Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shrew shrugs it off

Have you ever seen an animal spine like this? Neither had scientists until they dissected the specimen of hero shrew (Scutisorex somereni) that had been brought from Congo in 1910. It came with a story, as Bill Stanley, Director of Collections at Chicago's Field Museum explains, "The explorers watched in amazement as a full-grown man stood on the back of the hero shrew, and the animal walked away, unharmed." This shrew has a spine unique among mammals because of the way the lower vertebrae and the lateral processes interlock with their neighbors. This arrangement and the surrounding musculature account for the extraordinary strength that was observed. Now not only has an international team of zoologists identified a new species of hero shrew (Scutisorex thori), which they collected near the village of Baleko, Équateur Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, they propose a reason for the animal's particularly strong backbone. It allows them to gain access to concentrated sources of beetle larvae by lifting logs, moving away rocks, and forcing the trunks of palm trees apart.

NOTE: Were you aware that while all the media attention was focused on the royal birth, more than 500 prisoners escaped from Abu Ghraib in Iraq?

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