Classified new African dwarf monkey lived more than 4 million years ago

A new species of small monkey that lived in the regions of today’s Kenya 4.2 million years ago has been described by a group of researchers. The study of the fossil has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The new monkey, named Nanopithecus browni (the name was chosen in honor of a researcher, Francis Brown of the University of Utah), was very small and the adult specimens weighed only 1-1.3 pounds. It was the same size as today’s talapoina monkey, considered the smallest monkey in the Old World, currently represented by two species: Miopithecus talapoin and Miopithecus ogouensis.

Talapoine monkeys are part of a larger group, that of vervet monkeys. The talapoini to date are in central-western Africa, in tropical forests, and are thought to have suffered a shrinkage of the body, during the course of evolution, to respond to increasingly intricate habitats, full of plants, trees and swamps.

The remains of Nanopithecus browni have however been found in Kenya, eastern Africa, in a habitat that was once dry and covered by wide open forest prairies. This means, according to the researchers and authors of the study, that this little monkey has undergone a more complex evolution and in any case different with respect to the Cercopitec.

The nanism of the monkey Nanopithecus browni should have occurred earlier and differently, which suggests that the forms of evolutionary dwarfism in apes must have occurred more than once and in very different habitats, in response to different needs.

Australian lizards show unusual intelligence at an early age

A group of researchers analyzed the behavior of a species of lizard, the eastern lizard with a blue tongue, endemic to Australia, making interesting discoveries. This lizard (Tiliqua scincoides) is common in the eastern Australian area and can be found on scrubland but also in suburban areas.

Its main characteristic is its language with particular colors: it can vary from bright blue to dark blue. The animal also tends to show it often in a very prominent way to hiss. Adults can reach a length of 600 mm and can boast a skin covered with hard scales as well as a very powerful bite. However, the little ones, who cannot yet boast this protection and a very effective bite, are very vulnerable.

Moreover, for a typical behavior of this species, the little ones cannot rely on any protection, even on that of their parents. This means that they must rely above all on themselves and on their level of intelligence.

It is precisely this characteristic that the researchers Birgit Szabo and Martin Whiting of Macquarie University, Australia, assisted by colleagues from other universities, have done their own study highlighting how intelligent they can be from an early age.

The researchers performed experiments on various adults and various young specimens of these lizards. The youngest specimens were aged between 26 and 56 days.

In all tests, the youngest specimens, even those born a few weeks old, showed the same level of intelligence and resourcefulness as adults and this confirms the fact that this lizard learns everything it takes to survive from the very first days and essentially without the contribution of adults.

Scientists find that insects also experience chronic pain

Evidence that insects can also feel pain following injury or injury was found by a scientist at Sydney University, Greg Neely, and his team. This is the first research that shows that even insects experience chronic pain, which is a pain that can last over time, usually those caused by injuries and causing non-fatal damage.

The researchers carried out experiments on Drosophila, the so-called fruit fly, showing that the latter can also perceive a persistent pain that lasts after the wound has healed. In humans, the pain can be of two forms: inflammatory or neuropathic. In the insect, the researchers analyzed the neuropathic one, a pain that can occur in humans, for example, in case of spinal cord injury, neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy or accidental injury.

After damaging the nerve of an insect’s paw, the researchers waited for the wound to heal completely. Following the recovery, the researchers discovered that the other legs and the fly had become hypersensitive. As Neely himself specifies, this is to be explained by the fact that after the wound, the other legs, thanks to hypersensitivity, try to protect themselves so as not to suffer the same kind of damage.

Then, by genetically analyzing the gnat’s reactions, the researchers found that his brain receives painful messages via sensory neurons through the ventral nerve cord, a sort of version of our spinal cord, as Neely explains: “After the injury, the injured nerve discharges all its load into the nerve cord and kills all the pain brakes forever. So the rest of the animal has no brakes on his “pain”. The threshold of “pain” changes and becomes hypervigilant.”

The loss of pain brakes is extremely important for many animals in order to survive in many dangerous situations, the scientist specifies.

This research could serve, as the researchers themselves hope, for the development of new drugs or stem cell-based therapies in the treatment of chronic pain.

Mothers of African australopiths suckled children for a long time to make up for food shortages

Analyzing the fossils of teeth of Australopithecus africanus, a species of hominid lived in Africa between 2 and 3 million years ago, a group of researchers from the University of Monash has better delineated some behaviors of the species, in particular the roles within the family and even more particularly the evolution of maternal roles and parental responsibilities.

The study, published in Nature, was based on the analysis of various remains of teeth from Australopithecus africanus fossils found in South Africa. One of the first pieces of information, among the most interesting traced by the researchers, is related to breastfeeding: the babies were nursed continuously from birth until they were one year old but any adverse environmental conditions, above all the scarcity of food, induced the mothers to feed the young even longer, supplementing the scarce food with the mother’s milk.

This is the first research that shows the existence of what can be considered as a very lasting bond between mothers and children in Australopithecus, as stated by Luca Fiorenza, a researcher at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Australia, and one of the authors of the research.

In the era in which Australopithecus africanus lived in Africa, there were strong climatic-environmental upheavals that testified to the difficulties these hominids had to overcome, at least for most of their history.

Researchers used special laser sampling techniques to analyze teeth by vaporizing microscopic portions. The gas obtained was analyzed to discover the chemical signatures, in a sort of mass spectrometry, which has shown results since the researchers found a variety of information about the diet of these populations.

They also discovered that the food they used was rich in lithium, an element that reduces the protein deficit in those little ones who have major growth problems in adverse environmental conditions, as Joannes-Boyau, a researcher at Southern Cross University in Lismore, states.

Probably these tactics, which saw the little ones always cared for longer and weaned later and later, also reduced the number of children that women could do or make to survive.

In addition, such strong ties between mothers and children also changed the very structure of these societies and the ways these hominid populations put in place to procure food and in general to survive.

Here’s how a species of fish changes sex in 10 days

There are fish that change sex once they become adults, something that may seem bizarre to most people but that is normal for different animal species. However, how fish change sex has never been clear. Now, a new study, published in Science Advances, sought to clarify the modalities of this process, at least as regards a species of fish.

An international group of researchers, led by New Zealand scientists, focused on the Thalassoma bifasciatum, a marine fish of the family of the wrasse which is also known as bluehead wrasse. This fish performs the sex change very quickly and the change itself is triggered by an external signal, as recalled by Jenny Graves, a professor at the University of La Trobe, one of the authors of the study.

The scientist ensures that genes, even after a sex change, do not change so they must be turned off by a signal. The change takes place in particular ways: these fish live in groups composed of females dominated by a single male specimen. If the latter dies or is removed from his “harem”, the largest female in only 10 days becomes male and becomes the leader of the group. His behavior changes in a few minutes while his color changes a few hours. The ovaries become testicles and within 10 days are already capable of producing sperm.

Researchers have discovered that there are specific genes that are deactivated and activated in the brain and gonads of this fish that in turn trigger sex change. The discovery occurred through RNA sequencing and epigenetic analysis. During the sex change, a “complete genetic rewiring of the gonad” takes place, as specified by Erica Todd of the University of Otago, author of the study that adds: “The genes needed to maintain the ovary are first deactivated, and then a new genetic path is constantly activated to promote testicular formation.”