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Ancient Bird from age of Dinosaurs probably Sounded like Duck, say Scientists

The team of scientists says the “Vegavis Iaai” bird that lived in Antarctica's Vega Island more than 70 million years ago probably sounded like a modern-day duck

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A recently discovered fossil of the “Vegavis Iaai” bird that lived in Antarctica’s Vega Island more than 70 million years ago is placed on silhouette and a model of the bird, on a desk before a conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct. 12, 2016. VOA

Scientists for years have known what birds living at the end of the age of dinosaurs looked like. Now, they say they might know what one sounded like: quack!

The team of scientists says the “Vegavis Iaai” bird that lived in Antarctica’s Vega Island more than 70 million years ago probably sounded like a modern-day duck. They based their findings on unearthed fossils of the bird’s sound-producing vocal organ known as the syrinx.

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“We can now say that it’s most probable that this bird… imitated a sound that can be compared to its living relatives, ducks and geese,” Argentine paleontologist Fernando Novas said at a news conference in Buenos Aires on Wednesday after the team published their conclusions in the journal Nature.

“The importance of this discovery is that it lets us ascertain how the dinosaurs, including birds, evolved in the way they communicated with each other and how this organ that was capable of emitting sound, permitted brain development.”

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The fossils of the bird from the Cretaceus-age were first found in 1992 by members of Argentina’s Antarctic institute and were detailed as a new species in a 2005 study that linked them to modern ducks and geese. The study was also published in Nature and led by Julia Clarke, a professor of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Texas at Austin. But it wasn’t until 2013 that Clarke noticed the rings of the syrinx through a micro-computed tomography of the fossil.

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“The most exciting aspects of the study to me are – that the voice box of a bird can fossilize in 3-dimensional detail. This opens a whole new field of inquiry in the sounds of dinosaurs, Clarke said.

“Imagining oneself in the Late Cretaceous forests of Antarctica and elsewhere and thinking it is at this time that for the first time there are familiar sounds – not the trills of song birds but honks, quacks, whistles.” (VOA)

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Your Children Might Be At Risk! According to UNICEF, 32 Nations Lack Policies to Support Families With Children

The report says that only 15 countries, including Cuba, France, Portugal, Russia and Sweden, have all the three essential national policies that support families with young children

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New York, September 23, 2017 : Thirty-two countries, having the world’s 85 million children under the age of five, do not have any essential policy that supports families with young children, a UNICEF report said.

According to the global body, 40 per cent of the 85 million children, live in just two countries – Bangladesh and the US. The report said that data from various countries including India was missing.

The report says that only 15 countries, including Cuba, France, Portugal, Russia and Sweden, have all the three essential national policies that support families with young children.

“We need to do more to give parents and care givers of young children the support they need during this most critical period of brain development,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, adding that if nations don’t invest now in the most vulnerable children and families, they will continue to perpetuate intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and inequality.

“Life by life, missed opportunity by missed opportunity, we are increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots and undermining our long-term strength and stability,” said Lake.

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According to the report, Early Moments Matter for Every Child, two years of free pre-primary education, paid breastfeeding breaks during the first six months of a child’s life followed by six months of paid maternity leave as well as four weeks of paid paternity leave help lay a critical foundation for optimal early childhood development.

“These policies help parents better protect their children and provide them with better nutrition, play and early learning experiences in the crucial first years of life when the brain grows at a rate never to be repeated,” said the report.

Among the countries, which do not have any of the child or parent related policies are Algeria, Barbados, Bhutan, Brunei, Gambia and Kenya.

The report also highlights that millions of children under five years are spending their formative years in unsafe, unstimulating environments.

“Around 75 million children under-five live in areas affected by conflict, increasing their risk of toxic stress, which can inhibit brain cell connections in early childhood,” the report said.

“Globally, poor nutrition, unhealthy environments and disease have left 155 million children under five stunted, which robs their bodies and brains from developing to their full potential.”

It also mentioned that a quarter of all children between the ages of two and four years in 64 countries do not take part in activities essential for brain development such as playing, reading and singing.

“Around 300 million children globally live in areas where the air is toxic, which emerging research shows can damage children’s developing brains,” it said and added that the failure to protect and provide the most disadvantaged children with early development opportunities undermines potential growth of whole societies and economies. (IANS)

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Scientists Unearth 160 Million Year Old Fossils of Winged Mammals From Jurassic Era in China

The City of Fossils has once again given the world insightful findings from the Jurassic Era.

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The specimens reveal that primitive mammals glided in air.
The newly excavated specimens reveal that at a time when magnanimous dinosaurs moved over the land, the winged mammals glided overhead in the sky (representative image) Pixabay.
  • Fossils of forerunners of present day mammals found in China
  • Proof unearthed that primitive mammals from the Jurassic Era essentially glided in the sky 
  • With the extent of fossils excavated from China, it is known as the ‘Country of Fossils’

China, August 10, 2017: There are a few things that can possibly leave a scientist, a history buff, and an excited 10-year-old child awestruck and the latest finding from China is certainly one of them! Two remarkable new species of delicate winged mammals were unveiled by paleontologists that are believed to have lived alongside dinosaurs nearly 160 million years ago.

The newly found fossils have been described in two papers published by a collective international team of scientists from the University of Chicago, and Beijing Museum of Natural History.

The specimens aren’t a first of a kind as previously mammalian gliders have been known to belong to the same time period. However, what sets them apart from all previous unearthing are the thin, furry membranes of skin attached to their fore and hind limbs that surprisingly are clearly preserved in the rock.

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Paleontologists understand the Mesozoic Era (time between roughly 248 million to 65 million years ago), as the Age of the Dinosaurs. It was popularly believed that primitive mammals from the period were tiny herbivorous and insectivorous, who stayed aloof in the shadows. However, in recent years, this belief was revised that mammals of the time had evolved to forms what were predicaments to their present-day form.

The understanding has now been changed again with the unearthing of these rare fossils that have revealed that at a time when huge dinosaurs ruled the land, the mammals glided far overhead – like flying squirrels.

This has been revealed by the new found specimens’ well preserved skeletal system and their carbonized skin.

“Despite living in dinosaur-dominated ecosystems, early mammals diversified into many ecological niches”, Zhe-Xi Luo, Paleontologist at the University of Chicago told VOA, who led the research published in the journal  Nature.

Named Maiopatagium furculiferum and Vilevolodon diplomyos, they were unearthed about 40 miles (65 km) away in Liaoning province and Hebei province respectively, and are now offering clues and scope for further studies about the evolution of mammals.

These two, along with another glider unearthed in 2006 are being touted as the leaders of the mammalian air-force that have since gone extinct.

Anatomy Of The Primitive Winged Mammals

Mammals are believed to have first appeared roughly 210 million years ago. However, these fossils have revealed that early mammals were not merely existing by cringing at the feet of the dinosaurs but instead, boasted a range of adaptations in anatomy, lifestyles and diet.

It has been revealed that both the fossils have extremely defined hand and feet, and the limbs of these gliding mammals are structurally different from those that simply walked on the ground or climbed trees. It was further notes that both the specimen has hands and feet similar to those in modern day bats (that appeared nearly 100 million years later).

The new found fossils also display very well-preserved teeth, which has helped in understanding the dietary habits of this ancient mammalian air force.

The teeth of Maiopatagium are simpler in terms of their construction and resemble those of fruit bats, suggesting that it ate soft plants and soft fruits. While on the other hand, Vilevolodon has a complex tooth crown with teeth resemble those of squirrels, suitable for eating seeds.

The primitive mammals could glide comes as a news to all.
The specimen can shed new light to understand about the anatomy, and lifestyle of the now extinct species. VOA

They both are gliders, however can be divided into segments of the same category based on their eating habits. The two specimens are different interns of their sizes also. Maiopatagium was about 9 inches (23 cm) long, similar in size to flying squirrels while Vilevolodon was a little smaller in comparison, more mouse-size.

After studying their hand and foot bones, the scientists concluded that the two must have used all four limbs to hang from trees, and grip tea branches with their feet like bats. They also display skeletal features in their forelimbs and shoulder joints that are believed to have given them the sustenance to glide.

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“The gliding membranes were attached to the four limbs, likely at or near the wrists and ankles,” said David Grossnickle, a University of Chicago paleontologist as reported by VOA.

These traits when combined compliment the hypothesis that different group of mammals followed a similar route to evolution –

  1. Land based, operating on all limbs
  2. Tree climbing, using elongated toes of the fore and hind limbs
  3. Gliding overhead the magnificent dinosaurs

The Jurassic Maiopatagium and Vilevolodon are believed to be the forerunners to modern mammals and show the earliest examples of gliding behavior among extinct mammal ancestors. They also share similar ecology with the present-day gliders, however with some significant differences.

ALSO READ: Scientists in Japan unearth 72-million-year-old Fossil of the largest complete Dinosaur Skeleton

These new unearthings are believed to have coexisted with other life varieties that were experimenting with flying such as small feathered dinosaurs like  Anchiornis who were on the evolutionary route to become birds some million years later.

Country Of Fossils

In recent years, an increasing number of fossils have been unearthed from different provinces of China. More recently, a Jurassic site was excavated in Yunyang county that is being understood as the biggest Jurassic fossil site in the world. The 150-metre long ‘Dinosaur fossil wall’ that is currently being excavated by a team of paleontologists is believed to be home to a new batch of fossils. Scientists have, in its entirety found that it was home to five different species of dinosaurs. These discoveries have together led to the country now being seen as the ‘Country of Fossils’. (VOA)


 
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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)