CLOSE
Original image
© FIU

A New Hammerhead Shark Species May Have Just Been Discovered

Original image
© FIU

Scientists have found a genetically unique population of miniature sharks off the coast of Belize. They described their results in the Journal of Fish Biology. 

The hammerhead shark family is made up of 10 known species, five of which are on the petite side (relatively speaking). One of those miniature sharks is the bonnethead, Sphyrna tiburo, which meanders through the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans feeding on crabs, shrimp, and little fish. Female bonnetheads are a bit larger than the males, maxing out at around four feet long.

Bonnethead populations appear to be pretty healthy at the moment, but like just about everything else in the ocean these days, their future is pretty uncertain. Researchers decided to assess the bonnetheads’ current situation at the smallest possible level—by looking at their DNA. They collected tiny skin samples from 239 live sharks in the waters off the Bahamas, Texas, Panama City (Florida), Tampa Bay, the Florida Keys, North Carolina, and Belize, then analyzed their genetic code to check up on the sharks’ health. 

Demian Chapman measuring a wee shark. Image Credit: © FIU

The bonnetheads’ DNA looked good—but it also looked sort of odd. The samples taken in Belize were startlingly different from the rest of the bunch. 

Paper co-author Kevin Feldheim leads The Field Museum’s Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution. He said he and his colleagues were quite surprised with their results. "We thought we were doing a standard analysis of a shark population," he said in a statement, "and suddenly, whoa, we were looking at a whole new species."

That’s the short version. The long version is that Feldheim and his colleagues have more work to do before they can be certain they’ve got a brand-new bonnethead on their hands 

"There’s no cutoff in DNA that indicates you’ve got a different species," he said. "Determining when you have a new species is a tricky thing. But these sharks are living in a separate environment from their fellow bonnetheads, and they’re likely on their own evolutionary trajectory."

New species or no, the sharks still need attention and protection. Co-author Demian Chapman of Florida International University said: "Now we have to define the range of each of these species individually and assess them independently against where the potential threats are … our finding of a new species in Belize highlights that there could be more undescribed ones out there, each one facing a unique set of threats."

Original image
iStock
arrow
Animals
This Beach Bar for Dogs Has Chicken Beer and Doggie Paddle Races
Original image
iStock

After a summer spent playing fetch, sniffing butts, and fulfilling his duty as man’s best friend, your dog could probably use a vacation. There are few places where he’ll feel more welcome than at Monty’s Dog Beach Bar in Croatia. As Reuters reports, this canine-friendly oasis is the only bar of its kind in the Eastern European country.

Monty’s opened a year ago in the coastal town of Crikvenica and has been drawing in four-legged patrons and their owners ever since. While lounging on a sun bed with views of the Adriatic Sea, dogs lap up special "beer" brewed from chicken and vegetables. If they’re in need of something more substantial, the menu also includes ice cream made from bananas, peanut butter, yogurt, and soy milk. Senior dogs even have the option to drink medicinal teas that are supposed to boost fur growth. And if their humans get hungry or thirsty, there’s a full selection of people drinks and snacks to choose from, too.

Earlier in August, Monty’s hosted a day full of beach games that dogs and their owners could take part in together. Fifteen human-canine pairs competed in an event that had them running down a pier, leaping into the water, and swimming 100 meters back to shore. The winner, a four-year-old Samoyed mix named Nimbus, was awarded 15 pounds of kibble and a weekend stay at a nearby hotel.

The day also featured beer, ice cream, and cake-eating contests for dogs who preferred consuming calories to burning them off.

Special menu items for dogs have become a more popular sight at mainstream restaurants in recent years. Non-alcoholic beer for dogs, made from everything from dandelion to beef flavoring, is also easy to find if owners know where to look for it. But for a dog-centric bar experience close to the ocean, you may have to book a trip to Croatia. (Fido will thank you.)

[h/t Reuters]

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
Microsoft’s Autonomous Gliders Stay in the Air by Mimicking Birds of Prey
Original image
iStock

When designing different ways for vehicles to move, engineers will often look to nature. Animals have had millions of years to evolve locomotion methods that get them where they’re going fast without burning a ton of energy. Now, researchers at Microsoft have chosen the hawk, a master of energy-efficient air travel, as the model for their new autonomous gliders.

As Co.Design reports, the tech company’s “infinite soaring machine” can move through the skies without generating its own propulsion. Instead, it seeks out warms streams of air to provide the upward push, much like a hawk does.

While riding air currents doesn't take up a lot of energy, it does require some sophisticated artificial intelligence. As a substitute for millennia of animal instinct, Microsoft “trained” its glider to fly by plugging it into a video game-like simulator that showed hawks in flight. By repeatedly subjecting the technology to these virtual experiments, researchers eventually developed algorithms capable of recreating the scenes in the real world.

Using onboard sensors, the sailplane can independently navigate the skies without a motor. The gliders are no more than a few feet long, which means they don’t serve much of a practical purpose outside of research. But the aircraft’s simple design is exactly what makes them appealing to engineers.

With less hardware to worry about, they can focus on refining AI software which can be used in different types of autonomous vehicles in the future. And by testing AI navigation in the air instead of on the road, Microsoft gives themselves a much bigger test track to work with.

You can watch the infinite soaring machine take to the skies in the video below.

[h/t Co.Design]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios