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Mini Beavers Lived in Oregon 28 Million Years Ago

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Oregon was once home to squirrel-sized miniature beavers. A new analysis of prehistoric creatures found in the John Day Formation, a large fossil preserve in Oregon, has uncovered a new species of beaver-like rodents that lived 28 million years ago. The findings are published in the Annals of Carnegie Museum.

Microtheriomys brevirhinus, as the new species is called, is unusual because though it's much smaller than the modern beaver, it seems more closely related to it than to beavers of its own time. Many ancient beavers burrowed into the soil, but M. brevirhinus appears to have swam and built dams, based on what scientists can tell from the creature's skull and teeth. 

The John Day fossil beds, now a national monument, were formed by volcanic ash that settled over central Oregon. The region holds one of the most complete collections of animal and plant fossils in North America, with specimens spanning 40 million years entombed in the layers of rock. 

The view from a trail in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Image Credit: Finetooth via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

M. brevirhinus patrolled this region during the Oligocene period. They weren’t the only beaver types running around. “While there is relatively little castorid (beaver species) diversity today, there are hundreds of species (many of which are really important members of their faunal communities) in the fossil record of the Northern Hemisphere,” University of Oregon paleontologist Samantha Hopkins told the AP. The history of these ancient beavers can help scientists understand how mammals evolved. 

[h/t: Smithsonian]

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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