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Sea Snakes May Surf Thousands of Miles on Ocean Waves

We give historic explorers like Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan a lot of credit for their lengthy ocean voyages, but a tiny species of venomous sea snake may have them beat. National Geographic reports that, according to a recent study, the seven-ounce yellow-bellied sea snake (pelamis platura) may be capable of traveling thousands of miles by drifting along ocean currents. The findings were published in The Royal Society.

Researchers have long been baffled by the geographic dispersal of the yellow-bellied sea snake, which can be found in tropical oceanic waters all over the world. They began to theorize, starting in the 1970s, that the snake could have simply drifted across the ocean from its original home in southeastern Asia, but were unsuccessful at testing the theory: A scientist who attempted to track close to 100 snakes as they floated across the ocean managed to recapture only four.

But now, researchers have successfully modeled the theoretical trajectory of the sea snakes using a computer program to simulate ocean currents. Researchers traced the travels of 10,000 virtual snakes released from 28 different sites. They found that the snakes were theoretically capable of traveling 20,000 miles or more over the course of ten years.

Of course, tracking the survival of a computer-generated snake isn’t the same as observing the travels of a live snake first-hand. But researchers now believe it’s plausible that the yellow-bellied snake, which can hold its breath under water for an amazing three and a half hours, may have simply surfed the waves from its evolutionary birthplace in Southeast Asia to the Americas and Africa. They note that no other snake species has traveled farther. In fact, the snake’s travel range is closer to that of the average whale than the average snake.

[h/t National Geographic]

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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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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Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
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A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

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