Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Geckos, tiny dinosaurs, cave man couture, and more

Western tanager

Looking For A Good Home

Western tanager
(Donald M. Jones / Minden Pictures)
In the early 1900s, UC Berkeley's Joseph Grinnell surveyed bird territories in California's Sierra Nevada. Biologists have now found that out of 53 bird species, 48 have moved. Why? Climate change, they say. Many of the birds' new ranges are farther north or higher in altitude, with temperatures or rainfall akin to where they lived before.

Learn more about the western tanager at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Males No Longer Needed

Mycocepurus smithii
(Alex Wild)
An ant native to Central and South America has done away with males, researchers in Texas and Brazil confirm. Scientists suspected that Mycocepurus smithii reproduces asexually; new tests show that queens don't use sperm to fertilize their eggs. Without males to keep the gene pool diverse, though, the ants could accumulate enough mutations to go extinct.

Learn more about the ant Mycocepurus smithii at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Cave Man Style

wild flax fibers
(Eliso Kvavadze / Reprinted with Permission from AAAS)
When did people learn to make thread? Judging from wild flax fibers found in a cave in the Caucasus region of Georgia, at least 30,000 years ago. The fibers had been knotted together and dyed. Researchers identified violet, red, black and turquoise threads in clay sediments, providing one of the earliest known examples of humans using plant fibers. Other remains—including the spores of a cloth-eating fungus—suggest that such fibers were made into textiles.

Tiny Tyrant

Tyrannosaurus rex
(Paul Sereno)
Paleontologists thought that the distinct build of Tyrannosaurus rex—strong jaws, fast legs and puny arms—evolved as a byproduct of its gigantic size. But Raptorex kriegsteini, newly described by a University of Chicago-led team, proves otherwise. Almost twice as old as T. rex, the 10-foot-long, 150-pound dino has the same body plan, only scaled down to about 1/100th size.

Learn more about Raptorex kriegsteini at our Dinosaur Tracking blog.


Leopard Gecko
(Biosphoto / Gunther Michel / Peter Arnold Inc.)
Name: The leopard gecko, or Eublepharis macularius.
Tails They Lose: Like many other lizards, the leopard gecko can shed its tail to distract predators.
Rhythm They Lack: What's unusual, researchers from Clemson and the University of Calgary have found, is that the detached tails move not just back and forth, as in other species, but also flip and flop.
Potential They Have: Studying leopard gecko tails could help scientists understand complex movements that aren't guided by a central nervous system; they say the information might prove useful to people with spinal cord injuries.

Learn more about the leopard gecko at the Encyclopedia of Life.

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