Fan Peng-Fei
Fan Peng-Fei

New Ape Species Named for Skywalker Family

Fan Peng-Fei
Fan Peng-Fei

A long, long time ago when George Lucas first envisioned his epic space opera, he probably wasn’t thinking about the effect his films would have on scientific history. Yet decades later, we're welcoming another Star Wars species into the world. Scientists in China have named a rare gibbon after Star Wars’s star-crossed Skywalker family. The team described their findings in the American Journal of Primatology.

Hoolock gibbons (genus Hoolock) are fluffy, tailless apes that spend their days swinging and drifting through forest canopies in Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, and China. They’re petite for apes, averaging around 13 pounds for females and 15 for males. Every hoolock gibbon in the world belongs to one of two species—either western or eastern—or so primatologists thought.

Photos of male (top row) and female (bottom row) hoolocks from different taxa and geographic populations. Photos of H. h. hoolock and H. h. mishmiensis are from Choudhury. Image Credit: Peng-Fei et al. in American Journal of Primatology, 2017

 
But the gibbons in China’s Gaoligongshan nature reserve didn’t seem to belong to either. Researchers tracking the elusive apes noticed that the gibbons’ faces lacked hoolocks’ characteristic white eyebrows, and that their calls sounded strange. They snapped photos of the gibbons’ faces, then left the forest and dove into the specimen collections of museums and zoos in China, the UK, and the U.S. They compared bones and tissue samples from eastern and western gibbons with those collected from the nature reserve and found that, sure enough, they were dealing with a completely separate group.

They named the new species H. tianxing—the latter word a pinyin phrase that translates to “heaven’s movement” and references three different things: the gibbons’ graceful transit across the treetops (see one jump below); a passage from the I Ching (“As heaven's movement is ever vigorous, so must the scholarly gentleman ceaselessly strive for self-improvement”); and, of course, the Skywalker clan.

A juvenile male of H. tianxing from Mt. Gaoligong jumping across trees. Image Credit: Lei Dong

 
Actor and Luke Skywalker portrayer Mark Hamill took to Twitter to share his delight with the new species name.

The researchers are “thrilled to have made this discovery,” co-author Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London said in a statement. “However, it’s also edged with sadness—as we’re also calling for the IUCN to immediately confer Endangered status on the Skywalker hoolock gibbon, which faces the same grave and imminent risk to its survival as many other small ape species in southern China and Southeast Asia due to habitat loss and hunting. Increased awareness of the remarkable ecosystem of the Gaoligong mountains and improved conservation is essential, to ensure we have time to get fully acquainted with this exciting new species before it’s too late.”

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Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

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Bristly
A New Chew Toy Will Help Your Dog Brush Its Own Teeth
Bristly
Bristly

Few pet owners are willing to sit down and brush their pet's teeth on a regular basis. (Most of us can barely convince ourselves to floss our own teeth, after all.) Even fewer pets are willing to sit calmly and let it happen. But pet dental care matters: I’ve personally spent more than $1000 in the last few years dealing with the fact that my cat’s teeth are rotting out of her head.

For dog owners struggling to brush poor Fido’s teeth, there’s a slightly better option. Bristly, a product currently being funded on Kickstarter, is a chew toy that acts as a toothbrush. The rubber stick, which can be slathered with doggie toothpaste, is outfitted with bristles that brush your dog’s teeth as it plays.

A French bulldog chews on a Bristly toy.
Bristly

Designed so your dog can use it without you lifting a finger, it’s shaped like a little pogo stick, with a flattened base that allows dogs to stabilize it with their paws as they hack at the bristled stick with their teeth. The bristles are coated in a meat flavoring to encourage dogs to chew.

An estimated 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 have some kind of dental disease, so the chances that your dog could use some extra dental attention is very high. In addition to staving off expensive vet bills, brushing your dog's teeth can improve their smelly breath.

Bristly comes in three sizes as well as in a heavy-duty version made for dogs who are prone to ripping through anything they can get their jaws around. A Bristly stick costs $29 and is scheduled to start shipping in October. Get it here.

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