Wildlife Wednesday: mammoth meatballs and Tyrannosaurus lips!

Plus: the true history of horses in North America, herring spawning in new waters, and how to protect road-crossing salamanders 

Cultured meat is genuine animal meat grown from the cells of animals — instead of the animals themselves — using innovative molecular technology. This one happens to be made of mammoth. (Photo: Aico Lind www.studioaico.nl)
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Move over, IKEA! In an effort to reduce large-scale livestock production and wildlife destruction, an Australian cultivated meat company has created meat from ancient mammoth cells, plating it as a delectable meatball.

Using a dollop of extinct mammoth DNA — filled out with a dash of elephant genes — cultivated meat company Vow were able to create a curated version of what our ancestors once ate; however, since they don’t know how our immune systems have evolved to react to mammoth meat, no one has dared to taste it yet.

While appearing to be an odd choice, the decision to go with mammoth was not a random one. The company used the animal as a symbol of diversity loss and climate change to raise awareness of the world’s severe meat consumption.

While plant-based alternatives are common across the world, cultivated meat aims to replicate the taste and texture of the real thing. When compared to conventional production, creating mammoth meat and synthetic versions alike use much less land and water to produce. The Australian company also uses renewable energy to grow their product. 

Hold your horses

The study was conducted by researchers and scholars in the Lakota, Comanche and Pawnee nations. (Annika Treial via Unsplash)
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A new interdisciplinary study has provided archeological and genomic evidence that horses were integrated into Indigenous cultures and communities long before Europeans arrived in the American Great Plains and northern Rockies.

Horses were commonly thought by Western scientists to have been introduced to Indigenous cultures in the American Great Plains and northern Rockies in the 18th and 19th centuries when European colonizers arrived; however, this information was largely backed by European records filled with inaccuracies and negative biases regarding Indigenous Peoples. 

Using genomic and paleopathological evidence to study ancient archaeological horse remains, researchers from various Indigenous nations across North America have confirmed that horses used by Indigenous Peoples had strong genetic similarities to horses of Spanish descent. While this indicates a European connection, these remains further indicate that Indigenous people were using the animal long before the 18th century. They estimate that Spanish horses had traveled up from settlements in the southwest to the Rockies during the first half of the 1600s at the latest, opening up the chance to better understand the ramifications of poorly documented Indigenous history.

Herring hurrah!

The herring spawn event off the coast of Vancouver Island turns the water a vibrant turquoise. (Photo: Sara Kempner/Can Geo Photo Club)
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Herring are spawning where they have never spawned before — or, at least, where they have never been recorded to spawn before.

Just off the coast of Port McNeill and Hyde Creek on Vancouver Island, herring are setting up camp for their spawning grounds. While they usually keep to the East Coast of the island, these herring are turning the northern water a turquoise blue with their milt — or semen.

Not only is this a spectacle for those living on the island, but it’s a feeding frenzy for the wildlife in the area. As one of the most vital fish on the Pacific coast, herring are valuable food sources for seabirds, humpback whales, sea lions and chinook salmon. And with the biggest spawn that locals have ever seen, the fauna are having a feast. 

But as this event only occurs in two-to-four-day waves, with the entire spawning season lasting a few weeks, both humans and wildlife must flock to the ocean to experience all that they can before the turquoise fades.

Why did the salamander cross the road?

Increasing urbanization means many salamanders now have to cross roads to reach the few ponds left that are suitable for their breeding. (Photo: Sadie Bowes/Can Geo Photo Club)
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Salamanders spend most of the year underground, but once the snow starts to melt, salamanders all over Canada begin migrating to breeding ponds. Though they might not have as far to travel as other migratory animals, such as birds, the salamander’s springtime journey is far from easy, or safe. 

Increasing urbanization means many salamanders now have to cross roads to reach the few ponds left that are suitable for their breeding. Salamanders need ponds that are small enough that there are no predatory fish, but big enough that they don’t dry up during the summer. 

Because salamanders are small, slow and prefer to travel during dark, rainy nights, many end up getting squashed by vehicles.

To further protect salamander populations, some municipalities in Southern Ontario close certain roads at night during their migration period. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, roads stay open, but many volunteers work to block key salamander crossings on rainy nights. In British Columbia, experimental underpasses have been installed for salamanders to use, and Parks Canada added three more in national parks. 

This spring, an underpass built by the Town of Caledon and Ontario Streams will be used for the first time to help the endangered Jefferson salamander.

Salamander advocates advise the public to avoid travelling on rainy nights in April, in efforts to save the salamander. 

New data suggests that most or all predatory dinosaur species had lizard-like lips. This finding challenges many popular depictions of carnivorous species like Tyrannosaurus rex. (Photo: Mark P. Witton)
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Pucker up!

Have you ever visualized a dinosaur with lips? Likely not, but a new study suggests that the Tyrannosaurus rex and velociraptor may have had them! Historically, dinosaurs were thought to have exposed teeth similar to modern crocodiles. However, an international team of paleontologists — including Canadian Derek Larson of the Royal B.C. Museum — have recently found evidence that instead of large, exposed teeth, these dinosaurs actually had lips covering them. 

This new discovery is a step toward revealing a more accurate depiction of these long-extinct creatures. It could alter future reconstructions of the dinosaurs, ultimately changing how we visualize the creatures.

Perhaps these dinosaurs aren’t entirely the toothy monsters that we’ve come to know in pop culture, but they probably weren’t kissing machines either — dino lips were not luscious, or plump. Instead, they were likely thin and similar to those of modern lizards.



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