Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Newton Abbott Lynx.

Stories of Big Cats sighted, or sometimes killed or captured in the British countryside have been popular in the national press for a long time, and modern folklore often postulates the existence of a permanent population of such animals within the UK. Since the implementation of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act a number of large Felids have been captured, killed or found dead in the UK, though the majority of these were probably escaped animals that had spent little time in the wild (a large Cat accustomed to being fed by humans is likely to return to humans when it wants food, resulting in its death or capture after a very short period in the wild), and some have been shown to be deliberate hoaxes (for example a Leopard skull discovered in Devon in 1995 was found to have eggs from tropical Insects inside it, showing that it had arrived in the UK after its death).

In a paper published in the journal Historical Biology on 23 April 2013, Max Blake of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University, Darren Naish of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, Greger Larson of Durham Evolution and Ancient DNA at the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, Charlotte King of the Department of Anthropology at Durham University, Geoff Nowell of the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University, Manabu Sakamoto of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol and Ross Barnett, also of Durham Evolution and Ancient DNA, discuss a preserved Lynx in the collection of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which was apparently shot by a farmer in Newton Abbot, south Devon, in 1903, after it killed two Dogs. Both the skeleton and the mounted skin of this animal are present in the collection.

The Newton Abbot Lynx as mounted in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Blake et al. (2013).

The identification of historic biological specimens in non-specialist museums is sometimes problematic, with both the origin and nature of such specimens sometimes recorded inaccurately. The Bristol Museum is generally considered to have good record-keeping, and is unlikely to have mixed up a UK specimen with one from overseas, though Blake et al. note that they were unable to find any record of a Lynx being shot in 1903 in the press of the day.

The specimen is clearly a Lynx, though no attempt to identify it to species level has apparently been previously made. There are four species of extant Lynx currently recognized, the Eurasian Lynx, Lynx lynx, the Iberian Lynx, Lynx pardinus, the Canadian Lynx, Lynx canadensis, and the Bobcat, Lynx rufus; of these only the Eurasian Lynx has ever been native to the British Isles. The Eurasian Lynx was formerly believed to have become extinct in the UK at the end of the Pleistocene, though it is now recognized that it probably survived as late as the third century AD in parts of England and the fifth century in Scotland, though a population of native Eurasian Lynxes surviving as late as the early twentieth century in southwest England is, at best, highly unlikely.

The mounted skin was apparently not preserved with aiding later taxonomists in mind (it is unlikely that a taxidermist in southwest England in the early twentieth century had seen a Lynx previously, making accurate preservation of identifying features difficult), though it appears unlikely to be either a Eurasian or Iberian Lynx. An attempt to use DNA analysis to identify the specimen proved unsuccessful, the (unknown) preservation method used having apparently destroyed all DNA in the skin. However a morphometric analysis of the skull (comparison of different measurements of the skull, a powerful tool for species identification) strongly supports the identification of the specimen as a Canadian Lynx rather than a Bobcat.

The skull of the Newton Abbot Lynx in (A) right lateral and (B) anterior view. Blake et al. (2013).

Next Blake et al. attempted to carry out a strontium isotope ratio analysis of the bones of the Lynx to determine where it had lived when alive. Strontium is found at low levels in almost all geological formations, from where it leaches into water, and is incorporated into bones and teeth by animals. Since different geological formations have different ratios of the two main isotopes of strontium (⁸⁶Sr and ⁸⁷Sr), it is often possible to determine where an animal lived when it was alive by analysing the ratios of these two isotopes. In this instance it was possible to rule out eastern Canada as the home of the living Lynx, as the rocks of the ancient Precambrian Shield have a much higher ⁸⁷Sr content than seen in the bones of the Lynx, but it was not possible to rule out either western Canada or south Devon as its home when alive. 

Finally Blake et al. examined the teeth of the specimen. The animal had lost its incisors, and the incisive alveoli were overgrown by fresh bone. The remaining teeth of the animal show extensive calculus (dental plaque) build-up, to the extent that several of the molars are completely overgrown suggesting that the animal had been afflicted by periodontal disease. This is unusual in wild Felids, but common in Domestic Cats and also well documented in other Carnivores kept in captivity and fed on a soft or wet diet (i.e. a diet lacking in abrasive surfaces, such as bone, which scrape clean the surface of the teeth – domestic Dogs often protect themselves from this by chewing other hard objects, such as sticks, to clean their teeth, but Cats have no such instinct). From this Blake et al. conclude that the Lynx was about 10-11 years old at the time of its death, and that it had been kept in captivity and fed a non-abrasive diet for much of its life. 

Lateral view of P3–P4 in the Newton Abbot Lynx showing build-up of dental calculus. Scale bar is 10 mm. Blake et al. (2013).

This suggests that the Newton Abbot Lynx has escaped from captivity, rather than being a truly wild animal able to survive in the Devon countryside. The incidents with the Dogs and then the fatal encounter with a farmer suggest that it was trying to obtain food from Humans, probably the only food source with which it was familiar.

See also…


Lions (Panthera leo) are large, charismatic predators currently found in Africa and India, with a fossil record that includes areas of northern Eurasia and North America. Lions outside their current...



Dogs are our oldest domestic animal, and the only one which predates the adoption of agriculture. This has led to a great deal of study of the origin of domestic dogs over the years. Despite this we are still not entirely sure where dogs were first domesticated. We are...


Spotted Hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta) are now restricted to sub-Saharan Africa, but in the Pleistocene were far more widespread, roaming across much of Eurasia. The oldest known fossil Spotted Hyaenas...



Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Magnitude 4.7 Earthquake in Dalarna County, Sweden.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 4.7 Earthquake at a depth of 14.3 km in Dalarna County, Middle Sweden, slightly before 3.10 pm local time (slightly before 1.10 pm GMT) on Monday 15 September 2014. This is a large event for Scandinavia, but not particularly dangerous, and there are no reports of any damage or injuries, but people have reported feeling the quake across much of Sweden and in parts of Norway and Finland.

The approximate location of the 15 September 2014 Dalarna County Earthquake. Google Maps.

Earthquakes are rare in Sweden, and the waters between them, and those that do occur tend to be small, which makes the causes hard to determine. The entire of Europe is being pushed eastward by the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean and northward by the impact of Africa from the south, though these are remote from the Kattegat. There are lesser areas of expansion beneath the North Sea and Rhine Valley, both of which will presumably have some effect on southern Scandinavia. 

Finally their is glacial rebound; until about 10 000 years ago much of northern Europe was covered by a thick layer of ice. This pushed the rocks of the lithosphere down into the underlying mantle, and now that the ice is gone these rocks are springing back up, albeit very slowly, a process which is not smooth as rocks  tend to stick to one-another, and which therefore causes the occasional small Earth tremor.

(Top) Simplified diagram showing principle of glacial rebound. (Bottom) The extent of glaciation in Europe at the last glacial maximum. Wikipedia.

See also...


Lake Vättern is the second largest lake in Sweden. It lies in the south of the country, and is 135 km long and 31 km in width at its widest...




The Kattegat Sea separates Denmark from Sweden, north of the Islands of the Straits of Denmark. On Monday 6 August 2012, slightly before 5 am local time (slightly before 3 am GMT), an Earthquake took place 5.8 km beneath this sea, according to the...





On Thursday 24 May 2012, slightly after 10.45 pm, GMT, the United States Geological Survey recorded an Earthquake on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, roughly 600 km north of Tromsø, at a depth of 8.8 km, and measuring 6.2 on the Richter Scale. Since this time...




Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Asteroid 2014 RC passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2014 RC passed by the Earth at a distance of 39 910 km (0.1 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.03% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun - closer than some satellites), slightly after 6.00 pm GMT on Sunday 7 September 2014, passing directly over New Zealand and parts of the South Pacific. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though had it done so it would have presented only a minor threat. 2014 RC has an estimated equivalent diameter of 8-26 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 8-26 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to break up in the atmosphere between 36 and 18 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

Image of 2014 RC with a minute long exposure, showing the asteroid's movement as a long streak, about 30 minutes before its closest approach to the Earth on 7 September 2014. Ernesto Guido/Nick Howes/Martino Nicolini/Universe Today.

2014 RC was discovered on 1 September 2014 (six days before its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey, which is located in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2014 RC implies that it was the third asteroid (asteroid C) discovered in the first half of September 2014 (period 2014 R).

The path of 2014 RC at its closest to Earth. NASA/JPL/Caltech

2014 RC has a 549 day year orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 4.6° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.82 AU from the Sun (i.e. 82% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 1.80 AU from the Sun (i.e. 180% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, considerably more than the distance at which the planet Mars orbits the Sun). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). This means that close encounters between 2014 RC and the Earth are fairly common, with the last thought to have occurred in December 2009 next one predicted for September 2017. 

The calculated orbit of 2014 RC. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

See also...


Asteroid 2014 RT17 passed by the Earth at a distance of 1 427 000 km (3.69 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.95% of the average...



Asteroid 2014 RS17 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 4 103 000 km (10.69 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 2.7% of the average...



Asteroid 2014 QP33 passed by the Earth at a distance of 14 330 000 km (37.47 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 10% of the average...


Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

At least three dead following landslide in Chongqing, southwest China.

Three people are known to have died at it is feared that as many as five more may be burried following a landslide in the Changshou District of Chongqing City in southwest China (a largely rural district to the northeast of the city itself, but under its administration) on Sunday 14 September 2014. The event happened after a severe rainstorm, that has brought severe flooding to the district, destroying at least 375 houses and displacing around 8000 people. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall.

Rescue workers at the site of the Changshou landslide on 14 September 2014. Liu Chan/Xinhau.

Chongqing has a monsoon-influenced subtropical climate, receiving over 1000 mm of rainfall per year. September is towards the end of the rainy season, with the area typically experiencing around 130 mm of rainfall during the month.

See also...


Seven people are reported to have died and 20 are still missing after a landslide hit the village of Yingping in Guizhou Province, China, at about 8 pm on Wednseday...


Seven people have died after a landslide buried a two story building in Xiguan Village of Jixian County in...



At least two people have died following a landslide at Zhushi in Guizhou Province, southwest China, at about...

Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Chevron worker killed in explosion off the coast of Louisiana.

A worker was killed and two others were injured in an explosion that occurred while they were carrying out maintenance work on an offshore pipeline, about 10 km south of Timbalier Bay on the southeast coast of Louisiana at about 11.10 am local time on Saturday 13 September 2014. The affected pipeline carries natural gas to the Henry Hub Storage Facility at Erath, Louisiana, and is thought to have occurred when a valve failed on a gas-handling line. The pipeline has been taken out of service while an investigation is carried out and repairs undertaken.

Satellite view of the Henry Hub facility in Louisiana. Google Maps.

The Henry Hub facility processes oil from the Gulf of Mexico for onward transport via 9 intrastate and 4 interstate pipelines. It has a capacity of 590 cubic meters per second, and its smooth running has a strong influence on gas prices in the US.

See also...


An oil and gas rig 95 km off the coast off Louisiana which has been burning for a day has begun to collapse into the Gulf of Mexico. The Walter Oil & Gas owned...



A storage tank at a crude oil facility at Denham Springs in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, exploded at about 10.30 pm on Thursday 2 May 2013 (3.30 am on Friday 3 May...



Two workers are feared dead after an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday 16 November...


Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Two new species of Froghopper from Dominican amber.

Froghoppers (Cercopoidea) are small members of the True Bug order (Hemiptera), related to Cicadas (Cicadoidea), Leafhoppers and Treehoppers (Membracoidea). They resemble Leafhoppers, but are smaller and more robust. Over 3000 species of Froghoppers have been described to date, they are found throughout the world and most numerous in the tropics, although tropical Froghoppers have not been extensively studied to date. Froghoppers are divided into three groups, the Clastopteridae, Epipygidae and Cercopidae (Spittlebugs), with the Clastopteridae thought to be the most ancient lineage. The fossil record of Froghoppers is not good enough to determine when the group diverged (all previously described fossils have been too poorly preserved or too ancient to place in any modern group), though based upon genetic data the Clastopteridae are thought to have diverged from other Froghoppers about 175 million years ago. The Clastopteridae are most numerous in the Americas, where they make up about 40% of known species, though all of these are placed in a single widespread genus, Clastoptera, the closest relative of which, the genus Iba is known only from three rare species from islands in Southeast Asia.

In a paper published in the journal Historical Biology on 3 January 2013, George Poinar of the Department of Zoology at Oregon State University, Andrew Hamilton of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Alex Brown of Berkeley, California, describe two new species of Froghopper from Dominican Amber. Both species are placed within a new genus, named Prisciba, from ‘priscus’ meaning ‘ancient’ and Iba, the modern genus. This genus is placed within the Clastopteridae, the first fossil genus placed within a modern Froghopper group, and the first genus other than Clastoptera recorded from the Americas. Unfortunately the dating of Dominican amber is poorly understood, so the specimens could be anywhere from 45 to 15 million years old.

The first new species is named Prisciba serrata, meaning ‘serrated’, a reference to the margins of the protonum (expanded cuticle on the first segment of the thorax). Prisciba serrata is 4.0 mm in length, mostly chestnut brown in colour with darker markings. It originates from the La Bucara Amber Mine in the north of the Dominican Republic. The single known specimen is female.

Prisciba serrata in (1) dorsal, (2) ventral and (3) lateral views. Scale bars are 1 mm. Poiner et al. (2013).

The second new species is named Prisciba dominicana, in reference to the Dominican Republic where it was found. Prisciba dominicana is 4.0 mm in length, chestnut brown, light brown and yellow. It originates from the La Toca Amber Mine in the north of the Dominican Republic. The single known specimen is male.

Prisciba dominicana in (4) dorsal and (5) ventral views. Scale bars are 1 mm. Poiner et al. (2013).

See also…


Cicadas (Cicadoidea) are large members...


Cicadas (Cicadoidea) are large members...


Leafhoppers (Cicadellidae) are small members of the True-bug order, Hemiptera, with hind legs modified for...


Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Asteroid 2014 RT17 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2014 RT17 passed by the Earth at a distance of 1 427 000 km (3.69 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.95% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly after 4.50 pm GMT on Sunday 7 September 2014. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though had it done so it would have presented only a minor threat. 2014 RT17 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 22-68 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 22-68 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to break up in the atmosphere between 22 and 4 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface, though an object towards the upper end of this range would be likely to explode in the atmosphere with the energy of about 230 kilotons of TNT (about 13.5 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb), so being directly underneath it would probably be fairly unpleasant.

The calculated orbit of 2014 RT17. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

2014 RT17 was discovered on 12 September 2014 (five days after its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Hawaii's PANSTARRS telescope on Mount Haleakala on Maui. The designation 2014 RT17 implies that it was the 444th asteroid (asteroid T17) discovered in the first half of September 2014 (period 2014 R).

2014 RT17 has a 552 day year orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 2.7° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.51 AU from the Sun (i.e. 51% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun and inside the orbit of Venus) to 2.11 AU from the Sun (i.e. 211% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, considerably more than the distance at which the planet Mars orbits the Sun). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). This means that close encounters with Earth are quite common, with the last having occurred in February 1919. 2014 RT17 also has close encounters with other planets, having come close to Mercury in November 1964 and being predicted to come close to Mars in January 2055.

See also...


Asteroid 2014 RS17 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 4 103 000 km (10.69 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 2.7% of the average distance between the Sun and the...



Asteroid 2014 QP33 passed by the Earth at a distance of 14 330 000 km (37.47 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 10% of the average distance between the Earth and the...



Asteroid 2014 QL365 passed by the Earth at a distance of 2 123 000 km (5.52 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 1.4% of the average distance between the Earth and the...


Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.