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Klaus Esterluß | Marvel with us

Nessie – a dinosaur that arrived to late?

nessi_small

Nessi, the Loch Ness monster. Credit: Klaus Esterluß

The Nessie mystery offers one of the best known pictures to prove the legend. Again, in the beginning there were stories told by elders. Not only about Loch Ness, a 37 kilometer long and 230 meter deep lake, the alleged abode of the creature. But the lake also happens to be in Scotland, a country with a rich folklore tradition. As “Abominable Science” (p.123) explains, even “water-based super-natural creatures had already lived for centuries” in Scotland. Just to name a few: The Stronsay Beast or the sea serpent of the Isle of Lewis, or the boobrie, the buarach-bhaoi (pdf) or the “Big Beast of Lochawe”, described as an “animal with 12 legs. Some say it was like a horse, others, like a large eel.

But Loch Ness? Some think Nessie could be a plesiosaur, a species living in the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 million – 11,700 years ago). Scotland as a whole was covered by a solid ice sheet half a mile think, during the ice age some 18,000 years ago. That makes Nessie either very unlikely to be real, or a very late example of it’s kind. But the famous picture seems to be quite real, doesn’t it? The story of the Loch Ness monster and the associated picture started in the 1930s. “Abominable Science” (p.127) quotes a story of three anglers who were said to be the first eye witnesses of some strange creature in the Loch. Unfortunately they didn’t see anything in particular, but merely mentioned the presence of something strange. A newspaper published the story.

Three years later, another reporter, Alex Campbell, remembered the story when he came across another possible sighting of the Loch Ness monster. The sensationalist story he wrote brought the creature back to public debate. And it was King Kong (1934), the blockbuster movie that year, that finally ignited the run for Nessi. In the film, the giant ape has to take on a prehistoric Nessie-like creature providing the audience with an idea of the monster lurking in the lake. Loch Ness has since captured the imagination of generations and become a star attraction in the cryptozoology universe.

 

Date

April 18, 2014

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Gianna Gruen | Ideas

Local biodiversity changes, but is not lost, study shows

With climate change and deforestation we typically focus on how biodiversity gets hit or disappears as a result. But a new study finds that biodiversity is not necessarily lost, but changes instead.

Forest in Northern Mozambique (Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Maria Dornelas)

Forest in Northern Mozambique (Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Maria Dornelas)

Maria Dornelas and her team from St Andrews University in Scotland investigated six million species living on land and in marine environments over the past 150 years. They found no distinctive pattern of species loss associated with any local community or ecosystem throughout this time. Instead they observed that species composition changed over time. The findings imply that a species is not necessarily under threat of extinction, just because it can’t be found in its “traditional” habitat any more. It may have simply been forced to migrate to another place – and not to its detriment. And this turnover of species in any given locale or community must have occurred faster than previously thought.

The researchers insist their findings do not dispute the fact that many species and habitats around the world are under threat. But they suggest that strategies to protect species should be revised to reflect the phenomenon of species turnover, which has so far been underestimated.

Date

April 17, 2014

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Klaus Esterluß | Marvel with us

Bigfoot, hairy creature of the forests

Bigfoot

Bigfoot, credit: Jana Dörfelt

When we start talking about Bigfoot, we are also talking about Sasquatch. Both describe the same tall, hairy human-like species that many people believe lives hidden in the forests. And there are a lot more names out there for similar creatures. According to “Abominable Science”, written by an paleontologist/geologist and an outspoken skeptic, the origin of all great American mysteries of apes lies in ancient storytelling. It all began with Native Americans who told stories about mysterious hairy people in the woods or on mountains.

The Sasquatch was just the most popular one. He is the Canadian version of Bigfoot and became popular because of J. W. Burns, a collector of local legends for a Canadian newspaper. It all happened during the 1920s and a long lasting legend was born: The real Sasquatch did not look like how it is pictured today. Performing a google picture search produces a lot of very hairy results. But native Americans talked about being in contact with hairy giants. According to Abominable Science (p.34), those giants were described as “basically giant indians” who lived in villages, knew fire, clothes and weapons, but avoided civilization. They were called hairy giants because they had long (head) hair.

The name Sasquatch persisted for quite a while. Almost 40 years later it gave way to Bigfoot – because of a publicity stunt. The town of Harrison Hot Springs funded a hunt for Sasquatch with $600, to celebrate the centennial of British Columbia. The legend of Sasquatch spilled over into the US and the name Bigfoot became increasingly popular the more Bigfoot-prints were found. But why Bigfoot? Well, in 1958 The Humboldt Times columnist Andrew Genzoli used the term in one of his articles to describe the discovery of a very large footprint. And since then people have almost exclusively used the name Bigfoot, a lot of more footprints have been found and shaky movies have been shot. A legend was born.

 

Date

April 17, 2014

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Sonia Phalnikar | Biodiversity & ...

Unraveling a ‘big cat’ DNA mystery

barbary lion skull

A Barbary lion skull at the Natural History Museum

It has all the makings of a historical thriller – scientists in the UK have used the ancient skulls of Barbary lions preserved in the Tower of London to piece together the origin of modern-day big cats. And, they’ve hit upon a vital clue in India which could help resurrect the extinct and majestic Barbary lion of North Africa. First off, what exactly is a Barbary lion? Once found in huge numbers across North Africa, extending from Egypt to Morocco, it had the most spectacular physical features of all lion species. That included an extensive mane, larger body and a more pointed crown and narrow muzzle. Also called the “Atlas lion,” it was reported to have different colored eyes to other lions. Scientists are divided over when and if Barbary lions really went extinct.

The last record of a Barbary lion is an animal shot in Morocco in 1927, though there is circumstantial evidence that Barbary lions may have survived in the wild in the Atlas Mountains till 1942. European zoos have also tended to claim that they have a Barbary lion or two but experts remain skeptical.

asiatic lion

The Asiatic lion is a distant, long-lost cousin of the Barbary, research shows

Now, a team led by Ross Barnett of Durham University, UK, has discovered that the majestic animal has close genetic links to the Asiatic lions that live in India. (Less than 400 Asiatic lions survive at present on the Kathiawar Peninsula of India and the species is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.)

Barnett’s team came to that conclusion after scientists sequenced mitochondrial DNA from museum-held specimens and from Barbary lion skulls discovered preserved in the Tower of London’s moat and believed to date back to the 14th and 15th century. The study was published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. Barnett said he was surprised by the incredibly close relationship between the extinct Barbary lion from North Africa and the Asiatic lion from India. This, he said, could now get conservationists talking about resurrecting the subspecies and reintroducing lions into North Africa. “This has implications for any future attempts to reintroduce lions into North Africa,” Barnett said. “They could probably be re-seeded with Indian lions.” The researchers compared their findings with genetic sequences drawn from other lions living in Asia and across Africa to work out different subspecies of lion evolved. Their work shows that the single species of modern lions’ most recent common ancestor lived around 124,000 years ago.

Date

April 4, 2014

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Gianna Gruen | Marvel with us

5 of the most successful conquerors

When an animal invades a new habitat this does neither need jet fighters nor bombs. There is neither a political conflict about it, because normally, nobody recognizes the invasion until it’s too late – meaning that endemic species, to speak animals that are home in that habitat, are suppressed. Here, we present you those animals, that had the most successful strategy:

Black Squirrel CC BY 3.0 by BirdPhotos.com/wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eastern_Grey_Squirrel.jpg

Black Squirrel CC BY 3.0 by BirdPhotos.com/wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eastern_Grey_Squirrel.jpg

This little guy looks really sweet, right? Perhaps that a quite clever disguise to take an innocent and sweet look. At least, that’s how the Grey squirrel made it’s way from America to Europe – where it competes for nuts with the endemic Red squirrels.

Zebra Mussel - CC BY-SA 3.0 by GerardM, wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dreissena_polymorpha.jpg

Zebra Mussel – CC BY-SA 3.0 by GerardM, wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dreissena_polymorpha.jpg

Not really movable on itself, the Zebra mussel sneaked into North America in ship’s ballast water. Quite a clever way to hide, right? But nowadays the time to hide is over: it’s clogging water filters, pipelines and attaches to almost anything in it’s surrounding.

Asien Tiger, public domain by  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library

Asien Tiger, public domain by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library

What do you think: Did the Asian tiger mosquito fly all the way from Southeast Asia into other parts of Asia and even to Europe? It is believed to be the most-widely distributed animal (being abundant in 28 countries outside of it’s native range)

Spanish Slug, public domain by Zwentibold

Spanish Slug, public domain by Zwentibold

The Spanish slug is not longer munching it’s way through Spanish and Portuguese lettuce patches, but conquered also other patches throughout Europe – it is not only that they thread agriculture, but are also considered a danger for natural ecosystems.

Goat, CC BY-SA 3.0 by Armin Kübelbeck, wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hausziege_04.jpg

Goat, CC BY-SA 3.0 by Armin Kübelbeck, wikipedia.com: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hausziege_04.jpg

Harmless in most parts of the world, unexpectedly it is goats posing a threat on the biodiveristy of Galapagos Islands for example. Here it is considered to be the most damaging invasive species.

 

 

Date

March 21, 2014

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