and after nine months of groundwork and editing, My Journey was ready to hit the virtual bookshelves. In a blog article on Mother Nature, Alex narrates how he was ‘extremely pleased’ to be finally launching the book on July the 4th, American Independence Day. He had originally planned to launch his third book in May, but demands from college studies and exam revision for his GCSE finals put paid to that, forcing Alex to reschedule. By then, the young blogger had now included six historical case studies for educational purposes, detailing historical icons from the 1500s onwards, as well as additional information of Alex’s learning experiences as a fresh-faced A-Level student on his career journey to becoming a professional shutterbug.

On the 4th July, as our cousins across the Pond exploded fireworks, waved the red, white and blue, and generally made merry, My Journey Through A Lens was officially launched at 6:00 pm London time and made available completely free of charge on Alex’s website along with his previous editions. To celebrate the special occasion, Alex published an elated blogpost sharing the good news with subscribers and visitors. In this book, Alex celebrates historical icons such as Henry VIII, Queen Victoria, Guy Fawkes, Mary Queen of Scots, Winston Churchill and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the assassinated US President. Alex also paid tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, former South African president, humanitarian icon and victor against government-sponsored racism and hatred, who tragically passed away from illness last year. Alex also penned tributes to Croydon lad Ben Haenow, along with musical legend Madonna, the Italian-American ‘Queen of Pop’ whose top slot career in the charts has been going strong since the 1980s and had recently released songs and albums, including ‘Rebel Heart’, ‘Living for Love’, ‘Ghosttown’ and ‘Bitch, I’m Madonna’.

Slide2

Alex certainly has not run out of steam with his sideline hobby of creating and marketing his work as a ‘indie author’ and aspiring professional photographer. On the day of his third book’s release, Alex also hinted that he will be working on a fourth title, although he has not yet revealed any further details at this early stage. While his third instalment will be made available as an e-book, Alex also teamed up with book printers DoxDirect to release a limited run of physical copies of My Journey, which he tweeted.

Alex dedicated his third book to some very special people in his life who have supported and influenced him along the way. The dedications, which appear on the back cover, include a tribute to Ajay Mody. Living in Mumbai, Mody was a passionate member of the WordPress community under the nickname ‘Ajaytao’. Like Alex, he also photographed the natural and bustling side of his hometown, India’s cultural and commercial capital, and was a keen blogger. He sadly passed away on the 10th August 2014, after a cardiac arrest and declining health. Tributes were also paid to actor and presenter Lynda Bellingham, the UK’s much beloved ‘OXO Mum’ who died in October of that year from colon cancer and to cricketer Philip Hughes who passed away after being struck by a ball during play on the 27th November 2014.

Alex also pens a dedication to this blog’s writer, a close friend and supporter, who in Alex’s own words, has “guided me along the way since I began my blogging journey”.

If you would like to obtain a copy of My Journey Through A Lens, or any of Alex Smithson’s previous titles, please visit https://asterisk15.wordpress.com/  and scroll down to the ‘Free Books’ section on the blog’s sidebar on your screen’s right, directly underneath the social media and contact buttons. You will see the title pages of the books and clicking on them will take you direct to the download site.

SOURCES:
“My Journey Through a Lens | Out Soon!!!” – Alex Smithson, Mother Nature (29 March 2015) https://asterisk15.wordpress.com/2015/03/29/my-journey-through-a-lens-out-soon/
“My Journey Through a Lens: Out Independence Day!!!” – Alex Smithson, Mother Nature (3 July 2015) https://asterisk15.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/my-journey-through-a-lens-out-independence-day/
“My Journey Through a Lens: Out Now!!!” – Alex Smithson, Mother Nature (4 July 2015) https://asterisk15.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/my-journey-through-a-lens-out-now/
IMAGE CREDITS:
Alex Smithson.

 

 

PHOTO MOMENT: Hold that pose!!

 

“Hold that pose!”

“That’s the trouble about being a squirrel photographer….all my subjects seem a bit nuts!”

 

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Two red squirrels frolic about in the snow, while one realises her dream of being an ace photographer. The pages of Squirrel Vogue and National Geographic await.

This photo comes from the wildlife and travel collection of Zoraida Palacios, who describes herself as a defender and protector of animals. She is also an art lover with a degree in administration. The tweet was created by Britannia PR, known fully as Britannia Communications Partnership Digital Communications Agency. This public relations agency was ranked number one in a list of 500 agencies in March 2015 on Klout, Peer Index, Kred and Social Authority. Their Twitter account often shares amazing example of scenic and natural photography, as well as images from around the British Isles. They are based in London.

SOURCES:
Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/VShah1984
Britannia PR, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/Britanniacomms
IMAGE CREDIT:
Zoraida Palacios, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/ZoraidaPalacios

ANIMAL TAXIS?: Crow photographed hitching ride on an eagle’s back

British tabloid Metro has reported yet another strange moment where a photographer has caught one animal hitching a ride on another, as a wave of apparent laziness sweeps the vertebrate kingdom. This time, it is a crow perching precariously on the back of a bald eagle while the eagle is in mid-flight, and pretty much owning the situation.

The unnamed photographer was out and about when they spotted the strange aerial goings-on happening several feet above their head. The three photographs were then forwarded to the newspaper by photo agency Media Drum World, as the strange factor sank in across the Pond. The location of the photos is also undisclosed, but the species of eagle depicted suggests they were taken in the United States.

 

 

The first shows the black crow flying in tandem with the eagle as it appears to be closing in on a warm sunny day. The second then shows the brave (or foolhardy, depending on your viewpoint) corvine rodeo participant perching on the eagle’s back – on one leg, leading Metro journalist Nicholas Reilly to comment that the crow rode the raptor like an ‘absolute boss’ – clearly indicating his new-found respect and awe for the plucky little passenger, who normally would be more at home cawing from the tops of chimney stacks than grabbing hold of the king (or queen) of the American skies like it was a errant Uber cab. Reilly also presumably got his breath back and also complimented the crow’s ‘serious landing skills’.

The third in the instalment depicts the respected symbol of American freedom fluttering its massive wings, perhaps in an attempt to dislodge and possibly devour its unwanted passenger. The crow, adopting a similar posture with its own much smaller wings, remains resolutely anchored to the eagle. “Get thee to the Crow’s Nest…where’s that, guv’nor?…..er….as far as the crow flies…”

The fate of the two birds or what happened next is not known, but Metro officially billed 2015 as  the “year of animals effortlessly riding on the back of another animals”.

In March, wildlife photographer Martin LeMay saw a weasel attempt to attack a woodpecker that was perched on the ground. Its quest for an easy meal came hilariously unstuck when Woody decided that the weasel was taking the pee and promptly flew off, with the mammal clinging on for dear life on the woodpecker’s back. Then earlier in June, Richard Jones snapped a North American raccoon hitching a ride across a swamp on the back of an alligator.

While the famous abilities that American backpackers have for thumbing rides from motorists on quiet interstates are well-known to the point of being plot pieces for Hollywood horror films, it seems the animals of the USA have cottoned on too and taking equally risky rides. I wonder how much that eagle will charge for a ride to the local cinema?

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:
Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/
Metro, Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/MetroUK?fref=nf
“Just a crow landing on the back of an eagle like an absolute boss” – Nicholas Reilly, Metro/Associated Newspapers Limited (30 June 2015) http://metro.co.uk/2015/06/30/just-a-crow-landing-on-the-back-of-an-eagle-like-an-absolute-boss-5272998/?ito=facebook
IMAGE CREDIT:
Metro, Facebook, Facebook Inc. https://www.facebook.com/MetroUK?fref=nf

STREET-AND-SKY SCENERY: Photo ‘exhibition’ by Anjali – an HEM special

Vijay Shah (editor)

with Anjali Shah (photographer)

A few months ago, my youngest sister Anjali received an iPhone as a gift. One of the things iPhones are renowned for is their impressive photographic capabilities, considering the phone’s camera is far smaller and more pressed for space compared to the usage specificity and technological prowess of specially made cameras from the likes of Canon, Nikon, Minolta etc.

The iPhone, one of the most successful exports of the House of Apple, Inc. boasts a 8 megapixel camera and has become a weapon of choice for ‘pocket photographers’ who don’t want to be burdened by expensive and clunky camera equipment, and its numerous and easy settings have also made it hot property for the casual amateur or semi-professional shutterbug.

I’m not much of an iPhone fan myself. In fact I’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini which takes some pretty impressive snaps itself, but my sister is very much on the side of the techies in Cupertino. She was thrilled to bits to finally get her mobile after a lot of searching and loitering on online auctions. One of the most pleasing things I see as her older sibling about Anjali having this iPhone is that it has really opened up her passion and flair for photography. It is nice to see her asserting her talent and surprising me with her creativity. A chip off the old HEM block, no doubt.

(c) somegif.com

Lately, Anjali has used her phone’s filter and effects settings to produce a handful of shots of scenery while out and about in Seven Kings, a suburban area to the east of London. Influenced by the natural play of light and colour, these shots are simple, but captivating homages to the beauty of the sky at its most vivid. Taken over a period of around two months at different times of the day, Anjali’s ‘street and sky’ pictures capture a series of atmospheric moods and environments. Anju has kindly allowed me to reproduce some finetuned versions of her outdoors imagery, which save for a bit of standard auto-fixing using the imaging website piZap, are exactly as she envisioned and created them.

The ‘Street and Sky Scenery’ gallery contains seven photos. The album can be seen in greater detail on the HEM Flickr page.

IMAGE CREDITS:
Anjali Shah via Vijay Shah, The Half-Eaten Mind, Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/110818734@N02/
“Blue camera girl nail polish nikon gif” – Somegif via Google Images.

 

QUETZALCOATLUS: The flying dinosaur taller than a giraffe

(c) M. Witton via G. Trivedi

One of the largest pterosaurs, or flying reptiles, ever to flutter above the prehistoric skies was the Quetzalcoatlus. When resting, this giant of the clouds was taller than a modern-day giraffe, and considerably stronger. Tearing through the air at 130 kilometres per hour, Quetzalcoatlus was said to be fond of snacking on juvenile dinosaurs that strayed too far from their parents, while its smaller flying cousins, the pterodactyls, settled for fish. Its height met it could very easily look a giraffe in the eye, which may well be an unpleasant experience for the giraffe.

With a wing-span of around fifteen metres, half the length of a red London bus, Quetzalcoatlus may well have been the largest flying reptile, and indeed the largest flying animal full-stop, of all time. Compare Quetzalcoatlus’ over 30 feet wingspan with the world’s current largest flying bird, the Andean condor, whose span reaches about 10 feet, and you can readily appreciate how a flock of Quetzalcoatlus would have easily darkened the sky as they flew above you. Despite these astonishing bodily proportions, this pterosaur is considerably less well known outside the palaeontologist community. 

Quetzalcoatlus was named by its discoverers in honour of the Aztec feathered-serpent god Quetzalcoatl and is believed to have weighed close to 100 kilograms, necessitating its plane like wingspan. It was one of the last prehistoric reptile species known from the fossil record and disappeared during the great Cretaceous extinction of 65 million years ago, which most scientists believed was caused by a meteor or comet slamming into the Yucatan peninsula in now what is known as Mexico. Like other prehistoric reptiles, Quetzalcoatlus was a victim of the collapse of food chains that occurred in the millennia after this cataclysm. The species is said to have existed for around five million years before its demise. Its remains were first discovered by Douglas Lawson from the Maastrichtian Javelina Formation, a fossil bed located in Big Bend National Park of Texas, United States of America in 1971, although extensive interest in the wider community and the media did not take off until three decades later. Interestingly, the reptile’s remains were not found in fossilised marine sediments like others of its family, such as Pterodactyl, who would travel miles out to sea to hunt. Instead Lawson, who was a geology student at that time at the University of Texas-Austin, unearthed Quetzalcoatlus in the preserved remains of a river bed, which intrigued many palaeontologists trying to unmask the lifestyle and feeding habits of this unique and fearsome creature.

 

Like other pterosaurs, which also had phenomenal wingspans, Quetzalcoatlus could stay airborne due to the aerodynamics of its leathery wings, which worked rather like those of a glider aircraft, but also because its skeleton was lighter than that of land-based dinosaurs. The bones were spongy and contained large air pocket to help reduce drag while in the air, a trait shared with modern birds, who some scientist believe are descendants of smaller flying relatives of Quetzalcoatlus. They were estimated to glide at elevations of 10,000 to 15,000 feet with very minimal movement of its tarpaulin-like wings to save on expending energy. It controlled its flight movement by swivelling and adjusting its flexible wing tips and flexing the three fingers on the wing’s leading edge – along with subtle head movements to alter the flow of air over its body while soaring above the marshy swamps and grasslands of the prehistoric US and Canadian east coasts.

Even with its aerodynamics, flight take-off must have been a lot of work for Quetzalcoatlus. As it lived millions of years ago, there is no way of determining exactly how it took to the skies and glided (not actually fly, as modern birds generally do). An analysis of the animal’s remains suggest that it had to run across the ground for a distance before catching the wind and soaring up above, as a plane must use a runway in order to gain traction for flight. That analysis suggested that Quetzalcoatlus used all four of its limbs to help it get airborne. Its heavily-muscled front legs helped it vault into the air, while the back legs, which were more lean and spindly, played a secondary support role, and were more necessary for when the pterosaur was walking on land. Some hypothesise that Quetzalcoatlus made life easier on itself by launching itself off the tops of sheer cliffs and exploiting thermals of warm air rising from the sea’s surface.

Quetzalcoatlus was built not only for flight, but also for the kill – at least as some scientists surmise. With an elongated neck, rather like the giraffe in the artist’s impression above, the pterosaur could see for metres around as it searched for prey in the grasslands of prehistoric North America. Its bill was also extremely lengthy and robust and it had no problem with picking up smaller dinosaurs and devouring them. It even was believed to have used its jaws to impale some prey as it hunted them. Some scientists think that Quetzalcoatlus was rather more like a giant prehistoric vulture, using the bill to pick the rotting flesh from corpses or the abandoned kills of other carnivorous dinosaurs. A clip from a BBC documentary on flying reptiles shows that Quetzalcoatlus searched the ground for recently slaughtered dinosaurs and used its jaws to tear chunks from the carcass, but also capable of swallowing whole smaller live prey that dared to get in the way. Its discovery near an inland river also suggests that Quetzalcoatlus’ diet was not much different from its coastal relatives, and that it subsisted on a diet of molluscs and crustaceans, using its beak to probe the sands for burrowed prey much like the oystercatchers seen on our modern beaches. Alternatively it may have behaved as a seagull, fluttering just above the warm shallow seas of the late Cretaceous and plucking fish from just below the waves. No-one is one hundred per cent sure.

It was a member of the Azhdarchidae, a family of advanced toothless pterosaurs with unusually long, stiffened necks. Members of this branch of the reptilian kingdom occurred all over the Americas. Among palaeontologists and the wider prehistoric literature, it is known as a pterodactyloid pterosaur, due to the long ‘dactyls’ (fingers) it possessed. Its full Latin name was Queztalcoatlus northropi. In addition to the nod to the Aztec religion, the formal name also honours John Knudsen Northrop, the founder of the Northrop aviation company, who was interested in large tailless aircraft designs resembling Quetzalcoatlus. The earliest known pterosaurs lived about 220 million years ago in the Triassic period. They were the first vertebrates to achieve the use of daily flight, a legacy now evident in bats and birds. Quetzalcoatlus, if alive today, may well have made the skies more hazardous to human airborne traffic, but would have inspired awe and profound respect (and possibly a great deal of fear) among the ant-like humans that it saw milling across the ground from its vantage point thousands of metres in the skies above.

SOURCES:
Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind
Gautam Trivedi ‏, Twitter https://twitter.com/Gotham3
“DINO FACT FILE – QUETZALCOATLUS, ABC/BBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation http://www.abc.net.au/dinosaurs/fact_files/volcanic/quetzalcoatlus.htm
“Quetzalcoatlus” – Bob Strauss, About.com – Education – Dinosaurs http://dinosaurs.about.com/od/aviandinosaurs3/p/quetzalcoatlus.htm
“10 Facts About Quetzalcoatlus Everything You Need to Know About the World’s Biggest Pterosaur”  Bob Strauss, About.com – Education – Dinosaurs http://dinosaurs.about.com/od/otherprehistoriclife/a/Quetzalcoatlus-Facts.htm
“Quetzalcoatlus” – Wikia Dinopedia http://dinosaurs.wikia.com/wiki/Quetzalcoatlus
“QUETZALCOATLUS” – ZoomDinosaurs.com Dinosaur and Paleontology Dictionary, EnchantedLearning.com http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/dinosaurs/dinos/Quetzalcoatlus.shtml
“Pterosaurs” – Big Bend National Park Texas, National Park Service/United States Department of the Interior http://www.nps.gov/bibe/naturescience/pterosaur.htm
IMAGE CREDIT:
Gautam Trivedi ‏, Twitter https://twitter.com/Gotham3
VIDEO CREDIT:
“Quetzalcoatlus – Flying monsters” – Paleo Studio (via ‘Flying Monsters’ series from the BBC), YouTube GB (29 December 2013) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAQX6RbtjFg