Scientist may have found a living tree that is over 5,400 years old

If true, it means this tree in South America was starting its life around the time that the area now known as the Sahara Desert was beginning to turn from savannah to sand, and pictographic proto-writing started developing towards writing proper in Sumer, thus starting what is technically considered “history.”

High on a ridge in California’s Eastern Sierra, a gnarled bristlecone pine known as Methuselah has reigned over almost five millennia’s worth of snowy winters and blazing summers. Methuselah, whose crooked and weather-beaten boughs make it look more like a sculpture than a living thing, is estimated to be 4,853 years old, based on data from a core sample taken in 1957—making it the oldest tree in the world.

Until now. This year, an upstart competitor has appeared to challenge California’s grizzly old-timer. Nicknamed Alerce Milenario, or Gran Abuelo, which means great grandfather in Spanish, it sits in a humid valley outside La Unión, Chile. As reported in Science in May, researcher Jonathan Barichivich says new data suggest the tree might hold a new record: 5,484 years old. (That record excludes clonal trees that share root systems, like aspen colonies, Science specified. In the search for the oldest tree, scientists focus on individuals with just one trunk.)

Gran Abuelo is an alerce, or Patagonian cypress, a type of conifer related to giant sequoias and coast redwoods. Like their Californian cousins, alerces can grow to very old age; at least one other alerce in southern Chile has been dated at 3,600 years old. That makes the species the second longest-lived in the world—older than sequoias but not quite at the bristlecone pine level. And Barichivich knows alerces well. He grew up around them, including Gran Abuelo, since his grandfather and mother both worked as rangers in the park where Gran Abuelo grows. He says his grandfather discovered the tree around 1972. “It’s a tree that’s very, very close to our hearts,” he told Science.

You can read the rest on the PBS NOVA web site in an article by Alissa Greenberg.

“Methuselah,” a bristlecone pine in California long considered to be the world’s oldest tree. Image Credit: Yen Chao, Flickr

Fungus turns dead female flies into irresistible corpses for horny male flies

There is a future sick horror movie in here somewhere:

The parasitic fungus Entomophthora muscae goes to great lengths to exploit the sexual urges of house flies. According to a recent study, after taking control of a fly’s brain and sending its host to die on the highest point it can reach, the zombifying mold concocts a powerful aphrodisiac to complete its ruse.

This love potion fans the flames of lust in healthy male flies, encouraging them to put their moves on the opposite sex, dead or alive. Sometimes that means bloated female carcasses, literally bursting with spores.

The urge to reproduce drives so much in nature that it’s an ideal target for hijacking. From plants that disguise their flowers as female insects to tempt males into doing their dirty pollen-carrying work, to fungi that trick male spiders into mating with infected females, many organisms tap into this power of lust.

After all, when two potential mates lock onto each other in blind attraction, decision-making skills can become… compromised.

The zombie fungus exploits this weakness to an astonishing level, and University of Copenhagen researchers conducted a series of experiments that conclusively demonstrate how.

You can read the rest here.

Yes, that’s naturalist Jane Goodall in an underwear ad

“She had a laugh about it, made a few jokes about how funny it was that she’d be out there with underwear models around her,” says Roy Leibowitz, one of the campaign’s creative directors.

Yes, renowned chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall is appearing in an ad campaign for underwear. No, she didn’t actually trudge through the jungle with models, photographers and lighting people.

Underwear-clad models stand in a rainforest, surrounded by ferns. Sunlight shines through the morning mist. “Humans,” intones renowned primatologist Dr Jane Goodall. “What unusual animals we are.”

As the camera pans over a closeup shot of a male model’s boxer briefs, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees says, “It’s a big job making our world a better place, but getting started? Well, that’s as easy as changing your underwear.”

This 30-second ad, for Australian underwear company Boody, is now airing. Billboards from the campaign will soon be erected around Sydney and Melbourne.

“It’s interesting,” says Associate Prof Michal Carrington, a researcher in ethical consumption at Melbourne University. “Because you wouldn’t expect Dame Jane Goodall to be fronting a campaign for underwear.”

The article adds:

Goodall’s fee – a sum Boody are not contractually allowed to disclose – was paid directly to the Jane Goodall Institute.

It’s not the first time Goodall has appeared in advertising – she has also modelled for Stella McCartney and appeared in commercials for HP.

While the final cut of the commercial shows Goodall surrounded by models, the ad was shot in two parts. Goodall was filmed against a green screen in London, while the rest of the campaign footage was captured in Australia. Then, she was superimposed into the scene.

Dr. Goodall was dropped in digitally in this shot.

I love scientists: part xxth

Some river dolphins in Bolivia had a “play date” with a snake that has left some scientists wondering what exactly was going on:

In August 2021, a research team was documenting biodiversity near the Tijamuchi River in Bolivia when they saw some animals that are typically difficult to observe: Bolivian river dolphins.

Just seeing them with their heads above the river was extraordinary, said Steffen Reichle, a biologist at the Noel Kempff Mercado Museum of Natural History in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, and a member of the team. They knew something was up and started snapping photos.

Only after scrolling through the images the team captured did the researchers realize the dolphins were dangling an anaconda around as they swam.

The researchers described what they saw in the journal Ecology last month. While dolphins in captivity and the wild are known for being playful, the surprising behavior of the Bolivian cetaceans seems like a new frontier in frolicking among the aquatic mammals, and some scientists still aren’t sure what to think about what the team observed.

“I don’t think the snake had a very good time,” said one researcher with scientific understatement.

Not the River Dolphins in question. (Photo: Jason Auch, Flickr)