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Julius T Cstonyi
Julius T Cstonyi

Is This Leggy Creature a Snake Ancestor? Scientists Disagree

Julius T Cstonyi
Julius T Cstonyi

Did snakes once possess legs? If a fossil analysis published in Science magazine last week is correct, an early snake ancestor may have had four legs used not for walking, but for grasping. However, not all scientists are willing to believe that snakes might have evolved from burrowing ancestors rather than from marine ones. 

Researchers from universities in the UK and Germany argue that Tetrapodophis amplectus, a fossilized species dating back to the Early Cretaceous period 100 to 146 million years ago, belongs on the snake’s family tree. The animal had several snake-like features, like a long body, a long braincase, a short snout, scales, fangs, and a flexible jaw. Its fossil also indicates that the animal had four limbs with five digits on each. They would have been short and probably used for holding onto either prey or mates, rather than for walking. It would have looked like a long snake somehow acquired stubby T. rex arms, basically (as the artist's conception above shows). 

This supports the notion that modern-day snakes evolved from burrowing lizards, not from marine reptiles. The fossil didn’t show any aquatic adaptations, like flippers or a tail that could aid in swimming, but does show low spines on its vertebrae and a long trunk, which are typically associated with burrowing animals. 

However, it’s still pretty early to rethink our conception of snake evolution. It’s possible that the animal is not a snake, as University of Alberta paleontologist Michael Caldwell told New Scientist. Finding more fossils of burrowing snake ancestors would be necessary before scientists could fully settle the ocean versus land debate over snakes’ origins. 

[h/t: New Scientist]

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A Step-by-Step Journey Through Your Body's Digestive System
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We at Mental Floss write a lot about poop, but not as often about how our bodies produce the stuff in the first place. Humans eat between two and six pounds of food per day—and as TED-Ed’s latest video explains, this grub passes through an elaborate network of channels, organs, tissues, and nerves that’s commonly known as the human digestive system.

The digestive system is the unsung hero of our torso. Its 10 organs—which include the esophagus, liver, intestines, and stomach—contain over 20 specialized cell types, and the gastrointestinal track alone has an internal surface area of between 320 and 430 square feet. But the digestive process doesn’t begin and end with the esophagus—it starts in our mouths.

The body produces just over six cups of saliva per day, a process that begins when we start salivating over a tasty morsel. This clear substance contains starch-busting enzymes, which break the food we eat into a moist lump (a bolus) that will eventually become the stuff that comes out our other ends. In all, this journey lasts between 30 and 40 hours—and you can follow it step by step by watching TED-Ed’s video below.

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Today's Wine Glasses Are Almost Seven Times Larger Than They Were in 1700
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Holiday party season (a.k.a. hangover season) is in full swing. While you likely have no one to blame but yourself for drinking that second (or third) pour at the office soiree, your glassware isn't doing you any favors—especially if you live in the UK. Vino vessels in England are nearly seven times larger today than they were in 1700, according to a new study spotted by Live Science. These findings were recently published in the English medical journal The BMJ.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge measured more than 400 wineglasses from the past three centuries to gauge whether glass size affects how much we drink. They dug deep into the history of parties past, perusing both the collections of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford and the Royal Household's assemblage of glassware (a new set is commissioned for each monarch). They also scoured a vintage catalog, a modern department store, and eBay for examples.

After measuring these cups, researchers concluded that the average wineglass in 1700 held just 2.2 fluid ounces. For comparison's sake, that's the size of a double shot at a bar. Glasses today hold an average of 15.2 fluid ounces, even though a standard single serving size of wine is just 5 ounces.

BMJ infographic detailing increases in wine glass size from 1700 to 2017
BMJ Publishing group Ltd.

Advances in technology and manufacturing are partly to blame for this increase, as is the wine industry. Marketing campaigns promoted the beverage as it increasingly became more affordable and available for purchase, which in turn prompted aficionados to opt for larger pours. Perhaps not surprisingly, this bigger-is-better mindset was also compounded by American drinking habits: Extra-large wineglasses became popular in the U.S. in the 1990s, prompting overseas manufacturers to follow suit.

Wine consumption in both England and America has risen dramatically since the 1960s [PDF]. Cambridge researchers noted that their study doesn't necessarily prove that the rise of super-sized glassware has led to this increase. But their findings do fit a larger trend: previous studies have found that larger plate size can increase food consumption. This might be because they skew our sense of perception, making us think we're consuming less than we actually are. And in the case of wine, in particular, oversized glasses could also heighten our sensory enjoyment, as they might release more of the drink's aroma.

“We cannot infer that the increase in glass size and the rise in wine consumption in England are causally linked,” the study's authors wrote. “Nor can we infer that reducing glass size would cut drinking. Our observation of increasing size does, however, draw attention to wine glass size as an area to investigate further in the context of population health.”

[h/t Live Science]

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