Watercooler Ammo: "Lucy's baby"

A 3.3-million-year-old skull of a juvenile Australopithecus afarensis -- you know the species as "Lucy," the fine fossil specimen named after the Beatles' ode to LSD -- has been found in Ethiopia. Scientists are calling this one, which was probably about three years old at death, "Lucy's baby." Which reminded us: as you'll know if you read our magazine or our regular features on Neatorama, "[during] the 1952-53 season of 'I Love Lucy,' despite the star's stomach being about the size of the Superdome, censors prevented the show's writers from even once mentioning the word 'pregnant.'" Here are some slightly more relevant facts about the "new" baby Australopithecus afarensis:

  • The fossil is amazingly intact -- it includes the whole skull, the torso, and some parts of the arms and legs. (Lucy herself was also remarkably well-preserved, as you can see at the bottom of this post.)
  • One of the bones that remains, the hyoid, is a delicate horseshoe-shaped structure that offers clues as to what kind of sounds a species can make. It's been at the center of a debate about which human ancestors might have had rudimentary speech.
  • Scientists figured out how old "Lucy's baby" was when she died by looking at her dentition -- like modern human toddlers, she had some unerupted teeth.
  • Afarensis was one of the first human ancestors to walk upright on two legs. According to the BBC, there is also "considerable argument about whether the Dikika girl could also climb trees like an ape."

Now for the real question: What should "Lucy's baby" be named? Personally, we're going with "Linus."


Bone Broth 101

Whether you drink it on its own or use it as stock, bone broth is the perfect recipe to master this winter. Special thanks to the Institute of Culinary Education

Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?

If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).


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